Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  There would be such a feast when she was married, Anne decided. In fact, given tonight’s festive air, the rich food, and her virginal gown of white and silver, it seemed as if nothing was wanting but the priest to give away the nuptial ring and pronounce the blessing. If only this could have been her marriage day!


  Henry had promoted George to the Privy Council. He was to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career as a diplomat, for which—being Father’s son—he had considerable talent. Already he enjoyed great influence at court. But his private life was a mess. Anne knew that he and Jane were virtually estranged. Anne had tried to get the resentful Jane to confide in her, but with no success.

  When Anne saw George at court these days, he was sometimes in company with a young man who was very handsome—a little rough-spoken, with a strange accent, yet gifted on the lute and keyboard.

  She asked Norris who he was.

  “Mark Smeaton,” Norris said, his eyes warm. She knew that, had she given him the slightest encouragement, he would have been at her feet, for all he was still in mourning. “Why do you ask?”

  “George seems to like him, but he seems of lowly birth to me.”

  “He’s recently been appointed a groom of the Privy Chamber. His father, apparently, was a carpenter.”

  “I should not sneer at that.” Her smile was wry. “Our Lord was a carpenter’s son too. Yet there is something coarse about Mark Smeaton.” Something sly too. She did not like the appraising way he looked at her, for one thing.

  “I think he’s Flemish. He was in Wolsey’s household. He’s come far because of his talent for music. Give him any instrument and he’ll play it.”

  He could dance too. He was often in the throng, showing off, when there was dancing in the presence chamber. Anne noticed that his shirts, hose, shoes, and bonnets were of the finest quality. Henry obviously paid him well.

  Smeaton once sang, at Henry’s behest, for the entertainment of the court, but he overdid the dramatics.

  “Even honey, if taken too much, becomes sickly,” Father murmured at Anne’s side. “Who is that oaf?”

  George, however, was increasingly with Mark, and they were often joined by Francis Weston, another young gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber. He was a likable young man with fair hair, blue eyes, and an extravagant taste in dress, who was also skilled on the lute. Sometimes Anne and her closest attendants—her cousin, beautiful Madge Shelton, and Norfolk’s daughter, Mary Howard—would join them, along with Norris, Bryan, and other gallant gentlemen. One day Anne picked up a manuscript of poems someone had brought along. She recognized it as a book that George had once treasured. It was inscribed: “This book is mine. George Boleyn 1526,” but below it was written, “Mine, Mark S.”

  It perturbed her. How come George liked Mark so much that he had given him that precious manuscript? Was Mark worthy of a nobleman’s friendship? Was it because of George that he was always aping his betters? He not only dressed well, but kept several horses at court and had servants who wore his livery. How did he afford it all?

  At the French court, Anne had heard of men who loved other men. In England, such things were never spoken of. She could not believe it of her brother and Mark. She had seen Mark ogling ladies of the court—she herself had been the recipient of his bold stares (and God only knew what Henry would do if he noticed)—and George, by his own admission and reputation, was a womanizer.

  No, the common bond had to be music.


  Parliament had been in session for a month when, three weeks before Christmas, the Lords and Commons presented the King with a list of forty-four charges against Wolsey. Anne rejoiced: all those weeks of working to bring Wolsey down had borne fruit. And Henry had agreed to consider the accusations. She was annoyed, therefore, when he seemed reluctant to lift his hand against his old friend, and even refused to discuss the matter.

  The thought of Christmas depressed her. She could not face another season of keeping it in solitary state while Katherine queened it over the court, so she had resolved to go to Hever with her family. Next Christmas, God willing, things would be different, and it would be her presiding over the Yuletide festivities.

  Henry begged her to stay. He was concerned to see her so low. She would stay low, she was determined, until he saw sense over Wolsey. But Henry was not subtle enough to get the message. Even so, he was moving closer toward pushing through radical changes. Before she left court on Christmas Eve, while they were inspecting the ranks and ranks of silver-gilt cups that he would present as gifts to favored courtiers on New Year’s Day, he turned to her.

