Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “Yet you accept, my lady, that Our Lord rose from the dead, and that too is against all human reasoning. Jesus Christ did not ask us to find rational explanations—He enjoined us to have faith. Those are two very different things.” The priest sighs. “I can see us going round and round in circles, and your time is precious. Use it wisely, I beg of you. I accept that you have your own convictions, even though I know you are sadly in error. Would you at least promise to think over what I have said? Death is a very terrible thing at your age—and you have everything to live for. Believe me, God does not need your soul yet. You are young, and youth is dogmatic. An old man such as I has learned to question his convictions. I will go now, but promise me that you will think it over.”

  “I will, Dr. Feckenham, if only because, however misguided, you mean to be kind to me. But I do not think I will change my mind.”

  “Then I pray that God will change it for you,” says the Abbot as he rises to take his leave.

  Queen Mary

  WHITEHALL PALACE, 8TH FEBRUARY 1554

  Dr. Feckenham has come straight to me from the Tower.

  “What did the Lady Jane say?” I ask apprehensively.

  “She is an obstinate girl, madam, but a very brave one. I was most impressed with her. Not once did she falter or break down during our conversation, though I could see that the prospect of life was most pleasing to her.”

  “Yet she will not abjure her heresy?”

  “Not yet, madam. I need more time, and so does she. If you would, of your clemency, grant a three-day stay of execution, I think I might make some progress with her.”

  “I pray God you do,” the Queen says with feeling. “I do not want to send an innocent child to the scaffold.”

  Lady Jane Dudley

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 8TH FEBRUARY 1554

  I am at my prayers again.

  “Deliver me from temptation!” I beg. “I so desire to live, and my flesh shrinks from the ax, yet I know I could never embrace the Roman religion. I pray that I might not deny Thee, O my God. Be unto me a strong tower of defense. Suffer me not to be tempted above my power. I beseech Thee, let me stand fast!”

  I am interrupted by a knocking noise and shouts from outside. I stand up, feeling a little dizzy, for I was unable to face breakfast this morning. Looking out, I can see some workmen unloading timber from a cart, while others are hammering nails into planks laid out on Tower Green.

  They are building a scaffold for me, I realize. It is another jolt into reality. I begin trembling, fighting down the rising panic. I must not, I must not lose control.

  All afternoon the banging and clattering go on. It is impossible to pray or read, so I go downstairs and sit with Mrs. Partridge in the kitchen at the back of the house. Where once she would have welcomed me warmly, this good woman is now awkward in my company, but there is something I have to ask her.

  “Mrs. Partridge,” I say, looking directly into her eyes, “do you know why the Queen has suddenly ordered my execution?” Mrs. Partridge’s obvious discomfiture tells me that she does know, so I go on, “It is bad enough having to die, but far worse not knowing why. The Queen had promised me a pardon. Why did she change her mind?”

  Mrs. Partridge is reluctant to say anything, but at length I coax from her the truth.

  “It was your father. He was one of the leaders in the late rebellion. He meant to make you Queen again.”

  Understanding dawns. I see now why the Queen considers me a danger. I, who would not willingly harm a hair on Her Majesty’s head. It is my own father who has done this, and I who am to pay the price of his folly and treachery. I am appalled, and nothing that Mrs. Partridge may say can comfort me. I weep for a long time.

  Presently, when the workmen have laid down their tools and gone home, I go upstairs, not daring to look out the window. I do not want to see the scaffold they have built. Besides, I have farewell letters to write to my family and friends and must put myself in the right frame of mind.

  “Live to die,” I exhort my sister Katherine.

  Deny the world, deny the Devil, and despise the flesh. Rejoice at my death, as I do, for I shall be delivered from corruption and will put on the mantle of incorruption. Farewell, dear sister. Put your sole trust in God, Who only must uphold you.

  Your loving sister, Jane.

  Early in the evening, Dr. Feckenham returns with the news that my execution has been postponed until Monday.

