Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  “I know you will be a friend to my daughter,” Father was saying.

  “I will do all in my power to support her, my lord,” Norris promised. There was no doubting his sincerity—or the warmth with which he said it.


  The Queen was fighting back.

  “She won’t even listen to me!” Henry complained, when they were alone later that night after the others had left. “She insists that the dispensation allowing us to marry was infallible, and that she was never Arthur’s wife properly anyway, so Leviticus is irrelevant.”

  “Is that true?” Anne asked, feeling increasingly resentful toward Katherine, who would not face reality and stand aside.

  Henry stared gloomily into the empty fireplace. “My father was assured that her marriage to my brother was never consummated, and—well, to be plain, Anne, I was a virgin when we wed, and I would not have known the difference. I believed her—she is a woman of integrity and virtue. But now I wonder: was it that she, being innocent—as I have no doubt she was—did not understand what was meant to happen, or thought it hadn’t happened when it had? They did spend seven nights together.”

  “Or she lied, because she still wanted to be Queen of England.”

  “I don’t think so,” Henry said, flushing a little. It irritated her that he still held Katherine in high esteem and recoiled from any criticism of her. He could criticize, but no one else was supposed to! And that, she suspected, was because Katherine was still his Queen, still his wife. But she has no right! she fumed inwardly.

  “That bar in Leviticus is not qualified,” she said. “A man may not marry his brother’s wife. It’s as simple as that, and no Pope can sanction it.”

  “Katherine argues that Leviticus would only apply if she had borne Arthur a child. She cites a text in Deuteronomy that requires a man to marry his brother’s widow, but she’s wrong. It doesn’t apply to Christians.”

  “She is grasping at straws.”

  Life was unfair, she knew, but this was especially unfair. There was Katherine, who had no right to be queen, winning sympathy all round; and there was she, who had lived a blameless life, being cursed whenever she went abroad in the streets, and vilified now throughout Christendom—oh yes, she had heard the talk. Most people saw her as a Jezebel who had ousted a virtuous wife, and yet who was the more virtuous of the two? Katherine, who had lived in sin for eighteen years, or herself, who had jealously guarded her virginity and never given the King any encouragement? So it was hard nowadays to feel anything but resentment toward Katherine, for all her kindness.

  “Cheer up, darling,” Henry said, pulling her into his arms. “We will win through. My case is sound. I trust, by the Cardinal’s diligence, shortly to be rid of this trouble.”

  “And I trust that your trust is not misplaced,” Anne said, accepting his kiss.

  “Come on, sweetheart, Wolsey is a good friend and a consummate politician—he will secure this annulment for me, and we’ll be joyfully receiving him at his homecoming.” And he bent his head, greatly daring, and pressed his lips to her breast where it swelled above the stiff square neckline of her gown. She let him go so far, but it was only when she thought of Norris that she found some pleasure in it.


  It was September, and the air was turning cool. A masque was to be performed in the great hall, and Anne had put on a low-cut gown of white damask and threaded jewels through her hair, which she wore loose. It was long enough to sit on, and Henry loved to see it in all its glory. The Queen said nothing when Anne appeared, glittering in her finery, to attend her with a host of other maids and ladies, but Katherine’s particular friends, Lady Salisbury, Lady Willoughby, and Lady Parr, eyed her disapprovingly. She ignored them, dragons all of them, and was gratified to see that Henry could not take his eyes off her. She was aware, too, of another pair of eyes looking on admiringly, but when she glanced at Norris, he turned and spoke to another gentleman.

  The masque was to portray the legend of Narcissus and Echo. Henry himself showed Anne to her chair, which had been placed to the right of the dais where he and the Queen were to watch the performance. But at that moment an usher approached.

  “Your Grace, my Lord Cardinal is returned from France and waits outside, wishing to know where he should come,” he announced. Henry’s face lit up in anticipation of the news Wolsey brought.

