A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  Kat suppressed the remembrance of the tiny dead infant she had hurriedly shrouded in a white cloth. She had sent Gwenllian to the chapel with it, to find a priest who could tell her where it should be buried. Poor mite, its unbaptized soul, unfreed from original sin, would now be in limbo for all eternity, if you believed what the clergy said. But despite that, she believed that God was all-loving and merciful, and took every lost child to His breast. She would pray for her grandchild, whatever the Church decreed.

  “Yes, it was a son,” she said. William wept at that, slow, difficult tears that made his shoulders heave. “Straw upon straw has been laid upon me,” he sobbed. Kat let him cry it out, not wishing to intrude on his grief. She guessed he would not welcome it.

  “What is to happen now?” she asked some time later.

  “I do not know.” He sighed heavily. “I got back from hunting and found myself summoned before the King’s Council, who demanded to know if I knew anything about my wife being in league with adherents of the late usurper. I told them I knew nothing of it and would not believe it. They said they had reason to suspect she was trying to gather information about the fate of the sons of King Edward, and that they doubted her motives. I told them that probably—misguidedly—she was merely seeking reassurance that her father, the usurper, had not had them murdered, for she could not bear to believe it. They were only half convinced, I am sure, but sufficiently to commit her to my custody, on pain of serious consequences if she meddles again. But we are to depart the court forthwith, and she is to remain in my charge at all times from henceforth. Great God, what has she been doing? They said she was arrested on her way to a meeting with the Earl of Lincoln. His loyalty is suspect, and no wonder, for he was Richard’s heir, and the King is divining some conspiracy between them.”

  His voice rose, and Kate stirred in her sleep, as if she was having troubled dreams.

  “I do not believe for a moment that she has had any thought of plotting against the King,” Kat said. “She needs to know the truth about her father.”

  “But the danger? Did the foolish girl not realize what the consequences might be? Did she not think that I might be implicated?”

  “I cannot answer for her. I only know how much it meant to her to prove that Richard was innocent of a dreadful crime.”

  “She must forget him!” William erupted. “It’s bad enough for me, being married to the usurper’s daughter. Now, I thank you for your care of her, but I would be alone.”

  “As you wish,” Kat said, knowing better than to oppose him in this mood, and reluctantly departed.

  The first thing Kate saw when she woke up was her husband’s bleak face, staring resentfully at her. Then she remembered why she was here, shut up in this room and lying in this bed feeling so empty and ill. She winced as she thought of the pain she had suffered. The cramps had ceased now, but if her body was recovering, her soul was still in torment.

  She had been cruelly torn from John, and God knew what was happening to him now, for they had both been accused of treason. She had lost her child, and she knew she would grieve all her days for it. She was a prisoner in this lodging, with a dread fate no doubt hanging over her—what did they do to women who were condemned as traitors? Did they disembowel and quarter them as they did men, or did they commute the sentence to beheading if the victim was of noble birth? She recoiled, imagining the cold steel piercing her body, slicing, ripping … Finally—as if the rest was not enough—she had incurred her husband’s wrath, which was plain to see. It was a terrible reversal after the burgeoning happiness she had felt—was it only hours earlier? How long had she slept? She had lost track of time. She lay there staring up at the tester, wanting to die.

  “Are you awake?” William growled.

  “Yes,” she whispered.

  “My son was born dead,” he accused her. “It was through your folly.”

  She forced herself to speak. “Nay—it was through the brutality of those guards. And I suffered agonies. The pain was dreadful, and all for nothing.” Tears filled her eyes. “I am so sorry, so very sorry. It was the shock. They were rough with me, and I was frightened. My lord, do you know what they have accused me of?”

  “They suspect some dabbling in treason,” he told her, his voice stern and aggrieved, and recounted his interrogation by the council.

  “You spoke truth,” she said. “I wanted only to clear my father’s name.”

