Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “Well, I cannot comment on that,” he says, evasive. “It’s not my job to judge those in my care.” His face softens suddenly, and in a lower voice he murmurs, “I pride myself on being a decent family man, and I am appalled at the cowardly way in which the Lady Jane’s parents have abandoned her. And, no, I do not believe that that girl ever intended any treason. I doubt she was in any way responsible for what they made her do. I wanted to assure you that I am determined to treat her kindly while she is in my care, so never fear. But remember—not a word of this to anyone. I never said it.”

  I am near to tears when I return to Jane. I pray God the Queen has as much perception and compassion as her lieutenant.

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 20TH JULY 1553

  St. Peter ad Vincula. St. Peter in Chains. I am as good as in chains in here, even though they are invisible ones. Will I ever taste freedom again?

  I am being escorted by Sir John Bridges to the Gentleman Gaoler’s house. As we walk past Tower Green, I remember that on this spot Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard were beheaded. Their bodies now lie in the chapel yonder. It is not a view I would have chosen.

  Yet my fate could have been worse. I could be locked in a dark, dank dungeon.

  “Am I permitted to have my servants with me?” I inquire.

  “You are to be attended by Lady Throckmorton as lady-in-waiting when necessary, and at all times by Mrs. Ellen, Mrs. Tilney, and a page. I’m afraid the rest of your household have been dismissed. Because of your rank, you will be accorded a position of honor within the Partridge household and will enjoy every comfort.”

  “The Queen is most kind. I do not deserve such grace at her hands,” I say humbly. “Tell me, Sir John, may I have books and writing materials so that I can continue my studies?”

  “That I will arrange. Your ladies may fetch your clothes and other personal belongings from the palace.”

  “I require very little. This is all that any mortal really needs.”

  I show him the prayer book I am carrying, a gift from Guilford. It is bound in black velvet.

  “Sir John, can you tell me what will happen to me?” I desperately need to know.

  The Lieutenant looks distressed. “Madam, I cannot,” he answers sadly. “I honestly do not know, and if I did, I would not be at liberty to tell you without authorization from the council. My advice is to take each day as it comes, one at a time, and to trust in God. Give matters time to settle down. Then things may become clearer.”

  It is as much reassurance as I am going to get, I realize. I ask him what has become of Guilford and his mother.

  “They are both in custody, and the traitor Dudley is expected to join them here in the Tower shortly.”

  “May I know where my husband is being held?”

  “In the Beauchamp Tower, over there.” He points to a grim medieval edifice of gray stone, forbidding in aspect and doubtless freezing in winter. Imprisonment there would be punishment indeed, even without the threat of execution. For that will surely be Northumberland’s fate, if not Guilford’s. Yet was not he, like me, a mere tool used by ambitious and unscrupulous men?

  I have fearfully been wondering—naturally enough, I suppose—whether I myself will be sent to the block for my undoubted treason. Reason compels me to think otherwise, but my terror kept me awake last night, for it was in the hours of darkness that the full horror of my situation impacted upon me.

  Yet now that Sir John has informed me of the generous terms of my confinement, compared with that of the Dudleys, I am somewhat reassured and cheered. The new Queen is known to be a merciful princess. Sir John told Mrs. Ellen that she has already received into her favor several lords who were Northumberland’s creatures. Mayhap what he said to me is true, and she does only mean to keep me in the Tower until the country is calm again, and then quietly release me into blessed obscurity.

  God, I pray it will be so.

  Master Partridge is aptly named: he’s a rotund little man of about forty, ruddy-cheeked and jovial—too jovial by far for his calling. He bows at my approach, then quickly remembers himself and straightens.

  “This way, my lady.” He conducts me to the best bedchamber, which his wife has sweetened with herb-strewn rushes on the floor and fresh-bleached linen sheets on the bed. There is a cream embroidered coverlet, turned back, a chest for the few items of clothing that are suitable for me to wear now—all plain gowns, and nothing to hint that for nine brief days I was Queen of England—and a desk and chair under the latticed window, on which is set a jug of wine and a pewter goblet.

