Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  I smile back stiffly. I do not much like this German princess with her penetrating observations. Really, she should consider well that she is speaking to the King’s own niece. But Anne suddenly grasps my arm.

  “I hope I have not offended you,” she states shrewdly. “I assure you, His Majesty has been very good to me, most generous. I am happy to be his dear sister and to stay in this lovely England.”

  I incline my head and move on, reflecting that my uncle had not exaggerated—the woman smelled awful. Do they never change their body linen in Cleves?

  I join my husband, who is deep in conversation with my cousins the Lady Mary and the Lady Margaret Douglas, who is a bridesmaid to the Queen.

  “I am sure you are pleased to see your father, the King, so happily settled,” Henry says to Mary, as I take up my position at his side.

  “It is a blessing after what happened with the others,” she replies, peering at him intensely with shortsighted eyes. Mary, at twenty-seven, is a year older than I am; but where I am strong and healthy, she is a tiny, thin woman, plagued by ill health, imagined or chronic, and whatever bloom she once had has long since dulled, blasted by tragedy and disappointment. Today, she is wearing a tawny gown of figured corded damask, its white lawn undersleeves banded with crimson velvet. Her frizzy red hair is parted severely under her French hood, and her thin fingers are fiddling anxiously with the gold prayer book that is attached by a ribbon to her girdle.

  I feel a certain pity for Mary, but I can’t help being irritated by her. She’s had a hard life, and it is true that the King treated her with great severity when he put away Katherine of Aragon, but then the wretched girl had been so stubborn, refusing to acknowledge that her mother’s marriage had been unlawful. One does not defy the King thus and get away with it, and my uncle kept her apart from her mother to teach her obedience. He would not let Mary visit Katherine, even when the old Queen was dying. Instead, Mary was proclaimed a bastard, the fruit of an incestuous union, and sent to wait on her half sister Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn’s child, who had just been born. What surprised us all was that Mary, who had been thwarted of marriage and motherhood by her debased status, quickly developed a touching affection for Elizabeth. And she was kind to her when Elizabeth, in her turn, was declared baseborn after Anne Boleyn’s fall. It is astonishing that, despite their mothers being deadly rivals, these two sisters have so much in common and are evidently devoted to each other. Furthermore, both are deeply fond of their brother, Edward.

  Neither of the King’s younger children is here today. Prince Edward, now five years old, is at Havering, and the Lady Elizabeth is at Hatfield. They are missing a merry occasion, but then I suppose that, as ever, His Majesty is fearful of them catching some contagion through overmuch contact with the court.

  As I load my plate with gilded marchpane and candied oranges from the buffet, the consort of musicians in the corner begins playing a stately pavane. But no one is dancing. Instead, there is a babel of chatter, as goblets are replenished and the courtiers circulate, regrouping as their fancy takes them. The King sits on his chair of estate, his new Queen on a stool to his right, and beckons favored courtiers in turn to converse with them. From time to time, he takes his bride’s hand, raises it to his lips, and kisses it, his blue eyes narrowing playfully in lust. For all his infirmity, there is still much of the old Adam left in my uncle, and I make no doubt that he will hasten Kate away to bed as soon as he may.

  I watch this touching byplay out of the corner of my eye, as Henry and I discuss the events of the day with the Earl of Hertford, brother to the late Queen Jane. Then I am rudely jolted back to the world of politics by his lordship’s venturing into more contentious matters.

  “You heard about the treaty, Dorset?”

  “Treaty?” Henry looks nonplussed.

  “Then you’d better keep this under your bonnet,” Hertford says, lowering his voice and leaning forward so that we can hear him. “His Majesty has just signed a treaty with the Scots providing for the betrothal of the Prince to their little Queen.”

  I am truly shaken by this. Last year, the Scottish King, James V, died, leaving as Queen of Scots his infant daughter, Mary. I was aware that my uncle had been scheming to marry her to the Prince and so unite England and Scotland under Tudor rule, and when we heard that he had sent envoys to the Scottish Queen Regent in Edinburgh to ask for her daughter’s hand, we were appalled, but I never really thought the Scots would agree to it. So this is a bitter blow to my lord and me, who have long cherished the hope that Edward would marry our Jane, and I am hard put to keep the smile on my face.

