A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “I was telling her about going into hiding, and how my father intended to kill the usurper.”

  “Indeed. I am sure my lady here found that most interesting,” the Lady Margaret said, with a chilly smile at Kate.

  “Yes, she did, and we talked about my father’s rebellion!” the boy told her.

  “Did you?” His guardian exchanged glances with her clerk. “Well, thank you, my lady, for keeping this young coxcomb entertained. His tongue does run away with him, I fear, usually on matters way beyond his understanding.” The young duke made a face.

  “Come,” the Lady Margaret bade him, “it is time for prayers and bed. Good evening, Lady Huntingdon. If this young man should trouble you again, tell him to discuss something more edifying.”

  Kate knew she had been warned off. She was perturbed by the Lady Margaret finding her talking of sensitive matters with young Buckingham. William would not like it at all, so she would not dare mention the encounter to him. She was not supposed to be out anyway, as it was. Yet she hadn’t said anything remotely treasonous; she had but asked a couple of questions that anyone with any curiosity might have asked. It was the boy who had brought up the subject of his father and done most of the talking. Surely no one, even the King’s menacing mother, could take issue with that?

  William returned later that evening, ushering in, much to Kate’s surprise, a stranger—clearly a lady of rank. She was a slender gentlewoman in middle life, her oddly familiar face pale, yet showing traces of great beauty. She was clad in a dark gown of soft wool bordered with fur, and one of the new long-lappeted hoods. She was regarding Kate intently and seemed tense and ill at ease.

  “I have a visitor for you, Kate,” William said quietly. “This lady is Mistress Katherine Haute. She is your mother.”

  Kate stared at the woman, utterly bewildered and confounded, with all sorts of emotions welling up inside her. The familiarity of that face—of course, she could see it now: it was so like her own.

  “But how …?” she stammered.

  “My dear, I have made it my business to find out about you,” the woman said. “When your father was alive, I knew you were well cared for. That gladdened my heart, for I was unable to play any part in your life. My duty was to my husband and our sons. My husband had forgiven me for—for what happened, and did not wish to be reminded of it; he insisted I put it behind me. It was not what I wanted, in fact it cost me dear, but you will know that a woman has no choice in such matters.”

  Kate nodded, glancing involuntarily at William. He was standing there watching them impassively. She wondered at him allowing this meeting.

  She guessed that her mother had not had an easy life, and suspected it had been one long reparation for her sin. You could see that in Katherine Haute’s face. Those lines had been etched there by suffering.

  “I knew of your marriage,” Katherine Haute went on. “We live up in Hertfordshire, but my husband and his family have links to the court, so we are kept well informed. And James did relent sufficiently to tell me that you had married my lord of Huntingdon. I was pleased for you: it is a good match.” She smiled warily at William, who did not respond. “Then I heard of Richard’s death at Bosworth. You must not think, my lady, that I did not love him. I never told him how I felt because I was aware that he did not feel the same way about me. He never knew.” Her voice trailed off sadly. It was true. Kate remembered her father saying they had not loved each other.

  “Please sit down,” she invited. Katherine Haute gave her that nervous smile and took the stool by the fire.

  “When I heard of your father’s death, I was worried for you. I feared you would find life difficult without his protection. And when James said we would be coming up to London for the coronation, I resolved to see you, if I could. I reasoned your lord would be here to attend upon the King, and I hoped you would be with him. And so, as soon as we had settled into our lodgings—James has taken rooms in Fleet Street—I sent secret word to your lord at the palace, asking if he would arrange a meeting. And so he has, and may God bless him for it.”

  William reddened and muttered something gruffly about being pleased to oblige, and that he didn’t see any harm in it.

  “My dear,” Katherine Haute said, “if I can do you any service within my little power, I am ready to do it. I know it is far too late, and that I can never be a proper mother to you, but I would at least be your friend, and have you know that, God willing, I will always be here for you.” And she rose and held out her arms. With a cry of happiness, Kate went into them. It was like coming home.

