Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  Tom departed before first light this morning, and when I arise, I find he has left an early rose lying on the table by the bed. I take it with me to chapel, and then to breakfast, studying its red velvet petals lovingly as I eat my bread and cold meat. When I have finished, I raise it to my lips, but the moment is interrupted by a soft sound behind me, and I turn to see the Lady Elizabeth standing in the doorway, smiling impishly.

  “A gift from the Admiral, madam?” she asks pertly, her eyes mischievous.

  “Shouldn’t you be at your prayers or your lessons?” I ask, feeling my cheeks flame.

  “I hear him leave,” she says, ignoring my question. “He comes here every night, doesn’t he?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  She smiles again. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”

  “There is nothing to tell. Now go to your tutor.”

  “As you please, madam. But, you know, I pray for your happiness.”

  “Thank you, Elizabeth.”

  After she has gone, I wish—not for the first time—that our marriage could be made public, as I have already begun to tire of this subterfuge. If the Lady Elizabeth has guessed what is going on, others might have too, and servants talk. And if word of what we have done got out, I dread to think of the consequences for us. I must persuade Tom to tell his brother the truth. We cannot go on living a lie for much longer.

  But when Tom returns at night, there is no chance of raising the matter because, once again, he is in a bad temper.

  “God’s blood!” he fumes. “The stupid, stubborn, ungrateful…”

  “What has happened?” I ask.

  “This afternoon, my man Harington returned from seeing Lord Dorset. Harington had laid before him my proposal, but his lordship looked at him as if he were mad. Then he said that nothing would please him more than to marry his daughter to the King, but he was wondering how I intended to accomplish my design when I do not even have a place on the regency council, and when it is clear that the councillors seem to be united in their determination to keep me out of the political arena at all costs.”

  “The brazen cheek of the man!”

  “God, I was furious at that!” Tom growls. “And then, when it was suggested that Jane be placed in my household as my ward, his bloody lordship pointed out that I am still a bachelor—if only he knew!—and yet I desire him to send his daughter to live in a household where there is no suitable lady of rank present to oversee her education and welfare. He said it would not be seemly.”

  He paces up and down in rage.

  “But I’d already thought of that, and I’d told Harington to say that my mother will be coming up from Wiltshire to live with me. But this is not enough for his pernickety lordship, who said he has no confidence at present that I have the ability to bring this match about, and that that was an end to the matter. But it’s not. Oh, no, it’s not.”

  He stops, facing me, and takes my hands in his.

  “When the world knows of our marriage, my love, I’ll warrant there will be a stampede of noble lords all eager to place their daughters in our household.”

  I smile sadly at him. “I should so have liked to have Jane here. I grew very fond of her when she visited me at court. Her parents treat her harshly, and I can’t understand why. I think of her as if she were my own daughter. After all, I have none of my own.”

  “Dear Kate!” cries Tom, flinging his arms around me. He has sensed the shadow that fleetingly darkened my mood. “Do not be sad. Soon, we may have children of our own, and the Lady Jane to boot, I’ll warrant you.”

  “God grant it may be so,” I say tenderly.

  Lady Jane Grey

  DORSET HOUSE, JUNE 1547

  Today, I am playing with my sister Mary in the long gallery. She toddles toward me in her ungainly fashion, her disfiguring hump and squat body disguised as far as possible under voluminous lawn aprons and a wide, stiff collar. For a while, the poor little thing was shut away, but she is now allowed the freedom of the house. I believe this may be due to the intercessions made by my new tutor, Dr. John Aylmer, who is also my mother’s chaplain and able to speak to her on such matters. I am already fond of him.

  In recent months, my life has changed dramatically. After Dr. Harding announced that he was returning to Cambridge to resume his studies, my parents promoted Dr. Aylmer to replace him as my tutor.