  “Of course,” says Hertford, “the Scots do not want it, but they do not have the forces to resist. It is feared, though, that the Queen Regent will try to enlist the help of the French in order to break the treaty, but she must surely know that that will mean war.”

  “She’s a woman,” my lord remarks, “and women have little judgment in such matters.” I throw him a look, but I know better than to argue with Henry in public. He can be so pig-ignorant and tactless. I might be a woman, but I’ll wager I understand more of this matter than he does. Subtlety was never his strong point.

  “When is the marriage to take place?” I inquire of Lord Hertford.

  “Not for a few years, of course. His Majesty recalls that his brother Arthur died after being married too young. It was thought that over-exertion in the marriage bed killed him. But the King will ask for the Queen of Scots to be brought to court here to be educated.”

  “And do you think the Scots will agree to that?” asks my lord.

  “They might not have a choice,” answers Hertford grimly.

  After he has moved away to join another circle of courtiers, I snatch a quick word with my husband.

  “Henry, this is terrible, I know,” I mutter, “but if we just bide our time, all might yet work out for the best. After all, the Prince is far too young to be properly wed, and there’s many a slip betwixt cup and lip.”

  My lord nods, squeezing my hand. “You can console yourself too, my dear, with the sure knowledge that royal marriage negotiations often come to nothing.”

  “I shall direct my prayers to that end,” I tell him determinedly.

  Lying in bed at night, in our lodgings here at court, I am awake, pondering the situation. My mind is in turmoil, and I reach across the coverlet for Henry’s hand.

  “Are you awake, Husband?” I whisper, squeezing it.

  “Go to sleep, Frances,” he groans, roused from the deep slumber that inevitably follows the slaking of desire.

  “No. I can’t sleep. I am lying here worrying about that treaty, and hoping that it might even now be possible to make a queen of our daughter.”

  “Leave it till the morning,” he mumbles.

  “No. Henry, you must listen. If the Prince marries the Queen of Scots, what will become of our Jane? Whom shall she marry? There will be no match as great as this.”

  Henry rolls over to face me and draws me into his arms. It is comforting to rest my cheek against his hairy chest.

  “Stop fretting, sweetheart,” he murmurs. “All shall be well, I’m sure of it. You’ll see.”

  His calm complacency irritates me, and I sit up, the better to make my point.

  “Henry, we have got to do everything in our power to frustrate the Scottish alliance. Now, will you listen to me?”

  He sighs and stretches back on the pillow.

  “All right, Frances. I’m listening.”

  “You, my lord, must remain at court. You must be a dissident voice amongst those of whom the King takes counsel. You must do your best to convince my royal uncle that the Scots are a perfidious lot who have no intention of marrying their queen to his son and giving up their sovereign independence, and that the path to the altar will almost certainly be paved with blood. Of course, His Majesty might not pay any heed, but it is worth a try. Anything is worth a try.”

  “I doubt the King will listen to me. And I was plannin
g to go up to Bradgate for the hunting season. These things have a habit of sorting themselves out.”

  “You would do better to stay here and help matters along,” I tell him firmly. “Rushing off hunting indeed, when so much is at stake. There are times when I just don’t understand you. I can’t influence the King’s council—I’m a woman. But you can. And I, for my part, will give some thought to Jane’s education. She is intelligent and able enough to benefit from an academic regime like that enjoyed by the Lady Elizabeth. And since the King has had his daughters well tutored, he would surely appreciate a similarly erudite bride for his son. I shall convey Jane to London and bring her to His Majesty’s notice. We must give her every advantage.”

  “That might not be to her advantage if this Scottish match falls through,” Henry observes. “Most men don’t want a clever wife.”

