A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

  “When he wrote this letter they were still arguing about it, and for all we know, they still are.” Anne sighed, leaning her weary head against the chair back. She essayed a weak smile. “Mind that altar cloth, Kate, you are ruining it!”

  The next news was better. Gloucester had been assured he now had many supporters, with more people declaring for him each day. But still the Wydevilles were asserting their power and refusing to agree to his being named Lord Protector.

  “But why?” young John had asked.

  Anne laid a gentle hand on his curly head. “Because they know he considers them upstarts, and that he will remove the King from their clutches. And without the King, they are nothing.”

  Then events had begun to move ahead dramatically. Gloucester met up with the Duke of Buckingham at Northampton, and they had ridden south together, their combined strength at their heels. In the meantime, the little King, escorted by his uncle, Earl Rivers, and his half brother, Sir Richard Grey, was making for London, where he was to be crowned.

  My plans are complete, the duke wrote.

  There had then been a few agonizing days without news. Kate was painfully aware of the possibility that her father could be lying dead somewhere, killed in battle, for all they knew. The duchess was brooding about that too, going about with a drawn face and spending many hours on her knees in the castle chapel, praying for her lord’s safety and gazing heavenward through the soaring tracery windows in near despair. Sometimes Kate would join her before the altar, and they would beseech God together to spare the man they loved.

  The news, when at last it came, was sensational. Gloucester and Buckingham had intercepted the King’s party at Stony Stratford; they had been forced, for safety’s sake, to arrest Rivers and Grey, and had taken the boy Edward into custody. They were now on their way with him to London.

  Not a single drop of blood was shed, the duke assured them, in a letter written at an inn late one night. Yet you may be sure that, after expressing to the King our grief and condolences at the death of his sire, my late brother, of happy memory, we took care to impute his early demise to wicked ministers who had corrupted his morals and ruined his health. We referred, of course, to the Queen’s blood.

  That sounded like her father! He might have fallen from grace in his youth, but he was now the most moral of men, upright and God-fearing, and quick to condemn those who fell short of his high standards.

  Anne continued reading: “He goes on to say that, lest these same ministers should play their old game with the son, he has removed them from the King’s side, because he, being a child, would be incapable of governing so great a realm by means of such puny men. I like the way he puts it.” She smiled, but then her face clouded. “He also writes that the Wydevilles were conspiring his death. They had prepared ambushes on the road, and in London. Oh, dear God, I wish I could know that he is safe!”

  “They would not dare, surely?” Kate cried in alarm.

  “He says the ambushes were revealed to him by their accomplices, so we may hope that the threat has been dealt with. The King stood up for his kinsfolk, as one might expect, but your father told him that he did not know everything that had been going on, and that he himself could better discharge the duties of government, and assured him he would neglect nothing of the duty of a loyal subject and diligent Lord Protector. The King defied him, saying he had great confidence in his mother the Queen and her blood, but my lord of Buckingham answered that it was not the business of women to govern kingdoms, and His Grace should place all his hope in his barons, or those who excel in power and nobility. And so King Edward has perforce surrendered himself into the care of the duke your father.”

  “It was a wise decision,” Kate declared. “He will not regret it.”

  Anne was reading farther down the page. Her face paled. “There is more. You should read it,” she said. “You are old enough to know what is going on.”

  She sank distractedly into her chair as Kate read what her father had written.

  I have separated the King’s Grace from his household, and ordered all his servants to go to their homes. Many are saying that it is more just and beneficial for the King to be with his father’s brother than with his Wydeville kin. The news from London is that the Queen, hearing that we have gained charge of His Grace, has taken sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with the Duke of York and the princesses, as if she needed protection from me. Lord Hastings writes that she believes we are all laboring to destroy her and her blood. Yet she has nothing to fear from me if she ceases her meddling. I have ordered a watch to be made on all who visit her in sanctuary. In London, the citizens are arming, thinking that there will be fighting, but I will do all in my power to prevent any bloodshed. Whatever rumors you hear, pay them no heed, for they are saying in London that I have brought my nephew the King into my power rather than my care, so as to gain the crown for myself. You will be gratified to hear that my Lord Hastings has assured the King’s council that I am fast and faithful to my prince, and that I had arrested his kinsmen only out of fear for my own safety. He himself told the councillors of the plot to murder me.

