Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  The infant was called Catherine, in honor of the Queen, and Father came home for the christening, which was held in the church at Hever. Mary recovered quickly from her confinement and became absorbed in her daughter. Motherhood suited her.


  Six weeks later, the family were together again, gathered at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk for the funeral of Grandfather Norfolk, who had died at the venerable age of eighty. Neither Anne nor any of the Howard womenfolk attended the lavish obsequies in Thetford Priory, but they were present at the great reception held in the castle afterward.

  It was good to see George again, and to catch up on all the gossip of the court.

  “I do wish I could be there,” Anne said wistfully, as they exchanged news over goblets of wine. “I miss it dreadfully. It is so dull in the country. Have I not been punished enough?”

  “I wish you could be there too,” George replied. “I’m sure you will be soon. Father has influence. He’s just been made vice-chamberlain of the Household. The word is he will be chamberlain next. So I doubt you will have long to wait, Anne.”

  “Maybe Uncle Norfolk will put in a good word for me,” she said, watching the new Duke, sumptuously attired in a black damask gown lined with sable, receiving the condolences of his guests.

  “He will,” George assured her. “Family is important to him. He sees us as Howards rather than Boleyns.”

  “I didn’t realize he was fifty—it’s late to come into his inheritance.”

  “The old martinet has plenty of vigor in him, never fear. He is well thought of by the King, and aims high accordingly.”

  “Come.” She drew George over to where their uncle stood.

  Thomas Howard looked down at her with his sharp, heavy-lidded eyes. His craggy face with its beak of a nose was drawn with lines of grief, but the thin lips curved in a smile.

  “Well, niece, it is a pleasure to see you,” he said. “We have missed you at court.”

  “I wish I could return, my lord uncle,” Anne told him. “I am sick to the stomach of being exiled to Hever.”

  “I could think of worse places to be exiled to,” Norfolk said. “Be patient, girl. I will speak for you when the time is right.”

  And with that Anne had to be content.


  That evening, she and George walked along the ramparts of the castle. She thought her brother was quiet, but put it down to sorrow at the loss of their grandfather, whose presence pervaded this place. George paused and she stood silently beside him, looking out on miles of verdant Suffolk countryside.

  “Can you keep a secret?” he asked.

  “Of course.”

  A shadow passed over George’s face. “I am to be married. Father told me today. It was finalized before he left court.”

  “Who is the lucky lady?” she asked.

  “Jane Parker,” he said, his voice flat.

  “She’s quite pretty,” she said, “and her father is very learned.”

  “She’s passable, if you fancy that type”—George shrugged—“but I don’t like her. Anne, there’s something about her—I can’t put my finger on it, but it repels me. I wish to God I didn’t have to go through with this.”

  “I am so sorry,” Anne said.

  George sighed deeply. “Well, I suppose I shall have to do what many men do when they are saddled with wives they cannot love. I shall breed heirs on her and take my pleasure elsewhere.”

  She did not doubt that he would. She wondered at herself for being pleased that he would find some comfort in adultery, when she would roundly have condemned it in other men. “Try to love her, for both your sakes,” she said. “Your life will be much happier if you do.”

  He smiled at her. “I will try. We haven’t been very lucky in love, have we, Anne? Do you still miss Harry Percy?”

  “I do. Has he been at court?”

  “No, I haven’t seen him. If I do, do you want me to say anything?”

  “No!” Anne declared. “That part of my life is over. I can have nothing to say to a married man.” Truly, she thought, I have moved on. The pain was still there, but it was a dull ache, not a piercing agony, and she often went hours at a stretch without thinking of her lost love.

  It was growing dark. She shivered a little in her thin black silk dress.

  “Come, let us go in,” she said.


  The months dragged on. In November, Anne and her family journeyed to Morley Hall in Norfolk for George’s wedding. Lord Morley was a charming host, and a most erudite man, and kind. He made a great fuss of Mary, who was with child again. Jane Parker made a pretty bride in her crimson velvet gown, her long dark hair flowing loose to her waist. The newly wedded pair were a handsome couple, but Anne could tell that George wasn’t happy.

