Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  Henry sent her a message. She was to come to the lime walk near the friary at eleven o’clock. When she arrived, wrapped in a hooded cloak, for all the warmth of the June night, he enveloped her in his arms.

  “Anne! Anne! Thank God! It’s been hell here. I have missed you more than I can tell you.”

  She tried to respond to his kisses with a similar fervency. But soon he drew apart, looking troubled.

  “What is wrong?” she asked, panicking a little.

  Henry sighed. “Tomorrow I am going to speak to the Queen. I have to, or she’ll hear about our matter from someone else.”

  “Tomorrow? Sir, I’m waiting on her in the morning. I don’t think I should be there.”

  She couldn’t face seeing what this would do to Katherine.

  “Don’t worry, darling. I won’t mention you. This is between the Queen and me.”

  —

  All morning Anne found it hard to face the Queen or meet her eye. She was filled with dread for her, and with such heavy guilt that no amount of rationalizing could dissipate it.

  Henry arrived at ten o’clock.

  “Leave us,” he commanded. Anne found herself trembling. When the ladies began busying themselves in the bedchamber, she strained to listen to what was happening next door, but all she could hear was the murmur of Henry’s voice.

  Then she heard a howl that made her blood freeze.

  It was the Queen, wailing, her words one long, unintelligible lament.

  —

  When they heard the outer door slam, Anne hung back as the other ladies ran to their mistress, urging her to have a care to herself and steadying her with a cup of wine. Katherine gulped it down. She was shaking uncontrollably.

  “His conscience is troubling him,” she whispered. “He wants to end our marriage. He fears that it is an offense to God.”

  There was a chorus of disbelief. Surely not! His Grace had been misled by those who should know better. All would be well in the end. Anne could not speak, for she knew that all would not be well for Katherine ever again.

  “No,” the Queen whispered. “He spoke of taking another wife.”

  They burst out in outrage at that.

  Katherine rested her head back on the chair. “This is the Cardinal’s doing. He hates me and Spain, and he has never forgiven my nephew the Emperor for not making him Pope.”

  She drew herself up in her chair, more composed now. “Whatever they say, my marriage to the King is good and valid.” It sounded like a battle cry. “The Pope himself sanctioned it. My duty now is to persuade my husband that he is in error, and I will do it, so help me God!”

  Her ladies applauded her resolve, and as she thanked them for their loyalty and their love, Anne found herself fighting back tears. Katherine smiled at her. “I am all right now, Mistress Anne,” she said, taking her hand and squeezing it. Anne understood in that moment how Judas Iscariot had felt.

  —

  Later, Anne looked for Henry and found him in his garden, unusually morose and feeling very sorry for himself.

  “The Queen was very distressed after you had gone,” she told him.

  He grimaced. “She was in great grief, as I had feared. I told her I wanted only to resolve the doubts raised by the Bishop of Tarbes, and that everything should be done for the best, but it did not help. All she kept saying was that she was my true wife.”

  “Give her time,” Anne soothed him. “She must come to accept it.”

  Henry swallowed. “I am not so sure. When I saw her this afternoon, she told me she had no doubts at all that our marriage was lawful, and that I was wrong to question it.”

  “If the Pope rules against her, she will have to accept it.”

  Henry shook his head. “Anne, she means to fight me.”

  “You have a strong case.”

  “Yes, which is why I am confident that I will win it. By the saints, I hate this unpleasantness. It’s not my fault that the Pope was in error.” His tone was plaintive.

  “Did you mention me to her?”

  “God, no! I want to keep you out of it until the Pope has spoken. I have not mentioned you even to Wolsey. No, Anne, until this matter is resolved, I mean to show that all is well between me and the Queen. I want to be judged in a favorable light, for I fear that Katherine might incite the Emperor to war if she feels she is being treated unjustly. Bear with me in this. I know how to handle her.”

  You’re afraid of her, Anne realized.

