A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  He sat down and glared at a white-faced Kate. “Now you can see what a fine gentleman you condescended to,” he growled. “It is as well you have put all that folly behind you, for you may rest assured he will be dealt with as he deserves.”

  KATHERINE

  May 1562, Tower of London

  Sir Edward Warner has been summoned to court; he left after breakfast. The summons could be for a variety of reasons, but of course I am wondering if it concerns me and Ned. Ever since those painful examinations before Archbishop Parker, three months ago, when I briefly glimpsed my beloved again as we were conveyed in separate barges up the Thames, and then questioned at different times, going over the same ground as before, I have been fretting about the outcome. Surely there is now no question of us being accused of treason? If they had meant to do that, they would have done it long ago. And no one has actually used the word treason; they all focus on our marriage. They are obsessed with witnesses and the calling of banns and written proof. But supposing this investigation deems our marriage treasonable? What will happen to us then? And what of my poor child? Again, I cannot help thinking of the fate of the princes.

  Thus turn my thoughts, so I am nearly in a frenzy by the time Sir Edward returns, and when I see his grave face, I feel I might faint with terror.

  “Calm yourself, my lady,” he says. “Sit down, I pray you. You are not in any danger, but the news is not what you will want to hear. I have had it from the Queen’s Majesty herself.”

  I hold my breath, anguished with suspense. Sir Edward looks pityingly on me.

  “I am commanded by her to tell you that the Archbishop of Canterbury has found that, in the absence of any documents or witnesses, your marriage to Lord Hertford cannot be proved, wherefore it has been declared no marriage, and your carnal copulation unlawful and worthy of punishment. I regret that it is my duty to inform you that his Grace of Canterbury has censured you and Lord Hertford for fornication, and that you have both been sentenced to be imprisoned here in the Tower at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” He falls silent, looking as if he would rather be anywhere else.

  This is calamitous and unjust. I can barely believe it. “We were married!” I cry. “I am no fornicator, believe me. Before God, Sir Edward, we have been sharply handled; and the lack of proofs was our misfortune, not any fault in us. Why will they not believe us?”

  “I am very sorry for you, my lady,” the lieutenant says.

  “They have intended this all along,” I wail, with sudden clarity. “They have sought to discredit me. Oh, the very shame of it! How shall I hold my head up after this? And my little son, what is he now? What shall become of him?”

  Sir Edward says nothing. He does not need to. The word “bastard” hangs mockingly in the air between us.

  “Tell me, Lieutenant,” I ask in bitterness, “is it now the fashion for those accused of fornication to be imprisoned in the Tower? Because if so, I wonder why half the world is not in here! And if that is all Ned and I are guilty of, then why cannot we be released?”

  “In faith, I do not know, my lady. I understand your anger. You have suffered much.”

  “Maybe they fear that if we are freed, we will wed in another ceremony that none can dispute! Yes, that is why they are keeping us locked up! Have you seen my lord—what does he say?”

  “He says he will appeal against the sentence. Now, madam, I pray you, rest a little. You are overwrought, and no wonder.” Shaking his grizzly head, Sir Edward takes his leave. He clearly wants no part in this.

  My life has become a nightmare. I am eaten up by the injustice of it all. I am married in the sight of God, and He knows the truth of it. I will not be labeled fornicator or anything else! And my child is lawfully begotten. When I get out of this place, I will fight this ruling in the courts, and defy the highest in the land to have the truth known, and neither Queen Elizabeth nor her entire Privy Council shall stop me!

  Mrs. Ellen and the other women try to comfort me. The lieutenant performs many small kindnesses to cheer me. He even refrains from upbraiding my pets for making puddles on the floor or ripping the upholstery. But I am a raging tempest, either in a storm of weeping or a storm of fury. I snap at everyone, even my angry, bawling son. I could not feel more wretched.

  I am lying abed one night and looking miserably at the moon beyond my window, wondering if I will hear those disembodied voices again, when the door opens and there is Ned, alone.

