Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  The court moved to Bridewell Palace. There was a flurry of preparations. Never before had a king and queen of England been summoned before a court, and great care was taken to ensure that everything was done properly. And all the while the people murmured against the King and Mistress Anne Boleyn.

  Anne was jittery and nervous, veering between tears and temper. Henry did his best to reassure her, staying late into the night with her, trying to allay her fears—and of course there was gossip about that. She knew that most people believed she was now his mistress in very truth, and raged at how unfair that was, because for nearly four years now she had jealously guarded her virtue—and for what? She was twenty-eight, almost middle-aged! Every time she looked in her mirror, she seemed to look older. There were faint lines of discontent around her mouth, the hint of a furrow in her brow. She was aware of how poor her reputation was, both in England and abroad. Such power and influence as she enjoyed had no basis in law; it rested only on the King’s great love for her. Without him, she was nothing. Unlike Katherine, she had no powerful emperor to back her.

  Henry had told her that once his case came before the legates, she would have to leave London. The prospect terrified her, because she would be leaving him open to the machinations of Wolsey and her enemies. She hung on at Durham House for as long as possible, delaying her departure until the very last moment.

  Henry was as miserable as she at the prospect of another separation.

  “But you must go, sweetheart,” he urged. “It would not be fitting for you to appear at court until the verdict is given.” And so, when the June clouds were scudding across an azure sky, and all the world was tinged with the gold of summer, she bade him a tearful farewell and set off for Hever with a few servants and a royal escort.

  She was so agitated that as soon as she arrived home, she wrote to Wolsey, who would probably be astounded to read her extravagant courtesies and protestations of her continuing love and favor toward him. But he would surely realize that she meant them to spur him to the right judgment. He knew her well enough to know that she would not be forgiving if he failed.

  She sought respite in the innocent company of Mary’s children, but Mary herself was tart. “The King has set this realm in an uproar for you, but you don’t look very happy about it.”

  “One day,” Anne countered, “we will all be grateful that he did so.”

  “Don’t count your chickens!” Mary retorted.

  Fortunately Father soon arrived with a buoyant letter from Henry, who was missing her grievously, but optimistic.

  The drawing near of that time which has been so long deferred so rejoices me that it is as if it were already come. Nevertheless it cannot be accomplished until the two persons most concerned come together, which I desire more than any earthly thing. For what joy in this world can be greater than to have the company of her who is the most dearly loved, knowing that she, by her choice, feels the same, the thought of which greatly delights me.

  But she didn’t feel the same, Anne thought. And that must always be her secret, it seemed. For her, the goal was a crown, a thing of cold metal, but infinitely alluring. She had had a taste of power and found it as heady as being in love. What would she not be able to do with that crown on her head! And she would be grateful to Henry, and loving, as would be her duty once they were married. He would never have cause to doubt her.

  Her father was to return to court with her reply, so she hastened to pen a warm response, urging Henry to be of good cheer. Soon they would be together for always, she assured him.


  The legatine court was now sitting. Messengers winging their way back and forth between Bridewell Palace and Hever Castle kept Anne abreast of developments. She was dismayed to hear that the Queen had refused to acknowledge the competence of the court to try the case, protesting that it would not give an impartial judgment. Katherine had even gone on her knees before Henry in the Black Friars’ hall and made a deeply emotional appeal to him, begging him to spare her the extremity of the hearing and protesting publicly that she had come to him a virgin. Then she had walked out and refused to heed the crier calling her back.

  Thankfully the hearing was proceeding without her, but it was clear that the long-drawn-out sessions of the court, most of which Henry did not attend, were trying his patience to the limit. Anne was gratified to hear that he had summoned Wolsey and vented his frustrations for over four hours.

  It was in the fourth week of July that he summoned her back urgently to court, for Cardinal Campeggio was expected to give judgment imminently. Henry sounded confident, as if he knew it would be in his favor.