  “Be of good cheer,” Henry urged, squeezing her hand. “Most people at court support me. Archbishop Warham is lukewarm—he’s old and he hates change—but he told Wolsey that, however the Queen might take it, the Pope’s judgment must be followed. Anne, I am absolutely convinced that I am right to pursue this annulment. And I am absolutely determined to marry you, whoever opposes me.” His eyes were dark with passion. “I am mad for you. But right now, you must go home.”

  1527

  It felt strange to be at Beaulieu, a house in Essex that her family had once owned, and which she remembered visiting as a child, when it had been much smaller. But Father had sold it to the King while she was in France, and now it was a great palace faced with fashionable red bricks, with a fountain playing in the courtyard and glorious jeweled glass in the windows.

  Henry seemed to have abandoned all discretion in summoning her here. She had only been gone from court for five weeks, and little could have changed in that time. She was astonished when as soon as she arrived she was escorted to the King’s privy chamber and he embraced her in front of all his gentlemen. Seeing her expression, he was bullish.

  “I have done with subterfuge, Anne! My love for you is an honorable thing, and I would show the world how greatly I hold you in esteem. No harm shall come to your reputation. The world shall see that you are virtuous, beyond reproach and”—he lowered his voice—“fit to be my Queen.”

  He pressed into her hands a small silver casket, in which nestled an emerald ring and other costly jewels, and she smiled, murmuring her thanks. She was aware of the scrutiny of the men in attendance, whose attention was meant to be focused on their cards, dice, and music-making. The handsome Sir Henry Norris was among them. For a brief moment, their eyes met, and Anne felt herself blush. She quickly looked away.

  Henry invited her to walk with him in his privy garden. As soon as they were outdoors, she told him how disconcerted she had been to find that the sole topic of conversation in the inn where she and her father had lodged on the way had been the Great Matter.

  “People were saying they could not believe that your Grace would ever carry so wicked a project into effect. The women, in particular, spoke out in the Queen’s favor. They said that you sought to be rid of her purely for your own pleasure.”

  Henry waved a dismissive hand. “They are ignorant fools, and impertinent to be questioning their King. Sweetheart, I did not bring you here to speak of a few disloyal subjects. I would be private with you for a space before I lose you to the Queen.” He bent and kissed her mouth, drawing her to him, his golden beard rough against her cheek. She twined her arms around his neck, wishing she could feel something of what she had felt for Harry or Norris. For all that she wanted the crown, at times like these, which brought home to her the price of it, she felt as if she was being swept along in a current she could not dam.

  She hastened to visit Mary in the lodging she shared with Will. She wanted to warn her that the secret would soon be out. But Mary’s reception was cold.

  “What business is it of mine?” she sniffed. “You’re welcome to him.”

  “There will be a scandal,” Anne told her.

  “You made your bed, now lie on it!” Jealousy blazed in Mary’s eyes. “If you think I’m going to bow the knee to you as queen…”

  “I didn’t come to argue,” Anne said. “I don’t want any bad feeling between us over this. I didn’t take the King from you.”

  “You came to queen it over me!” Mary was implacable.

 
Anne tried again. “At least let me see the children.”

  “They’re asleep. Good night.” And Mary shut the door.

  —

  Katherine was going about with a determined smile on her face, but the smile slipped a little when Anne kept absenting herself from her duties. The King would not take no for an answer. She must come hunting with him every day. She must join him in his gallery to make music. She must watch him play tennis. He said that if the Queen knew that it was his pleasure, she would not complain. Nor did she, for at first she clearly did not know that Anne meant anything to Henry; and even when her ladies must have informed her, she showed no displeasure, but accepted what was happening in good part, with—Anne thought—exceptional patience.

  “She probably thinks I am merely another Bessie Blount and will be discarded in due course,” Anne said to George over supper in his lodging one evening. It was cramped, but it had two rooms and a privy, and best of all, it was near the King’s apartments. The closer to the King, the more privileged the courtier.

