Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “It has been too long since I saw Your Majesty,” he declares, his eyes roving appreciatively up and down me. “I am come to offer my condolences on your sad loss.”

  “I am growing used to it now,” I say, a trifle tartly. “The King has been dead these eight weeks.”

  “Ah, I am sorry I did not come before.” He smiles ruefully. “I thought Your Majesty would need time to grieve. I did not like to intrude.”

  “No matter. I appreciate your coming now, my lord.”

  “My lord?” He raises an eyebrow. “You used to call me Tom.”

  “I used to be a commoner,” I remind him. “Now I am a queen. Formality has ruled my life for so long. But you are very welcome…Tom.”

  He smiles at me. His smile is devastating, revealing perfect white teeth.

  “It gladdens my heart to hear it…Kate,” he says boldly. I raise an eyebrow but say nothing. I know I should reprove him for his forwardness, but I am enjoying it so.

  I was in love with Thomas Seymour before the King claimed me. I would have walked on hot embers for him. He pursued me with flattering ardor and refused to heed my protests about its being too soon after Lord Latimer’s death. He begged me to marry him, and then when I said I would, he laid siege to my virtue.

  “We are going to be wed,” he told me. “What difference does it make?” And the citadel would perhaps have fallen, had not the King made known his interest. Then Tom had no choice but to withdraw and make himself scarce. I mourned his loss desperately, but over the years the pain dulled, as did the hot lust that infused me every time I thought of him or relived his caresses. I resigned myself to God’s will, and in the end the King proved himself a kind husband.

  Now Tom has returned, we are both of us free, and the old attraction is still there between us. I cannot take my eyes off him as he seats himself in my privy chamber and jokes with my ladies, a lean and muscular Adonis with a wicked wit that I find irresistible.

  The women fetch refreshments and withdraw to the other side of the room, leaving us free to talk in private. Our conversation is not of love or sweet nothings—rather we speak of what is happening at court, although there are naturally other, more personal things that I would rather discuss. But Tom is eager to touch on politics, and soon it becomes clear that he is a disappointed man. Even though the Seymours are riding high in this realm, Tom is bitter because it is his brother, of whom he is jealous, who wields power, and not he.

  “I’m forty years old, Kate, and still waiting for preferment. Yet I’ve been continually thwarted. My esteemed brother”—this is said with a sneer—“is apparently determined to prevent me, the Lord Admiral—and there’s a sop to my pride if ever there was one—from ever participating, however humbly, in the government of the realm. No matter that I have successfully served the Crown on embassies and on the high seas, rather than skulking in corners at court, shit-deep in intrigue like my beloved brother—pardon my language,” he adds with an engaging smile.

  I love Tom, but not enough to blind me to his faults. I remember what King Henry said about him, that he was untrustworthy and slippery, and how he refused to give Tom a seat on the privy council. It is true that Henry was suspicious of everybody, especially in his last years, but I suspect there is more to Lord Hertford’s attitude than mere cautiousness.

  “Your brother is ruled by his wife,” I say.

  “That termagant!” Tom sneers. “Now that you’ve moved out here, Kate, she’s queening it round the court, reveling in the role of wife to the Lord Protector.”

  “I can believe it,” I say drily. “She’s appropriated my jewels, the jewels that rightly belong to the Queen Consort.”

  “I know, she’s flaunting them in public. The woman has no shame. Edward Seymour might rule England, but we all know that Anne Stanhope rules Edward. That’s one thing I don’t envy my brother.”

  “I think she’s jealous of her husband’s position, and that she sees you as a threat. That’s why you are being denied high office.”

  “Yes, all I’ve had are empty honors,” Tom snorts. “They look good on the surface, but they are meaningless. If he thought to mollify me by creating me Baron of Sudeley and making me a Knight of the Garter, he was deluding himself, especially since he made himself Duke of Somerset, so that my lady can give herself airs as a duchess. Oh, I was grudging and un-gracious in my acceptance—and he knew it. He knows that what I really want is a place on the privy council or a great office of state, and he knows that I am able enough.”

