Click here to read reviewer Karyn Johnson's take on A Dangerous Inheritance.
In her latest historical novel, Weir relates the stories of two Katherines, one from the 14th century, one from the 15th: Katherine Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard of Gloucester (Richard III); and Katherine Grey, younger sister of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey (The Nine Day Queen). In alternating chapters, Weir explore the lives of each. Plantagenet uses the name of Kate and Grey given the more formal Katherine, the link between them a profound interest in the ultimate fate of the Princes in the Tower.
The young princes’ fate, one of the great mysteries of English history, Kate’s fear is that her father might have had a hand in the deaths of the sons of Edward IV. Katherine’s curiosity is more casual, born of boredom and opportunity when she resides for a time in the home of her husband’s family, awaiting the consummation of her political union with Henry, Lord Herbert, heir to the Earl of Pembroke. With a vigilant chaperone and nothing to occupy them, Katherine and Henry discover a castle passage that contains a chest filled with letters and a jeweled necklace that they assume belonged to Kate Plantagenet.
The letters reveal a young woman who loves her father deeply, her loyalty to him unassailable, welcomed into his household by wife Anne Neville and their young son, as is the custom. As a bastard, Kate’s marital marketability is not high, but once her father becomes king, marriage to the girl becomes a more desirable. Despite rumors to the contrary, Kate expends considerable effort in attempting to understand Richard’s political decisions, reluctant to acknowledge her father’s flaws even when rumors begin to spread about the murders of the princes.
Katherine Grey’s life is more volatile—and for that reason more interesting. Her marriage to Herbert is annulled after Jane Grey’s fall from grace and Mary Tudor’s ascendance to the throne. A dreamer who has never really appreciated the obligations of her royal birth, at least in the author’s perspective, Katherine cannot seem to avoid irritating Elizabeth I after Mary Tudor’s death, either the unwitting pawn of those who would unseat Elizabeth or a foolish young woman who believes she is entitled to choose her own husband, someone she might love, even with the expectation of certain behaviors as a legitimate heir to the English throne. Despite advice to the contrary, Katherine flaunts her will before the queen, even marrying Edward Seymour in secret and hiding her pregnancy.
Katherine Grey’s life does not end well: imprisoned by the queen, separated from her husband and two children, forever bemoaning the dictates of a court that demands she act in accordance with her position. In Weir’s novel, it is easy to understand Elizabeth’s frustration with a silly, romantic fool who continuously puts the queen’s throne at risk, especially once Katherine has given birth to a male child with Seymour. Katherine Plantagenet holds less fascination, with little known about her other than an early death in childbirth and her devotion to her father. Weir’s tale of two Katherines is, without question, cautionary, the fate of the Princes in the Tower yet unresolved: “Tangling with princes rarely brought anyone anything but ill-fortune and grief.”