  “I hope it suits, my lady,” says Mrs. Partridge anxiously, bobbing a curtsy.

  “I need nothing more. You have been most kind and thoughtful.”

  “Supper is at six,” she informs me. “I hope you will grace our humble table.”

  “It will be my pleasure.”

  Mrs. Ellen bustles in with a large sack from which she begins to unpack my belongings. Mrs. Partridge leaves us to ourselves.

  “Well, this is a pleasant room,” says Mrs. Ellen.

  “Indeed it is.” I feel almost lighthearted. Prison is not going to be so terrible after all. It’s certainly far better than my days of greatness in the palace here. Indeed, I shall be quite content to stay with these kind and well-disposed people for a time, without having to rub shoulders with those who have brought me to ruin. The loss of my freedom and privileges is as nothing compared to the huge relief I feel at having been given so light a punishment.

  My spirits lift further an hour later when Sir John Bridges personally delivers my books and writing materials. I realize I now have leisure to read and study. Never, I suspect, will the Queen’s Majesty have a happier prisoner!

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, JULY 1553

  Master Partridge is a dutiful servant of the Crown, and while he never fails in his simple courtesy toward me, he makes it his business never to discuss with me the events taking place beyond the four walls of his house. Mrs. Partridge, on the other hand, relishes a good gossip and, unknown to her husband—who would deplore her lack of discretion—lets slip a great deal of information to Mrs. Ellen and Mrs. Tilney, with whom she has quickly struck up companionable friendships.

  And so I learn of Northumberland’s arrest at Cambridge and his subsequent shameful return to London and committal to the Beauchamp Tower. Four of his sons, Warwick, Robert, Ambrose, and Guilford, are imprisoned there with him. I heard the commotion on the day of his arrival—now I know what it signified.

  A day or so later, Mrs. Partridge reveals that the Duchess of Northumberland has been freed and has gone to Newhall to plead with the Queen for her husband’s life. Later we learn that Mary refused to see her. She has, however, agreed to grant my mother an audience.

  Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

  NEWHALL, ESSEX, JULY 1553

  It was impossible for me to remain quietly at Sheen, waiting for the knock on the door, the armed guards, the warrant. I was never a passive spirit and felt compelled to do something to ward off the approaching danger. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, and impervious to Henry’s warnings, I saddled my horse and rode off with just one man-at-arms and one lady in attendance, into Essex, to beg my cousin the Queen to show mercy to my family.

  On my knees before my purple-clad, bejeweled, stony-faced sovereign, I do not try to hide my panic.

  “I beseech Your Majesty,” I plead, “of your great charity and mercy, spare my lord husband and my innocent daughter.”

  Mary looks at me severely. “They have committed treason,” she says in her gruff man’s voice. “If they had had their way, I should not be sitting here now.”

  “They had no choice, madam!” I cry. Let Northumberland take all the blame for this. He is going to die for it anyway. It was he who brought us to this pass, and it is he who should pay the price.

  “Your Majesty,” I continue urgently, “we suspected that the traitor Northumberland was poisoning your late
brother the King, and we greatly feared he would poison us too—my lord, my daughters, and myself—if we did not comply with his schemes.”

  Mary looks startled. “You have proof of this?” she asks sharply.

  I decide to take a gamble. This time the stakes are higher than I have ever played for.

  “My daughter Jane has twice suffered symptoms that suggest poisoning, symptoms that were similar to those manifested by his late Majesty. It is a fact that the apothecary who gave the poison to the King has just taken his own life, so full of remorse was he for what he had done.” (May God forgive the lie, I pray inwardly. Yet perchance, if rumor is to be believed, it is closer to the truth than any one of us knows.) “Were his late Majesty’s body to be opened, the traces would be there, I swear to it.”

