Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “I’m going to bed,” she snapped, and left him.

  She did not sleep that night, but lay wakeful, trying to come to terms with the knowledge that her beloved brother was the kind of man she most despised. By the morning she knew that, even though she was bitterly, devastatingly, disappointed in him, she could never stop loving him. They were too close for that.

  —

  By the middle of August, Anne was back in her apartment off the tiltyard at Greenwich. Henry came to her immediately, and embraced her as if he would never let her go.

  “Darling! You cannot know what a health it is to me to see you looking so well,” he told her. “I thank God every day for restoring you to me.”

  “And I thank Him that your Grace was spared,” she replied.

  “He ever favors the righteous,” Henry observed, finally relinquishing her. “I hope soon to hear news of Cardinal Campeggio’s arrival in England. Apparently he was delayed by illness, and then, of course, he was unable to come because of the sweating sickness. But I trust he will soon be here—and then, sweetheart, we will see an end to this vexatious waiting.”

  Anne desperately hoped so. She wanted an end to all the uncertainty and speculation too.

  “It has been eighteen months now since you asked me to marry you,” she recalled. “I never thought to wait so long.”

  “And it is three years since I fell in love with you,” Henry murmured, caressing her hair and tilting up her chin so that he could kiss her. “But take heart—all will soon be well.”

  He picked up her lute.

  “While you were away, I wrote a song for you. I have had it in my head ever since, and gladly, for it conjured your image constantly. I’ve been longing to play it for you, my darling.”

  “I long to hear it,” she said. She was now adept at leading Henry to believe that she was as ardent as he was. But the song was moving, and he poured all his feelings into it as he sang in his true tenor voice:

  Adieu madame, et ma maîtresse,

  Adieu mon solas et ma joie!

  Adieu jusque revoie,

  Adieu vous dis par grand’ tristesse!

  One day, Anne hoped, she might come to feel real love for Henry, the kind of emotion she felt for Norris. When she saw Norris in attendance the next day, she would not allow herself to acknowledge him, lest she betray her feelings. Yet she was aware of his eyes on her and the warmth emanating from him.

  —

  Anne was still disturbed about George and his marriage, and wanted to see if she could help. She sought out Jane, her sister-in-law, and invited her to supper in her lodging. They began with pleasantries, but there was a new wariness in Jane. No doubt she thought that Anne would take George’s part, or that the Boleyns were all tainted with the same vices. Anne resolved to disabuse her of those notions.

  “George confessed to me that he had been unfaithful,” she said.

  There was a silence.

  “I suppose he told you that I have too,” Jane said, her pouting lips pursed in resentment.

  “He did. Dear sister, why are you both so unhappy together?”

  “He is a beast!” Jane burst out. “I could not, for shame, tell you what he has done to me, for I doubt you would believe it.”

  “Try me,” Anne said, wondering if she wanted to hear this. “What you say will go no further.”

  “He has a…a sensual appetite.”

  “I know. It is no secret. He has always been one for the ladies, but I hoped he would settle down when you married.”

  “I am not talking about adultery,” Jane said, beginning to weep. “I am talking about his unlawful vices. He made me…Shame restrains me from saying it…Oh, God, it was vile and detestable—an abomination!” She buried her face in her hands.

  At the court of France, Anne had heard of many sexual practices, but she had no idea what Jane was talking about. Maybe her sister-in-law was naive and did not understand what was normal and what was not. Yet George had called her vicious.

  “In faith, I am at a loss,” she said.

  “You should rejoice in your ignorance,” Jane replied. “It is an odious sin against God, what George did to me, several times.”

  Anne was even more perplexed.

  “Unless you are more specific, I cannot help.”

  Jane reddened. “It was like the beasts do!” she burst out.

  Anne sagged with relief, remembering erotic drawings she had seen in France. “Then it is not unnatural,” she said.

  “Since when has sodomy been natural?” Jane hissed.

  —

  She did not confront George. She consigned what she knew to a hidden part of her mind, where she did not have to face it. She knew she ought to hate him as the worst man alive, but she could not.

  She had tried to show sympathy to Jane, but Jane was having none of it. After her initial outburst, she had refused to be drawn further, and soon afterward had taken her leave. Since then, on the rare occasions they encountered each other—because, Anne suspected, Jane was avoiding her—Jane had seemed more distant, even resentful. It was as if she blamed Anne for having forced the confidence.

  Anne had more pressing things to think about. Queen Katherine was still presiding over the court. The Queen was polite enough when they came face-to-face, but being under the same roof was embarrassing for them both.

  “It renders my own position anomalous,” Anne complained to Henry one evening, as they were supping with the Cardinal. “I am neither maid of honor nor wife. There is no real place for me at court.”

  “It would be more in keeping with propriety, Mistress Anne, for you to have an establishment of your own,” Wolsey said. Those who did not know better would have thought, these days, that she and he were best friends, so effectively had Anne feigned affection for him, and gratitude for all he was supposedly doing to push forward the Great Matter.

  “That would be best,” Henry said. “I could visit you there, darling. We must find a house for you.”

