Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  Katherine would not see reason. She refused, time and again, to enter a nunnery. Instead, she repeatedly asserted to the two cardinals that she was the King’s true wife. Their begging, cajoling, and bullying had not the slightest effect.

  The November skies were lowering when a furious Henry stamped off to see Katherine himself, shouting, “I’ll make her go! I’ll ram the veil on her head!” Anne did not see him for hours, and when he did come to her late that evening, he was in a foul mood.

  “What did the Queen say?” Anne ventured.

  “She is adamant. It is against her soul, her conscience, and her honor.”

  “So are you forcing her?”

  “If it comes to it, I will. Campeggio is all for it. I’ll let him put the pressure on.”

  You’re still afraid of her, Anne thought. You’ll leave others to do the confronting.

  “You’d think she’d be pleased to retire to a nunnery and leave all this behind,” she said. “She would avoid the embarrassment that might arise if the case goes to trial. A lady of her sensibilities must shrink from the intimate details of her married life being exposed to public scrutiny.”

  “I shrink,” Henry retorted. “But nothing daunts her.”

  Even Uncle Norfolk had praised Katherine’s courage. But her refusal to face the reality of the situation was infuriating, as was the way that the commons continued to espouse her cause.

  “Sir, the people seem to express their love for her ever more loudly, now that the legate is here. And they cry out against me.” Anne knew what they called her. “Strumpet!” “Whore!” “Jezebel!”

  “I know,” Henry said, pacing up and down, a lion ready to pounce. “I will not have these foolish rumors and demonstrations. I shall invite the Lord Mayor and my lords, councillors, judges, aldermen, sheriffs, masters of the city guilds, and anyone else who cares to come here, and I will tell them so!”

  And he did. Anne was not present in the great hall at Bridewell Palace when he addressed his leading subjects, but there were plenty to tell her how majestic the King had appeared, standing in his robes of state in front of the canopied throne, and how commandingly he had spoken, reminding everyone that he had so ordered affairs during his nineteen-year reign that no enemy had oppressed them, and of the necessity for preserving that peace by securing the succession. He praised the Queen, and said that, if she were judged his lawful wife, nothing would be more pleasing to him, and if he were to marry again, he would choose her above all women. Anne blanched at that, but she told herself it was only policy that dictated Henry’s fair words.

  But then he had declared his doubts of conscience and his fear that he had lived in adultery for so long. He had had them all nodding in sympathy. Only at the last did he declare that he would brook no opposition to a divorce, saying there was never a head so dignified but that he would make it fly. It was all bluster, of course—Anne did not believe he would ever go that far.

  The King’s speech was the sole topic of conversation in the court. Some expressed compassion for his plight, some remained mute, their silence eloquent, and a few bold souls expressed the view that he should never have raised the matter in public. But there were several whose hostility was replaced by understanding, and when reports of the speech spread to the streets of London, people spoke more soberly about the Great Matter than they had done before.

  Anne decided it was best to stay at Durham House until things had quieted down. She did not want to undermine the good work Henry had done in calming his people. Let him visit her secretly, his unmarked barge mooring silently away from inquisitive eyes. She would miss seeing Norris, but she did not need any more turmoil in her life just now.


  Anne had long accepted that, for the sake of outward appearances, Henry must visit Katherine from time to time, dine with her, and even share a bed with her. He had assured her that on the rare occasions he visited the Queen at night, he never touched her. But why sleep with her at all? That he still did angered and disturbed Anne more and more. Did he truly want to separate from Katherine? The Queen had some hold over him that he seemed unable to shake off. Was it that she was older than he, a mother figure? Was she the link to his lost youth, the living reminder of happier, more carefree times, before the loss of his sons? Or was he just a moral coward, reluctant to provoke a scene—or the Emperor’s wrath—by depriving Katherine of his company altogether?

  Eventually Anne could bear it no more. “The legate is here!” she cried, when, after a quiet afternoon spent making music together in her chamber, Henry had announced that he was going back to Bridewell Palace to have supper with the Queen. “The case will soon be tried, yet you still have but one bed and one table!”

  Henry hastened to placate her. “Sweetheart, be at peace. It is for form’s sake only. But I would not upset you, darling. I promise you, I will never bed with Katherine again. I am well aware of the moral danger that may ensue to me by it. From now on, she shall sleep alone. And soon, my dear love, we shall be together.”

  “I do pray so!” Anne said, not entirely mollified.

  She insisted on staying at Durham House, deaf to Henry’s protests, while the court moved to Greenwich without her. Henry would not leave her be, of course, and in December she finally gave in to his pleas, closed up the house, and joined him at court. There she was delightfully surprised to be assigned a finer, more spacious lodging than before, near his own. He himself had chosen the furnishings, which included the costliest bed-hangings and tapestries, and a great oak buffet laden with gold and silver plate. The rooms were fit for a queen!

  It was gratifying when the highest in the land came paying court to her, obviously anticipating that she would soon be marrying the King. It was noticeable that few were making their devoirs to the Queen, who wore her usual smile in public, bearing the snubs with dignified patience and staying firmly at Henry’s side, to Anne’s fury.

