Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  Thomas Cromwell came upon Anne as she was strolling along the riverside at Greenwich, wondering how long it would be before they could expect the universities to give their opinions. Cromwell was now a member of the King’s Privy Council, and Henry spoke highly of him, being impressed by Cromwell’s zeal in his cause. Anne did not much like the man personally, but they shared a common desire for reform and the translation of the Bible, and if he was willing to use his considerable talents to help secure an annulment, she was more than ready to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  She doubted that Henry would ever again rely on a counselor as much as he had relied on Wolsey—he had become too much his own man for that—but she knew that Cromwell’s influence was growing. As long as he realized that her will was law to the King, they would get along very well.

  Cromwell bowed. “Lady Anne, I thought you would wish to know. New evidence has been laid before the Council about the Cardinal.”

  “New evidence, Master Cromwell?”

  He looked about him. There was no one within earshot on this cold first day of November. Most courtiers were indoors, huddled by fires and braziers. He lowered his voice. “We have letters proving that Wolsey has written to the Emperor and the King of France, asking them to intercede with the King on his behalf. A foolish move, is it not, Lady Anne, on the part of a man who was charged under the Statute of Praemunire? It is being construed as treason, and he is to answer for it.”

  “The King believes it?” Only a few days ago, she had heard Henry say that Wolsey was a better man than any of his councillors, and praise him for the way he was carrying out his spiritual duties in Yorkshire.

  “Yes. Even as we speak, a warrant is being drawn up for his arrest.” Cromwell’s porcine eyes fleetingly registered emotion.

  “You are sorry for your old master,” she said.

  “He was a good master,” he observed thoughtfully, then his mouth set in its familiar bullish line. “But I would not want anyone to think I have any love for a man who has committed treason. You might like to know that the Earl of Northumberland has been deputed to arrest the Cardinal in the King’s name.”

  Harry Percy, now come into his father’s estate! There was a kind of justice in it.

  “It is fitting, is it not?” Cromwell said softly, and suddenly Anne remembered being in Harry’s arms under that lime tree near the Observant Friars’ house, and a man in black watching them.

  “You saw us!” she exclaimed. “You knew!”

  “I had the ear of the Cardinal. I know what happened. There was no betrothal to Mary Talbot. It had been discussed, true, but Wolsey pushed it through. It was his way of being revenged on you Boleyns for sneering at him. Be grateful he stopped at that. He brought that fool Buckingham to the block.”

  Anne stared at him. “So Harry and I were lawfully betrothed after all?”

  “Yes, you had witnesses. But the Cardinal had it formally annulled. Percy had no choice but to agree or face the King’s displeasure. I am sorry for you, Lady Anne. It was a cruel way to treat you. But now you will have your revenge.”

  “You think I am wrong to want that?” she asked, appalled. She had been right all along about Wolsey.

  “No one would blame you,” Cromwell said.


  Despite the gray weather, Anne was outside, watching Henry shooting at the butts at Hampton Court—that great sprawling palace that Wolsey had built and later given to him, as an extravagant gesture of loyalty. He had just scored a bull’s-eye when Wolsey’s gentleman usher, George Cavendish, approached and bowed low.

  “Your Grace, the Cardinal is dead,” he announced.

  Henry turned ashen. “Dead?” he echoed.

  “Yes, sir. He had been ailing for months, and being brought to London, he was taken ill at Leicester, where the monks of the abbey gave him shelter. He died that night.” Cavendish was near to tears. He had been devoted to his master. He would not look at Anne.

  Henry swallowed. “Did he speak of me at the end?” His voice was hoarse.

  Cavendish looked uneasy.

  “What did he say?” Henry asked. “Tell me!”

  “Sir, forgive me. He said that, if he had served God as diligently as he had your Grace, He would not have abandoned him in his gray hairs.”

  There was a tense silence.

  “I wish he had lived!” Henry burst out, and stalked off.


  Anne left him alone. She was waiting until he had had time to absorb the news. But it was he who came to her.

  “God will judge him,” he said. He looked as if he had been weeping for hours.

  “You would have had him face an earthly judge,” she reminded him. “He must have known he was bound for the Tower.”

  “Was he a traitor?” he asked, troubled.

  “You know he was.”

  “I know only what his enemies said about him.”

  “You had proof! In those letters he sent.”

  “But was his intention treasonous?” He was racked with doubt.

  “What else could it have been?”

  He looked at her then, his eyes misting, then his expression hardened.

  “Yes, he was a traitor, in the pocket of Rome. You might say that God has given judgment.”

  She wondered if Henry really would have gone so far as to execute a cardinal of the Church. When it came to it, he would probably have forgiven Wolsey, as he had so many times before. He had loved him.

  Not so the rest of the court. The Cardinal had been virulently envied and resented, and there was much rejoicing at his death. Having barely suppressed her jubilation when she was with Henry, Anne knew a huge sense of relief that never again could Wolsey return and confound her.

  Father and George were triumphant.

  “Good riddance!” spat Uncle Norfolk.

  George and the debonair Francis Weston grabbed Anne’s hands and pulled her in the direction of the office of the Master of the Revels.

