Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  That stung. “He has said nothing to me.”

  “He’s afraid of you, Anne—and the day will surely come when he hates himself for it. So be warned. Temper your arrogance with a little respect.”

  “You should talk!” she flung after him.


  Sir Henry Guildford, Comptroller of the King’s Household, was holding forth to his friends in Henry’s near-deserted privy chamber when, nursing her resentment both at Norfolk and at Henry, Anne arrived to tax the King for complaining about her. Sir Henry had long shown himself friendly to her, and was well liked by Henry, so she was astonished to hear him saying to Norris that he was sorry, but he could not countenance a divorce without the Pope’s sanction, and that he admired the Queen for holding steadfast. Norris, seeing Anne, nodded a warning to Sir Henry, who spun around.

  “My lady Anne,” he said, bowing.

  She was in no mood to be forgiving. Such talk was subversive and must be stopped.

  “I am sorry to hear such disloyal sentiments expressed in His Grace’s own chamber,” she snapped. “If I ask the King, he will dismiss you from your office.”

  “You need not wait so long,” Sir Henry retorted angrily. “I do not like what is happening in this kingdom. When His Grace returns, I am offering him my resignation.”

  “What’s going on here?” interrupted a familiar high voice, and there loomed Henry, sweating in his tennis slops and short velvet coat, racquet in hand.

  “Sir Henry is resigning,” Anne said.

  “No!” Henry said. “I will not allow it. Come, Guildford, and talk with me,” and he led the comptroller into the closet that served him as a study.

  Anne stood looking after them. As the door closed, she heard Henry say something about taking no notice of women’s talk. She could have breathed fire.

  She turned to Norris and tried to fill the silence. “I hear that the King has made you chamberlain of North Wales and a wealthy man. They are saying that you are richer than many of the nobility. I congratulate you!” She knew her voice sounded brittle.

  “You are unhappy,” he said in a low voice. “Is it all worth it, Lady Anne?”

  She was biting back tears now; to have the man she loved show her compassion was almost too much. “I pray God it is,” she said, aware that this conversation was teetering dangerously on the intimate. “I should go. I will see the King another time.”


  She did not like to go out these days. The hatred of the people was palpable, an obscene thing. Hearing them yelling insults terrified her as much as it enraged her. Wherever she went she was accompanied by an escort of the King’s guards. It did not help that Bishop Fisher and other friends of Katherine—a dwindling yet vocal minority—were constantly writing and spouting against the divorce.

  As the next session of Parliament loomed, Anne sent a terse message to Fisher warning him not to attend in case he should suffer a repetition of the sickness he had suffered in February. After the messenger had left, she realized that what she had meant to sound sarcastic actually sounded incriminating. But it was too late now to recall the message. Oh, God, let them think what they liked!

  She rarely visited Durham House now, but some of her belongings were still there, and in November she went to see what she would need when she became queen. That prospect still seemed some way off. She had been urging Henry to get Parliament to sanction asking Archbishop Warham to declare his marriage invalid, but he was reluctant. Warham was an old man now, and wanted a quiet life in his declining years. Henry thought he could not last much longer, and was loath to put pressure on him, but oh, Anne thought, why could not the bumbling old fool either write the declaration or shuffle off to his Maker?

  She was going over and over all this in her mind as she sat in her great chamber in solitary splendor, eating the dinner that had been prepared for her, when she became aware of shouting in the distance. It grew louder and louder.

  “What’s that?” she asked one of the servitors who were standing, impassive, behind her chair.

  “I do not know, my lady,” he said, looking perturbed, for the din was becoming more menacing by the moment. Voices, lots of them, and they sounded very angry.

  There was the sharp splinter of breaking glass, and Anne jumped up. “Summon the guard,” she ordered, trying not to give way to panic. And then she heard, among the shouting, “Kill the whore!” “Burn the whore!”

  Suddenly the royal guards came thundering into the room, brandishing their ceremonial pikes.

