Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir




  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  The Royal House of Tudor in the Sixteenth Century

  Map

  Prologue

  Begin Reading

  Author’s Note

  Excerpt from Mary Boleyn

  About the Author

  Also by Alison Weir

  Copyright

  This book is dedicated to my dear mother and to Jim, who has been a father to me.

  It is also dedicated to Samuel Marston to mark his first birthday.

  If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence, were worthy of excuse. God and posterity will show me more favor.

  —Written by Lady Jane Grey in the Tower of London, February 1554

  Prologue

  14TH NOVEMBER 1553

  It is over. My trial has ended, and I am now back in the Tower of London, this place that was once my palace and is now my prison.

  I am sitting on my bed, my fingers feverishly creasing the crewelwork on the coverlet. The fire has been lit and crackles merrily in the hearth, but I am shivering. I am now a condemned traitor, and all I can hear in my head are the sonorous words of the Lord President, sentencing me to be burned or beheaded at the Queen’s pleasure.

  These are terrible words that every human being must tremble to hear, but especially terrible to me, who has spent only sixteen summers upon this earth. I am to die when I have hardly begun to live. That is appalling enough, yet it is not just the dying that I fear, but the manner of it. Suddenly I am hideously aware of the leaping flames in the grate, the prickle of gooseflesh on my neck, and am sickened by the normally comforting smell of woodsmoke. I want to scream. I am rocking in misery, hearing those words again and again, and unable to believe that they were really said to me.

  Not my will, but Thine, O Lord. And the Queen’s, of course. I admit freely that I have offended grievously and deserve death for what I have done, but that my heart and will were bent to it, I shall truthfully protest to my last breath. My last breath. Oh, God.

  Yet she said that she believed me. The Queen did accept my explanation, and she told me—I remember it well, as a drowning sailor clutches at driftwood—that this sentence would be but a formality. She was clearly angry with me, but she was also pleased to say that my youth excuses much. She must know that the plot was not of my making, and that I was the instrument of others’ treasonous ambitions.

  Dare I believe her? I have her promise, her royal promise, the word of a queen. I must hold fast to that when the panic threatens, as it does now, here in this tidy and peaceful room filled with homely things. I must believe in that promise, I must.

  I lie down on my bed, gazing up unseeing at the wooden tester. I try to pray, but the old familiar words will not come. I realize that I am exhausted and drained of energy, my emotions shattered like shards of ice. All I want is to sleep and thus obliterate this horror for a time. But sleep eludes me, no matter how desperately I court it. Instead, for the thousandth time, I go over in my head how I came to be in this place. And in my tormented reverie I hear voices, clamoring to be heard, all speaking at once. I know them all. They have all played a part in shaping my destiny.

  Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset

  BRADGATE HALL, LEICESTERSHIRE, OCTOBER 1537

  My travail begins as I am enjoying a walk in the garden. There is a sudden flood of liquid from my womb, and then, as my maid runs for cloths and assistance, a dull pain that shifts from the small of my back to the pit of my stomach. Soon, they are all clustering around me, the midwives and the women, helping me through the great doorway of the manor house and up the oaken stairs, stripping me of my fine clothing and replacing it with a voluminous birthing smock of bleached linen, finely embroidered at the neck and wrists. Now I am made to lie upon my bed, and they are pressing a goblet of sweet wine to my lips. I don’t really want it, but I take a few sips to please them. My two chief ladies sit beside me, my gossips, whose job it is to while away the tedious hours of labor with distracting chatter. Their task is to keep me cheerful and to offer encouragement when the pains grow stronger.

  And they do grow stronger. Less than an hour passes before the dull ache that accompanies each pang becomes a knifelike thrust, vicious and relentless. Yet I can bear it. I have the blood of kings in my veins, and that emboldens me to lie mute, resisting the mounting screams. Soon, God willing, I will hold my son in my arms. My son, who must not die early like the others, those tiny infants who lie beneath the flagstones of the parish church. Neither lived long enough even to sit or crawl. I do not account myself a sentimental person; indeed, I know that many think me too strong and hard-willed for a woman—a virago, my husband once said, during one of our many quarrels. But hidden within my heart there is a raw place reserved for those two lost babies.

