Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  Northumberland is too quick and deadly for Somerset. He accuses him in council of treason and consigns him again to the Tower. Few emerge from that place once after being tainted by treason, let alone twice.

  The mood at court is subdued, as the council busies itself in assembling a case against the fallen Duke. It is lightened somewhat in November by the news that Marie of Guise, the Queen Regent of Scotland, is to grace the English court with her presence on her way back from France, where she has been visiting her daughter, the young Queen of Scots. Great preparations are being made for the Queen Regent’s reception, and entertainments are being planned. Accordingly, we order ourselves sumptuous new clothes.

  John Dudley,

  Duke of Northumberland

  RICHMOND PALACE, AUTUMN 1551

  “Your Majesty,” I urge the King, “we should invite the Lady Mary.”

  “Whatever for?” asks Edward coldly. “We are most displeased with her.”

  “Ah, but Your Majesty could take advantage of her presence at court to have her questioned once more as to her obstinacy over the Mass and her dealings with the Emperor.”

  He thinks about this.

  “True.” He nods. “It might be politic. In fact, my lord, I shall speak to her myself.”

  “Excellent,” I say, beaming. The Lady Mary is a threat to my own position, and I want her eliminated as soon as possible. I know she hates me, for I have hounded her over this matter of the Mass. And if Edward was to die childless, the Lady Mary would be Queen and her revenge swift. The sooner the boy is married and the father of a son, the better.

  The smile still on my lips, I bend confidentially toward the King.

  “I have this day sent to France for a portrait of the Princess Elisabeth.” I have, in truth, done no such thing, but will soon remedy that. “I hear it reported that her beauty increases each day. Let us see if rumor speaks truth.”

  “I am looking forward to seeing her likeness.” Then, lowering his voice, the King says, “Tell me, is she…er, does she have a comely bosom?” He reddens. I laugh and just stop myself in time from clapping my sovereign on the back.

  “Indeed!” I roar. “I see Your Majesty is more than ready for the marriage bed. We shall have to hurry these negotiations along.”

  “Nay, my lord, not so fast,” protests Edward. “There is the matter of her religion still to be resolved.”

  “All in hand, sir. I believe she is willing to convert.”

  “I shall want it in writing,” declares my young master. “Then we shall think on carnal matters.”

  The Lady Mary

  HUNSDON HOUSE, HERTFORDSHIRE, OCTOBER–NOVEMBER 1551

  I look at the King’s summons with dismay.

  “I can guess what lies behind this.” My voice sounds gruff, as it does whenever I am moved to emotion. “It is a trap in which to ensnare me. They mean to interrogate me again. Well, I will not go, much as I would like to meet the Queen Regent of Scotland.”

  Susan Clarencieux, the dearest and closest of my ladies-in-waiting, frowns. “But, madam, this is from the King himself. It is a command.”

  “The King is a child, in the hands of the Duke of Northumberland.”

  I sit down at my desk and write a note excusing myself on the grounds of ill health, which I lead my brother to believe is worse than usual. Everyone knows I am not a well woman. Next, I write another, more private missive, addressed to the Emperor’s ambassador, one of my most loyal friends. In it, I explain the real reason for my not attending the court.

  “There is another letter here, madam,” says Clarencieux, passing me a sealed scroll.

  I unravel it and peer closely at it. My eyesight was never good. “It’s from my cousin, Frances Suffolk. She informs me that she and her family are to be present at the reception for the Scottish Queen and expresses the hope that I will be there too.” I sigh. “You know, Susan, despite our differences over religion, I am fond of Frances, and I wonder if I have been overharsh in my judgment of her eldest girl, Jane, who is, after all, but fourteen, and of an age to be pedantic in her opinions and generally difficult.”

  “She was very rude to Your Grace,” Clarencieux points out.

  “Yes, but as I have often told my brother the King, much to his obvious annoyance, young people of her age lack the wisdom to decide important matters like religion for themselves and are easily led astray by those who make it their business to corrupt them. Jane is doubtless in thrall to her heretical tutors and the pernicious influence of the court. Yet I do not doubt that, given the opportunity, and kindly guidance, she could be made as staunch a Catholic as she is now a Protestant.”

