Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “There’s still time before the service begins, Anne,” I tell her. “See if you can find the Admiral and ask him to hurry up.”

  Anne hastens away. She returns five minutes later. She has not seen Tom. He is not in our apartments.

  I decide to go and look for him myself and instruct the chaplain to wait.

  As I hasten through the gallery that leads from the chapel, I encounter Mrs. Ashley on her way to worship. I inquire after the Lady Elizabeth.

  “I’ve just left her, madam. She is sleeping.”

  I wish I could believe her, but her eyes slide away from mine.

  I wait until Mrs. Ashley has gone into the chapel, then make my way, not to the royal apartments, but to my Lady Elizabeth’s. All is quiet as I approach. But then, from behind a closed door, I hear a girl’s muffled giggle.

  Taking a deep breath, I push the door open. They are there together, tumbled on the bed, my husband and my stepdaughter, both in a shocking state of disarray. Instantly Tom leaps up, throws the coverlet over the girl’s exposed breasts, and tugs at his hose. Our eyes meet, and he looks away. There is nothing he can say in his defense, so he just shrugs and spreads his hands helplessly, as I gaze at him in horror. Words will not come, and mutely I turn and flee from the room, as he hurries after me, shouting my name.

  We face each other in the privacy of our chamber. I am trembling with the shock of his betrayal; he is aggressive with guilt.

  “Do you realize the enormity of what you have done?” I cry, my voice trembling. “Setting aside the hurt to me, your wife, you have compromised the King’s own sister.”

  “I have not harmed her,” he retorts.

  “By that I suppose you mean you have not deflowered her.”

  “Yes. I mean, no, I have not. It was just a flirtation, Kate, that got out of hand. You must believe me.”

  “Yes, so out of hand that you felt the need to unlace your breeches. God knows what would have happened had I not interrupted you. Christ, Tom, how can you be so stupid?”

  “She bewitched me, the little temptress,” he mutters. “She’s a sorceress, just like her mother.”

  “That’s a feeble excuse. I suppose you had no mind of your own in the matter?”

  Tom says nothing. There is nothing he can say.

  A terrible thought occurs to me.

  “This reflects so badly on me,” I whisper, sounding flat and bitter. “It is I too who have been remiss. The Lady Elizabeth has been entrusted to my care, and I have been lax in my vigilance. It had never occurred to me that there was any need for it. I believed that you were mine alone….” I break down and he moves to embrace me, but I push him away.

  “Don’t touch me!” I cry. I walk, sobbing softly into my handkerchief, to the window. “I can only thank Heaven that you have not got her pregnant. I hope to God you are telling me the truth.”

  “I am, Kate. I am,” he says brokenly.

  “Then I must, for my own sanity, believe you,” I whisper. “But if the council were to discover what has been going on under my roof, I should not escape the sternest censure.”

  “I am so sorry, Kate,” Tom cries. “Believe me, I am sorry. I was mad. I acted like a fool. It’s you I love, you, Kate.”

  “Really? The evidence of my own eyes tells me otherwise.”

  Tom falls to his knees and looks up at me. There are tears in his eyes.

  “I’m begging you, Kate, to forgive me. I know I don’t deserve it, or you, but I’m only human, with a man’s frailties. I love you, sweetheart—doesn’t that count for something?”

  Something hardens in me. “It certainly didn’t this morning,” I snap.

  “You have to believe me!” he cries frantically. “I love you!”

  “Love?” I echo disdainfully. “You don’t know the meaning of the word.”

  I walked out on him then, and I have not seen him all day. Nor has Elizabeth shown herself.

  Now, Tom and I face each other over the supper table, both of us calmer and more rational. But his betrayal lies between us like a dark shadow.

  I break the silence. “I am resolved to draw a line under this morning’s disgraceful episode.” He looks up hopefully, but I refuse to meet his eyes. He’s not going to get off so lightly.

  “The Lady Elizabeth, by virtue of her youth, is the innocent party in this sordid affair,” I say. “It is my duty to send her to a place where she can come to no further harm. I shall say I can no longer take responsibility for her care because of my pregnancy, which obliges me to lead a quieter life.”

