A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  In return for my allegiance, the King did me the honor of permitting me to precede him in his coronation procession, and he has been gracious enough to appoint me to his council.

  Know that I still cherish my inordinate love for you, still feel that furiosity and frenzy of mind of which the poet wrote. I know I need not repeat all the words, you have them by heart, as I do; but saying them brings you so vividly to mind, my dearest lady, that I can almost imagine that you are here with me.

  Like the poet, I have no peace when I think of you. I burn for you eternally. The sweetest remembrance of all is of our one night together. It is not enough for a lifetime. Make shift to come to me tomorrow, I pray you. I will be by the fountain in New Palace Yard at nine o’clock in the morning. Let it look as if we are meeting by chance, and pray give me some hope that I may know the sweet joy of our loving again.

  Kate’s heart beat fast as she read and reread the letter, then clutched it joyfully to her bosom. John had taken a tremendous risk in pushing it under her door, yet he would surely have known that William was otherwise occupied. Probably he had been at the King’s supper himself.

  He had been here at Westminster, probably for weeks. He had even played a part in the coronation! Secluded as William had kept her, she had not known of it.

  She would go to him, of course she would. Neither William nor Henry Tudor, nor the whole company of Heaven, was going to stop her.

  INTERLUDE

  October 1561, Whitehall Palace

  “Her Majesty is not pleased to hear that many of her subjects—and some of her courtiers to boot—are sympathetic to the Lady Katherine Grey,” Mr. Secretary Cecil fumes. “Here are the reports—read them!” And he indicates a pile of papers on his desk. He and the Earl of Sussex have arrived early for the council meeting, and as yet are the only ones seated at the long table.

  Sussex, a fair, florid man, leafs through the reports, grunting. “They remember Protector Somerset, ‘the good duke,’ as they called him. Hertford is his son, so it’s only to be expected, I suppose.”

  “To them, he is a gallant hero, defying the Queen’s unkindness and wrath to marry the lady he loves,” Cecil sniffs.

  “Some see the Lady Katherine as another like her sister, the Lady Jane,” Sussex murmurs, reading on. “They view her as a brave Protestant heroine.”

  “They forget she has been plotting with the Spaniards,” Cecil says dryly. “But what most people seem to be asking is why a man and his wife should be put asunder and imprisoned!”

  “I see there’s a lot of speculation that they will be attainted or even put to death; or that the Queen will have Parliament declare their child a bastard; many say the Lady Katherine should be named heir to the throne; and I see that you, my lord, are suspected by a few of being privy to her marriage.” Sussex grins.

  “Pure nonsense!” Cecil retorts.

  “But tell me, are any of these other rumors true? Does the Queen still intend to have the child declared baseborn?”

  “I believe so. Yet she is disturbed to find that there is a tide of opinion in the Lady Katherine’s favor, and anxious lest she herself appear in an unsympathetic light, when in truth she is the person most injured by this pretended marriage. So she will do nothing just yet. In the meantime, Her Majesty is disposed to show some favor toward the couple, to placate public feeling.”

  KATHERINE

  October 1561, Tower of London

  Sir Edward Warner arrives at five o’clock, just as supper is being served. He orders an extra place set, then dismisses the servants, and himself serves the baked meats to us both and slices the pie.

  “What I have to tell you is for your ears alone,” he says.

  “You saw the book, then, Sir Edward?” I ask eagerly.

  “Yes, indeed,” he answers, his angular face looking unusually animated. “It was a manuscript chronicle I had never heard of or seen before, from the abbey of Croyland, which was near Lincoln; and whoever wrote it had much to say about Richard III!”

  Could this be the truth at last? I pray it will be. It’s irrational, I know, but I cannot rid myself of the notion that the fate of the princes augurs well or ill for the safety of my child.

  “The author described himself as a member of the King’s Council, so he was at the center of affairs and clearly well informed,” Sir Edward tells me. “He wrote his chronicle during a visit to the abbey, nine months after Bosworth. As it was written under Henry VII, it is only to be expected that the writer was hostile to Richard III. Yet it’s plain he had no good opinion of him anyway.”

