Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  —

  At the end of January, the King’s chaplain, Edward Foxe, and Stephen Gardiner, a doctor of civil and canon law, called on Anne at Hever.

  “Mistress Anne, we bring you news and a letter from the King,” Foxe explained, when refreshments had been served. “We are on our way to Rome to persuade the Pope to send Cardinal Campeggio as legate. His Holiness refused, you know, but Cardinal Wolsey has asked us to add our arguments to his, and repeat without ceasing that His Majesty cannot do otherwise than separate from the Queen. If all else fails, we are to do our best to excite fear in the Pope.”

  It was apparent, after Anne had conversed with Foxe and the stern-faced Gardiner for only a short while, that both were formidable advocates. If anyone could succeed with this vacillating Pope, it was these two determined clerics.

  They did not stay long. They had to get to Dover to catch tomorrow’s tide.

  “I wish you well,” she told them. “You have a long journey ahead of you. Godspeed—and bring me back good news.”

  When they had gone, she opened Henry’s letter. He too was optimistic. He trusted, by the diligence of Dr. Foxe and Dr. Gardiner, that shortly he and she would have their desired end, which would be more to his heart’s ease than any other thing in the world. It was signed: “With the hand of him which desires as much to be yours as you do to have him. H.R.”

  As usual, in the face of his devotion, she felt guilty. She had tried not to think of Norris during these months at Hever, but he had kept invading her thoughts. If only she could feel the same powerful attraction for Henry.

  —

  Soon afterward, Henry wrote to say that, by careful maneuvering, the Cardinal was trying to resolve the feud between her father and Piers Butler over the earldom of Ormond, hoping to persuade Piers to resign it in favor of Father. Even if Wolsey was seeking to placate the enmity of the Boleyns, it was good news, and Father would be elated at the prospect of being a belted earl.

  Henry had suggested that a note of thanks to Wolsey would be appropriate, so Anne clenched her teeth and wrote one, thanking him for his wisdom and diligence in endeavoring to bring about the King’s divorce.

  To me, it will be the greatest wealth that can come to any creature. When I am queen, you shall see what I can imagine to do you pleasure, and you shall find me the gladdest woman in the world to do it. And next to the King’s Grace, you shall have my love unfeignedly through my life.

  It was all lies, and it went against her principles to send it, but she must not let Henry think she was vindictive. The time would come when he would see the truth.

  —

  In March, Henry invited Anne and her mother to stay as his guests at Windsor Castle. They found him with only his riding household and a handful of attendants, but George was there, and Norris. Anne tried hard not to keep looking Norris’s way, but there came a day when she entered the royal library in search of a book and found him there alone. For a long moment they looked into each other’s eyes. There could be no mistaking his feelings now. His gaze held hers, but when he opened his mouth to speak, she laid a finger to her lips. Some things were better left unsaid. It was enough to know that her feelings were reciprocated. Without a word, she smiled and made herself walk out of the door.

  The weather was fair, and every afternoon Henry took Anne hunting or hawking. They covered many miles, not returning until late in the evening, when a hearty supper would be served to them. In the mornings they went walking in Windsor Great Park, and Henry told her about a murdered forester called Herne the Hunter, whose antlered ghost was said to walk these woodlands. “If you venture out at midnight you might see it,” he teased her.

  “That’s why I’m making sure I walk here in the mornings!” she laughed.

  “Anne, I miss you dreadfully when you’re not here,” Henry said. “Come to Greenwich with me.”

  It struck her that it was time to exercise a little vigilance on Wolsey.

  “Very well,” she agreed. “I will.”

  Henry’s eyes were shining. “You mean I don’t have to beg?”

  “Not at all. I should like to come very much.”

  —

  As soon as she arrived at Greenwich, there was a scramble to pay court to her. People clearly expected that she would soon be queen, and so they vied for her favors and her patronage. And no one was more fawning and obsequious than Wolsey. Eager to please his master and ingratiate himself, he entertained Henry and Anne to great feasts and lavish banquets at York Place. It was gratifying to see the mighty Cardinal almost tripping over his red robes to pay homage to her.

