A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “Did you see the tombs?” I ask.

  “Aye, and I was surprised to see them in such good condition. Many were broken up after the Dissolution. You were right: Mary Tyrell and Elizabeth Brackenbury are there, and there are others too, as you may remember: the grandest tomb was that of Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, who died in 1506.”

  “I remember that one. Her effigy shows her in widow’s weeds.”

  “Indeed it does. And nearby is the tomb of a young girl, Anne Mowbray. According to the inscription, she was Duchess of York.”

  “Duchess of York? Yes, I remember that one too. But how could this Anne Mowbray have been Duchess of York? The only Duchess of York I know of was Cecily Neville.”

  “I cannot say. I have never heard of Anne Mowbray, and apart from Duchess Cecily’s husband, Richard Plantagenet, the only other dukes of York I know of are the younger of the Princes in the Tower, and King Henry VIII, who was given the title when he was a child. I will make some inquiries—someone must know. In the meantime, I wanted to ask if you recalled any of the other tombs. What of Joyce Lee, a widow, who died in 1507?”

  “I remember her tomb, because it had a brass showing a lady in nun’s attire.”

  “That is correct. My lady, it is possible—given the coincidence of the names—that you are right and there is a link between some, if not all, of these ladies, and that in some way they are connected with the fate of the princes.”

  “But how will we find that out?” I ask, perplexed.

  “There is one chance,” he tells me. “On my way out, I fell to talking with the steward about the tombs, saying how impressive they were; he said they were a fine collection, but not much prized these days. Then he told me that an old lady comes regularly to the church to pray, and often lingers by them. Lord John doesn’t mind her coming, as she’s harmless enough, and they’ve gotten used to her over the years. They think she was abbess at the Minories, many years ago. That would explain her interest. The steward said she could probably tell me more about the tombs. He said he’d look out for her and ask if she would meet with me. If she agrees, he’ll send a boy ’round.” Sir Edward fixes his gaze on me. “My lady, she may be of no help whatsoever. She may not even consent to see me. But it’s worth asking.”

  “Indeed it is,” I agree. Inwardly, though, I hold out little hope. Even if this woman had been abbess of the Minoresses’ convent, she was hardly likely to have been there when Mary Tyrell, Elizabeth Brackenbury, and the rest were alive, or to have known anything about them. They died more than fifty years ago, their secrets—if they had any—no doubt buried in the grave with them. And the dead keep their secrets very well.

  KATE

  December 1485–March 1487, Raglan Castle

  The journey back to Wales, in the depths of winter, had been a dreadful one. Since his outburst of jealous rage when he had learned of her love for John and lashed out at her, even as she lay in her bed, weak after her miscarriage, William had cut himself off from Kate. It was as well they had with them that comfortable litter he’d provided to take her to court, because she’d doubted he would have been so solicitous now. She had endured the endless, jolting miles huddled in her cloak and the cushions, with Gwenllian pressing close for warmth, for the weather was icy.

  Begrudgingly, William had agreed to frequent stops at inns and monasteries along the way, for Kate was fatigued after her ordeal, and still bleeding a little, so needed to change her clouts. Whenever they stopped, or ate, or bedded down for the night, he treated her with indifferent courtesy. A proud man, he had not wanted to parade their estrangement to the world. But he would not share her bed, and slept with his men in their quarters.

  At Westminster he had demanded to know how far the affair with John had gone. Had they ever lain together? She told him, quite truthfully, that she had never betrayed her marriage bed. He’d looked at her suspiciously, his face full of rage and pain, but he had not pressed her further. Instead, he had pronounced that the loss of her child, and the King’s displeasure, were a judgment on her for her wicked, foolish behavior. And she must forget the Earl of Lincoln, because, by God, she would never set eyes on him again.