  Tom hangs his head, cradling it in his palm. “What more can I say?” he asks pathetically.

  “You must pray to God for forgiveness, because I can give you none.”

  Elizabeth is leaving for the house of Sir Anthony and Lady Denny at Cheshunt. No one has been fooled by the official explanation for her departure, and I can tell that the household is buzzing with speculation. Clearly, too many people have seen and heard too many things, and I am fearful in case loose tongues undermine the plans I have made to protect Elizabeth’s reputation, not to mention my attempt to conceal that my marriage is in ruins. It doesn’t help that, when Elizabeth takes her leave of me, she bursts into weeping, which gives further cause for gossip.

  I kiss her kindly, wishing her well.

  “Allow me to write to you, madam,” she sobs.

  “By all means,” I soothe. “Now, farewell.”

  And she is gone, leaving me my faithless husband and the perils of childbirth to come.

  Lady Jane Grey

  CHELSEA AND HANWORTH, MARCH 1548

  Ever since I saw the Lady Elizabeth emerge in tears from the Queen’s closet at Chelsea, I have wondered if she upset Her Majesty in some way, and whether that was the reason for her abrupt departure for Cheshunt. If I’m right, then surely Her Majesty has forgiven her, for when Elizabeth left that morning, and the whole household gathered to bid her farewell, I saw Katherine kiss her and smile kindly at her and stand waving until the little procession vanished from sight. Since then, she has corresponded with the Lady Elizabeth and sometimes reads her letters aloud so that I and the other ladies can hear news of her.

  I fear that Elizabeth’s offense had something to do with the Admiral; relations between him and the Queen are visibly strained, and the coldness between them permeates the entire household. I am lonelier than I expected without Elizabeth’s stimulating company, so I feel that chill more than most, I suspect, and I therefore pray daily that God will reconcile my kind guardians.

  My prayers are answered for, as the spring draws on and the Queen’s pregnancy advances without mishap, she and the Admiral are drawn together again by their shared expectations for the future. Her manner toward him thaws, and he is as attentive as ever, boisterously kissing her and chucking her under the chin.

  There is no mention of the Lady Elizabeth returning to Chelsea.

  It is warm, even in the shade, in the garden at Hanworth. The Queen sits dozing on a bench, stomacher unlaced to accommodate her swelling belly, and sleeves rolled up indecorously. A woman may display much cleavage in a low-cut gown, yet seemliness demands that arms be covered to the wrist, whatever the season, but the Queen is too hot to care, and we are unobserved in this leafy bower.

  I look up to see Katherine dreamily watching me as I sit stitching a tiny bonnet.

  “There is no news yet of your marriage,” she says. “My lord remains at court, trying to win supporters for our plans, but he still awaits an audience with the King. However, he remains optimistic and has assured me that we will soon see you more well bestowed in marriage than you could ever have hoped for. It’s just a matter of being patient.”

  I am about to reply when suddenly a look of wonder appears on the Queen’s comely face, and she places both hands on her belly.

  “Jane,” she whispers in awe, “feel this.” And she guides my fingers to the place.

  “Can you feel it too?” she breathes. “He kicks.”


  I can. It’s like a fluttering beneath my hand. I smile at her and joke, “He must be a little knave, madam. Doubtless we shall see him beaten for causing his lady mother so much trouble!”

  Katherine laughs. At last, it seems, she has put her sadness behind her.

  Queen Katherine Parr

  HANWORTH, JUNE 1548

  The Marquess of Dorset has come to supper. He is alone, for his lady has a head cold and is indisposed. Despite my enjoyment of the good food—I always seem to be hungry these days, with the child due only a few weeks ahead—it is an uncomfortable meal, for his lordship plainly has something disagreeable on his mind and wastes little time on pleasantries.

  “Well, my Lord Admiral,” he weighs in, as soon as the turbot has been served, “you have had my daughter for six months, and so far we have heard nothing about your plan to marry her to the King. May I ask what progress you have made?”

