A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

“Aye, Duchess, but your good lord here could find a husband to warm her bed and prove useful as an ally,” Buckingham said. “Two birds with one stone, eh?”

  “All in good time, Harry,” Gloucester intervened. “I would keep my fair Kate with me a little longer yet. More wine?” The subject—to Kate’s relief—was closed.

  They sat late at the table. The wine pitcher, refilled twice, was nearly empty again, and the candles were burning low. John had been sent to bed, and Kate had withdrawn to the fireside with her sewing. At the far end of the hall a lone minstrel plucked a lute. Kate recognized the tune: “Mon souverain desir,” an old French chanson, and found herself humming along with it.

  “What of the Queen?” Buckingham asked suddenly.

  Gloucester gave a snort of exasperation. “She is adamant she will not leave sanctuary. In fact, she’s been so obstructive that the councillors are refusing to visit her anymore.”

  “Someone ought to persuade her that she has nothing to fear from you, my lord,” the duchess put in.

  “Ah, but do I have anything to fear from her?”

  “Maybe it’s better she stays in sanctuary,” Buckingham said. “At least we know where she is and what she’s about. But there remains the problem of what to do about the Duke of York.”

  “He must leave sanctuary as soon as possible,” Gloucester said. “It does not do for a boy of his age to be cooped up in confinement with his mother and sisters. And his presence is needed at the coronation.” He got up and began pacing. He had imbibed several goblets of Rhenish, and his gait was a touch ungainly. It was one of those times when it became noticeable that he had one shoulder slightly higher than the other. “I will have the boy out of there, whatever that woman says,” he vowed darkly. “How will it look if he is absent from his brother’s crowning?”

  “Bad,” replied Buckingham. “A political embarrassment.”

  “Go gently with the Queen, my lords,” Anne urged. Her face in the firelight was drawn; she too was feeling the strain of these difficult days.

  Kate’s fingers were working automatically with her needle, but her mind was wholly focused on the conversation going on behind her. “The Duke of York is but nine years old,” the duchess was saying.

  “You have a soft heart, Anne,” Richard said. “But a boy of nine should not be governed by women.”

  “In a couple of years he’ll be of an age to go into battle,” Buckingham declared. Anne said nothing: she was rarely one to confront the decrees of men. But Kate could imagine what she was thinking, and that her thoughts had turned to her own fragile little boy, who would probably never be strong enough to fight in the field.

  “Aye, well, ye’ll just have to insist that the Queen gives up the lad,” Buckingham was saying. “Tell her his brother needs company of his own age in the Tower.”

  “Indeed he does,” Gloucester agreed.

  A chair scraped the floor. “Forgive me, my lords, I am going to retire,” Anne said, and the two dukes stood up. It was the signal for Kate to leave too, and having gathered up her sewing things, said her goodnights, and followed her stepmother out of the hall, she heard her father say, “Now, what of Hastings? Will you sound him out?”

  “I have done that already,” Buckingham replied. “It was useless.”

  The City was still abuzz with rumors. Whenever she went abroad, Kate was aghast to hear common folk pronouncing freely on the deeds and motives of their betters, and she quickly learned not to open her mouth, because the Londoners seemed to regard all northerners as savages, and as far as some were concerned, her father was one of them.

  It was horrible, horrible! But worst of all was the venom of a friar preaching to a crowd on Bishopsgate.

  “Where is this leading but to treason of the worst sort?” he cried, his red, well-fed face a mask of outrage. “The King in the Tower, in the power of the Duke of Gloucester. The Queen and her children in sanctuary, afraid to come out. The Queen’s kinsmen either unlawfully imprisoned or fled overseas. And now talk of a new enmity between Gloucester and Lord Hastings.”

  “Hastings is loyal to the King!” shouted a bystander.

  “Aye, but he has no reason to be loyal to Gloucester,” the friar retorted.

  Kate could not help herself. “Gloucester is loyal to the King too!” she cried out. “He is a good man!” To her dismay, her words were greeted with jeers and hoots of derision.