  “Then why was his book suppressed? Henry would surely have approved.”

  He frowns. “My lady, that exercised me and Alderman Smyth somewhat. We perused the chronicle together closely; as I said, he has become interested in the matter, although he thinks it is still dangerous to speak openly of certain things. You see, the Queen Grace’s title is inherited from Henry VII, and Henry married Elizabeth of York, who had been bastardized by Richard III. Henry must have had her legitimacy confirmed by Parliament. Yet I have never read anywhere that he did so.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “In the Croyland Chronicle there is the text of an Act of Parliament of 1484, entitled Titulus Regius; it confirms Richard III’s right to the throne. In it are laid out the grounds of his claim, namely his brother’s precontract with one Eleanor Butler; and it confirms the consequent bastardy of Edward IV’s children by Elizabeth Wydeville.”

  “I still don’t understand the significance,” I say. “Surely that Act was repealed by Henry?”

  Sir Edward lowers his voice. “I’m sure it was. But it was done discreetly. If you were Henry VII, and your queen’s legitimacy had been impugned, would you want everyone to know about it? Henry must have known that his claim by blood was weak, and that there were many who would regard it as such until he strengthened it by marrying the Yorkist heiress. He could not afford to have his enemies producing evidence that she was baseborn, and denying his right to rule. So my belief is that he suppressed all copies of Titulus Regius, which is why the Croyland Chronicle had to go too.”

  This makes good sense. “But how did Alderman Smyth come to have it in his possession?”

  “It was in a coffer of old books and papers left him by his grandfather. His family came from Lincolnshire originally, and his great-uncle was a monk at Croyland, which was a mighty abbey in those days. There were two other old chronicles in the chest; Alderman Smyth showed them to me. They were hand-illuminated and very fine. His belief is that his uncle saved them from the King’s men at the time of the Dissolution. They were burning lots of old chronicles then, and most of the monks’ libraries were lost.”

  I am too excited to eat. “Pray tell me, good Sir Edward, what else is in this chronicle?”

  He smiles. “Much that isn’t flattering to Richard III. The author disapproved of him thoroughly, thought him dishonest and deceitful, and criticized him for extravagance and sensuality, and even for executing a man on a Sunday. He claims that he himself tried to be fair and unprejudiced, and wrote his history without hatred or favor—and I think he did. He says, for example, that Richard had a quick mind and high courage, and was vigilant in state affairs; and I noted he does not accuse him of murdering Henry VI; instead, he hints that Edward IV was responsible.”

  I sigh. “It is very confusing, having accounts that contradict each other. The Great Chronicle said Richard was there when Henry VI was murdered. How can one ever arrive at the truth?”

  “Ah, my lady, there you have put your finger on the problem with history!” Sir Edward declares, wiping his fingers on his napkin, then offering me the plate of apples. “One has to weigh the sources well, and my belief is that this chronicler was closer to affairs than whoever wrote the Great Chronicle. He had inside knowledge of state matters.”

  I crunch into my apple; it’s sweet but a bit shriveled, the best of the store having been eaten already.

  “Again, I
made some notes,” the lieutenant says, and produces a sheaf of papers from the capacious pocket of his gown. “Croyland believed that Richard was plotting to take the throne from the time he learned of the death of his brother, King Edward. He states that after Richard, Duke of York, had been taken from the sanctuary to join his brother, Richard openly revealed his plans, and he and Buckingham did as they pleased.”

  This tallies with Katherine Plantagenet’s account. And there’s another connection somewhere, I’m sure of it.

  “Richard then acted openly like a king,” Sir Edward continues, “but the Croyland chronicler insists the precontract story was just a cover for his act of usurpation. He implies that many on the council thought it fraudulent too, but looked to their own safety, warned by the example of Hastings. And so, he writes, Richard occupied the kingdom.”

  “Is there anything about the princes?” I ask hopefully.

  “Yes. He says the sons of King Edward remained in custody in the Tower; he mentions them being here under special guard during Richard’s first progress through his realm, which he undertook after his coronation. They remained in the Tower while the coronation, the progress and the investiture of Richard’s son as Prince of Wales were taking place.”

