Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  How could he? How could he be so rash and foolish? I am in a passion of anxiety. I cannot believe my ears.

  “If any man brings the traitor Wyatt to justice,” cries the herald, “he will be granted a fine estate, to be held by him and his heirs in perpetuity.”

  This is terrible, I think, as the people disperse. How could the Duke even contemplate involving himself in another plot to set poor Jane on the throne? The man must be mad! And how can I protect that dear child from the knowledge of what he has done—or the consequences? Dear God, what will they be? I cannot bear to contemplate them.

  I hurry back to the Tower, agonizing. I decide that all I can do for the moment is withhold these dreadful tidings from Jane. In her innocence must lie her safety, I pray God.

  Later, I join the crowds outside Whitehall Palace in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Queen. It is common knowledge that she has refused to leave London for the safety of Windsor, declaring she knows well that she can count upon the loyalty and love of her subjects. Listening to voices in the crowd, I am not so sure—some will save their loyalty for whoever triumphs in this conflict. Plainly, Mary is no longer the darling of the people as she was when she ascended the throne six months ago.

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 7TH FEBRUARY 1554

  From my window, I can see soldiers everywhere.

  I know why they are here, although those who have the keeping of me would prefer that I did not. Undoubtedly Sir John Bridges has expressly been forbidden to enlighten me. I have been told only that a traitor called Sir Thomas Wyatt has risen in protest against the Queen’s marriage to the Prince of Spain.

  Mrs. Ellen told me that Wyatt and his army arrived at Southwark four days ago, only to find that the citizens, inspired by a rousing speech made by the Queen at the Guildhall, had destroyed London Bridge to prevent him from entering the capital. In retribution, he sacked the old priory of St. Mary Overy, then moved upriver to Kingston, where there is another bridge across the Thames. Now he is advancing again on London, from the south.

  The waiting soldiers are drawn up in lines, ready to march when necessary. I watch them, weapons at the ready, tramp in formation out of the Tower to face the rebels. Some time later there comes the distant sound of gunfire, and it seems to me as if every person left in the Tower is holding his breath, just as I am. Then there is a silence that lasts several hours.

  Evening falls. I am lying facedown on my bed reading, propped up on my elbows, when I hear a commotion outside. Leaping up, I peer through the lattice panes. In the darkness, I can just make out Sir John Bridges and a troop of soldiers riding past the White Tower toward the main gate.

  Suddenly Mrs. Ellen comes in.

  “God be praised, my lady! Wyatt is taken. They are bringing him here now. He is to be lodged in the Bell Tower. The rebellion is quelled.”

  “God be praised!” I echo. “Now we are safe.”

  Queen Mary

  WHITEHALL PALACE, 7TH FEBRUARY 1554

  At seven o’clock in the evening I at last have the opportunity to grant an audience to Renard. He has been pressing to see me all day.

  “Your Majesty!” he says urgently, kissing my hands with unprecedented fervor. “I rejoice to see you safe! We are all badly shaken by your narrow escape from disaster. Madam, forgive me, but it is as I warned, and I would be failing in my duty and devotion to you if I did not point out that this rebellion was the result of Your Majesty being overlenient when you came to the throne. I beg of you now, Madam, harden your heart against these traitors and show your subjects that you are not to be intimidated.”

  “You sound like my councillors, Ambassador. You all speak with one voice.” I try not to betray any emotion, for he will take it as a sign of weakness, but whatever it costs me, I am determined to prove to him, and to all the rest, that I can be as resolute and ruthless as my father when necessary. Saving, of course, in matters that touch my conscience.

  I conquer my impulse to give in to my kinder instincts. “You may set your mind at rest, for mine is made up. I will never again show clemency to traitors, and I shall not cease to demand the ultimate penalty for them. Nor, from now on, will I tolerate heresy in my realm, since it has been demonstrated most clearly that it leads to seditious plots against me.”

