Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  We are teetering on the edge of dangerous ground. I deem it best to say nothing, and the moment passes.

  “I must constrain him to be more of a spectator than a participant,” Henry continues. “Which is sad, because he is capable of so much, and he resents the caution imposed on him. He rides well already, but I can only permit him to exercise his skills on the most docile of mounts. He is eager to learn swordsmanship, and there is no avoiding the fact that he must be taught the craft of strategy in war. I know that one day this boy will command both an army and a navy, and that some practical experience is essential, but I have a mortal dread of some mishap befalling him. At the same time, I remain aware that all princes should become proficient in martial exercises. Truly, Kate, I am in a serious dilemma.”

  There is no easy answer. I watch the jostling, shrieking group of little boys and feel a wave of compassion for the redheaded one who must bear such a burden on his slender shoulders.

  “There is one thing at least that I can do for him,” Henry is saying. “He is six now and has been too long among the women. He must not grow soft and womanish. It is time for him to be given over wholly to the governance of men.”

  I am struck with a further pang for the little boy who lost his mother at birth. He has grown into a self-contained child who rarely smiles and is too conscious of his exalted position and the great destiny awaiting him. I resolve to do my best to help choose a kindly and diligent tutor, who will be gentle with the Prince and instill in him a love of learning.

  Over the next few weeks several doctors are considered for this coveted post. I am allowed to be present when the King interviews them, and afterward we discuss their comparative merits.

  “What is your opinion, Kate?” Henry asks.

  “I think the choice is between two men, sir. Dr. Richard Cox and Dr. John Cheke.”

  He gives me a suspicious look. “But both are Cambridge men, Kate, and Cambridge, I fear, is infested with men holding extreme reformist views, or even adhering to the vile tenets of Martin Luther. Do you think there is any danger of Dr. Cox or Dr. Cheke holding such heretical opinions?”

  It is my secret hope, but of course I dare not say so. I suspect that they do; as the King says, Cambridge is notorious for breeding such men.

  “I know nothing of such things, sir, and I have certainly never heard anything ill said about these two excellent doctors. I would not have had them summoned here if I had nourished such concerns.”

  “Then I shall rely on your judgment, Kate,” he says, caressing my cheek with a plump, beringed finger.

  “Indeed, sir, I am sure you will not regret it. The scholarly reputations of these two doctors are such that we could not let such an opportunity slip.”

  “Exactly my view, Kate! I’ll engage them both.”

  Inwardly, I congratulate myself. But if he were ever to suspect…I dare not think of what the consequences would be. I should, of course, plead my ignorance.

  We then spend an enjoyable few hours with Dr. Cox and Dr. Cheke planning the curriculum that the Prince will follow. It is decided that the emphasis will initially be on reading, writing, mathematics, theology, grammar, and astrology. Edward is an intelligent child, and I have no doubt that he will make rapid progress and delight his father. Above all, I am relieved to discover that both his masters prefer to coax children into a love of learning rather than to beat it into them.

  Secretly I hope that, unbeknown to the King, there might also be another learning process going apace, and that these good doctors will consider it no less than their conscientious duty to open young Edward’s mind surreptitiously to there being more ways to God than that officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church of England.

  Lady Jane Grey

  GREENWICH PALACE, OCTOBER 1544

  It’s a beautiful, crisp autumn day, and we are sailing along the Thames from Dorset House to Greenwich Palace. The morning sun bathes the city of London in a golden glow, and the spires of a hundred churches point reverently upward toward Heaven. On the river, the stink of the capital is mercifully diluted, and the city rises imposing and majestic beyond the wide banks. You get the best views of London from the river.

  I am going to court to see the Queen herself. I am both brimming with excitement and quaking with trepidation. I fear that my eagle-eyed mother, waiting for us at the palace, will miss no dereliction of manners or deportment.

  Mrs. Ellen sits with me in the open cabin of my parents’ stately barge. We are both fighting losing battles to stay upright on the well-stuffed cushions of Florentine velvet, as the barge sways drunkenly in the strong current. Above us is a wooden canopy hung with blue satin curtains, which are tied back today to enable us to take advantage of the brisk breeze. I would far rather be sitting on one of the oarsmen’s benches, trailing my fingers in the water, but I am a marquess’s daughter, so it is out of the question.

