Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  “And if the universities find in your favor, what would happen then?” she wanted to know.

  “Ask Dr. Cranmer, sweetheart. I’ve brought him here to meet you.” He rose and walked to the door. “Come in,” he commanded.

  The doctor was about forty, a soberly clad cleric with mournful eyes, dark stubble on his chin, and a nervous smile. But it soon disappeared as he warmed to his subject.

  “There is but one truth in the matter,” he said in his quiet voice, “and it will be revealed in the Scriptures when they are correctly interpreted by learned scholars trained for such a task. And that, your Grace, may be done as well in the universities as at Rome. Had they been sounded first, you might have made an end of the matter long since.”

  “But what authority would their decision have, if they decided for His Grace?” Anne asked.

  “Mistress Anne,” Cranmer said, “this case should be decided according to divine law, not canon law, therefore the Pope’s intervention is unnecessary. If the divines in the universities decide that the King’s marriage is invalid, then invalid it must be, and all that is required is an official pronouncement by the Archbishop of Canterbury to that effect, leaving the King free to remarry.”

  “It sounds so easy,” she breathed.

  “Dr. Cranmer,” purred Henry, clamping an arm around the man’s shoulders, “you have the sow by the right ear! And I want you to set all other business aside, and write a treatise expounding on your views.”

  Cranmer looked pleased and worried at the same time, but he agreed. That very day, Henry asked Anne’s father to prepare accommodation for the doctor at Durham House, so that he could write in comfort. Father, of course, was delighted to comply. Never were rooms furnished so quickly! And so Cranmer got down to work.

  On the occasions when he emerged to dine or sup with her, Anne found her new guest to be both learned and reassuring. He was interested in humanism and passionately vocal in the arguments for church reform that were so often aired at her table. Before long, Father made Cranmer their family chaplain, and the lugubrious cleric became very much a part of the Boleyn households. Indeed, Anne had come to account him a friend.


  “I am thinking,” Henry said, staring fiercely into the flames dancing on the hearth, “that I really would be better off without the Pope. My kingdom certainly would, and my people should be overjoyed at not having to pay tithes to Rome.” He punched his palm. “Why should we owe spiritual allegiance to a man who denies me an annulment for political reasons? Does he not realize that I need an heir, desperately?” He was working himself up into a fury. His temper was becoming more volatile these days.

  “Why won’t Katherine set me free?” he ranted. “Why must she be so stubborn? I’m not getting any younger, Anne—I’m thirty-eight. Do you realize I have not bedded with a woman in years?” He looked at her in anguish, longing in his eyes.

  “We dare not risk—” she began.

  “I’m not asking!” he interrupted. “We are so close to success now. I can wait. God knows, I’ve had enough practice.”

  “How much longer will it take to canvass the universities?” Anne asked.

  “A few weeks, months, maybe. This time next year you could be carrying my son under your girdle. Think of it, Anne!”

  “And what of the Pope?” she asked.

  “I mean to be absolute ruler in my own realm,” Henry declared. “I’ll not be in tutelage to anyone, and I’ll brook no interference from foreigners.”

  She smiled, rejoicing to see that he was at last discovering the full extent of his strength and his power. There would never be another Wolsey.


  The King had appointed Sir Thomas More to replace Wolsey as Lord Chancellor.

  Anne had heard much about More’s probity as a lawyer, and his outstanding scholarship. She had met him on several occasions, for Henry prized him as a friend. He was an upright man, but a dangerous one, for when More spoke, the whole world listened. His opinions were heeded and respected, because he held them without fear or favor.

  Henry had for some time been earnestly persuading Sir Thomas to agree that his marriage was invalid.

  “If he agrees to support me, it will add great weight to my case,” he had told Anne. “Even the Pope will listen.”

  But always, after seeing More, Henry came back dejected. “I still cannot induce him to agree with me,” he lamented, as they walked through the gardens, cloaked and gloved against the November chill. The fact that he was sad rather than angry was a measure of his love for More.

  “What did you say to him?” Anne asked, more sharply than she had intended.

  “I told him I did not wish him to do or utter anything that went against his conscience; I said he must first look to God, and after God to me.”

  And this was meant to be inducement!

  “At least he has accepted the chancellorship,” Henry went on. “He didn’t want it, but I told him I needed men like him.”

  Anne could not agree. “Is it wise to appoint a man who is opposed to you in the most important matter of all?” she asked.

  “Darling, fear not. Thomas and I have agreed that I will leave him out of my Great Matter, and he will not interfere. And I have made it clear to him that, because of that, his power as chancellor will be limited. Your uncle of Norfolk, as President of the Council, will be in overall charge, and my lord of Suffolk will be his deputy.”

  That at least was good news. And above them all would be—herself! She had the King’s ear, so Norfolk and Suffolk would have no influence except what it pleased her to allow them. With this in mind, she found it possible to put on a smiling face when Henry invited Sir Thomas More to dine with them in his privy chamber to celebrate his friend’s advancement. More greeted her very affably, considering that he had long been a friend of the Queen and must have sat at this same table with Katherine and Henry on several occasions. If he was discountenanced to find Anne here, he did not show it. At dinner he displayed a merry wit, and such a wise and learned grasp of affairs that she could see why he drew people to him and was universally liked and admired.

