Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  There is some polite applause. “Amen!” says one councillor, and a few others echo him, yet I realize that I have failed to touch their hearts. Admire me they might, but they can never forget for a moment that I may be deposed at any time. Until they are certain that I am secure on my throne, I cannot count on their support.

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 15TH JULY 1553

  London, Mrs. Ellen tells me, is in a ferment. A messenger arriving at the Tower has brought the news that the Lady Mary is advancing on the capital at the head of thirty thousand men. Many towns have declared for her, and there is widespread support for her in the countryside.

  My parents hasten to my chamber, their faces tense with anxiety and fear.

  “We must issue a proclamation,” my father says, “stressing the justness of your title and demanding that the kingdom be preserved from papists.”

  “Then let it be done,” I say calmly. I have already resigned myself to God’s will. If my reign is going to be brief, so be it.

  “I don’t trust Winchester,” mutters my lady.

  “Nor Pembroke,” adds my father. “And I suspect that Arundel is already in touch with the Lady Mary.”

  “Winchester has gone back to his house in the city,” my mother informs me. “Think you he’ll come back? He has his skin to save after all.”

  “He’ll come back,” growls my lord. “He’ll not dare ignore the Queen’s command. And once he’s here, we’ll have the Tower gates locked early for the night.”

  I am surprised to learn that Winchester has returned in response to my summons. The gates are duly locked. Only afterward do we learn that Pembroke is missing.

  “What did you expect?” says Arundel nastily. “He got out while he could. You do realize, my lord of Suffolk, that if your daughter is toppled—yes, and let’s make no bones about it, she may well be—we shall all face a traitor’s death. And I don’t need to spell out what they do to traitors, do I?”

  I shiver and see my father shudder. Perhaps he is imagining the agony of having the disemboweling knife rip into his guts.

  “Peers of the realm,” my mother puts in briskly, “are customarily spared the worst horrors of a traitor’s death. For them, the sentence is invariably commuted to beheading.”

  “That’s bad enough,” mutters my father.

  “But the innocent will also suffer,” I say, thinking not only of myself, but, with sorrow, of my poor sister, married to Pembroke’s son, whom she loves well. Without a doubt she will pay the price of the Earl’s defection. “I pity Katherine. She has done nothing wrong, but they will hate her for my sake and have her marriage dissolved.”

  “Nonsense!” barks my father with more bravado than conviction. “Let’s hear no more of this maudlin talk. Instead of mewling like a sick puppy, madam, I suggest you order your guards to bring Pembroke back and then deal with him firmly.”

  I summon the Captain of the Guard.

  “I command you to send some men to Baynard’s Castle to apprehend my lord of Pembroke,” I say. “Bring him here to me, and do not let him give you the slip. And I order you also to bring me the keys to the Tower each evening at eight o’clock without fail.”

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 18TH JULY 1553

  The privy councillors are assembled before the throne. My father stands behind it.

  “Your Grace,” says Arundel, “we have grave news. The Duke of Northumberland’s forces have mutinied, and he has been forced to take refuge with his few remaining supporters in Cambridge.”

  “The French ambassador has hinted that he might be able to summon aid from France,” says Winchester. “The French fear that, if the Lady Mary becomes Queen, she will make an alliance with their enemy, the Emperor.”

  “We need to see the ambassador urgently,” insists Pembroke, still grim-faced after the blistering reprimand I delivered to him the other night.

  “It’s worth a try, madam,” says Winchester.

  Master William Cecil, secretary to the council, speaks. “Your Grace, the truth is that the privy council is required to attend the ambassador at the French embassy to discuss the matter in secrecy. The lords will therefore require your permission to leave the Tower.”

  “Very well,” I tell them. I am under no delusions as to their real purpose. The days of my reign are numbered, no doubt about that, and rats, it is said, always desert a sinking ship. For the loss of my title and status I care nothing. In fact, I am relieved that I will not be Queen for much longer. As for the consequences of my actions, I put my faith in God. Maybe it will go better for me if I am found alone and abandoned in the Tower.

