A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


  “She must know he was loyal and devoted to King Edward,” Anne said. “How could she think he would harm Edward’s wife and children? My lord does not make war on women and infants!”

  “No, he does not; and he is taking good care of the King,” Kate responded indignantly. He had summoned the lords and citizens to swear fealty to young Edward, and ensured that all due honors were paid to the boy. He had ordered coins to be minted in his sovereign’s name. Then the council, at the Duke of Buckingham’s suggestion, had arranged for the King to take up residence in the royal palace in the Tower of London, which had been one of his late father King Edward’s favorite residences, and surely held many happy memories for his son. Kate had never seen the royal apartments there, but her father had told her that they overlooked the river and were sumptuous, with a great banqueting hall and richly appointed chambers with exquisite stained-glass windows. The walls were painted with angels and birds in gold and vermilion, and there were floor tiles emblazoned with heraldic badges. Kate thought that her cousin the King was very lucky to be living in such a beautiful palace, and she had no doubt that her father had thought of everything needful for his comfort. They were approaching a fine stone mansion, so tall that it dominated the Bishopsgate skyline and dwarfed the other houses.

  “Crosby Hall—at last!” the duchess said thankfully. “I could not have borne to be jolted about on these cobbles for much longer.”

  The litter trundled through a wide archway into a spacious courtyard, and drew to a halt outside an imposing outdoor stone staircase. Kate looked up in awe at the arcades of tall traceried windows on the upper story of the building that towered above her, and the fine stonework of its walls, turrets, and parapets. Crosby Hall was one of the grandest houses she had ever seen.

  The courtyard was a hive of noisy activity, as servants hurried in and out of the house unloading carts and sumpter mules. The duke, they soon learned, had taken up residence here only that morning, and his stuff was still being brought into the house. Kate climbed down behind Anne, leaving John to bring up the rear, and they ascended the stairs. And there, at the top, flanked by his chief household officers, Richard himself appeared, waiting to greet them.

  Kate’s joy at seeing her father was slightly marred by the sight of his tense, drawn, unsmiling face. She watched as he raised the duchess from her curtsey, took her in his arms, and kissed her full on the mouth.

  “My lady, it does me good to see you,” he said. “And my children! It has been too long.” So saying, he beckoned Kate and John forward and embraced them in turn as they rose from their obseisances. Yet it was a formal embrace, Kate noted, as if her father, conscious of his new office, was standing on ceremony. He seemed unusually distant—he, who had normally been so warm to his children. Poor man, he must have a lot on his mind, she told herself.

  “Come within!” the duke invited. “You shall see that I have found us a fine house. You might even say it is fit for a king!”

  Kate could only agree when she walked into the soaring hall and looked up at the red-and-gold-timbered ceiling arching far above her head. It was a magnificent room, lit by a tall, elegant oriel and a row of high clerestory windows, and its white walls were hung with the most intricate tapestries shot with gold. She saw that Anne and John too were impressed by the splendor of their new residence.

  “Is this one of the King’s houses?” John asked.

  “No, my son, it was built by an Italian merchant, and enlarged by Sir John Crosby, from whom I lease it,” the duke explained. “There is no finer residence in the City, apart from Baynard’s Castle.” By all accounts that too was a palatial building, so Kate wondered why he had removed here.

  Richard indicated that Anne should seat herself in one of the carved chairs set on either side of the vast stone fireplace. Stools had been set for Kate and John, and a groom was sent to command wine and comfits from the kitchens. “I know you like them,” the duke smiled, sounding more like his old self. “I have ordered a feast for tonight, to celebrate your arrival. My lady, how is our son?”

  “He was well when last I heard, thanks be to God,” Anne said. “But my lord, I am more concerned about you. You are looking tired.”

  “The last weeks have been especially challenging,” the duke replied. “You know most of what has been going on, but there is more. Tell me, what was the mood of the people when you traveled through London?”

  “I did detect hostility, but there was also some cheering,” Anne recalled.

  “Good,” the duke said briskly. “Generally I am popular in the City. These merchants and men of business foresaw only instability with the government in the hands of a child and the grasping Wydevilles.”

  “We saw men in armor,” John piped up.

  Their father frowned. “These are uncertain times. Some fear that these tensions might lead to war. The Queen’s supporters have the ear of some of the councillors. My motives have been questioned.” His expression was grim.

  “Your motives? I don’t understand.” Anne was bewildered.

  The duke’s eyes met hers. “They say I have meant all along to take the throne myself.”

  Kate’s gasp was audible. John stared at his father incredulously. The duchess had gone very pale.

  “But you have never given them cause to think that!” she protested. “What of all the things you have done to ensure the King’s peaceful succession? Your care and deference for him, your nurturing of him for kingship?”

  “That all counts for little beside the gossip,” the duke retorted bitterly. “Which assuredly you will hear, I warn you. That is why I have prepared you.”

  “Have you spoken out in your defense?” The sharpness in Anne’s voice betrayed her distress.

  “I have indeed.” He got up and started pacing up and down the marble floor. “Why do you think I have based myself here in the City? Every day I have been wooing the chief citizens of London with fair words and gifts, and assuring them that rumor speaks false—and I do believe that I am beginning to calm the fears of some who suspected from the beginning what mark I shot at!”

