Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “My lady, I bring wonderful news. I am with child.”

  And I burst into tears.

  “Your Grace, please be seated!” cries Lady Seymour. “What ails you? Is something wrong?”

  “No, as far as I can tell, all is well,” I say, weeping. “But I am so scared. I am living in dread. I am thirty-six, and this is my first baby.”

  “Now calm down, madam,” says my mother-in-law firmly. “It will harm the child if you allow yourself to become agitated.”

  “You must think me a coward,” I sniff. “This is not how the Queen of England should behave. And I am no green girl. But I know that childbirth is hazardous to all women, and that the older one is when one is confined for the first time, the greater the danger. I fear for myself, God knows, but I fear even more for my baby. I want to live to see my child grow up and be there to guide it. I can’t bear to think of it being left motherless in this uncertain world.”

  “It may surprise you to learn that most women feel that way,” says Lady Seymour. “It’s natural, but you must be firm with yourself. If I know my son, you will have the best care that money can buy. You must pray for a happy outcome, for you are in God’s hands, and so is the babe. And remember that frights in the mother are bad for the unborn child. So it is your duty to set aside your fears and be positive. Madam, forgive my boldness, but I speak to you as my daughter, not as my Queen.”

  “You are so kind, my lady,” I say, quieter now, and a little reassured. “I will take your advice and put my trust in God.”

  In the days and weeks that follow, although I make a great effort to banish my fears, I am preoccupied with dark thoughts. Pregnancy, I find, is not easy. I am bone-tired all the time, unable to bear the constant nausea, and in no mood for Tom’s embraces. And there’s another reason for my misgivings, although to admit it makes me sound like a vain, shallow jade. But, like any wife approaching middle age and beginning to lose her looks, I am worried about the damage that pregnancy will wreak on my face and my figure.

  There’s something else I must now face too, which is one reason for these seemingly frivolous fears. I haven’t imagined it, I’m certain. It breaks my heart to admit it to myself, but Tom’s ardor is cooling. Yes, he is still affectionate and respectful toward me, but some of the passion has gone from his loving. I remind myself that many women have husbands who never loved them at all, or who are cruel to them, or flaunt their mistresses, and that in most ways that count, I have been fortunate. Yet when you have enjoyed such fleshly delight as we two shared in the early months of our marriage, and which I cannot share just now, affection and respect are poor substitutes. It is sheer anguish to me to dwell on what I have lost.

  But that is not all that troubles and torments me. For I and my lord have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and if what I fear is true, then the trust that has been placed in us has irrevocably been violated. Because I am almost certain that my husband is amorously involved with the Lady Elizabeth.

  Mrs.Ellen

  CHELSEA, MARCH 1548

  It’s still too cold to sit outside and enjoy the spring sunshine, so Mrs. Ashley and I are taking our leisure in a linenfold-paneled closet, warming our hands on a brazier and discussing our respective charges. Kat Ashley is a garrulous, indiscreet woman who loves to gossip, but today her concerns are serious.

  “What I am about to confide must remain a secret,” she warns.

  I nod sympathetically. I can tell that she is desperate to unburden herself.

  “You can trust me,” I assure her. “I shan’t tell a soul.”

  “It started last summer. The Lord Admiral would often come to my Lady Elizabeth’s bedchamber in the mornings, before she was up, and he would tease her and tickle her as she lay in her bed. Of course, I was always present, but he took no notice of me when I asked him, for shame, to leave her be. And, to be truthful, she seemed to be encouraging him. There she would lie, giggling under the covers, and he would yank them off her and slap her on the buttocks, she wearing just a thin chemise.”

  “I don’t like what I’m hearing,” I say, shocked. “It’s disgraceful. And she not much more than a child.”

  “A child in years, you might say,” observes Mrs. Ashley darkly, “but in no other respect. Anyway, when we stayed at Seymour Place in London, my lord continued to visit her bedchamber each morning, and sometimes he came wearing only his night-robe and had his legs bare; I tell you, on one occasion his robe was gaping so far open you could see—well, I leave it to your imagination. But it was becoming clear that this was no innocent game between stepfather and child.”