  “Loyal my foot!” trumpeted a stout woman beside her. “He’s after the crown, the crafty bugger. That’s what he wants!”

  “And Hastings knows it, mark my words,” chimed in a man whose bloody apron proclaimed him a butcher. “With luck, he’ll be the ruin of Gloucester.”

  “Hark at her!” shrieked a fishwife, pointing at Kate. “It’s clear where she hails from. You got a tail under that fine gown, love?”

  “No!” Kate squealed, then fled in terror, pushing her way through the astonished mob, leaving Mattie, her little maid, struggling to stay with her. People called after her, but she was running, running, hastening back to the ordered world of Crosby Place.

  Her father caught her in his arms as she raced into the hall.

  “Those dreadful people!” she panted. “Sir, they say that Lord Hastings will be your ruin. It cannot be true, surely?”

  Gloucester looked her straight in the face, still grasping her arms.

  “It may be true,” he said. He was deadly serious, and it terrified her. “But never fear, daughter. I am on my guard, and every precaution is being taken.”

  “But Hastings helped you,” Kate protested.

  “My enemies have poisoned his mind, telling him that I covet my nephew’s throne. They are clever and plausible, and so he plots my downfall.”

  “Be watchful!” Kate begged, pressing her damp face into the seamed velvet of his doublet. Behind her Anne looked at him with pain in her eyes.

  “I did not ask for this,” Richard said.

  Her father looked ill. He dragged himself around the house, as if in pain. He barely touched his food, took hardly a sip of wine, and complained that he could not sleep and was suffering from a strange, inexplicable malaise. Anne was sufficiently distraught to summon his mother, the Duchess of York, from Baynard’s Castle. The duchess had just arrived in London to attend the coronation of her grandson.

  She came, the venerable Cecily, looking the very image of a devout widow in her black, nunlike garments, a snowy wimple framing her haughty, aristocratic face. She had the high cheekbones and strong features of most of the Neville race.

  “You must take care of yourself, my son,” she admonished the duke as he knelt for her blessing. “You look sick and haggard. For the love of God, go to bed and rest.”

  “There is too much to do, madam my mother,” he protested, rising to his feet. “I have one especially urgent matter to attend to.”

  “Can it not wait?” the Duchess Cecily barked.

  “I fear not, madam,” he replied.

  “Is it concerning that hussy who calls herself Queen?” His mother was visibly bristling. “Has she not caused enough harm?”

  “Yes, it is the Queen and her following,” the duke said testily. “I will tell you presently. Pray be seated, my lady.” The duchess unthinkingly took the chair that was usually his—the most imposing one in the room. Anne came and knelt before her, receiving a loving look—the duchess approved heartily of her daughter-in-law and great-niece. And then it was the turn of John of Gloucester, and finally of Kate.

  “You have bred a little beauty, my son,” Cecily pronounced, tipping Kate’s chin upward to see her better. “A modest decorum too. Most edifying.” She nodded, well pleased.

  “So, Richard,” she went on, “tell me about the Wydevilles. God knows I curse the day when that woman married your brother.”

  “She and her kin loathe me,” the duke said. “I am convinced they mean to utterly destroy me, my cousin Buckingham, and all the old royal blood of this realm.”

  Cecily grimaced, but
looked skeptical. “How can this be, my son? The woman is in sanctuary, her kinsmen imprisoned or fled.”

  “She is allowed visitors. I cannot be seen to be keeping her a prisoner. She is free to leave sanctuary if she pleases. But Shore’s wife, for one, sees her frequently.”

  Kate noticed a look of distaste shadow her grandmother’s face.

  “That slut!”

  “She acts as an agent for her lover Hastings, plotting against me with the Queen,” Gloucester growled. “I tell you, madam, it is openly known, for they do not trouble to hide it. Oh, they think they are subtle, but certain it is they are conspiring the destruction and disinheriting of me and many others, all good men of this realm!” His voice shook with anger.

  “Summon the men of the North,” his mother counseled. “The city of York is loyal to you and will send soldiers to your aid. Do not tarry on this, my son.”

  Gloucester lifted her hand and kissed it.