  Mrs. Ellen and I are both dressed in our best. She says I look fine in my court gown of sage-green silk with oversleeves of marten and a matching French hood trimmed with gold braid, but the tautly laced bodice is cruelly tight and my velvet veil so heavy that it threatens to overbalance my headdress, which I clutch desperately in the wind. My nurse is plainly dressed in good black silk.

  For all my discomfort, I am so happy, for the Queen, freed at last from the heavy duty of acting as Regent of England while the King was away fighting the French, has found leisure to advise on my education and has asked my mother to have me brought to court.

  We have come five miles down the Thames, and now we see before us the sprawling palace of Greenwich, with its steep roofs and its river frontage faced in glowing red brick. It is an awe-inspiring sight. I stare at the great towers, the endless expanse of glittering oriel windows that reflect the sun’s brilliance, the sheer mightiness of it all. This is a truly magnificent place.

  We alight at the royal stairs. A groom in red livery embroidered with the initials HR escorts us to the privy lodgings. We pass undreamed-of splendors: colorful, fragrant gardens, waterfalls, shady arbors, decorative railings, and painted poles bearing heraldic beasts enclosing tamed flower beds, magnificent galleries with antique plaster friezes of cherubs and goddesses, fine portraits and framed maps, lofty state rooms rich with Italian tapestries and Turkish carpets—I cannot take it all in, cannot believe there could be such luxury. Everywhere is a riot of jeweled colors, and the heaving mass of courtiers in their sumptuous peacock fabrics press on every side, hoping for a glimpse, a word, or—most prized of all—some mark of patronage from the King, my great-uncle.

  The palace is a busy place, crammed with people waiting hopefully in antechambers, or hurrying here and there on important business. There are guards in the green and white Tudor livery at every doorway; pensive or frowning men in long, furred gowns and black bonnets, who stand deep in serious conversation and move aside impatiently to let us pass; dark-robed clerics carrying armfuls of parchment scrolls or weighty ledgers; dubious-looking, furtive urchins, who probably have no business being here; and, occasionally, a fashionably dressed lady sailing haughtily past, maid in tow.

  One thing intrigues me as we hasten along behind the groom. I have noticed that, in all the courtyards, someone has painted red crosses at intervals along the walls.

  “Why has this been done, sir?” I ask our guide.

  He grins. “Well, my lady, it’s been done in the hope that no man would think of pissing on such a holy symbol.” I feel my cheeks burn and wish I had kept my mouth shut, especially since we have now traversed several of the royal apartments and are only a door or so away from the Queen.

  A gentleman ushers us into Queen Katherine’s presence chamber, where there are more crowds of people waiting to present petitions, beg favors, or just gawp at Her Majesty in all her glory, should she deign to make an appearance. Pushing through the throng and opening a farther door with a flourish, the gentleman informs us that only privileged persons are allowed beyond this room to the privy chamber. Ho
w extraordinary it is that I, a humble child, should be honored above all those gorgeous and important-looking lords and ladies, who are jealously staring at us as we pass.

  The great door closes behind us, and at the far end of an airy, flower-adorned apartment stands a red velvet throne on a dais beneath a fine canopy of estate. There sits Queen Katherine, her ladies standing on either side. I espy my mother among them, tall and haughty in crimson satin slashed with gold. I feel her hawklike eyes upon me, constraining me to conduct myself with the dignity due to my status. Gravely, eyes cast down, with Mrs. Ellen following several paces behind, I advance toward the throne with as much grace as I can muster, then spread my skirts and execute a perfect curtsy, bowing my head demurely.

  “Rise, child,” says a kindly, musical voice, and I lift my head to see the Queen smiling at me with great warmth. In truth, I have rarely seen such kind eyes as the ones that are now twinkling in that homely, yet regal face, and I cannot help returning the smile.

  “Why, your lady mother has been overmodest in her accounts of you,” declares the Queen. “You are a very pretty girl, Jane. Is she not, ladies? And eager to begin your studies, I hear.”