  Her father, her dear father, could so nearly have died, slain at the hands of the unscrupulous Wydevilles! Small wonder the duchess was looking so anxious. But the final lines of the letter brought comfort. The councillors had praised the duke for his dutifulness toward his nephew and his intention to punish his—and the King’s—enemies. Rivers and Grey and their associates had been sent north to be held securely at Pontefract Castle. Her father had also commanded that the Great Seal of England be given into the safekeeping of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now he was on his way to London, and would write further as soon as he could.

  The next messenger brought a summons to London. The duchess was to join the duke and bring Kate and John with her. A date had been set for the young King’s coronation: it would be on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. The duke wanted them present at the great solemnities that were to take place in Westminster Abbey. But they could not look forward to it as they should. The coronation might be the end of everything.

  “I have to tell you, Kate: I am in fear for your father,” the duchess confessed, with tears brimming in her light blue eyes. They had set out on their journey and were seated in a private parlor of a priory guest house near Stamford, with several tempting dishes laid out on the table before them. But Anne was merely toying with her food. Another letter lay folded by her plate. “He has informed me that his office of Lord Protector lapses with the coronation. He expects—nay, he hopes—that he will be chosen to head the regency council that will govern thereafter in the King’s name, but he is aware that the sympathies of several councillors are with the Queen and her party, so nothing is assured. Yet even if he is chosen, how long could he expect to be in control? The King could declare himself of age in two or three years’ time—and then what?” She buried her face in her hands. “Kate, again I should not be burdening you with this—you are barely thirteen, my poor child—but I know you would want to be told the truth.”

  Kate embraced her stepmother. Disarmed by this, Anne began weeping uncontrollably, and Kate felt a pang of desperate longing for the tranquil, ordered life they had been leading until the King’s death set these disturbing events in motion. Certainly it would be a long time—months, years, if ever—before the duke could return home to Middleham and take up the reins of that old life once more. By then, Kate thought, she might be married and living far away, and the happy years at Middleham would be but a memory for her. And even if she escaped the snare of wedlock, would the new King ever repose such trust in his uncle as his father had? Edward IV had relied on Gloucester heavily, but his son had been brought up under the influence of the Wydevilles, the duke’s mortal enemies. Nothing was certain anymore.

  Anne’s halting words echoed her own thoughts. “The King’s loyalties are to his mother and her blood. Dickon writes that young Edward is resentful and hostile. He feels his mother
has been slighted. He demands that Rivers and Grey be freed from prison. He loves his uncle Rivers especially: Rivers brought him up at Ludlow. You cannot blame the boy!”

  “Certainly he will seek to restore them and the Queen to power,” Kate said, realizing what that would mean for her father.

  “Aye, and their first thought will be to exact vengeance on my lord. And the King, I fear, will not lift a finger to stop them. The duke can expect no favors from him, nor mercy at the hands of the Queen. My lord makes no secret of his fear of the Wydevilles; and yet he is only fulfilling his brother’s dying wishes in taking up the reins of government during this minority.”

  Anne paused and raised frightened blue eyes to Kate. “Your father’s letters betray some agitation of mind, yet all might yet be well. He writes that he has acted as an avenger of treason, and that the Londoners applaud him for it. He says he is popular in the City, for which I thank God. He also states that, if the need arose, he could command troops from the North, which were ever faithful to him. He has already taken the precaution of removing the navy from the control of the Wydevilles. He has summoned Parliament, in the King’s name, to assemble after the coronation, and he constantly urges that his protectorate be extended. He is doing all he can, it seems, to ensure his future security. Yet it is plain as day that he anticipates some conflict.”