  “I bribed my guards!” he whispers. They are the first words he has uttered to me in over a year. “I would comfort you, my dear wife, and lie with you!” And in two bounds he is at my bedside, gathering me in his arms and holding me as if he will never let me go. And I, for my part, am passionately kissing him back, clutching at him and running my fingers over his body, unable to believe he is really here.

  “Oh, my sweet Ned!” I cry.

  For an hour, a little hour, the world belongs to us, and nothing else exists. Oh, how we love each other, naked between the sheets, tumbling over and over, hands and lips touching, caressing, pleasing, and then our bodies locking in rapture.

  “It has been so long, my love,” Ned murmurs as we lie stretched out across the rumpled mattress afterward, my head on his belly, he stroking my hair.

  “I do not know how I have borne it,” I tell him.

  The babe awakens and snuffles.

  “How is my son?” Ned asks, rising up and leaning over to the cradle. “Hello, Edward! You are a fine young lord!” I watch them together for a moment, as Ned picks up the child, strokes his fine hair, and tries to make him smile. I am filled with happiness to see them thus, and will not spoil it by pointing out that Edward is no longer legally a young lord.

  “Ned,” I ask, “did the Queen give permission for us to be together?”

  “No, but Sir Edward said he would allow it. He said there was no reason why we should not console one another.”

  My heart swells with gratitude. “He is a good man.”

  “He says we may meet whenever we please, so long as I pay the guards and take care to be discreet.”

  “He is a true friend, and has proved it in many ways, but this is the greatest blessing he has brought us,” I say, and we fall to kissing again until a light tap on the door warns us that Ned must depart.

  The lieutenant comes with news for me.

  “My lady, I have just heard from the steward at the Minories. The old lady has returned; she has not been in good health, which was why he had not seen her. He told her about my interest in the tombs and the church, and she said she would gladly meet with me to tell me more about their history.”

  “That is encouraging news!” I exclaim. “I never thought to hear more of her.”

  “Well, you shall. I will invite her here, and you may meet her. My orders are to allow no one but your attendants to see you, but I know I can trust you, my lady—and I myself will be present to ensure you behave yourself!”

  “Of course, Sir Edward!” I say warmly. “I will speak to her only of the tombs, I promise.”

  “Her name is Elizabeth Savage. The steward was right—she was the last abbess of the Minoresses’ convent. Naturally, she does not like that to be known, so we will not mention it unless she does.”

  Can this old lady help us in our quest? She thinks she is coming to discuss some old tombs, not the disappearance of the princes. And she will surely be startled to meet me, probably one of the most notorious prisoners in the kingdom right now!

  KATE

  June 1487, Raglan Castle

  News came regularly to the castle, by letter or word of mouth, and the news nowadays was momentous—but, for Kate, distressing. John was in Ireland with a Flemish army. Under his auspices, Lambert Simnel, despite being branded an imposter by the King, had been crowned as Edward VI in Dublin Cathedral late the previous month. Henry Tudor had mobilized his forces against an invasion.

  Rumors and speculation were rampant everywhere, and the country, which had been in a ferment of uncert
ainty for weeks, now erupted in panic at the imminent prospect of invasion.

  Even though Kate had been careful to express no word of support for John and the rebels, and had voiced her own fears about the conflict to come, William remained cold toward her, acting almost as if it were her fault that her sometime lover was in rebellion against the King. As if she could do anything to prevent it, she thought resentfully. She had not seen John in more than a year and a half, and there had been no communication at all between them. She wondered if he still cherished her memory, as she did his, or if his marriage had jolted him into reality and caused him to put his youthful passions behind him. She wondered too if he had spoken out in her defense after her arrest. The fact that he had stayed in favor with the Tudor argued that he had not. But she could not believe he had forsaken her. He would have reasoned that pragmatism was the safest course for them both.