  “Your Majesty shows the greatest wisdom,” Renard replies, relieved satisfaction on his face. “I know I have hitherto urged you to go cautiously with the heretics, but I agree, it is now plain that you must proceed firmly against those who do not adhere to the doctrines of the true Church.”

  “Indeed. I have thought long on this and prayed for guidance, and I have decided to revive the old statute against heresy and root it out, for it is like a canker that gnaws away at the very vitals of the Church. Those who do not recant will be burned at the stake. If my people will not come to salvation by gentler means, then they must be constrained to it, for the safety of their souls.”

  “That is exactly the view of my master, the Emperor, and Prince Philip. They believe that a foretaste of hellfire on earth wonderfully concentrates the mind and can bring about the conversion of the most stubborn heretic.”

  “I pray God it will be so,” I reply, crossing myself. Now I pause. I am fearful of telling Renard the other decision I have made, so I am casting about for ways to prove to him that, when it comes to the most crucial issues, I am immovable.

  “Returning to this matter of the traitors,” I say, “I have decided that the leaders of the rebellion must be executed, and that, in case this is not example enough to others who might be tempted to plot treason against us, great numbers of their followers are to be hanged; there will be gibbets placed on every street corner in London, and in places in Kent, as a salutary lesson and a warning to our subjects. They must learn that it is no light thing to rebel against their lawful sovereign.”

  “The Emperor will be most gratified to hear it. And it will also be a comfort to him to know that you have at last decided to put to death those persons who will always be a focus for rebellion. I mean the Lady Jane and Guilford Dudley. Your Majesty has sensibly recognized that, as long as they live, they will prove to be thorns in your side. I urge you, madam, to have the sentences on them carried out without further delay.”

  “They are to be spared,” I say quietly.

  There is a sudden silence. Renard is, for once, speechless.

  “I did not say I would execute them. Only the leaders of this rebellion and their followers. Believe me, I have suffered much anguish over this issue. I hear what you and my councillors have to say, but in truth the Lady Jane and Guilford Dudley are innocent of any crime. They were not involved in any way in this rebellion—”

  Renard suddenly finds his voice. “Madam, for the love of God—”

  “No, dear friend,” I protest. “I have promised them mercy. I cannot go back on the word of a prince, nor do I want their deaths on my conscience.”

  Renard is relentless. “Sometimes, madam, it is necessary for a ruler to be pragmatic and bow to expediency. They may not have deserved death this time, but alive, the Lady Jane and her husband will always be a danger to you, an ever-present threat to the security of your throne and the succession, and to the restoration of the true faith in this realm. Can your conscience permit you to put all that at risk?”

  “Do you want me to behead a girl of sixteen for a crime she did not commit?” I cry in agitation. “I am the fount of justice in this realm, and if I make a virtue of expediency in this case, I would also be making a mockery of justice, and breaking my coronation oath to uphold it.”

  “Your royal father would not have been so nice,” Renard says slyly. “He would have done what was necessary without a qualm. Madam, I beg of you, harden your heart, set your private conscience aside. Be a queen in truth.”

  “I cannot,” I say, sinking into my chair and resting my forehead on my hand so that he shall not see the tears in my eyes. I have spent days putting on a brave front in
the face of the rebellion, and gathering all my reserves of courage. I dare not give way now.

  Renard ignores my distress. He is implacable. “Very well, madam. You leave me no choice. The Emperor is naturally concerned for the safety of his son and the security of his alliance with Your Majesty. He is adamant that, while the Lady Jane and her husband live, Prince Philip will never set foot in England.”

  It is blackmail, no less, I see that at once. I feel as if I have been struck. They have me in a corner. I need this alliance to carry through my great reforms, for Philip has behind him all the might of Catholic Christendom. And—dare I admit it?—I need him. His picture haunts my dreams; it inspires strange longings and makes me catch my breath with desire. He is my champion, a handsome man coming to rescue me from my long spinsterhood. I love him already, and I can never give him up.

  It is a cruel choice, crueler than most of those I have had to make in my unhappy life, but I realize that the Emperor, for all the brutality of his methods, is a wise man. He has shown me my duty clear.