  Where he should come? What did he think the King was? A lackey? Anne’s blood boiled. Here was her chance to discredit Wolsey, and demonstrate her own power.

  “I must go to him,” Henry said, beginning to rise.

  Anne summoned her courage and turned to the usher. “Where else should the Cardinal come? Tell him he may come here, where the King is!” Katherine raised her eyebrows in astonishment. Everyone was staring at Anne. Let them! People must see that she enjoyed more influence with the King than the great Cardinal did.

  “Yes, indeed,” Henry said, frowning, and nodded to the usher.

  When Wolsey came into the hall, bowed low, and made his way to the dais, Anne moved to Henry’s side. Father, Norfolk, and Suffolk were looking on triumphantly; they would be pleased with her. She could see the dismay in the Cardinal’s face, the flash of anger at her presumption. He would not call her a foolish girl now!

  She knew, from his manner and the way his shoulders were bowed, that his mission had been a failure. She was aware of Henry stiffening next to her, of the testy pace of his breathing. He knew it too.


  It was becoming increasingly difficult to fend off Henry’s advances. With no end to the waiting in sight, the Pope still in thrall to the Emperor, and Wolsey apparently helpless, he was growing more and more frustrated.

  “This delay is killing me!” he complained. “Be kind to me, Anne! A man has needs, you know.”

  “And what needs do you expect me to satisfy?” she teased him. “You said you would respect my virtue.”

  Fine words, but they had not stopped him from summoning her late at night to his privy chamber to be alone with her after his gentlemen had gone to bed. Norris always fetched her and escorted her to the secret stair that led up to the King’s most private apartments. It was torment for her, to have him take her to the King, and torment for him too, she suspected.

  It was not just her inclination but her prudence that decided her to put a stop to these visits. She must not give Henry the opportunity to press his attentions. Who knew how long it would be before his self-control gave way?

  “This is unwise,” she told him one night, when he grew particularly insistent, biting her neck, his hand cupping her breast.

  “Why?” he gasped, face flushed, hair tousled. “I need you! I love you, Anne.”

  She drew away. “Being alone with you is wrong.”

  “Norris would never talk.”

  “But I feel it is wrong. Henry”—for this she now called him in the privacy of his chamber—“until your annulment is in sight, I do not feel it is right for me to be at court. I want to go home to Hever.”

  “No!” he cried. “Don’t leave me!”

  “Think of what it is like for me,” she pleaded. “I am the butt of continual gossip. Some think I am your whore! My position here is anomalous, and until the future is clearer, it is better for me to stay away.” And if I am at Hever, I won’t have to see the man I love daily. And you will spur Wolsey more forcibly into getting you what you want.

  Henry groaned and clasped her to him. “I don’t think I can bear being without you.” He was almost sobbing.

  “You can visit me, as you did before,” she said.

  “It is not enough. It is never enough!”

  “Please grant me leave to go. It grieves me to leave you, but it is for the best. The gossip will die down and my reputation will be saved.”

  “Very well,” Henry sighed. “But this time you must write to me, often. No tardiness like before.”

  “I will, I promise,” Anne said, and kissed him. He responded almost violently,
every sinew expressing his longing, and she had all to do to fend him off.


  Absence did indeed make a man grow fonder—if that were possible. Henry’s letters betrayed a new depth of passion. When Anne perceived the increasing intensity of his feelings, she knew she had done the right thing in leaving court.

  He was desperate for her. He wrote often of his need for her. In her replies, she never referred to any intimacies, for fear of further inflaming his ardor. She tried instead to express the devotion she could not feel, and pretended a great desire to see an end to their separation.

  Henry wrote that he had sounded out his beloved friend Sir Thomas More on his Great Matter. More, Anne knew, was a lawyer of integrity and a renowned scholar, and his opinion would carry great weight throughout Christendom—but he had said he believed the King’s marriage to be good and valid.

  “I will not press him, for the sake of our friendship,” Henry wrote. “But I wish he had felt he could support me in my just cause.”