  They talked for hours, long after William had gone off to his supper with the King. They told each other more of their life stories, and laughed and cried in equal measure. And then Kate found herself confiding to this lovely lady who was, incredibly, her mother, all her doubts and fears about the disappearance of the princes. She knew instinctively that she could trust her.

  “I have heard those evil rumors too,” Katherine Haute said. “Of course, I never believed them. That was not the Dickon I knew.” It was so good to hear that.

  “I wanted, if I could, to speak with Queen Elizabeth, because she might know something,” Kate said.

  “I was supposed to be visiting her today,” her mother told her. “That’s what I told James, and indeed, I should see her before he comes to collect me. I’ve known her for years. She and James are cousins. I will ask her if she will receive you.”

  “She may not wish to see me. I am the daughter of her enemy, and Henry Tudor is hostile to me. He thinks I am withholding information about the princes—he may even imagine I am seeking it as a means of bringing him down! But all I want to know is the truth about my father. It could be difficult for the Queen, associating with me.”

  “Then, my lady, I will ask her myself what she knows, and come back to see you in the morning, at eleven o’clock. I can tell James she has invited me to dine with her.”

  “Would you? Oh that would be so kind,” Kate breathed. “And please do not call me ‘my lady’! I may be a countess, but I am your daughter, and I would like you to call me by the name we both bear.”

  Katherine Haute looked at her with brimming eyes. “Then you should call me Kat, for that is how I am usually known in the family.”

  “Nay,” Kate said. “If I may, I will call you Mother.”

  KATHERINE

  October 1561, Tower of London

  “The furnishings ordered by the Queen have arrived from the Wardrobe,” Sir Edward announces. At last! I can now leave the Bell Tower for a more commodious lodging.

  “I thank you for your trouble, sir,” I say, wondering why the lieutenant looks so uncomfortable. “The stuff will come in useful, I am sure.”

  “My lady, er—I am somewhat embarrassed by what the Queen has lent. Most of it is so old as to be unusable.”

  “I am sure Her Majesty is unaware of that, and it was not what she intended,” I say hastily.

  “My thoughts exactly, my lady,” the lieutenant replies, as our eyes meet, conveying something else entirely. “I will have it all brought up, and you may choose anything you think suitable.”

  He escorts me to the rooms that have been prepared for me. They are paneled with oak and have latticed windows, and will do very well. But they face Tower Green and the chapel, and I know that every time I look out I will be reminded of my poor sister. Yet I will be far more comfortable here, and these lodgings are a more fitting residence for my son than the Bell Tower.

  The furnishings sent by the Queen are indeed decrepit. The six tapestries might cover the walls and shield the drafts, but they must be hundreds of years old, and certainly look it. The pair of Turkish carpets might have been fine once, but they are threadbare and dirty. The oak armchair is rickety, its wood cracked, the stuffing spilling through rents in the rubbed cloth-of-gold padding on its seat and arms. An old purple velvet cushion lies upon it, a dark stain disfiguring its center.

  “There is a bed too, in pieces,??
? Sir Edward says. “It’s not worth bringing it up here. It is too mean a thing, so I will have the one you used in the Bell Tower brought in.” A disintegrating damask counterpane has been laid over Honor’s pallet bed; it was probably made centuries ago. Sir Edward shakes his head. “A sorry jumble, my lady. As for the footstools, I forbear to show them to you.”

  “Why?” I ask.

  “I recognize them as King Harry’s, from the days I was at court. He would rest his ulcerated leg on them. The velvet is stained with pus, and is too far gone to clean. In truth, I am ashamed, my lady, that you should be so discommoded.” Insulted, I think. These items were sent to slight me. They convey what Elizabeth thinks of me.

  “I am very sorry about this, my lady,” Sir Edward continues. “My wife and I will lend you some furnishings. And in compensation, I will have your maids and your pets sent for. They shall keep you company and make you and the babe merry.”

