Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  “You are lucky,” Mary said, drawing her hands away and reaching for the tiny smock she was sewing. “He is the last man you should tangle with.”

  Anne looked at her sister, the epitome of domestic contentment. Father still thought that Mary could have done better for herself by holding the King to his responsibilities and asking for money, but at least Mary was happy now. And she herself had learned a salutary lesson from her sister’s experience, for it had forewarned her of the King’s fickle nature. The woman he pursued today might easily be discarded tomorrow. Anne Boleyn was not going to end up as another abandoned royal mistress.

  “I don’t encourage him!” she protested. “I can’t fend him off. And then there’s Tom Wyatt pressing his suit—and he’s married too!”

  “You can’t really blame Henry, I suppose,” Mary said. “The Queen is so devout and virtuous, she looks old and she’s lost her figure—hardly an enticing prospect.”

  It was true, although Anne felt disloyal in agreeing, for Katherine had been kind to her. But the Queen had no joy in life anymore, and no sexual allure. Without boasting, Anne knew she had both these things, and must appear delightful to the King in contrast to his wife’s piety and solemn dignity.

  “Well, he can go and look for someone else to entice him,” she said. “I’m going to end it.”

  But that proved more difficult than she had thought.


  One spring evening, Henry invited Anne to walk with him in his privy garden, a place only the privileged entered, and in that small paradise of Nature tamed by man into neat, railed flower beds and graveled paths, he led her into an exquisite little banqueting house. There, on a table, lay four gold brooches. He presented them to her as if they were votive offerings to a deity. She looked down in dismay at the beautiful pieces lying in their velvet nest: one represented Venus and Cupid, the second a lady holding a heart in her hand, the third a gentleman lying in a lady’s lap, and the fourth a lady holding a crown.

  She took the meaning in the first three—it was the crown she did not understand.

  Henry saw her turning it over in her hand. “It symbolizes aloofness or virginity,” he said, “which I think is highly apt. It is also symbolic of your holding the love of a king. You do like them?” He was almost boyish in his eagerness.

  “They are beautiful, sir,” she said, “but I am unworthy of them.”

  “Nonsense!” he declared. “Even though they can only be eclipsed by your beauty, they will enhance it. To me, remember, you need no adornment, but I should like you to wear these tokens of my love for you.”

  “Then I must wear them in private,” Anne said, “or people will wonder how I acquired such costly jewels.”

  “Let them!” he cried.

  “But I dare not,” she protested. “I’m not sure that I should even accept them, sensible though I am of your Grace’s generosity.”

  “Oh, but you must, Anne. I commissioned them for you alone. Please wear them, in private if you must, and think of me when you do.”

  She sighed inwardly. There was no gainsaying him.

  “Very well,” she said. “Thank you.”

  “And will you give me something in return?” Henry asked. “I beg only for a small token.”

  How could she deny it, seeing he had been so generous? She drew a ring from her finger and gave it to him. It was a trifle, of little value, but he kissed it with reverence and pushed it down to the first joint of his little finger.

  “I will have it resized,” he said, beaming.

  He wore it all the time, but she never wore the brooches. To her, they symbolized something sordid: the price of her body and her virtue. She hoped that Henry, not seeing them, would get the message.


  Summer blazed forth in all its golden glory, and still Anne had not succeeded in rejecting the King. The more evasive she became, the more ardent was his pursuit. He had taken care to be discreet, but if he carried his heart on his sleeve like this, the whole world would soon notice. All their trysts had to be snatched in secret, often under cover of darkness. She could not even bring her maid, but she had come to trust Henry. He was always the supplicant, never the conqueror.

  “Be mine!” he urged yet again, as he clasped her in his arms. He had summoned her to his bowling alley, deserted in the late evening. “I want to hold you and love you…”

  “I cannot love you!” she replied. “Not only on account of my honor, but also because of the great love I bear the Queen. How could I injure a princess of such great virtue? I live in daily dread of her finding out about…” She would not say the word “us.” It implied collusion.

  “She would not know,” Henry hastened to assure her. “I would act with the utmost discretion.”

  “No!” Anne cried, startling the birds roosting in the branches of a nearby tree. She did not want this covert, secretive kind of relationship. She wanted a pure love that she could blazon to the world.

  “Please!” Henry’s hand stole around her waist, his breath hot in her ear. “It will not be like that. I will love you and honor you. There is no limit to what I would do for you. You can have whatever you want—riches, houses, jewels—if you will consent to becoming my mistress.”

  Anne shook him off and moved away. “Is that your idea of discretion? Surely your Majesty is jesting, or trying to test me? And to ease you of the trouble of asking me the question again, I beseech your Highness most earnestly to desist and take my refusal in good part. I fear for my soul. I would rather lose my life than my honesty, which will be the greatest and best part of the dowry I shall bring my husband.”

  Henry looked as if she had slapped him.

  “Well, Mistress Anne,” he said, “I shall live in hope.”

  She rounded on him.

  “I understand not, most mighty King, how you should retain such hope. Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of my unworthiness, and also because you have a queen already. Your mistress I will not be! And now, sir, I beg leave to return to my duties.”