  “I doubt it,” sniffs my companion.

  “Kindness, that is the key. God knows, it’s often been lacking in my life. You know—none better—that I long for the kindness, yes, and the love, that so many enjoy within the security of a happy family, so I understand something of what Jane feels. Hers is not a happy family. If only I had been given the chance to marry and have children—and God knows how I have longed for that—I know I would make a far more loving mother than my cousin Frances. She has not been kind to Jane.”

  “Madam, I know it. It is talked of. No one knows what the child has done to deserve such treatment.”

  “Perhaps I am naïve, Susan, being but an aging spinster…”

  “Oh, madam!”

  “Yes, Susan, I do not deceive myself. I know what I am. But I firmly believe that, if it is the harshness of her parents that has turned Jane Protestant, then kindness might win her back to the true faith. So I must resolve to be especially kind to her in whatever ways I can devise.”

  “Your intentions are noble, madam,” says Clarencieux, lips pursed, “but I doubt you will enjoy much success.”

  “We shall see,” I say, rising.

  Remembering myself at Jane’s age, I decide that what pleases young girls most is finery. It is deplorable that Frances, ever garbed like a peacock herself, keeps the poor child dressed dowdily in black and white. At my desk, I write an order to my tailor for a beautiful—and costly—court gown of gold tinsel and scarlet velvet, embroidered with gold and seed pearls. I shall have it sent to Lady Jane—it is just the kind of gown I myself loved to wear when I was fourteen, and I am only sorry I will not be there to witness the girl’s gasp of wonder when she opens the package.

  When the gown is delivered and wrapped ready to send, I enclose a note, asking to be remembered in her prayers.

  Lady Jane Grey

  DORSET HOUSE AND WESTMINSTER PALACE, NOVEMBER 1551

  I stare horrified at the heap of rich fabric lying on my bed.

  “What shall I do with it?” I ask Mrs. Ellen.

  “Marry, wear it, to be sure,” she answers. “It is very fashionable, and quite appropriate for a state reception.”

  “No…no…I cannot!” I stutter. “It would be shameful to go against God’s word and follow the Lady Mary by wearing such apparel! I know it is beautiful, but I should be emulating the example of the Lady Elizabeth and dressing as a devout Protestant maiden should.”

  Mrs. Ellen looks disapproving. “It’s a shame you reject pretty clothes, Jane. With your striking red hair and your sweet face, you could be one of the beauties of the court. Instead, you persist in wearing these severely cut black gowns and plain hoods.” Seeing my pained expression, she pauses. “I’m sorry, child. What am I thinking of, when you are so virtuous and so far unlike some of the little jades at court? Yet I have to say, it is gratifying on occasion to see you finely dressed in bright colors. I know I’m old-fashioned, but I can’t help regretting that some of the old customs have fallen out of favor. They assuredly did little harm.”

  “But surely I must stay true to what I think is right?” I protest. However, it does me no good, for Mrs. Ellen’s arguments are supported, rather more forcefully, by my mother. She is overwhelmed by the Lady Mary’s thoughtfulness and generosity—especially considering how impertinent I was to her—and insists, br
ooking no arguments, that I wear the gown to the Queen Regent’s reception. And so I suffer it being put on me, with rebellious thoughts and a set mouth, and thus attired I go to greet the Queen Regent of Scotland, another Catholic.

  The King has sent my father and the Earl of Huntingdon to escort Queen Marie to Westminster. They lead her in procession to Westminster Hall, accompanied by many lords and ladies. I walk beside my mother, behind the Queen Regent.

  Marie of Guise is thirty-six, but looks far older. Her face is careworn and melancholy, although when she smiles, she has a certain charm. When I was presented to her before we set out on our stately progress to meet the King, she received me warmly, patting my cheek as she raised me from my curtsy. She must hate being parted from her little daughter, the Queen of Scots, whom she has just visited in France; it was surely agony to say good-bye to her, not knowing when—or if—they would meet again. And far from wearing the gaudy clothes I would have expected a Catholic queen to sport at a state occasion, she is clad in decorous black velvet, bordered with pearls. Later, I learn that she is in mourning for her son by her first husband, who died while she was in France. Poor lady, I feel so sorry for her.