  “You know, darling, if the Pope pronounces sentence against me, I will not heed it. I prize the Church of Canterbury as much as people across the sea prize the Church of Rome. And so I will tell Katherine. She must not put her hopes in the Pope.”

  “England would be better off unshackled from Rome,” Anne observed.

  I am coming to believe it,” Henry said. “The only thing that would make me change my mind is a judgment in my favor.”


  At Hever, Anne could think only of what she was missing at court, and fretting at the thought of Henry being with Katherine and their daughter, sharing in the festivities, while she was left out. As soon as Twelfth Night was over, she hastened back to London.

  She found Henry despondent. “It has been hellish without you,” he told her. “When I think of how long I have waited for a ruling, I confess that I find myself in such perplexity that I can no longer live in it.”

  Anne rested her hand on his. “Let us put our faith in the universities.”

  Henry hesitated. “If there remains a chance that the Pope will judge in my favor, I will not look for a solution elsewhere.”

  Anne gave way to despair. He had been a good son of the Church for too long, and its champion against heresy. He might bluster and threaten, yet his heart was orthodox. But what was Henry’s loyalty to the Church worth against Clement’s fear of provoking the Emperor? One day he would finally accept that the man beneath the triple crown was as weak and fallible as the rest of mortality.


  Anne hastened to Henry’s privy chamber, wondering why he wanted to see her so urgently.

  “His Grace is upset,” Norris warned, admitting her. Their eyes met for a moment, and there was that old, familiar recognition. She looked away and joined Henry, who was with Dr. Butts. The doctor bowed at her approach.

  “The Cardinal is very ill,” Henry said, lifting a stricken face. “I sent Dr. Butts to see him, and in truth, I am very sorry to hear what he has to say. God forbid that Wolsey should die, for I would not lose him for twenty thousand pounds!”

  Anne stiffened. He would never stop loving Wolsey. She had feared it all along. But it mattered little now, if Wolsey was dying.

  Dr. Butts spoke. “I fear, Lady Anne, that he could be dead within four days if he receives no comfort from His Grace and you.”

  There were tears in Henry’s eyes. “I am sending him this ring.” He took it off his finger and gave it to the doctor. “He knows it well, for he gave it to me. Tell him that I am not offended with him in my heart. Bid him be of good cheer. God send him life!” He seized Anne’s hand. “Good sweetheart, I pray you, as you love me, send the Cardinal a token with some comfortable words.”

  It could not hurt, not now. And one must show charity to the dying, even to one’s enemies. She detached a small gold tablet book from her girdle and handed it to Dr. Butts. “I wish him well too,” she said.

  Whether it was down to the comfortable words and tokens, or the skill of Dr. Butts, Wolsey mended daily, and Anne’s brief flowering of sympathy withered. Again she began reminding Henry that the Cardinal was responsible for their present intolerable situation, insinuating his offenses into their conversations whenever possible, stoking the King’s anger. He was not receptive at first, but soon she realized she was making headway. Recalling how Wolsey had duped him, h
is resentment festered. And Anne seized her moment.

  “Your Grace’s sympathy for the Cardinal is laudable,” she said, “but he is not worthy of your forbearance. I beg of you not to see him. I know you could not help but pity him, but it would not be fitting for a traitor like him to come into your presence.”

  “But darling—” Henry began.

  “Don’t darling me!” she interrupted, furious. “Sometimes I think you love him more than you love me! Well, you will have to choose between us. I have endured this waiting long enough.”

  “Sweetheart,” he begged, leaping up to embrace her, “be reasonable! Is not my displeasure enough punishment for him?”

  Anne fended him off. “Others, committing lesser offenses, would have gone to the block! But you need not go so far, Henry. I will go and pack.”

