Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “But why, Father?” He looks surprised.

  “For reasons of state. You may rest assured that there is no other cause. May I take it that you are content with your good fortune?” I ask with some irony.

  “Yes, sir. I am content.”

  His scowl belies his dutiful reply.

  Lady Jane Grey

  SUFFOLK HOUSE, LONDON, APRIL 1553

  Once they became Duke and Duchess, my parents took possession of Suffolk House in London. It lies in Southwark, hard by the residence of the Bishop of Winchester and the former priory of St. Mary Overy. The house is virtually a palace, having been given to my grandmother Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, by her brother, King Henry VIII. Its magnificence underlines our family’s royal connections.

  We have now abandoned Dorset House for our new abode and are more than comfortably installed here. My sisters and I occupy sumptuous apartments in the turreted west wing, which are furnished with exquisitely carved furniture, family portraits, and bright tapestries. I’m sitting here by the open window, on a fresh morning in the middle of April, engrossed in a treatise denying the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, when Mrs. Ellen brings a summons for me to attend my parents immediately in the great chamber on the first floor. Reluctantly laying down my book, I smooth my skirts, straighten my hood, and hasten on my way, Mrs. Ellen following. What have I done, I wonder, to merit such a peremptory summons?

  When I arrive, I find to my astonishment that my lord and lady, seated on either side of the fire, are beaming at me as I make my curtsy. This is more alarming than if their faces bore menacing frowns.

  “Come and sit with us, Jane,” invites my mother. I take the proffered stool.

  “Will you tell her, Henry?” she asks archly.

  “No. You’re her mother. You know best how to put these things.” My father rises, plants his feet firmly in front of the fireplace, and begins caressing the head of his mastiff, which has loped over to his side, tail wagging.

  “Well, Jane, we have some excellent news for you,” my mother says. “You will remember the night my lord of Northumberland came to dinner. After you had gone to bed, he suggested an alliance between our two families, to be cemented by a marriage between yourself and his youngest son, Lord Guilford Dudley. He is the only son who is as yet unwed. Lord Guilford is a virtuous and—”

  “I beg your pardon, madam, but did you say that I am to be wed to a Dudley?” I interrupt, shocked into rudeness. “But why? You have told me yourself that they are upstarts, traitors, and hypocrites. How can you contemplate such a marriage?” The idea of it repels me: I am breathing fast and am flushed. “Lord Guilford cannot be my husband—everyone knows he is but a spoiled little mother’s boy.”

  “That is enough!” shouts my father, since my mother looks astounded at my outburst and is, for once, lost for words. “I tell you, my fine lady, you will marry Lord Guilford, mother’s boy or no. He comes of good Protestant stock, and the marriage will bring us all splendid advantages.”

  “Good Protestant stock?” I echo, my temper rising. For years I have bent the knee, and often my back, to my parents’ will, but this is the proverbial last straw, and all the pent-up anger at years of abuse and humiliation now bubbles to the surface. I will not let them do this thing to me—I will fight them until I have no breath left in my body. “Good Protestant stock?” I repeat, registering their appalled expressions. “Traitor’s stock, you mean. Northumberland’s father was sent to the block by Henry VIII, or have you forgotten that? And I daresay that, if all were known, he himself would deserve the same. Look how he treated the Duke of Somerset! I marvel that you can contemplate giving your daughter to the son of such a self-seeking, opportunistic tyrant.”

  “Listen, Jane.” My mother has found her voice. “Listen—before my patience runs out. You are young, and although you are learned, you are innocent in the ways of the world. You cannot be expected to understand matters of state, and make no mistake, my girl, this marriage is a matter of state, as you will find out in due course. There are many sound reasons for it, and they are all to your, and our, benefit.”

  “To my lord of Northumberland’s benefit, you mean!” I fling back.

  “It does not become you to speak ill of the Duke,” says my father sternly. “He is a great and powerful man, and if such talk as you have uttered today went beyond this room, you would be in a dire pass indeed. And so would we. Now, on your duty to me and your mother, you will not say one more word against my lord of Northumberland. You will obey.”

