Authors: Karolyn Cairns
Edition Copyright by Karolyn Cairns 2016
This book is dedicated to my greatest fan, my mother Sharon Sharrard. Rest in peace, Mom. I’ll never quite stop missing you in my life or giving me the encouragement that I need. You are gone but not forgotten. All I need to do is look up in the sky and find the brightest star and know you are there watching over me.
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Table of Contents
October 28, 1546
Several dark winding corridors led to the king’s royal chambers. Two liveried guards opened the door and stood aside as the Duke of Westerleigh arrived. Thomas Cramner immediately blocked his path, holding up a hand.
The man’s watchful gaze narrowed. He smoothed his stalwart robes, looking down his arrogant nose at the handsome young lord. The king’s most trusted advisor and the current Archbishop of Canterbury regarded him with more than a little warning before his audience with King Henry.
“Keep your meeting brief, Westerleigh. His Majesty needs his rest.”
The Duke of Westerleigh bit back a harsh retort, never liking Cramner’s high-handed assumptions. James Carlisle smiled tightly instead, his silver eyes holding a hint of mockery. “His Majesty called this meeting, Thomas. And he appears wide awake. I think he should know his own mind. After all, he is the king—not you.”
Cramner’s face flushed as the brash young lord stepped passed him. The luxurious apartments gave the younger man pause, appreciating his opulent surroundings. He squinted passed the sheer bed hangings to see his ailing monarch sitting up in his bed in wait.
Henry Tudor smiled invitingly, gesturing to him warmly despite his obvious discomfort, his sharp dark eyes lighting up to see the younger man’s approach. The king left the great hall early during the evening banquet. Speculation of his condition was rampant below.
Servants retreated from the king’s side to give the men privacy. Westerleigh sat in a comfortable chair at his king’s bedside, his eyes noting the pain reflected in Henry’s features.
The king’s corpulent frame was shrouded in a thick robe, propped up with several pillows behind him. Another several pillows were at the foot of the bed favoring the leg that often caused him pain.
The leeches used to bleed the pus from his ulcerated leg wound were discarded in a basin at his bedside, the purulent smell nearly making James gag.
“James, how good it is to see you. I trust you’ll stay long enough to allow me to win back the fortune I lost to you at cards the last time you were here?” Henry chuckled warmly and offered his companion wine on a nearby tray, refusing to acknowledge his infirmity as was his way.
James Carlisle declined the wine with a shake of his dark head. “I must go home, Majesty. I ask you to release me from court. I must to return to Westerleigh Castle. I’ve received word from the priest in Tregaron. He talks of strange occurrences throughout the countryside. I would discount such absurd tales but Father Creaton isn’t oft times so unsettled in his reports.”
Henry frowned at the young nobleman’s words, sipping his wine thoughtfully. “What sort of occurrences? The Welsh are a strange lot, James. I should know of course, having a grandfather who was Welsh. Don’t put so much stock in their silly superstitions. I daresay your family being at the helm in Westerleigh has brought the villagers about over the years.”
“He talks of witches and nonsense, Sire. Of animals slaughtered—hung in the bloody trees!” James forced himself to remain calm, tempering his words. Henry waved away Archbishop Cramner, who lingered near to listen with avid interest. James continued when the man was out of earshot. “He writes of children going missing from their beds in the night. And the villager’s refusing to attend mass. I shall get to the bottom of it when I get home with your permission, of course.”
“Certainly you must go and see to it at once,” Henry agreed readily, his dark eyes narrowing thoughtfully. “You must flush out such wickedness, James, or it will spread, much like a disease.”
“My wife has not seen fit to return my letters so I cannot attest to the validity of the man’s word of what is afoot at my home,” James admitted with a frustrated sigh of disgust. “It may just be the drunken ramblings of an old man. Father Creaton does enjoy his fair share of ceremonial wine on occasion.”
Henry grinned widely, stroking his dark beard thoughtfully. “You and your lady wife are at odds? A pity, I did hope the union would be a happy one.”