  “I will do it!” he said. “I could ever rely on your counsel.”

  “Is help not nearer at hand?” Anne interrupted. “If the situation is as bad as you say …”

  “If?” Richard shouted, to Anne’s evident dismay. “Of course it is as bad as I say. I am in peril of my life—and all because I have been loyal to my king. Naturally I intend to summon aid from elsewhere. Even as we speak, summons are being prepared for the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Neville, and their affinities. My councillor, Richard Ratcliffe, is waiting to depart.”

  Anne was struggling to control her tears. She was unused to being silenced so severely.

  “Shore’s wife should be apprehended,” the duchess warned. “The woman is a menace.”

  “I will deal with her anon,” Richard muttered. “But there are more serious threats to be neutralized first. I mean the Queen’s brother, Earl Rivers, and her son, Sir Richard Grey, whom I sent as prisoners to Pontefract.”

  “Surely they can do no harm to you there?” Duchess Cecily sniffed. “That castle is all but impregnable.”

  “So the King’s Council tells me,” the duke muttered. “But those two will ever be a danger! What happens when the King comes of age and frees them? They have already treasonously conspired to kill me.”

  “Are you now king, then?” asked his mother. “My son, it is not treason to conspire the death of the Lord Protector, heinous crime though that be.”

  “It’s an arguable point,” he responded testily.

  “Have they been proven guilty?” the duchess persisted. There was a silence. Kate realized they had all forgotten she was there. She felt that she wanted to curl up and die. It was bad enough that her father was being so grievously threatened by his enemies, so why was her grandmother treating him as if he were somehow in the wrong?

  “I asked if they have been tried or attainted by Parliament?” Cecily said reasonably. “My son, if you do what I suspect you are planning to do, then you lay yourself open to charges of tyranny.”

  “But if I have those men tried, my enemies will acquit them, and they will be free to do their worst!” protested the duke. “I am in an impossible position. Whatever I do, I cannot win. Madam, do you not see that I cannot afford to let them live?”

  “The King will never forgive you if you kill his kinsmen without trial.” Anne spoke out at last. “My lord,” she went on tremulously, laying a gentle hand on his sleeve, “I fear for you, I truly do. I fear for us all.”

  Kate could bear to listen no more. Excusing herself, she escaped up the stairs to her bedchamber, and there she too gave way to tears.

  The next morning, she learned from the Duchess Anne that her father had gone after Mass to the Tower of London for an important council meeting, about which he had remained tight-lipped. His going there filled Kate with a sense of dread; there was something about the Tower that repelled and unnerved her. She could not for the life of her say why. She only knew she had gone there one day to see the menagerie but was unable to bring herself to set foot in the vast, forbidding fortress.

  “I have received a letter from Edward’s tutor,” Anne was saying. “My little lord is doing well at his lessons, and is in good health.” She sighed. “I miss him. I ache to see him. The distance between us seems so great.” Her blue eyes held a faraway look. “If it were not for my lord, who needs me, I would go home.”

  “Oh, so would I!” cried Kate.

  “Well, after the coronation, we will think about it,” Anne said. “But we cannot miss that. And the tailor is making you a splendid gown.” He was indeed. Just thinking about it made Kate feel a little better. It was in indigo-blue damask with raised flowers of yellow and gold, and it was to be trimmed with miniver at the bodice and cuffs. The court train was longer than any she had ever worn, so long that she would have to carefully practice walking with it.

  But today she had donned a plain dove-gray gown of soft wool because she did not desire to look too conspicuous. She was planning to go again to Cheapside, which had become one of her favorite haunts in the City. A master jeweler there had a beautiful pendant displayed among his wares and, having persuaded him to set it aside for her, she had prevailed on her father to give her the money for it. Richard had ever been generous toward his children, and never stinted on their allowances, but last night he had seemed distracted as he agreed without demur to her request, even though the pendant was expensive. He had not been listening when she told him it would go with her coronation gown.

