1501: the turbulence of Henry VIII's reign brings passion and pain to the Morlands as they achieve ever greater wealth and prestige.
Paul, great-grandsom of Elanor Morland, has inherited the Morland estates, and his own Amyas is set to be his heir. But Paul fathers a beloved illigitimate son, and bitter jealousy causes a destructive rift between the two half-brothers which will lead to death. Paul's niece, Nanette, becomes a maid-in-waiting to Anne Bolyen, and at the court of Henry VIII she becomes embroiled in the King's bitter feud with Rome.
Through birth and death, love and hatred, triumph and heartbreak, the Morlands continue proudly to claim their place amongst England's aristocracy.
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From Chapter One:
When the old king, Henry VII, died, his mother-the ancient Margaret Beaufort-was so grieved that she survived him by no more than a few weeks, dying in the middle of the new king's revels and being bundled off unceremoniously so as not to spoil the fun. It would have been hard, however, to find anyone else in the kingdom who regretted the passing of Henry Tidr, and impossible to find any such person in Yorkshire.
In Yorkshire dwelt the old York families with their illustrious names-Neville, Fitzalan, Percy, Mortimer, Clifford, Holland, Talbot, Bourchier, Strickland-and their long memories of personal rule by successive York lords-Richard of Warwick; Richard of York; and Richard of Gloucester, their sweet King Richard who died at the hands of this same unloved and unregretted Henry Tidr.
In Yorkshire also dwelt the Morland family, with their history of lives spent in the cause of the House of York. The founder of the Morland house, Eleanor Courteney, had been a personal friend of the Plantagenets, and King Richard himself had been a frequent visitor at Morland Place before he became king; and her youngest son Richard had served under that king in France. Richard Morland, now universally known as Great Uncle Richard, was the elder and guiding spirit of Morland Place, though Eleanor's great-grandson Paul was the nominal head of the family. Great Uncle Richard had always been a gentle man and averse to killing or hurting anyone, but even he had had his moment of blood-letting for the cause, and in his case it was purely for revenge.
The battle of Bosworth Field had lost King Richard his life, partly owing to the treachery of Lord Stanley, but even more owing to the treachery of Lord Percy of Northumberland. 'Proud Percy' had delayed in his duty of calling out the men of the north to the King's aid, with the result that the huge Yorkshire army-Morland men amongst them-was still on the road when the battle was lost and over.
Richard Morland and Paul's father Ned had felt the shame and anguish deeply, and when a fugitive from the battle had told them that Percy, after holding back from the fighting, had been one of the first to do homage to Henry Tidr, they knew that come what may they must be revenged on proud Percy. There were many who felt thus; their chance came not quite four years later.
It was Lord Percy's task, among others, to collect the taxes imposed by his new sovereign lord upon the people of the north, and in 1489 in April a tax was imposed to raise funds for an invasion of France. Word flickered through Yorkshire like flames through dry bracken; messages passed to and fro between certain members of Percy's own household, and certain other men whose hearts burned with revenge. When Richard Morland heard of the plot from Ned, he was at first shocked. 'His own henchmen?' he queried. 'He is their lord, their special lord, to whom they owe the firmest duty. It is shame to them not to protect him.'
Ned, normally cheerful and light, looked grim. 'They are already shamed,' he said, 'and by their own lord. Percy failed in his duty to the King, betrayed and abandoned him to his death. His henchmen want to wipe out that shame-it can only be paid for by his blood.'
'And who is to strike the blow?'
'We shall draw lots.' Ned's candid gaze met Richard's. 'Are you with us, or against us?' he asked simply. Richard's heart was torn; murder was prohibited by every tenet of Christianity and by every impulse of his gentle soul; yet something older and more primitive was stirring in him, the acknowledgement of duty to one's feudal lord. He had served under King Richard, had sworn that same oath to him. His eyes fell on the blazoning of the Morland arms over the fireplace, and the motto underneath, the single word Fidelitas. Faithfulness, the Morland creed.
'I'm with you,' he said.
It was not hard to raise a mob-northern men never liked paying taxes to a southern king, and Henry VII was particularly unpopular. Last year and the year before, tax collectors had been attacked, and goods constrained had been forcibly rescued by their seething owners. Percy with his household men and retainers marched south to meet the mob and put down what appeared to be a rebellion against the Tudor king and his taxation policy. The two armies met at Topcliffe, near Thirsk.
It was a strange scene. At first there was yelling, brandishing of weapons, threats and insults, but when Percy rode forward into the small space between the groups, a silence fell. Perhaps he thought it was the power of his personality that created the silence; if so, it was his last earthly gratification. There was no man there, from the greatest to the least, who by now did not know what was coming. Two smaller groups detached themselves, one from the Yorkshire mob, one-his closest henchman-from the Northumberland army, and gently, almost tenderly, closed round the mounted lord. A brown hand took the horse's bridle and the horse fidgeted and shivered, smelling the atmosphere. Percy smelled it too, and looked round, suddenly wary, at the ring of faces, and the cold eyes. The old fox, they called him-he was thin and red-haired and scar-faced; he had never been lacking in courage-you don't stay long in the high chair of a Border lord if you're a coward-but there was something in the quiet, hard purpose of the men who surrounded him that chilled his blood.
'What's this?' he demanded. 'What's going on?'
'Better dismount, my lord,' said a voice beside him. It was his steward, a man who had grown up in his service from boyhood. Percy stared into his eyes, and read his death there. There was no appealing against that look. Trembling now, he dismounted. The soft wind, blowing the smell of spring from the south, fluttered across the high field, stirring the men's hair and the horses' manes. The two great armies stood silent, like a vast congregation, and between them stood the small circle of men surrounding the white horse and the great lord. Now that the moment had come there was no anger, no glee, no delight in revenge-there was only a kind of sober sadness, almost a pity. At the last moment Percy begged his men to remember their vows, their oath of loyalty to protect him, but silence was the only reply, and that silence bid him remember his own broken oath. Pride stiffened him again.