A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  “I have,” Mattie assured her, wringing her hands. “I’ve been at him for days, but he is adamant. The true line must be restored, he says, and the Tudor sent packing. He says he’s not the only one that thinks that way, and he’s right, for I hear there are others flocking to the earl’s banner. But my lady, I do fear for him!”

  There were tears in Kate’s eyes as she reflected on the staunch hearts of these true friends.

  “I wonder, my lady,” Mattie said, dabbing her eyes too, “if you would like Guy to carry a letter to my lord of Lincoln.”

  “Oh, yes!” Kate cried. “Yes! I should like that very much. I will write a letter now, and you may take it to Guy with more hearty thanks from me.”

  “That I will, my lady. And I’d be grateful for your prayers for his safety.”

  “I will pray for us all, and especially for Guy—and for John. Let us hope that God defends the right,” Kate said fervently.

  To my right well beloved John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Kate wrote as a preamble, thinking it looked rather stiff and formal, yet not knowing how else to begin; but then the words poured out of her.

  It is long since I saw you, my own fair knight, and I recommend myself to you in my most faithful wise, and pray you to let me know of your welfare, which I pray God daily to increase. And if it shall please you to hear of me, I can never be in full good health of body nor of heart till I hear from you. I am with child and near my time, or I would have made haste to come to you myself. But in my absence, this good groom of mine has consented to bring this my letter.

  I send you my prayers and good wishes for your great enterprise, and look soon to have joyful news of you. May God send the victory to the righteous. I will pray for that to the utmost of my power.

  My lord, I did mean to ask you that last time, before I was cruelly prevented: were the sons of King Edward with you at Sheriff Hutton? I am in good hope that they were taken from the Tower and sent there in the wake of the conspiracies. I ask you this that I might know the truth about my father, King Richard. You know it would be the greatest comfort to me in this world to know that he did not put them to death. I have wondered too if the young gentleman you have with you is not what he says but some other of even greater importance. No doubt we shall all know the truth soon, God willing.

  No more to you at this time, but the Holy Trinity have you in keeping. And I beseech you that this letter be not seen by any earthly creature save only yourself. And now farewell, mine own fair lord, and God give you good rest, and a great victory over our enemies.

  Written at Raglan on St. Barnabas Day in the afternoon.

  Your own Katherine Plantagenet.

  When ye have read this, I pray you burn it or keep it secret to yourself, as my faithful trust is in you.

  At dawn the next day, Kate stood by the mounting block holding the empty stirrup cup, watching William lead his company of soldiers out of the courtyard. Guy was with them, the letter in his bosom. When they had all gone from sight, she knew a moment of panic, for if it were to be intercepted by the King’s men, this would undoubtedly be seen as treasonous; but it was too late to recall it. Yet when she envisaged John reading it, and its contents giving heart to him before he faced his enemies in battle, and the reply he might send when the world had righted itself, she knew for a certainty that she would not recall it even if she had the chance.


  October 1562, Hampton Court Palace

  “The Queen is dying,” Robert Dudley groans, his head in his hands. “There is no hope.”

  The other councillors in the antechamber exchange glances. This display of grief is as much for Dudley himself as for Elizabeth, they convey, as once she is gone, good-bye, Lord Robert—and good riddance!

  However, their minds are preoccupied with more weighty matters. They are all too conscious of the threat of civil war, should the Queen succumb to the smallpox without naming her heir.

  “We must pray that Her Majesty recovers,” Cecil says firmly. “And that we be not divided on the issue of her successor.”

  “My vote is for Lord Huntingdon,” declares Pembroke, who has not forgiven Katherine’s treatment of his son.

  “His claim is weak.” Mr. Secretary dismisses it with a wave of his hand.

  “Then we are left with the Lady Katherine Grey,” Winchester declares. Several voices, including those of the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Arundel, are heard saying aye. Pembroke snorts in derision.

  “But she has been disgraced and discredited,” Sussex reminds them. “She is hardly fit to succeed.”