  “Already there is speculation that you are far more than that,” he told her. “The world is full of rumors. Imaginations are running riot.”

  “What are they saying about me?”

  George snorted, and swigged back his wine. “Only that the King fancies you so much that good order and everything has flown out the window! Most think, predictably, that you are the cause of his doubts about his marriage.”

  “He assures me that is not so.”

  “No, but what does it look like?”

  Almost overnight, Anne found herself in a position of great influence. She was thrilled when a young clerk approached her with a request for a post at court and pressed a bag of gold coins into her hand. She had great satisfaction in persuading Henry to grant him a place in the Lord Steward’s office—not that it had been difficult, for he could refuse her nothing—and the man was so grateful. He was the first of many courtiers who fawned on her, seeking her patronage because they knew she had the King’s ear. This, her first taste of real power, was a heady experience. It gave her a new confidence, for it was gratifying to be able to fulfill others’ expectations and thus secure their loyalty, which would be invaluable when she was raised to queenship.

  The King showered her with gifts: jewels, bolts of rich velvets and damask silk, lapdogs, fine wines…Dressed in such finery, she looked like a queen. Within two weeks of her arrival at court, rumors were circulating that the King meant to marry her. That provoked an excited swell of gossip, not all of it approving.

  When she ran into her sister in a gallery, Mary swept a mocking curtsey. “My, aren’t we fine,” she sneered. “You should hear what they’re saying about you.”

  “One day soon you’ll sing a different song!” Anne called after her departing back.

  The court was one thing—the King’s pleasure was too respected there for resentment to spill over into open protest—but England at large was another. Anne was horrified when, riding out to the hunt with Henry, with the Queen there too, people spat at her and shouted out their outrage that she should dare presume to supplant good Queen Katherine.

  “Whore!” they shouted. “Witch! Adulteress!” The women were worse than the men. It was frightening, and Anne’s cheeks burned with the unjustness of it. And for all his angry commands, bawled from the saddle, there was nothing the King could do to still the voices. There were always others ahead to shout more abuse. But when Katherine rode by, they cried: “Victory over your enemies!”

  Henry and Anne rode on stony-faced. Anne had never dreamed that this divorce would arouse such opposition.

  The Queen must have heard the speculation and the heckling, but when they got back to Beaulieu, she remained courteous to Anne, if a little distant. She only ever made one gentle thrust. Henry, somewhat naively, seemed to think it perfectly acceptable for his wife and his mistress to join him in a game of cards. Anne did not want to join in, but he insisted. When she won, drawing a king, which scored high, Katherine smiled at her and said, “My lady Anne, you have the good luck to stop at a king—but you are like the others: you will have all or none.”

  Henry glowered at her. Anne flushed, but she could say nothing. She sat there feeling intensely embarrassed, resentment and anger mounting. It was unfair of Katherine to taunt her publicly, especially as Anne had tried to fend off Henry’s courtship. Now everyone within earshot was staring at her, or whispering, knowing looks in their eyes. Her pride revolted. What did they think she was, the King’s whore? She felt her cheeks flushing.

  To her relief, the Queen rose, begged Henry’s leave, and retired to bed. Anne glared after her. The sympathy she had felt for Katherine, the ever-present guilt, had dissipated. Katherine was her enemy, and would bring her down without a qualm if she could.

  She turned to Henry.

  “Did I deserve that?” she flared.

  “No, but let it be, Anne,” he said. “The Queen is fighting a battle she cannot win. I have enough to trouble me as it is. This afternoon my sister shouted at me. She told me she supported the Queen and would leave the court if I insisted on having you here with me. I told her she could go, and she stormed out without even a curtsey.” He looked injured at the memory.

  “She hates me, doesn’t she?” Anne seethed. “She swept past me yesterday holding her nose, as if there was a bad smell.”