  “I do not think that will be necessary,” says the Queen, evidently shaken by these revelations. “But if it was as you say, you were indeed in grave danger. Northumberland is a ruthless and evil man. I fear he is beyond redemption.” She pauses, thoughtful, fingering the ornate crucifix at her throat. How Jane would hate that crucifix, I think irrelevantly.

  The Queen rises, indicating that I should get up off my knees.

  “I can see you were in an impossible position, Frances. Rest assured I will not harm your husband and daughter. You may go home to Sheen without fear. An order has been issued for your lord’s arrest, but if he pleads for mercy, we will set him at liberty. God knows, most of my councillors were in this with him, and I can’t very well proceed against the greater part of the peerage. As for the Lady Jane, I intend for her to remain in the Tower for the present. She is being well cared for. For obvious reasons, I do not wish her to communicate with her friends and former supporters, and I want your undertaking now that neither you nor the Duke will attempt to have letters or messages smuggled in to her. When things settle down, I will consider sending her home.”

  “Madam, you have it,” I say firmly.

  Thank God, we are all safe. I have managed rather well, I reflect. Now we can abide our time in patience until the Queen gives the order for Jane’s release. All in all, it’s a miracle we’ve come out of this business so unscathed.

  Mary is as good as her word. My lord spends a mere three days in the Tower before being granted his freedom. Surely now it won’t be long before Jane is allowed hers too.

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 3RD AUGUST 1553

  Since before dawn people have been crowding into the Tower precincts. I can see them from my upstairs window: ordinary citizens, Tower officials and warders, Yeomen of the Guard, and, later on, courtiers, lords, and ladies, many of them known to me. All have come to see the new Queen, who is today making her state entry into London. Tonight she will take up residence in the Tower. Even the normally reticent Master Partridge has told me this much, adding that Her Majesty will be lodging in the palace for the next fortnight.

  She will probably sleep in the very room I myself occupied, I realize, and wonder if it will put the Queen in remembrance of my being held a prisoner here, although more likely it will remind her that I slept there under false pretenses.

  Mrs. Ellen has had word from Mrs. Partridge of several Catholic prisoners who spent King Edward’s reign in the Tower; recently they narrowly avoided Northumberland’s ax because, in his haste to make me a queen, the Duke neglected to sign their death warrants. Among them are the old Duke of Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner of Winchester, and all are to be freed today by the Queen in person. I entertain the wild notion that I myself might be numbered among them, but as the hours tick by and no summons comes, it becomes obvious that I will not. Resolutely setting aside my disappointment—it is too soon, of course, what am I thinking of?—I try to settle down to translating a Latin poem, but the sounds from outside are too distracting. When, late in the afternoon, I hear distant trumpets and the deafening noise of the guns saluting on Tower Wharf, I give up writing and hasten to the window, leaning over the stone sill and straining to see if I can catch a glimpse of the Queen through the vast crowds. But it is a vain hope. Too many obstacles block my view, and the press of people is too thick.

  An agitated movement below catches my eye. It is Master Partridge, signaling me to stand away from the window. My appearance is clearly exciting curiosity among the people, some of whom must have realized who I am. Reluctantly I step back, closing the casement and turning again to my books. Soon the cheers start dying away; the pageant must be over.

  Presently Mrs. Ellen and Mrs. Tilney, who went with Mrs. Partridge to watch the procession, return with an account of what they have seen.

  “Truly, the Queen is a most merciful princess,” enthuses Mrs. Ellen, with a significant glance at me. “When the Duke of Norfolk and the rest were brought out and knelt before her on the cobbles, she wept with emotion. ‘These are my prisoners,’ she said, and set them at liberty. Believe me, Jane, you have nothing to fear from her.”

  I smile, but I am not entirely reassured. Those who have been released are all Catholics, but I do not like to dampen my nurse’s elation by pointing this out. Mary has not said when she will release me, and with a jolt I realize that I could be here for many years, perhaps my whole life. I pray God, therefore, that the Queen’s famed mercy will extend to one who is of the wrong religion and the wrong blood.