  The procession wends its way through the great doors of the hall, and the Queen advances to greet King Edward, who descends the steps from the dais and comes forward to kiss her on both cheeks. He then takes her by the hand and escorts her to the apartments that have been prepared for her in nearby Whitehall Palace.

  In the evening, Queen Marie is seated at the King’s right hand at the banquet given in her honor in Westminster Hall. Afterward the musicians play for her, and then she retires to bed. She will leave for Scotland early in the morning, and doubtless I will not see her again.

  I am glad to return home to Dorset House and retire to my room. I can’t wait to take off this hateful gown, in which I have felt so unpleasantly conspicuous. As Mrs. Ellen unlaces me and pulls the thing over my head, I tug at the sleeve, and it rips at the seam.

  “Oh, dear, I have torn it!” I exclaim.

  Mrs. Ellen gives me a knowing look.

  TILTY, ESSEX, DECEMBER 1551

  When, at the beginning of this month, the Duke of Somerset was tried at Westminster Hall and condemned to death, the people made such great and alarming demonstrations of loyalty for their “good duke,” whom they believe to be the champion of their rights, that the Duke of Northumberland was obliged to defer having the sentence carried out. Instead, he sent Somerset back to the Tower to await his fate. My father says he assured the condemned man that he would do all in his power to save him, but no one believes it.

  Now it is Christmas once more, and we and our overlarge entourage are spending the festival at Lord Willoughby’s house at Tilty in Essex. Since the Lady Mary is guest of honor for the twelve days of yuletide feasting and revelry, the old customs and traditions are to be observed, although I prefer not to join in—I do not feel it would be fitting for a well-brought-up Protestant girl to do so. Instead, I sit stiff and unsmiling through the celebrations and participate only when viciously prodded by my irate mother.

  “I am embarrassed and mortified by your gross discourtesy,” she growls.

  “What about my discourtesy to God, madam?” I whisper back. She thinks me difficult, but in truth I wish to be obedient. It is God whom I must obey, though.

  “Bad manners are a discourtesy to God, especially at this season,” she retorts. “Get up and look interested!”

  The Lady Mary, on the other hand, seems resolved to win my friendship by relentless kindness. But no matter how many smiles and kindly words she bestows on me, I can never relax in her company; indeed, I find her almost irritating. I wish it were otherwise and deplore my reactions to her affectionate overtures, but I cannot reciprocate as I should. It is a great sadness to me that our different faiths come between us.

  On Christmas Day I contrive to disappear for several hours, spending my time at prayer in my bedchamber, so that I can avoid entering the chapel, which I feel certain has been contaminated by covert Catholic worship and where I cannot commune with God as I would wish.

  Mary’s ladies plainly disapprove of me. In the evening, when I have had no choice but to join the gathering in the great hall, the chief of them, a veritable dragon by the name of Susan Clarencieux, bends over my shoulder and mutters in my ear, “There’s nothing wrong with singing the old carols, my Lady Jane. Everyone else is joining in. But you, I have noticed, seem to take pleasure in spoiling what should be a merry occasion. There’s no need for such a long face—it’s Christmas!”

  “I am sorry,” I answer, shamed into an awareness of my impolite conduct. “I intended no harm.”

  “Then cheer up! The Lady Mary says, in truth, she finds it hard to be charitable towards you, although she reminds us constantly that you are young and that your circumstances are not easy. Yet I know many other children with equally strict parents, and I make no doubt that they would at least know their duty to their hosts.”

  My cheeks are burning now. I am mortified. I do not want others to think ill of me, despite my earnest desire to please God. Again, I say I am sorry. I remind myself that Christ did command us to love our enemies, but I am burning with indignation at the unjustness of it all.

  On Twelfth Night, the former Feast of the Epiphany, there is a final evening of jollity, during which a masque is performed. At the end of the evening, according to time-honored tradition, gifts are exchanged. For weeks, Katherine and I—and even little Mary with her clumsy stitching—have been embroidering purses, bookbindings, and partlets for hoods, which we distribute among the guests, receiving in return a variety of trifles as well as some presents of great value. Mine include a clock, from my parents, a garnet brooch, and three pairs of gloves of the softest kid.