  “Her Majesty desires that you have more time in which to consider your conversion. Again, she promises you mercy if you will agree to it.” He looks surprised to see me so dismayed.

  “Alas, sir, it was not my desire to prolong my days. I was prepared to die tomorrow. As for death itself, I utterly despise it, and Her Majesty’s pleasure being such, I willingly undergo it. I assure you, my time on earth has been so odious to me that I long for death.”

  The Abbot looks deeply moved. Surely he cannot feel so distressed at the prospect of someone dying? After all, a Christian is supposed to rejoice when a soul goes home to God, as I am trying to do myself. Yet he looks as if he is on the verge of weeping.

  “I have another suggestion to make,” he says. “Believe me, I understand your doubts—”

  “I have no doubts!”

  “My lady, I am doing my very best to help you save your life, and your soul. Will you not hear me out?”

  “I beg your pardon,” I say, suddenly humbled. “Pray go on.”

  Dr. Feckenham smiles at me. “It has occurred to me that it might be helpful to set up a debate between yourself and some Catholic scholars and churchmen, here, in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. You could hear their arguments, make answer yourself, and with God’s grace you might even be persuaded to change your mind.”

  “I doubt that. Dr. Feckenham, it would be a waste of my valuable time. Such a disputation might be fit for the living, but not for the dying. Please leave me alone to make my peace with God.”

  The Abbot takes my hands in his and looks deep into my eyes. In his, in this moment, I see a compassion and understanding rare in a human being, and my resolve weakens.

  “I beg of you, give yourself this last chance. I beseech you. You have everything to lose—and all to gain. Just think, if you were wrong in your beliefs, would it not be a terrible thing to die for them, and to die in error?”

  “All right, Dr. Feckenham,” I agree, capitulating. “Set up your debate. I will attend, if it pleases you.”

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 9TH FEBRUARY 1554

  Under guard, I walk back from the chapel with Dr. Feckenham, averting my eyes from the scaffold on which I will certainly die on Monday. Inside, I am rejoicing that I have remained true to myself and strong in my beliefs. It was a trial I could have done without at this time, for I was calm in my faith and needed no tempests to disturb me. They tried to put doubts in my mind and break my resolve, and every time I refuted their arguments, I was aware I was being an advocate of my own death. But I was given the strength to hold fast to the truth, and for that I am truly thankful.

  The old priest’s face is infinitely sad. Alone of my inquisitors, he was gentle with me. But he failed to move me, and he looks as if that failure will haunt him for the rest of his life.

  It is I who break the silence as we near the Gentleman Gaoler’s house, where the Abbot must take his leave of me forever. There are tears in my eyes once more. “I weep, sir, because we shall never meet again. Not on this earth, nor even in Heaven, unless God turns your heart.”

  Choked with grief, he lays his hand on mine.

  “I have one request, my lady. Might I accompany you to the scaffold?”

  I am immediately suspicious. “Has the Queen commanded it?” I want no last-minute attempts at conversion, not at that time.

  “No, madam. I myself humbly request it. I cannot go with you all the way on your journey, but I would go as far as I might.”

  Such kindness disarms me; it is almost too much to bear. He is a truly good man, for
all his wrongheaded religious convictions.

  “Of course you may,” I say warmly.

  He is suddenly brisk again, clearly desperate that I shall not see how moved he is and give way myself.

  “You must go in, my daughter. I am sure you have much to do.”

  “Yes, indeed.” I blink back tears. “I have not finished my farewell letters, and I must dispose of my few poor possessions. Then there is the matter of a gown for—for Monday. It should be black, but mine are somewhat worn.”

  “My lady, for your virtue and goodness, God would receive you in rags,” Dr. Feckenham blurts out. “Farewell.”

  He turns abruptly and walks away. Shortly afterward, in the privacy of my room, I give way to my terrible distress. Then, when I can cry no more, I force myself to get up and attend to practical matters.