  I’ve known Dr. Aylmer all my life. He used to carry me about in his arms, teaching me good diction. It was he who first taught me about the mysteries of faith, in simple terms initially, then later on in profound detail. Like many of his colleagues from Cambridge, he was an early advocate of religious reform, and, like Dr. Harding but to a greater degree, he daringly planted in my mind the seeds of several ideas that have blossomed freely in the enlightened climate we now enjoy in England and borne fruit.

  Dr. Aylmer’s lessons are laced with wit and humor, and he is of the firm opinion that children should be encouraged to love learning, not be forced to it by beatings, as happens so often. I love him because he treats me as an equal. He has even gone so far as to say that I am almost on the same intellectual level as he. I blushed in the face of such flattery. Yet he says I easily grasp the most difficult theological concepts and insists that my arguments are always well reasoned.

  Dr. Aylmer is also a great patriot. “God is an Englishman,” he is fond of saying, and he has instilled in me a strong sense of the history of this kingdom, a history in which I am beginning to realize I might be called to play a part, however small; after all, my parents have never ceased to stress our blood links with royalty.

  Dr. Aylmer is a friend of the King’s tutor, Dr. Cheke. They compare notes over their respective pupils when my father takes Dr. Aylmer to court. When he returns, my good tutor cannot resist saying smugly that, from what he has heard, I am well in advance of His Majesty, even though we were born in the same month. I’m not sure that isn’t lèse-majesté.

  I believe it has not escaped Dr. Aylmer’s notice that my mother is unkind to me. He once gently pointed out, after one particularly severe reprimand, that she is a bitterly disappointed woman, and guilt-ridden too, at not having presented my father with a male heir. Thanks to him, I am beginning to see my mother as a human being with strengths and weaknesses like everyone else, not just as an authoritarian parent, and strangely this gives me the courage to stand up to her on occasion and not be intimidated by her.

  “Catch!” I call, tossing the cloth ball at Mary. As usual, she misses and crawls after it. She’s a placid, stolid child who, like Katherine, will take life in her stride, as it happens.

  My mother appears at the end of the gallery.

  “Time for bed,” she announces. “Take her to bed, now! Look sharp!”

  Why the impatience? Why make it so clear she wants Mary removed from her sight? I cannot help but feel indignant on my innocent sister’s behalf.

  “Let her have a few minutes more of play, madam,” I plead.

  “Why must you always defy me?” my lady hisses. “Even over a trifling matter like this?”

  I meet her cold stare. For the first time, I do not drop my eyes.

  “I said, bedtime,” she repeats menacingly. Then, as I hesitate, wondering if I dare risk a retort, she slaps me about the ear. “I’ll make you obedient, Jane, if it’s the last thing I do.”

  “Am I a naughty child?” I burst out. “Am I really? Or is it just that I am not the son you wanted?”

  That was unforgivable, but I could not stop myself.

  “How dare you!” my mother cries, and pinches me hard on the soft flesh of my arm. Tomorrow there will be a bruise in that place, as there have been bruises on many occasions before. But I do not care. I am too busy releasing my pent-up hurt and anger.

  “You punish me for the slightest misdemeanor, even for things I did not do!” I cry. “I would not mind if I were a bad child, but I know I am not. I try very hard to behave well and not give offense, but it i
s impossible to please you. If I were a boy, I have no doubt I would receive better treatment. But alas, I am not. I am just an unwanted girl.”

  I am shocked at my outburst, and so is my mother, as she is speechless for once. Quickly she recovers herself.

  “You must be ill or crazed to speak to me like that,” she rasps. “Go to your chamber. You will live on bread and water until you repent and beg my forgiveness.”

  I endure two days of isolation, and no one speaks to me in my disgrace. Mrs. Ellen brings my sparse rations of food and looks tragic, but she is plainly too fearful of my mother’s wrath to say anything. At least, I console myself, I have done something to deserve this punishment. Yet why should I be punished for speaking the truth?

  I cannot bear it any longer. I go to my lady’s chamber, kneel, and humbly beg her forgiveness. She nods curtly, her lips pursed, and dismisses me, and it is some days before she will condescend to speak to me again.

