Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  He sits down, but for all his brave words, his discomfiture is plain to see, and I notice also that few councillors have the appetite to finish what is on their plates.

  The messenger is still standing before the high table, looking uncomfortable. Northumberland beckons to one of the Yeomen of the Guard, who stand to attention behind us.

  “Have that man put in a dungeon,” he says in a low voice. Then he looks again at me. “Madam, I will summon the privy councillors to a meeting this night. We will draw up a document repudiating the Lady Mary’s claim and have it published, so that there can be no further dispute over the matter.”

  “I hope, my lord,” I say sweetly, “that that will indeed be the case.”

  The state apartments in the Tower, which are situated between the keep and the river, are old and have been little used since the last century. Their decaying splendor is that of a bygone age: the walls are gaily painted with heraldic designs in indigo and vermilion; floors are laid with checkered tiles; the narrow, arched windows are filled with stained glass; and the furniture is in the Gothic style. Yet I find myself occupying some state apartments that are more modern than the rest; my bedchamber boasts linenfold paneling, a tester bed with embroidered hangings, and mullioned lattice windows. There is a beautiful frieze of gamboling putti below the gilded and battened ceiling.

  As Mrs. Ellen turns down the covers, I stand in my nightgown, waiting for her to brush my hair. I notice that the linen pillow-covers are embroidered with the initials H and A.

  “Whose initials are those?” I wonder.

  “I think they stand for ‘Henry’ and ‘Anne,’” says Mrs. Ellen shortly. “Mrs. Tilney was telling me about it. Her cousin waited on Anne Boleyn when she occupied these rooms before her coronation—that would have been twenty years ago. They were refurbished especially for her. Mrs. Tilney says that Anne also lodged here before her trial.”

  “But she was a prisoner. Surely she was not housed in the palace?”

  “She was at first, but she was moved to the Lieutenant’s House after being condemned to death. From her window there, she watched them building the scaffold on Tower Green. She and her ladies didn’t get much sleep those last nights, because of the noise made by the workmen.”

  I shiver, despite the night’s being warm. “Poor lady. I cannot imagine how she must have felt. They say she faced death bravely.”

  “Oh, yes, she had courage, for all her faults.”

  “I don’t suppose many people have slept here since.”

  “Only King Edward, madam, on the night before his coronation.”

  I sit down so that Mrs. Ellen can attend to my hair.

  “I don’t like this place,” I confide to her. “It disturbs me. So many bad things have happened here. Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and those little Princes who were murdered by Richard III. Aylmer told me that they never found their bodies, so I suppose their bones must still be here somewhere. I think the Tower is an evil place, Mrs. Ellen, and I shall be glad to leave it.”

  “I wonder how long it will be before we can do that,” she muses. “Perhaps, madam, it is best not to dwell on the past. Think about more pleasant things.”

  “What pleasant things?” I ask flatly.

  Suddenly the door opens and Guilford appears, carrying a candle.

  “You may go, Mrs. Ellen,” he orders imperiously. I realize at once that he is drunk.

  “No, stay,” I command.

  “By God, she will do as I say, or I will throw her out!” he growls.

  I nod bleakly—I cannot put off this confrontation any longer. With a pained look of commiseration, Mrs. Ellen curtsies and hastens from the room.

  I round on my husband, my anger blazing.

  “How dare you gainsay my command!” I cry. “I did not want the crown, but now that I am Queen, I expect to be obeyed. Even by you!”

  “You forget,” he flings back, “that you took a vow to obey me when we were wed.”

  “Which is greater, the authority of a husband or that of a sovereign? The latter, I make no doubt. You took an oath of allegiance to me, may I remind you?”

  “Madam,” says Guilford, gripping my arms and pinching the tender flesh beneath my nightgown, “in this bedchamber I am lord and master, and you will do as I say. Do I make myself clear? I am claiming no more than my lawful rights as a husband, and no law in the land can prevent me, so I suggest you submit with good grace. Do you hear me?”