  There were cheers at the wedding feast when Father stood up and announced that the King had granted George the manor of Grimston in Norfolk as a marriage gift. Anne felt aggrieved. It was not fair. The King had been generous to Father, and now to George. Why could he not show favor to her and recall her to court?

  But when they returned to Hever, a letter bearing the Queen’s seal was waiting for her. She was to resume her post after Christmas.


  Anne sat quietly at the far end of the long oak table in the great hall at Eltham Palace, pretending to ignore the group of courtiers nearby. One, a tall, bearded young man with golden eyes and striking good looks, laid down his lute.

  “I’ve written a poem!” he announced.

  “Another one?” asked Sir Francis Bryan, who, for his rakishness, was known as the Vicar of Hell. The men ranged around them at the table laughed.

  “There’s a surprise,” said George. “Come on, Tom, let’s hear it.”

  The young man smiled at them diffidently. “This one is special.” He looked across at where Anne sat, sipping the last of her wine. It was for her, no doubt.

  She had known Thomas Wyatt since childhood, for their families were neighbors in Kent, and the young Wyatts, Tom and his sister Margaret, had been regular guests at Hever. In other circumstances she might have loved him. Some ladies would not have thought twice about accepting his suit and becoming his acknowledged mistress. They would enjoy having mastery over so handsome a man, and might even be tempted to become his mistress in the carnal sense. But he was married and, for Anne, forbidden territory. She had rejected all his overtures, yet that had not stopped him from paying court, playing the game in the accepted way. But why should she waste her chances on a man who had nothing to offer her?

  She did like him. If only she had not told him that at the outset. Yet, knowing him to have the sensitive soul of a poet, she had been loath to hurt him, because it was plain as day that he loved her. He haunted the palace galleries she frequented; he waylaid her on her way from chapel or the Queen’s apartments; he sang beautiful ballads in the Queen’s chamber, gazing at her with longing eyes; he passed her notes. “I love you,” he wrote. “Be kind to your unworthy but suffering suitor.” And then, of course, there were the endless poems composed for her alone. And all, all she had spurned.

  Now he was making another bid for her favor, as he recited his new verses in that deep, musical voice.

  Forget not yet the tried intent

  Of such a truth as I have meant;

  My great travail so gladly spent,

  Forget not yet.

  Forget not yet the great assays,

  The cruel wrong, the scornful ways;

  The painful patience in denials,

  Forget not yet.

  Forget not then thine own approved,

  The which so long hath thee so loved,

  Whose steadfast faith yet never moved;

  Forget not this.

  “Bravo!” the others cried. Anne knew that Tom was looking at her, willing her to praise his work, but she merely smiled.

  “I must get back to the Queen,” she said, rising.

  “Will you be at the revels tonight, Mist
ress Anne?” he asked, as eager as a lapdog for a crumb of encouragement.

  “Of course she will,” Francis Bryan told him. “How could one of the brightest young stars of the court not be there?”

  “I may come,” Anne said, not looking at Tom. Since returning from Hever, she had thrown herself enthusiastically into the life of the court and become the focus of much admiration. Young people seemed drawn to her, and she was now at the heart of a circle of privileged courtiers whose aim was to enjoy themselves to the full while chasing preferment and success.

  The Queen had warmly welcomed Anne back into favor.

  “I am pleased to see you wearing English fashions,” she told her.

  “My French gowns were becoming a little worn,” Anne replied. “I refurbished some, and made some new ones.” Fortunately, once Father had learned that she was going back to court, he had proved generous with money for material.

  The King had noticed the gowns, too.

  “I see you are become an Englishwoman again, Mistress Anne,” he’d said, encountering her in a gallery and bowing. “In truth, since we are at war with France, I was wondering which side you were really on!” And he laughed at his own joke, his gentlemen guffawing with him. She kept her eyes downcast and murmured her thanks, thinking that she had little cause to thank him for anything.