  I interrupt: “I know who this writer was! He was the Lord Chancellor, the Bishop of Lincoln, who told Katherine that the princes were alive at the time of the investiture in September.”

  “Of course! Croyland Abbey would have been in his diocese. Katherine wrote that he went back to Lincoln after Henry VII dismissed him.”

  “What else does he say?”

  “He does not mention the princes again. It is very strange.”

  “But surely a man in his position must have known what became of them? He’d known about their whereabouts up till then.”

  “Well, my lady, if he knew, he wasn’t telling.”

  “It would have been safe to tell in Henry VII’s reign.”

  “Hardly, if the princes had not been murdered.”

  I gape at him. “You mean, you think Russell kept silent on the matter of the princes because he knew they had been sent into hiding?”

  “It’s possible. He knew the princes were in the Tower up to September, so it follows that he probably knew what happened to them after that. The King trusted him, so he must have been privy to many state secrets. In 1486, when he wrote his chronicle, it would have been perfectly acceptable to accuse Richard of their murder. Russell didn’t scruple to accuse Richard of other crimes or castigate him for his vices, so if he knew or suspected that he had had the princes put to death, he would surely have said so. But all he says is that Richard suppressed his brother’s progeny. ‘Suppressed,’ mark you, not murdered. Perhaps Katherine Plantagenet came close to the truth when she wondered if the princes were at Sheriff Hutton. But if so, what happened to them after Bosworth?”

  “Surely, if they were there, King Henry would have found out about it?”

  “Assuredly he would. Elizabeth of York knew much, I am sure, and maybe that was why she was kept in subjection by the King and his mother.”

  “Sir Edward, I still wonder … If Henry had discovered that the princes were at Sheriff Hutton, what would have been the logical, nay, the safest thing to do with them?”

  The lieutenant looks hard at me. He says nothing.

  “By vowing to marry their sister, he had effectively acknowledged them to be the legitimate heirs to York. But if they still lived, Edward V was the rightful King. And he would have been fifteen—old enough to rule. Sir Edward, no threat to Henry could have been deadlier.”

  “You forget, my lady, that Henry had the Tower searched for their bodies—three times. And he clearly viewed Perkin Warbeck as a serious threat; for years, Warbeck threatened his throne, and the measures Henry took against him are proof that he really did fear Warbeck was not an imposter. He cannot have known what had become of the princes. If he had, he would have dealt with Warbeck speedily and summarily.”

  “Yes, I suppose you are right, sir. It’s just that I should like to think that the princes survived. That’s what Katherine tried to prove; it mattered a lot to her.”

  “Is that why you pursue this quest for the truth?” Sir Edward asks gently.

  “That’s one reason, yes. And …” I find I cannot speak. I am suddenly close to tears, remembering that my son too is a threat to the throne. This matter goes very near to home. “I’ve always been interested in the princes,” I say hastily.

  Fortunately, Sir Edward has not noticed my distress. “These papers have revived my interest too, my lady. I had thought there was no more to be found out. But in keeping with my family motto, ‘Go straight and fear not,’ I must now press on until the end!” We laugh at that, and he even pats my hand, acknowledging that we are in this together. For once, we are not prisoner and jailer, but two friends united in solving a compelling mystery. Then the lieutenant turns back to his notes, peering at them in the dying candlelight.

  “Going back to Bishop Russell,” he says, “he mentions the rumors of the princes’ murder, and writes that, within weeks, they had had their effect, and Richard was seen by his subjects as a wretched, bloody, and usurping boor. More crucially, Russell writes that many in Parliament were strongly critical of the legality of the Act Titulus Regius, but that even the stoutest were swayed by fear to approve and pass it. It seems that very few believed that tale about a precontract.”

  “I think Katherine convinced herself that her father believed it.”

  “We can only commend her for her loyalty.” The lieutenant takes a page from his sheaf of papers. “The Bishop made this observation about Richard’s forced loans: ‘Why should we any longer dwell on things so distasteful and so pernicious that we ought not so much as to suggest them?’ But then he writes—and this may be significant: ‘So too with other things that are not written in this book, and of which I grieve to speak.’ ” He looks up. “What do you make of that, my lady?”