  “My lords Hastings and Buckingham are loyal to him,” Kate said. “They will insist upon the term of his office being lengthened.”

  “I think they will,” Anne answered thoughtfully. “Especially Buckingham. My lord has rewarded him handsomely for his support. The duke praises him highly, and writes that Buckingham is always ready at hand to assist him with his advice and his great wealth and influence.”

  “What of Lord Hastings?” Kate asked. It seemed to her that Buckingham was getting the lion’s share of the rewards. “Surely his help has been as invaluable? After all, it was Hastings who first warned my father that the Wydevilles were plotting to seize power. If it were not for Hastings, he might not have been in time to take the King.”

  Anne looked slightly disquieted. “Your father has confirmed that Hastings shall continue to serve as Lord Chamberlain of England and he has put him in charge of the mint.”

  “Is that all?” Kate was surprised.

  “In truth, I think it a little strange,” Anne confessed. “Your father says he loves Hastings well, and yet he has been far more lavish with favors to Buckingham.”

  “Maybe he has something else in mind for Hastings,” Kate said.

  A messenger caught up with them near Royston. The duke was now Lord Protector: the council had formally invested him, and had entrusted him not only with the governance of the realm but also with the tutelage and upbringing of the King.

  It was done with the consent and goodwill of the lords, he had written, and I have sovereign power to order and forbid in every matter, just like another king. Lord Hastings cannot sufficiently express his joy at such a happy outcome, and we all thank God that it has been achieved without any blood being spilt.

  But it might yet be. The duke had pressed for the condemnation of Rivers and Grey and two of their associates, but the council had refused to convict them. They say there is no certain evidence, he fumed, and they remind me that, at the time of the alleged attempt on my life, I was not Lord Protector, so cannot press a charge of treason. Some even think those men innocent! They condemn me instead for imprisoning them without judgment or justice.

  “But if he lets them go, they will seek his death,” the duchess protested, her voice shaking, her face drawn with fear. “If he has gone too far in the matter, it was because he had no choice. He was right to imprison them, for they were powerful men and would certainly have risen against him, with the backing of the Queen and the rest of her faction. But seizing their estates too? I’m not sure he should have done that, for they have not been attainted by Parliament.”

  “Not yet,” Kate said confidently. “They will be. They must be! Cannot the council see that they are men of blood who would do my father a mischief, given the chance? What else could he have done?” Her little face was unusually flushed with anger. It was rare for her to become so heated.

  Kate never forgot her first sight of London. Approaching from the northern heights, after the long journey south from Wensleydale, she suddenly saw before her the fabled city nestling in its broad valley: a marvelous, teeming panorama of rooftops and church spires, dominated by the massive presence of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and ringed by strong walls. And as the noble cavalcade progressed slowly downhill from the village of Highgate, she saw fine houses set in spacious gardens and orchards, which presently gave place to more populous and prosperous suburbs.

  They were to have gone to Baynard’s Castle, the palatial riverside residence of her grandmother, the Duchess of York, but the duke had sent ahead to say that he had removed from there to Crosby Hall, a great mansion he had rented in the City of London, and would await them there. Kate had felt a pang of disappointment about that, because she had been looking forward to seeing her grandmother, but no doubt they would visit her during their stay.

  They entered the City through Aldersgate, their route taking them past the great priory of St. Martin-le-Grand, then east into Cheapside and Cornhill, and so to Bishopsgate; and suddenly Kate found herself in a maze of bustling thoroughfares crammed with overhanging timbered buildings and hordes of people. There were stately merchants, rowdy apprentices, sober tradesmen and craftsmen, elegant dames attended by servants, and beggars crying for alms, all jostling each other, eyeing the myriad wondrous wares on display in the shops, and getting in the way of the drays and carts that plied their business. The cacophony of noise was deafening, and the smell was awful. All manner of rubbish, offal, and ordure was strewn across the street, and the mass of unwashed, sweating bodies only added to the stench. Kate pressed a handkerchief to her nose, though before long she would find that she no longer needed it, because you soon got used to living with the London stink. But it was a world away from peaceful Middleham and the spacious dales and moors of Yorkshire.