  Why was he backing the claims of Simnel so vigorously, and at such peril to himself? He must have heard that the Tudor had exhibited the real Warwick to the people—something her father should have done with the princes to quell the rumors that were destroying him. But perhaps her father had known what John’s actions had now proved: that producing the princes alive wouldn’t have made much difference anyway. Because people believe what they want to believe, she concluded. Even now, there were many, their number increasing, who held that the boy in Ireland really was Warwick.

  It crossed Kate’s mind that John had set up the whole charade as a pretext for claiming the throne himself. People would be more likely to rise up for Warwick, Clarence’s heir, than for himself, whose claim came only through the female line. Even Henry Tudor had not accounted John a threat in the way he accounted Warwick.

  Something Kat had written suggested to Kate that there was more to this matter than appeared on the surface.

  It is said that the boy Simnel first claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, but the word is that Margaret of Burgundy refused to recognize him as York, so it was given out that he was Warwick.

  But what if Simnel was in fact Richard, Duke of York? What if poor Edward V had died of the illness that was eating up his jaw, and his brother had survived in secrecy? It made sense that he had been taken to Sheriff Hutton and entrusted to John’s guardianship—and that John, with his strong sense of honor, should have resolved to restore the true heir to the throne. Maybe pretending that York was Warwick was meant to dupe Henry Tudor into thinking he was dealing with a silly claim by an imposter. It was convoluted thinking, she knew, but there was so much that was mysterious about this affair of the pretender; and Kate had a strong hope that she might be nearing the end of her mission to clear her father’s dishonored name. Her excitement conveyed itself to her child, which stirred within her, heavy now under her heart. The answer lay with John, she was sure. She had a strong feeling, in her bones, that Simnel was York in disguise.

  KATHERINE

  July 1562, Tower of London

  I never thought I would ever come to regard the Tower as a bower of bliss, but that is what it became for a short time, even for us poor prisoners; and here I have enjoyed two of the happiest nights of my life, for Ned came again four nights later, and we consoled each other in the same loving ways, and were husband and wife in very truth. For that short space too we were a family, with our little boy to gladden us and take pride in. He thrives, sweet Edward, which is a joy and relief to us both.

  In between those visits, we sent each other letters, expressing our pleasure to find each other still in health and unbowed after all the long months of anxiety and fear. I long to be merry with you! I wrote to Ned, signing myself your most loving and faithful wife, which I truly am, whatever the Archbishop may say.

  “You could not know how I missed you too, darling, how I worried about you when I was in France,” Ned told me as we lay entwined together that second night, all passion spent. His words ignited a painful memory. It was as if a cloud passed over the sun.

  I could not help myself. I had to ask. “Those bracelets …”

  “Bracelets? Those French ones the Queen asked me to commission? There were two for you. Did you get them?”

  “The Queen commissioned them?”

  “Yes, so that she and her ladies should be gay on the progress. That’s what she wrote.”

  “Yes, I did get them. I just wanted to thank you.” There was no need to question him. All had become clear. Elizabeth, to spite me, must have given her ladies to believe that Ned had sent them the bracelets as love tokens. So all was well between my love and me.

  But last night Ned arrived to find my door locked and me weeping with frustration inside.

  “Mayhap your guards have taken fright,” he called softly, and verily I believed they had. But this morning Sir Edward presents himself, looking grave. There can be no more clandestine trysts. A new order has just come direct from the Queen, forbidding Ned and me to meet.

  I miss Ned desperately. But at least our letters are not forbidden. I long to be with you again, my sweet bedfellow, I write. Ned responds in kind and sends me a book. This is no small jewel to me, I tell him. I will read it at once, with my heart, as well as with my eyes.

  He writes of his fears that I will be constrained to forget him. Oh, no, no, my sweet lord, I breathe—that could never happen. I ask in reply:

  Do you think I could ever forget all that is past between us? No, surely I cannot, but bear in memory far more than you think. And I have good cause to do so, when I call to mind what a husband I have in you, and my hard fate to have missed the having of so good a one.

