Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  “Don’t look so despondent, darling,” Henry enjoined her. “Wolsey will prevail. There’s no statesman to touch him.”

  “I wish I could believe it!” she cried. Only yesterday her father and Uncle Norfolk had again expressed concern about the Cardinal’s true motives. They suspected him of secretly supporting the Queen. And if that were true, he would welcome the legate’s stalling tactics.

  “Why, sweetheart!” Henry was all concern. “You are distraught, I understand that. This waiting has been too distressing. I assure you, no man has worked harder than the Cardinal on our behalf.”

  “Then I must accept your Grace’s assurances,” Anne conceded.

  Henry kissed her. “It is a joy to me to see you so wise and sensible. Try to rein in these vain thoughts and fantasies with the bridle of reason. Good sweetheart, continue in this resolve, for by Wolsey’s means there shall come, both to you and me, the greatest quietness in this world.”

  Anne only hoped that Henry’s confidence in the Cardinal would be repaid.

  They fell to talking of other matters. The court was moving to Bridewell Palace, by the Black Friars’ monastery, and Henry, anticipating a speedy outcome to his case, was arranging for apartments at Bridewell to be prepared for her.

  “But the Queen will be there,” Anne said.

  “Fear not, darling, she won’t trouble you,” Henry told her, his eyes taking on that steely glint that spelled danger. “I am determined to make her heed my doubts about our pretended marriage, and take them seriously, which she has always refused to do. It irritates me, when I am very pensive, worrying about this hearing, and she goes about with a smile on her face, encouraging her people to dance and make music—all out of spite for me. And there is more…In truth, I am persuaded by her behavior that she does not love me.”

  Anne tried not to laugh—or cry. Why should Henry care if Katherine loved him? And why should the Queen love a man who was doing his best to repudiate her? If she was not his lawful wife, he could expect no wifely devotion. But he wanted it both ways.

  “What has she done, besides look cheerful?” she asked.

  Henry grimaced. “She has not shown, in public or private, as much love for me as she ought. She shows herself too much to the people too, and tries to steal their affection from me. What else can I conclude but that she hates me?” He paused, looking very sorry for himself. “My Council has received a secret report of a design to kill me and the Cardinal.”

  “No!” Anne cried, alarmed. Without Henry, she was nothing, and the wolves would be waiting to pounce…

  “Be at peace, sweetheart,” Henry soothed, “for I am assured there is no real danger. But if it could be proved that the Queen had any hand in this conspiracy, she must not expect to be spared.”

  There was no real danger. Anne suspected that there was no real conspiracy.

  Henry was waxing indignant. “My Council have advised me to separate from her, both at bed and board, and to take the Princess Mary from her.”

  Anne did not believe that Henry would ever go so far, or not for long. If he did, she knew it would break Katherine. Momentarily she felt a sharp pang of sympathy for the Queen, but quickly reminded herself that Katherine did not need to be in this situation. It was her own fault that she was. Aloud, she said, “It might make her capitulate. She should not be courting popularity at such a time.”

  “No, she should not,” Henry growled. “There is already too much sympathy for her. The common people, being ignorant of the truth, especially the women, say that I mean to take another wife for my own pleasure; and whoever speaks against it is much abhorred and reproved. Katherine has been warned that she must show herself less in public and adopt a more sober demeanor at this time—at the risk of my displeasure. And so, darling, when you come to Bridewell, you will not be troubled by her.”

  He stood up. “I must go. I am seeing Cardinal Campeggio myself in the morning. And he had better not suggest that I return to the Queen!”


  Henry arrived the next afternoon in a jubilant mood. He kissed Anne and led her through to the garden, where they seated themselves on a stone bench facing the Thames.

  “It did not begin well,” he related. “At first the legate argued that I should return to the Queen. You can imagine my reaction. But then he showed me a Papal bull authorizing him to give judgment on my case. He said his Holiness had granted it, not to be used, but to be kept secret, as he desired to demonstrate the goodwill he has toward me. Truly, Anne, I think Pope Clement means for judgment to be given, but he dare not make that bull public for fear of the Emperor.”