  “And how did the Lady Elizabeth react to this?”

  “She became embarrassed in the end. She’s a forward girl, but her modesty was increasingly offended. She took to getting up and dressing very early, so as to be at her books when he arrived, but he still persisted in coming indecently garbed in the mornings, and at length I took him to task for it. I said I would tell the Queen if it went on, and he just laughed, but he stopped his visits all the same. However,” Kat sighs, “when we returned to Chelsea, he was soon up to his old tricks again, arriving earlier and earlier each day. My lady would lock her door, but he had his own key, so when she heard it in the lock, she would jump out of bed and hide behind the bed curtains. But he would come at her, drag her out, and tickle her until she cried for mercy. His hands were everywhere, I tell you. One day, he surprised her still in the bed and made to kiss her, but she pushed him away. I told him that people were beginning to talk, and that he should cease his romps with my lady, but he swore he meant no evil and said she was like a daughter to him. He even threatened to complain of me to the Lord Protector if I spoke of the matter again.”

  “But the Queen, did she know what was going on?”

  “That’s the odd thing. She joined in these morning romps once or twice. Then, when we were at Hanworth, she and the Admiral chased the Lady Elizabeth through the gardens, and when they caught her, the Queen held her fast whilst the Admiral took a pair of shears and cut her gown to ribbons, they three laughing all the time. I was not best pleased when I saw it, for it had been a good black damask gown for mourning the King her father and was beyond repair. I tried to remonstrate with the Queen, but she just said I was not to worry, it had been a silly prank. But I did worry, I did.” Kat looks distressed.

  “I had not known any of this.”

  “There’s more.” She bites her lip. “Recently something happened to arouse the Queen’s suspicions. I don’t know what it was, and my little lady will not talk about it—she’s a one for keeping her own counsel. The first I heard of it was when the Queen summoned me and told me the Admiral had seen the Lady Elizabeth in the gallery with her arms around a man’s neck. Now, the only other man living in the house at the time—apart from Dr. Aylmer—was her schoolmaster; not Dr. Ascham, for he was away, but Dr. Grindal, and he is old and sick, the last person you would suspect.”

  “It sounds as if the Admiral was trying to divert suspicion from himself. If so, he went about it very clumsily.”

  “Possibly,” says Kat doubtfully. “But the servants were already gossiping about him, and it was only a matter of time before the Queen heard it. If, indeed, she hadn’t heard it already. But she’s no fool, Queen Katherine. It’s my belief she made up the story herself, not wanting to accuse her own husband to my face. She said I was to be more vigilant with the Lady Elizabeth in future. Which I have been, I assure you.”

  “And does the Admiral still come to my Lady Elizabeth’s chamber in the mornings?”

  “No, not since the Queen spoke with me. I think he must have realized she suspects something.”

  “Then let us hope that the matter has now blown over.”

  “Let us hope so,” Kat echoes grimly.

  I sit silent. I have been more than happy here in the Queen’s household, and so has Jane, but I am beginning to wonder if, with all this frightful hurly-burly going on, this is the best place for my little l
ady to be.

  Lady Jane Grey

  CHELSEA, MARCH 1548

  There are disquieting undercurrents here in the Queen’s house: chance words overheard, voices hushed as I approach, and a feeling that the Queen is not as happy as she pretends to be. Something is wrong, just as it was that dreadful time at court nearly two years ago, but no one cares to enlighten me. I’m sure Mrs. Ellen knows what is going on, but of course she will do her best, as usual, to shield me from anything unpleasant. And it’s no use asking the Lady Elizabeth, because I think she is somehow involved, and I know her cunning mind well enough—she’ll never willingly reveal her secrets.

  Then one day I go to the Queen’s chamber to fetch a book. Lady Tyrwhitt is there, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting I like least. She engages me deferentially, even fawningly, in conversation, then mentions, as if it were public knowledge, my becoming Queen of England one day.

  “I?” I ask in astonishment.