  Yet it is natural that this third pregnancy has often led me to revisit this secret place, to disturb and probe it gently, testing to see if past tragedies still have the power to hurt. I know I should forbid myself such weakness. I am King Henry’s niece. My mother was a princess of England and Queen of France. I must face the pain of my loss as I do my labor—with royal dignity, refusing to indulge any further in morbid fancies, which, I am assured by the midwives, could well be harmful to the child I carry. One must try to be positive, and I am nothing if not an optimist. This time, I feel it in my bones, God will give us the son and heir we so desperately desire.

  Another hour passes. There is little respite between each contraction, but the pain is still bearable.

  “Cry out if you need to, my lady,” says the midwife comfortingly, as the women fuss round me with candles and basins of water. I wish they would all go away and leave me in peace. I wish they would let some fresh air into this fetid, stuffy chamber. Even though it is day, the room is dark, for the windows have been covered with tapestries and painted cloths.

  “We must not risk the babe catching any chills from drafts, my lady,” the midwife warned me when she ordered this to be done. Then she personally inspected the tapestries to ensure that there was nothing depicted in them that could frighten the child.

  “Make up the fire!” she instructs her acolytes, as I lie here grappling with my pains. I groan; it’s hot enough in here already, and I am sweating like a pig. But, of course, she is aware of that. At her nod, a damp cloth is laid on my brow. It does little to relieve my discomfort, though, for the sheets are wet with perspiration.

  I stifle another groan.

  “You can cry out, madam,” the midwife says again. But I don’t. I would not make such an exhibition of myself. Truly, it’s the indignity of it all that bothers me the most, conscious as I am of my birth and my rank. Lying here like an animal straining to drop its cub, I’m no different from any common jade who gives birth. There’s nothing exalted about it. I know it’s blasphemy to say this, but God was more than unfair when He created woman. Men get all the pleasure, while we poor ladies are left to bear the pain. And if Henry thinks that, after this, I’m going to…

  Something’s happening. Dear God, what’s going on? Sweet Jesus, when is this going to end?

  The midwife draws back the covers, then pulls up my shift to expose my swollen, straining body, as I lie on the bed, knees flexed, thighs parted, and thrusts expert fingers inside me. She nods her head in a satisfied way.

  “If I’m not mistaken, this young lad is now in something of a hurry,” she tells my anxiously hovering ladies.

  “Ready now!” she crows triumphantly. “Now push, my lady, push!”

  I gather all my strength, breathe deeply, and exhale with a great effort, knowing that an end is in sight. I can feel the child coming! I ram my chin into my chest again and push as I am
instructed, hard. And the miracle happens. In a rush of blood and mucus, I feel a small, wet form slithering from me. Another push, and it is delivered into the midwife’s waiting hands, to be quickly wrapped in a rich cloth of damask. I glimpse its face, which resembles a wrinkled peach. I hear the mewling cry that tells me it lives.

  “A beautiful daughter, my lady,” announces the midwife uncertainly. “Healthy and vigorous.”

  I should be joyful, thanking God for the safe arrival of a lusty child. Instead, my spirits plummet. All this—for nothing.

  Queen Jane Seymour

  HAMPTON COURT PALACE, SURREY, OCTOBER 1537

  It has begun, this labor that I, the King my husband, and all England have so eagerly awaited. It began with a show of blood, then the anxious midwives hurried me into bed, fearful in case anything should go wrong. Indeed, every precaution has been taken to guard against mishap. Since early summer, when the babe first fluttered in my womb and I appeared in public with my gown unlaced, prayers have been offered up throughout the land for my safe delivery. My husband engaged the best physicians and midwives and paid handsomely to have the soothsayers predict the infant’s sex: all promised confidently that it would be a boy, an heir to the throne of England. Henry insisted that I be spared all state appearances, and I have spent these past months resting in opulent idleness, my every whim and craving gratified. He even sent to Calais for the quails I so strongly fancied. I ate so many I sickened of them.