  “Make haste, Lady Anne, make haste! There’s a mob out there, seven or eight thousand strong, coming for you. We must leave now. Follow me!”

  Shaking uncontrollably, Anne ran after them on legs that seemed to have turned to jelly, down to the service quarters and out into the kitchen garden that led to the river. And all the time she expected the mob to catch up, with the lust of violence in their eyes, and set upon her. They would tear her apart, she knew. Her breath was coming in short, harsh gasps, but they were nearing the jetty now, where her barge was moored. Pray God her legs would carry her that far.

  The shouting was much louder now, and closer. They were in the gardens already! With no one guarding the house, they must have surged through unchallenged. She dared not look back.

  “Hurry!” the guards were urging, and in one final spurt they reached the boat. Picking up her skirts, Anne leapt in, followed by the guards, and the bargemen pushed away—just in time. As the great mob came to a halt at the shore, jeering and shaking their fists, their quarry was out of reach in the middle of the Thames.

  “Sirs, I thank you,” she panted. “Without your help, I would be dead.” She was trembling as if she had the ague, shuddering at the thought of what might have happened.

  “Lady Anne, we answer to the King for your safety,” one guard said, a tall, strong fellow in his splendid red livery embroidered with the King’s initials. “We are sworn to protect you with our lives.”

  The crowd stayed there, gesticulating and yelling, as the barge was steered around in the direction of Greenwich. “Look at them—they’re like animals,” one of the boatmen said.

  Anne fixed a basilisk stare on the rabble on the bank. “Why, most of them are women! But one has a beard under her coif. Look, there are men there dressed as women!”

  “Cowards, the lot of them,” the guard said. “The King shall hear of this.”


  Henry was incandescent when Anne reached Whitehall and threw herself, still pale and trembling, into his arms.

  “They shall pay! Every last one of them!” he bawled, holding her tightly to his breast as if he would never let her go. But by the time his soldiers got to Durham House, the mob had long dispersed and there was no way of tracing them. Anne’s spirits plummeted when she heard. Forever after, she knew, whenever she went abroad in London, she would wonder if any of those fiends was lying in wait for her.

  She had been due to return yet again to Hever for Christmas, a Christmas she had expected to keep as queen, but she was so shaken by her narrow escape that she decided to go now. Henry protested, of course, but she told him she did not feel safe in London, and needed time to recover. Reluctantly, he let her go.


  Hever, for once, felt like a refuge. In the peace of the snowbound Kent countryside, Anne began to recover her equilibrium. It had been a horrible year, and she would be glad to see the end of it.

  By Christmas, she was bored, and fretting about missing the celebrations at court. Next year, please God…

  By the end of December, boredom had outweighed any fears she had about returning to court. Henry would protect her. She could have all the armed might of his guards behind her if she wished. On New Year’s Day, she set off for Greenwich.

  Henry, apprised of her coming, was waiting for her, and embraced her passionately.

  “I have a surprise for you, darling,” he said, and escorted her, to her astonishment, to the Queen’s apartments.
r />   “These are yours now,” he declared, with a flourish of his hand.

  Waiting for her in the sumptuous presence chamber were her ladies, their numbers now increased, waiting to attend her as if she were queen. Henry was watching her, eager for her response.

  “This is a great honor,” she said, thinking, If only I could be entering here as queen! “Your Grace is more than good to me.” She looked about her in wonder and resolved to be kinder to Henry in the future. Maybe Uncle Norfolk had spoken sense.

  “And is prepared to do more for you when I can,” Henry promised. “Now open that door.” It was the door to the Queen’s privy chamber, made of solid oak. “This is my New Year’s gift to you,” he said.

  She gasped. The whole room was newly hung with cloth of gold and silver, and heavy embroidered satin.

  “Here you shall hold court, just like a queen,” Henry told her.

  She was choked, filled to the brim with warring emotions, overwhelmed by the apartment and the magnificent gift—but why, oh why must she always be like a queen!