  But my father has no intention of letting them abscond so easily.

  “I insist upon accompanying you, my lords,” he declares, with what passes as a friendly smile.

  “There is no need, my lord,” Arundel assures him.

  “By God, I shall go with you!” my father roars, but Pembroke is ready for him.

  “If you abandon the Queen, my lord,” he says smoothly, “we shall have no choice but to order your summary execution.”

  My father splutters with rage. “How dare you occupy the moral high ground and accuse me of abandoning the Queen? I’m the only loyal one among you. But you have me in a corner, and I’ll not be accused of treason where none is intended. Yet I warn you, if you do not return here promptly, you will all suffer such a fate as you threaten me with.”

  “I think not, my lord,” says Winchester. “But never fear. We will return anon.”

  Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 18TH JULY 1553

  In the evening, Henry comes to my bedchamber. He is close to tears. This truly startles me, for I have never seen him so overcome, even when our little son died.

  “What is wrong?” I ask, alarmed.

  “The traitors, the bloody, bloody traitors!” he cries.

  “What traitors?” My fear is evident in my voice.

  “The privy councillors, my dear. They never went to the French embassy. Any fool could have seen that that was a bluff. But what did they do instead? They gathered at Baynard’s Castle for some secret conclave, and then, would you believe it, they went to St. Paul’s to give thanks for the kingdom’s deliverance from treachery. Whose treachery, you may well ask?”

  “Did they declare for Mary?” Icy tremors are shooting down my spine.

  “Not in so many words, but—may God forgive them—they had the bare-faced temerity to order the Catholic Mass to be celebrated in the cathedral. Can you credit it?”

  “Oh, God!” I wail. It is as if the world is about to come crashing down around us.

  Henry draws me urgently into his arms.

  “Whatever happens, you must accept that I did it all for the best, for us, and for Jane, and for Katherine too,” he whispers. “I never dreamed it would end like this. Northumberland seemed invincible, his plan flawless.”

  “I believe you,” I say flatly. Then my pragmatic streak comes to the fore. “We should leave the Tower now, while we can, and take Jane with us.”

  “No. Best to see what happens first. If the Londoners are set on declaring for Mary, we might be safer in the Tower. You know how volatile the London mob can be.”

  “We should at least tell Jane what is happening.”

  “Not just now. Leave her in peace for the moment. It cannot be long now. She has borne up well so far, but this latest news might prove altogether too much for her. Her best defense is her youth and innocence.”

  “Surely Mary will take that into account?” For the first time it is dawning on me that there might be serious consequences for our daughter as well as for the rest of us.

  “I do not believe she will be unmerciful to one of her own flesh and blood.”

  “I pray God you are right,” I say fervently. Our eyes lock in concern and trepidation.

  Queen Jane

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 19TH JULY 1553

  “Mrs. Underhill went into labor during the night,” announ
ces Mrs. Ellen. Mrs. Underhill is the wife of one of the yeomen warders of the Tower. I look up from my book.

  “Perhaps she is delivered by now,” I say. “Please, would you go and find out?” The anticipated birth of this child is a beacon of light in a gloomy world. I could not admit it to anyone, but the prospect of seeing, and possibly holding, a newborn baby is suddenly enticing.

  Mrs. Ellen misses little. She looks at me thoughtfully, then leaves the room.

  She is soon back with a proud and slightly bashful Mr. Underhill.

  “It’s a fine boy!” she tells me.

  I smile and give the warder my hand to kiss. “Many congratulations, Mr. Underhill. When your wife has rested, I should like to visit her and the child.”

  “I thank ye, Your Grace,” the man stammers. “I, er, that is, we was wondering, would Your Majesty consent to the boy being christened Guilford, in honor of your lord husband?”

  “Of course,” I say warmly, although it occurs to me that the Underhills might not have much cause to rejoice in that name in the years to come.