  “Anne!” groaned Henry. “Don’t do this to me. I am in torment!”


  He was like a man possessed—no, he was a man possessed. Anne’s refusal to sleep with him seemed only to make her infinitely more desirable.

  “Why these constant excuses?” he asked plaintively, as they stood by the river at Greenwich one night, in the shadow of the chapel. “I would not make you do anything against your will, sweetheart, much as I desire you. But if you will consent to be my mistress, and let me be your chosen servant, forsaking all others, then I will respect your virtue and humbly do your will.” Once, Anne could not have imagined Henry Tudor doing anything humbly, but he had surprised her. He was like a puppy, craving a scrap of attention.

  And then it came to her. Why not? She knew she was growing warmer toward Henry, simply by dint of getting to know him, and being adored by him. She knew there was much to like about him, and there were many interests they shared: music, art, poetry, sport, and stimulating conversation. All of that made her feel kinder toward him, but it was not love, and she could not feel the passion, or anything even approaching it, that he craved of her. And yet being his acknowledged mistress might have its advantages. For the first time since Henry had noticed her, she felt ambition stirring within her. She would have influence, patronage, riches…all the things Mary had failed to obtain. And she would not have to give anything in return.

  She kept him in suspense for a time as she considered. Then she smiled. “Sir, I will be your mistress, but on two conditions. One is that you do nothing to compromise my honor. The other is that this remains a secret between us, as is proper for a mistress and a servant. I do not want the world thinking I am your whore.”

  “Anything, anything, darling,” Henry agreed, tears shining in his eyes. “You have made me the happiest of men! Let us seal our love with a kiss.” And he bent his lips to hers and kissed her properly for the first time, as if he would devour her. She di
sengaged herself as soon as she could.


  The problem was, Henry would not play the game by the rules. He assumed that Anne was now as ardent as he was, and that she would not mind his constantly trying to kiss or caress her, or even his hand straying to her breast. It was plain to her that the terms on which she had insisted could never satisfy him. She avoided his company as often as she could, but he would not allow it. Always he sought her out. In the end, pleading illness, and praying that the Queen would believe her, she asked if she might have leave to go home to Hever.

  Mother was surprised to see her.

  “You look well enough to me,” she said, releasing Anne from a welcoming embrace.

  “In truth, I am,” Anne admitted, and gave a sketchy account of being pursued by a persistent married suitor.

  “I dare not name him, for he is a great lord and could make trouble for me, and for us all,” she said, in response to her mother’s probing.

  “Then you did the right thing in absenting yourself,” Elizabeth Howard said, looking at her speculatively.

  But Anne was not to be left in peace for long. Daily, letters arrived from the King, under cover of a plain seal. He was in torment. Why had she left him? How had he offended her? What was he to do without her? When could he look to see her? It was clear that her absence had only inflamed his ardor the more fiercely.

  Hoping to stem the torrent of pleading, she wrote to him, courteous, noncommittal letters worded only to cool his passion.

  He responded vehemently. Reading them, he said, had caused him great distress, for he did not know whether to interpret them to his advantage or otherwise. He prayed that she would let him know her mind concerning the love between them.

  Between us? she thought. It was all on his side.

  Of necessity, he must have an answer, he insisted, having for more than a whole year been struck with the dart of love. She had to smile at his courtly way of putting it. Thanks to this new coolness on her part, he continued, he had not known of late whether he was entitled to call her his mistress, for the very name denoted a special love, far removed from common affection. But if it pleased her to be his true, loyal mistress and friend, and give herself up, heart, body, and soul, to him—who, he reminded her, had been, and would be, her very loyal servant—he promised her that not only would he then call her his mistress again, but that also he would take her for his only mistress, rejecting from his thoughts and affections all others save her.

  And she had thought he had dedicated himself to her alone! It sounded very much as if he had been dallying with other ladies as well. Did he think he was doing her an honor?

  He had ended by beseeching her to give a definitive answer to what he aptly called his ill-mannered letter, and tell him how far he might trust in her love. He had ended it: “Written with the hand of him who would willingly remain your H.R.”

  She would not reply, she decided. But he wrote again, chiding her for her tardiness, begging her to assure him of her well-being, and enclosing jewels he thought would please her. His tone was abject and pleading. Again she did not respond. In his next letter she detected a hint of irritation at her evasiveness, so she answered that she might return to court in the company of her mother. That prompted an outpouring of joy. But she could not have him assuming that she loved him too much to stay away, so she sent a messenger to say that she had changed her mind and could not come after all, even in her mother’s company.

  By return, a miserable complaint came winging its way down the leafy lanes to Hever. She was being unduly hard on him. She had not written often enough. It was a long time since he had been assured that she was in good health, so the great affection he felt for her had led him to send again to her, to be the better ascertained of her health and pleasure. He marveled at her changing her mind about coming to court, seeing he had assured himself that he had never offended her. He thought it small recompense for the great love he bore her to keep him thus distanced from the person he most esteemed in the whole world. “And if you love me as I trust, this severing of our two selves should cause you some vexation at least. Your absence grieves me greatly, and if I knew that you truly desired it, I would only lament my ill fortune, and regret my great folly.”