  “No!” he shouted, as she moved toward the door. “No, Anne. Do not leave me! What would my life be without you? I love you! And I promise you, I will not receive the Cardinal. I will do whatever you wish, if only you will stay with me.”

  And then, of course, she relented, and all was harmonious between them again. If Henry resented having been forced to capitulate, he did not betray it. His ardor was inflamed all the more by the thought of losing her.

  Norris escorted her out.

  “You heard what the King said?” she asked.

  He smiled at her. “I could not help overhearing, my lady Anne.”

  “I will put paid to this Cardinal once and for all,” she murmured, “even if it costs me twenty thousand crowns in bribes!”

  “It will not,” he assured her. “There are many who will do much to prevent his return to power.”

  She did not tell him that she had sent a spy, in the guise of a servant, to infiltrate Wolsey’s household, with instructions to seek out anything remotely incriminating. George had been most helpful in setting that trap, and the spy had been dispatched with a pouch full of gold.

  Soon the Cardinal’s physician was overheard telling a colleague that his master had been corresponding with the Pope. Naturally the servant who heard him, being loyal to the King, came hurrying to report this to the Privy Council. The physician was arrested.

  Henry, relating this to Anne over supper that evening, was incensed.

  “The Cardinal has asked the Pope to excommunicate me and lay an interdict on England if I do not dismiss you and treat the Queen with proper respect.”

  Anne’s rage was genuine. “Now you see him for what he is! The vilest traitor. When I think of all the years he has caused us to waste—all lost—and how my honor has been defamed.” She was weeping now. “In truth, I cannot go on like this. I am weary of it all. Often I think it would be best to end it now, then we can both get on with our lives.”

  Henry was crying too. “Darling, please do not speak of leaving me!”

  “You have no idea how it is for me,” she sobbed. “The world thinks I sleep with you, and some even say I have borne you bastards. My reputation is in ruins, thanks to Wolsey and that weakling Clement. How do you think that feels? Wolsey should pay for what he has done! You should have him arrested.”

  “But I can’t do that,” Henry shouted, dabbing at his eyes and recovering himself. “That letter the physician spoke of cannot be found, and without it there is a poor case against the Cardinal. I would do anything for you, Anne, but this would be against my honor, and against all justice.”

  “Is the man’s testimony not enough?” she cried, frantic. “Men have been beheaded on the strength of witness depositions.”

  “More depositions than we have in this case,” Henry argued.

  She would not push him further. She had failed, but tomorrow was another day. “Forgive me if I seemed vehement,” she said, drying her tears. “It was the thought of your having been deceived and betrayed.”

  “You don’t know how you twist the knife, Anne,” Henry told her.


  Anne strode through Whitehall to the King’s apartments, pushing past Norris without waiting to be admitted. Henry had pardoned Wolsey! What was he thinking of?

  “You should have had him arrested instead!” she cried, upbraiding him for his folly, but he was immovable as a rock.

  “You would not have me pervert the justice that is carried out in my name?” he challenged.

  “You don’t have to show him such favor!” she flung back. And so it continued, back and forth, in a vicious cycle that left her feeling drained and ragged.

  She could no longer control her fears or her temper. She lived in trepidation that Henry would welcome Wolsey back, and that Wolsey, knowing her enmity, would do his best to destroy her. She knew she was trying Henry’s patience to the limit, but she could not curb her tongue. Entering his privy chamber one day, she came upon him talking to Sir John Russell, a courtier with a distinguished career behind him, and heard Sir John urging the King to show kindness to the Cardinal.

  “He is a consummate statesman, sir, and no one served you more loyally, even if he did fail you in the end—”

  “Sir John,” Anne said, interrupting, “I marvel that you should praise such a man to the King’s own face, when he has been accused of so many offenses against His Grace. A pardon does not mean that they have been forgotten.”

  She did not wait for the astonished Sir John to reply. Aware that Henry was glowering at her, she walked away. She would not speak to Sir John again, she vowed.

