Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “My point exactly. That is why you cannot permit the Lady Jane to live.”

  “We must agree to differ on that point.” I rise. “I am sorry to disappoint you, but I cannot agree to the shedding of innocent blood. And, on that, my word is final.”

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, AUGUST 1553

  The Queen left the Tower for Richmond in the middle of August; I knew she had gone because it was suddenly so quiet here. Some days later Northumberland was tried in Westminster Hall and sentenced to death. They tell me he knelt abjectly, sobbing piteously, and confessed his crimes, begging for mercy. His pleas were ignored.

  In a final bid to soften the Queen’s heart, the craven Dudley publicly announced himself a convert to the Catholic faith. This, too, proved in vain. Today, he went to the block. I watch from my window as the cart bearing his mutilated body, hidden under sacking, trundles back from Tower Hill to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where the Duke will be laid to rest beside Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and his old enemy Protector Somerset.

  “I will pray for him,” I tell Mrs. Ellen. “He was a traitor, not only to his country, but also to God, and he brought me to ruin, but his soul is in dire need of salvation. I fear even now that he is suffering the torments of Hell.”

  “He has paid a just price for his crimes,” she answers. “I find it hard to forgive him for what he did to you. But I too will pray for him, all the same.”

  We sink to our knees, as the empty cart clatters away on the cobbles below the open casement.

  Later, Sir John Bridges visits me.

  “Madam, I bring you good tidings. The Queen’s Grace has decreed that the conditions of your imprisonment are to be relaxed. From now on, you may take the air along the wall walks and may meet with your husband there, although you may not, for obvious reasons, entertain him indoors.” I smile grimly to myself: as if I would wish Guilford to come near enough to get me pregnant. I have no wish to complicate my own affairs, let alone the Queen’s!

  “Please convey my humble and grateful thanks to Her Majesty,” I say meekly.

  Sir John does not answer. Ever vigilant in his duties, he is looking at the papers on my desk.

  He picks one up, frowning. “What is this?”

  “It is an expostulation against the Bishop of Rome,” I tell him with a hint of defiance. Northumberland might have proved himself a man of straw, but I will never compromise my principles.

  “Madam, I am sure you do not need me to tell you that such writings are not only unwise, but could put you in danger at this present time, when the Queen is carrying out her intention of restoring the Catholic faith. There are those, I must tell you, who wish you ill. This kind of thing, if it were discovered, would be a gift to your enemies and might tip the scales against you. In the circumstances, you would be wise to keep your opinions to yourself.”

  “Whatever were you thinking of, child?” bursts out Mrs. Ellen, glancing fearfully at the Lieutenant.

  “Calm yourself, mistress,” he tells her. “The young are prone to rash outspokenness. I know: I have children of my own, much of an age with this lady. They think they know all, and that they will change the world. It is up to us, who are older and wiser, to drum some sense into their silly heads. Now I assure you, this matter will not go beyond these walls, but my advice to you, my Lady Jane, is to dissociate yourself from such controversies and apply yourself to your needle, like any other girl of noble birth. That will keep you out of trouble.”

  My face must betray my indignation, for Mrs. Ellen frowns fiercely at me. But it is all so unfair: I have little with which to occupy myself—is it strange that I should wish to use the brain God gave me? And I will do everything the Queen desires of me, save for one thing: I will not convert to the Catholic faith, so God grant she never asks it of me.

  Of course, Sir John is right: I must learn to hold my tongue and keep my opinions to myself. I am sure he means well by me, and it would be folly to risk losing his goodwill by arguing with him, or failing to take his kindly meant advice. He could have reported me to the authorities, I remind myself. Oh, but if only he did not have such old-fashioned, conservative ideas!