  No longer was she to serve the Queen. Henry knew it would be unpleasant for both of them, and assigned Anne a lodging off the tiltyard gallery. It was one normally allocated to the most favored courtiers, and he had had it furnished with fine tapestries, a carved tester bed, and a wealth of silverware. It was wonderful to have her very own apartment, and the leisure to enjoy it.

  “It is but a foretaste of what you will have in the fullness of time,” Henry promised.

  Now she could entertain her friends in private, and pass the time making music, writing poetry, playing cards, or gossiping. George came nearly every day, and sometimes he brought Jane too, but she clearly felt ill at ease among the ladies and gentlemen, many of them self-seekers, who crowded Anne’s chamber in search of good pastimes, witty conversation, and favors from the King. Anne was relieved when she stopped coming.

  —

  Early in May, Henry appeared at her door. “Dr. Foxe is returned from Rome.” And there the good doctor was, right behind him.

  “Welcome!” Anne greeted him, trying not to let her hopes surge too high. “Have you brought us good news?”

  “Your Grace, Mistress Anne, it is not quite what we had hoped, but his Holiness has agreed to send Cardinal Campeggio to England to try the case with Cardinal Wolsey. Yet we could not persuade him to grant a commission empowering Cardinal Wolsey to give judgment. Nevertheless, sir, we both feel optimistic, given the goodwill of his Holiness toward your Grace.”

  “That’s wonderful news!” Anne cried. “Thank you, Dr. Foxe, thank you!”

  Henry grabbed Anne’s hand and led them to the Cardinal, eager to tell him the news.

  “Excellent, excellent!” Wolsey said, eyeing Anne nervously.

  But then Foxe spoke up. “There is one cause for concern, your Grace. His Holiness has heard rumors that Mistress Anne—forgive me, mistress—is with child, and he feels she may not be worthy to be queen.”

  “That’s a wicked lie!” Anne protested.

  Henry’s expression was thunderous. “By God, I won’t have you slandered so! My Lord Cardinal, you will write to the Pope now and inform him that he has been laboring under a vile misapprehension. You will stress Mistress Anne’s excellent virtue, her constant virginity, her chastity, her wisdom, her descent of noble and regal blood, her good manners, her youth, and her apparent aptness to bear children. You will tell him that these are the grounds on which my desire is founded, and the qualities for which Mistress Anne is held in esteem here.”

  Wolsey nodded fervent agreement. “I will write immediately, sir,” he promised. “The world shall know the truth about Mistress Anne.” And he bowed in her direction.

  But the world—at least that portion of it in England—appeared instead to be paying heed to a mad nun in Kent, who was making wild prophecies and proclaiming that she had seen holy visions.

  “This tiresome woman rants against me in public,” an irritated Henry told Anne. “She’s a lunatic, but she draws large crowds wherever she goes. Now, the authorities inform me, she has predicted that, if I put away my lawful wife, as she calls Katherine, I shall no longer be king of this realm and shall die a villain’s death.” He shrugged. “It beggars belief!”

  Anne was alarmed. “Henry, if ignorant people are giving credence to her fantasies, you should take action against her.”

  “Sweetheart, she is a harmless madwoman,” he said
. “Just ignore her.”

  —

  That summer, the dreaded sweating sickness once again broke out in London, infecting people with alarming speed. It was the disease that had carried off Anne’s older brothers eleven years before. She had been in France then, and had not experienced the horrors of an epidemic such as this. She was gripped with fear that, at any moment, she might be struck down with the sweat; that she might wake in the morning feeling well, but be dead by dinnertime. Any little symptom—feeling overheated, which was natural in this sweltering May, or a little breathless—assumed a sinister significance. Some said that getting a physician to bleed you helped; Henry swore by a concoction of herbs in treacle. But Anne had no faith in either. When it came down to it, there was nothing you could do to protect yourself, save avoiding contact with those who were stricken.

  She was disturbed to hear that some were saying that this visitation was a judgment of God on the King for putting away his lawful Queen. But Henry was having none of it.

  “They might also say that it is a judgment on me for living in sin with her!” he growled. “Do not fret, sweetheart.”