  But my gift from the Lady Mary is the most splendid of all.

  “Her Grace wishes to see you, my lady,” says Clarencieux, eyeing me warily. I cross the room to where the Lady Mary is seated on the dais beside our hosts. A pile of unopened gifts lies to one side of her chair, while those she has received and unwrapped lie strewn on a table on the other side, a jumble of rich fabrics, jewels, and plate.

  “Ah, Jane.” She smiles as I make my curtsy, then reaches down and picks up a rectangular package wrapped in silver tissue from the pile on the floor. “With my good wishes and my blessing,” she says, presenting it to me.

  “I thank you, madam.” I pull off the wrappings, revealing a silver coffer. Inside is a magnificent necklace of great rubies interspersed with hanging pearls. I gasp with delight—I have never owned anything so beautiful or valuable.

  “Your Grace, I thank you most humbly,” I say warmly. Her generous gift has touched me. “I am overwhelmed by your kindness and bounty.”

  “I thought you would like it, Jane.” Mary smiles. “It will suit your coloring.”

  My mother joins us, eager to see what I have been given, and her eyes stretch wide when she see the jewels.

  “Madam, you are too generous!” she exclaims. “Jane, I hope you are sensible of the value of such a gift, and that you have thanked the Lady Mary’s Grace sufficiently!”

  “She has indeed, Frances,” says my benefactress. “And I am sure Jane knows that the value of a gift lies not in its cost, but in the goodwill and affection of the giver.”

  “Indeed, I know it well, madam,” I reply. And I will try, I vow, to be worthy of that goodwill and affection.

  We finally retire in the small hours of the morning, and before I go to bed, I cannot resist trying on my new necklace. Mrs. Ellen helps me with the clasp, then stands back to see the effect. But as I gaze at my reflection in the candle-lit mirror, I am startled by the stark image that confronts me, for in the flickering light the red stones look disconcertingly like gouts of blood around my neck.

  “What’s the matter, Jane?” asks Mrs. Ellen. “It looks wonderful.”

  “Do you see it?” I ask, shuddering.

  “See what? My dear chil
d, what are you talking about?”

  “The rubies…they look like blood.” My voice is husky, trembling.

  “Nonsense!” Mrs. Ellen is brisk. “Pull yourself together. It’s just a trick of the light—and your vivid imagination!”

  “Take it off!” I say urgently.

  “Jane, don’t be silly,” she replies impatiently.

  “Take it off!” I fumble ineffectually with the clasp. “Help me!”

  “I don’t know what’s got into you,” Mrs. Ellen mutters, unhooking it. “It’s a beautiful necklace. You’ve got yourself into a state over nothing.”

  “Let’s put it away.” I am surprised at myself. I usually scorn superstition as nonsense, but I am filled with a terrible sense of dread, as if what I saw in that mirror portended something awful.

  TOWER HILL, JANUARY 1552

  I didn’t want to come, but my father insisted. Not only is this to be a salutary lesson in what happens to traitors, but it is supposed to be riveting entertainment. I know I shall not find it so. How can watching another person’s suffering be entertaining? I don’t care that lots of people from court are come to see the spectacle—I do not want to be here.

  But I am here. I had no choice. At least my lord insisted that we, like nearly everyone else of noble birth who is present, go in disguise. We are done up against the cold in voluminous hooded cloaks lined with fur, such as prosperous city merchants wear, and I am warm despite the bitter chill.

  Behind me, I am conscious of the grim bulk of the Tower of London, a place that has witnessed much tragedy and misery and has become notorious since two queens, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, met their bloody ends there. Few who enter the Tower’s portals as prisoners ever go free: there is no escape but via the block or the noose—or worse. I’ve heard terrible tales. Torture is not lawful in England, but it is said that several wretches have endured the horrors of the rack and the thumbscrews in that place. Then there is rumored to be a cell called the Little Ease, in which a man may not stand or sit or lie down, since it is too small to permit it. If I were confined in such a cell, I would go mad, I know it. I shudder.

 
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