  The walks along the parapet turn out to be a mixed blessing. It is wonderful to be out in the fresh air and sunshine once more, and to feel the warm summer breeze on my face, but I find that Guilford’s melancholy company depresses me. The old awkwardness and resentment still lie between us, not to mention my remembrance of what he did to me, while his obvious grief for his father makes me feel even more uncomfortable with him. He wants, he needs, to talk about Northumberland, but I, try as I might out of human charity, am no sympathetic listener. I can conjure up no words of comfort to offer; his misery repels me. Ordinarily, faced with someone bereaved of a loved one, I would put my arms around them, pat their shoulders, wipe their eyes. But the thought of physical contact with Guilford is now unbearable—I cringe at the remembrance that I have been naked and defiled in his bed—and so I cannot do these things, sorry as I am for him.

  It does not help that his imprisonment is more rigorous than mine. As the sons of an executed traitor, he and his brothers are consigned to cheerless stone chambers and permitted few comforts.

  “Like some who were held in there before us, we pass our time carving inscriptions and our heraldic device on the walls,” Guilford tells me. “I have carved your name.”

  I am astonished. These days my husband displays none of his former arrogance. He is a diminished figure, deprived of his powerful father, his status, wealth, and liberty, and he is pathetic in his increasing reliance on me for affection and solace. Alas, I have none to give. He has hurt and humiliated me too deeply. Yet now he has made this poignant gesture—he has carved my name.

  “Thank you,” I say lamely.

  “You are my wife,” he plaintively replies.

  “Yes.”

  “They cannot dissolve our marriage as they did your sister’s. Unlike them, we have lain together.”

  I say nothing.

  “I am sorry for the way I treated you,” Guilford says quietly. “I was unkind.”

  The words of forgiveness stick in my throat. I cannot say them. The memory of what happened between us is still raw.

  “Couldn’t—couldn’t we be friends? We are in the same predicament. We neither of us knows what the future holds for us. If we indeed have a fu—” He breaks off, unable to speak for the tears that are choking him.

  I cannot answer him. I do not know how to. To my relief, the guard comes and tells Guilford it is time to return indoors. He goes, not looking back, obviously not wanting me to see him unmanned by his distress.

  It is evening, and I sit at supper with the Partridges, occupying my usual place of honor at the head of the table. The talk is all of the Queen’s marriage. It is rumored in London that she means to wed young Edward Courtenay, a descendant of the Plantagenets and one of those whom she released from the Tower. He had been imprisoned here from his boyhood for no other crime than being too close in blood to the throne.

  “He is very well lettered,” says Mrs. Partridge. “He spent most of his time here studying.”

  “Yes, my dear, but he can’t even sit a horse,” answers her husband. “He has a lot to learn before he can conduct himself with any confidence at court. And when the Queen finds that he’s been making up for lost time by visiting every brothel in Southwark—saving your presence, my Lady Jane—we’ll hear no more talk of this marriage.”

  After the meal, Sir John Bridges is announced. He regards me gravely.

  “Madam, prepare yourself for ill news. I am commanded by the Queen’s Majesty to inform you that you and Lord Guilford Dudley will shortly stand trial. However,” he adds quickly, seeing me pale in horror, and hearing Mrs. Ellen’s frightened gasp, “I am also particularly instructed to inform you that, while it is expected that the court will certainly condemn you, you will afterwards receive a royal pardon. The trial will merely be a
formality, to satisfy the imperial ambassador.”

  I have quickly recovered myself. That was a nasty moment, and my heart is still pounding.

  “When is the trial to be, Sir John?” I ask.

  “There is no date set for it yet, madam, but I will inform you as soon as I hear of it.”

  I force a smile. He will never know what it costs me to do so.

  “God be praised that we have so merciful a Queen!” I declare with heartfelt feeling.

  THE TOWER AND THE GUILDHALL, LONDON 14TH NOVEMBER 1553

  I have dressed myself with care. Black velvet is appropriate for the occasion, and a black satin hood trimmed with jet. Sober and demure, I am the image of innocence. The Queen, they tell me, has insisted upon a fair trial: every witness is to speak freely, without fear or favor, and Lord Chief Justice Morgan has been commanded to administer the law impartially.

  “It is Her Majesty’s pleasure,” the Lieutenant told me, “that whatever evidence can be produced in your favor shall be heard.”