  Tom reclines complacently in his chair and answers in honeyed tones, “My lord, I beg of you to be patient. These things take time.”

  “You’ve had six months.” Dorset sets down his goblet. He is obdurate.

  “I await an audience with His Majesty,” Tom tells him, unruffled.

  His lordship is not impressed. “By God, man, if you’re in a position to arrange this marriage, how come the King keeps you waiting so long? You told me he was eager for this.”

  “And so he is, so he is,” Tom assures him, signaling for a servant to bring more wine. “But it would not do to be too open about this matter, not just at present. His Majesty does not wish to offend the French by rejecting their princess, so matters have to proceed delicately. England needs the friendship of France, and so it is politic, just for the present, to let King Henri think that negotiations are proceeding satisfactorily. But I promise you I have been working assiduously to build up support for the marriage with my Lady Jane, and that there are many who favor it.”

  Dorset looks unconvinced. He’s a hard man to please. I smile at him and offer some gooseberry sauce. He ignores me and pulls on his beard.

  “And how long is this little charade for the benefit of the French to go on?” he demands.

  Tom’s momentary hesitation betrays his uncertainty. “Only until a secret treaty with the Emperor is negotiated. Then England will no longer be so much in need of the friendship of France.” He is bluffing, I know, lying his way out of a corner. There is no secret treaty with the Emperor in view.

  Dorset seems to know it too. “I’m surprised His Majesty is contemplating an alliance with the Empire,” he says suspiciously. “The Emperor Charles is a far greater champion of Catholicism than the King of France. All Charles does is incite the Lady Mary to stir up trouble by insisting on her right to celebrate Mass, which, as he well knows, is now illegal in this country. With the Emperor behind her, she knows she can snap her fingers at the law. My lord, do you really believe that His Majesty seeks this alliance? Or perhaps you have been duped?”

  Tom’s temper flares. “I assure you, sir, that an imperial alliance is even now being discussed by my brother, the Lord Protector, and the council,” he retorts fiercely. “They are negotiating on the very point of the Lady Mary’s Mass.”

  “Did the Protector himself tell you that?” Dorset is becoming similarly heated. “I have heard it said at court that you do not enjoy your brother’s confidence. And that you have no real influence with the King.”

  Tom is hot with anger now, but as he opens his mouth in indignation, the Marquess interrupts him. “I think, my lord, that the time has come for me to withdraw my daughter from your household and wardship,” he says nastily.

  I know I must intervene. If I leave it to Tom, all will be ruined. A display of rage will do us no good.

  “Think, my lord,” I urge. “Be not too hasty in this matter. We have only your daughter’s welfare at heart, and our mutual advancement. My lord here is still confident of success—he was only saying as much before you arrived. May I crave your indulgence for a few more weeks, to give him more time to bring this matter to fruition?” I lower my tone and lean forward confidentially. “We too get to hear the court gossip, and my lord has been credibly informed that you yourself have incurred debts that would prove an embarrassment to the father of the future Queen. Debts, they say, that you have, at present, no means of paying off.”

  My bolt shoots straight to the target. Dorset is taken completely unawares, and I guess that the rumors I have heard are indeed true.

  “As a token of our goodwill,” I press on, sensing victory, “my lord here has said he would be happy to make your lordship a loan to cover those debts.”

  Tom takes up my drift with enthusiasm. “Interest-free, of course, as between friends,” he chimes in. “The only security I ask is that the Lady Jane remains my ward.”

  Dorset’s confidence in us seems to have been miraculously restored by our offer. As my lord often says, it always helps to smooth the path with a little money. I can guess that the Marquess is thinking it unlikely that we would be willing to commit ourselves to handing over such a substantial sum if we were not optimistic about securing Jane’s marriage to the King.

  “I will not deny that a loan would come in useful just now,” he says, graciousness itself. “I thank Your Majesty and you, sir, for your kind offer, and I accept it.”