  “You’re a bloody fool, Kate! The King is a suspicious man. He had you marked from the first, if only because you are the usurper’s daughter. And what do you do? You seek out my lord of Lincoln, who was heir to the throne under your father, and is distrusted for obvious reasons. What did you do that for?” William’s anger was rising.

  “Sir, I was hoping the earl could tell me if my father had had the princes moved to Sheriff Hutton,” Kate confessed. “He had charge of the household there.”

  William gaped at her. “What on earth made you think they were at Sheriff Hutton? They were slain in the Tower, I promise you, soon after the usurpation.”

  “And how do you know that?” she cried. “What if my father had them moved from the Tower and taken to a secret place?”

  “It is common knowledge that they were murdered,” he insisted.

  “But there is no proof! Even Henry Tudor knows that.” She should not have revealed this, she knew, but she had to make her point.

  William looked taken aback. “Whatever the truth, you should not have meddled in the matter. It was madness!”

  “What is to happen to me?” she whispered, dreading the answer.

  William spoke tersely. “You are committed to my charge and we are commanded to leave for Raglan as soon as you are well enough to travel. Once there, I will be responsible for your conduct. I hope you realize that you have ruined me and put an end to all my hopes and prospects here at court!”

  “I am very sorry,” Kate said, and began weeping anew.

  William ignored her distress. “There is another thing you must tell me. My lord of Lincoln told the King’s officers that your meeting with him was but a lovers’ tryst. How do you explain that, wife?”

  Kate had to think quickly. “He is covering up for me, which is most chivalrous of him. I saw him at the stables and sent him a message asking him to meet with me,” she lied. “He did not know the reason, I swear it.”

  “You did what? You deliberately embroiled a lord who was staunch in your father’s cause in your nonsensical quest?”

  “I was desperate to find out if the princes had been in his charge,” she explained, wondering how much angrier William would be if he knew that Queen Elizabeth had been embroiled also. She wondered if Kat Haute had learned anything of interest from the Queen. Well, she was unlikely to find out now, she thought dejectedly. William would be watching her like a hawk.

  “But why, not having any clue as to the reason you wished to see him, should the earl have told the council that it was a lovers’ tryst?” William persisted, and Kate’s resistance collapsed. John was safe—her husband would not dare challenge him, under a cloud as he was; as for herself, matters could not get very much worse than they already were.

  “Because it was,” she admitted. “He and I have loved each other secretly for a long time.”

  INTERLUDE

  February 1562, Whitehall Palace

  “Madam, I beg of you, if you will not marry, to name your successor,” Cecil pleads, looking drawn with exhaustion. “The matter is now urgent.”

  “In a matter most unpleasing to me, your concern alone is welcome,” Queen Elizabeth says doggedly. They have been wrangling for hours now, it is now two in the morning, and all Cecil wants to do is collapse into bed.

  “The choice remains an unenviable one,” his mistress sighs. “Mary, Queen of Scots, Katherine Grey, or Lady Lennox.” Lady Lennox is the Queen’s cousin, and aunt of the Queen of Scots.

  “Your father King Henry excluded the Scottish line from the Act of Succession,” Cec
il reminds her. “And even if he had not, Queen Mary is a stranger, born out of this realm, and cannot inherit the crown.”

  “But Lady Lennox was born just south of the border; and she thinks she can, hence her impudence in boasting about her claim.”

  “It is not possible for her to succeed, under the terms of the Act,” Cecil insists. “Will Your Majesty now proceed against her?”

  “We will have her in the Tower for now, to teach her a lesson.”

  “That leaves the Lady Katherine and her son.”

  Elizabeth fumes. “She should not have a son!”

  “In some quarters he is seen as a likely successor,” Cecil says cautiously. He could add that there have also been calls for Elizabeth to be overthrown, so that this Protestant boy can be raised as a king, with his mother as nominal regent. But he remains silent. Those offenders—and they are a minority—will be dealt with efficiently and their sedition punished. There will be a few ears lopped in the weeks to come.