  Anne was still uncomfortably aware of the hostility beyond the palace walls. When she had come here by river, they had watched her sullenly from the banks, and some had shouted, “Nan Bullen shall not be our Queen! We’ll have no Nan Bullen!”

  It was intolerable! And Henry, for all his threats, was powerless to silence them.

  There was still no sign of the two cardinals setting up the hearing. Christmas was approaching, and nothing would be done until afterward. Anne was beginning to think it never would.

  She learned only after it had happened—and then by overhearing one of Henry’s councillors mentioning it to someone else—that Dame Isabel Jordan had been quietly installed as Abbess of Wilton after all. Her anger burned. That would have been Wolsey’s doing. Did Henry know that the Cardinal had defied him? Or had Wolsey persuaded him to give his consent, both of them hoping she would not find out? Either way, Wolsey would soon learn that she was not to be trifled with.


  Anne was furious when Henry invited Wolsey and Campeggio to keep Christmas with him at Greenwich, as his guests of honor, and resolved to stay in the empty splendor of her rooms.

  Henry was distraught. “But darling, I have laid on jousts, banquets, masques, and disguisings. I am keeping open house. Come and join me, please!”

  “Not while the Queen is presiding with you over the festivities,” she said. It was true, but it was not the whole truth. Yet Henry was growing weary of her complaints about Wolsey.

  He looked helpless. “I hate to think of you all alone here. How can I make merry, knowing you are not?”

  “It will not be merry for me with those cardinals there.” She knew she was being unduly peevish, but she could not help herself. She was bursting with frustration and resentment.

  He left her then, but he came back late at night, after the revelry had ended, and brought with him jewels: diamonds for her hair, gold bracelets set with true lovers’ knots, a flower brooch, borders of gold for her sleeves, buttons crafted with rubies, roses, and hearts. She accepted them as no less than
her due; after all, had she not been kept waiting for the crown an unconscionably long time?


  The gifts kept coming, as that seemingly endless winter gave place to spring. When they were together in public, Henry caressed Anne openly, as if she were already his wife, holding her hand, touching her cheek, putting his arm about her waist, not caring who saw. Yet still she would not be mollified. She held aloof, and took herself back to Durham House, angry at yet more delays.

  “Why?” she kept demanding. “Can they not just hear the case and be done with it?”

  In private with George, she vented her frustration, and then ended up laughing hysterically. “What an extraordinary situation we find ourselves in!” she gasped. “Who could have foreseen it?”

  She kept thinking of the parallels between herself and Queen Esther.

  “I will be a second Esther,” she told her brother. “I will be the champion of pure religion and save the Church in England from corruption. Let them call me a heretic! I know what people say about me. They think I follow Luther’s teachings.”

  “They think me and Father more Lutheran than Luther himself,” George grinned.

  “I will never be a Lutheran,” Anne declared, “and everyone will realize that in time. Until then, like Esther, I must tread carefully with the King in matters of religion.” And yet, she reflected, even Henry’s staunch orthodoxy was being worn down by Clement’s handling of the Great Matter.

  She had managed to obtain a copy of another forbidden book, William Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, and how Christian Kings Ought to Govern. In it, Tyndale openly challenged the authority of the Pope and his cardinals, and asserted that the head of the Church in each realm ought to be the King, rather than the Pope, because the King, by virtue of his having been anointed with holy oil at his crowning, was next unto God anyway, and invested with divine wisdom, unlike ordinary mortals.

  Several of Anne’s maids, taking their lead from her, had become interested in the cause of reform, and she lent the book to one, Nan Gainsford, warning her to keep it hidden. But one day Nan came to her, weeping, and confessed that her lover, George Zouche, had seized it from her in a playful scuffle, then carried it off to read himself.

  “But the Dean of the Chapel Royal came upon him and confiscated the book and gave it to the Cardinal,” Nan wailed.

  “Do not fear,” Anne reassured her, and called for her barge. When it moored at Greenwich, she went straight to the King, whom she found relaxing in his privy chamber among his gentlemen. He looked astonished as she entered, curtseyed, and knelt before him.

  “Do not kneel to me, sweetheart,” he said, and, dismissing his companions, would have raised her, but she stayed on her knees and told him what had happened, begging him to help her retrieve the book. “For the Cardinal will think I dabble in heresy. All I sought was to understand why Master Tyndale is regarded as a heretic, when in fact his arguments make sense to me. Sir, I do beseech your Grace for your protection.”

  Henry took her hands and pulled her to her feet. “And you shall have it. Leave this with me.”

  She emerged from his apartments triumphant. Again he had not censured her for reading a banned book. She was even more gratified when Wolsey came in person to Durham House that evening.

  “This is yours, I believe, Mistress Anne,” he said, handing the book to her as if it were as innocent as a child’s first primer.

  “I thank you, my lord,” she said, and invited him to take some wine with her. As they were drinking and making polite conversation, Henry himself was announced, and after they had chatted awhile, Wolsey left, bowing obsequiously.

  “You have my undying gratitude,” Anne told Henry. “I could see myself up before the church courts!”

  “Do you think I would have allowed that to happen?” he asked, taking her in his arms and kissing her fervently.