  She laid down the letter and rested her head back against the settle. She did not love him, or want him as a lover—he should have realized that by now, yet he persisted in his fancy that their feelings were mutual. He really believed it.

  She wished she had managed to put him off in the beginning. She thought she might just stay here at Hever and die an old spinster!


  By Christmas, Anne felt like climbing the walls with boredom. She had driven her mother to distraction, veering from one mood to another, until in the end Lady Boleyn had insisted that she tell her who was causing all this to-do.

  “Nearly every day letters arrive for you! What is going on?”

  In the end, Anne told her, unable to contain herself. “The King is pursuing me. He wants me to be his mistress, and I am trying to fend him off!”

  Mother’s jaw dropped.

  “Tell no one, not even Father. I’ll not have him thinking I’m the King’s harlot.”

  “You think I would? One daughter is enough!” Mother was striding up and down the parlor in agitation. “It’s not right, what the King is doing, and it’s not right your being here when you should be serving the Queen. Heaven only knows what she thinks is wrong with you. You could lose your place. And then it will be more difficult to find you a worthy husband. You’re nearly twenty-six as it is.”

  Anne winced. She did not need to be reminded of that.

  “You must return to court,” Mother was saying. “I will accompany you, and I will not leave your side.”


  “I am most gratified to hear that you are recovered,” Queen Katherine said, as Anne and her mother were announced. Her welcome was warm, and she hastened to assure Anne that she had assigned her only the lightest tasks. She was pleased to see Lady Boleyn too, and willingly agreed that Anne should stay in her father’s lodging while her mother was at court.

  Mother’s presence put paid to Tom Wyatt’s hopeful pursuit of Anne. He was playing his lute in a window embrasure when they arrived, and his eyes had filled with joy at the sight of Anne. He jumped up and hurried to greet her, but Lady Boleyn loomed large, for Anne had told her about Tom too, relying on her mother to keep him at bay.

  “Why, Thomas Wyatt!” Mother cried. “How good to see you! How is your dear wife?” At which Tom had rapidly subsided and stammered that Elizabeth was well but preferred to avoid the court.

  “She should come more often,” Mother said, and swept Anne away.

  The King, of course, was another matter. He was beside himself with joy when he came upon Anne and her mother taking the air in the gardens later that day, but after a courteous greeting, he made the mistake of telling Lady Boleyn that she might leave.

  “Your Grace,” Mother replied, “Anne has told me that you have honored her with your attentions, and she has also assured me that you are concerned to protect her reputation, so I make no doubt that you will allow me to stay.” She smiled sweetly.

  Henry’s eyes bored into hers. “Madam, are you questioning the honor and chivalry of your King?” he asked, in a tone that boded no good.

  “Sir, my lady means no offense, but I should like her to stay,” Anne intervened. “As you have graciously said, you would do anything for me. I am sure your Grace would not wish to see the virtue of one whom you have been pleased to serve as your only mistress compromised by her being alone with a gentleman, even the most chivalrous one.”

  His eyes narrowed. “I will see you later, Anne.” He did not say the word “alone,” but she was sure he meant it.

  I think not! she said to herself, and that evening sent word that she had suddenly developed a raging stomachache.


  She had not been back at court two days when a
n angry Henry caught up with her as she was enjoying a brisk walk along the lime avenue at Greenwich, accompanied by her maid. It was a fine December day, the sun shining, the air crisp.

  “Why is Master Wyatt flaunting your jewel?” he demanded to know.

  “He took it from me last year,” she said, startled. “He would not give it back.”

  Henry was not mollified. “I was playing bowls with him just now. The winning cast was mine, but he disputed it. He measured the distance with the lace on your jewel. He almost waved it in my face.”

  “Sir, I assure you, I have no feelings for Tom Wyatt beyond friendship. As I told you, he is married. It would be out of the question.” She looked at him pointedly.

  Henry gripped her arm. “You assure me there has been nothing between you? He seems to think otherwise.”

  “Let go, sir! You are hurting me. Of course there has been nothing. I have never encouraged him. You yourself saw him steal that jewel.”

  Henry let her go. “Ah, so that was how it was. Forgive me, sweetheart, I did not mean to doubt you. It’s just that you are so precious to me that the thought of your loving another is unbearable.”

  “Then all is well,” she said, wishing she dared say that she loved no one.


  When she judged it safe, which was as soon as Henry had gone to meet with his Council, she went looking for Tom, and found him near the mews.

  “You fool, you stupid fool, flaunting my jewel before the King!” she berated him.

  “Then it’s true,” he said. “You love him.” It was an accusation.

  “He loves me, but you must never speak of it. I can’t believe you set yourself up as a rival to him.”

  “He provoked me,” Wyatt protested. “He insisted he had won at bowls. When he pointed to the ball, I recognized your ring on his finger, and I was staring at it, and he said, ‘I tell you, it is mine!’ He wasn’t referring to the winning ball. I wanted to make it clear to him that you were mine first.”

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