  It is just a sop to keep you sweet, Anne thought. What good is this bull if it cannot be used? But she went on smiling.

  “I showed him,” Henry said, “that I have studied this matter with great diligence, and probably know more about it than any theologian or jurist. I told him in the plainest terms that I want nothing but a declaration whether my marriage is valid or not, although I said there could be no doubt that it is invalid. And then he came up with the ideal solution. Katherine should be persuaded to enter a nunnery. She’s pious, and would make a wonderful abbess. Then the Pope can issue a dispensation allowing me to remarry, and the Emperor could not possibly object. We can be married, and England will have hopes of an heir.”

  It was the best, the perfect answer. Anne’s spirits soared.

  “Do you think the Queen will agree?”

  “I see no reason why not. She stands to lose only my person by entering religion; she knows I will not return to her, however things fall out. She could still enjoy any worldly comforts she desires, and I will allow her whatever she wishes, and above all I will settle the succession upon Mary, after any children we have, darling.” His eyes narrowed in that menacing way that betokened a steely determination to have his will. “Besides, she, of all people, will wish to preserve the peace of Europe and the spiritual authority of the Holy See.” He was growing bullish now. “Because if Clement ruled in her favor, I would lose all faith in his office, and so would many others. And I’ve made it very clear to Campeggio that if this divorce is not granted, I will annihilate the authority of the Pope in this kingdom.”

  Anne felt as if she had been winded. Her heart began beating furiously. Did he really mean what he had just said? Would he overthrow a thousand years of England’s obedience to the Church of Rome to free himself? And for her?

  For a moment she was speechless. Then she found her voice.

  “You would do that?”

  “Without hesitation!” Henry declared. “I could not countenance a corrupt Pope wielding spiritual authority over my realm. But it won’t come to that. Katherine will see reason.”


  Henry’s words had left Anne thoughtful. That evening, as they dined and the conversation moved on to other matters, her thoughts kept straying to the momentous prospect he had opened up. It was a scandal that the Pope could not bring himself to pronounce on Henry’s case. But, as she had known since her days at the court of the Regent Margaret, there was a lot else that was scandalous in the Church. The sale of indulgences; priests who charged the poor for the sacraments necessary for attaining Heaven, and who flouted their vows of chastity by taking mistresses. And these were the men chosen to interpret the Scriptures for lay people! Look at the fabulous wealth of the Church, which enabled Popes, cardinals, and bishops to live in sybaritic luxury. Look at Wolsey! Look at those clergy who, like him, acquired parishes and benefices simply for their revenues, and never even visited them. Was this the Church that Christ had founded? Surely He had never intended it to be like this.

  Small wonder that reformers like Martin Luther had spoken out against the abuses. Faith, Luther had said, should be based on Scripture alone. Man is justified through his faith in Jesus Christ. And in the eleven years since he had nailed his list of protests against the abuses to a church door in Germany, thousands had come to agree with him, even though the Church branded them heretics

  Henry had castigated Luther, yet this Church he had defended so vigorously was now showing itself to be rotten to the core. And it was the same Church to which Queen Katherine and the Emperor and countless other orthodox Christians rendered unquestioning devotion, regarding any criticism of the corruption within as an attack on faith itself. It was the Church of which Anne saw Wolsey as the living embodiment.