James cursed softly under his breath. “When are we not, Sire? Lady Isabelle is lovely but she has no affection for me. She detests my home. She far prefers life at court. She complains bitterly of being sent to live at Westerleigh while I join the march on Italy.”
Henry’s face reddened with growing anger. “Ungrateful bloody chit! Bah! Lady Isabelle is fortunate I found her a suitable husband. If not for her mother’s loyal service to the queen, I could have cast her out when her father’s treachery was known. I let Katherine’s tender words provoke my generosity. I made the girl a duchess! And this is how she shows her gratitude? Cheeky minx!”
James was quick to apologize for his wife. “Isabelle insists Sir William was innocent of the charges. She refuses to believe him guilty, even after his trial. The foolish belief of a dutiful daughter and no more, Sire. It will take time for her to come to terms. It has been but a year since his execution.”
“Did you know that Sir William and his followers were accused of witchcraft among their many crimes?” Henry grimaced in disgust, shaking his head. “Dour fellow really, not at all the type one would think prone to witchery. Even now I can hardly believe it true of Sir William.”
“I had not heard that. Witchcraft you say? Are you certain?”
Henry sighed in annoyance and sipped his wine. “Princess Mary found a strange fetish in her bed. It was a doll made with poisonous materials sewn inside of it. The doll resembled her quite closely, with bits of her own hair used to make it. These same charms were found in both Edward and Elizabeth’s beds. They had all been complaining of illness. Once the dolls were removed, they all improved. I don’t think it a coincidence.”
James appeared skeptical, a dark eyebrow shooting up. “And you think Sir William placed them there?”
“He denied all of it, of course.” Henry shrugged dismissively. “What would one expect?”
“How was he caught?” James’ mind was racing at his king’s disclosure.
“Princess Mary exchanged books with Sir William on occasion. She took a book back to him and saw one of these same dolls in his room. The doll was a close rendition of the queen. A search of his room in the palace revealed many of the same materials used to make these evil charms.”
“What of the Hopewell woman? What did she have to do with it?”
“She was my son’s nanny. She had access to the children’s apartments, as well as being Sir William’s mistress. She admitted to all after examination.”
James was sure the examination that prompted Mary Hopewell to confess to witchcraft was torture at the hands of her interrogators in the Tower. He met the woman briefly and thought it unlikely she served any master but God.
“I made sure none of such blasphemy was heard at the trial for Lady Isabelle’s benefit. Sir William’s treasonous activity against the church was enough. Do you think his daughter involved in such wickedness?” Henry watched him guardedly for his answer.
James was immediately uneasy, his handsome face taut. “I don’t believe in such things, Sire. True, Isabelle is hardly a devout woman, but a witch? I’ve seen no sign of it.”
“It troubles me what is happening in Westerleigh, James. Do you think the matters are related? These incidents did all happen while Lady Isabelle was at court.”
James wisely changed the subject. “I have no reason to think Isabelle is involved. Though I admit, my wife rather avoids me while I’m in residence. If I’m to get sons of her it would take a witch’s own spell to change her heart in this.”
“And change her heart you will, James, of that I have no doubt,” Henry said proudly, his dark eyes meeting the younger man’s with warmth and affection in them. “Go with my blessing. And rout out these bloody witches and burn them with God’s own mercy. I’ll expect a full accounting upon your return.”
“Yes of course, Your Majesty,” James agreed with a grateful smile. “I shall regale you with all when I return and allow you to win back some of your coin.”
The king chuckled warmly and the audience was over.
James left the king’s chambers soon after, retreating to his rooms to inform his page and other servants they were leaving Hampton Court for Westerleigh Castle the following morning.
It would take two days to get there if they pushed it. He was in no hurry. He rather thought three days would see him home.
James sat before the hearth in an overstuffed chair while they packed up his room, his silver eyes filled with growing unease after Henry’s disclosures of what Isabelle’s father was accused of.
Sir William was as outspoken as the queen on reforming the church, and for that, made a great many enemies at court. Among them was Thomas Cramner.