  “Make way! Make way for my lady the Duchess of Gloucester!” cried the captain at the head of their escort, as the townsfolk—some very fine and puffed up in their velvets and gold chains—stepped unwillingly out of the path of the horses. A few doffed their hats and bowed; others peered curiously at the occupants of the horse litter.

  The Londoners knew of the Duchess Anne mostly by repute, for she had spent most of her life at her father’s castle of Middleham in Yorkshire, now the property of her husband and his favorite seat. From there he had ruled the North like another king, and ruled it well. He was not well known in the capital, but the people cheered Anne as she passed, for they had loved her father, the Kingmaker, and it was said that she was a good and loyal wife, a kindly lady who performed many acts of charity, and most pious and devout. A loving mother too, by all accounts. A shame that she had borne just the one son and heir, after eleven years of marriage.

  Many assumed that the robust boy sitting next to the duchess was Edward of Middleham. But, to her sorrow, Anne had to leave him behind in Yorkshire, for he had not been strong enough to travel. Neither had she, in truth, but Richard needed her in London, and to London she had come as fast as she could, ready to stand beside her lord.

  Kate, looking avidly beyond the looped-back curtains of the litter, and waving back to some of the friendlier bystanders, had quickly perceived that London was in a ferment of anticipation. Overheard snatches of conversation, meaningful looks thrown in their direction by a cluster of merchants engaged in heated debate, the catcalls of street boys, and the nervous demeanor of the duchess all gave her to understand that they were riding unprepared into the midst of a city split by unrest.

  As the litter clattered and juddered along Bishopsgate, Kate felt a deep sense of foreboding. It was clear that her father’s authority was by no means fully established. Judging by the mood of the citizen
s, many were still anticipating that another civil war might break out. She saw men wearing hauberks, brigandine, padded jackets, and even armor; most carried daggers, and some had swords. There were more people than normal on the streets, Anne said anxiously.

  The mood of the people was wary, turbulent. “Gloucester wants the crown himself, I tell you!” one man could be heard insisting, while another was loudly proclaiming his opinion that the duke was planning to cancel the coronation.

  “How can they speak so of my father?” Kate spoke into the duchess’s ear.

  Anne’s face was taut. “They are ignorant fools!” she hissed, with unaccustomed vehemence. “What did he say to them when he rode with the King into London? He cried repeatedly, ‘Behold your prince and sovereign lord!’ And he kept deferring to the boy very reverently. The people could have seen his loyalty with their own eyes. It is the Wydevilles and their kin who stir up trouble.”

  “Ask your lord about the weapons, lady!” yelled a red-faced man in a butcher’s apron. Anne blanched and looked away.

  “What is he talking about?” John asked her. “What weapons?”

  “I wish I understood,” she replied. “All I know is that your father wrote to say that, when he entered London with the King, he sent ahead four wagons loaded with weapons bearing Wydeville devices, and had the criers announce that these arms had been collected by his enemies to use against him.”

  “Where’s the Queen?” a woman shrieked suddenly, jabbing a gnarled finger at the litter.

  “I shall ignore that,” Anne muttered, tight-lipped. “They must know she is in sanctuary. It was a cunning move to gain sympathy and discredit the duke—acting the poor widow, in fear of what he might do to her and her children.”

  Kate knew all too well that the Queen’s continued sojourn in sanctuary was doing her father no good. It must embarrass him greatly, for it looked at best as if he had not taken fitting care for her protection, and at worst as if he meant ill to her and her children. After the seizing of Rivers and Grey, people might easily believe that—as some in this crowd plainly did. Yet Richard had written that he’d been trying to persuade Elizabeth Wydeville to leave sanctuary. But she refuses, and keeps on refusing! he had complained. How does that make me look to the world? By her refusal, she proclaims me a danger to her!

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