  “I hear you all too well,” I hiss, “and under no circumstances will I allow you to abuse me again. I am your Queen. One word from me, and those guards outside the door will send you packing. Then all the world will know the truth about our marriage. That won’t please your father.”

  His fair cheeks are pink with fury. “The world, madam, will know you for an undutiful wife. You forget that I am King of England and, as such, am entitled to equal respect and obedience.”

  His presumption takes my breath away. So this is his game.

  “No, Guilford,” I declare firmly, keeping my anger in check, “you are not King, and never will be, unless I authorize Parliament to make you so, and that I will never do. But if you promise to leave me alone—and only if—I will consider making you a duke, which is far more than you merit or deserve.”

  He looks momentarily stunned, but his temper quickly flares again, and like a child deprived of a hoped-for treat, he throws an unedifying tantrum.

  “I will be made King by you!” he screams. “And by act of Parliament! My father will see to it.”

  “Oh, no, you will not,” I say, more composed now, which further infuriates him. I know—as does he—that this is one argument he cannot win. Even his father, powerful as he is, may not make Guilford King without my consent.

  His handsome face is suffused with rage. He stands before me shaking, then, to my disgust, bursts into noisy tears.

  “I shall tell my mother of you!” he sobs, and crashes out of the chamber.

  Exhausted, I sink down on the bed, too drained to concern myself with what might happen next. All I want to do is sleep. I would banish my cares, my fears, and the ghosts into the shadows and seek blessed oblivion on the pillows.

  No sooner have I drifted off into a blissful stupor than I am rudely awakened by the door bursting open and the Duchess of Northumberland sailing into the room like a galleon at battle stations.

  “How dare you, madam!” she spits at me.

  “And how dare you intrude into our bedchamber like this!” I retort, surprisingly regal for one who is still gathering her wits.

  “You may be the Queen, but you will not forget that it is my husband who has made you what you are, and that to him and his House you owe a debt of gratitude and a filial duty. My lord has deemed it advisable that Guilford shall be King, and you will not oppose it.”

  I stand up, bristling with fury. “Since when has a subject had the power to decree who will, and who will not, be King? It may not be done without my consent and that of Parliament, and who would be such a fool as to place a crown on the head of that sniveling boy?”

  She looks as if she would like to slap me for that, but she dare not. So she tries another tack. “Queens need heirs, madam, and if you want sons to inherit your crown, I suggest you start treating your husband with respect. Otherwise you risk him abandoning your bed.”

  I almost laugh. Does the Duchess really believe that such deprivation would cause me grief? She must indeed be a fond, deluded mother.

  “I am sorry to disappoint you, madam, but that would come as a relief to me. I would rather die barren than bed with him again.”

  She glares at me. “That is a foolish, shortsighted attitude. How can you treat Guilford so cruelly? He has done nothing to deserve such contempt.”

  “I beg your pardon,” I retort, “but you were not there when he raped me on our bridal night, nor did you see him bullying me, then whining and crying like a spoiled child in this room not one hour ago. I think, Your Grace, that few w
omen would find joy in such a husband.”

  Seeing her dreams of being the mother of England’s King and matriarch of a royal Dudley dynasty shattering before her eyes, the Duchess is reduced to weeping.

  “You are indeed cruel, madam,” she sniffs. “I regret the day that my son married you. You must be taught a lesson. You might think you can live without a husband, but time will teach you otherwise, and then it may be too late. You must consider how it will appear to your subjects, who will look askance at Guilford being banished from your bed and board. Rumors have a habit of spreading fast, and rumors, I might remind you, can be easily set on foot. Your reputation could be ruined by such a scandal, and your court divided. There will come a day, mark you, young lady, when you will regret your rejection of a husband who has only demanded what is his by right. This is no way to begin your reign. The people will not love you for it. I hope you will see sense and reconsider the rash decisions you have made tonight.”

  “I have no intention of doing so,” I say firmly. “But I have offered to create a dukedom for Guilford.”

  To my surprise, Guilford opens the door. He must have been eavesdropping outside.

  “I will not be a duke: I will be a king!” he cries. I look at him with contempt.