  I am forgiven, it seems.

  “The most astonishing news has come from court!” cries my mother. “Henry! Jane! Katherine! Listen to this!”

  We hasten after her to the great chamber, where she turns toward us, her face flushed with excitement.

  “The Lord Admiral has married the Queen!” she announces. “Lady Hertford writes that the news was disclosed by the Admiral to the Lord Protector, who was very angry with his brother. However, having informed the council of the marriage, he could do little save censure the naughty couple, since they have broken no law.”

  “Has the news been cried abroad?” my father asks.

  “Yes, it has. The people are not pleased. In fact, public opinion is hot against the marriage.”

  “I’m not surprised,” he replies. “It’s scandalous, coming so soon after the death of the late King.”

  “I always said she was no better than she should be,” sniffs my mother. I frown: not so long ago, she was honored to be accounted among the Queen’s friends. “At least she has no high belly to speak of. That would have put the cat amongst the pigeons.”

  “I take it the marriage was solemnized in the proper manner before witnesses?” says my father. “And that there is no evidence of any misconduct?”

  “It was. But who can say what went on before the wedding? It’s the timing that’s shocking, I tell you. Couldn’t they have waited a decent interval? My poor uncle is scarce cold in his grave.”

  My father smiles. “Doubtless the Duchess of Somerset is much put out by the marriage. She will now have to give place to the wife of her husband’s despised younger brother. It must be mortifying for her!”

  “It was the King’s reaction that surprised me,” says my lady. “He actually wrote to the Queen and congratulated her on her marriage. But it was against the council’s advice. And the Lady Mary is most offended. She sent a scathing letter to the Admiral.”

  “I doubt she will wish to remain friends with the Queen after this,” my father remarks.

  “She is a frustrated spinster,” observes my lady. “She knows nothing of men or of love.”

  My father smiles. “Do you remember how King Henry delighted in testing her innocence, and when he got Sir Francis Bryan to use a very rude word to her? She had no idea what he was talking about.”

  “Well, she knows enough about such matters to feel concern about her sister Elizabeth’s moral welfare,” my mother replies. “She has written to her, urging her to leave the Queen’s household. Much joy she’ll get from that one. Sharp as nails is young Elizabeth, and she knows which side her bread’s buttered. She’ll do as she pleases, and I’ll wager she’ll stay put.”

  “She’s in no moral danger!” my father scoffs. “The Queen and the Admiral are married, not living in sin. It’s indecently hasty, and I daresay she could have done better for herself, but there we are.”

  “She loves him,” says my mother in a tone that conveys contempt for such weakness. “She had an eye for him before my uncle wed her. Now she’s allowed emotion to override good sense. I would have credited her with more wisdom.”

  “Well, they have the King’s blessing, so there’s no point in criticizing them. It seems that Seymour is more in favor with His Majesty than I thought. And, if you think about it, their union may be to our advantage. Remember the Admiral’s proposal.” My father glances briefly in my direction. “Let this all die down, and I’ll reconsider the matter. After all, the Queen would make an excellent chaperone.”

  In some way, I realize, this conversation concerns me. Could it be that the Admiral has proposed that I go to stay with the Queen at Chelsea? If that were so, and my parents were agreeable, which God grant, then I would be the happiest girl alive.

  Queen Katherine Parr

  CHELSEA, AUGUST 1547

  My Lord and Lady Dorset were our guests at dinner today. Tom was right. As soon as our marriage was made public, Lord Dorset almost fell over himself in his haste to place his daughter Jane in our care. He is a suitor to us now! And so here we are, seated in the privy chamber drinking spiced wine and discussing the proposed arrangements.

  Tom is in an ebullient mood.

  “Only yesterday,” he is saying to his lordship, “Bishop Bale, who has the King’s ear, told me in confidence that he is convinced it is your daughter, the Lady Jane, whom His Majesty really wishes to marry.”