  Lady Jane Grey

  SUDELEY CASTLE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, JUNE 1548

  The great cavalcade winds its way slowly through the Cotswolds, passing through villages of mellow stone, trundling along dusty tracks that are free of mud, thanks to the warm, dry weather. I ride with the Queen and Lady Tyrwhitt in a horse litter that jolts over every bump in the road, grateful that we will not have to suffer this discomfort for much longer, since our destination will soon be in sight.

  We are bound for Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe, a house that was granted to the Admiral when he was created Baron Sudeley. It was built more than a hundred years ago, the Queen says, and was once owned by the evil, crookbacked King, Richard III, who murdered the two poor Princes in the Tower of London. King Richard extended and improved the castle, and it is still a luxurious residence. The Queen and the Admiral are to set up their court there.

  “We plan to live in the grand manner!” Her Grace told me gaily. “We will entertain the local nobility and gentry, and there will be a warm welcome under our roof for scholars, musicians, and artists. I want our house to gain a reputation as a haven for hospitality and learning.”

  Dreamily she lies on the cushions in the litter, embracing her great belly and her dreams. This is to be a new beginning for all of us.

  The Admiral is riding alongside.

  “Look!” he cries. “Sudeley!”

  We poke our heads through the damask curtains. In the leafy-green distance, we can see a fine house of honey-colored stone. As we draw nearer, the details of the castle come into view: the magnificent perpendicular wing with its soaring windows, the chapel standing separate, the stately gardens. The procession enters the gates, and the servants hasten to welcome their master and mistress and to unload the baggage carts.

  “What a beautiful, beautiful place!” exclaims the Queen as we walk through the arched entrance. “A fitting place for our son to be born.”

  The Admiral flings his arm around her. “It is indeed, my love.” He kisses her on the cheek. I watch her look up at him. Her love for him is obvious, despite their past troubles. This will be a new beginning for them, a fresh start—I feel it in my bones. I pray God they will be happy here.

  SUDELEY CASTLE, 30TH AUGUST 1548

  “For God’s sake, can’t somebody do something?” shouts the Admiral in anguish. “It’s been two days now, and still it goes on.”

  “Babies come in their own good time, my lord,” says Mary Odell, the midwife, placidly. Yet beneath her professional air of confidence—she is the best to be found and knows her worth—Mrs. Odell seems a little worried. The Queen, at thirty-six, is old for a first confinement; she has said
it herself; and matters progress slowly.

  Her pains started the evening before last, mild at first, then slowly increasing in intensity all through the night. In the morning, inexplicably, they had all but ceased, but by suppertime had returned with renewed vigor. By eight o’clock Her Grace was in misery, and there was nothing we could do to ease her. Lying down, sitting, even standing with support while she waited for each onslaught to pass—nothing gave her any relief. We all stayed with her, trying to help in our different ways, the older ladies rubbing her back or telling encouraging tales of their own successful confinements, while I, like a good daughter—which is what I am treated as here—flitted to and fro, fetching cooling drinks, scented cloths to mop the Queen’s brow, or herbal infusions that were meant to dull the pain, but failed woefully.

  At ten o’clock the midwife insisted that Her Majesty go to bed, shooing away the Admiral, who had, to her and the ladies’ horror, tried to insist that he remain with his wife. Men, Mrs. Odell told him firmly, had no business in the birthing chamber, for shame! This was women’s work, and the women would deal with it. So the Admiral waited impatiently outside in the antechamber, whilst I was deputed to report to him from time to time on the Queen’s progress.

  It was one of the longest nights I have ever spent. I had been told it was God’s will that women should bring forth children in sorrow, as punishment for the sin of Eve, but I had never realized until now what they have to go through to have a child. It is horrible, messy, embarrassing, and fraught with perils, and I shrink at the thought that I myself might have to endure this one day. Once one is married, there is really no escape from it. I know now why people speak in hushed whispers of young brides dead within a year of their wedding, or of mothers of large families cruelly taken from them. And I can see why the Lady Elizabeth says she is scared of childbirth and does not wish to marry.

  “Please God,” I prayed, “send the Queen a happy hour. Keep her safe!”

 
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