  “I’ve an excellent idea for a masque,” George explained. “Francis agrees.”

  “A masque? Now?”

  “There will never be a better time. I’m calling it The Going to Hell of Cardinal Wolsey.”

  Anne wondered what Henry would say, but their excitement was infectious, and they had certainly captured the prevailing mood of the moment. And so she dressed up as a particularly beguiling devil, and joined the others in celebrating Wolsey’s end, prodding the actor playing the Cardinal with pitchforks as he disappeared into the fiery pit, while musicians played discordant notes and the court roared its approval. And Henry, surprisingly, raised no protest, but laughed with the rest, hiding whatever grief he was feeling. It was Cromwell, she noticed, who turned away.


  Anne was deeply saddened to hear that Margaret of Austria had died of a fever. Only last year Margaret had skillfully negotiated what had become known as the Ladies’ Peace between France and Spain, herself representing the Emperor Charles, and Madame Louise representing King François.

  “She was a great lady,” Henry said.

  “She was an inspiration,” Anne replied. And she had proved, as Isabella had, that a woman could rule as successfully as any man—as Anne intended to do herself.


  Katherine lay gravely ill at Richmond. It seemed wrong to hope that she would follow Wolsey to the grave, and so resolve the Great Matter at a stroke, yet Anne could not but do so. Henry, whose patience with Katherine had all but run out, showed little sympathy and stayed with Anne at Hampton Court.

  “I’m not risking infection,” he declared. “There is plague in Richmond.” He contented himself with sending Katherine hectoring letters, urging her to enter religion. Weak as she was, she persisted in her refusal.

  Soon, Anne knew, the universities would speak. In a few short months—weeks, even—she might be queen. She knew there would be criticism that her lineage was nowhere near as impressive as Katherine’s or most of the queen
s of England who had gone before her. It was not enough to be descended from ancient royalty through the Howards on her mother’s side; it was who your father was that counted, and there would be plenty to point the finger and say that she was too lowly to be queen. But there had been talk in the family, doubtless passed down for generations, that the Boleyns were descended from a Norman lord who had settled in England in the twelfth century.

  She discussed the matter with a herald from the College of Arms, and commissioned him to draw up a family tree. To her delight, he traced her lineage back to a great lord, Eustace, Count of Boulogne, who had married into the English royal family and whose granddaughter had wed King Stephen.

  Henry scanned the impressive chart showing all the generations of Boleyns, and frowned.

  “Who is the knave that did this?” he asked, to her dismay. “It’s an invention. The sons of this Eustace became kings of Jerusalem.” Henry was well informed on his royal pedigree.

  “There was another son from whom my family descends.”

  “Hmm,” he murmured, not convinced. “Best not trumpet this about.”

  “But it’s the truth!” Anne protested.

  “I said no, Anne. I would not have you a laughingstock.” And he was immovable.

  He was equally displeased by the motto she had chosen and had embroidered on the new liveries she had bought for her servants—“Thus it will be, grudge who grudge.” It was a message for anyone who dared challenge her right to be queen.

  But Henry put his foot down. “Do you really want to attract ridicule, Anne? You of all people should know that the Emperor’s device is ‘Grudge who grudge, long live Burgundy.’ You were at his aunt’s court. Already people are making jests. I saw Chapuys smiling at one of these badges yesterday.”

  Anne felt her cheeks flaming. She had not consciously remembered the device from her days in Burgundy, but now she was mortified. Immediately she gave the order for the offending badges to be removed.


  Katherine did not die. For His own mysterious reasons, God let her live. She joined Henry at Greenwich, with the Princess Mary, for Christmas—and once again Anne found herself celebrating (if that was the word) the season at Hever. Another year wasted! But it would be the last. Henry had assured her that their marriage would undoubtedly be accomplished in the new year.


  The Spanish Lady Willoughby looked down her aristocratic nose at Anne. Of all Katherine’s ladies, she was the one who had shown the most contempt. An outspoken woman, she had made no secret of her opinion on the King’s case. So when Anne encountered her in a gallery on the day she returned from Hever to Greenwich, the air became as frosty indoors as it was outside.

  “Oh, Lady Anne,” the Baroness said, as she moved aside to let Anne and her baggage-laden attendants pass, “we had hoped you would stay at Hever.”

  “And I,” Anne countered, “wish that all Spaniards were in the sea!”

  “Such language is disrespectful to our good mistress the Queen,” Lady Willoughby reproved.

  Anne was determined to discountenance this unpleasant woman. “I care nothing for her,” she retorted. “She is no true queen, and I would rather see her hang than acknowledge her as my mistress!” And she sailed on, not giving her tormentor a chance to reply.

  As always, Henry welcomed her back to court with open arms, and they dined together alone in his privy chamber.

  “I wish you had been here for Christmas, darling,” he said. “The festivities were marvelous and the court was crammed. The best thing was having Mary to spend it with me. She is quite the young lady now, and very learned and accomplished.”

  Anne felt her anger rising. “This is the same Mary who has defied you and supported her mother?” she lashed out. “I marvel that you should praise her so, when she has forgotten her duty to you!”