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 10TH FEBRUARY 1554

  “Your father is here in the Tower!” cries Mrs. Ellen, coming into my chamber. “He has been discovered and brought here under arrest.”

  “What happened?” I ask, catching my breath.

  “After the rebellion, your father fled to Bradgate, where he snatched up a few possessions before going to ground. But the hue and cry was out, and it was not long before the Earl of Huntingdon—”

  “Who was once his friend.”

  “Yes,” she says simply. “Not anymore, evidently. The Earl discovered him hiding in a hollow tree trunk at Astley Park in Warwickshire. He was very disheveled, frozen stiff, and ravenous with hunger. Then the soldiers came.”

  “Where is he being held?”

  “Mrs. Partridge wouldn’t say.”

  “Perhaps it is as well. They will not let me see him, and anyway, it would be painful to both of us. He will not escape the Queen’s justice this time. He is doomed, just as I am.”

  “He has deserved it,” Mrs. Ellen cries bitterly.

  My feelings for my father are ambivalent. I owe him the duty of a daughter, but it is his actions that have brought me to this extremity, and I am struggling to suppress my anger and pain at his reckless stupidity and his callous indifference to its consequences for me. But I cannot go to my death with hatred and resentment in my heart, so I am constraining myself to forgiveness.

  I have mixed feelings, therefore, when my father sends me a message expressing his remorse for what he has done, and craving my absolution. Sir John Bridges has authorized this letter and tells me that I might send a reply if I so wish, although it must not be sealed.

  Remembering my Christian duty, I take pity on my father, who also faces death and must die with such dreadful sins on his conscience. To bring him to an awareness of the health of his soul, I cannot help reminding him, in charity, of why I am to die. I write:

  Father,

  Although it has pleased God to hasten my death by your means, by whom my life should have been lengthened, yet I can so patiently take it that I yield God thanks for shortening my woeful days. I count myself blessed that, washing my hands with my innocence, my guiltless blood may cry before Almighty God.

  Reading this over, I think it sounds a little harsh, so I end on a gentler note:

  The Lord continue to keep you, that at the last we may meet in Heaven.

  Your obedient daughter till death, Jane.

  After Sir John has taken this letter, I am overcome with remorse: I should be comforting my father, not castigating him. The hours left to us on earth are too short for recriminations, and I must go to God with a heart cleansed of bitterness. Therefore, in my old prayer book, which once belonged to my grandmother Mary Tudor, and which I have decided to carry with me to the scaffold, I write a second message to my father:

  The Lord comfort Your Grace. Though it has pleased God to take away two of your children, think not that you have lost them, but trust that we, by losing this mortal life, have won an immortal life. I, for my part, as I have honored Your Grace in this life, will pray for you in another life.

  When the Lieutenant next visits me, which he does twice a day now to see if I have all I need, I ask him to ensure that my prayer book is delivered to my father after my death.

  He looks at what I have written.

  “Very proper, very fitting,” he says, then clears his throat. “Madam, I wonder—might I also crave some small remembrance of you?” His eyes convey far more than he is able to say.

  I cast around, then pick up the velvetbound prayer book given to me by Guilford.

  “You may have this, Sir John. I will inscribe it for you.” And I write:

  There is a time to be born and a time to die, and the day of our death is better than the day of our birth.

  Yours, as the Lord knows, a true friend.

  Sir John reads my words. He cannot speak. He nods his thanks and leaves me.

  Fighting back the ever-ready tears, I sit down to compose the speech that I must make from the scaffold. It must not be too long, for it will be a cold morning and I must not be seen to be delaying the execution. Nor must I appear to criticize the Queen or the sentence against me in any way: to do so might lead to the confiscation of my family’s property—if there is any left of it, I think grimly. My father will surely be attainted and deprived of his life, titles, and possessions, and the last will all be forfeited to the Crown, leaving my mother and sisters facing penury. So I will say nothing against the Queen. Indeed, I have no cause to.