  “Why, of course, my lady,” replies Lady Tyrwhitt, looking dismayed. “I thought you knew.”

  “No.” I am thunderstruck.

  “I spoke but the truth, my lady. The Queen has said as much.”

  Frantic, I speed off in search of Her Majesty, whom I find in the privy garden, deep in discussion with the head gardener. One look at my face and she puts a finger to her lips, dismisses the man, and leads me to a shady arbor where we can be private. I can contain myself no longer.

  “Madam,” I burst out, “Lady Tyrwhitt says I am to be Queen of England. How can that be? The King is in health and has two sisters to succeed him.”

  The Queen’s face is calm. She takes my hand.

  “Jane, when your parents placed you with me, it was in the hope that my Lord Admiral would be able to arrange your marriage to the King’s Majesty. These things take time, but we are all confident that my lord will one day bring this to pass. You were not told, in case the matter came to nothing and your hopes were raised in vain; indeed, Lady Tyrwhitt should not have said anything about it, as she was sworn to secrecy, but perhaps she thought you were in our confidence.”

  “I, marry the King?” I whisper.

  “Yes, Jane. My dear child, you have all the qualities that go to make an excellent queen: you would be a fit wife for any prince. What is more, you and the King share the same views on religion, and I have no doubt that His Majesty is as eager for this match as we are.”

  I am quite speechless. So this is why the Queen’s ladies are all so deferential toward me. I had thought it was for my birth alone, and perhaps for my learning.

  Queen Katherine sees my confusion and folds her arm around me.

  “Jane, you must have known from your early girlhood that a great marriage would one day be arranged for you, a marriage beneficial to your House.”

  “I have known, madam, but I never thought to look so high for a bridegroom. My lady mother was more at pains to tell me that love would not be a consideration in the choosing of a husband, but that it would be my duty to love him after our marriage. But that I should be considered worthy to marry the King himself—why, he is the greatest prince in Christendom!”

  “And he is not altogether unpleasing to you, I can see.” The Queen smiles.

  “I have barely seen him, madam”—I blush—“and we are both very young. I do not seek earthly pomp and advancement, as Your Grace knows, but I should be grateful to have a husband of my own age who is well favored in looks and shares my faith and my interests.”

  “Indeed. A husband of the same age can also be a boon. I know several girls who have been pushed into marriage, much against their will, with men old enough to be their grandfathers. But the King is young and shows promise of becoming a handsome man. He’s godlier than his father, more serious altogether, and one cannot imagine him pursuing the same matrimonial career!”

  “I do believe I could love him,” I say shyly. I have never before thought of what marriage might mean in human terms. “And I would do my best to follow Your Grace’s own example in being a good wife and queen.”

  Katherine smiles and pats my hand.

  Suddenly, I feel exalted. “It must be that God Himself has destined me for this high position,” I breathe. “His plan is clear. He is to use me, His humble instrument, to help accomplish His will in England. This is to be the purpose of my life, to assist and support our first Protestant king in his divinely appointed work.”

  “I pray it may be so,” says the Queen, squeezing my hand tightly.

  “It all makes sense now. My tribulations thus far were trials sent by God to assay my faith, and to prepare and hone me for the great task that lies ahead. It has been my testing time.”

  Her Grace regards me with visible emotion. “You are sober and wise for one so young. I can’t tell you how delighted I am that you have embraced the news in this way. I so want you to be happy, but I also want you to feel that your life has some good purpose. Marriage is more than a political bargain, and you have perceived in this hardheaded arrangement, which is being negotiated by the Admiral and your father, something of the divine, and for that I praise God.”

  I smile at her. “For once, I shall be happy to do my parents’ bidding.”

  WHITEHALL, MARCH 1548

  At the Queen’s behest, I have been brought to court to have audience of the King. She asked the Admiral to tell the Protector that I was such a prodigy in learning that His Majesty should meet and converse with me, as he might enjoy the company of a cousin of his exact age.