  Anne was present when Henry was informed that the number of reported cases of the sweat in London had soared to forty thousand. She watched the color drain from his face. For all his courage—this was the man who had sought glory on the battlefields of France—he had an inordinate fear of illness, and no wonder, given that he had no son to succeed him.

  “We must leave Greenwich,” he said, his voice hoarse with fear. “The court must remove tomorrow.”

  He was debating with himself where best to go, and which parts of the country were safest, when word came that the sweat had invaded the royal household itself. Two servants had sickened—and Sir Henry Norris.

  Anne began trembling violently. No! Norris must not die! God could not be so cruel. She strove to calm herself.

  “Dear God, not Norris!” Henry lamented. “The best of my gentlemen, God save him! I will pray for him.” He crossed himself and Anne fervently followed suit. “That settles it,” Henry went on. “We’ll leave today. I’ll give the order to break up the court. Darling, you are shaking—do not fear, I beg of you. We will go to Waltham in Essex, where I have a small house. We’ll be safe there—it’s a long way from the contagion.”

  “What of the Queen?” Anne asked.

  “She must come too. I cannot send her away at a time like this. Remember, until judgment is given, I must be seen to be cherishing her as my wife.” He shouted for his grooms. “We will take only a small retinue,” he told Anne.

  It would not be easy, she thought, living in close proximity to Katherine, although the Queen had continued to show herself courteous, if distant. And it would be a challenge concealing her fears for Norris. At least Henry would be kept informed of his progress.

  At Waltham she found herself accommodated with the Queen’s ladies, none of whom had a kind word to say to her these days. And Henry, to her dismay, seemed to be spending most of his time with Katherine—when he was not closeted away experimenting with remedies for the sweat. She suspected that he was storing up credit with God, just in case his marriage was found valid—which it wouldn’t be, of course; but she was seeing a different side to Henry right now, and was coming to realize how much he really did fear divine disapproval.

  Wolsey, who had had the sweat before and was immune, wrote frequently. Norris, mercifully, was recovering, for which Anne gave secret heartfelt thanks. All affairs of state saving the Great Matter were being held in suspension while the sickness raged, but the Cardinal had enough to keep him busy late into the night.

  “Write to Wolsey, darling,” Henry urged late one evening, when Katherine had gone to bed and they were snatching a quiet hour together in his privy chamber. “Let him know how grateful you are for his diligence.”

  Dutifully, Anne wrote, the insincere words of thanks dripping from her pen.

  “I had hoped,” Henry said, when she had finished and given it to him to read, “to have heard that Cardinal Campeggio had reached France by now.” He added a postscript, saying as much to Wolsey.

  “I warned you,” Anne said. “Campeggio will not be in any hurry. They are all hoping that you will tire of me and forget about an annulment.”

  “Darling, that is just not true,” Henry said, taking her hands. “His Holiness would not send a legate all this way unless he means to give a favorable judgment. It is only right that my case gets a fair hearing, and that the legates are seen to be weighing the evidence. You must stop imagining the worst.”

  “I will try,” she sighed. “I cannot help being anxious.” She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. “There is a matter I wish to discuss with you.”

  Henry subsided into his chair and gave her a rueful grin. “I had hoped to make the most of our time alone together, but go ahead.”

  “It will not take long,” Anne smiled. “You will have heard that the Abbess of Wilton died.”

  “Yes. It’s a rich and fashionable nunnery, and the nobility send their daughters there, so there’s been much ado about choosing a successor. The community supports the election of the Prioress, Dame Isabel Jordan. The Cardinal is in favor, and I daresay I shall approve it.”

  Anne already knew that Wolsey was backing the Prioress. She had learned that earlier in the day when Will Carey had come to see her. His sister Eleanor was a nun at Wilton, and both he and Mary were hoping that Anne would exert influence on her behalf. Anne had smiled to herself. For all her jealousy, Mary was quite prepared to use her to get what she wanted. Yet it was chiefly the chance to score one over Wolsey that had made Anne determined to secure the appointment of Dame Eleanor. It would be an effective way of demonstrating her ascendancy over her enemy.