  Most pregnant women, I am told, sink into a pleasant state of euphoria as their precious burden grows heavier, as if Nature is deliberately affording them a short respite before the ordeal that lies ahead and the responsibilities of motherhood that follow it. But I have enjoyed no such comforting sense of well-being or elation at the glorious prospect facing me, God willing. My constant companion is fear. Fear of the pain of labor. Fear of what will happen to me if I bear a girl or a dead child, as my two unfortunate predecessors did. Fear of my husband, who, for all his devotion and care for me, is still a man before whom even strong men tremble. How he could ever have settled his affections on such a poor, plain thing as I is beyond my limited comprehension. My women, when they dare mention the subject, whisper that he loves me because I am the very antithesis of Anne Boleyn, that black-eyed witch who kept him at bay for seven years with promises of undreamed-of carnal adventures and lusty sons, yet failed him in both respects once he had moved Heaven and earth to put the crown on her head. I cannot think about what he did to Anne Boleyn. For even though she was found guilty of betraying him with five men, one her own brother, it is horrifying to know that a man is capable of cutting off the head of a woman he has held in his arms and once loved to distraction. And it is even more horrifying when that man is my husband.

  So I live in fear. Just now I am terrified of the plague, which rages in London so virulently that the King has given orders that no one from the city may approach the court. Confined to my chamber for the past six weeks, as is the custom for English queens, with only women to wait on me and the imminent birthing to brood on, I am prey to all kinds of terrors, so in a way it is a relief now to have something real upon which to focus my anxieties.

  Henry is not here. He has gone hunting, as is his wont and passion, although he has given me his word that he will not ride more than sixty miles from here. I would be touched by his concern had I not learned that it was his council that advised him not to stray farther from me at this time. But I am glad, all the same, that he has gone. He would be just one more thing to worry about. His obsessive and pathetic need for this child to be a boy is more than I can cope with.

  It is now afternoon, and my pains are recurring with daunting intensity, even though the midwife tells me that it will be some hours yet before the child can be born. I pray God that this ordeal may soon be over, and that He will send me a happy hour, for I do not think I can stand much more of this.

  HAMPTON COURT PALACE, 12TH OCTOBER 1537

  It has been three days and three nights now, and I am at the end of my feeble strength. Nothing in my life has prepared me for this agony. Not all the prayers, processions, and intercessions that are taking place in London, by the King’s order, can help me, for I am beyond help. There is just me and the pain. I have forgotten why I am here. I know only that if I scream loudly enough, someone will have to take the pain away.

  Once, I heard the hastily summoned physicians whispering, asking each other if they should save mother or child. Even then, I was beyond caring, for I had heard one of them suggesting that the infant be cut from my body. It did not matter, so long as the pain ceased. But that was hours, years ago, and still I am suffering. They have not carried out their dreadful threat.

  Now it is night. I am barely aware of the darkness outside the mullioned window. They have pulled aside the curtain to let some air into the fetid room, which is heavy with the stink of my labor. The doctors and the women huddle around my bed in a frantic conclave. I am ready to give up the ghost, but they will not let me.

  The midwife presses a handkerchief to my nose. It smells of pepper and makes me sneeze violently. All of a sudden, the pangs begin again, stronger and stronger, consuming me with their ferocity. I lack even the power to scream, my mouth opening wide in a silent grimace. Something is happening, there is change in the rhythm of my body and an overpowering compulsion to bear down, to push. They are urging me to push, begging me. And as I push, making one last supreme effort, I am pushing the pain away; I am in charge of my own destiny. Then there is a violent wrenching: I feel as if I am being riven in half.

  “A healthy, fair prince, Your Majesty!” cries the midwife in jubilation. But I feel nothing. All I want is to sleep.

  Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset

  BRADGATE HALL, OCTOBER 1537

  Shouts from the courtyard below herald the return of the hunting party and wake me from slumber. It is late evening already. I must have slept for hours. My husband is here.

  Beside the bed stands the heavy oak cradle carved with the Dorset crest, two unicorns ermined and hooped with gold, all painted in bright colors; within it lies my baby, now tightly swaddled and slumbering soundly. Beyond, seated in the glow of a candle and the dancing firelight, sits the nurse, Mrs. Ellen, stitching a seam on a tiny silk bonnet. I close my eyes again as I hear footsteps approaching. I would give anything to avoid having to tell Henry, my lord, that I have failed him yet again.

  But he already knows. The expression on his face as he enters the room tells me that. He is a man easily overruled in many matters, but this is one that touches his pride, and his nobility.

  “A girl,” he says brusquely, “and all to do again. Why God should not favor us is beyond me. We go to Mass regularly, we give out charity by the dollop, we lead a Christian life. What more can we do?”

  Lying flat on my back sets me at an immediate disadvantage. Profoundly grateful that I have not suffered tearing during the birth, I ease myself up. Even so, Henry is looming over me like a stiff caricature of outraged manhood.

  “The child is healthy, at least,” I say coldly, “and with God’s grace, a brother shall follow her. I know my duty.” And you, my lord, the son of a mere marquess, need not remind me, the daughter of a queen, where that duty lies.

  I can see in his eyes that, despite himself, he admires my dignity and resolve. Even now, exhausted as I am in my childbed, I know he desires me and finds me alluring, even though I am not beautiful in the conventional sense. He likes my auburn hair—Tudor hair, he calls it, and I suspect that is part of the attraction. He thinks my lips are sensual, he admires my dark brows, my tilted nose, my determined chin. Even after bearing three children in four years, my twenty-year-old body, large-breasted and wide-hipped, still has the power to arouse him, especially with those breasts made more voluptuous by pregnancy. But he is not thinking now of the lusty delights in which I am usually so willing a partner. Instead, Henry looks at his little scrap of a daughter and has to smile, for she looks so like her r
oyal great-uncle, the King: she has the same red-gold hair, determined little mouth, and blue-green eyes, which, for all that she is but newborn, are regarding him with what seems to be uncommon intelligence.

  I am surprised to see the saturnine, finely chiseled features form themselves into a grin.

  “A pretty wench,” I venture.

  He nods, straightening, a calculating light in his eyes. “Indeed. We shall make her a brilliant marriage, to bring glory on our house. And in the meantime, Frances, we shall make merry getting her a brother. As soon as you are recovered, of course.”

  “Of course. As I said, I know my duty.”

  “One can always combine duty with pleasure,” he smirks. The worst moment has passed. Both of us are making light of our terrible disappointment.

  Our as-yet-unnamed daughter—we are arguing, because Henry wants Katherine after his mother, and I want Frances, or Jane, for the Queen—is a week old today. She is a good baby, taking her feeds with vigor from the wet nurse, and sleeping regularly already. She rarely cries. I, on the other hand, am restless and uncomfortable, enduring the ache of engorged breasts, and the leaking of milk through the bindings applied to them by the midwife, who says that it should dry up in a few days. That’s not soon enough for me.

  Today it is crisp and cold, but bright. By late afternoon, the sky framed by my window is suffused with the golden light of the setting sun. Below this vast sky lie the fertile acres of the Bradgate estate, stretching far away into the distance. I am sitting in a chair, gazing out upon the sparkling lake and the wilderness beyond it. In the distance I can glimpse the thatched roofs of cottages.

  I like this place. I am aware that there are those who think I married beneath me, but there are many compensations, not the least of which is a virile and like-minded husband, who shares my hopes and ambitions. And then there is this house, this mellowed, turreted redbrick mansion with its courtyard and gatehouse, its rooms richly furnished in the latest fashion, and its patchwork of gardens and arbors, in which it is a delight to take the air.

 
No Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]