  I regard him keenly. “Is that all you want, Tom?”

  Our eyes meet.

  “Dammit, I can’t fool you, Kate,” he says, smiling deprecatingly. “Of course I’d like to oust my puffed-up brother from his high place and supplant him in it. God, what wouldn’t I give to do that? But as matters stand at present, I must be realistic and accept that it’s not likely to happen. Not yet, at any rate. At the very least they could give me a seat on the council. But the late King forbade it, so they won’t. He didn’t like me, your husband, not after he found out I’d been chasing you.”

  “He never spoke unkindly of you,” I say carefully, though Tom is right.

  “Christ, Kate, you know as well as I do that when someone nominated me to the council, he cried out from his sickbed, ‘No! No!’ And it’s not likely, in this present time of mourning, that anyone will venture to go against old St. Henry’s wishes.”

  “Tom!”

  “I’m sorry, Kate,” he says wearily. “I feel I have been unjustly treated. And I feel so frustrated. I have so much to offer.”

  He gives me another long look, and I know he is not just talking about serving his country. I glance away. It’s too soon after the King’s death to be thinking such thoughts. But I am thinking them; I cannot stop myself. All the while he is talking, I am feasting my eyes on him….

  “I think the best course for me is to get the King on my side,” Tom is saying. “Of course, the poor lad wields no real power, but he is the King, and his wishes must count for something. And I’ve always enjoyed a good relationship with him on the odd occasions I’ve seen him.”

  “I know he likes you. He admires your gallantry and your adventurous spirit. He told me he wished he could be like you.”

  “There’s no question but that I am his favorite uncle,” Tom boasts. “It’s no secret that the Lord Protector—God, it grieves me to have to call him that—is severe with the boy and keeps him cloistered up with his tutors and short of money, damn him. And he keeps me from seeing him, although he can’t stop it entirely, and when I do, it’s obvious to me that the King is angry and resentful at the way he is treated. So do you know what I’ve done, Kate? I’ve bribed one of His Majesty’s servants, John Fowler, to smuggle generous purses of money to him. I’ve also instructed Fowler to take every possible occasion to extol my virtues and talents in the King’s hearing.”

  I have to smile at Tom’s audacity. “And have these strategies as yet borne any fruit?”

  “Yes, Kate, they have. The King has shown himself very willing to help me. I saw him two days ago at Whitehall, and I, speaking man-to-man to flatter his youth, asked him for his opinion as to which lady I should marry in order to advance my fortunes.”

  My heart misses a beat. I had thought him unattached.

  “And whom did he suggest?” I ask lightly.

  “Anne of Cleves!” he splutters in great mirth. “And he wasn’t joking. But, seeing my face, in which dismay must have been writ clear, he thought about it a bit more. He’s a solemn lad who rarely smiles, but I could see he was pleased with himself. He told me I should marry the Lady Mary, to change her stiff Catholic opinions.”

  “He has a great distaste for the Roman faith,” I say, having myself a great distaste for all this talk of Tom’s marriage.

  “It’s those reformers who teach him who have made him a stiff Protestant,” Tom declares. “His sister’s persistence in the old religion is therefore a matter of great concern to hi
m. He seemed quite eager for me to marry her.”

  “And are you eager, my lord?” I ask as nonchalantly as I can.

  “Such a marriage could bring me advantages, but I confess I do not relish the prospect. The Lady Mary might be her father’s daughter, but she’s a prim, dried-up virgin, and scrawny women like her were never to my taste.” He looks at me intently again, up and down, as if to say that I, with my womanly curves, am very much to his taste.

  “You would have to obtain the council’s permission to marry the Lady Mary.”

  “I tried. They refused.” He puts his head on one side apologetically. “Well, I felt I should comply with my sovereign’s wishes. Mercifully, I was unable to do so.”

  The afternoon shadows are lengthening in the chill March sunlight.

  “I usually take a walk in the fresh air at this time. Will you join me today, Tom?”

  “Nothing would please me better.” He smiles.

  As we wander along the path between the flower beds, Tom lightly places his arm about my shoulders.