  Anne considered for a moment. “Since your Grace is so often here at Greenwich, I should very much like one nearby.” Norris had a house near Greenwich. What bliss—and what torment—it would be to be near neighbors.

  “Perhaps, sir, I could investigate what is available,” Wolsey suggested.

  “Excellent!” declared Henry. “The sooner this can be arranged, the better it will be for everyone.”

  “I thank you both”—Anne smiled—“but you will not object, sir, if I go home to Hever until my house is ready?”

  Henry groaned. “Not again! I swear I’ll raze that place to the ground.”

  “If you do, I will just have to go to my father’s house at Norwich, which is much further away,” Anne said sweetly.

  It would be wonderful to have her own house and her own establishment. It would be like having her own court. The best thing about it was that Katherine would not be there.

  —

  Anne was impressed to receive a letter from Henry just two days after she arrived at Hever. A suitable lodging near Greenwich was not to be had, but the Cardinal had found another for her—Durham House on the Strand, by London. And Henry had already ordered her father to see to its refurbishing.

  Anne traveled up to London immediately and went with Father to see it. The place was huge, its great empty chambers spacious and echoing. Through the windows she could see gardens and lawns sweeping down to the river. Then she entered what must once have been a bedchamber and stopped. A portrait of a young Queen Katherine hung on one wall.

  “She lived here before her marriage to the King,” Father said.

  “That has to go,” Anne insisted. “I want no reminders of her.”

  They spent an otherwise happy hour drawing up lists of the furniture, wall hangings, and household stuff Anne would require.

  “The King has authorized me to requisition from the Royal Wardrobe whatever necessities and furnishings you need,” Father said.

  “Then I shall live like a queen
!” Anne cried, and twirled around in the middle of what would soon be her own great chamber.

  “Indeed you will. His Grace’s express instructions were that you are to have a house fit for his bride-to-be.”

  An army of servants and ladies-in-waiting was engaged to serve Anne, so that she could keep as much state at Durham House as if she were queen already. Among her new maids was a sweet, fair-haired girl called Nan Saville, who endeared herself to Anne by her delight in serving her future Queen. Anne had invited her sister Mary to serve her as lady-in-waiting, but Mary had refused. She had her children to think of, she said. So did most of her ladies, but it didn’t stop them coming to court, Anne thought, annoyed at having her olive branch spurned.

  Within three weeks all was ready and she moved in. Courtiers came flocking to pay their respects and proclaim their allegiance, George and Father were to prove constant visitors, and on the first evening the King arrived, with Norris in attendance, keeping a discreet distance. Anne suppressed her delight at seeing Norris. Not seeing him daily was the only thing she disliked about living at Durham House.

  As soon as they were alone, Henry kissed her, and Anne could sense a suppressed excitement about him.

  “I had word today,” he announced. “Cardinal Campeggio will soon be arriving in England. An end is in sight.”

  “That’s marvelous news!” Anne cried.

  “I have no doubt of the outcome, no doubt at all. God and my conscience are perfectly agreed on the righteousness of my case.” And he pulled her to him again, pressing his lips to hers. “Soon you will be mine!” he breathed.

  She took great pleasure in showing him and Norris around Durham House, feeling intensely conscious of Norris’s nearness, but Henry was busy expressing hearty praise for the improvements that had been made, and her taste in furnishings.

  They dined in private, off silver plate that had once graced his father’s table.

  “You serve a good venison pasty,” Henry complimented her, wiping his mouth with his napkin. There was a knock and an usher entered with a letter.

  “It’ll be from the Duke of Suffolk,” Henry said, dismissing the man with a gesture. “I sent him to Paris to welcome Campeggio and escort him to England.” He broke the seal, read it, and frowned.

  “What is it?” Anne asked sharply.

  “A lot of nonsense. He says that Campeggio’s mission will be mere mockery. I won’t believe it. That legate hasn’t come all this way for nothing.”

  —

  Henry was away hunting, for it was now the grease season. Anne remained at Durham House, fretting about the legate and waiting for Henry to send her news.

  His next letter was joyous. The legate would be in Calais within the week. From there, it was but a short journey to England, weather permitting. And then, he wrote, “I will look soon after to enjoy that which I have so longed for, to God’s pleasure, and both our comforts. No more to you at this time, my own darling, for lack of time, but that I would you were in my arms, or I in yours, for I think it long since I kissed you.”

  Henry was unable to stay away from Anne for long. He sent to her, asking her to come to him secretly at Easthampstead Park, his hunting lodge in Windsor Forest. It was more like a palace, actually, and with only Norris and the King’s riding household in attendance, the place seemed empty, but it did afford them some privacy. Yet Norris’s presence was a torment for Anne.

  Apart from being overjoyed to see her, Henry was in a good mood. The hunting was proving excellent—they dined on the venison he had killed—and he was optimistic about the coming hearing.

  He had started writing another book, A Glass of the Truth, which he was eager to show her. In it he was setting forth—very cogently—his arguments against his marriage and against a female succession. Anne was tempted to dispute the latter, but of course it would not be in her own interests to do so.

  It was much later when Henry picked up a beautifully bound volume with a silken marker in it, and handed it to her.