  “Never!” the Queen snaps. “I’ll not acknowledge a bastard as my successor. And I will never allow that false, vain girl to succeed me.”

  “Then, madam, with respect, who is there? You have rejected all other possibilities.”

  “I’ll not have her. Her title to the crown is weak, as her right to the succession was invalidated by her father’s attainder. As the lesser of two evils, I would prefer Mary, Queen of Scots. I believe the majority favor her.”

  Cecil sighs inwardly, exasperated. Tomorrow Her Majesty will no doubt change her mind again. This wrangling is not so much about lawful right as about personal animosity—and fear. Elizabeth, he knows, has never felt secure on her throne.

  “What of the Lady Katherine?” he asks gently. “What happens now?”

  “You say the minister can’t be traced, so we will have the findings of the Privy Council laid before the Archbishop of Canterbury. He can examine the prisoners again at Lambeth Palace, and judge of their infamous intercourse and pretended wedlock. Mind ye, Cecil, they are to be taken there under guard, and they are not to speak to each other, or anyone else.”

  “I will convey Your Majesty’s orders,” Cecil says. At last they are getting somewhere.

  KATHERINE

  February 1562, Tower of London

  When Sir Edward Warner presents himself in the morning, I am hollow-eyed from lack of sleep, but eager to talk about Thomas More’s history. And I have something to tell him that is possibly of some import.

  “You have read it already?” he asks in surprise.

  “I could not put it down. Sir Edward, you believe this to be a true account, don’t you?”

  “Aye, my lady. Sir Thomas More had a reputation for honesty and was renowned throughout Christendom for his scholarship. He would not have written this book just to please his sovereign; as you well know, he lost his head for defying Henry VIII. He was an independent thinker who lived by his conscience, even though you and I, being of the new faith, would hold him to be largely in error. So I am inclined to believe much of what he writes.”

  “Much? Not all, then.”

  “Only because he himself says he divined upon conjectures in parts. But he makes it plain where he does that. The rest of it, which he recounts as fact, sounds credible. Why make the distinction if it was all a fiction? Why would More have made it up? What motive could he have had?”

  “None that I can think of. But what I cannot fathom is how he got his information.”

  “It’s obvious that he got a lot of it firsthand, although, probably for obvious reasons, he does not name his sources. He would have known a wide circle of people at court. And listen to this, which he writes at the beginning: ‘I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of these babes, after what I have heard by such men and such means as methinks it must be true.’ He says he got his information from ‘them that knew much and had little cause to lie.’ ”

  “It sounds as if he went to a great deal of trouble to find out the truth.”

  “He states he relied on a confession made by Sir James Tyrell,” Sir Edward says. “Tyrell was executed by Henry VII.”

  “Because he murdered the princes?”

  “No, my lady. It was for treason, because he had aided and abetted two malcontents, the brothers of the Earl of Lincoln. More says that when Tyrell was in the Tower, he confessed to the murder of the princes, as did Dighton, but neither could tell their interrogators where the bodies were because they both believed they had been reburied secretly.”

  “I doubt Henry VII was happy to hear that.”

  “I’m sure he was not. But at least he now knew that the princes were dead—too late, of course, to spare him years of anxiety over the pretender Warbeck, whom he had finally executed. It’s interesting that More apparently spoke with John Dighton, who was still alive when he wrote his book; More clearly thought him a villain, and predicted he was likely to be hanged.”

  “It’s odd that Henry didn’t have Dighton executed too. After all, he also confessed to the murders.”

  “Aye, but maybe, as we have said before, Henry feared to draw public attention to the princes. Without any bodies, there was no proof that they were dead; and that very lack of proof might have been the spur for anyone else to set themselves up as a pretender. Henry had had his fill of pretenders by then.”

  “Sir Edward,” I venture, “where do you think the princes might have been buried?”

  “Well, More describes their first place of burial in detail. At the stair foot, deep under the ground, beneath a great heap of stones. Then they were supposedly dug up and reburied by Brackenbury’s priest.” He frowns. “But would a lone priest be able to shift all that rubble and dig down deep to where the bodies lay? It doesn’t sound likely, unless Brackenbury aided him, but Brackenbury had made it clear he wanted no part in the murders. And involving anyone else would have been too risky. Even with two of them it would have been a mighty task. So I suspect this tale was put about to deflect attempts to find the bodies, and that they are still there, under a stairway in the Tower.”

  “That makes sense. But where?”

  “My lady, there are several staircases in Caesar’s Tower. If you will excuse me, I will go now and check for signs that any have been disturbed.” And with that, Sir Edward hastens from the room, eager as a schoolboy dismissed from lessons.

  It seems ages before he returns, his face downcast.

  “Nothing!” he declares. “I checked the bottom of every stair, and there was no sign that any were ever dug up. Except perhaps for the one in the fore building that houses the entrance to Caesar’s Tower. There was a cracked paving stone there, but that is only to be expected, with so many people coming and going.”

  He sits down heavily. “I think we must accept that we are at the end of our quest, and that Thomas More’s history is the closest to the truth we are likely to get.”

  “If only we knew where he got all that information,” I say. “I hate loose ends. But Sir Edward, before you go, I must tell you something that may be significant, or not—I don’t know. Pray sit down. I have been puzzling for some time about where I had seen the name Tyrell—other than in books. And Brackenbury too seemed familiar. Last night, it came to me.” I have his attention now.

  “Before my father was granted Sheen Priory by King Edward, he owned a house in London, near the Tower. Bath Place, it was called, or the Minories, because it had been a convent of nuns—the Minoresses—before the monasteries were dissolved by King Henry. My father had the house for several years, by the favor of King Edward. Previously, it had been owned by the Bishop of Bath, who’d converted part of it into a mansion and renamed it Bath Place. But we always called it the Minories.”

  “Did you lodge there often, my lady?”

  “Yes, Sir Edward, we stayed there many times when we came to London from Leicestershire. It is a goodly property, with many fine buildings around the great house, and the church still standing. It is of the church that I wish to speak. We used it as
our chapel. Although all the Popish statues and ornaments had been removed, some of the old tombs remained. I used to be fascinated by the stone effigies of ladies in old-fashioned dress. They looked so beautiful and serene, with their alabaster faces and their hands joined in prayer. And I liked to read the inscriptions on the tombs, although I struggled with those because they were in Latin. But my sister Jane would translate them for me. Sir Edward, I remember now the names on two of those tombs: Mary Tyrell and Elizabeth Brackenbury. Is that not a coincidence? Or maybe it is more than that!”

  Sir Edward considers. “It may well be. Certainly it bears investigating. My lady, forgive me for asking something that will distress you, but was this house—the Minories—confiscated at your father’s death?”

  “No. He had already conveyed it to his younger brother, my uncle, Lord John Grey, who still owns it today.”

  “I wonder if I might pay him a visit.”

  “I pray you, do not do so on my account,” I ask fervently. “He did not want to know us after my father’s execution. You will get short shrift from him if you mention my name.”

  “Then I shall ask if I may see the church, having heard it has some historic tombs.” Sir Edward smiles, rising to his feet. “I will go this afternoon.”

  “Fare you well, sir,” I say. “And pay no attention to my uncle’s rude manner.”

  The bells of All Hallows’ Church are striking six when the lieutenant returns. I rise hastily to greet him.

  “Sir Edward! Did you gain entry to the Minories?”

  “Indeed I did, my lady. I was lucky: his lordship was not there; he has gone to his house in Essex. But his steward willingly admitted me to the church, and left me alone to look around. He even brought me candles when it got dark.”

 
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