Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Dangerous Inheritance

Sr. Maureen Christi had the unenviable task of facing me and about 20 other teenagers at 8 am every day 30-plus years ago.  It's not that I wasn't receptive to Poe (her favorite) and Shakespeare at 14; it's that this particular night owl wasn't receptive to much before 10 am.  I must have paid attention, though, because what she taught me then (and three years later at a more reasonable 1 pm) regularly pop into my mind.

One thing she told us was that Shakespeare was a political creature and a man who knew who - Elizabeth I - paid his bills.  Without getting into the details of Richard III (although I might have preferred that to Romeo and Juliet), she let us know that the victorious Henry VII's granddaughter wasn't going to stand for a pleasant portrayal of the vanquished king.  Art influences us, probably more than unvarnished reality, and Richard III became deformed and irreparably evil in our consciousness.  Fiction (and the recent discovery of Richard's body under a car park) adds some much-needed nuance to that view.

Alison Weir adds her voice to the novelists rehabilitating (somewhat) Richard III.  He's a supporting character in A Dangerous Inheritance, the father of one of the protagonists.  Kate Plantagenet is his illegitimate but recognized daughter, and through her eyes, we see a loving father and husband and concerned knight displeased with the state of his country.  Kate's faith in him is sweet, and because she only sees glimpses of his slide into despotism, supported by her reality.  His death throws her, now married to the Earl of Pembroke, into the political sphere.  Pembroke "switched sides" late in the war (possibly after he knew the outcome), and Henry VII needs to know whether Richard murdered his nephews.

Seventy years later, Katherine Grey marries one of Pembroke's descendants in a double wedding, alongside her sister Jane and Guilford Dudley.  Unlike Jane, Katherine is eager to marry - she loves pretty dresses and quickly comes to love her husband although they're forbidden to consummate their marriage.  The night Mary retakes her throne from Jane, Pembroke separates the lovers and deposits Katherine, with no guard and no warning, on her parents' doorstep.  Political maneuvering (and close blood ties to the throne) bring her to court as one of Mary's attendants.  Here, she meets proud, savvy, brilliant Elizabeth who's much better at the political game.  Katherine wants to be queen, and changes alliances and religions more than once in the hope that it will happen, but she wants the pageantry rather than the power. She likes pretty dresses and being in love and making her husband king.

It was love rather than political machinations that led her to marry Edward Seymour, son of Edward VI's Lord Protector.  That marriage (or, rather, the children it produced) led to Katherine's downfall.  Elizabeth knew that her people would rather have a man on the throne than a brilliant but prickly (and justifiably paranoid at times) woman.  A cousin of royal blood, married and with a son was a threat, one which had to be sequestered in the Tower of London with cast-off, mostly broken furniture.  In exile, Katherine connects the pendant she found in her first husband's house, one which Kate Plantagenet owned, to the voices she thinks she hears late at night, and sets off to discover the fate of Edward V and the Duke of York.

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