  “Can he be referring to the princes?” I ask. “If so, it reads ominously.”

  “It might just be an oblique reference to the King’s morals, of which the Bishop had a low opinion. Maybe he did not wish to be explicit on a subject like that.”

  “Was Richard III immoral? His daughter writes of his uprightness and good morals.”

  “She, I fear, saw the man she wished to see. Yet the Bishop viewed the death of Richard’s son as a judgment on a man who had pursued his interests without the aid of God. That’s pretty damning. He also condemned the King’s pursuit of his niece Elizabeth as an incestuous passion, abominable before God. He says the Queen’s illness grew worse because Richard shunned her bed, claiming it was by the advice of his physicians. Then he adds, ‘Why enlarge?’ It’s obvious what he thinks of that excuse! In fact, he goes so far as to assert that the King hastened his wife’s death by being unkind to her. Afterward, he says, Richard’s councillors dissuaded him from marrying Elizabeth, warning him that if he did, the whole of the North would rise against him and impute to him the death of the Queen. But only reluctantly did he abandon the idea.”

  “That doesn’t show Richard in a good light.”

  “No, but in Russell’s account of the Battle of Bosworth, he writes that, in the fighting, and not in the act of flight, Richard was pierced with many mortal wounds, and fell in the field like a brave and most valiant prince. But if that sounds like praise, remember that immediately afterward the Bishop states that Providence gave a glorious victory to Henry Tudor. He was just being fair, as he had averred: it’s well known that Richard died bravely. And that, my lady, is all. None of it is conclusive, and although it still appears that the princes were probably murdered, there is no proof, and there are still some things that don’t make sense.”

  He shakes his head, looking vexed, then pauses. “You seem tired, my lady. You should rest. Again, I have enjoyed our discourse. I bid you good night.”

  When he has gone, I fall to pondering if this mystery of t
he princes will ever be solved. It may be that what happened to them might never be known. It is highly improbable that they still live, and since no one has heard from them in nigh eighty years, the likelihood must be that they did die at Richard III’s hands.

  Sir Edward visits me some days later to say that he has looked through the Tower records and is certain there is nothing of interest to us.

  It is so frustrating. There must be some clue, somewhere! I read through Katherine’s account again, checking to see if there is anything we have missed. But there is nothing. All we have are dark hints, rumors, and Bishop Russell’s curious statement that the princes were suppressed. How can two boys just disappear, leaving no trace as to what became of them?

  No sooner do I ask that question than I find myself looking out of my window at the grim walls of the Tower around me; and suddenly the answer seems very obvious.

  KATE

  November 1485, Westminster Palace

  Kate crept down the spiral stair near her lodging. It was a bitterly cold morning and she had put on her warmest gown, with her fur-lined cloak over it, taking care to conceal her face. William had insisted upon that. She had told him she was going to see her mother, and prayed that God would forgive her the lie. She was going to see Kat Haute, but not for two hours and more, so it was only a white lie. She did not think there was any risk of Kat coming to seek her out earlier.

  William had made difficulties, as she had thought he would. Couldn’t her mother come here? he had asked, frowning. No, she’d told him, she had asked Kate to meet her in St. Stephen’s Chapel. They wanted to give thanks together for being reunited, and then they would stay for the ten o’clock Mass. And may God forgive me, she’d prayed inwardly, hoping William would not insist on coming with them. But he didn’t. He was going hunting with the King and other favored lords, and could talk of little else. At eight o’clock he’d set off to join the royal party.

  She had looked anxiously about her as she left her room, taking care to shut the door behind her. There was no one about—or so it seemed. But as she descended the stairs, she heard a sound above her—muted, stealthy. Someone was coming down behind her. When she paused to listen, they paused too. Then there was silence. There had been a landing above her. Maybe whoever it was had turned off there, their business entirely innocent. This was a palace, she reminded herself firmly: people came and went all the time. She waited a little, but all stayed quiet, so she continued on her way.

 
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