  I have done it, God forgive me. I have given the order for the executions of the Lady Jane and Guilford Dudley. They are to suffer death on the morning of the ninth of February, just thirty-six hours from now.

  I must remain firm in my resolve. I will not waver or succumb to womanish notions of clemency. One day, when I hold my son in my arms—Philip’s son, the heir to a Catholic England—my conscience will be justified and set at peace.

  They have laid the death warrants before me. I am sitting at my desk, steeling myself to sign them. Even now, I would give much to exercise my prerogative of mercy, but I know it would be madness.

  I pick up my quill, dip it in the inkwell, and sign my name twice.

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 7TH FEBRUARY 1554

  I am nearly asleep when I hear the knock on the door. It is Mrs. Ellen in her nightgown; she carries a candle, and in its flickering light, her face looks perturbed.

  “Is it morning already?” I ask, dazed.

  “No, it is near midnight. Come, you must put on your robe quickly. Sir John wishes to see you now. A messenger has come from the Queen.”

  “My pardon! At last!” I exclaim, fully awake now and scrambling out of bed. Then I glance at Mrs. Ellen’s stricken face and realize that it might be something entirely different. Something I do not want to hear.

  Gathering all my courage, I brace myself to face the Lieutenant, who is waiting in the downstairs parlor, attended by Master Partridge. Sir John’s face is grave, his voice gruff as he greets me. He does not look like a man bearing glad tidings. I begin to understand what he has come to tell me, certain that it is something he must have said to other prisoners far older and far more wicked than I.

  “My Lady Jane, I would for all the world that I did not have to say these words to you. I fear it is my heavy duty to inform you that the Queen’s Majesty has given the order for your execution, and that you must prepare to die on Friday morning at nine o’clock. Her Majesty has graciously commuted the sentence to beheading, and it will be carried out in private, on Tower Green.”

  Mrs. Ellen bursts into heart-wrenching tears, but I stand silent. What did he say? I can hardly take it in. I am to die? On Friday, less than two days hence, my living body, with its breath and blood and warmth, its thoughts, fears, feelings, and hopes, will cease to exist. It is a devastating prospect, beyond comprehension. And I have so little time in which to make my peace with God, to enable me to face Him in a state of grace. I am so overwhelmed that I cannot speak.

  “The same sentence has been passed on your husband,” Sir John continues gently, after giving me a few moments to understand my fate. “But as he is not of royal blood, he will be beheaded on Tower Hill.”

  I find my voice. It sounds strangled.

  “Has he been told?” I quaver.

  “He has. He is very distressed. I pray God he calms down and reaches a true state of repentance in the time left to him.”

  I muster all my reserves of courage. I remind myself that my religion has taught me how to die, and that death is not the end. I must hold fast to that now. I remember a saying beloved of both my mother and Mrs. Ellen: what cannot be avoided must be endured. So I must endure; I have no choice. If I am to die—and it seems that, for all her promises, the Queen is now determined on it—then I will make a good death, so that the world will remember me for my bravery and my sincere faith, and that I may earn favor in Heaven.

  In no time at all, I will be with God and His angels in Heaven—I cannot believe that my sins are so great as to bar me from it. And I will see Our Lord, and Jesus on His right hand. All shall be well. There will be light after the darkness. No more suffering, no more betrayals. In Heaven, I will not be the helpless tool of greedy, unscrupulous men. I will be free.

  I straighten my shoulders.

  “I am ready and glad to end my woeful days,” I say simply, then turn to leave the room. Mrs. Ellen follows, sobbing as if her heart will break. “Please—you do not help me by weeping,” I reprove her. “Please be brave, for my sake.”

  She blows her nose loudly and wipes her eyes. All her love for me, and her grief, is in them, naked, exposed. She has loved me, more than my mother ever has, and I have taken it for granted, as children do. But now, in this new awareness brought on by the prospect of my imminent death, I see that I have truly been blessed in my nurse. And I realize that the prospect of losing me is tearing at her very soul. I would go to her, if I could, and comfort her, but I dare not; if I did, I should fall apart in misery and fear.