  And so it is that my old bed is brought in and reassembled, with new hangings of silk damask and a fine counterpane striped in red and gold silk; and Mrs. Ellen, Mrs. Coffin, my maids, and my two lapdogs, Arthur and Guinevere, are brought to the Tower, along with a more recent acquisition, my pet monkey, Jester. With them arrive four of my good gowns and French hoods, and several changes of body linen, which Honor lays away in the chest at the end of my bed. Effortlessly, after an emotional reunion—for she has been in this place before, in far more tragic circumstances—Mrs. Ellen takes charge, while I suckle and cuddle my child, with chaos all around me.

  Arthur lies sleeping on the coverlet of the bed; Jester, perched on a stool, feeds daintily on a few morsels left over from the supper I could not face eating, and of which the dogs made short work. Guinevere gnaws a bone at my feet. And Sir Edward Warner regards them all with despair.

  “My lady, they are wrecking the furnishings, and the servants are complaining about the messes they make. I beg of you to control them.”

  “I am trying, Sir Edward. Please do not take them away. They do cheer me, and I need it.”

  He sighs. “I would not deprive you of good cheer, my lady, but these three are a handful. And, having permitted them to be here, I will be accounted responsible for the damage.”

  “I will do my best,” I promise. “I am so sorry. Arthur, Guinevere, Jester: you are very naughty animals!” Three pairs of soulful eyes look at me appealingly, and Jester tries again to climb into the cradle, but I tell him no, sharply, to demonstrate to the lieutenant that I mean to keep my word.

  He sits down by the fire, shaking his head at them. “I came to tell you that I visited the Guildhall Library. I was not allowed to search for myself, but when I explained that I was looking for any records from the reign of Richard III, a clerk brought me the Great Chronicle of London. It contains testimony from those who were eyewitnesses to events. Alderman Smyth and I spent some hours going through it, and I do declare, he is now as interested as I am in the matter of the princes.”

  “And did you find anything that sheds light on our mystery?” I ask eagerly.

  “Some things that were especially interesting,” he tells me. “The chronicle, in referring to the murder of Henry VI, after his final defeat by Edward IV, states—I have it here; a moment please!” He draws from the pocket of his furred gown a folded paper covered with notes. “Ah, yes: ‘The common fame went that the Duke of Gloucester was not altogether guiltless.’ If that’s true, Richard was seasoned in blood twelve years before the disappearance of his nephews. Alas, the affairs of kings are deadly games.”

  “As I am finding,” I comment dryly. “I hope they are not deadly for me!”

  “My lady, our sovereign lady may be strict, but she is just.” I forbear to answer that. “Did you discover anything more, Sir Edward?”

  “I did. This chronicler clearly did not approve of Richard. He accused him of executing Hastings unlawfully without any process of law, and said it was this one act that convinced the citizens that the duke aimed for the throne. He wrote that Hastings was killed only for his truth and fidelity to Edward V. Later, he says that the princes were held ‘more straitly’ in the Tower.”

  “Katherine Plantagenet mentions their being behind bars. It probably means the same thing. Sir Edward, where do you think the princes were held?”

  “In Caesar’s Tower, most certainly. It is the innermost and strongest part of this fortress, and some of the upper windows have bars. It is the safest place to keep prisoners hidden from the eyes of the world.” He shakes his head sadly, and turns back to his papers. “Under the heading ‘Death of the Innocents,’ the chronicler repeats all the rumors that were circulating after the princes’ disappearance. People were saying they had been murdered between two feather beds, or given a venomous potion, and so forth—all speculation. But listen to this: ‘Certain it was they were departed from this world, of which cruel deed Sir James Tyrell was reported to be the doer.’ ”

  Tyrell again. “It’s what Katherine Plantagenet heard. That name—trying to place it is vexing me sorely, because it might give us a clue …”

  “Tyrell was merely ‘reported’ to be the doer. But the fact that he was actually named the murderer as early as 1484 might be significant. And why Tyrell? He was not well known, so why should his name be tossed about?”

  “I agree, sir, it is strange.”