  I stand vibrant with anger, forcing myself to silence. I am being sold to that horrible, unscrupulous man for my parents’ gain, I know it. It is intolerable! My only chance is to stand against it with every objection I can think of.

  “His Grace apart,” I say, laying as much contemptuous stress on the title as I dare, “I have no inclination to marry, and even less to marry Lord Guilford Dudley. I refuse his offer.”

  My father makes a visible effort to master his impatience. “I understand your reluctance,” he says gruffly. “It is but natural for a young maiden to fear the marriage bed. But look at your mother and me! We have been contented in our union, and we accord well together, even though we were strangers at the beginning. And when you have children, you will discover that they are a great blessing. There is no reason to think that Lord Guilford will not prove an excellent husband. Forget the court gossip: I have it on his father’s word that he’s a virtuous, upstanding lad who is eager to make you a happy bride. Now, set aside your fears, and compose yourself for your betrothal.”

  My mother chimes in, “Remember, Jane, if you have any particular concerns, you can always have a quiet word with me or Mrs. Ellen.”

  “I have no fears about marriage!” I cry. “But I know that it must be the union of two souls, made in the sight of God, with the consent of each. How can God be pleased with such a union if one of the partners has been forced into it against their will?”

  “You will grow to love your husband in time,” insists my lady. “It is your duty.”

  “Never!” I am passionate now. “I will never marry him. Nor can you make me. I have obeyed you in every other thing. I wear these awful, extravagant clothes because you say I must, even though I know they are offensive to God. I have accompanied you week after week on your brutal hunting expeditions, even though the agonies of the kill turn my stomach. I have endured blow after blow for misdemeanors I never committed. I have borne your criticisms and your cruelty because I know the right duty of a child to its parents, and I bear the bitter knowledge that I am not the son you wanted. But now you want to marry me to an upstart fool I can never love, because it is to your advantage. Well, I will not. When I get to the altar, I will refuse to pledge myself, even if you beat me in the face of the congregation to make me.”

  “You’d not dare humiliate us thus in public!” bawls my mother, rising in fury. She slaps me hard across the face, once, twice, thrice. “You’ve said enough, you ungrateful girl!”

  “And by God’s blood, you will apologize at once!” thunders my father.

  “I will not,” I sob, my cheek stinging and tears spilling from my eyes. “It is you who should be apologizing to me for all the hurts and the unkindnesses—and now this!”

  “How dare you!” spits my lady, raining blows on my head and shoulders. “I tell you, I curse the day I bore you. You have been nothing but trouble ever since you came into this world. But I promise you, for all that, I will not neglect the duty laid upon me, as your parent, to expunge this evil streak of rebellion from your malicious heart.”

  I am beyond heeding her. I crumple into the chair, cradling my head against the blows and wailing as if my heart will break. Mrs. Ellen hastens to me, but my mother waves her away.

  “My whip, Mrs. Ellen, if you please,” she commands. “I see I shall have to beat this wickedness out of her.”

  John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

  GREENWICH PALACE, APRIL 1553
r />   I am gratified to see the Duke of Suffolk at Greenwich so soon after our discussion, especially since His Grace and his lady seemed to have had some reservations about cooperating with my plans.

  “I had not expected to see your lordship for several days yet,” I tell him affably.

  “Ah, but, my lord, we do not look a gift horse in the mouth, if you will pardon the expression.” Suffolk smiles. “No, I am here to tell you that our daughter is delighted at the prospect of marrying your son, and that she is happy to proceed to the betrothal without delay.”

  “Excellent, excellent,” I say, beaming at him. “I will set the lawyers to work at once to draw up the contract. Perhaps you and Her Grace could bring the Lady Jane to court two days hence to conclude the formalities?”

  “Of course,” he agrees. Do I detect a certain hesitation?

  “Now there is another matter I wanted to speak of,” I continue. “Again, this is in confidence. I have found out that the Earl of Pembroke is wholeheartedly with us in our matter, for he has said he is eager to join our alliance, and has agreed that his son should marry your younger daughter, the Lady Katherine.”