  I am writing out a fair copy of my finished speech when Sir John Bridges returns.

  “Madam, I have received a message from the council. Your husband, Guilford Dudley, has petitioned the Queen for permission to say farewell to you in person, and Her Majesty has granted his request, if you are agreeable.”

  I am already shrinking inside. I cannot cope with Guilford now. He belongs to a part of my life that I have put firmly behind me.

  “How is my husband?”

  Sir John shakes his head. “Very distressed, I fear. His jailers believe he is on the verge of collapse; he never ceases railing against what he perceives to be an unkind fate. He does not have your courage, my lady. Perhaps if you were to see him, it would calm him.”

  “No, I prefer not to. I am sorry for him, but to be truthful, I could not face it. Yet I will send him a message. Tell him I desire him, for the love of God, to omit these moments of grief, for we shall shortly behold each other in a better place. Tell him also that I shall watch from my window as he leaves for Tower Hill on Monday.”

  “I will pass on your message, madam,” the Lieutenant promises.

  After he has gone, I sink down at my desk.

  This waiting is sheer hell. It seems that every last refinement of suffering is to be my lot in these final days. Truly, I think that death, when it comes, will be welcome to me. At least I will then be at peace.

  Mrs.Ellen

  THE TOWER OF LONDON, 11TH FEBRUARY 1554

  Distraught, I weep into my pillow, as I have done every night since last Wednesday. The pillow is sodden with my grief, and I am ragged from lack of sleep. It is all I can do to restrain myself from crying aloud my agony. Instead, I toss from side to side, whimpering in torment.

  My charge, my darling child, whom I have carefully nurtured from birth as if she were my own flesh and blood, is to be butchered to death in the morning, just a few short hours from now. All that care, all that love—and I can do nothing to help her now. That she should be brought to this, to die so untimely in the most beautiful bloom of her youth—the prospect is unbearable.

  It is against Nature, this taking of a young life. At sixteen, Jane should be occupied, like most girls of her age, with domestic things; she should be mistress of her own household with at least one infant in the nursery, and a lusty husband in her bed. She should be doing all the normal things that young women of her rank do: ordering the servants, stitching her lord’s shirts, making infusions in the stillroom, supervising the nurses. Instead, her life is to come abruptly to a bloody end.

  It has been torture these past days to watch her, so slender
and pretty, with her burnished red hair and the soft bloom on her freckled skin. Those childish hands with their thin fingers holding the pen that writes such adult words. The grace of her movements, the carriage of her head, the curve of her cheek. All the things I love about my young lady, who is at an age when a girl’s looks are at their finest, when youth is urgent with the zest for life, and the future stretches endlessly ahead. Yet by this time tomorrow, my child will be in her grave.

  Was ever a condemned prisoner as innocent as this? She has not deserved this punishment. She is as good and honest as the day. It was that wicked Northumberland, and her unspeakable parents, who brought her to this. May God forgive them, for I never can. If I had my way, they would burn in Hell for all eternity. My hatred for them is like a canker, consuming me. Along with my grief and my pain, it is tearing me apart.

  So far, I have managed—just, and only by a supreme effort of will—to maintain my outward composure for Jane’s sake. My prayer now is that I will not fail her on the morrow. If I can just be strong for a few more short hours…It will be the last comfort I can offer her.

  Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

  WHITEHALL PALACE, 11TH FEBRUARY 1554

  I am in my lodging at court, lying in the arms of my young master of horse, Adrian Stokes, and crying bitter tears for my daughter, whom I am to lose forever tomorrow.

  Until last Thursday, when I heard the terrible news, my affair with Adrian, which I admit has been based purely upon lust, served as an antidote to my wild rage at my husband for his rash incrimination of Jane in his madcap schemes. But now Adrian barely exists for me. My innocent Jane is to pay the price of my husband’s treason, and he will in turn follow her to the block. Yet only one of them deserves to die. And if I could get my hands on Henry, I would kill him myself.

 
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