  “I’ll get you a hot posset,” she sniffs, and leaves the room.

  Much later, in the small hours, when the whole household is abed, I sit wakeful at my desk. I cannot sleep, so turbulent are my thoughts, nor do I want to. Soon, I will be asleep for all eternity. I must not waste these last hours on earth.

  I fall to my knees and pray as I have never prayed before.

  “Help me!” I beg. “Help me! I am a poor, desolate soul, overwhelmed with sorrows, vexed with temptations, and grievously tormented by my long imprisonment.”

  It dawns on me that I will never again know freedom, never see another summer’s day or walk in a garden, never again see my parents or my sisters—at least, not in this life. I pray for them, for God to comfort them when I am taken from them; and I ask Him to forgive my parents for their unkindnesses to me. I confess to Him that I have not always been a dutiful daughter and crave forgiveness for myself also.

  I ask too for God to sustain me during my last days.

  “O Father, please help me to put away worldly things, and to realize that they have no value. Help me to put my trust in You, so that when the time comes, I shall not falter.”

  Steeling myself, I visualize the moment of my death, I kneeling and the ax swiftly descending. Will I feel anything of the heavy blow? Or, worse, after it? I remember Mrs. Tilney telling me that, when Anne Boleyn’s head was held up by the executioner, her lips and eyes were seen to move. Please, God, I pray, let me not know anything about it! Let me be dispatched instantaneously into the next world. Grant that the headsman has a steady hand. And grant me, O Lord, the strength to lay myself down on the block without shrinking. I do not wish to make a public spectacle of myself. I must die well and not let my House down.

  I am tortured by thoughts of what lies ahead for me, but I will not give way to tears. What good would they do me? I must put all my trust in God.

  When I have prayed so long that my knees are stiff, I sit in my chair and read my Bible, gaining great comfort from its eternal truths and ancient wisdom. It is four o’clock before I retire to bed, and it is only now, as I lie wakeful, that I begin to wonder what made the Queen change her mind.

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 8TH FEBRUARY 1554

  In the morning, there is a visitor for me. I am disconcerted to find a Catholic priest waiting in the parlor. The old man smiles as I enter, and his still-handsome face lights up with an unco
mmon radiance. Against my will, I find myself drawn to him.

  “Good day, my daughter. I am Dr. Richard Feckenham, Abbot of Westminster. The Queen has sent me here to speak with you.”

  “Forgive me, Dr. Feckenham, but I am of the reformed faith. I do not see what we could have to say to each other.”

  “Please hear me out.”

  I sit down. “Out of courtesy I will hear you, sir, but please remember that I die tomorrow. I have but little time, and many things to do.”

  “You could have all the time in the world.”

  “What do you mean?” I am startled.

  “I mean that you have it in your power to save yourself from execution. That is why I am here.”

  “To save myself?” I whisper in awe. “What must I do?”

  “You must convert to the Catholic faith. The Queen offers you a reprieve in return for your soul and the prospect of eternal salvation.”

  I cannot speak for a moment. I am desperately fighting with my conscience. I do so long to live!

  “This is a most refined form of torture,” I say at length with some severity. “To offer me an earthly life in return for depriving me of the means to attain eternal life. I cannot accept.”

  “Do not be so hasty to throw your life away. Think on it—for more than fifteen hundred years countless men and women, many of greater intelligence and understanding than you, have followed the true faith. Were they wrong? Are they damned for all eternity just because one man, Martin Luther, comes along and denies some of the tenets of that faith? You know your Bible, I am sure, and you must know that Our Lord appointed St. Peter to be His vicar on earth. How then can you, a mere child, deny the authority of the Pope, who is St. Peter’s successor and the ultimate and true authority on matters of religion?”

  “I can and do deny it. How can you accept that a piece of bread and a cup of wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ? It is against all reason.”

 
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