  The Duke looks suitably gratified. I know he likes and respects Pembroke, and that he must therefore welcome this proposed marriage.

  “Will you have a word with the Earl and sort out the preliminaries?” I ask.

  “I shall be pleased to do so. I must say I am more than satisfied with the way things are turning out.”

  “Yes, I confess that I too find matters to be proceeding more smoothly than I had anticipated. This augurs well for the future, my lord, for with every day that passes it seems more likely that our plans will prove successful.”

  Lady Jane Grey

  SUFFOLK HOUSE AND GREENWICH PALACE, APRIL 1553

  I have given in. I lie facedown on my bed, my back and shoulders sore from the most vicious beating that my mother has ever administered. I could bear the pain better had I not suffered it in vain. But in the end I had to capitulate to their demands, and they forced me to grovel abjectly. I did it because I was unable to endure further punishment. How I hate myself and deplore my spineless weakness! Christ Himself never gave in, even though they nailed Him to the cross, but I, who pride myself on being His dutiful follower, I gave in because my agony was too great. I cannot help but despise myself!

  And now, according to a message from my father brought to me by Mrs. Ellen, I am to prepare myself to go to court, on the day after tomorrow, to make my betrothal pledges and sign the precontract. Above all, I am to look pleased about it, or else! Frankly, I doubt I will be able to raise myself from the bed by then, let alone endeavor to look pleased. Anyway, what is there to look pleased about? And what would they say at court if they could see the stripes on my back?

  He’s such a peacock, strutting about in his gaudy clothes and giving himself airs. He’d be good-looking if it were not for that pouting underlip and the permanent scowl. None of his posturing impresses me; in fact it repels me. This is my husband-to-be. How can I ever love such a person? There appears to be no finesse, no humanity, in his manner—just indifference and petulance. Doubtless rumor spoke truth, and he is spoiled. God help me, how will I endure living with him? How can I bear it?

  We are standing on either side of a table in the Duke’s luxurious lodgings, encircled by parents, lawyers, and clerics. My wounds still smart beneath the heavy fabric of my dress, and I am constrained to hold myself stiffly. I feel utterly wretched, but when it’s appropriate, I attempt a smile; otherwise I keep my eyes modestly downcast to the floor. Even my mother could not argue with that!

  Thus I go through the whole charade—the betrothal promises, the giving of the ring and the placing of it on my finger, and the congratulations of the witnesses. I can hardly believe this is truly happening. Tomorrow there is to be made a public announcement of the forthcoming wedding, but for now, the formalities completed, we move into a private chamber where wine and sweetmeats have been set out.

  Goblets in hand, Guilford and I come face-to-face again.

  “My Lady Jane,” he says, bowing low.

  “Lord Guilford.” I curtsy.

  We have nothing to say to each other. We fill the void with the small talk that is expected on such an occasion, and for a few minutes we discuss the weather and the quality of the wine, all the while sizing each other up. The absurdity of it all strikes me forcefully, while my betrothed looks bored and vexed. It is I, however, who venture into deep waters first.

  I lean toward him. “I just want to say that, if I were allowed to follow my own inclinations, I would not marry you,” I declare in a low voice. “It’s nothing to do with you, my lord—I do not wish to marry anyone at all.”

  He snorts with amusement. “What makes you think I want to marry you?”

  “Then we are of one mind.”

  “Yes—but what of it? We have no choice in the matter. That’s been made very plain to me.”

  “And to me. At least we have something in common.” I venture a tight smile.

  “I hear you are very bookish.”

  “Yes. I find much comfort in my books. I would have preferred a life dedicated to study.”

  “Well, I have no objection to your continuing your studies, provided you don’t expect me to share them. Your leisure time will be all your own, as long as you keep me company in public—and in bed.” He leers at me knowingly. Involuntarily I shudder, and he notices.