  “I still think of you with the greatest affection, Kate,” he murmurs.

  Joy threads through me. I did not imagine it. He does still care.

  “As well as the Lady Mary?” I banter. “And Anne of Cleves?”

  He roars with laughter, then turns serious once more. “I know it is early days, but may I hope that you will one day return my affection, just as you did four years ago?”

  His hand is still resting on my shoulder. I can feel that touch all over my body.

  “It is far too soon,” I tell him. “But I should be glad to see you again.”

  “I am content,” he says, smiling. “For the present.”

  Three days later he is back, bearing flowers. He has remembered how much I love flowers. Again, we walk in the gardens, my ladies following at a discreet distance, we two talking of politics, of the court, of mutual acquaintances, of anything, in fact, but the feelings that lie palpably between us. Then we return to the house for wine and sweetmeats before Tom bids me a smoldering farewell.

  The days lengthen. I follow my daily round, supervising the Lady Elizabeth’s lessons, sewing in my chamber, chatting with my ladies, passing the time slowly. Hoping that Tom will visit again soon.

  He has called three more times this week, bringing light and color once more into my life. And a sense of danger.

  “Tom,” I protest, “people will talk. There will be a scandal, and I have my reputation to consider. With the King so recently dead, many would think it shocking that his supposedly God-fearing widow should be disporting herself with another man.”

  “Would to God you were disporting yourself with me!” Tom grins, his meaning plain.

  “For shame!” I retort, blushing. In answer, he takes me in his arms and kisses me full and lingeringly on the lips. I have never known such bliss, but we are likely to be discovered at any second, for my ladies are not far off, so against my desire I break free and stand my ground.

  “I must insist that we keep our friendship a secret!” I declare.

  “Friendship?” Tom repeats, raising one eyebrow. “I’d have called it something different.” He kisses me again, and again I ward him off.

  “You must come here only under cover of darkness, for the time being,” I command. “Send word when you are coming, and I will leave the wicket gate in the wall unlocked. I myself will let you into the house.”

  His eyes are dancing in anticipation.

  “There is nothing more I wish for than to visit you at night,” he says, his words loaded with meaning. Oh, how I wish I could tell him how deeply I echo his sentiments, but I dare not. Instead, I say, “My lord! I am outraged by your boldness!”

  “Ah, but you like it, my Kate! You love it, in fact!” is his cheeky answer.

  “What’s happening to us, Kate?” murmurs Tom as he cradles me in his arms on the settle by the fire. I have cast propriety to the winds, for the sake of secrecy, and we are in my bedchamber. I have warned him that the settle is as far as he is going to get.

  I turn to look at him. “I’m not sure, but I like the way I’m feeling.”

  Tom tenses. “It’s love, isn’t it?” he asks, gazing at me.

  “Yes,” I whisper, and suddenly we are clutching each other in the tightest of embraces, his tongue probing mine in a passionate kiss. It’s as if we cannot get enough of each other.

  “I can’t believe that God has sent you to me.”

  “We must marry!” Tom declares as we relax, breathless.

  “We must, but not yet.”

  “Why not, my love? We can keep it secret, and I can continue visiting you at night. Except, of course, I will be sleeping with you there in that bed. Or not sleeping, as the case may be.” He looks archly at me, and I feel a sudden sense of alarm.

  “And what if I were to conceive a child, so soon after the King’s death? There might be some suspicion that it was his. There would be a terrible uproar. And think of the scandal! We should at least wait until court mourning has ended.”

  “Kate,” soothes Tom, kissing me so slowly and sensuously that I feel as if I were melting, “you are thirty-five. You have had three old men as husbands, and you’ve been little more than a glorified nurse to them. Think of yourself for a change, of your own happiness. Think how it will feel to have a real man in your bed.”

  His lips and his fingers are more than persuasive. Why deny myself the thing I desire most, I ask myself, lost to all good sense and reasoning and moral considerations. Before the night is out, I have indeed discovered what it feels like to have a real man in my bed, and I have also agreed to marry him within the week.