  Henry stared at her, that dangerous flush rising from his neck. “Sometimes I think you forget yourself,” he said. “We have been apart for days, and I had been longing to see you again, but already you are upbraiding me.”

  “I was overjoyed to see you,” Anne cried, “but you seem to be deluding yourself—or has the Princess now changed her opinion and become obedient?”

  “No, but Anne, she is my daughter, and I love her dearly. She will see sense in time. She is young and lacking in the wisdom to deal with such matters. Really, you could be a little kinder. Katherine never in her life used such ill words to me.” There were tears in his eyes.

  “Well, I’m sure she’d be delighted to have you back!” Anne said tartly.

  Henry reached across the table and took her hand. “Let’s not quarrel, darling, please. I will deal with Mary, I promise, but in my own way. I don’t need any more unpleasantness at this time. Clement has cited me to appear in Rome to defend my case.”

  “Will you go?” She squeezed his hand back, to let him know she had forgiven him. Always, these days, she found herself pushing him to the brink, then realizing that she must let him see her softer side.

  “No! And I intend to ignore also the brief he has issued, ordering me to send you away and forbidding my subjects to meddle with my case. Truly, Anne, I am becoming convinced that the English Church would be better off with me, the King, as its head.”

  Don’t just keep talking about it! she fumed inwardly. Do something!

  “I have thought that for a long time,” she said, “and you know that others think it too.”

  “Cromwell for one,” he told her. “We’ve been having some interesting discussions. He thinks there would be many advantages to severing the Church of England from Rome. But he can tell you himself.”

  He sent for Cromwell there and then, and invited the big bull-necked man to join them at table, calling for more food and wine to be brought.

  “This is an unexpected honor, sir,” Cromwell said, smiling, “and what a pleasure to have the company of the Lady Anne.” He bowed his head in her direction.

  “Tell her what you said to me,” Henry commanded, as they tucked into venison pasty and jugged hare.

  Cromwell turned to Anne. “The Pope delays in judging His Grace’s suit. Why wait for his consent? Every Englishman is master in his own house, so why should the King not be so in England? Ought a foreign prelate to share his power with him? I have told him, with no disrespect intended, that he is but half a king, and we are but half his subjects.”

  An impressive argument! And Henry was lapping it up greedily, by the look of him.

  “I could not have put it better myself,” Anne declared, warming to Cromwell.

  “The Church of Rome owns great wealth and estates here,” he went on, then looked at Henry. “Given a free hand, I could make your Grace the richest sovereign that ever reigned in England.”

  Henry’s eyes gleamed. “I do believe that breaking with Rome would be a popular move,” he said. “True Englishmen resent having to pay Peter’s Pence to Rome. It is a burdensome levy.”

  “Your Grace could stamp out corruption the more easily if you were head of the English Church,” Anne pointed out.

  “By God, I could!” Henry agreed, fired up at the prospect. “I should be governing my kingdom without interference from Rome or any other foreign power.”

  She thrilled to hear him say it. But, on past experience, how far was he really prepared to go?

  He surprised her. At the end of January, he summoned the convocations of the clergy of Canterbury and York to Westminster. It was apparent to everyone that something momentous was in the air, for it was only with the assent of Convocation that important church reforms could go forward.

  A week later, the King stood up in Parliament and demanded that the Church of England recognize and acknowledge him as its sole protector and supreme head.

  “Neither Parliament nor Convocation will defy me!” he told Anne afterward.

  Daily he granted leave of absence to those Members of Parliament who supported the Queen. And then the elderly Archbishop Warham announ
ced that the Convocations were prepared to acknowledge the King as Supreme Head of the Church of England—as far as the law of Christ allowed.

  “They insisted on that qualification,” Henry told Anne, somewhat disgruntled, when he visited her at Whitehall that evening. “Tempers got a little frayed as we negotiated. But the thing is accomplished, darling. Henceforth the English Church will no longer recognize the Pope, or the Bishop of Rome, as I would have him called now. Nor may he receive allegiance from my bishops or enjoy any spiritual jurisdiction in England.”

  Anne felt dizzy with joy. It was far more than she had ever hoped for. She was sure that no king of England had ever undertaken so daring an enterprise. Her respect for Henry soared. He was showing great courage in pushing ahead with what was effectively a revolution. England had been subject to Rome for a thousand years, and now all that would be overturned. It was a magnificent, if daunting, prospect. The ramifications could be never-ending.

  “Together, Anne, we can build a new Church!” Henry said, his eyes shining. And in that moment she loved him, truly loved him.


  Parliament wasted no time in approving the King’s new title, and the momentous news was proclaimed all over England. Henry’s subjects were told that he was now effectively king and pope in his own realm, with jurisdiction over his subjects’ material and spiritual welfare.

  Anne was beside herself when the announcement was made at court, and threw her arms around Henry in full view of everyone. “I feel as if I have gained Paradise,” she cried. She caught Chapuys’s hostile stare and smiled challengingly at him.

  Father and George were ecstatic. And when, at the reception afterward, the venerable John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, insisted that it was against God’s law for the King to be head of the Church of England, Father’s blood was up.

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