  “It makes my gift to you seem paltry,” she apologized. “It is some ornamented spears for hunting the wild boar that King François shipped over. And Mary has sent you a shirt she embroidered herself. When my gear is unpacked, you shall have them.”

  “How very kind! I shall look forward to both gifts,” Henry said gallantly.

  “May I have Mary to be my lady-in-waiting?” Anne asked. “I really should ask her.”

  “Of course,” Henry agreed. But it was clear that he wasn’t keen, and to be honest, Anne wasn’t either. Yet it would have looked odd not to have her sister serve her. Whatever Father and Mother said, she could not leave Mary hidden away at Hever.

  As they wandered through the spacious rooms, from which all trace of their previous occupant had been removed, Anne could not help but think of Katherine. And when they came to the bedchamber, with its great bed hung with green silk, she thought of Henry spending his wedding night with Katherine here, and the many nights he would have lain in her bed thereafter. Judging by the awkward silence between them, he was remembering too.

  “Katherine sent me a gold cup,” he said at length, “but I sent it back with a message commanding her not to give me gifts in future, since I am not her husband, as she should know.”

  “Do you think that this new year will see us wed?” Anne asked anxiously.

  “By God, I hope so!” Henry replied, and kissed her hand with fervor.


  It seemed, however, that the opposition just would not lie down and be quiet.

  Henry’s cousin, Reginald Pole, the son of Katherine’s beloved Lady Salisbury, had until recently been supportive of the King’s case, and had used his influence to ensure that learned opinion was in Henry’s favor at the University of Paris. But now, persuaded doubtless by his mother, he suddenly turned his coat.

  “He warned me that dangers would ensue upon our marriage, and said I was in error to seek a divorce,” Henry raged. “After all I’ve done for him, paying for his education and advancing his family! I ordered him to explain himself, but he refused, and now he’s bolted off to France. It beggars belief. My own blood deserting me!”

  Archbishop Warham now entered the fray. His unease about the Great Matter had been no secret, but the King’s supremacy was a step too far. That February, the Archbishop made a formal protest in Parliament against all Acts that were derogatory to the Pope’s authority.

  “Evidently he fears the judgment of God more than he fears me,” a grim Henry observed to Anne.

  “He is your Archbishop of Canterbury. You should censure him.”

  “He is dying, Anne. I’ll let him be. It cannot be long.” And he would not be moved. It was infuriating, because without the Archbishop’s cooperation, there could be no formal declaration that Henry’s marriage was invalid. And there Anne was, still unwed, still a queen-in-waiting, and still the target of widespread hatred. It was no use Henry commanding that those who called her a common whore and worse be hauled before the justices—it did not silence her ill-wishers, or the mad Nun of Kent, who had continued to shout out in public her vile prophecies against the King.

  “She is in league with Bishop Fisher,” Cromwell told Anne. “My agents are watching her. Fear not, she will condemn herself out of her own mouth.”

  There was criticism closer to home, too. On Easter Sunday, Anne was seated beside Henry in the royal pew of the Chapel Royal at Greenwich when the Princess Mary’s confessor, Friar William Peto, ascended the steps into the pulpit and directed his hawklike gaze at Henry.

  “O King, hear what I say to you: I tell you truly that this marriage you intend is unlawful. Take great heed lest, being seduced into error, you merit Ahab’s punishment, who had his blood licked up by the dogs.”

  Henry had gone purple with rage. He rose to his feet before the friar had finished, grabbed Anne’s hand, and stalked out. The following week he had one of his own chaplains preach a sermon denouncing Friar Peto.

  “He is a dog, a slanderer, a base and beggarly rebel and traitor!” the chaplain thundered. “No subject should speak so audaciously to his Prince!”

  “What if his Prince has the audacity to put away his lawful wife?” cried a voice in the congregation. It was another friar.

  “Silence!” roared Henry.

  “Have that man and Friar Peto brought before my Council,” he ordered Cromwell afterward. Later that day, Anne heard that Friar Peto had been imprisoned. His friend had escaped with a reprimand—too lightly, she thought angrily.