  She had her maids pack immediately, and made all speed to Bridewell Palace, where Henry was impatiently awaiting her in his privy chamber.

  “It cannot be long now,” he said, as they embraced. “It could even be tomorrow. And then, my darling, we can start planning our wedding and your coronation. And you will be mine at last!”

  She did not dare allow herself to hope. She wished she could go to the Black Friars to be present with him when the verdict was given, but that would not be politic. So, after Henry had kissed her farewell and departed in the company of the Duke of Suffolk, she stayed in the grand apartment he had assigned her, sipping wine to steady her nerves and trying not to dwell on what might be happening in the monastery just a few yards across the Fleet River.


  Henry stormed into her chamber, his face thunderous. He was trembling with rage.

  “Revoked to Rome!” he seethed.

  She had known it in her bones. That faint-heart of a pope would never set him free. Henry had been tricked, hoodwinked! It had all been carefully planned to keep him sweet while Clement did the Emperor’s bidding. If ever there was proof of corruption in the Church, this was it!

  “What did Campeggio say?” she asked, her voice like stone.

  “He said he would give no hasty judgment until he had discussed the case with the Pope. He said the truth is difficult to find.” Henry spat the words out. He would not look at her. “My case is sound, I know it and he knows it. But it has now been adjourned indefinitely. I tell you, Anne, this is a political decision. No matter what theological arguments I marshal, they will not be heard.”

  Suffolk, who had followed Henry into the room, was just as furious. “Mistress Anne, I shouted at those legates. I said, ‘England was never merry while we had cardinals among us!’ ” His handsome, dissolute face—so like the King’s—was set in a snarl. Anne knew him to be hot for reform; he would have enjoyed venting his contempt on Wolsey and Campeggio. But his wife, Henry’s sister, who loved the Queen, would no doubt be delighted at the adjournment. This decision would not make for marital harmony.

  Henry sat down, looking defeated. His voice was hoarse. “It’s the summer recess now. The Papal Curia won’t sit again till October, and I know of old that it moves slower than a snail, so it could be months, if not years, before the Pope reaches a decision—and even then, the wait might be in vain, for with Clement hand-in-glove with the Emperor, judgment will probably be given in the Queen’s favor anyway.” He cradled his head in his hands, weeping in despair.

  Anne felt chilled to the marrow. She was looking ahead, seeing her youth disappearing as year after frustrating year passed. No! She would not endure it. There must be a better way than this. Her anger burned against Wolsey. He had played along with Campeggio and the Pope, while giving Henry fair words and false promises.

  “We have the Cardinal to thank for this!” she burst out.

  Even now, she feared, Henry would not see the truth. But she was wrong.

  “Yes, and he will answer for it,” he snarled, raising his head. “Before I left the Black Friars, I told him to inform my ambassadors at the Vatican that my royal dignity would not permit my being summoned to appear at the Papal court, nor would my nobles and subjects allow it. I said they were to tell his Holiness that if I went to Rome, it would be at the head of an army, not as
a supplicant for justice.”

  He got up and began pacing. “I will not be bested, Anne! I’ll have my divorce if I have to break with Rome to do it!”

  It was their only hope. He meant what he said, she was sure of it.


  She would have her revenge on Wolsey, she swore it! And on obstinate, infuriating Katherine, who was stubbornly clinging to what she had already lost, and making life impossible for everyone. But it was Wolsey, base, ungrateful Wolsey, who was the greater culprit. He was a traitor to his King.

  She had to vent her fury or she would burst. Wolsey must be told how deeply he had wronged her. As soon as Henry had gone to consult with his Council, she called for writing materials and took up her pen, scribbling furiously.