  “I hope not! But here is the book, and I urge you to read it. You will be surprised—and maybe impressed.”

  He was. When she saw him next, he was full of it. “These are compelling arguments, darling. This is a book for me and all kings to read.”

  “But if the Cardinal has his way, no one would be able to read it,” Anne pointed out. “Sir, is it right that the Church should wield universal control?”

  Henry looked pensive. “It’s a good question, one I have asked myself several times recently.”

  Anne sat up straight and braced herself, clearing her throat. Here was the moment she had been waiting for. “The Church is in great need of reform,” she began, “and a king who was unhampered by the dictates of Rome would be able to stamp out abuses. You have already said you will annihilate the Pope’s authority in England if he does not satisfy your conscience.”

  Henry stared at her. As she’d suspected, it had been mere bluster. “You think I should break with Rome?”

  “Sir, you yourself say you are disillusioned with the Church of Rome. You have said there is great need for reform.”

  “Reform is one thing; breaking with Rome quite another. Besides, Rome may yet prove our champion in this Great Matter.”

  “It may. I dare not allow myself to hope, because I have been having my hopes dashed for so long. I am sick to the teeth of living my life in suspense.” Tears were threatening, and as ever Henry hastened to comfort her. As he held her against his gem-studded doublet, she allowed herself the luxury of weeping. Sometimes she felt she could strive no more, but she was not one to give up easily. She was a fighter, and tonight she had planted another seed—in fertile ground, she thought. If the Great Matter was not resolved soon, radical action would be necessary. Henry would see that.


  The King was no longer as friendly toward Wolsey as he used to be. The long delay in hearing the case was making him tense and short-tempered. One evening at supper at Durham House, Anne was jubilant to hear him voice his suspicion that the Cardinal was secretly opposing the dissolution of his marriage.

  “We have feared that all along, sir,” Norfolk leapt in.

  “He works against your Grace because he thinks a decision in your favor will undermine the authority of the Holy See,” Anne said softly. “The Pope can do no wrong, or so we are told, but you have asked his Holiness to undo what his predecessor did. If the Pope is infallible, then the dispensation allowing you to marry the Queen must be valid. But we know it was at variance with Scripture, and so by bringing this case, your Grace has exposed the flaw in the Pope’s judgment. And that can only do damage to the Church.”

  The men were all looking at her, clearly impressed.

  “Now your Grace must see why you cannot trust Wolsey,” she concluded. “He owes a greater allegiance to Rome.”


  The next day, she went to Greenwich and sought out the Cardinal, demanding to know what was holding up the hearing.

  He looked flustered. “We are awaiting documents, Mistress Anne.”


  “Yes, for the Queen to produce in evidence.”

  “My lord,” Anne bristled, “this delay is caused by you and, I doubt not, Cardinal Campeggio. The King is not pleased. I am not pleased. No doubt the Queen wants the matter settled too.”

  “I am doing my best!” Wolsey protested, reddening with anger.

  “I think you are doing your best to delay matters!” Anne flung back. “But I am watching you—and the King is too!”


  All government business had now ground to a halt. Nothing was spoken of but the Great Matter. The Queen had lodged an appeal in Rome against the authority of the legatine court, but no one in England was taking any notice. Anne was becoming ever more incensed at the delays. The kingdom could not remain in suspension forever.

  “Soon you shall have all you wish for,” Henry assured her, but the weeks and months were passing and still the court had not been convened. And now it was Easter.

  On Good Friday, Anne took her place in the royal pew above the Chapel
Royal at Greenwich and watched as Henry, barefoot in token of his humility, crept to the Cross on his knees before an awed congregation of courtiers. She listened as Archbishop Warham invoked the Virgin Mary’s blessing on his sovereign: “Pray your sweet Son Jesus for our renowned King, Henry VIII, and beg for longed-for joys and never-failing glory to be granted him always.” Amen! Anne prayed vehemently.

  After the service, as Henry had instructed, she rose and descended the stair to the nave, taking her place before a velvet-covered bench on which lay a great quantity of gold and silver rings. Everyone was staring, and there were indignant gasps and murmurs, but she tried to ignore them. It was normally the custom for the Queen to perform the ceremony of blessing the rings, which were distributed every Easter to people suffering from cramp, but this year Henry had insisted on Anne doing it. It was a great honor to receive one, he had explained. She knew that it was just another gesture to placate her for all the delays.

  As she blessed the rings, she sensed the hostility around her, and realized that Henry had miscalculated badly. She was not yet crowned and anointed, and thus not invested with the spiritual power to be doing this, and everyone knew it. But she would not show her detractors that she was cowed by their disapproval. Having curtseyed to the altar and to the King, she went back to her place with her chin held high.


  Henry was increasingly on edge. He had received letters from Rome, but would not tell Anne what was in them. Wolsey was walking around as if he had the weight of the world on his back. Anne felt like climbing the walls in frustration. But at last, at long, long last, all the preliminaries for deciding the Great Matter were concluded, and there could be no more cause for delay. At the end of May, Henry formally licensed the legates to convene their court in the great hall of the monastery of the Black Friars and hear his case.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]