  She had accepted her fate. She did not care what happened to her now, so long as John was safe. She’d prayed he had not fallen foul of the King as a result of her rashness. She’d wished there was some way of finding out if any measures had been taken against him, but that was impossible. William made sure he stayed with her, vigilant and unrelenting, throughout the days of her recovery at Westminster. The only visitor he’d allowed was Kat, who had to return to her house at Harpenden on the day after Kate’s miscarriage, and came beforehand to see how she fared.

  “Write to me, please, if your lord will permit,” she had said, looking hopefully at William. “Remember, if I may do you any service, you have only to ask.” She’d kissed Kate then, and Kate had clung to her, not wanting to let go of this mother whom she barely knew, and who—like everyone else she held dear—was being cruelly parted from her. That was how it seemed.

  “Farewell!” she had cried. “Pray for me!”

  “I will, never fear,” promised Kat, and was gone.

  Back inside the stout walls of Raglan, beyond which she had been told she must not go, she knew despair, keener than before. The Dowager Countess showed her a pained civility rather than her customary warmth, and young Elizabeth took her cue from that. All Kate’s attempts to explain her actions met with studied evasion.

  Only to Mattie, dear, comfortable Mattie, great with child now, could she unburden herself, and it was Mattie who saw her through those dark days of winter, wept with her for her lost babe, and listened to the outpouring of her fears for John. Without Mattie, she was certain, she would never have gotten through that awful time without going mad.

  At table, William barely acknowledged her. In the evenings he made it clear that her presence was not welcome by the fire. When visitors called, she was made to keep to her chamber. Any purchases she required had to be made by Mattie, on her behalf, in the village or from the peddlers who came offering their wares and bringing news; and clearly there were to be no fine new gowns or jewels. Had it not been for the King commanding William to keep her in his custody, Kate was sure he would have consigned her to a nunnery.

  Her marriage now seemed a life sentence. What had happened to the carefree, headstrong young girl she had once been? She was sixteen now, and felt old; and if life went on like this, she would be old, long before her time.

  The slow, intolerable months passed. Thanks to Kat Haute’s letters, doggedly scrutinized by William, and to Mattie, that inveterate gossip, she was able to keep abreast of news—weeks late—from the outside world, to which she listened with listless apathy. In the early spring, as the daffodils opened their faces to the strengthening sun, she learned from Kat that Henry Tudor had at last married Elizabeth of York. Poor Elizabeth, she thought—much joy she will get of him—and she wondered if the new Queen puzzled and fretted as much as she herself had over the fate of the princes, her brothers. But she, Kate, had put all that behind her now, of necessity.

  She wondered if she would ever hear news of John; she desired the assurance of his health and prosperity more than anything else in the world. If she could be granted that boon, she would rest content.

  And then her prayers were answered.

  Mattie, nearing her time but as busy about her duties as ever, came hastening to Kate’s chamber one bright day in May; she had been at the market.

  “A letter’s come for you,” she announced. “He says you can have it.” She would never, if she could help it, refer to her master by his rightful title.

  It was from Kat. The King has passed this way on progress to the North, she wrote, and I heard mention that the Earl of Lincoln was of the company and much in favor.

  “Thanks be to God!” Kate breathed with heartfelt relief. At least John had managed to convince Henry Tudor of his innocence.

  “Wel
l, I’m sure you’re pleased to hear that, my lady!” Mattie smiled.

  She was, oh, she was!

  But after that, life went on as grimly as it had for months, and the only lightening of Kate’s existence came when Mattie gave birth to a daughter in the balmy days of early summer; yet even that was a bittersweet thing, for, seeing her maid with the child at her breast, Kate could not but be reminded of the infant she had lost, who would have been of a similar age had he lived.

  ——

  One night, William appeared in his nightgown at her chamber door, carrying a candle. His ferret face looked gaunt in its flickering light.

  “My lord?” Kate rose up in the bed, alarmed.

  “I would speak with you,” he said coldly, looming over her. “I have received some news that will interest you. Your lover, the Earl of Lincoln, has married my niece, Margaret FitzAlan, Arundel’s daughter. You had best forget him now, for he is lost to you for good.”