  “She is a Protestant, and it’s possible her marriage was lawful,” Cecil opines. “But even if that could be proved, which of us would want Lord Hertford as King?”

  There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

  “It would be Philip of Spain all over again.”

  “The Seymours have always been too puffed up for their own good.”

  “But,” says Cecil, “public opinion speaks in Lady Katherine’s favor. There are many, I would remind you, who regard her marriage as valid, and think that she and Lord Hertford should be allowed to live as man and wife. They are popular with the people, and seen as sharply handled.”

  “What is your view, Lord Robert?” Winchester asks. “Lady Katherine is your sister-in-law.”

  “Was,” Dudley says quickly. “I say we ask the Queen to release Lady Lennox from the Tower. Or choose Huntingdon. God’s blood, if Her Majesty had an heir of her own body, we would not be in this pickle!”

  “By you, my lord, you mean?” Norfolk smirks.

  “Yes, if you will!” Dudley flares. “Or by anybody, come to that. But as she hasn’t, we have to make a decision.”

  Arguments erupt. There are more calls for Katherine to succeed, while a few voices speak up for Mary, Queen of Scots. Cecil puts his hands over his ears, then holds up a warning finger.

  “My lords, the Queen lies ill within! Have some respect. Now, a show of hands, by your leave. Who is for Lady Katherine?”

  A majority respond. Cecil frowns. And at that moment, the German doctor attending the Queen emerges from her chamber.

  “My lords! Come at once. She is better, praise Gott!”


  June 1487, Raglan Castle

  The news was good. There had been a great Yorkist victory at Bramham Moor, led by Lord Clifford, one of John’s commanders. Then they heard that Lincoln, at the head of an army eight thousand strong, was advancing relentlessly: he was at York, at Sherwood Forest, at Nottingham. In the privacy of her chamber, Kate and Mattie rejoiced, but their fears would not be stilled, because it took days for news to get through to Raglan; who knew what had been happening in the meantime?

  They had heard nothing from Guy, but then they had not expected to. He could not write. Kate prayed he had gotten through safely to the Yorkist army.

  The King, it was reported, was marching toward Newark in Lincolnshire. The household at Raglan held its collective breath, as did the whole realm, because the inevitable confrontation, which might come any day now, would determine decisively which royal house would rule England. Sweating and ungainly with her precious burden in the heat of the summer, Kate prayed as she had never prayed before, for John’s safety, and Guy’s, and for a Yorkist victory. She wondered if John’s wife, the Countess Margaret, was praying as fervently, wherever she was.

  She prayed for William too, but only because it was her duty.

  The news, when it came, was shocking. There had been a great, hard-fought battle at Stoke, a few miles southwest of Newark. The Tudor had finally vanquished his enemies. Four thousand, including the Earl of Lincoln, lay slain in the field.

  How she kept her composure when William, returning triumphant, announced these tidings to his assembled household in the castle courtyard, she did not know. But she was not the descendant of a long line of great kings for nothing. Save for turning pale, which was not remarkable, given her condition, she gave nothing away; sh
e even managed a cheer with the rest when her husband spoke of the Tudor’s victory over the ‘perfidious dark earl’—as William sneeringly called John. It was all over now, the long struggle between Lancaster and York; there was no one left to fight for the defeated dynasty.

  Kate thought she too would die when she heard John was dead. It was unbelievable, incomprehensible, that her dear love was no more. Slain, dead in the field … that glorious young knight, in the flower of his youth and manhood, and just twenty-five years old. Never again would he hold her, kiss her, whisper love poems to her, or love her … She could not bear to hear that he had been buried in no sacred place, but where he fell, with a willow stave driven through his heart.

  She took to her chamber, knowing her time was near. If she died in childbirth, she would be content. She did not want to live in a world without John.

  But the world, in the person of Henry Tudor, was not done with her yet.