  “You may save your breath, my son,” the Duchess says. “We are wasting our time here. If you have any sense, you would do well to abstain from the bed of this lady—she is an unnatural and undutiful wife. Instead, I suggest you come with me to Syon House, after we have spoken with your lord father.” And with the sketchiest of curtsies, she strides purposefully out of the room, leaving Guilford no choice but to follow her. The look he flings over his shoulder at me is venomous.

  My first reaction is one of relief that they are gone. Then, by and by, it dawns on me that my mother-in-law may be right, and that so public a separation from my husband so early in my reign would be damaging to my reputation as a champion of religion. Of course, I cannot allow it to happen.

  Late though it is, I send for the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, who come hastily dressed, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Briefly I explain the situation.

  “For private reasons, I do not want to keep Lord Guilford company at night,” I tell them, and am warmed by the unexpected sympathy in their eyes. They can surely tell what kind of man my husband is. “But by day his place should be at my side. Go quickly and tell him that the Queen forbids him to leave the Tower. Her Grace of Northumberland is, of course, free to depart.”

  “We are Your Majesty’s to command,” say the Earls, bowing themselves out.

  Within ten minutes, they later report, a furious Guilford and his mother are back in their apartments, forced to obey my command. Alone again, I lie in bed, vexed, vowing that under no circumstances will I let the Dudleys rule or overrule me. I will be a queen in very truth, or no queen at all.

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 11TH–12TH JULY 1553

  I have to struggle hard to remember where I am when I wake in the morning. I have slept late, worn out by the momentous events of the previous day and my disturbed night, so I rise hastily, splash cold water on my face and hands, and say my morning prayers. Then I summon Mrs. Ellen, who is surprised to hear that I wish to be dressed in a rich gown that becomes the dignity of a queen. She brings, for my approval, a crimson dress of figured damask, its wide, square neckline edged with pearls, and a bejeweled hood with a latticed snood of silken cords picked out with pearls. I nod.

  Thus attired, and followed by my two ladies, I walk along the old stone passages to the council chamber in the keep, ready to attend to affairs of state, for I mean to take my responsibilities seriously.

  Pausing in the palace’s great hall, I stare at the vast tiers of wooden benches standing against the walls and am informed by Mrs. Tilney that they were built there for the trial of Anne Boleyn, which took place here.

  “Two thousand people attended, madam.”

  Everywhere I go in this place I am reminded of its grim past. The atmosphere is oppressive, brooding, and it weighs down on me as I make my way to the council chamber and order the guards to open the doors.

  “Your Majesty, I crave your pardon, but the council is in session,” says one, clearly embarrassed.

  “I am the Queen. If anyone is entitled to enter, it is I. Open the door.” I draw myself up to my full height, and although the guard towers over me, there is no mistaking my authority. Without further protest, the doors are opened and I advance into the room. There is a hasty scraping of chairs as the councillors scramble to rise and bow, but I am not looking at them. Instead, I stare in outrage at the high chair at the head of the table, which should be reserved for me, but is now occupied by a smug-looking Guilford. At his right hand is his father, the Duke. They both stand up reluctantly. There is a tense silence.

  Northumberland is the first to find his voice.

  “Good morning, Your Majesty. As you see, we are already about the business of your realm.”

  I hope my displeasure is evident on my face. “Why was I not summoned, my lord Duke? You have no right to proceed without me.”

  Northumberland smiles deprecatingly. “You forget, madam, that in law you are still a minor and unable to govern for yourself. We, Your Majesty’s most loyal servants, are therefore gathered to make decisions in your name, as was the custom in the late King’s time. Your husband, who has already attained his majority, has been appointed to represent you. You may, of course, rely on him to protect your interests, for they are his own.”

  I understand at once. I am to be a puppet queen, no more. This is their revenge for my refusal to bestow a crown on Guilford. And he, that stupid, grinning weakling, is to be his father’s willing tool. I can guess all too well who will be making the decisions, though, and whose interests will take priority.