  Anne wondered how strong opposition to the Great Matter really was. When the time came, would people like More feel the need to speak out? And what damage might that do to the King’s case?


  The worst thing about being at Hever was the frosty atmosphere. Mary was there with her children for a holiday in the country, and still she could not forgive Anne for snaring the King who had abandoned her. Henry’s name hung between the sisters, not to be mentioned without rancor. It did not matter that he had finished with Mary long before he began pursuing Anne: Anne was made to feel as if she had stolen him.

  It was Mary who shot the worst barb.

  “The King says he is troubled in his conscience because he took to wife his brother’s widow,” she said out of the blue one evening, after Mother had retired and as she and Anne sat sewing in chilly silence in the parlor.

  “Yes, that is the basis of his case,” Anne said, forcing herself to patience, because surely Mary knew that? The whole world did!

  Mary appeared to be considering something, and it occurred to Anne that she was enjoying this.

  “What’s your point?” she challenged.

  “I was wondering if he felt the same scruple about marrying his mistress’s sister?” Mary gave her a nasty little smile.

  Anne was about to utter a pithy retort when, to her horror, it dawned on her that Mary was right. There must indeed be as absolute a barrier to her marriage to Henry as there was to Henry’s union with Katherine. They were equally incestuous.

  It was as well that she had never given way to Henry’s desires.

  This was truly terrible, for such a barrier might prove insurmountable. And if the truth about Henry’s relations with Mary, and the child she had borne him, was revealed, he would stand exposed as a hypocrite, and no one would believe that his Great Matter had sprung from a scruple of conscience. They would say it had been driven by lust.

  “Cat got your tongue?” Mary provoked her.

  Anne was desperate to refute the argument, whatever the truth of the matter. “I’m sure a bar applies only if the parties are married,” she said. “You were not married to the King.”

  Mary shrugged. “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. It’s more than my life’s worth to have Will finding out about the King and me.”

  Anne was near to tears. “Aren’t things difficult enough without you making them worse?”

  “It’s better to know now than later. Maybe the King can get a dispensation that’s sounder than the last one.”

  Anne swallowed. Asking the Pope for another dispensation—aside from all the other complications—would be tantamount to conceding that the first one was tenable.

  Oh, God, was there no end to the obstacles that were being placed in her way?

  “You don’t love him, do you?” Mary challenged. “You just want to be queen.”

  “My being queen will benefit us all, even you!” Anne flared.

  “Yes, but you want all the glory,” Mary riposted. “You want to see us all making obeisance to you.”

  “In your case, I shall look forward to it!” Anne retorted.


  She wrote urgently to Henry, and was relieved to receive a speedy response. Yes, he agreed there was cause for concern, but a Papal dispensation allowing their union would put matters to rights. He was sending his secretary, Dr. Knight, on a secret mission to Rome to ask for one that allowed him to wed the sister of a woman with whom he had bedded. Dr. Knight was also going to ask the Pope for a general commission that would give Wolsey, as Papal legate, the authority to rule on the Great Matter. “I am absolutely resolved to satisfy my conscience,” Henry wrote.

  Thank God that this new dispensation was to be kept a secret. Henry had immediately grasped the implications. He had even promised that, if Pope Clement granted him an annulment, he would declare war on the Emperor to secure the freedom of the Holy Father. And to make things easier for Clement, and bring the whole business to a speedy resolution, Wolsey had helpfully sent two draft dispensations, one annulling the first marriage, the other authorizing a second, to which the Pope need only affix his signature and seal. It all sounded hopeful.


  In the depths of a snowy January, a letter arrived from the King. Anne read it as she strode out, wrapped in furs, across the white-carpeted meadows. He would have come himself, he wrote, but the bad weather precluded it. So far, he had paid her five visits, the last before Christmas, and it had been clear that time and distance had only given a spur to his ardor. She had taken care that her mother was never out of earshot, much to Henry’s frustration.