  “Your Grace may not be aware that Master Carey’s sister Eleanor is a nun at Wilton,” Anne said now. “I think she would be a far more suitable choice. She is young and learned, and much liked. The Prioress may have many qualities, but she is too old. If it were known that your Grace preferred Dame Eleanor, the convent would vote accordingly.”

  Henry considered. “I will think on this,” he promised.

  “Thank you, sir,” Anne replied. “That would make me so happy.” And she held out her arms to him.

  —

  She was delighted to hear that Henry had written to Wolsey expressing his wishes in the matter of Wilton Abbey, and even more gratified to hear that the Cardinal had promised to push for Dame Eleanor’s election. But her elation was short-lived. No sooner had she heard the good news than one of her two maids came running to say that the other had the sweat.

  Henry was distraught. He ordered Anne to leave Waltham immediately for his manor of Byfleet in Surrey, in case she herself was infected. He would not even kiss her goodbye, or take her in his arms. She left, head held high, concealing her hurt. On the journey, huddled in a litter, a scented kerchief tied around the lower part of her face to ward off infection, she assured herself that it was not because he did not love her, but because he could take no chances with his own health. Indeed, she soon learned that he had abandoned Waltham and fled to Hunsdon House the day after she left.

  At Byfleet, alone and in fear, she could not stop crying. The signs were there—Henry had sent her away, having all but returned to Katherine. No doubt Wolsey had got at him, pricking his ever-tender conscience. But soon Henry began bombarding her with letters begging her to send word that she continued well. He also informed her that George had contracted the sweat, but by God’s mercy had recovered and was going home to Grimston as soon as he was able. She was desperately relieved to hear that, and that there was not a single sick soul at Hunsdon.

  In response, she poured out her fears, of the sweat, of losing Henry to it, and about the Cardinal working against her. Henry was quick to allay them with brave words.

  One thing may comfort you, for they say that few women get this malady, and no one at court has died of it. So I implore you, my entir
ely beloved, to have no fear at all, nor let my absence upset you, for wherever I may be, I am yours. One must sometimes submit to ill fortune, but comfort yourself, take courage, and banish this anxiety as far as you can, and then I trust soon to make us exult in its dismissal. No more for the present, for lack of time, but that I wish you in my arms, that I might a little relieve your useless and vain thoughts.

  Written with the hand of him who is, and always will be,

  Your ImHRmutable.

  There were cases of the sweat in Surrey, he had warned her, so it was advisable for her to leave Byfleet and go home. She had her maid pack up her gear once more, and departed for Hever.

  There she found her father, who had returned when the court was broken up. He sent her straight to her bedchamber and ordered her to stay there, lest she infect him, Mother, or Mary and the children, who were staying with them. She went meekly enough. It was a wise precaution.

  The next morning, Mary pushed a letter from Will under Anne’s door. Anne seethed when she read it. Will had been in attendance when the King opened a letter from Cardinal Wolsey and exploded with anger, for Wolsey had begged him to abandon all thoughts of his nullity suit, for fear of God’s wrath.

  He used terrible words, saying he would have given a thousand Wolseys for one Anne Boleyn. He said that no other than God should take her from him.

  Anne was incandescent. Henry must now see that Wolsey was working against them. Here was proof, if ever he needed it! Maybe he would heed her more now, and not dismiss her real concerns as womanish fancies.

  She laid down the letter, her hand trembling with anger, and opened the door to get the tray of food that had been left outside. Cold slices of venison, manchet bread, thickly buttered, and a beaker of ale. She did not fancy any of it; she was in too much turmoil to eat and her head was aching a little. She sat down and picked up her Book of Hours, an exquisite illuminated manuscript in vibrant colors. It had always brought her comfort, ever since she had bought it in the Netherlands, and after reading a few pages she did feel more positive. She would triumph in the end, she vowed it! And in anticipation of that, she took her pen and wrote at the bottom of one page, “Le temps viendra. The time will come!” Then she added her name, so that anyone finding the inscription in years to come would know who had written it. By then she would either be famous or forgotten.

 
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