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The Virgin's Daughter


“I shall have here but one mistress and no master!”

Elizabeth Regina

January, 1562

Whitehall Palace

The queen’s voice raged above the din of smashing crockery as Lady Katherine Grey sped through the presence chamber toward the royal apartment just beyond. She stopped and pressed a hand to her painful side, catching her breath. Though fragrant Christmas boughs of yew and laurel, draped with holly and bright with red berries, hung everywhere, all the greenery remaining in the snow­-­covered palace gardens would not make this a good day for her, or for any lady of the bedchamber.

Kate took a deep breath, preparing herself to dutifully accept the queen’s Tudor temper . . . any threat, any blow. She would never defy Elizabeth and jeopardize her place as chief lady­-­in­-­waiting. If she were sent from court, she would be forced home to Bradgate in disgrace. By Christ’s cross! Her mother, Frances, Duchess of Suf­folk, would despise her daughter more than ever for losing a last op­portunity to advance her family. All Kate’s life she had been pushed beyond her desire, forced to bow to the will of her family, no one caring what she might want for herself. The only dream she had ever held had been denied her years ago.

Kate hurried on, stumbling on a marble tile, recalling her mother’s sharp voice, all her angry disappointment at Kate com­ing down on her head again: “You stupid girl! You have once more failed your family. The crown is next yours by blood, by birth and by your uncle Henry VIII’s will! Your sister, Jane . . . now, there was a queen to make me proud.”

And did it make you proud, Mother, when the Tower ax fell on her girlish neck? Kate knew better than to say it, but not even her duch­ess mother could govern her thoughts. Oh, yes, far better Elizabeth’s temper than her mother’s fierce ambition. Kate’s hand went involun­tarily to her own neck, long, slender and . . . vulnerable.

Taking in a deep and much­-­needed breath, Kate walked on to­ward the queen’s apartment, her step resolute. Never would she be sacrificed by her mother, as she and her father had schemed and sacrificed Jane to gain a throne.

Kate stopped for the gentlemen ushers to open the high double doors to the queen’s apartment. But stopping proved to be a mis­take. Lord Secretary William Cecil stepped in her way and bowed. “A word in private, my lady,” he said softly, “if it please you.”

Kate nodded. “My lord.” She couldn’t deny him without risking his enmity. She allowed him to guide her across the vaulted stone hall, half­-­afraid and alert to what he might say.

“Some on the council, my lady, believe that the queen will never marry.”

He paused for a response, but Kate did not allow an eyelid to flicker.

Forced to proceed, Cecil added, “Of course, I do not believe the queen really wishes to remain a virgin maid. Any young woman, even a great queen such as Elizabeth, must have a man’s near guidance to . . . uh . . . keep her from those natural follies that are part of a woman’s God­-­given nature.”

Kate remained silent, being well versed in what men thought women needed.

Cecil, his sober face just a bit flushed, spoke again. “My lady, there is much support for you to be named her heir. You are seen as a woman who would welcome a husband and children.”

“If you do not believe the queen will remain an unmarried maid, I wonder, my lord, why you think an heir must be named.” She added to soften her response: “I do thank you for your care of me, Lord Secretary, but you may tell those counselors who would promote my name that I am a loyal subject to Her Majesty. She is England’s great­est queen and I am proud to serve her. Tell them, too, that since I do not seek the throne, therefore I do not need their aid.”

“My lady,” Cecil said, his voice now holding an edge, “I must advise you that they have your lady mother’s full agreement.”

“But never mine,” she said, the words wobbly despite her resolve to steady them. “I need not remind you, my lord, that it is for Her Majesty to say who is heir to her realm, not my mother. As for me, I will follow my queen’s will, and not my sister to the block.” For the first time, Kate felt the seeping winter cold in the hall and wrapped one arm across the other.

Cecil bowed, but his face showed clear disbelief. “We will speak again on this matter, Lady Katherine.”

“You may speak, my lord, but my answer will remain the same.”

“Then what do you want?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

Jesu, he had asked the one question she could not answer. She had wanted only one thing, one happiness in her life, and that had been denied her. With a quick curtsy, she stiffened her shoulders and walked inside the queen’s outer chamber.

“Down! Down upon your knees, my lord!” The queen’s com­manding voice penetrated the walls of her privy chamber as if they were so much fine Flemish paper.

A man’s deep voice answered the queen. “I will always kneel to my queen, though I see nothing of the Bess I first loved as a playmate these twenty years gone!”

Kate knew that male voice to be Robert Dudley’s, her brother­-­in­-­law since his unfortunate brother, Guilford, had married Jane. Both had lost their heads on Tower Green for daring to occupy the throne for nine days, followed to the block by Kate’s father, Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk, who had escaped the ax once, but rebelled again and lost. So much for family ambition. Thanks be to heaven above, she had inherited none of it.

Beyond, in the privy chamber, another priceless vase or mirror was thrown. Robert and the queen often had such bitter arguments, slamming hurtful words into each other like lances against shields in a hopeless joust of love that neither could expect to win. Or they closed themselves away from the world for long hours, raising ru­mors that they were lovers and the queen was pregnant.

Kate’s nails dug into her gloves until she felt them almost pierce her flesh and she swore an oath to go to the Royal Chapel at her first opportunity. She must pray the queen did nothing so rash as to make the council pounce on her, Henry VIII’s next Protestant heir by his will.

An eerie silence had followed the last outburst and raised more fear in Kate. Was the queen pacing angrily? Whispering a regret in his ear? More? In spite of Kate’s alarm, she could not help such romantic thoughts as they came into her head . . . and though she pushed them away, they came again. She was a young woman, after all, a woman whose heart still ached, would ever ache, for a lost love. She did not blame her starved heart for desiring what every woman needed.

Dudley and the queen were madly in love. Anyone could see that. Their explosive behavior was the talk of court. Indeed, gos­sip about them had reached the Continent, though everyone said the English people would never accept Dudley as king. Elizabeth knew all this damaging tittle­-­tattle, had princely suitors from every kingdom in Europe and yet could not break from Dudley. What was it like to be a woman grown and to love a man so much? Kate felt a familiar warmth as her imagination took hold. Once, just on the border of maturity, she had known such a love. She thrust a vision of his young face from her, though she knew he would return in her night’s dreams, as he always did.

Excerpted from The Virgin’s Daughters © Copyright 2012 by Jeane Westin. Reprinted with permission by NAL. All rights reserved.

The Virgin's Daughter
by by Jeane Westin

  • paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade
  • ISBN-10: 0451226674
  • ISBN-13: 9780451226679