  Several times since then she had again noticed him watching her, but always she had avoided his singling her out. She wanted nothing to do with this man who had brought down her sister and allowed the Cardinal to wreck her own life.

  In March, Anne was relieved to hear that Mary had been safely delivered of a son, Henry, who, Mother wrote, was unmistakably Will Carey’s child. Mary had put her affair with the King firmly behind her, and was now a happy wife and mother. Things had worked out rather well, Anne thought, as she made her way to the Queen’s lodging. Relations between her and Mary were warmer these days, now that Mary was fulfilled in the ways that mattered to her. Anne did envy her a little, but she would not have exchanged her sister’s life of domesticity for the exciting existence that was now hers.


  Standing with the other ladies behind Katherine in the presence chamber at Bridewell Palace in London, Anne could barely contain her excitement, or her triumph. Today, Father was to be ennobled, advanced to the peerage as Viscount Rochford.

  This was the latest in a string of honors recently bestowed on him, and it was one to which he was entitled by virtue of Great-Grandfather Ormond having held the title. But, Anne knew, he believed it was being given to him as compensation for not receiving the earldom of Ormond, which he was still contesting, and—much to his disgust—for the dishonoring of his daughter.

  She watched as he entered the chamber and knelt before the King, who placed the mantle of nobility around his shoulders and handed him his Letters Patent. It struck her as incongruous that such pomp should be compensation for the sordid seduction of her sister. “The wages of sin,” she observed, unthinking. Still she could not see it in any other way.

  Immediately the Queen turned round and frowned at her, and she was covered in embarrassment. But there was no time to regret her faux pas, for all eyes were on the little boy who was approaching the throne—the King’s bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, come to be ennobled by his father. There were muffled gasps when his titles were announced: Duke of Richmond, Duke of Somerset. The Queen’s smile was frozen on her face. It took a moment for Anne to realize that these were royal titles. No wonder there was excited speculation afterward; no wonder Katherine was unable to hide her outrage. For Anne heard many people expressing the view that His Grace meant to name the boy his heir. And really, who could blame him? The child was beautiful, strong, and sturdy: he carried himself like a prince already; and there was no sign of the Queen bearing another child. Nor would there be, Anne was certain. The chamberers of Katherine’s household had not had a bloody clout to wash for over a year now. It was common knowledge among her servants.

  It was a pity, Anne thought, that the King’s bastard daughter could not enjoy his favor. Maybe one day he would arrange a good marriage for her. It was the least he could do.


  “Well done!” Anne cried, clapping her hands, as George raised his racquet aloft and whooped in triumph. Beside her in the tennis court, Jane, her sister-in-law, was silent, her face as sour as it had been these past months. Anne wondered what was the matter with her. George was morose in her company, and only became his usual lively self when she was not there.

  “Is something amiss?” Anne asked, a trifle tartly, as she and Jane left the viewing gallery and made their way into the gardens, which smelled sweet after a summer shower. Here they waited for George. She was aware of Tom Wyatt shadowing her, a few paces behind, in the press of people.

  Jane turned on her a face full of misery. “You would not believe me if I told you,” she said. “George can do no wrong in your eyes.”

  Anne was startled at the resentment in her voice. “You have not tried me,” she retorted. “If my brother is making you unhappy, I may be able to help.” She guessed that George’s philandering was the cause of Jane’s unhappiness. He was always flirting openly with other women, and there was talk that he had a bastard son. She had taxed him with it, but he had denied it.

  “Well I’m sure he’d pay more heed to you than to me,” Jane muttered. “If only you knew what he’s really like.”

  “What is he really like?” Anne demanded to know, irritation rising.

  “I cannot tell you, for shame,” Jane whispered. Anne wondered what she meant. It must be something very personal and private, and she was not sure she wanted to know. There was no time anyway, for George, a towel around his neck, and his doublet slung over his shoulder, was emerging from the tennis play and waving, and suddenly Jane was no longer there. She had melted into the crowd.

