A Dangerous Inheritance interweaves the stories of two lesser-known historical figures who lived 100 years or so apart: Katherine Grey, little sister of the famous Nine Days’ Queen Jane Grey; and Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III. One woman stands to inherit the English throne; the other finds that throne casts a long shadow on her happiness.
We have all heard of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen executed by Queen Mary Tudor, but rarely told is the heartbreaking story of her sister, Katherine. Upon her sister Jane’s death in 1554 Katherine became second in line to throne of England after Elizabeth Tudor. But of course, there was plenty of controversy about Elizabeth’s right to that throne because she became illegitimate when her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed. Many thought Katherine had a more legitimate claim (as the eldest surviving grandchild of Henry VIII’s sister Mary), which made her a serious threat to Elizabeth’s right to inherit it. Elizabeth had good reasons not to like Katherine. When she became Queen her animosity took on a vicious slant.
Weir portrays Katherine as a pretty, impulsive young thing, who secretly (sometimes not so secretly) covets the throne. She marries for love without Elizabeth’s knowledge and consent, which is treason. When Elizabeth discovers Katherine is pregnant (with a Tudor heir, possibly a male heir) she locks up Katherine and her husband Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford in the Tower, separated from each other and the world at large. A sympathetic jailer allows them to visit, with the result that Katherine bore two children in the Tower (infuriating Elizabeth). Katherine lived out most of her married life in captivity. Elizabeth I is almost never portrayed as an antagonist, and too many novelists gloss over her spiteful, jealous side. Not Weir. I’m not sure I’ve read another novel in which Elizabeth I is portrayed as such a petty tyrant. I liked it, it felt true.
The other dangerous inheritance is to be the daughter of a usurper, which was the fate of Kate Plantagenet, the bastard daughter of Richard III. In 1483, Kate travels to London for her cousin’s coronation only to see her father crowned King instead. She learns her cousins—the Prince of Wales and his younger brother the Duke of York—have disappeared from the Tower of London. Kate tries to discover their fate. It is an uneasy time for Kate, who sees her father become harder, more ruthless and more political. To broaden his power base Richard marries her to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, leaving her broken-hearted at the loss of her true love, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. When Richard III is killed at the Battle of Bosworth, Pembroke pledges his loyalty to Henry Tudor and Katherine goes from political asset to liability. Moreover, Henry Tudor, now Henry VII, believes she may know the fate of the Princes in the Tower. In the new Tudor-era, Kate risks her reputation and freedom to support the remaining Yorkists who would overthrow Henry VII.
The glue that holds the stories of these two characters together is the fate of the Princes in the Tower, which Kate tries to uncover during her father’s reign. Katherine Grey, sixty years later, finds Kate’s notes on the disappearance and takes up the thread of the mystery. I enjoyed the unique way in which Weir wove the stories of Katherine and Kate, drawing on the similarities in their stories. Both are torn from their true loves; both are persecuted for their proximity to the throne, both die…well, I’ll not spoil the story further.
I’ve never read anything by Alison Weir I didn’t like, and A Dangerous Inheritance is no exception. She remains one of my favorite authors, as you might be able to tell from my reviews below: