Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “Over my dead body!” cried Anne, who had heard all this with mounting rage. “Wolsey thinks to have his foot in the door, but I’ll not have it. He has wrought enough trouble.”

  “Niece,” Norfolk said, “you are in a position of unique influence. Work on the King. It should not be difficult to re-arouse his anger toward Wolsey. Remind him of how the Cardinal deceived and failed him. Use your wiles.”

  “I don’t need any advice on that!” Anne retorted. “The King is dining with me here later. I will put paid to Wolsey!”

  —

  The table in the paneled dining chamber was set for two with snowy napery, gleaming silver, and crystal goblets. Candles flickered in their sconces and there was a fire in the hearth to take the edge off the chilly September evening. Anne had dressed carefully. The full skirts of her black velvet gown accentuated her tiny waist, and its low neckline, trimmed with a pearl-braided biliment, looked enticingly seductive. A crimson damask kirtle added color. Her hair she wore loose, as a reminder to Henry that she was still unwed and a virgin.

  She was cool toward him when he arrived, and while the first course was served.

  “I hear that you gave Cardinal Wolsey a warm welcome this afternoon,” she challenged, looking him directly in the eye, and was gratified when he would not meet her gaze. She laid down her knife. “If any nobleman in this realm had done but half so much as the Cardinal has done, he would have lost his head.”

  Henry looked grieved. “Why then, I perceive that you are not the Cardinal’s friend,” he said.

  How could he be so devastatingly naive?

  “I have no cause,” Anne said quietly, “nor any other that loves your Grace, if you consider well what he did.”

  “Darling, I have spoken with him, and I do believe that he is as distressed as we are at the verdict of the court. He assured me he had done everything possible to ensure that it went our way, and I believe him.” Henry’s tone was plaintive.

  “Lies, all lies!” she flung back. “He is hand-in-glove with that apology for a pope!”

  Henry reached across and tried to take her hand, but she pulled it away. “You cannot receive him back into favor, you cannot,” she insisted.

  “Anne, Wolsey is clever—”

  “Too clever for you!”

  “Hear me out, please. He is the one man who can find a solution to our problem.”

  “Is that what he’s been telling you? Well, it’s strange that this one man who can help has not found a solution in over two years of trying. And whatever he does, his influence in Rome does not exceed the Emperor’s.”

  “Anne, I will hear what he has to say,” Henry said, in the voice that had silenced many an importunate petitioner.

  They ate on in silence, Anne seething at his refusal to heed her, and horrified at the very real prospect of Wolsey returning to prominence. Really, the situation was laughable, if it hadn’t been so appalling. First Katherine had returned to court, and now Wolsey looked like doing so. They were all back where they had begun! It was hard to stop herself from bursting into tears—not that that would help in Henry’s present mood.

  When he had eaten his last mouthful, the King put down his napkin. “Sweetheart, be reasonable,” he said. “I am only trying to do what is best, and it is worth listening to what Wolsey has to say if it leads to our being together.”

  She did not answer. He rose, pressed his hand on her shoulder, and left.

  —

  They were meant to be going hunting in the morning, but Henry spent a long time closeted with Wolsey, and now it was afternoon. Anne was pacing the gallery, convinced that the Cardinal was worming his way back into favor. As soon as Henry emerged, she pounced.

  “You promised we would leave after breakfast,” she complained. “It’s one o’clock already.”

  Henry capitulated. “Very well. I will tell the Cardinal to continue our discussion with the lords of my Council,” he said, and went to put on his riding clothes.

  Anne had a mission of her own to accomplish. Her task completed, she met Henry, booted and spurred, in the porch, as the courtyard filled with men, horses, and dogs. And there stood Wolsey and Campeggio, who were to depart after supper that evening. Anne, standing at Henry’s side, smiled at them.

  Henry mounted his steed. “I will be back before you leave,” he said. The two men bowed, and he wheeled the horse around. Anne adjusted her feathered riding bonnet and followed close behind on her palfrey, thankful that Katherine never hunted these days. She did not look back. With luck, she would never have to see Wolsey’s face again.

  —

  When they were a few miles from Grafton, riding abreast, she turned to Henry.

  “I have a surprise for you,” she told him.

  “For me?” He looked so humbly grateful. “May I know what it is?”

  “Later!” she teased. If she told him now, he might countermand her instructions.

  He laughed, and then the quarry was sighted and the chase began.

  It was nearing six o’clock when the afternoon’s sport ended, and the carcasses of six deer were being loaded onto a cart. It was a beautiful evening, with the lowering sun’s rays casting a golden light on the landscape.

  “It’s perfect weather for dining out,” Anne said.

  “Dining out?” Henry echoed.

  “Yes. That’s my surprise. I have ordered an open-air dinner to be prepared in Hartwell Park. It’s only a few miles in that direction.”

  Henry hesitated. She could see him warring with himself. Would he continue to placate her and do as she wished, or would he risk angering her by insisting on returning to Grafton in time to see Wolsey before he left?

  Belatedly he smiled at her. “Darling, you think of everything,” he said. “Nothing would please me better. Come, let us make haste! All this sport has given me an appetite.”

  She had won the battle, if not the war. Now she must make sure that Henry saw the truth about Wolsey and was persuaded never to receive him again.

  —

  Two days later, Henry welcomed the new Imperial ambassador at Grafton. The Emperor had withdrawn his previous representative before the Black Friars hearing, in protest that it was biased in the King’s favor. Now that the case had been revoked to Rome, Charles had relented and sent this new man.

  Anne watched as Eustache Chapuys approached the dais and bowed low. He was dark-haired, with patrician features, and wearing a sober lawyer’s gown. She saw the King receive him cordially, and the Queen’s warmer welcome. Afterward, at a reception, Henry introduced Anne to Messire Chapuys. He was courtesy itself as they exchanged pleasantries, but he knew who she was, and she sensed that he did not approve of her—how could he, when she was set to supplant his master’s beloved aunt? And it was clear from his cultured conversation that he thought highly of the Queen. Anne realized that, for all his civility, he would be no friend to her.

  “His instructions are to bring about a reconciliation between me and Katherine,” Henry told her later. “He didn’t say so outright, but it was implied. Well, he’ll have his work cut out!” He gave a mirthless laugh.

  The next day, Thomas Boleyn sought Anne in her lodging, looking concerned. “This Chapuys is clever,” he warned. “He has already made it plain to the Council whose side he is on, and I fear he could make trouble for us. He has the might of the Empire and Spain behind him. Be watchful.”

  —

  In October, the court returned to Greenwich, and Anne took herself off, with her mother for company, to Durham House. It was good to be away from the court for a while, and even to have some respite from wrangling with Henry over Wolsey, but she fretted constantly about what was happening in her absence. Would the Cardinal find some way to outsmart her? And what was this new ambassador, Chapuys, about? She missed Norris, as always, even though she was still annoyed with him for receiving Wolsey at Grafton. She had shown herself cool after that, and now regretted it. She should really be at court, and yet here she was ta
lking about embroidery with Mother and her maids!

  It was while she was rummaging around for red and blue silks that she discovered that the casket in which she kept some of Henry’s love letters was empty. The lock had been broken!

  She questioned the servants who had been left in charge during her absence, but they all showed themselves nonplussed, and none knew of any stranger breaking in or intruding.

  When Henry arrived that evening, she told him that the letters were missing.

  “Someone must have stolen them,” she said, thinking of Wolsey. “Who would do that?”

  He frowned. “Cardinal Campeggio, I suspect. Perhaps one of his people bribed someone to search for evidence that we have committed criminous conversation, as the church courts like to put it. That, darling, as I need not remind you, could prove highly damaging to my case.”

  “I know the Church is corrupt, but would a cardinal really stoop to theft?”

  “If it were to get such evidence, yes. You and I know that we have not sinned, but anyone reading those letters might draw other conclusions—if it served them well. If Clement reads them, there’s little hope of him deciding in my favor.”

  Anne shuddered. It was horrible envisaging the consistory of cardinals poring over the letters, exposing her intimate secrets and drawing the wrong conclusions. It was even more horrible to think of the consequences.

  “There is no time to lose!” Henry declared, jumping up and summoning an usher.

  “Take a message to Dr. Gardiner. Have him send soldiers to Dover to intercept Cardinal Campeggio and search his luggage, even his saddlebags. Tell him that letters belonging to the Lady Anne have been stolen, and we need to find them.”

  The usher hurried away.

  Henry sat down. He was fidgeting in agitation. “I hope I can trust Gardiner to order an efficient search. Wolsey would have known just what to do. He’d have tracked down those letters.”

  Oh no, Anne thought. This must not be your excuse for recalling the Cardinal.

  She had to prevent Henry from sending for Wolsey. The next morning, she summoned her father, her uncle of Norfolk, and the Duke of Suffolk.

  —

  Dr. Gardiner had been extremely efficient, but to no avail. Two days later, Anne received a note from Henry informing her that no trace of the letters had been found, despite a thorough search of the baggage of Campeggio and his suite.

  She strongly suspected that Wolsey had them, and might use them against her. It was now more imperative than ever that Wolsey be brought down.

  —

  Father and Norfolk were exultant.

  “The King has agreed to charge the Cardinal under the Statute of Praemunire, with the offense of allowing a foreign power to interfere in the affairs of the realm. We did not have to look far to find evidence against him. Accepting the office of Papal legate alone renders him guilty.”

  “The penalty is forfeiture of all his lands and goods,” Norfolk added, gleeful. “And it serves him right.”

  They had done their work well. The relief was overwhelming. Anne had looked to harden Henry’s heart against his former friend, but she had never expected him to go this far. Banishment had been the best she had hoped for. That evening she and her mother danced around her chamber in exultation.

  Eight days later, Henry stripped Wolsey of his office of Lord Chancellor.

  “My lord of Suffolk and I are off to demand that he surrender the Great Seal of England,” Norfolk came to tell her. “He is to remain at his house at Esher while a bill of indictment is drawn up against him.”

  The great Cardinal was finished, his stranglehold on the King broken. And it was she, that foolish girl yonder in the court, as he had called her, who had brought it to pass.

  —

  Henry came to see her, furious about Wolsey, yet pleased to be in possession of all the property that had belonged to the Cardinal.

  “York Place is mine now,” he declared. “For years, since Westminster burned down, I have lacked a great house in London. Now I have one! I am renaming it Whitehall, and darling, it will be our palace. I am having it renovated for you. It will be like those palaces of the Netherlands you often speak of. Tomorrow we will go and see it, and you shall decide what improvements you wish to make.”

  She listened avidly as he spoke of the improvements he would make. Whitehall, being an archbishop’s residence, had no lodging suitable for the Queen, and he had no plans to create any for Katherine. Anne was to have her own court and preside over it as queen in all but name.

  Mother, who was still staying with her, attended her as chaperone when she viewed the palace with Henry. He was waiting for them there at ten o’clock in the morning, with just Norris in attendance. As usual, Anne’s heart skipped a beat, but she would have to be especially careful not to betray her feelings today, for Mother knew her too well and had eyes like a hawk.

  Henry kissed her hand on greeting, and she asked after Norris’s health. She had noticed that he was clad entirely in black.

  “I am well enough, Mistress Anne,” he told her, his light blue eyes meeting hers, “but you find me in sorrow. My poor wife has died.”

  The news struck her like a thunderbolt. “I am so sorry, Sir Henry,” she managed to say, remembering fair-haired Mary Fiennes as a merry young girl in France, fourteen years ago now.

  As Henry led the way through chamber after chamber, speaking enthusiastically of his plans for the palace, Anne followed slowly, barely seeing the breathtaking splendor. From the jocular way he was talking with the King, Norris did not seem too saddened by his wife’s death. An arranged marriage, no doubt, made for convenience, as most were. All she could think about was that he was now free.

  He could be hers.

  But it was Henry who could give her the crown she so desperately wanted.

  Above them the painted beams of the great hall soared, and Henry was saying that the first thing he’d do would be to have Wolsey’s coats of arms removed—they were everywhere, uncomfortable reminders of the Cardinal’s greatness. But Anne was asking herself why becoming queen mattered so much, when the chance of true love was hers for the seizing. And always she came back to the argument that the crown was hers for the seizing too.

  She had never seen marriage alone as an especially fulfilling estate for women. She had always wanted more in life—and more than she had ever dreamed of would soon, God willing, be in her grasp. There was so much that she could accomplish as queen, and her children would be royal. That mattered very much indeed. To think that a child of her blood, a Boleyn, would one day sit upon the throne of England, and that her descendants would rule for centuries to come. It was a kind of immortality.

  She realized that the prospect of the power she would wield as queen, and as the mother of the heir, was headier than the prospect of marriage with Norris. She looked at Henry and Norris standing together on the dais, and it dawned on her that love was not the most important thing in life. For her, power was more important than pleasure. And although she loved Norris far more than she could ever love Henry—and, yes, lusted after him—she knew that, in truth, they could never be together. She was Henry’s, and he would never let her go. What was it Wyatt had written? “ ‘Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am!’ ”

  It would suit her very well, she told herself, to go on loving Norris from afar. It would add some spice to her life, supplying the excitement that Henry could rarely inspire.

  Resolutely, she turned to the King and smiled.

  “These curtains will have to go!” she said.

  —

  Even now, it was proving difficult to get rid of Wolsey. Acquiring the Cardinal’s property had gone a long way toward dispelling Henry’s anger and resentment, and when, at the end of October, Wolsey threw himself on the King’s mercy, Henry took him under his protection and graciously permitted him to remain Archbishop of York, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the English church hierarchy.

  “Not to b
e borne!” snarled Uncle Norfolk, when Anne, barely containing her own anger, broke this news. “We will fix this knave once and for all.”

  Norfolk, Father, George, and the Duke of Suffolk, with others who bore a grudge against the Cardinal, began meeting at Durham House, with Anne at their head, to plot Wolsey’s final downfall. There was no time to be lost, for Parliament was soon to meet, and they were hoping to force through an Act of Attainder that would see the Cardinal deprived of his life as well as his possessions.

  —

  Henry was jubilant. Before he had even been announced at Durham House, he had burst into Anne’s chamber, surprising her as she was practicing on her lute while her mother sat sewing.

  “Foxe and Gardiner are back from Rome, Anne, and they have news.”

  “The Pope has ruled in your favor?” she asked, rising to her feet, hardly daring to hope.

  “No, not that, darling.” His face clouded a little. “They are both of the opinion that we can hope for nothing from Clement. But”—and he brightened again—“they have met someone who has put forward a brilliant solution to my Great Matter. His name is Dr. Thomas Cranmer, and they met him by chance when they lodged overnight at Waltham Abbey on their way here. He was seeking refuge from some sickness that is raging in Cambridge. He is a fellow at the university, and they’ve both known him for years.”

  He drew her to a window seat overlooking the river. “It was a friendly reunion, and Gardiner stood them all a good dinner. Then they fell to talking, and he and Foxe asked this Dr. Cranmer his opinion on my case. And he said he had not studied the matter in depth, but believed that the validity of my marriage should be judged by doctors of divinity in the universities, not by the Pope.”

  Anne stared at Henry, light dawning. It was indeed a stroke of brilliance, and might well be the best way forward. And, given that university men often held radical and forward-thinking views, it surely could not fail.

 
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