  Mattie was distraught with anxiety for Guy, who had not returned. Knowing of the great slaughter at Stoke, she was near crazed in case he had been killed, and desperate to know how she could find out. There would be many with menfolk missing, praying they had gotten away. But short of traveling across the breadth of the kingdom to Lincolnshire, there was nothing she could do.

  A week after the battle, two of the King’s officers in their green and white livery presented themselves at the gatehouse at Raglan and demanded entry. Mattie espied them from a window, clattering into the courtyard, and saw William invite them into the great hall and shout for wine as he disappeared through the door. She thought little of their coming at the time, and went to sit with Kate, whose spirits were so low, and who lay on her bed listlessly, fully dressed, the great mound of her belly taut almost at term, and her long dark locks spread out around her haunted white face. Mattie feared for her: the child was draining her strength, and she seemed to have lost the will to live—and who could blame her? But if she did not rally, she might not have the strength she needed to face childbirth. And so Mattie, suppressing her own fears for Guy, was doing her very best to cheer Kate, talking to her about the coming child, preparing strengthening food and warming drinks for her, and putting fresh flowers daily into the little pewter vase on the window ledge.

  She was sitting by the bed, showing Kate the new-fashioned gable hood she was making for her, when the door was suddenly flung open and William stood there, his face thunderous.

  “What have you done?” he yelled at Kate. “What the hell do you think you have done?” Kate looked at him bewildered for a second, then awareness dawned, and she stared at him in horror, knowing that the forces of hell were about to be unleashed. Mattie started to shake.

  “May we come in?” said a brisk voice, and William, red with fury, stood aside to allow the King’s officers to enter.

  “Are you the Lady Katherine, Countess of Huntingdon?” one of them, a young, dark-haired fellow, asked Kate.

  “Yes,” she replied in a hoarse voice.

  “Did you write this?” He handed her a crumpled, blood-spotted piece of paper. Her face blanched as she gazed upon it. It was the letter she had written to John. She could not touch it: it was his lifeblood that had been spilled on the paper. Had he been carrying it in his bosom when he was killed?

  She raised herself up on one elbow and faced her accusers calmly. “Yes,” she said.

  “What did you think you were doing?” William roared. “I swear to you, sirs, I had no knowledge of this.”

  “The King is aware of that, my lord,” the second officer assured him. “It is clear from the letter. But, madam,” he said, turning to Kate, “His Grace is mindful that you offered your support to the traitor Lincoln. That is treason. Do you admit that that was your intent?”

  “Yes, I admit it,” Kate said. “I was glad to do it.” She did not care what they did to her now. The only truth in her life was her love for John, and she was not going to deny it. The memory of it was all she had left.

  “Then, madam, the case is very serious for you. My orders are to arrest you and convey you to Kenilworth Castle, where the King is, for questioning, but I see you are great with child. In the circumstances, you must remain here as a prisoner until you are delivered. You may have your maid to attend you. My lord, will you ensure, on pain of the King’s displeasure, that your wife is kept close in her chamber and that no one else is allowed access to her?”

  “By God I will!” shouted William. “You have played me false, you strumpet, you traitress! It beggars belief what you have done.”

  Kate turned her face away. Mattie had her hands to her mouth, weeping in horror; she must be feeling terrible, for it was Mattie who had suggested that she send a letter to John. But she had not been responsible for its contents; as for Kate, she did not regret having sent it at all.

  “Sirs!” she said, as the officers made to leave. “Can you tell me where that letter was found?”

  “On the body of the traitor Lincoln,” the dark-haired man said.

  He had read her letter; he had died with her words of love in his heart. It was all she wanted to know. She smiled faintly. “Thank you, sir. I am content now.” And she felt a welcoming sense of peace.

  The officer looked at her curiously. William opened his mouth to castigate her again, but Mattie forestalled him. “Good sirs, do you know of the fate of my husband, Guy Freeman? He was a big, tall man with a red face and fair hair. You would recognize him because he has a large wen on his cheek.”

  The officers exchanged looks. “Wearing a tan leather jerkin and green hose?”

  “Yes!” Mattie’s voice was eager.