  Anne wanted to know where this great man stood in relation to the cause of religious reform. “Sir Thomas, have you ever read William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible?” she asked.

  “I have, Mistress Anne,” he said. Turning to Henry he added, “Your Grace knows that Bishop Tunstall gave me permission to read heretical books.”

  “You are the one man I would trust to do so,” Henry smiled. “Thomas is hot on heresy,” he told Anne.

  “Tyndale’s Bible is not heresy, sir,” Anne declared. “It puts forth the truth for ordinary people to read in their own tongue.”

  “I’m afraid that’s not quite the case,” More said gently. “Tyndale did not scruple to change the text to conceal the truth. It pains me to say it, Mistress Anne, but he and that firebrand, Robert Barnes, are constantly pouring out abuse against the Church, the Sacraments, and the Mass. And if they are allowed to continue, and books like theirs are made freely available, heresy will spread unchecked, make no mistake, and confusion and misery will overwhelm this kingdom. We are seeing the greatest attack on the Church that England has ever known.”

  She supposed she should have anticipated such an answer. It was no secret that More held conservative views. “But would you not agree that everyone should have the right to read the Scriptures—properly translated, of course—in English?” she persisted.

  “I’m afraid not. Mistress Anne, would you have the word of God interpreted by ignorant folk?”

  “I would rather a simple ploughman could read it and make up his own mind than see the Church continue to manipulate the Bible to its own ends.”

  “My companion here has become a theologian,” Henry jested.

  Anne simmered. She would not be patronized!

  “And a very good one,” More said kindly. “They could do with such rhetoric in Rome.”

  “I spok
e from the heart,” Anne said, her voice like steel. “These are things that matter to many people.”

  “Indeed they do,” More replied, “but it is perhaps better to leave such matters to those who understand them best. His Grace here is greatly learned in theology. He would never let anyone fall into heresy.”

  “Am I a heretic, then, for wanting the Bible to be read in English?”

  “Darling, Thomas did not mean that,” Henry pacified her.

  Oh, but he did, she thought. It was no secret that he loathed heretics. He would burn them all if he could.

  “Not at all,” More smiled, but his eyes had grown cold. “Yet you should know that it is heresy to read the Scriptures in English.”

  “It is,” Henry agreed, “and I mean to stamp out heresy in my realm.”

  “In that your Grace will have my full support,” More said.

  Anne subsided. The men had taken over the conversation. There was no point in her saying anything. But she would have her moment. She might have made an enemy of More this day—she was not deceived by his friendly manner—but she would triumph in the end. And to do that, it was all the more important that Henry make her his Queen—and soon.


  Whitehall Palace was crawling with a great army of workmen, but Henry insisted on moving in at the beginning of November, in time for him to open Parliament. Some of the magnificent apartments he had assigned to Anne were already habitable—he had been visiting the palace almost daily and harrying the builders—and she was able to occupy them, with her mother there to deflect any gossip.

  Many more ladies and servants had been engaged to attend her. Anne had felt obliged to ask George’s wife to serve her, and was surprised when she accepted. From now on, she resolved, she would watch Jane for any signs of loose behavior, but there were none. Jane was just her usual withdrawn self, especially when George was visiting. You could feel the animosity between them.

  From the grooms and ushers who now served her, Anne selected men she could trust to be her eyes and ears at court. Out of livery, they could mingle unobtrusively in the throng of courtiers and servants, listen to gossip, engage in outwardly idle conversation, and keep her informed of things she ought to know.

  Her wardrobe was now packed with sumptuous gowns, her caskets brimming with jewels worth a royal ransom. Petitioners flocked to her door. Save for the crown, she was a queen already. And the best thing was that Katherine was not here to overshadow her—she was at Greenwich, and would soon, God willing, be leaving court for good.

  A queen, Anne had always been told, should be the model of virtue. It was bitterly unfair, she felt, that, having zealously guarded her virtue for years, she should be the butt of so much slanderous gossip. But she would confound her critics. She would openly pursue the cause of religious reform, make her views known, and be an instrument for change. She spent a lot of time these days reading devotional books, and had taken to carrying with her always a copy of the letters of St. Paul, so that all might see how righteously and virtuously she lived.

  She was furious to hear Henry say that he had interceded with his justices for a priest who had been sentenced to death for clipping coins.

  “You do wrong to speak for a priest!” she reproved him later. “There are too many already, and all of them supporting the Queen!”

  “Calm down, sweetheart,” he countered. “All this will soon be behind us.”

  She could not help being on edge and lashing out on occasion. The endless delays were unbearably frustrating, and the self-control she had struggled to maintain for so long was beginning to fray. It was Henry who was increasingly on the receiving end, and he showed remarkable patience as matters continued to progress at a snail’s pace. Even Cranmer was taking a long time to finish his treatise. He had to get it absolutely right, he kept saying. Anne just wanted her future settled. She hated the person she was becoming. It was hard to remain alluring and detached when she was screaming inside. She did not want to feel vindictive toward those—Katherine and Wolsey and Clement—who were the cause of her present untenable situation, but she did. Sometimes she wished them dead. She feared their power to thwart her and wreck her plans.

  Time, she felt, was passing her by.

  “How long will you keep me waiting?” she would wail at Henry during one of her unreasonable moods. “I might have contracted some advantageous marriage, and had children!” That, of course, was guaranteed to galvanize him. He would prod Cranmer to hurry up, harry Katherine, and snarl at his Council for not doing enough to relieve his situation. He came, contrite, to Anne with gifts—a length of purple velvet for a gown, a French saddle of black velvet fringed with silk and gold, a matching footstool to use as a mounting block, a white pillion saddle for when they shared a horse. He spent hundreds of pounds on keeping her sweet.

  What he could not give her was security. She remained intolerably aware that everything she was and everything she hoped for depended entirely on his great love for her. Without it, the wolves would be at her door. Yet, for all that, she was often ill-tempered with him. Take the matter of the shirts.

  Anne could sew, and she could embroider. Her needlework, in which she took great pride, was exquisite. So when Henry casually mentioned that he had ripped his shirt playing tennis, and sent it to the Queen for mending, she exploded with rage.

  “If she is not your wife, she has no business to be mending your shirts!”

  He looked at her, puzzled. “But she’s always mended them, and embroidered them.”

  How could he be so dense? Almost she could have killed him. “That’s beside the point, you fool! You shouldn’t encourage her by acting as if you were her husband! In future, you can send your shirts to me. I will mend them—and embroider them.”

  Anyone else who’d dared speak to the King like that would doubtless have ended up in the Tower, but at that moment Anne was past caring. And Henry just stood there, shamefaced.

  “I’m sorry, sweetheart, no slight was intended. You’re right. I will send the shirts to you.”

  It galled her that Henry was still at pains to convince everyone that he and the Queen remained on good terms, and kept Katherine constantly with him when they were in public. In fact, they were displaying so much courtesy to each other that anyone aware of the true situation would have considered their conduct heroic. But Henry assured Anne that, whatever happened in public, in private he left Katherine to her own devices.

  She soon found out that that was not always the case, for one cold, dark night late in November, a downcast Henry arrived at Whitehall and slumped in a chair in her apartment.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned to see him so dejected.

  “Katherine!” he barked. “I dined with her—for form’s sake, so please don’t look like that—but I wish I hadn’t bothered. She did nothing but complain about how she was suffering the pangs of purgatory on earth, and that I was treating her badly by refusing to visit her privately. I told her she had no cause to complain. I said I hadn’t dined with her as I was busy, the Cardinal having left the affairs of government in great confusion. And as to visiting her in her apartments, and sharing her bed, I told her she ought to know that I am not her husband, and reminded her that I had been assured of this by many learned doctors.”

  “I can imagine her response,” Anne said wearily.

  “She insisted that my case has no foundation. So I told her that I was canvassing the universities, and would not fail to have their opinions forwarded to Rome. And if the Pope did not declare our marriage null and void, I would denounce him as a heretic and marry whom I please.”

  “And did that shut her up?”

  Henry looked defeated, as he often did after confronting Katherine. She always remained calm and resolute, while he just lost his temper and uttered threats.

  “She said that, for every doctor or lawyer of mine, she could find a thousand to hold our marriage good.”

  Anne shook her head. “Did I not tell you th
at whenever you argue with the Queen, she is sure to have the upper hand?” She sighed bitterly. “I see that some fine morning you will succumb to her reasoning, and cast me off! And alas! Farewell to my time and youth, spent to no purpose at all!”

  “By God, Anne, you are cruel!” Henry protested. “You know I will never forsake you. You are my whole life! And you should know that I keep my promises!”

  He got up and strode to the door. Raised as royalty, and with two decades of kingship behind him, he would never understand how insecure she felt.

  “Farewell,” he said, and he did not even try to kiss her. “I’m going back to Greenwich to seek some peace and quiet.”


  Within hours, he was all contrition. To make up for his outburst, he announced that he was creating her father not only Earl of Wiltshire, but also Earl of Ormond. Piers Butler had died, and that coveted title was to be Thomas Boleyn’s at last. As Anne thanked Henry, lovingly, gratefully, she was thinking of what this elevation would mean for her and her family, and realizing that he was also preparing her for greater things. The daughter of a belted earl was a far more fitting mate for the King of England than the daughter of a viscount.

  A week later, she watched the ceremony of ennoblement, sitting there proudly, near the throne, as her father knelt to receive the trappings of his new rank, which made him one of the chief peers of the realm. George, as Father’s heir, was now Lord Rochford, and Anne would henceforth—for a short space, until she was queen—be the Lady Anne Boleyn. Instead of the Boleyn bulls, they would all adopt the black lion of Ormond as their heraldic emblem.

  The next day, to celebrate Father’s elevation, the King hosted a feast at Whitehall, insisting that Anne sit at his side, in the chair of estate that Wolsey had kept for Katherine, and take precedence over all the ladies of the court. She saw Eustache Chapuys, the Emperor’s ambassador, watching her disapprovingly, but paid him no heed. Soon he would be bowing his knee to her.

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