  Kate saw that her father was very angry. He was gnawing his lip, and that was always a sure sign.

  “But I have yet to convince the council,” Richard was saying. “There are those who wish to prevent me from extending my power beyond the coronation. Well, I know what I must do. A house divided is bound to fall. I will divide the council. I have summoned those councillors who support me to meet with me here, in private. The rest can amuse themselves planning the coronation, which should keep them out of mischief. The real business of the realm will be carried on here.”

  “My lord, take care, I beg of you!” Anne urged. The Duke ceased his pacing.

  “Rest assured I will, my lady.”

  But Anne still looked troubled. “I heard … on the way here … things that disturbed me. One man asked where the Queen was; it was like an accusation.”

  “I have invited her back to court. I have sent messages assuring her of my good intentions toward her and her children. I encourage people to visit her without hindrance, to demonstrate that I intend her no harm.”

  “While you keep her brother and her son in prison, she will never believe that,” Anne warned.

  “And if I release them, having justly imprisoned them, accused them of treason, and seized their estates, they will surely exact vengeance on me.”

  “There was something else,” Anne said. “A man shouted at me to ask you about the weapons. What could he have meant?”

  “He must have been referring to the cartloads of arms that I commanded to be sent before us when I entered the City with the King,” Richard said. “Some allege I faked evidence of a plot against me. In this climate, people will say and believe anything. You must give such calumnies no credence.”

  He made a visible effort to relax. “But enough of this kingdom’s woes. I have thought of nothing else these past weeks. Right now, I want you all to cease worrying and enj
oy your stay in London. There is nothing I cannot deal with, and we have a coronation to look forward to. No doubt you ladies have been discussing your attire. I have sent for the best mercers and goldsmiths in Cheapside to attend upon you. And now we must to dinner!”

  KATHERINE

  May 1553; Baynard’s Castle, London

  The earl has waved all the servants away, and as a door closes behind them and their footsteps fade away into the distance, he looks intently at us.

  “For now, you must curb your feelings for each other, my children,” he announces. “It has been agreed that you shall not lie together just yet.”

  “No!” Harry’s response is quick and furious. “No! Father, we are man and wife, and we are both old enough to become one flesh, as Scripture enjoins us.”

  I cannot speak for shock and disappointment.

  “It grieves me to forbid you, my son, but I assure you that all has been decided for the best,” the earl says kindly.

  “But why?” demands Harry. “If I am to be kept from my wife, I have a right to know why!”

  The countess, slightly flushed, steps forward and places a hand on his arm. “My son, there are things—great matters—that you know nothing of. If our plans come to fruition—”

  “Hush, woman!” Pembroke interrupts.

  “I but sought to assure these young people that if matters go our way, all will be well,” she protests, then comes over and embraces me. “Do not look so unhappy, child. It will only be for a short time, I am sure.”

  “Katherine is my wife! I have a right to lie with her,” Harry insists, his temper rising. “You shall not stop me!”

  “Don’t you understand, you ignorant young cub?” his father barks, jabbing a forefinger at him. “We are doing our best to protect the interests of you, your lady wife here, and our two families. More than that I cannot say, but you must accept my judgment—and you owe me obedience!”

  Harry’s mother says gently, “You may keep each other company at will, and enjoy life together—all we ask is that you postpone the consummation of your marriage until such time as it may be accomplished in perfect harmony and peace.”

  Harry looks defeated. Maybe the finality of his father’s tone has silenced him.

  The countess takes my arm. “Dear daughter, I myself will show you to your bedchamber. Bid good night to your husband and attend me.”

  Harry embraces me, kisses me hard on the lips, and whispers in my ear, “Don’t lock your door.” I thrill to his words. We will defy them all, my love and I: we will be together, in spite of what they say! My heart is racing as I meekly follow the countess without a backward look. They think they have won—but we will be the victors!

  My room is beautiful, lavish! The tester bed is carved, gilded, and built on a dais. The curtains are of rich red damask looped with gold tassels, the counterpane of costly cloth of gold, with lozenges embroidered with the lions of Pembroke on a background of red and blue velvet. Over a chair is draped the most exquisite nightgown of crimson satin edged with pearls. A bowl of dried petals gives off a fragrant scent.

  My maid is waiting. She detaches my oversleeves, unlaces the heavy wedding gown, and lets it fall onto the rich carpet so that I can step out of it; then she attires me in a lawn smock and brushes my hair—twenty, forty, sixty strokes. I am ready for bed now, and she turns back the covers, helps me in, douses all the candles but the one on the table, curtsies, and silently closes the door behind her.

  I feel very alone, lying in this strange bed. I had not expected my wedding night to be like this, and suddenly I experience an unexpected pang of homesickness, which I’m sure I would not be feeling if Harry was with me. Trying not to weep, I fix my gaze on the pictures on the walls: a curious painting narrating the terrible story of Jephthah’s daughter, and a portrait labeled ANNE PARR, who was the earl’s late wife, Harry’s mother, and sister to Queen Katherine. On my nightstand is a dish of figs, a rare delicacy, and a goblet of sweet wine. I am cosseted in luxury. I lack for nothing but my husband.