  Mr. Underhill is still standing there, fiddling with his cap.

  “Is there anything else?” I ask.

  “Um, Your Grace, begging your pardon, but I have another favor to ask. Would you do us the great honor of standing sponsor at the christening? It’s to be this evening, in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower.”

  “I shall be delighted,” I say, beaming.

  When he has gone, Mrs. Ellen is pensive.

  “What troubles you?” I ask.

  “Oh, probably nothing. It just struck me, when I went to the Underhills, how quiet it is in the royal apartments. Do you know, in the White Tower, the state rooms are all but deserted. Where is everybody?”

  “You saw no one at all?”

  “I did pass Archbishop Cranmer and his chaplain on the stairs. I suppose, if he is here, the rest of the council must be also.”

  “Yes, I suppose they must,” I say, but with little conviction.

  Dinner is a muted affair, served in my privy chamber. No one arrives to keep me company at meat. Mrs. Ellen goes out again afterward and reports, on her return, that everywhere still seems to be deserted.

  The tense hours of the afternoon drag on interminably in the stifling heat. Then suddenly, soon after five o’clock, the bells of the city churches begin to peal joyously and there are distant shouts. Through my open window I can see drifts of smoke rising above the rooftops, and the river packed with craft.

  The steward appears and announces that supper is served. As I seat myself under the canopy of estate in the empty presence chamber, I wonder tremulously if I will soon be informed of the cause of the afternoon’s commotion. I think I can guess it, though.

  I am right, on both counts. My father, followed by three yeomen warders, bursts into the room and, without paying his respects to me, begins tearing down the cloth of estate above my head. Clumps of displaced dust fall into my food.

  I stare at him, half-comprehending.

  “Jane, you are no longer Queen,” he tells me bluntly. “London has declared for the Lady Mary. Go to your chamber and stay there. You must put off your royal robes and be content to live henceforth as a private person.”

  “That is all I ever wanted. Nothing could please me better.”

  He regards me with some surprise. “I wonder at your calm acceptance of this calamity.” Then, as I just sit here, unmoving, he repeats more urgently, “You must take off your royal robes now!”

  “I much more willingly put them off than I put them on.” Then the precariousness of my situation begins to dawn on me, and I look on this man, my hitherto all-powerful father, who did so much to place me in it. It is his ambition that has brought me to this.

  “Out of obedience to you and my mother, I have grievously sinned,” I say bitterly. He stares at me, startled, for my voice betrays the depths of my resentment. “I willingly relinquish the crown. I never wanted it.”

  He nods. The canopy is down, lying in a heap on the floor. For nine days it has signified my sovereignty. That is over now, finished.

  “May I not go home?” It sounds childish, and perhaps it is, but this is what I long for. My father looks as if he is about to cry. I am shocked to my core. I have never seen him this way in my life.

  “No, Jane, you must stay here,” he answers in a choked voice. “I am going now to Tower Hill to proclaim the Lady Mary Queen of England. I hope you understand why I am doing this. I am trying to save us all.” And he hastens from the room. I know with certainty that he is going to run for his life and lie low, waiting to see what the new Queen will do. He will leave me to my fate. He must think that Mary will spare me on account of my youth and inexperience—otherwise, surely, he would not have left me here. Of course, I reason, he, a mature adult, can expect no such mercy. He has committed high treason.

  My mother does not even come to say good-bye. Later I learn that they have gone to Sheen.

  Alone in the chamber of presence, I sit unmoving. What will happen to me now? I cannot believe that Mary will cut off my head for what I have done. She will appreciate that I was forced to it, that all this was against my will. Somehow I must convince her that I am no danger to her, and that I wish her nothing but good, even though she is a Catholic. But how to go about that? Should I crave an audience? Will she even consent to see me?

  The door opens and I catch my breath, but it is only Guilford who stands there. One glance tells me he has been crying. His eyes are red.

  “So you know,” he says. I nod. There is an awkward silence. Even at the best of times we have had little to say to one another.