Sir William Gordon and two others were accused in a plot to lead opposition against the church. They were caught and quickly brought to trial and executed for treason.
Not a whisper of witchcraft was ever heard before tonight.
James thought the suppression of the evidence at the trial was Henry’s way of avoiding having anyone look too closely at Queen Katherine’s dealings with Sir William.
The two shared like minds in respect to the reformation of the church. Cramner would have expanded the charges against the queen to include heresy and witchcraft. Little could have been done to save Queen Katherine if such had been allowed to happen.
A warrant for Katherine’s arrest for having banned books in her possession was narrowly avoided. The king chose to ignore his wife’s misstep, but not Sir William’s. Cramner must have seethed in frustration to know he failed to discredit the queen and went after Sir William instead.
James thought of his aloof lovely bride and wondered how much she knew of her father’s dealings prior to his arrest. Isabelle and Sir William Gordon were close. She grew up at court, and was a favorite of Queen Katherine’s.
Isabelle’s mother, Lady Gordon, served the queen and was one of her most trusted confidantes. Katherine Parr had a soft heart for Isabelle. She took her dearest friend’s daughter into her household when Lady Gordon died a year ago.
When Sir William, his mistress, and a palace servant were arrested for treason, the queen sought to protect young Isabelle by marrying her off quickly. James was twenty and five and still unmarried.
His king asked him to wed the lady to give her the protection of his name on behalf of the queen. He could hardly refuse such an edict. Now in retrospect, James cursed the fact he was saddled with a woman who could hardly abide him.
James never had to beg for a woman’s favors. He wouldn’t start with his own wife. Ladies at court threw themselves at him on the daily since he returned from the Italian peninsula. The fact the marriage was not consummated wasn’t lost upon him.
He thought to be courteous and allow Isabelle time to mourn her father. It was well over a year. The woman showed little interest in doing her duty. Far from it, she avoided her husband on those rare occasions he was home.
For some strange reason, Isabelle didn’t appeal to him as beautiful as she was to look upon. With her white-blonde hair, robin’s egg blue eyes, and her smooth porcelain skin she was quite desirable.
Something about her cold malevolent manner left him bereft of desire, enough to seek other women for his pleasure. His wife seemed relieved he didn’t seek her bed on those few occasions he was at Westerleigh this last year. James wasn’t vain or arrogant enough to take issue with his wife’s lack of interest in him.
James smiled when he thought of his newest mistress, a beauteous lady in Queen Katherine’s service, a maid who was a foundling left in the household since her birth. The girl nearly singed the hairs off his chest whenever they were abed, enough to assure him the deficiency in his marriage was not him in the least.
Isabelle’s apparent frigidity would become an issue when the matter of a male heir had to be addressed. He could avoid the matter for only so long. He didn’t look forward to forcing the issue despite the very real need for a male heir.
James had no brothers and no male relatives in line for his title. He was the third Duke of Westerleigh, a fairly new title created by Henry Tudor after the War of the Roses.
His grandfather, Robert James Carlisle, fought beside Henry Tudor and helped him win his crown. Rewarded for his service, a simple knight was made a duke and a small tract of land near the town of Tregaron in Wales named the duchy of Westerleigh.
His father, Henry James Robert Carlisle, was the only child born of the doomed marriage to Lady Anne Donnell, his grandmother who died soon after in childbed.
His father married Lady Phillipa Neville twenty-six years later, and James too, was an only child of that union. His mother was said to be a woman of low spirit. It was suggested she took her own life when he was only a year old, leaving him in the care of nurses while his father served his king at court.
James Edward Carlisle became the third Duke of Westerleigh at the tender age of ten when his father died heroically in battle. A man by the name of Sir Reginald Galeforth was made his guardian at Westerleigh until he was old enough to be presented at court.
The task of begetting sons with Isabelle was a very real need James could hardly ignore. He abhorred the thought of manipulating his wife to his bed, knowing instinctively she would not come to him.