England’s Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane’s younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small rooms in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch…
Following on from Innocent Traitor, Weir tells the story of Lady Katherine Grey, Jane’s Grey’s younger sister, and interestingly, Katherine Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of Richard III. The story is told from each girls perspective, 70 or more years apart, the connection between the two girls revolving around the mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
The story begins before Jane Grey takes the throne, so there is a short rehash of the fall of Jane Grey through Katherine Grey’s eyes while Weir is introducing us to “Kate” Plantagenet. Richard III did indeed have two illegitimate children, Kate and John of Gloucester, along with his heir Edward. There is next to no information on Kate save that Richard arranged a good marriage for her, no birth date, death date or record of surviving children. With this in mind Weir has free reign with the character, and she chooses to place her (along with her half-brothers) in the household of Richard III and Anne Neville.
There is nothing that stands out about Kate at first, Kate leads a seemingly pleasant life with a loving father and kind stepmother, she falls in love but of course her father is arranging a good marriage for her with an older man, all fairly standard story-telling. When Richard III takes the throne from his nephew, Kate’s unease begins to grow. When rumours start spreading about the Princes in the Tower, Kate takes it upon herself to start investigating the matter, and when her father is overthrown, killed and named an usurper, Kate is left alone with an unloving husband and becomes obsessed with clearing her father’s name.
Meanwhile Katherine Grey begins her young married life in a heady dream, married to handsome young Henry Herbert. Unfortunately for Katherine the young couple are forbidden to consummate their marriage. On one of their explorations around Baynard’s Castle Katherine discovers a casket containing letters and a portrait, of Katherine Plantagenet, and the connection between the two girls is forged. Katherine Grey becomes intrigued with Kate and starts dreaming about her. Later, after her disastrous second marriage, while imprisoned in the Tower she uses Kate’s documents to try and solve the mystery of The Princes in the Tower.
The problem with Katherine Grey is that she is an inherently unlikeable character. Looking at her factually, she disobeyed her Queen and cousin by marrying without permission, couldn’t prove that the marriage had taken place, became pregnant and gave birth while imprisoned in the Tower and may possibly have conspired with, or perhaps just been courted by the Spanish, against Elizabeth. Weir does nothing to alleviate this and make me sympathise with her. I am also not sure she was trying to. She mostly comes off as spoiled, self-obsessed and irresponsible.
While Kate Plantagenet isn’t the selfish immature girl Katherine is made out to be, both girls are young, both of them obsessed with their lovers and being in love. The language of both girls can get a little flowery sometimes, and while Weir is telling a love story (or two), I found both girls a little irritating. There was also not enough disparity between the two characters. I understand the idea was to draw parallels between the two girls and their lives but I really needed more conflict. I also really wanted to see the supernatural theme pushed more. It is introduced, then cast aside for a while, and then brought back when Kate is in the Tower.
Weir fans will know of her stance on Richard III, and Frances Brandon is again maligned in this book. I understand, but do not agree with, Weir’s opinion of Frances. But the scene with Jane being literally covered in bruises while Katherine is helping her get dressed is too much, and I really think Weir goes far too far with it to continue to be believable. It is depicting real, malicious and violent abuse which I think is a far cry from “nips and bobs”. This really diminished my enjoyment of this book.
The combination of love story, mystery and tragedy along with the usual court intrigue should please Weir’s historical fiction fans admirably.
With thanks to Random House for the review copy.
Visit Alison Weir’s website at alisonweir.org.uk