  “It cannot but have done him harm. And Richard too, of course. The chronicler says the people grudged so sore against him because of the death of the innocents that they would rather have had the French to rule over them!”

  “Now that is saying something!” I observe.

  “There is another serious accusation against King Richard in this chronicle,” Sir Edward continues, “that there was much whispering, even among his northern people who had loved him, that he poisoned his wife so that he could remarry.”

  “That’s news to me. Do you think it could have been true?”

  “It is impossible to say. By then, men would have believed anything of him.”

  “Yet he could have counteracted everything! Why did he not, unless he was guilty? Could he not see that these rumors were destroying him?”

  “Well, my lady, he should have—he came to a bloody end because of them. Maybe he underestimated their power to bring him down. It’s clear that most of his subjects hated him. After he was slain at Bosworth, the Great Chronicle says, his body was despoiled to the skin and he was trussed up like a hog or vile beast, thrown over his own herald’s mount, and so carried naked into Leicester. And then he was indifferently buried in St. Mary’s Church. Henry VII had his remains moved to the Grey Friars, which became known as the Tyrants’ Sepulchre, because Cardinal Wolsey was buried there too.”

  “So much for gaining a crown,” I reflect, thinking that, in the end, Richard III, like my sister Jane, had paid with his life for usurping the throne.

  “Had it not been for his ambition, he might have grown old and respected by all, for he had the makings of a great prince.”

  “Unless the Wydevilles had done for him first.”

  “Yes, that was what he evidently feared. But I wonder. Was that just a pretext? Well, we may yet find out. When Alderman Smyth perceived that I was disappointed that there was no fresh light on the princes in the Great Chronicle, he told me in secrecy he had something in his house that might interest me. He said he dared not speak of it in public, because it might, even now, be dangerous to do so. Naturally, I asked him why, and he said it was one of the books that had been suppressed by Henry VII. Apparently it was Smyth’s grandfather’s. I know no more, for he would not divulge its title, and he has sworn me to secrecy anyway. I should not be telling you this, but I know I can rest assured you will not speak of it.”

  “I could not even if I would, shut in here!” I say with some spirit.

  “Of course, of course,” he answers, looking embarrassed. “Anyway, I am going to visit him tomorrow. Afterward, I have some stores to check, and some prisoners to question, but I will c
ome to you as soon as I may. And, my lady, you should take heart. There are many that love and support you, as became clear in the City today.” And with that unexpected revelation, which instantly revives my hopes, Sir Edward leaves me.

  KATE

  November 1485, Westminster Palace

  It grew late, and still William had not returned from the King’s supper. He would be enjoying himself, Kate thought, restored to the circles in which his rank and allegiance entitled him to move. She thought bitterly of how readily he had betrayed that other allegiance he had owed to her father, and yet it did not seem such a bitter betrayal now, for the events of this day had blotted out much of the misery and grief of the past months. Seeing John, and the spark of love flaring undimmed in his eyes, and then meeting the mother she had never known—no wonder she was finding it hard to sleep!

  She felt an unaccustomed quivering in her belly, like a butterfly’s wings, and supposed it was her excitement manifesting itself. But a few minutes later she felt it again, and knew it for what it really was: her child, making its existence felt for the first time. She had not come so far along during her first pregnancy. A sense of wonder filled her as she placed her hands on her stomach, rejoicing in the life within. Truly, God had been good to her this day.

  She rose from the bed, put on her nightgown, and sank to her knees on the prayer stool below the latticed window; and there, in the moonlight, she gave thanks for this gift of new life, and the blessings and promises of love that had been vouchsafed her.

  When she rose, she saw that a sealed letter had been pushed under the door. She snatched it up. There was no imprint on the wax, and no signature. The fine script she recognized instantly, though: it was John’s. She broke the seal and devoured his words:

  My heart, burn this when you have read it. I came to Westminster to make my submission to the King and swear to him not to maintain any felons, as he is pleased to call those men who have been in hiding with me. I have done this at my father’s earnest entreaty. He would have his son at liberty to be a comfort to him in his old age.

 
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