  “I won’t have her hold me to ransom like that,” Henry growled, upset because he loved his sister. “Thank God Suffolk supports us. He’ll talk some sense into her.”

  —

  Throughout August, Anne, her father, her uncle of Norfolk, and their friends, who now included the Duke of Suffolk, took advantage of the Cardinal’s absence in France. Anne arranged for her father and the two dukes to sup with the King every night, and over the dinner table they dropped hint after subtle hint that, far from working to secure an annulment, Wolsey might actually be doing his best to prevent the Pope granting one. Henry was skeptical, but no matter—a doubt had been planted in his mind.

  At one supper, Sir Henry Norris was present, seated next to Anne, who was all too aware of his physical nearness.

  Henry explained, “I have invited Sir Henry to join us, darling, because henceforth he will act as go-between for us. As Groom of the Stool and head of my Privy Chamber, he will guide you while you establish your position at court, and he is utterly trustworthy.”

  “It is an honor, sir,” Norris said warmly, smiling at Anne. And there it was again, that sense of recognition, and she found herself hardly able to look away. For a brief moment there had been a frisson of attraction between them, and she was certain that he had felt it too.

  Henry was chatting on, oblivious to the momentous thing that was happening to her. The poets wrote of love at first sight, which she had often dismissed as a mere literary conceit, but now she knew. It did not matter that she was barely acquainted with Norris; there was no doubt in her mind that love was what she had felt for him from the first, or that he was everything she wanted. His looks, his strong body and beautiful hands, his courtesy, his smile—they proclaimed what he was.

  But he was married, and she had promised to wed the King. For a mad moment she thought she would tell Henry that she could not go through with it, could not face the uproar or the opprobrium. But even if she did, Norris was not free—and Henry would never accept it.

  The men were laughing and she remembered where she was. Quickly she picked up the gist of the jest and joined in.

  She sensed Norris watching her, and when the conversation turned to hunting, a favorite topic of Henry’s, she smiled at him.

  “You have been at court long, Sir Henry?”

  He fixed those wondrous light blue eyes on her. “Please call me Norris, Mistress Anne,” he invited. “Everyone else does. Yes, my family have had long associations with the court. I came here in my youth and was fortunate to be honored with the friendship of the King, who has generously bestowed on me many offices. I’ve served in
his Privy Chamber for ten years, and was made head of it last year.”

  All the time they were talking, Anne was acutely aware that something else was happening between them, something they could never acknowledge.

  “And what do your duties encompass?”

  “I am in charge of the twelve gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber. We are all especially privileged, for we have the right of entry to His Grace’s private chambers; we look after his personal needs and provide him with daily companionship.”

  “Then you must be in positions of great power.”

  “We are, Mistress Anne, but I hope we do not abuse it.”

  “And the Cardinal—he resents this power.” It was not a question.

  “It stands to reason,” murmured Father, sitting the other side of Anne, as the King and the dukes rattled on about bloodstock. “Those in the Privy Chamber are able to advise and influence His Grace, control access to his presence, and exercise patronage. The Cardinal fears that. As Lord Chancellor, he can control the Privy Council but not the Privy Chamber. He has tried twice to reform the Privy Chamber, as he put it—which meant flushing out those who had too much influence.”

  “Some were invited back,” Norris smiled. “I need not say that the Cardinal is not very popular in the Privy Chamber.”

  “And you are in charge,” Anne said, avoiding his gaze. Father must not suspect anything.

  “Norris is the most highly trusted man in the court,” Father said. “He has the confidence of the King, and, if I may say it, could be accounted one of his closest friends.”

  Norris bowed his head. “I have that honor,” he said modestly.

  “And the King has given him a fine house at Greenwich.” Anne had a fleeting vision of herself and Norris tucked away there, far from the court and their duties and obligations. What joy that would have been!

  Father was asking after Norris’s children. He had three. She could not bear to think about them, the living proof of his intimacy with his wife.

 
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