  “Sorry, woman, but he’s dead. He was found lying wounded in the ravine they’re now calling the Bloody Gutter. He was another traitor, wearing Lincoln’s badge. They hanged him.”

  Mattie screamed.


  August 1563, Tower of London

  To write this is painful to me. My love is gone from me, forever, maybe, and it is as if a thousand distances lie between us.

  I bore my child, little Thomas. God gives us His great paternal blessings once again, Ned wrote, delighted to learn he was the father of a second son.

  I thought we had managed well, for none knew of my pregnancy until a servant blabbed of it. And then the word was out, and the Queen’s wrath erupted; I heard later that she’d turned the color of a corpse when told the news. Poor Sir Edward, our kindly jailer, to whom I shall always be indebted, and who had gotten two of his warders to stand godfather at the second baptism, found himself that very day summarily dismissed from his post and clapped in one of his own dungeons.

  Sir Edward’s superior, Sir Robert Oxenbridge, the Constable of the Tower, took evident pleasure in telling me that Ned had been summoned immediately before the Court of Star Chamber at Westminster, charged with breaching his prison, deflowering a virgin of royal blood, and compounding that crime by defiling me a second time. They sentenced him to be fined—extortionately—and to remain in prison in the Tower during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

  The last sight I had of Ned was at Thomas’s baptism. I remember him cradling our new son in his arms and uttering fervent thanks to God for my safe delivery, with toddling Edward clinging to his knee. By the good offices of Sir Edward Warner, I had my portrait painted for a locket, holding Edward in my arms, a miniature of my sweet lord about my neck. Ned admired it when we were in the chapel, and I snatched it off and covertly passed it to him as a keepsake before I watched him walk away under the stern guard of the constable. We had not been permitted even a farewell kiss.

  That was six months ago, and since then I have pined here alone in my prison, cowed into subjection under the harsh rule of Sir Robert Oxenbridge. Were it not for my precious babes, I think I would commit the great sin of killing myself.

  And now, in the heat of summer, comes the plague. They are falling like flies in London, a frightened Mrs. Ellen reports. The word is that people are dying at a rate of a thousand a week.
The stink from the City, when the wind is in the wrong direction, is all-pervading, contaminating everything, and making me fearful for my little ones. The court, I learn, has removed to Windsor, where the Queen has had a gallows put up and threatens to hang anyone from the capital venturing thither.

  I am terrified for my sons. While they remain here with me in the Tower, they risk becoming infected. I contemplate asking if Mrs. Ellen can take them away to a safe place, just for now. But Sir Robert appears at my door.

  “Lady Katherine,” he says, “I am commanded by the Queen, out of compassion for the sake of your health, and that of your children, to send you all under guard into the country. Lord Hertford is to be sent away too, to a different place of residence, and you shall have separate custodians. The infant may stay with you, and young Master Edward must go with his father.”

  “No!” I cry in anguish. “No! I cannot live if I am parted from my child, or my sweet lord! I would rather die of plague.”

  The constable regards me disapprovingly. I know he thinks me a rash, foolish, even dangerous woman.

  “Calm yourself, my lady. These measures are for your own safety, and that of your children and Lord Hertford. And my lord is content to obey. He has asked me to give you this as a farewell token. I permit it as a special favor.”

  It is a mourning ring, with a death’s-head intaglio. He wore it for his father, I recall. And now, turning it over in trembling hands, I see there are words freshly engraved on it, as with a sharp knife. It reads: While I live, yours.

  On the first day of July, in the year of grace 1487, Katherine, Countess of Huntingdon, daughter of Richard, sometime King of England, began her travail. Her infant, a son, was born dead, to the great grief of her husband, the earl. Soon afterward, the Lady Katherine herself gave up the ghost, and rendered her spirit to God most joyfully, uttering one last word, John. Upon hearing which, her lord was observed to groan woefully in grief. It was thought, by most of those kneeling by her bed, that she spoke of her brother, then far away in Calais.

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