  He will never be lost to me, she thought fiercely, trying not to betray the engulfing emotion she felt. Our hearts are one for always: we vowed it.

  “It is of no moment to me, this news,” she said, and meant it, knowing this marriage could mean nothing to John.

  “Then, since we are constrained to live together, you will not shrink from doing your duty, as my wife,” William said, abruptly dousing the candle, stripping off his nightgown, and climbing into bed beside her, much to her dismay. “I am prepared to accept that you did not betray your marriage vows,” he continued, “and for that reason I am willing to take you back and use you as my wife. I need an heir—and a man must live!”

  He mounted her then, without further preamble, driving into her as if he meant to punish her for all the hurts she had done him. She bore it in silence, as best she could, not daring to betray by any slight gesture how unwelcome it was to her. She had long ago learned to detach herself from what he did to her in bed; after all, it was not as if this was a new thing. She had to force herself not to think of how joyous it had been with John. That way lay insanity.

  When he had finished, William got up without a word, put on his robe, and went back to his own chamber. In the morning, if she had expected some improvement in his attitude toward her, she would have been disappointed, for he ignored her as before, and continued to do so. The only difference now was that he kept coming to her at night, demanding sex in his laconic, boorish way, and riding her as if he hated her.

  Early in October, as the leaves were turning wondrous shades of red and gold, and autumn returned to the land, Mattie, her apple-cheeked babe on her hip, brought another letter from Kat with news of the birth of a prince to the Queen.

  “He’s to be called after King Arthur,” Kate said. “An auspicious name. No doubt the Tudor wishes to invest his dynasty with some semblance of Arthur’s greatness.” Her tone was sarcastic.

  In November, Kate realized that she was to bear another child. A grandson for my father at last, she thought, and resolved heartily to take up her pen again and commit to paper, for the benefit of this unborn innocent, her convictions about the murder of the princes. The knowledge of her pregnancy had reenergized her and given her new hope. At last she had something to live for.

  “I am with child,” she told William when next he came to her bed. He nodded slowly.

  “That is good news,” he said eventually. “I will not trouble you tonight, then.” Or any other night, she realized thankfully—not while she was carrying his seed. He was too careful a husband to break that sanction. Yet he seemed hesitant, reluctant to go from her.

  “You are well?” he asked, his manner awkward. Of course his concern was for his son—the son he now hoped was growing inside her.

  “Yes, my lord, I am well. A little sick in the mornings, as before, but that is nothing.”

  “Good,” he said, and paused again. “Well, wife, if there is anything you need for your comfort, let me know.” Then he was gone. They were the first kind words he had spoken to her in a year; and she knew for a certainty that he would have extended the same consideration to his mare, had she been in foal.

  Later that month a carter came to Raglan bringing strange tidings.

  “It’s certain that the Earl of Warwick has escaped from the Tower,” he told the crowd that had gathered around him in the courtyard. “The word is everywhere. And it’s said that more will be heard of Warwick afore long!”

  “I do not believe it,” Kate said to Mattie as they walked away. “Warwick would not know how to start a rebellion.”

  “But what if others are using him?” Mattie pondered. “It’s been done before, as you well know, my lady.”

  “But would the people really prefer poor Warwick, a backward boy of eleven years, to Henry Tudor, a man of mature age and proven experience?”

  “The people favor right over might!” Mattie declared stoutly.

  “I wonder if they care, so long as there is peace, and taxes are not too burdensome,” Kate retorted. She felt tired. This new pregnancy was sapping her strength, and she needed to lie down. She seemed to spend most of her time resting these days. And William was so anxious about this child surviving that he kept urging her to do so.

  He was kinder with her now, a little less unbending. His mother too had relented toward her, and something of their old friendship had revived. And that brought Elizabeth running back, eager to be friendly. Time is a great healer, thought Kate, and this pregnancy had brought its own blessings. But the greatest blessing, she knew, would be to see John’s face once more.