  Our brief idyll has ended, but soon I am dismayed to discover that there will be consequences. For I am with child again, and once more in terror lest I be found out. Some may think me a fool, but I had been so overjoyed to be reunited with my love that I let caution and reason fly into the wind.

  When first I suspect my condition, I confide my fears to Ned, and he writes back, expressing defiant joy at the news. This will be the true proof of our marriage, he asserts.

  I confess my state to my women—Mrs. Ellen, who deals with my linen, has already guessed—and then to Sir Edward. The poor man is utterly horrified.

  “Great God in Heaven, we are all undone!” he declares, wringing his hands. “When this gets out, it will most grievously offend the Queen’s Majesty, and with even more cause this time.”

  “I fear we will be punished heavily for it,” I say, trembling and nauseous.

  “Aye, and myself too.”

  I hang my head. This is not a fit reward for his kindness. Then an idea comes to me—an idea that might just work!

  “Sir Edward, could this pregnancy not be kept a secret? Only my women and my husband know. I am straitly confined here, allowed to see no one, and once the babe is born, it can be sent out to nurse privily, and no one the wiser.”

  The lieutenant thinks about this, scratching his head in distress. “It is the only safe solution,” he agrees, his ruddy cheeks pale. But we both know we are running a terrible risk.

  After supper, Sir Edward appears again, ushering in an elderly lady wearing a plain gray woolen townswoman’s gown with a white linen coif. Elizabeth Savage at last! Her face is pale and thin, the eyes light blue, the lips drawn down by fine lines, and her hands are clasped tightly before her.

  She curtsies to me. She knows who I am. Her face is impassive, her eyes downcast, unreadable. It is easy to see that she was once a nun.

  I take the chair by the fireside and invite her to be seated.

  “Mistress Savage, the Lady Katherine is also interested in the tombs, so I thought we could discuss them together,” the lieutenant explains.

  Elizabeth Savage nods but says nothing. Maybe she was taught in her convent only to speak when necessary.

  “My father once owned the Minories,” I explain, “and I stayed there often when I was younger. There are some great ladies buried in the church. I remember seeing their tombs as a child,
but cannot recall all their names.”

  A shadow crosses Mistress Savage’s already wary face. She knows something, I think.

  “They are particularly interesting monuments,” Sir Edward puts in. “Yet it is not just the tombs we wish to know about, but the women who were buried in them. We know you visit these tombs often. We wondered if you had any knowledge of those ladies.”

  “I know nothing, sir,” the woman says, too quickly. I notice that her accent is refined, indicating gentle birth. She looks like a cornered deer.

  “Please, mistress,” I intervene. “This matter may concern a great wrong that was done many years ago to two kinsmen of mine. You will have heard of the Princes in the Tower …”

  Mistress Savage sucks in her breath. Her involuntary response gives her away, and she knows it. “What is this about?” she asks. “Why are you asking me about that?”

  “You know something about the matter, don’t you?” the lieutenant says gently. “We had a suspicion you might.” It is easy to see that he is experienced in the business of questioning people. “Come, there is nothing to fear, I assure you. This is no official inquiry. I, and my lady here, merely have an interest in finding out the truth. We have been investigating the matter privily for some time now. The fate of the princes is a mystery that has long intrigued us both.” He leans forward. “You were the last abbess of the Minories. You visit those tombs often. I wonder why. I also believe that if anyone can tell us if there is a connection between them and the fate of the princes, it is you.”

  “I know nothing,” says Elizabeth Savage again, flushing.

  “Is that so?” Sir Edward asks. “Then why are you on the defensive? Why did you look so discomfited just now when the princes were mentioned? Madam, I know you can help us. And we would respect your confidence.”

  “We read Sir Thomas More’s history,” I add, “and I made the connection between the names Tyrell and Brackenbury and the tombs in the church. I recalled seeing the same names there when I was a child, and it seemed more than coincidental that they appeared in More’s account.”

 
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