  “Yes, Your Majesty,” I say. My mother’s eyes are boring into me.

  “Well then,” continues Katherine Parr, “you must come and sit by me and hear the good news I have to impart.” She indicates a stool at her feet, and I gingerly settle myself on it, trying to keep my back straight. The Queen does her best to put me at ease, admiring my gown and stroking my hair and cheek. I did not expect the Queen of England to fuss over me in the same way that only my devoted Mrs. Ellen does, and I am not sure how to react, so I sit stiff and unresponsive to Her Majesty’s caresses and listen to her speaking of the Lady Elizabeth and Prince Edward, and how well they are progressing at their lessons.

  “And now, since you are seven years old and quite a young lady,” she continues, “it is time for you to begin your proper studies. Your lady mother and I have given much thought to the matter, and I have by good chance found a tutor for you. His name is Dr. Harding, and he is from the University of Cambridge, like Dr. Cox and Dr. Cheke, who both teach the Prince. Dr. Harding is an amiable man, and very well learned, and I am sure you will like him.”

  I cannot speak my gratitude. The words will not come. I am overwhelmed by the Queen’s kindness and care for me. Belatedly, as I open my mouth to thank her, I feel a vicious nudge in my back from my mother’s knee. How can she think that I will forget my manners? Does she not realize that I am nervous?

  “I am most grateful to Your Majesty,” I say in a hurry. But the Queen is looking at my mother with a slight frown. I realize that she has espied that nudge. She turns to me, leans forward, and pats my arm.

  “Do not be afraid, little one,” she murmurs. “I am sure you will do very well, and I will watch over your progress. Dr. Harding will report personally to me.” So saying, she looks at my mother, and her gaze is no longer so kind.

  The Queen calls for refreshments to be served and leads us into a small adjoining chamber, beautifully paneled in oak, where a cozy fire crackles on the hearth. On the walls are portraits of the King and a lady in a gable hood, and by the fire sit two ladies, who rise as Her Highness enters.

  “Please be seated,” says the Queen warmly. “We can dispense with ceremony here. My Lady Mary, may I present to you your cousin, Lady Jane Grey.”

  I curtsy before an old, short, stick-thin personage in a gaudy purple satin gown bedecked with jewels and a large rosary. The hair beneath the pearled hood is red and wavy, and her face is blunted with a snub nose and a pursed mouth.

  “You are welcome, Cousin,” says the Lady Mary. I am surprised by her voice, which is deep, like a man’s. I venture a polite smile, but the gray eyes are sad and unresponsive.

  “And my Lady Elizabeth,” the Queen is saying, “meet your younger cousin.”

  Elizabeth seems friendly, but she is more like a grown woman than a girl of eleven. She has a pointed chin, a sharp nose, and black, piercing eyes that hint of mischief. Her rose-pink gown shows off a slender figure, and her beautiful hands, with their long, tapering fingers, are posed affectedly against her wide skirts. She too has the Tudor red hair, and I am gratified to see that she has a sprinkling of freckles on her hooked nose. I am not the only one cursed with them.

  We smile at each other as the Queen picks up Elizabeth’s sewing from the chair.

  “The Lady Elizabeth has been stitching a cambric shirt for her brother the Prince,” she says, beaming, “although I have a faint suspicion that she does not much care for needlework.”

  Elizabeth laughs. “Your Majesty is very perceptive! It is a terrible chore to me. I would rather read a history book or be at my translations.”

  “But you are so good with your needle,” protests the Queen.

  “I told you, I hate it.”

  “You see how willful she is.” Katherine smiles. I am amazed at the easy familiarity between them. I would never dare jest like that with my mother, or even with Mrs. Ellen. Even to hint that I have no liking for my tasks would be considered a crime to be severely punished. I glance at my lady, but she is, astonishingly, laughing along with the rest.

  A maid of honor enters, bearing wine and comfits. The banter continues.