  He had sent her good news. England and France had together declared war on the Emperor. Better still, the Pope had escaped from Rome to Orvieto, and had issued a confidential dispensation enabling Henry to marry whichever woman he liked, even his mother, daughter, or sister, provided his first marriage was declared unlawful. Clement had also granted Wolsey a general commission to try the King’s case, but not to pass judgment.

  “His Holiness is terrified of the Emperor,” Henry wrote. “He has secretly urged me to take matters into my own hands, have Wolsey pronounce a divorce, and then marry again; and he assures me he will confirm the second marriage, and so judgment will be passed to the satisfaction of the whole world—as long as no one guesses that the idea came from him. But I have the future stability of the succession to consider. Our marriage must be indisputably valid.”

  Anne agreed that this was a perilous course to take. She was beginning to distrust this Pope. Why should God’s Vicar on Earth fear a mortal prince? And how fit to pronounce on the King’s case was a pontiff who advised such subterfuges and permitted such unpardonable excesses in the Church?


  As soon as the snow cleared, Henry rode down to Hever.

  “Things are moving!” he told Anne excitedly, before he had even swung himself down from his horse. “Wolsey has asked the Pope to send another legate, Cardinal Campeggio, to try my case with him.”

  She could not contain her frustration. “He is stalling.”

  “Darling,” Henry protested, pulling her into a cold embrace, “Wolsey is the most able of my ministers. He’s the only man capable of securing an annulment.”

  “Is that what he tells you? Henry, he is stalling.”

  “I’ll not believe it.” Henry looked injured. “Anne, I have come all this way to see you, and I do not want to waste time arguing. I know you have little love for Wolsey, but you are being unreasonable.”

  “He knows that the Pope is reluctant to give judgment in your favor for fear of offending the Emperor. He must also know that any cardinal coming from Rome will do the Pope’s bidding and delay a decision. And that will suit my Lord Cardinal very well, because the last thing he wants to see is me with a crown on my head!”

  “I don’t think so,” Henry said, looking perplexed. “Wolsey bombards my envoys in Rome daily with instructions, promises, threats, and inducements
. No one has worked more tirelessly in this matter.”

  “Yes, but to what end? And you cannot see it! When I think of all you have done for him, the wealth you have showered on him, the offices, the palaces finer than yours…” She left the sentence unfinished.

  Henry was looking disgruntled. Having sown the seeds of discontent over the past weeks, in her letters and face-to-face, Anne knew that he was at last growing resentful of Wolsey’s power and wealth.

  “He has promised me an annulment, and I will hold him to it. We shall see if he keeps his promise. Then will you be satisfied?”

  “I shall be forever grateful to him,” Anne declared, realizing that she had gone far enough, and that it was now time to lighten the mood. She smiled. “Our bitch has whelped. Would your Grace like to see the pups? You are very welcome to your pick of them.”

  She led Henry into the hall, where Venus, Father’s mastiff bitch, was lying in a basket by the fire with her offspring gamboling around her. Mary’s children were playing with them, and Anne bade them bow to the King. She saw Henry’s eyes light on Catherine and recognition dawn. He bent down.

  “Don’t be afraid of me, little maid.” Catherine smiled shyly. It was like looking at Henry in miniature.

  “I’m not afraid!” piped up Hal. Henry ruffled his hair.

  “You’re a fine pair,” he said, looking wistful. “When I come again, I will bring you gifts.”

  “We’re going to give His Grace a gift, aren’t we?” Anne told her niece and nephew. “Which puppy shall he have?”

  “Vulcan!” cried Hal.

  “Saturn,” said Catherine.

  “I’ll have Saturn,” Henry said. Catherine gathered up the wriggling little dog and laid it in his arms. “Thank you, sweeting,” he told her.

  His eyes met Anne’s above his daughter’s head. They were full of tears. Give me children like these, they were pleading.

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