  “Have you spoken with the King himself on this matter?” Dorset asks. I see greed and ambition plain in his eyes, and for a moment I wonder where this will all lead us, and whether we should have entangled ourselves in this coil.

  “No, but as I said, I am in the confidence of those who have,” Tom answers urbanely. “Fear not, my lord, His Majesty will take my advice. He is not happy with the Catholic marriage that the council is forcing on him. I promise you, you shall see Jane placed in an alliance that is much to your comfort, if you will send her to us and appoint me her legal guardian. Then I will be free to dispose of her on my own initiative. In the meantime, Her Grace here will be as a mother to your daughter.”

  “It will be my pleasure.” I smile. “Jane is a delightful child.” And if I can make her happy, even for a short time, then I will feel more at ease with myself for participating in this underhanded scheming.

  “You wish to make her your ward?” Dorset asks cautiously, although he can scarcely conceal how eager he is to conclude this arrangement, which would make Tom Jane’s legal guardian, with full control of any lands and income she would inherit in the event of her father’s death. I suspect he is doing rapid calculations in his head.

  “I do,” says Tom. “Name your price.”

  “Two thousand pounds,” Dorset says bluntly, without hesitation. “On condition that you arrange Jane’s marriage to the King and to no other.”

  Tom affects to be taken aback, although we have already surmised that a sum of this nature would be asked. “A vast amount, my lord.”

  “But worth the investment, I trust, and the benefits to all, and to this realm.”

  “Indeed,” Tom agrees. “Shall we say five hundred pounds as a down payment, five hundred on Jane’s betrothal, and the rest on her marriage?”

  “Done,” says Dorset, as if he were closing on a land deal rather than what effectively amounts to the sale of his daughter.

  “May I suggest that Jane join our household after Christmas?” I ask.

  “That will give us time to prepare a suitable wardrobe for her,” says Lady Dorset, clearly pleased with the transaction.

  “I am sure you do not relish the prospect of being parted from her when she is so young,” I feel compelled to say, knowing how unfeeling Lady Dorset can be toward her daughter, “so please feel welcome to visit her here at any time.”

  “Your Majesty is most gracious,” replies the Marchioness, but I have the feeling that it is I, rather than Jane’s mother, who feel concern at the prospect of their coming separation.

  There is no escaping that my lord’s good brother, Protector Somerset, is still in a huff with him. And, of
course, he may well have more reason to be so, though he doesn’t yet know it. Nevertheless, an appearance of family unity must be maintained, for it would not do for the Seymours’ political standing to be undermined by an open rift. The Protector has therefore invited us to join him for a little jaunt along the Strand, to inspect the old Inns of Chancery buildings, which his lordship—prompted no doubt by his socially ambitious wife—plans to develop into a veritable palace for himself, to be called Somerset House.

  We alight from our chariot at three o’clock and find ourselves at the point where the Strand joins Fleet Street. This is the part of town where many lords and bishops have their mansions, with gardens sweeping down to the river Thames; but looming between them, only yards away, is the Hospital of the Savoy, dilapidated and neglected, a haunt of beggars and cutpurses. The Strand is always busy with people making their way between the city and Westminster, and our grooms clear a path for us, waving back the passersby.

  The exterior of Somerset House is swarming with masons, carpenters, and laborers, but inside it is near derelict, and we have to pick our way through the debris that litters the dusty chambers, I holding up my skirts to avoid soiling the rich cloth. Ned—as Tom calls his brother—is lamenting the King’s lack of enthusiasm for the French bride selected for him.

  “His Majesty was plainly bored stiff during the council meeting this morning, even though he well knows that it is his duty to pay attention and learn how this kingdom is governed. He only woke up when the subject of his marriage was raised, and when we began extolling the virtues of the Princess Elisabeth, he interrupted to ask if she was rich, because he wants a well-stuffed and bejeweled wife, as he put it.”

 
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