  Christmas came and went, a much merrier occasion than it had been the previous year. Then there were the dead weeks of January, when the countryside lay covered with snow or frost and the peasants stayed huddled in their cottages, eking out the stores they had put by for the winter and biding their time until February arrived, and with it Plow Monday, when they would venture forth to work the fields again.

  At the end of February another letter arrived from Harpenden. Kat sounded worried. She wrote that the King had deprived Elizabeth Wydeville of her lands, and the Dowager Queen had retired with only a small pension to the abbey of Bermondsey. Why? wondered Kate. What could Elizabeth Wydeville have done to deserve being stripped of her revenues? Only last autumn she had stood godmother to Prince Arthur. Was it a threat, a warning to keep her mouth shut?

  But there was more disconcerting news as Kate read on. Kat had recently been at court with her husband.

  The Lady Margaret rules all there. The King is no very indulgent husband to the Queen. His aversion to the House of York is such that it finds place not only in his politics but in his chamber and his bed. To the Queen, he is not at all uxorious. It is said she leads a miserable and cheerless life, and certes she does not look a happy woman. She is beloved by the people because she is powerless and kept in subjection by the Lady Margaret, whose influence she resents.

  Did Elizabeth of York too know more than was good for her? Did Henry Tudor keep her in this silken bondage because he knew—or feared—that she possessed dangerous knowledge of the fate, or the whereabouts, of her brothers?

  The Dowager Countess, who had brought the letter, was standing by, and Kate showed it to her. “It saddens me that Henry should treat his Queen so distrustfully,” Anne said. “It would not have been so had he married our Maud, but then Maud would not have brought him a crown.”

  “It seems strange that he treats both his wife and his mother-in-law so unkindly,” Kate said. “It is as if he does not trust them.”

  “He was ever a suspicious child,” the countess said. “He grew up under the shadow of civil war, a pawn in a game of kings. It is only natural for him to wish to preempt any threat to his security. After all, both the Queen and her mother are of the House of York, and both meddled in high affairs in the last reign. As you know, your father, King Richard, planned at one time to marry Elizabeth of York, and she, I heard, was hot for it; but when he abandoned the plan, her love seemed to turn to hate. No doubt she
felt scorned. There was talk that she began plotting with Lord Stanley on Henry’s behalf. William told me.”

  Kate listened aghast: she had not known of this. No wonder Henry Tudor kept his Queen in subjection; he must have known all about her intrigues, and the fact that she had been hot for King Richard, as Anne had put it.

  Kate’s babe had just quickened in her womb when another letter arrived from Kat, who informed her that the atmosphere at court was tense because a young man had appeared in Ireland, calling himself the Earl of Warwick and the rightful King of England:

  But he cannot be the Earl of Warwick, because King Henry has just had the true Earl of Warwick taken out of the Tower for a day and paraded through the streets of London to prove to the people that the other is an imposter. James and I were up in London, and we went to see Warwick; I can tell you it was certainly him.

  Two days later William rose to his feet at the dinner table and called for silence. The chatter of his household subsided about him as he spoke gravely.

  “I have received a communication from the King’s Council.” He looked briefly at Kate, his eyes cold, before addressing the company. “I am commanded to place this castle in readiness against a possible invasion. Henceforth, all of you—knights, retainers, squires, even menials—must be on alert. The Earl of Lincoln has fled the realm and is reported to have sought refuge with his aunt, the Duchess Margaret, in Flanders. He is suspected of having nurtured and instructed the Irish pretender, whose real name is Lambert Simnel, in a traitorous conspiracy against the King. It stands to reason, of course,” he went on. “Lincoln’s house at Ewelme is near to Oxford, where the Simnel conspiracy was first plotted. There can be little doubt that he was the author of it. But notwithstanding the fact that the King has lately shown the real Earl of Warwick to the people, there are still ignorant fools who believe this Simnel really is him. Thus we must make ready, and be vigilant, in case the traitor Lincoln raises an army in Flanders and brings Simnel over from Ireland to press his false claim.”

 
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