  She took her maid Mattie with her, a plump and comely Londoner with a lively nature and a spirit of adventure that chimed with her own. Despite the difference in their status, they were fast becoming friends. Kate enjoyed having a girl near her own age as a merry companion, and she had been delighted to discover that she and Mattie were kindred souls in many ways.

  Mattie was fourteen, a year her senior. Happily, just as the duke had decided his daughter was of an age to need a maid, Mattie’s father, a member of the Vintners’ Guild, which supplied the duke’s household with wine, had inquired if there might be a place for his daughter at Crosby Hall, anticipating that service in the Gloucester household might lead to an opening at court and preferment, and secure Mattie a prosperous husband one day. But Mattie was unconcerned about that: let an apprentice lad whistle at her, and she was smitten. Plain-spoken like most Londoners, she had an earthy appreciation of the opposite sex, and did not bother to mince words about it. She was also full of the lore of the city that had nurtured her, loved pretty clothes, good food, singing, and dancing, and laughed out loud at merry or bawdy jests. She and Kate were doing very well together, and Kate was firmly of the opinion that her father could not have chosen a better maid for her.

  With Mattie at her heels, she sped along Cornhill, weaving through the London crowds who thronged the narrow thoroughfares, and so into Poultry and Cheapside, where Master Hayes had his shop. He greeted her obsequiously, for she had told him whose daughter she was to impress on him that she was not wasting his time. But there was a faint edge to his manner. It seemed that he too was infected with the prevailing hostility toward her father. She stiffened and, putting on a manner so regal it would have done the Duchess Cecily proud, asked for the jewel to be brought.

  It lay on a bed of black silk, a diamond-shaped gold pendant set with a brilliant sapphire stone. On its obverse the goldsmith had masterfully engraved a tableau of the Trinity with the crucified Christ at the center, and surrounded it with a border of burnished gold. On the reverse, when she turned it over, Kate found a finely delineated nativity scene.

  She counted out her gold coins and handed them over.

  “See, it is hinged here,” Master Hayes pointed out. “You can open it and use it as a reliquary. There is space inside for a small relic.”

  “My father the duke owns several relics. I will ask him for one. Thank you.”

  Master Hayes stiffened. “I will have it wrapped for you, my lady,” he said abruptly.

  Kate’s delight in acquiring the pendant was muted by the goldmit
h’s barely veiled animosity. As she and Mattie walked back along Cheapside, Mattie chattering away and steering her toward a stall selling gingerbread and lavender cakes, she was asking herself why her father should have so many enemies.

  He was at the Tower even now, for that important council meeting, and she still had the feeling that something evil was afoot. Suddenly, she knew what she must do: she must set aside her silly fears of the place, go to the Tower, and wait for her father to emerge from the council chamber. Then she would be the first to hear any important news he had to impart.

  She swung left into Gracechurch Street. “Let’s walk down to the Tower,” she said.

  “Yes, my lady.” Mattie, who had demolished the gingerbread, bought two apples from a fruit seller to stay them until dinner, and they walked along Eastcheap crunching them. It was a beautiful, mild spring day, and presently they saw before them the mighty walls and white masonry of the Tower, massive and stately against the blue sky.

  As they walked down Tower Hill, they passed a raised wooden platform surrounded by a fence.

  “What’s that?” Kate asked.

  “It’s the public scaffold, my lady. It’s where traitors are beheaded or gutted. The executions here always draw a goodly crowd.”

  Kate shuddered. Men had died here, horribly, bloodily. And the unwelcome thought came unbidden that her own beloved father was in danger of meeting such an end. It would take only one twist of fate …

  She recovered herself. “Have you ever been to an execution?” she asked.

  “No, there haven’t been any here for years,” Mattie replied.

  “Then I pray God there will not be for many more.” Kate made herself walk forward to the Tower.

  KATHERINE

  June 1553; Baynard’s Castle, London

  My lord of Pembroke cannot do enough for me. It is as if he feels he must make up for depriving me of the private joys of marriage. My days are spent in glorious idleness, in rooms and halls of the brightest splendor, or in gardens sweeping down to the river, gay with flowers and heavy with fruit.

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]