  Now here was Father, come to supper with her and Henry, and looking unusually worried. “In truth, sir,” he said, breaking his bread, “I wonder if this is all worth it.”

  Henry frowned. “Is what all worth it?”

  “Your Grace’s determination to marry Anne, flattering though it is.”

  “Father!” Anne burst out, shocked. “Have you gone mad?”

  “Sometimes I think all this will drive me to insanity,” Thomas Boleyn confessed. “We are forever in your Grace’s debt for the great honor you have shown us, but it’s a pretty nest of vipers that’s been stirred up.”

  To Anne’s astonishment, Henry reached over and patted Father on the shoulder. “Have patience, man,” he encouraged. “What I have resolved, I will carry out. My marriage is invalid whoever I choose to make my next Queen. And the English Church is sorely in need of reform. My Great Matter has merely exposed the corruption in Rome. And by God, sir, I will have Anne to wife, whatever the opposition!”

  “Bravely said, your Grace,” Father applauded, rallying. “You must forgive my concern for my daughter. All these delays cause unbearable strain.” So he had noticed. Anne had thought him too preoccupied with the glories to come. “And that business at Durham House,” he was saying, shaking his head. “It shook us.”

  “It shook me, too,” Henry said, signaling for more wine to be brought, “but you may rest assured that I will never allow anyone to harm Anne. She will always be under my special protection. Yet the delays weary me too. I have waited five years now to marry her, and still I do not have a son to succeed me. And, as I told Parliament, I am nearly forty-one years old, at which age the lust of man is not so quick as in lusty youth.”

  Anne stared at him. She had wondered if her own juices were drying up at thirty-one; it had never occurred to her that Henry, with those great embroidered and bejeweled codpieces he wore protruding from the bases of his doublets, and his ardent importunings for some kind of sexual satisfaction, was anything less than energetically virile. But there he sat, looking sorry for himself, and Father was commiserating.

  “Fear not,” Anne told them. “That which we have so long wished for will soon be accomplished.”


  That spring, the clergy in Convocation formally renounced their allegiance to the Pope, and Henry exacted a steep fine as a penalty for their past misplaced loyalty to Rome.

  The very next day, pleading
ill health, Sir Thomas More resigned from his office of Lord Chancellor.

  Henry was cast into gloom when he joined Anne in her great chamber later that day. “There is nothing wrong with his health. It’s his conscience that bothers him. He says he can’t uphold my case.” He sighed. “I would have given much to have his support.”

  “He has retired from public life?” Anne asked, hopeful.

  “Yes, he’s gone home to Chelsea, to his family and his books. I’m appointing Sir Thomas Audley Chancellor in his place. He can’t hold a candle to More, but he’s staunch in my cause.”

  He leaned over and kissed her. “Be of good cheer, darling. We cannot have long to wait now. Warham is at death’s door, and as soon as he’s gone, I’m having Cranmer in his place. And then, Anne, you’ll see, things will move quickly.”

  As if in earnest of that, he summoned his tailors, who appeared with their arms laden with beautiful garments.

  “My Queen shall have only the best,” Henry declared, as one held up a gown of rich gold-figured fabric. There was another of black velvet edged with pearls, with a matching French hood, and a third of royal purple. Yet what delighted Anne the most was a sumptuous nightgown of black satin trimmed with black velvet.

  “For our wedding night,” Henry murmured in her ear. “You need wear nothing under it.”


  That spring, through clever diplomacy, Henry managed to lure King François away from the Emperor, and in the summer, England and France signed a treaty of alliance against Charles V.

  “Now I can count on François’s support in my Great Matter,” Henry rejoiced. “I’m meeting with him in the autumn at Calais to discuss it. And you, darling, are coming with me.”

  Henry’s patience with Katherine had almost run out. Exiled from the court, yet living in great state, she had remained resolute. He had thought to weaken her resolve by depriving her of the company of their daughter, but that had provoked a public outcry, so he had relented and allowed the Princess to pay her mother a widely publicized visit.

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