  George joined Anne, and Tom was suddenly at her side, asking if she had enjoyed the game. The three of them sat on the grass and shared out sugar comfits and wine, Anne having brought a stoppered flagon with her, which she passed around. She noticed Tom drinking from the place where her lips had been.

  George was well aware of Tom’s feelings for her, and how she felt about the situation. He deftly diverted Tom with talk of poetry, a subject that interested them both.

  “Recite your latest offering, George,” Tom encouraged.

  “Not in your presence!” George told him. “I cannot compete with a master. Besides, the stuff I’ve written lately is rather mournful, and I would not darken this sunny day.”

  “Jane was rather mournful after the tennis,” Anne said. “She as good as said that all is not well between you.”

  George shrugged. “She’s right. Who would be happy with a shrew?”

  She placed her hand on his. “Maybe she is shrewish because you are unkind to her, or do not love her enough.”

  “She doesn’t want me,” he said.

  “Oh yes she does. If she did not, she wouldn’t be jealous of the kindness between you and me.”

  George stared at her. “But you’re my sister!”

  “It does not matter,” Anne said. “She wants you to be as warm to her as you are to me.”

  “Then she is asking for the moon.”

  Tom gave a morose chuckle. “I know how she feels.”

  “Dear Tom, you are a married man, and you know you cannot have me,” Anne said, as kindly as she could.

  “My marriage is not happy either,” he reminded her. She had heard it before, many times. “My wife thinks nothing of flirting with other men—and worse, if the truth be told.”

  “I wish mine would!” George muttered.

  “You are not free!” Anne told Tom. “I am truly sorry that your marriage brings you no happiness, but I cannot be your mistress in any sense. Let us just stay friends, as we always have been.”

  “Alas, it is not enough,” Tom lamented. “George knows.” Clearly George and Tom had confided in each other.

bsp; “Bad luck, Tom,” George commiserated. “Lord Rochford’s daughter must be above reproach when she takes a husband.” It was kindly said, but it was a warning nonetheless. George might see most women as fair game, but his sister was another matter entirely.

  “I mean no disrespect,” Tom protested. “I hope you know that, Anne.”

  George got to his feet, drained the flagon of its dregs, and handed it down to Anne.

  “I must go and change,” he said. “Behave yourselves when I’m gone.” And with a grin he was off, striding across the grass.

  Tom leaned across and took Anne’s hand. “I can’t help it if I am dazzled by your beauty and your wit,” he told her. “I would be tied to you forever in love. I am yours, Anne, whether you want me or not.”

  She sighed. “Tom, it grieves me to have to reject all your talk of love. I am too fond of you to scorn you. But this must stop.”

  Tom’s handsome face looked so tragic that she could have cried. He had a way of making her feel very special. She could never love him in the way she had loved Harry, but at least he had made her forget Harry. She had learned to live again and enjoy life. If only Tom was single, then she could, would have loved him.

  “I have offered you my heart and service. Do not refuse me. At least allow me to live in hope,” he begged.

  “What hope can you have?” she asked helplessly.

  “Elizabeth might die”—he gave a mirthless laugh—“or I could divorce her for adultery.”

  She stared at him. This was going way beyond the rules of the game. “Do you know how costly and difficult it is to get a divorce?” she asked. “You’d have to get the King’s consent to an Act of Parliament. As for dying, Elizabeth is twenty-two, the same age as you!”

  “I have told her that I want a separation,” Tom revealed. “I am ready to ask the King about a divorce.” He was in a bullish mood now. “If he agrees, would you accept me then, Anne?”

  She was staggered—and touched—that he would go so far. He seemed so determined. But there was little hope of his succeeding. She could not see his father, Sir Henry Wyatt, approving of his son being divorced, or paying for it. And Tom, she knew, had little money beyond his salary as Sewer Extraordinary to the King.

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