  My anger wells up, but I know better than to make a display of it. I must learn to dissemble and to subvert Northumberland’s power in subtle ways. Once I am crowned, I will declare myself of age and be rid of him and his treacherous tribe. And in spectacular fashion, I promise myself. It is merely a matter of biding my time and keeping a smile on my face.

  “Very well, my lords,” I say. “I thank you for your favor shown to me.” And with as much dignity as I can muster, I turn and walk from the room.

  I spend my morning closeted in my chamber, engrossed in my studies, which I have thankfully resumed. Later, dinner is served with great ceremony in the presence chamber, where I preside over the high table. The meal lasts for two hours and is an ordeal for me, as I am obliged to make polite conversation with Guilford, my parents, and the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland; I am at odds with most of them and can think of little to say.

  In the afternoon a charade is acted out: I sit enthroned under my canopy of estate, while my father and the Marquess of Winchester inform me of the decisions that have been made in my name this day and bring me documents to sign, all of which I read carefully. Then, dipping my quill into the inkpot they offer me, I inscribe my signature, Jane the Queen. This marks the extent of my regal duties.

  Afterward I retire to my apartments to read and, later, eat supper in private. Then it is time for evening prayers and bed. Such is the life of a queen!

  On the second night in the Tower, after Mrs. Ellen has tucked me into bed and departed, Guilford comes to me.

  “I will brook no refusals, madam,” he says, his purpose plain in his taut demeanor and bulging codpiece. “You ordered me back to play the husband, and I demand the full privilege. You are my wife and have no right to say me nay.”

  “I am your Queen!” I retort.

  “A queen without her crown is the same between the sheets as any common whore,” he sneers, seizing hold of me. I struggle in his grip. “Hold still, or it will go worse with you,” he snarls, forcing me back against the pillows.

  I open my mouth to scream for help, but before I can utter a sound, his hand is clamped over my mouth, so heavily that I fear I will suffocate. I realize at this
point that all resistance is futile because Guilford is far stronger than I and cease struggling, bracing myself to endure whatever he might do to me.

  “That’s better,” he mutters. “Now, shall we see if we can fill that empty belly of yours with a lusty prince, an heir to England?” He is fumbling with the laces of his codpiece, and when he has them loose, he tears at my nightgown and rams himself into me, again and again, with no thought for whether he is hurting me or not. Yes, he is hurting me—not just my body, but my pride also. And they call this the act of love. It is rape, no less, whatever the law may say about a husband’s right to use his wife as he thinks fit.

  At last Guilford spends himself, and the torment ceases. Several minutes pass while he lies slumped across me, panting, saying nothing. Then he simply gets up and adjusts his clothing. I quickly cover myself and turn my back to him so that he will not see the humiliation and loathing in my face. I just want him to leave without arguments or confrontations. He has won this round, just as he scored his victory in the council chamber, but I will never give him the satisfaction of knowing how much he has wounded and enraged me. In my silence lies my strength. He might possess my body, but my mind and soul are my own. He shall never have those.

  At length, after fumbling about in the semidarkness for a time, Guilford manages to unlock the door.

  “I bid you good night, madam,” he says quietly. “Let us hope your womb soon quickens with our son, then we can abandon all pretense that we enjoy our coupling. For my part, I would rather roger a poxed tart from the stews of Southwark. At least they fuck with a smile on their faces.”

  I steel myself to ignore his taunts and his coarse language. I no longer care what he says or does. It doesn’t matter anymore. I am detached, contained in my own private world where he cannot reach me. It is my last refuge.

  By the evening of my third day in the Tower, the strain of it all is beginning to tell on me. There is still no word of the Lady Mary’s whereabouts, and the councillors are growing ever more anxious. The longer Mary remains at liberty, the more likely it is that she will be able either to escape abroad—if she has not already done so—or raise support for her claim. Of course, there is no way of knowing how many would rally to her. Every man here knows his neck is at risk until she is taken. Not to mention my own neck. But Mary will surely understand that I was forced to accept the crown against my will, and that I had no choice in the matter. She must understand that.

 
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