  “Now, Elizabeth, do not be greedy,” says the Queen. “Our guests should be served first.” Elizabeth pulls a wry face and sits down. Stools are drawn up by the fire, and we help ourselves from the buffet. The Queen seats herself in a high-backed, carved chair and bids me sit on the stool next to her. She sips her wine.

  “You shall show me how well you read,” she commands, taking a book from a table. It is my favorite: Sir Thomas Malory’s tales of King Arthur. The Queen opens it and places it in my hands. Seated upright, taking care still to keep my back straight, I read aloud in a voice that sounds surprisingly steady and clear, doing my best to put expression into the passage.

  Engrossed in the story unfolding before me, and concentrating so hard on pronouncing long words correctly, I do not at first notice the door opening, and only when all present rise to their feet do I realize a splendidly dressed old man has entered the room. He is a big person, almost as broad as he is tall, and leans heavily on a stick. His coat is of cloth of gold trimmed with fur; his fingers are laden with rings. Everything about him bespeaks magnificence, but I can see the bulge of bandages under his tight white hose.

  The ladies sink into deep reverences, skirts billowing, and I realize just that little bit too late that this must be my great-uncle the King, who looks so much older than in his portraits, so I do likewise, praying he has not noticed my tardiness.

  “Rise, ladies, be seated,” he commands in a high, imperious voice. “Well, Kate, you have a merry party here. Who is the young lady who reads so eloquently?”

  He beams down at me as he stumps across the room to the chair that the Queen has vacated.

  “Sir, this is your very own great-niece, the Lady Jane Grey, daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Dorset,” the Queen tells him in her soothing, musical way.

  “Then, Frances, I congratulate you on your daughter,” the King says to my mother. “This is a fine girl you have.” He turns to me. “How old are you now, Jane?”

  “I am seven, sir,” I tell him, as steadily as I can, for I am abashed to speak to such a great personage.

  “You’re small for your age,” he observes. I wince inwardly until he adds, “But pretty for all that.”

  “The girls in my husband’s family have their growth spurt late, Your Majesty,” my mother tells him. My ears prick up—I have never heard this before. “She is little, but she will grow.”

  My uncle chucks me under the chin affectionately.

  “She’s a true Tudor, and no mistaking it!” he exclaims, and my lady visibly preens with pride. I relax with relief. I have made a good impression on the King, and she must be pleased with me.

  His Majesty greets his daughters, raising
them from their curtsies and kissing them.

  “I see you are kept busy at your needlework, Elizabeth,” he says. She forbears to tell him how much she dislikes it, but smiles sweetly. “How is your Latin progressing?”

  “I am reading Cicero, sir,” she tells him proudly. “I have the book here. It is De Finibis Bonorum et Malorum. Would Your Majesty like me to read a passage?”

  The King nods approvingly.

  “Quamquam,” she begins, “si plane sic verterem Platonem aut Aristotelem, ut verterunt nostri poetae fabulas, male, credo, mererer de meis civibus, si ad eorum cognitionem divina illa ingenia transferrem, sed id neque feci adhuc nec mihi tamen, ne faciam, interdictum puto.”

  I watch in admiration, wishing I could be as clever as the Lady Elizabeth, and that I could fully understand what she was saying.

  The King is pulling a face. “Gloriosus inveteratus turdus!” he retorts, at which everyone begins laughing. Noticing my bewilderment, he leans forward and chucks me again under the chin. “It means ‘pompous old thrush,’” he tells me, grinning.

  “Bene loqueris,” says Elizabeth. “Well said!” And that has us all giggling.

  The King turns his attention to the Lady Mary. “How is your health, Daughter?”

  “I fear I have been plagued by headaches again, sir.”

  “You are taking the powders I had made up for you?”

  “Yes, sir. And I am feeling a little better.”

  “Excellent. Now perhaps I can cheer you up further.” The King’s face grows impish. “Would you ladies blush to hear a naughty jest? Nothing too coarse, mind you, just a clever joke to put a smile on your faces.”

  “By all means, my lord,” says the Queen, smiling.

  The King grows confidential. “How, then, can you tell if a traitor is well hung?”

  There are bursts of giggles from the women. I can’t see the joke, and the Lady Mary’s face is a puzzled blank.

 
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