  “Nonsense! And the match we plan is not going to fall through,” I snap. “It’s your duty to make sure of that. I’ll do my part. Since you’re so concerned about Jane appearing too clever, I shall continue to instill in her the feminine virtues of modesty and obedience. Any streak of willfulness—and I know that it is there—will be beaten out of her. I shall make her, above all things, biddable and conformable to the will of her future husband. Then she will be fitted not only for the great destiny that will surely be hers, but also for any other that God wills for her, if you fail in your duty.”

  “By God, Frances, you expect too much,” Henry growls.

  “I’m doing this for all of us. Don’t tell me you do not look for the greatness this marriage will confer. You want to see our daughter a queen as much as I do. I’m relying on you, Henry. God helps those who help themselves, and with His grace, we shall bring this off, I promise you.”

  Lady Jane Grey

  WESTMINSTER, AUGUST 1543

  My parents have sent for us, and the rest of the household, to come to London to lodge at Dorset House, our town mansion by Westminster. The house, which is built around a courtyard, is at least a hundred years old, but my lord and lady have refurbished it at great cost. Now the rooms are cozy with linenfold paneling, rich hangings, and polished oak furniture, and our family coat of arms is set in glass in the windows. There are gardens round about the house, but they are small compared to those at Bradgate, which is surrounded by beautiful broad sweeps of parkland and rugged cliffs.

  Mrs. Ellen doesn’t like it here very much.

  “The air is not as healthy for you children as it is in Leicestershire,” she grumbles. “And the city of London is dirty, noisy, and overcrowded. As for Westminster—think of all the diseases that could breed in these dark, narrow streets. And some of the houses—they’re just hovels! No, it’s not a place for children, or anyone, come to that.”

  I can’t see the problem. I like it here in London. There’s so much to see and explore, so much happening, and so many new things to experience. For once I favor my mother’s views above those of my nurse, for my lady has insisted that we be taken out daily for long walks, so that we shall see the sights.

  After living in Bradgate all my life, I find this huge city overwhelming but exciting. I am fascinated by its people, the prosperous merchants and their wives, who ape their betters in their velvets and furs and gold chains; the plump clergymen and priests in their black and white robes and jeweled crucifixes, ever ready to bestow a blessing on a well-dressed child; the street vendors in their homespun and worsteds, crying their wares, and slipping me a small cake when Mrs. Ellen makes her purchases; and the beggars lying in the streets, baring their sores and stumps, crying for alms, and so grateful when I give them a penny. I’ve lost count of how many fine churches I’ve seen, how many shops I’ve looked in, how many fine bolts of material and trinkets I’ve been shown, and how many streets I’ve had to fight my way down. I’ve marveled at the King’s great palace in nearby Whitehall, the ruins of the old Palace of Westminster, which burned down years ago, the beautiful abbey dedicated to St. Peter, where all the Kings of England are crowned, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the largest building I’ve ever seen. I’ve never glimpsed so many wonders in one place.

  But today there is to be a special treat. My father is taking us to see the printing works founded by Master William Caxton about seventy years ago. My lord tells us that it used to be near Westminster Abbey, but that after his death, Master Caxton’s press was taken over by Master Wynkyn de Worde, and he moved it to premises at The Sun, by St. Bride’s Church in Fleet Street.

  This visit will be of much interest to me, for I have mastered reading and writing and discovered the pleasure that lies within the pages of a good book. I now know by heart the stories in the Book of Hours that I was given for my fourth birthday. In fact, I read anything I can get my hands on: saints’ lives; romances; histories; tales of chivalry, like those of King Arthur; or the travels of Sir John Mandeville. I devour books the way gluttons gobble their food.

  “Master Caxton,” my lord tells us, as we climb into our barge, “was the first man to print books in England. He had learned his skill in Germany and Bruges, and we have a great deal to thank him for. Without printing, there would be far fewer books for us all to enjoy.”

  Privately, I think that I have never seen my father enjoy a book. With him, it’s do as I say, not do as I do.

  “Will we see Master Caxton?” pipes up Katherine, as we alight near the house of the Carmelites below Fleet Street and begin walking up the hill.