  “Ah, so that’s the cause of your reluctance!” He laughs. “Well, my little bookworm, let me assure you, it’s not as bad as all that. Really, it’s quite pleasurable, as I shall teach you. We’ll have some good sport, when they let us.”

  I flush with indignation, mortified that he should refer to such intimacies, and then I remember that he will soon have every right…. The thought is hateful to me.

  But there is no time for a reproof because both sets of parents are now bearing down on us, obviously gratified to see us at least talking to one another. I bite my lip, trying to control my indignation, while Guilford takes refuge in an excessive outpouring of gushing pleasantries. Simmering, I force myself to respond politely and ignore his smirking face. What a sham, I think. What a pretense! And that is what my life will be henceforth.

  DURHAM HOUSE, LONDON, WHITSUNDAY, 25TH MAY 1553

  The weight of my gown and train, made of gold and silver brocade and embroidered with hundreds of tiny diamonds and seed pearls, obliges me to walk in slow and stately fashion through the paneled rooms and galleries of Durham House, a royal property on the Strand, once the London residence of the bishops of Durham. My wedding is to be celebrated in the chapel here. Behind me in the procession walks my sister Katherine, also a bride this day. For her, I swear, that means little more than the chance to dress up in a gorgeous gown and be the center of attention.

  Northumberland has prepared for this double wedding with especial care, for its trappings are to reflect what he insists is its political importance—as if there were something unusual about such alliances between great families. The ancient walls of Durham House have been hung with magnificent new tapestries, its flagstones covered with Turkish carpets, and its mullioned windows and arched doorways swathed in swags of gold and silver tissue.

  The King himself—who, I am told, has heartily given his assent to these marriages—has personally commanded his Master of the Wardrobe to provide the brides and bridegrooms, and all the important guests, with rich stuffs for our wedding attire. For once, my lady does not have to exhort me to dress as beseems my rank, for I would never dream of disobeying the express wishes of the King, good Protestant that he is, especially after he has sent, from his sickbed, generous wedding gifts of fine jewelry for us all, four young people whose marriages he is too ill to witness.

  As I am borne on my father’s arm into the chapel, the whole privy council of England rises to its feet. Northumberland is there, garbed in his customary black, and Guilford awaits me at the altar rails, a tall, re
splendent figure in white satin, his fair hair flopping over his blue eyes.

  This should have been a joyful occasion, the fulfillment of my hopes and dreams, but it is not. Not for me, anyway. I make my vows unthinkingly, not daring to reflect on their deeper meaning, and avoid looking at Guilford when he tries to catch my eye. I did not miss the glance of lustful appreciation he threw me when he caught sight of me in my wedding finery, and it fills me with trepidation. I can only be thankful—indeed, it is the sole thing I have to be thankful for—for my parents’ decree that he and I shall live apart for the present, on account of my tender years, or so I have been told. This is a little strange, for many girls are married at fourteen and sleep with their husbands from the first, but I’m not going to ask questions. It’s a welcome respite, and long may it last!

  The nuptial ceremony is over—I am Lady Jane Dudley. The hated name is mine. We take our places for the feast in the great hall and are served course after course of rich and exotic food. I can eat little of it, but beside me Guilford is wolfing mouthful after mouthful with relish, and washing it all down with copious amounts of the best Rhenish. Presently, a troupe of players enters the hall and begins performing a masque portraying the god Hymen with his bridal torch, who dances suggestively with a bevy of adoring nymphs. It has barely started when Guilford announces that he feels sick and crashes out of his chair. A moment later he has spewed up his dinner, and a lot else, on the costly Turkish carpet and has to leave the room in an ignominious hurry, lest he further disgrace himself in front of the company.

  I remain at table, mortified and embarrassed, pretending to watch the masque and wishing that this interminable evening would come to an end, so that I can return with my parents to Suffolk House, and retire to my virginal bed and the tender ministrations of Mrs. Ellen. I long to cast off my heavy gown, in which I am sweating profusely, and slither between cool linen sheets. But first I have to do my duty by my guests.

 
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