  My lord, although you are a man of great understanding, you cannot avoid being censured by everybody for having brought on yourself the hatred of the King, who has raised you to the highest degree to which an ambitious man can aspire. I cannot comprehend, and the King still less, how your reverend lordship, after having misled us by so many fine promises about divorce, can have reneged on them, and how you could have done what you have in order to hinder the achieving of our wishes. What, then, is your mode of proceeding? Having given me the strongest marks of your affection, your lordship abandons my interests to embrace those of the Queen. I have put my confidence in your promises, in which I find myself deceived, but for the future I shall rely on nothing but the protection of Heaven and the love of my dear King, which alone will be able to set right again those plans which you have broken and spoiled, and place me in that happy situation which God wills and the King so much wishes, which will be entirely to the advantage of the kingdom. The wrong which you have done me has caused me so much sorrow, but I feel infinitely more in seeing myself betrayed by a man who only pretended to further my interests. Believing you sincere, I have been too precipitate in my confidence. It is this which has induced, and still induces, me to be more moderate in avenging myself, not being able to forget that I have been your servant, Anne Boleyn.

  Let that strike dread into his heart! Let Wolsey quake in his shoes! He knew that her will was law to the King. There would be no more hypocrisy. She had declared her enmity openly, and felt better after dispatching the letter. But she still felt brittle and bruised, and when she was by herself, lying in the dark that night, she gave way to a storm of weeping.


  As Anne moved about the court, she heard the buzz of speculation everywhere. The great Cardinal, who had all but ruled England for the past twenty years, was out of favor and had prudently retired to his manor of the More in Hertfordshire, plainly acknowledging that he had been to blame for the court’s failure to deliver a favorable verdict.

  Henry let him go. “I do not want to set eyes on him,” he fumed. “He has betrayed me.”

  To make matters worse, the Emperor and the King of France, those two great enemies, had just made peace.

  “It leaves me isolated and devoid of support abroad,” Henry told Anne, crestfallen, looking like a man who had been winded. There was no talk of marching on Rome with an army now, so when the Pope’s brief citing the King to appear there was served on him, all he could do was erupt in impotent fury and order Katherine to leave court for one of her dower houses, freeing him to take Anne with him on his summer hunting progress.

  Leaving London helped to lift Anne’s depression. It was good to ride in the warm August sun along the pretty, leafy lanes and heat-baked roads of England, and see the verdant countryside rolling away to either side as they made their leisurely ways to Waltham, Tittenhanger, and Windsor. The air was purer away from the city, and it rejuvenated her. Henry was calmer now, determined to find a way forward. He was even speaking of bringing about the divorce by declaring his own absolute power. With this in mind, he had summoned Parliament for November. The seeds Anne had planted were finally flowering.

  The worst thing she had to contend with right now were the hostile crowds who had come running to see their King pass and were outraged to find him parading his mistress in public. They made their outrage felt, loud and clear. Where was the good Queen? they cried, again and again. “We’ll not have the Bullen whore!” There were even calls for Anne to be stoned for the adulteress they believed she was. In the end, Henry had to summon the Queen to join the progress at Woodstock. Anne’s pleasure in it immediately evaporated.

  With Katherine restored to her place at Henry’s side, regally smiling and no doubt enjoying her small triumph, Anne found herself once more relegated to discreet obscurity. Nothing had changed. Would it always be this unhallowed triumvirate of herself, Henry, and Katherine, doomed to be shackled together forever?


  On the feast of the nativity of the Virgin Mary, the royal train arrived at Grafton Regis, where Henry owned an old hunting lodge deep in the Northamptonshire countryside. It had been arranged that Cardinal Campeggio would come here to take his formal leave of the King before returning to Rome.

  Anne had just left the lodging allocated to her when she heard the unmistakable sounds of a party of horsemen arriving in the courtyard. Looking out of a window in the gallery, she saw Cardinal Campeggio alighting stiffly from a litter. She watched as ostlers and grooms ran to see to the horses and the Cardinal’s luggage, and the Knight Harbinger came bustling importantly forward to conduct His Eminence to the rooms that had been prepared for him. And then she saw that someone else was climbing out of the litter on the opposite side. It was Wolsey.