  But Henry came after her. “Anne, I love you very much, but I will not have you ill-treating a gentleman of my household in my presence,” he reproved her, as courtiers standing nearby watched, smirking. “And yes, a pardon does mean that a man’s offenses are forgotten—by me, and it’s my opinion that matters.”

  “Then I beg your Grace’s pardon,” Anne said scathingly, sweeping a graceful curtsey and moving away before he could say any more.

  He came to her, of course, as soon as he could—all contrite, and terrified lest she threaten again to leave him—and she graciously accepted his apology. As usual, after a quarrel, he was more ardent than ever, so she let him kiss and caress her.

  It worried her that she could so easily let her tongue run away with her. But she could not help herself. It seemed that she was always fighting her demons. And chief of them, right now, was Wolsey.


  The bickering continued, fueled by Henry’s reluctance to act on Cranmer’s treatise, which was now finished. Soon it was spring, and now it was summer, and still he hesitated, loath to take that final leap that might well bring him into schism with Rome. And no amount of urging or nagging could move him.

  “You were so fired up by Dr. Cranmer’s solution,” Anne reminded him.

  “Yes, but I have thought about what might ensue if I take that course. I mean now to have all my lords, spiritual and temporal, petition the Pope to decide the case in my favor.”

  “And you think that will move him?” Anne was scornful. “Henry, I am twenty-nine, and not getting any younger. If you hope for sons, you must do more than send petitions.”

  “Anne, if I take any course other than seeking the Pope’s judgment, the Emperor may declare war. Do you realize how many enemies I have made in pursuing our marriage? Not just abroad, but here in my realm, in my court! Do you have any idea what I am risking for you? My popularity, England’s security, even my very throne!”

  “That matters not,” she countered passionately, knowing she had to stop him from seeing her as part of the problem. “What matters is us and our marriage. Do you know, I read of an ancient prophecy that at this time a queen shall be burned. That could be me! I know I am hated, and I grieve for it. But even if I were to suffer a thousand deaths, my love for you would not abate one jot!”

  He kissed her then, his anxieties forgotten for a space. But he had given her a jolt, and she resolved to show a little more deference to him from now on—and to try to be the person he had fallen in love with in the first place.


was to visit his daughter, the Princess Mary, at Hunsdon. She was fourteen now, and had rarely been at court since the Great Matter had arisen, since both her parents wished to protect her from its consequences.

  “I miss her,” Henry told Anne, “and I would reassure myself that she has not been infected by Katherine’s obstinacy.”

  He came home in a foul mood.

  “It’s a fine thing when a man’s own daughter starts telling him he is in error,” he growled. “Never mind the duty she owes him! Katherine’s got at her—Mary is repeating the same old arguments. I told her I would visit her again only when she has accepted the truth. The little minx said that she was ready to obey me in all things save what was against her conscience.”

  “Has she no respect for her father and King?” Anne asked, indignant.

  “She has never defied me before, ever,” Henry mourned, deeply upset. Anne could remember often seeing him with Mary in Katherine’s chamber. He had adored the child, and she him.


  The lords’ petition had been sent to Rome. In Henry, hope sprang anew, but Anne expected nothing. Weeks went by with no word in response. Then, in September, Clement, still avoiding pronouncing sentence, suggested that the King might be allowed two wives.

  “Two wives!” Henry erupted. “Does the Church now sanction bigamy?”

  “How can he justify it?” Anne gaped, shocked to her core.

  “He says he can permit that with less scandal than would be caused by granting an annulment.”

  Secretly, she was pleased. In stooping so low, Clement had lost all credibility with Henry—and, if there was any justice, with the world at large.

  “I’m finished with him,” Henry said, his eyes steely. “I should have relied all along on my conscience, which is a higher court of justice than the corrupt court of Rome. God, I know, is guiding my actions. Clement has kept me waiting for three tortuous years, and now he shall know that my patience has worn out. Send for Cranmer!”

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