  “I would show you this, sweetheart. I found it in my choirbook.” She opened it and saw an exquisitely painted Tudor rose and the date 1515, then turned to the page he had indicated. The text was in Latin, and entitled Quam pulchra es.

  “I do not know Latin,” she said, and gave the book to Henry.

  “I will translate for you, then,” he said, and read the words, his voice resonant with emotion:

  How beautiful you are, my love,

  How beautiful and how comely you are;

  How beautiful are your cheeks;

  Your breasts are more excellent than wine;

  Your neck is like a jeweled necklace;

  Your eyes are those of doves.

  Your lips, your throat, your hands,

  Your belly and your face are as ivory.

  O my love, lay yourself bare for me, for I am faint with love.

  He looked up at her, his eyes aflame with desire. Never before had he used such erotic language to her. She was amazed that the passage had been included in a choirbook, although she knew it paraphrased the sensual, seductive Song of Solomon in the Bible.

  “I am become a monk, Anne!” Henry complained. “I ache for you, God only knows how much! You know I am resolved to wait until we are wed before making you mine completely, but darling, there is so much we can enjoy to assuage our desire.” Always he assumed that her need for him was as fervent as his for her. And he kissed her as if he would have devoured her, his insistent hands clutching at her waist, her hips, and her thighs. Gently she disengaged them, but his fingers were soon at her low-cut bodice.

  “No!” she whispered, prying them away. She had never permitted him to undress her in any way. And she was thinking about that date in the book. It had been made for him when he was young and happily married to Katherine. Had he shared those very same lyrics with her?

  “Oh, you are cruel,” he groaned, his lips at her neck. She could smell the sweat on him, mingled with the scent of herbs, feel the hot tousle of his hair against her cheek, the rasp of his beard on her skin. She drew his face up to hers and kissed him, hoping to deflect his baser intentions, but he was too set on his course, moving his lips to her breast, pulling the stiff fabric down and taking her nipple in his mouth, teasing it with his tongue. Desire shot through her, shocking her, thrilling her. She had never expected to feel this with Henry.

  He must not think he had conquered her. From here it was only a small step to greater liberties—and then what? Would he force her to submit wholly to him, as Mary claimed he had done to her? She was aware of his strength, his power. That arm that was holding her so tightly could wield a broadsword effortlessly. She was slender and much smaller than he was—he could overcome her with ease.

  She sat up, gently but firmly pushing him away, and quickly adjusted her bodice.

  “No!” he protested, looking at her with longing. “Do not be cruel, Anne!”

  “I am thinking of us both,” she said. “The closer the embrace, the greater the frustration. We must be patient a little longer, my love. Besides, we dare not risk any scandal now.”

  “No, you are right,” Henry sighed, letting her go. “But I do not know how much longer I can stand this.”

  —

  When she returned to Durham House, there was already a letter waiting for her.

  Mine own sweetheart,

  This is to tell you of the great loneliness that I feel since your departing, for I assure you I think the time longer this time than I used to do when we were apart for a whole fortnight. I think your kindness and my fervent love have caused this, for otherwise I would not have thought it possible that it should so have grieved me. But now that I am coming toward you, I think my pain will be half cured, and also there is comfort in that my book keeps me busy. I have spent above four hours writing it today, which has caused me to write the shorter letter to you now, because of some pain in my head. Wishing myself, specially of an evening, in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dugs I trust sh
ortly to kiss.

  Written by the hand that was, is, and shall be yours, by his will, H.R.

  He could not endure to be without her—and the legate would shortly be here!

  —

  “I have offered Cardinal Campeggio a state welcome in London,” Henry told Anne, as they glided along the Thames in his barge one evening early in October, to the sound of lutes and shawms. “But he has refused it. I’ve put Bath Place by Temple Bar at his disposal. He’ll be comfortable there, and it will be convenient for the Black Friars’ monastery, where the hearing will be held.”

  Anne drew in her breath. It was nearly upon them now, this judgment for which they had yearned for so long.

  But when the good Cardinal did arrive, three days later, he immediately took to his bed.

  Henry, discreetly visiting Anne at Durham House that afternoon, was exasperated. “It seems he has gout, which was what delayed his journey.”

  How clever of Clement to send a cardinal whose progress would inevitably be slow. She did not say, I told you so. Instead she began girding herself to face the likelihood that Campeggio’s only instructions were to keep stalling and delay judgment for as long as possible. Already it had taken him five months to reach England—a journey that would normally take about three weeks in summer.

  “Well, I’ll give him tonight to rest,” Henry was saying, “and I’ll send Wolsey to talk with him tomorrow.”

  —

  The next evening, Henry stalked into her chamber, flushed with anger.

  “Wolsey spent hours discussing the case with Campeggio today,” he fumed, “and do you know what this legate said? He said the best solution would be a reconciliation between me and the Queen. But Wolsey, give him his due, stood his ground, and urged the expediting of the business with all possible dispatch. He told Campeggio that the affairs of the kingdom are at a standstill, as indeed they are. This Great Matter has ousted all else, and needs to be resolved.”

  Anne said nothing. It was all happening as she had feared. They had put all their faith in this Pope, and for what?

 
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