  “Don’t be silly,” I rebuke her. She is little, and often stupid. “Master Caxton would be the oldest man in the world if we did. He died a long time ago, didn’t he, my lord?”

  My father nods. “He did indeed. He died when Henry the Seventh, your great-grandfather and the father of our present King, was still on the throne. But others now carry on his work.”

  When we enter the printing works, we are received with much bowing by Master Robert Copland, the master printer, who takes us into the main office, which has brick arches set into the walls, and mullioned windows. He shows us the giant wooden presses, which are attached by battens to the ceiling, and demonstrates how they work. He lets us handle small lumps of antimony, the silvery metal that is melted in molds to make the letters.

  “No other metal gives such a sharp casting,” Master Copland explains. “But don’t put it near your mouths, my ladies—it’s poisonous.”

  Katherine and I are allowed to put some of the ready-cast letters in place in the galleys, the metal frames on which the text is set out, wiping our inky fingers afterward.

  “All the letters have to be exactly the same size and height,” Master Copland tells us. “Otherwise, some of them won’t show up on the page.”

  I notice that my father is looking bored, and when Master Copland takes us into a large room with shelves, on which are stacked hundreds and hundreds of books, my lord is stifling a yawn.

  “Most of these were printed by Master Wynkyn,” Master Copland says, as my father’s eyes glaze over with boredom. “He printed no fewer than six hundred titles. We also have here some woodcuts made by that master printer.” He hands us loose sheets of paper on which are printed scenes from The Golden Legend and The Canterbury Tales. “And here we have first editions of several of the books printed by Master Caxton himself. Please feel free to take them off the shelf and look at them, my ladies.”

  My father is no longer looking bored, I notice. He has found some rather naughty woodcuts showing fat ladies with naked breasts.

  “My lord,” says Master Copland, “I should count myself honored if you would accept this small token of our esteem. May I present you with this treatise on hunting, The Master of Game, which was written by no less a personage than Prince Edward, Duke of York, who was killed at the Battle of Agincourt, more than a century ago.”

  My father’s smile betrays his genuine delight in the gift, and his words of thanks are warm. Master Copland could not have chosen anything better calculated to give him pleasure, for hunting is my father’s chief pa
ssion in life.

  “Look at this, my lady,” says the printer. A history of Troy, in a beautiful binding, is placed in my hands. “This is the first book ever printed in England. It is very precious.” There are other first editions too, The Game and Play of the Chess, The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which I already know and love, and some books by a man called Cicero, which are new to me. Katherine wants to look at them too, but she is interested only in the pictures. Me, I want to read on, to escape into worlds of wonder as yet undiscovered.

  Master Copland is watching me, beaming. He takes another volume off the shelf.

  “This is for you, my lady.” He smiles, presenting it to me with a bow. “I can see that you will enjoy it.”

  I look at the frontispiece. It is a new copy of The Golden Legend. I am in raptures.

  “I thank you, sir,” I say, as my father looks on with approval. “This will give me much pleasure.”

  Katherine is looking a little put out.

  “And for my little lady,” continues the master, “some letters.” He places a box of printing blocks in her hands. She stares at them.

  “Your manners, Katherine!” barks my lord.

  “I thank you, sir,” she lisps.

  “That’s better. Now perhaps you will have some incentive to learn your letters.”

  “I hope your lordship will one day do us the honor of bringing the young ladies to visit our shop in Paul’s Churchyard,” says Master Copland. “We have many excellent books on sale there.”

  “I will do that, sir,” says my father, ushering us out of the works. “Thank you, and good day.” All too soon the visit is over. As we walk back past the White Friars, I clutching my precious book, Katherine is skipping by my side, chattering away. She’s three now, and pretty, with blue eyes and a fair face that is unmarked by freckles. I do wish that Mrs. Ellen could find a remedy for my freckles, and that I was pretty like Katherine. Katherine is not like me: she prefers to play with her dolls or ride her hobbyhorse rather than look at books or attend to learning the letters on her hornbook. Mrs. Ellen gets quite cross with her at times.

 
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