  Guilford and I are not the only ones being tried today. Archbishop Cranmer is also accused of high treason and is to accompany us to the Guildhall. I feel sorry for him, poor old man; he has been the champion of the Protestant faith in England for two decades now; it was his hand that wrote the beautiful, but now banned, Book of Common Prayer, his heart that guided the reformed Church of England through its formative years.

  I cannot bear the thought of all Cranmer’s good work being undone, yet there is now no doubt that Queen Mary has every intention of returning England to the Roman fold. She might have proclaimed freedom of worship for all, but many Protestants have fled abroad, and the signs of a Catholic revival are everywhere. There are crucifixes once more on all the altars of England, they tell me, and Mass is again being celebrated in the churches.

  At the beginning of this month, the Queen was betrothed to the Emperor’s son and heir, Don Philip of Spain. Not only is he a foreigner to this land, but he is also the most fanatical Catholic prince in Europe and has presided over the terrible Acts of Faith, as they call them, during which scores of staunch Protestants and lapsed Catholics have been burned alive at the stake. I am not the only one dismayed at the prospect of this marriage.

  “Most people, even some great lords, are objecting strongly and publicly to the match,” says Mrs. Ellen, who goes out most days and is aware of what is happening abroad. Many believe that the Inquisition could be introduced into England and fear that this kingdom will become a mere appendage of the Spanish Empire. There was an angry demonstration in London today, and even some of the councillors, Mrs. Ellen heard, have expressed their concerns, but it is said that the Queen has fallen madly in love with Philip’s portrait and with the idea of marrying her mother’s kinsman. For too long, Mary has been denied those things for which she yearns—marriage and motherhood—so I believe there is little hope of her heeding these objections. Her mind, they say, is already made up.

  I step into the barge, clutching Sir John Bridges’s steadying hand. Behind me comes Guilford, then the Archbishop, who looks aged and drawn in the November mist. Mrs. Ellen and Mrs. Tilney are already seated in the cabin, ready to attend me. The oarsmen pull away and row upstream, expertly shooting the rapids beneath London Bridge. This is my first foray out of the Tower in four months. I am four weeks past my sixteenth birthday.

  Within minutes, the barge glides to its mooring place at Temple Stairs. On the quayside is drawn up a force of halberdiers, who are to escort us prisoners along Fleet Street, up Ludgate Hill, and through Cheapside to the Guildhall. More halberdiers line the route, pressing back the crowds who have, to my surprise, come to watch me pass. Their mood is not hostile, as I had feared; although they watch me in silence, I can sense some sympathy radiating toward me.

  Escorted by Sir John, I walk with bowed head, keeping my eyes on the little book of devotions that I hold open in front of me. Another prayer book is attached to my girdle by a small chain. I wear no chopines today to increase my height, and my head barely reaches the Lieutenant’s shoulder. My gentlewomen follow me, ahead of Guilford, who is also clad in black and looks wan and fearful, and the Archbishop.

  Outside the Guildhall there are more guards. The Lord High Executioner waits also, his ceremonial ax held over his shoulder. As I proceed into the building, its blade is turned away from me.

  In the huge vaulted hall, with its beautiful stained-glass windows and soaring arches, we three stand at the bar, facing a jury of our peers—the privilege of the nobly born—and Lord Chief Justice Morgan, seated in his high place beneath the arms of England. The indictments are read out, and witnesses called. No one has anything to add to the facts that are already known, although many attest to my reluctance to accept the crown; nor, in accordance with the law, are any of us accused permitted to speak in our defense.

  It is all over rather quickly. Although I had been warned to expect it, I listen in alarm as the peers deliver their unanimous verdict of guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice addresses us sternly.

  “Lord Guilford Dudley, you have been found guilty of high treason. The sentence of this court is that you be hanged, drawn, and quartered at the Queen’s pleasure. May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

  Guilford’s already pale face blenches and he starts to shake. I put a steadying hand on his arm, but the Lord Chief Justice sees it and frowns at me.