  Queen Mary

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, AUGUST 1553

  Today is my first audience with Simon Renard, the new ambassador sent by my beloved cousin the Emperor. I know well it is Charles’s wish to support me in the great tasks that lie before me, and God knows I need such support. Early this month the privy council made its formal submission to me, smugly secure in the knowledge that, while I might formally refuse to pardon those who supported the usurper Jane, I dare not alienate all my lords because I need them. Of course, I made a token display of displeasure, but in the end I extended my hand for every single one of them to kiss, much to their evident gratification. Some were weeping with emotion and relief.

  Even Winchester and Pembroke, whom I briefly imprisoned, are now back at the council table. Pembroke has hastened to have his son’s marriage to the usurper’s sister annulled and has, I hear, turned the girl out of his house. She is now with her parents at Sheen, disgraced and dejected.

  There is one notable absentee from the council: Thomas Cranmer, whom I will not dignify with the title Archbishop of Canterbury. It is he whom I hold responsible for the breaking of my father’s marriage to my sainted mother, and he who was one of the chief instruments in establishing the heretical Protestant faith in England. He has been dismissed and imprisoned.

  Renard now stands before me, a dapper little man with Italianate coloring and a large nose. His bearing is respectful, as becomes a diplomat, but I have heard that he is a person of forceful views and great moral courage. Charles has chosen well.

  “Ambassador, you are most welcome,” I say, smiling, “and I declare to you most frankly that I intend to place all my trust in you, not only because you are a link with my beloved mother’s country, but also because I know you will be faithful to me and to the Catholic cause.”

  “Your Majesty is most kind,” he replies. “Rest assured I will do my very best for you, even if it will not always mean following the easiest path.”

  I take the hint. “Please speak freely.”

  Renard’s face is suddenly sorrowful. “Madam, I am deeply troubled. Forgive me for speaking plainly, but I feel that Your Grace has been, if anything, too merciful in these past weeks. Mercy is a commendable quality in princes, but it is sometimes more productive for a sovereign to be ruthless in punishing traitors. There are those who pose a serious threat to your security—I am sure Your Grace does not need me to name them—”

  “I asked you to be frank, Your Excellency. You know I value your advice, and that anything said to me in this room can remain confidential.”

  “I refer, then, madam, to Northumberland, Suffolk, Guilford Dudley, and, above all, the Lad
y Jane. They should all be made an example of and put to death.”

  An uncomfortable silence ensues. I had hoped he would not ask this of me.

  “Ambassador, I cannot authorize the Lady Jane’s execution. She has been the innocent tool of ruthless men.”

  “Madam!” he cries with feeling. “You are displaying a weakness that could have fatal results! Innocent she may be, but while that young lady lives, she will always be a lodestar for Protestant rebels, or for those with any imagined grudge against Your Grace.”

  “I cannot credit that. By all accounts, she never wanted the crown. It was forced on her. She would never incite rebellion against us, of that I am certain.”

  “No, she would perhaps not. But others might, in her name. Her very blood should condemn her.”

  “I hardly think so. Remember, the people were scarcely ecstatic at the news of her accession. Who would support her now?”

  “Anyone who is disaffected, madam. You have mounted the throne to great acclaim, but this present euphoria must come to an end. Contentious issues face Your Grace. Be assured that the restoration of the true faith will not meet with universal approval in this godforsaken land.”

  “I think you worry overmuch, Ambassador. My subjects were well aware of my religious convictions when they rallied to my support. They knew what my accession would mean. And I sincerely believe that that shows how, in their hearts, most of them desire to return to the true faith. But I will take your advice in part. To put your mind at rest, I will send the traitor Northumberland to the block. Suffolk I have already pardoned, and I cannot go back on my word. Guilford Dudley is young, and as much a creature of his father as the Lady Jane. They will remain safely in the Tower. But execute them I cannot.”

  “Your Grace is overmerciful,” Renard says again in a despairing tone.

  “Ambassador,” I answer good-naturedly, “if I were to execute all those involved in this late treason, I would have very few subjects left.”

 
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