  Tom has sent a message by Fowler to the King, asking him to give his blessing to our marriage. A large purse of gold coins accompanies this request. Back comes Fowler, with the happy news that His Majesty approves our union and has gladly agreed to keep it a secret.

  We are joined in holy wedlock at Chelsea, as the buds begin to open in the April sunshine. No one knows of it except my chaplain and two trusted ladies. For the time being, our joy in each other will remain secret, for we have agreed to postpone the announcement of our marriage until the time seems appropriate. Tom remains at his London house, visiting me by night—oh, what bliss it is to lie in his arms—and sending affectionate letters every day. When he comes to me, there is little time for talk. We have better things to do, for he was ever a man in a hurry, and the stolen hours seem all too short.

  Tonight, Tom is angry when he arrives and too agitated to make love.

  “They are considering the Princess Elisabeth of France as a bride for the King,” he tells me. “It’s outrageous, marrying him to a Catholic. But when I took my lord brother to task for it, he just said it was expedient because we are in no position to court the hostility of France. We need King Henri’s friendship. Like a dose of the pox, I said. Who could ever trust a Frenchman? And, I asked my precious brother, does he think the King will accept a Catholic bride, now that the Mass has been banned in this kingdom?”

  I draw Tom down beside me on the settle.

  “And what did he say?” I ask gently.

  “Oh, he muttered some rubbish about hoping that His Majesty would make her see the error of her ways. I told him the King wouldn’t like it and that he would prefer to marry a Protestant bride, but does he listen? Does he listen? No. Once he’s set his mind on a plan, however stupid, there’s no moving him.”

  “Come to bed, my love,” I say, putting my arms round him. “There’s nothing you can do about it tonight. Just put it out of your mind till morning. We have all too short a time together.”

  “You’re right, Kate,” he says wearily. “Let’s go to bed, darling. Take off that nightgown.”

  Dawn is just breaking as Tom wakes me.

  “Sweetheart, I’ve just thought of the most advantageous plan.”

  “Mmmm?” I respond, sensuous with sleep and the sight of his face on the pillow beside me.

 
“It’s a brilliant plan, and it will earn me the King’s undying gratitude.”

  “What is it?” I ask, yawning.

  “Well, Kate”—he curls his arms around me and kisses me—“there may not be many Protestant princesses in Europe, as my dear brother so irritatingly pointed out, but there is a suitable match for the King to be had for the taking here in England, one who could in truth be considered a princess by virtue of her birth. I speak of the Marquess of Dorset’s girl, Lady Jane Grey. She is the King’s own cousin.”

  I am suddenly awake. Of course, little Jane. She would make a wonderful wife for His Majesty.

  “It is a brilliant plan,” I echo. “They are of an age, and what’s more, she is formidably intelligent and accomplished, for all her tender years.”

  “She’s a pretty little thing too. I’ve seen her about the court. Furthermore, I’d be prepared to wager on her ambitious parents jumping at the chance of such a magnificent marriage for her.”

  “Oh, they will,” I agree, thinking of the assertive Lady Dorset, whom I could never like, not just because of her strident bossiness, but also because of her unwarranted unkindness to that sweet child of hers. How Frances and that boring husband of hers managed to produce the Lady Jane I’ll never know. “Edward has not met Jane very often, yet I’ve heard him speak warmly of her.”

  “I’m sure he would infinitely prefer her to Elisabeth of Valois,” Tom says enthusiastically. “And Jane herself could have little to complain about in such a marriage. What young girl would not give her all to be Queen of England?”

  “But how will you go about this, Tom?”

  “I will approach Lord Dorset, put the matter to him—he’ll be ripe for it, I’ve no doubt—and then I’ll suggest that Lady Jane be placed in my household whilst I negotiate the matter with the King, who will doubtless be overjoyed at the prospect of such an agreeable consort, and so very grateful to the uncle who procured her for him. This is our way forward, Kate. This marriage will bring me the political influence that should be mine already and will guarantee that I remain the power behind the throne in the years to come.”

 
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