  He had aged by about a hundred years. Gone was the air of self-importance, the urbane assurance; there was only an old, sunken man looking warily around the courtyard, plainly uncertain of his welcome—and with good reason, for the Knight Harbinger was seemingly blind to his presence, leading Campeggio away. Soon there was no one else in sight.

  Anne stiffened. After the Cardinal’s departure from court, Henry had hardly mentioned him. Out of sight, out of mind, she had hoped. And how lucky that was for Wolsey, for in his anger Henry had threatened to have his head.

  A thickset man in black came along the gallery, bowed courteously to her, and peered out of the window, following her gaze. When he saw Wolsey, he recoiled suddenly.

  “Your old master, Master Cromwell,” Anne said. She had sometimes seen this bull of a man with his porcine features in attendance on the Cardinal, and knew him for a respected lawyer, but they had never spoken. “I wonder that he has the temerity to turn up here unannounced.”

  “If I had been in his shoes, Mistress Anne, I would have deemed it a gross discourtesy to Cardinal Campeggio not to. Had he stayed away, it would have looked like an insult. But it seems he was not expected.” Wolsey was still standing alone, looking at a loss.

  “After deceiving the King, he should have known he would not be welcome,” Anne replied.

  “He did not deceive the King,” Thomas Cromwell said. “I worked closely with him, and I know how hard he tried to secure a divorce. No man could have done more.”

  That could not be true! “I think you are yourself deceived,” she retorted.

  He shrugged. “I can only speak the truth as I see it, Mistress Anne.” Then he smiled, revealing a very different face to her. “I should be soliciting your kindness toward him. He is ailing, and he has given his life to the King’s service. To me, he was a good master, a man I respected. You could not know how grieved he is that he has failed you. He sent me this letter.” He reached in the leather scrip he carried and handed it to her.

  “ ‘This very night I was as one that should have died,’ ” she read. “ ‘If the displeasure of Mistress Anne is somewhat assuaged, as I pray God, then I pray you to exert all possible means of attaining her favor.’ ”

  She looked up. “Master Cromwell, you are a loyal servant, and to be commended for it, but I am far from convinced that the Cardinal was working in the King’s cause. The evidence points to him working against it.”

  Cromwell’s shrewd features re
gistered irritation. “What evidence? Rumors put about by his enemies? There is no evidence. I was there. I saw what he did. I saw him run himself into the ground to give His Grace what he wanted.”

  Anne was indignant. “He bore me much malice, Master Cromwell! He did everything he could to prevent my becoming queen, for he knew I would destroy him.”

  “Not so, Mistress Anne, not so. But I see that you have been worked upon by those envious persons who seek the Cardinal’s ruin. I pray you will think on what I have said.” And with that Master Cromwell bowed and walked on. She stared after him, furious. He had not listened to anything she had said.

  She turned back to the window, simmering. Below, Norris had appeared. As ever, the sight of him, handsome and debonair, made her catch her breath. Often she thought she had conquered her feelings, but then she would see him and realize that she had deceived herself.

  She could not believe her eyes when she saw Norris greet Wolsey and point toward the opposite range of lodgings. They spoke for a few moments, then Norris led the Cardinal away. Clearly accommodation had been found after all. But Wolsey had yet to face Henry, and she was confident that the King would give his former friend short shrift.


  It wanted two hours until the supper hour, so Anne rested a little, then sat down to write to her mother. But suddenly Father and Uncle Norfolk were at her door, demanding to speak with her, and they were seething.

  “The King has received Cardinal Wolsey,” Norfolk spat.

  “And as warmly as he ever did,” Father added, grimacing. “The entire court was watching to see if he would disgrace Wolsey publicly, and some had even laid wagers on it, but no—it was as if the Cardinal had never been out of favor.”

  Norfolk’s face was puce. “When he and Campeggio came in and knelt before the King, he raised them both with fair words, and led Wolsey by the hand to a window, where he talked with him. No one could believe it. Then I heard the King say quite clearly that Wolsey should go to his dinner, and afterward he would speak with him again.”

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