  “What if you are with child?” he ventures.

  “Let us pray that that is not the case. There are too many Dudleys already in this world.”

  His eyes brim again with tears. “My father,” he whispers. “What will they do to my father?”

  If I were not so numb, and he had not been so brutish to me, I might try to comfort him. I understand that, for him, this is a personal tragedy. But I have no words to say to him.

  He sniffs. “I will leave you now. I must comfort my lady mother.” He walks out, shoulders heaving.

  With dragging feet, I make my way to my bedchamber, trying to assume a cheerful countenance for the sake of Mrs. Ellen and Mrs. Tilney. But when I tell them what has happened, Mrs. Tilney falls to weeping pitifully. Mrs. Ellen remains dry-eyed; I realize she is too full of fear to cry. Instead, she busies herself with practicalities, helping me to change into one of my plain black gowns. Life, after all, has to go on.

  “It is near six o’clock, madam,” she reminds me.

  I had forgotten. I have promised to attend the Underhill christening.

  “We must make haste,” I say, taking my prayer book. But when I open the door to my chamber, I find the way barred by guards.

  I am a prisoner.

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 20TH JULY 1553

  The Marquess of Winchester stands before me.

  “Madam, you are required by Queen Mary to surrender to me the crown of England, also the crown jewels and other regalia, as well as other property in this Tower rightfully belonging to our lawful sovereign, such as furs, clocks, and portraits.”

  “Sir, they are at your disposal. I never wanted them.”

  He ignores this.

  “The Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir John Bridges, will inform you of the arrangements that have been made for your confinement,” he concludes, then gives me a curt nod and withdraws from the room with a speed that is only just this side of dignified.

  The Lieutenant, a kindly, avuncular man in his fifties, comes to me soon afterward. Clearly he does not relish the duty imposed on him in keeping a fifteen-year-old girl in custody and is sympathetic toward me personally. But, as Winchester explained earlier, I am being imprisoned not so much for what I have done—since the Queen, in her mercy, realizes that I have been led astray by wicked men
—as for who I am.

  “Her Majesty fears,” he explained, “that you might be the focus of Protestant plots to overthrow her, once this present rejoicing over her accession has died down. Hence you are to be kept in the Tower for the time being.”

  Mrs.Ellen

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 20TH JULY 1553

  The Lieutenant has again come to see Jane. She looks so small and vulnerable, standing before her desk in her plain black gown and hood, clenching those tiny, immature hands. Not for the first time, I wonder how anyone could ever look upon this child as a criminal.

  “Good day, madam,” says Sir John. He’s a big bear of a man, but he looks friendly enough. He may sometimes have to carry out the grimmest of duties, but he has a kindly face.

  “Good day, Sir John,” Jane answers in a small voice. “Shall I go to a dungeon?”

  Someone, some other time, uttered those words. I cannot for the life of me think who it was, but I am disturbed by them. Never mind that now. It can wait. Please God the Lieutenant will give my poor child some reassurance.

  “Of course not, madam,” he tells her. “You will be lodged with Master Partridge, the Gentleman Gaoler of the Tower, and Mrs. Partridge. They have a comfortable house adjoining my own lodging, overlooking the Green and the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. And you may have your lady here in attendance.”

  Jane’s relief is plain on her face. It is far better than we had both feared.

  Tower Green. Of course. It was Anne Boleyn who asked if she was to go to a dungeon. She met her death there, on Tower Green, and her headless body lies in an unmarked grave in the chapel.

  The Lieutenant ushers me out of the room with him.

  “Mistress, there are times when I do not like my office,” he says when we are outside and the door is shut. “She’s just a child. So small and thin. Learned, too, I’ve heard—not that I hold with that much myself. It gives girls ideas. Still, by all reports, she’s godly and virtuous in her conduct.”

  “Indeed, Sir John. She’s a good girl, through and through, and has been evilly used by wicked men.”

 
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