  The court is much more formal now than in King Henry’s day, so the Queen primes me beforehand in the required forms of etiquette. On the appointed afternoon, when I am announced at the door of the royal privy chamber, I curtsy three times as I enter the King’s presence, not daring to look up in case I stumble. Then I rise, take three paces, and sink to the floor in three further obeisances. Another three paces bring me to the steps of the dais itself, and again I make my curtsy thrice. Then I kneel, as a slender, childish hand, laden with rings, is extended for me to kiss.

  “Rise, Cousin, you are welcome,” the King says in a high, imperious voice.

  Reminding myself that I must kneel again whenever I address him, I rise to my feet, lift my eyes to his, and see a slight, copper-haired boy with pointed ears and a pointed chin. He looks a bit like an elf, although a majestic one. But his eyes are cold and shuttered. I imagine that he will not be an easy person to get close to.

  “I have heard that you are something of a paragon,” His Majesty is pleased to say.

  I kneel once more and reply meekly, “I do my poor best at my lessons, sir.”

  “You’re taught by Dr. Aylmer,” he says, becoming more animated. “Dr. Cheke has a high opinion of him. You are very fortunate to have such a tutor, Cousin.”

  This boy is a little younger than me, but his manner gives the impression that he is far older.

  “I have the greatest affection for him, sir.”

  “What do you think of this?” the King asks, producing a parchment from his pocket. He hands it to me. It’s a translation into Greek, quite ably done.

  “Is this your own work, sir?” I venture.

  “Yes. I did it this morning. Well, Cousin, what do you think of it? Have you yourself progressed so far?”

  A sight further, I think, but of course I cannot say that, and I should not allow myself to fall into the sin of pride. These things come easily to me, and that is not my doing, but God’s.

  “I am astonished by Your Majesty’s scholarship.”

  “Could you translate it back into the Latin?” he asks, looking at me speculatively.

  “I will try, sir.” I gaze at the Greek, and somehow it resolves itself at once in my mind into Latin. I pretend to hesitate and stumble purposefully on a word or two, but nevertheless the King looks a little nonplussed.

  “Dr. Aylmer is to be congratulated on his pupil,” he says when I have finished. Do I detect a trace of irony in his voice?

  He has now lost interest in
schoolwork and suggests we play cards. He sits down on a cushioned chair and waves me to a stool. The courtiers, fine lords and ladies in their jewel-encrusted, peacock-colored clothes, gather round in the tapestry-hung chamber to watch us. We enjoy a spirited game, and I begin to relax in his company. For all the formality surrounding us, he seems to like me. He smiles rarely and is oversolemn for his years, but he is friendly enough in his reserved way.

  When the game is finished, he walks me along his private gallery, pointing out the portraits of our mutual forebears.

  “That’s King Henry the Seventh, my grandfather, and your great-grandfather, my Lady Jane. And this is your grandmother, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk.”

  “They say she was very beautiful, sir.”

  “Probably when she was young, but not in that portrait,” he replies candidly.

  “I like this one,” I say. It’s a likeness of a fair young woman in a golden dress and hood.

  The King gazes at it for a moment. “That was my mother. She died when I was born.” There is no emotion in his voice, and how could there be? He never knew her. But his cool terseness is disconcerting. I cannot imagine anything moving him.

  Soon it is time for his archery practice. When he dismisses me, I kneel to kiss his hand.

  “Farewell, Cousin,” he says. There has been no indication that he has any special affection for me, still less any acknowledgment of the possibility that I might one day be his queen. As I walk backward out of his presence, curtsying again as two pages throw open the doors, I wonder if I will ever grow to love this cold, dispassionate boy as a wife should.

  Queen Katherine Parr

  CHELSEA, MARCH 1548

  It is Sunday morning, and we are preparing for worship in the chapel. This should be a reflective, tranquil time, yet I am uneasy. The Lady Elizabeth has pleaded one of her headaches as an excuse to stay in bed, and my lord is missing.

  At the entrance to the royal pew, I pause. I bid Jane be seated, then send Anne Vaux, one of my ladies, back to my private chambers.

 
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