  She had read some of the Lutheran tracts that had reached England from abroad. People circulated them surreptitiously at court, and discussed them in secret, for they were officially banned. She had spoken about them with Father and George, who both saw some wisdom in them. But her traditional upbringing in the old faith was sufficiently deep-rooted for her to believe that one could get to Heaven through good works, not just through faith alone, as the Lutherans claimed. She could not accept Luther’s rejection of five of the seven holy sacraments, leaving only baptism and communion. But in recent months she had been questioning the probity of the Church and even of the Pope himself. Why was it, she had begun to wonder, that those who were ordained were the only people allowed to interpret the Scriptures? And why did the Bible have to be in Latin? Why could not people read the word of God for themselves? It seemed that the enlightened days when Erasmus could freely translate the Scriptures were long gone, swept away by a reactionary fear of heresy. How could people come to a God they could not know properly? Some ignorant priests did not even know Latin!

  Reform had to come. And she was uniquely placed to make it happen. Every word that fell from her lips had Henry spellbound. She could make him listen to her. She would lay the foundations of reform now, and build on them when she was queen. A sense of exaltation filled her. She would be a queen such as Esther had been in the Bible. The Jewish Esther had become the beloved second wife of the pagan King Ahasuerus of Persia, after he had set aside his first Queen. His overmighty chief minister, Haman, had tried to massacre the Jews, but Esther had interceded and saved her people. And it would be said of Anne, as it had been said to Queen Esther, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

  “Darling?” Henry said plaintively. “Did you hear what I said? You were miles away.”

  “I’m sorry,” Anne excused herself, coming back to reality with a jolt. “I must confess I am tired tonight.”

  “Then you must rest, sweetheart,” he said, and took a loving leave of her.

  She was glad to be alone to think, and in bed an hour later, she lay wakeful, conscious of the enormity of what Henry had said, and what she was planning. She was honest enough with herself to know that her aims were not purely grounded in principle. Taking a stand against the Church would enable her to stake out the high moral ground against Wolsey and the Queen. But had Henry really meant what he said about annihilating the Pope’s authority, or had he threatened it in a fit of pique?


  When Father and George visited two days later, Anne made them sit down.

  “The King has said that if Clement does not grant this divorce, he will annihilate the authority of the Holy See in England,” she told them.

  For a moment they were speechless. Their faces registered their astonishment at the enormity of what she had just said.

  “Father, you agree the Church needs reforming. This might be the golden opportunity for it.”

  “Reform, aye. But severing England from the Holy See?” Father frowned. “Is this what the King really means to do?”

  “He said so. I think he meant it.” Anne rose and began walking up and down the gallery. “He is determined to have what he wants, by whatever means. And if it comes to a break with Rome, that will be our moment.”

  “By God!” George exclaimed. “If anyone can seize the day, it’s you, Anne. I’m almost hoping that the Pope will declare the King’s marriage valid, just to see what follows.”

  “Don’t be flippant,” his father reproved him. “This is no light matter. It’s the weightiest one to be raised in England in a thousand years. The King must be powerfully moved if he’s making such threats. He’s a conservative at heart when it comes to religion. He attends Mass faithfully and creeps to the Cross on Good Friday. He might waver in his resolve. That’s where you come in, Anne. No one is better placed to lead him the right way. If Clement says yes to him, well and good, and we’ll all go on telling our beads and asking the saints to intercede for us. But if not—I say thank God for you, daughter! You can lead us to the Promised Land.”

  Anne stared at him. Never had Father revealed that he had such confidence in her, or encouraged her to use her power to its uttermost. He was virtually conceding supremacy to her, and acknowledging that she, not he, was now the head of her faction—and her family.


  Reform was a favorite topic in the darkening autumn evenings, when she sat with Father and George by the fire in the great chamber at Durham House.

  “We, the laity, should be able to make our own minds up about what the Bible says,” George declared.

  “Give me one good reason why it should not be in English and freely available,” Father challenged, draining his goblet.

  “They fear we will find out that the Scriptures don’t offer any grounds for the corruption in the Church,” George said. “Remember how the Bishop of London ordered all copies of William Tyndale’s translation to be burned? Then Cardinal Wolsey condemned Tyndale as a heretic.”

  “It’s as well for him that he’s living in Germany,” Anne said, getting up to fetch more wine.