  Will he come? I lie waiting for what seems like hours. Of course, he must wait until the house has settled down for the night. Dare he come? Or has he thought better of his rash defiance? Lord, please let him come!

  What was that? The sweep of a night owl’s wings as it swooped to its prey? Nay, it was a footfall. And another, stealthy, only audible to one who is awaiting it. And suddenly the door opens and there is my Harry in his black nightgown, his eyes alight with love, and desire in his pale face. My heart is fit to burst with joy!

  Silently, slowly, he closes the door, then pads on bare feet toward me. I hold out my arms and he comes into them and kisses my lips. Then he pulls down my smock and bends to nuzzle my budding breasts.

  “Harry!” I whisper, blushing.

  “Sweeting!” he murmurs, and makes to remove his nightgown.

  “What is the meaning of this?” barks a sharp voice from the doorway. “I thought I had made myself clear!” It is the earl, standing there like an avenging angel, hands aggressively on hips, black brows knit in a frown.

  Harry jumps up startled, gathering his nightgown about him, while I hastily pull up the sheet, my cheeks flaming.

  “Get you hence, my son!” the earl commands. “And do not think to disobey me again. It’s fortunate that I was awake listening for you. I know you, my boy. Adventurous like me. Well, I can’t blame you, but you will not defy me again. Say good night to your young lady and go back to your room, and we will say no more of the matter.”

  “And if I refuse?” Harry challenges.

  “Then I will call my men and have you thrown out.” Pembroke’s shoulders suddenly sag. “Look, it’s late, and I’m tired. I don’t intend to stand here arguing. I am sorry, but you must be patient for a while longer. Now get back to your chamber, my son. And you, my lady, go to sleep. Good night.” He holds open the door.

  Harry is vanquished. He stoops and kisses me briefly, then sullenly walks out of the room, his father following. This time, the key does turn, leaving me a prisoner. I am a wife, yet not a wife: a virgin still, and I fear I will remain so for God knows how long. It is enough to make anyone weep. And I do.

  KATE

  June 1483, Crosby Place and the City of London

  There was a great stir and commotion in London. People were busy making ready for the young King’s coronation. Whenever Kate, accompanied by the new maid her father had appointed, ventured out of the house to browse in the enticing shops in Cheapside, she saw queues of liveried servants at the goldsmiths’ and the mercers,’ collecting jewels and fabrics ordered by their noble masters and mistresses.

  London, to Kate, was still an intimidating, if exciting, place. That air of menace she had sensed when she first arrived still pervaded the streets, and many citizens continued to parade about in their armor, clearly fearing trouble. She was aware of the tension within Crosby Place, where the King’s councillors had been gathering for private meetings. She had seen them from her window, dismounting in the courtyard and being ushered into the house. Her father often sat up late at night in conference with them; she had glimpsed the candle flames flickering through the diamond panes of the council chamber.

  One morning there had been a stranger at breakfast, a handsome, smooth-tongued lawyer whom the duke introduced as Sir William Catesby. He was clearly liked and trusted by her father, but Kate took an instinctive aversion to him. He seemed sly and crafty, and he spoke with scant respect of his master, Lord Hastings. Kate had always imagined Lord Hastings to be a kindly, upright man, and she knew he had rendered a timely service to her father, so she felt indignant that Sir William Catesby seemed to regard him with derision. And her indignation rose higher, as her father walked with him to the porch to say farewell, when she overheard their muttered exchange.

  “Fear not Lord Hastings, good my lord.” That was Catesby. “He is content that the council should be divided. The fool thinks I am reporting all our proceedings here to him and the rest.”


  “As long as he thinks you loyal to his interests, we need not concern ourselves with him,” the duke replied. “And so fare you well, Sir William. I will proceed with our other matter. And I am ready to offer you good lordship at any time.”

  That did not sound very charitable toward Lord Hastings either, Kate thought. What could his lordship have done to offend her father and his lawyer?

  There came an evening when the Duke of Buckingham, a grand, lordly northerner with a bluff manner, came to dine. He was good company at table: even her father—so taciturn and brooding these days, and often as somber as the mourning he was wearing for his brother—fell to laughing at his jests.

  Buckingham made much of the Duchess Anne, showing her every courtesy and deferring to her opinions as if they were pearls of wisdom dropping from her lips. He means to flatter and cozen my father, Kate thought. For Gloucester had many privileges within his gift: he was king in all but name. That was what it meant to be Lord Protector.

  Buckingham praised John highly. “Ye have a fine boy there,” he observed. “What will ye be, young man? A knight?”

  “If my father so wishes, sir,” John answered. He had been well schooled in courtesy and obedience.

  “I see no reason why not.” The duke smiled, but he looked so tired, Kate thought. John was happy, though. To win his knighthood was all he asked of life.

  “And this fair damsel, is she to be wed soon?” asked Buckingham, helping himself to another chicken leg and beaming at Kate.

  “She is but thirteen,” Anne said. “There’s plenty of time to think of marriage.”

 
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