  “Lady Jane Dudley,” he pronounces, “you have also been found guilty of high treason. The sentence of this court is that you be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded, as the Queen pleases. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

  His words strike such terror into that soul that I barely hear him sentencing poor Cranmer to be burned at the stake. By an immense effort of will, I maintain my outward composure, curtsy to the judges and peers, and allow myself to be led away. The executioner’s ax now has its blade turned toward me, to signify to the waiting crowds that I have been condemned to death.

  The journey back to the Tower passes in a blur. I am impervious to Guilford’s tears, the quiet resignation of Cranmer, for whom there is no promised reprieve, and the silent preoccupation of my ladies. I am overwhelmed by the horrifying realization that I am under sentence of death—and a particularly horrible death at that—and that all that stands between me and a gruesome end is the Queen’s word. Desperately I tell myself again and again that I must hang on to that promise, for Her Majesty is an honorable woman. All my dealings with her so far have proved that her intentions are just and merciful. I must keep that in mind, I tell myself. I must not dwell on what would happen if Queen Mary were ever to change her mind.

  Once back in the Tower, however, I give way to my fears. I cannot forget the words of the Lord Chief Justice, consigning me to be burned or beheaded, and I sit on my bed trembling and weeping. Mrs. Ellen is frantic, unable to make me see reason, so she summons the Lieutenant urgently.

  “Madam, you must have faith in the Queen’s word,” he says firmly. “Your trial was but a necessary formality. Her Majesty has no intention of proceeding further against you. I know for a fact that she is very kindly disposed towards you, so take heart. Your fears are groundless.”

  His smile is sincere and reassuring. Already I am calmer and moving towards a more cheerful and optimistic frame of mind.

  “You are innocent, Jane,” Mrs. Ellen soothes. “You did nothing to merit this sentence.”

  “I should not have accepted the crown.”

  “The Queen knows you were forced to it,” Sir John tells me. “She has promised you a pardon. You have only to be patient and wait a while for it.”

  Queen Mary

  WHITEHALL PALACE, DECEMBER 1553

  Renard stands before me, his face set with concern.

  “I am still resolved to be merciful,” I declare. “The Lady Jane and her husband will remain in the Tower for the present, but when the time is right, that is, when I have heirs of my own body”—I can feel my cheeks reddening at the thought o
f what that will entail—“I will consider releasing them.”

  “Then, madam, I am to inform my master the Emperor that the Lady Jane will not be put to death?”

  “You may, Excellency. Her life is safe, even though there are several persons who would have it otherwise. Common humanity requires no less of me.”

  He is looking at me as if I am mad. I hope he will appreciate that I have made up my mind and that the matter is closed.

  “Madam, forgive my plain speaking, but this is sheer folly,” he declares to my surprise. “The Emperor is of the opinion that, to make all safe in England, you should rid the land of these traitors. Do not be too tender of their youth. They are a threat to your throne.”

  “I have spoken, Ambassador, and I will not go back on my word once given,” I say sharply. “Besides, I am of the opinion that my sister, Elizabeth, poses the greater threat. Yes, she has been at my side since I was proclaimed, and none showed greater joy when I was crowned, but she excuses herself from attending Mass on the lightest pretext, and I fear she is secretly plotting to marry Edward Courtenay. I need not remind you that Courtenay himself has a claim to the throne. No, Elizabeth is far more dangerous than Jane Dudley will ever be.”

  “Madam, that is madness!” Renard splutters. “Forgive my plain speaking, but I have heard from my spies that the Duke of Suffolk, whom you have rashly allowed to go free and unpunished, is rumored to be plotting a rebellion. I have also learned that recently, out of your great clemency, you have given permission for the Lady Jane, condemned traitor though she is, to go out of the Tower for walks on Tower Hill. Madam, that is ill-advised. It would be very easy for her father to abduct her and set her up once again as a rival queen.”

  “She is well guarded,” I insist, “and I doubt the Duke could command enough support for a rebellion.”

  “Do not make the mistake of underestimating the strength of the opposition to Your Majesty’s proposed marriage to Prince Philip. Many of your subjects are already disaffected, I am saddened to say.”

 
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