  “Tyndale was right,” Father stated. “He said that nowadays no man may look on the Scriptures until he has had eight or nine years of indoctrination and become armed with false principles, by which time he is incapable of understanding them.”

  “The Church wants to stay in control by censoring what the laity know,” Anne declared. “Does it fear that if we could all read the Scriptures for ourselves, we might start questioning its authority?”

  “We already are,” George observed.

  “It’s not just the Scriptures that we can’t read,” Father said. “Wolsey keeps a long list of the books he’s banned.”

  “What books?” Anne asked. “Lutheran tracts?”

  “I don’t know all the titles, but only last week he was clucking about one called A Supplication for the Beggars. It’s by an Englishman, Simon Fish, who lives in exile in Antwerp. Wolsey called it vicious and subversive, and said it would incite heresy, murder, and treason.”

  “It sounds like my kind of book,” Anne smiled. “If Wolsey hates it, I am bound to like it. Where can I get a copy?”

  Father and George stared at her. “Are you mad, daughter?” Father barked. “Do you want to be accused of heresy?”

  “It’s a long time since anyone was burned at the stake in England,” Anne retorted.

  “The law is still in force,” he reminded her.

  “But Anne is not subject to the same laws as the rest of us,” George said, grinning. “I’ll wager that her influence with the King is such that she could with impunity read any book that was banned.”

  “I wouldn’t like to put that to the test,” Father retorted.

  “Never fear, I will not risk my skin,” Anne assured him.

  Her interest was piqued, though. She could not be seen to be seeking out a copy of A Supplication for the Beggars. Instead, she sent one of her servants abroad to Antwerp, ostensibly to buy diamonds, but with secret instructions to procure the book. Within a week it was in her hands. She stored it under a floorboard, only taking it out to read at night, and was impressed. Simon Fish argued the case for translating the Scriptures into English. He appealed to King Henry, to whom his work was dedicated, to help the poor and the needy, since the Church only increased their miseries through its rapacity. Half of England’s wealth was in its hands—a disproportionate amount, given that fewer than one person in a hundred was in holy orders. He accused the monasteries of corruption and heaping taxes on the poor, whom they were su
pposed to succor. Their wealth was obscene! What Fish really wanted to see was its redistribution, to the greater benefit of the realm.

  But it was not just the Church’s riches that he was targeting. The clergy, he asserted, had usurped sovereign power in England and cleverly subverted laws restraining them. The ancient kings of Britain had never been subject to Rome or paid taxes to the Holy See, a foreign power. But now the kingdom was in bondage, thanks to the many clerical parasites infesting it.

  The book was strongly argued and provocative, explosive even, but it hit the core of the matter, and it was like a revelation. No wonder Wolsey had banned it!

  Henry should see this, Anne resolved. It would give him much to think about. It was so apposite for the times that it would be worth her taking the risk. She did not think he would punish her.

  She pushed it across the table when next they were dining together.

  “Your Grace ought to read this,” she urged.

  She knew by his frown that he had heard of it. “The Cardinal banned it,” she said, “but Master Fish makes some cogent arguments.”

  Henry raised an eyebrow. “Where did you get this?”

  “From Antwerp.” She would not lie to him. “Master Fish fled there for fear that the Cardinal would persecute him. I can see why Wolsey would object to it, but Henry, I would really value your opinion. Have you read it?”

  He shook his head, turning over the pages, intrigued.

  “Sir, are you content to leave it to the Cardinal to decide which books should be banned? He does it in your name.”

  “I trust Wolsey,” Henry said. Did she detect a note of doubt in his voice?

  “You might think differently when you have read Master Fish’s book.”

  “Very well, I will do so,” he said, and took it away with him. He had not uttered one word of reproof to her for procuring a heretical work.

  Some days later he told her that he had read it, and that it had made him very pensive. But he would not give the order for it to be struck from the banned list. Nevertheless, Anne told herself, she had sown seeds that might ripen.

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