Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  Yet still Katherine insisted that she was his true queen, and it was clear that she had further infected Mary with her obstinacy.

  “I’m keeping them apart in future,” Henry growled. “Mary is growing older and might be persuaded to intrigue with the Emperor against me.” And, of course, he wanted to punish Katherine. It would serve her right, Anne thought.

  —

  The prospect of returning to France delighted Anne. She set about choosing the ladies she wanted to wait on her. Her sister Mary, who had now joined her household, would be one of them.

  But then—was there no end to the obstacles that had been placed in her way?—Mary Talbot, Countess of Northumberland, petitioned Parliament for a divorce from Harry Percy. Henry stumped into Anne’s chamber with the news. “The Countess says there was a precontract between you and her husband,” he told her, watching her jealously. “Was there?” They had never spoken of her affair with Harry Percy.

  “We made a foolish promise, not really knowing what we were doing,” she admitted. “I understood that the Cardinal had dealt with it. He told me that Harry Percy was already betrothed.”

  Henry said nothing for a few moments. “Did you love him?” he asked at length, his piercing eyes intense.

  “It was a youthful infatuation,” Anne lied. “I did not love him in the way I love you.” That, at least, was the truth.

  “Well, the matter needs to be resolved,” Henry said, apparently satisfied, and getting up to leave. “I’ll have Warham and the Archbishop of York question the Earl.”

  “You don’t believe me?” Anne asked.

  “Of course, darling, but if I am to marry you, I have to ensure that you are free from all previous entanglements, for I dare not risk compromising the legitimacy of our children. So I will have the Earl questioned in the presence of the Duke of Norfolk and my lawyers, just to be on the safe side.”

  Harry denied any precontract. He even swore it on the Blessed Sacrament, perjuring himself. Of course, it would have been dangerous admitting to having loved the King’s future wife. “Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am!” And Parliament refused his wife’s petition. Anne felt sorry for them both. The Countess must have been unhappy in her marriage to take such a drastic step. Anne hated the thought of Harry trapped in a loveless, acrimonious wedlock. He was a good man, and he did not deserve that.

  —

  It was August when the news came that Archbishop Warham had died.

  “I should be mourning the old man, but he’s of more use to God than he ever was to me,” Henry said, clasping Anne and whirling her around in his joy. “No one can say no to us now, darling! I’m nominating Cranmer to the See of Canterbury this very night. I’m going through the motions with Rome, so that none in Christendom can challenge my new Archbishop.”

  Anne could hardly believe it all. When Henry let her go, she stood there trying to grasp the implications of Warham’s death. It really would be only a matter of weeks now before her marriage. For Cranmer would not hesitate to declare Henry’s union with Katherine invalid; and he was the one man who would zealously push through the religious reforms that were so important to him and Anne.

  Henry was looking at Anne as if he might devour her. She met his gaze and read in it years of pent-up desire. Outside the open window behind him, the sun was descending behind the trees, casting soft, radiant light on an enchanted world and on his red-gold hair. They were alone on this balmy summer evening. Henry took a step toward her and she went into his arms.

  “I love you, Anne.” His voice was heavy with passion. “Be mine, darling! There is nothing to stop us now.”

  Why not? she thought, her cheek against the rough gold thread of his doublet, her arms twined around his broad torso. We have denied ourselves for so long! And if I do not love him as he loves me, I have at least been aroused by him. Suddenly she was shaken by a longing to be at one with him, to give something back for all the long years of a very one-sided wooing—and for not loving him enough.

  “Would your Grace like to see me in that beautiful nightgown?” she murmured, looking up into his eyes. They were blazing with his terrible need of her.

  “Darling!” His voice trembled.

  “Wait here. I will not be long,” she promised.

  —

  She lay in her tumbled bed, sore but triumphant. Outside, the watch was crying two o’clock, but otherwise all was quiet. She stretched and looked across to where Henry had lain. The pillow still bore the indentation of his head, the sheets were stained with his seed, which was leaking out of her. He had gone, kissing her lovingly good night, to write Cranmer’s nomination, promising to return as soon as he had done it. He’d wanted to get it off to Rome at first light.

  Their coming together had not been quite as she had expected. It had hurt a little, but there had been no pleasure, just the sweaty fusion of two bodies. She had never seen a man naked and erect before, though she had imagined it after hearing many jests and giggling confidences, yet the reality of Henry did not quite match up to her mental vision of what he would be like. His member was smaller than the codpiece had led her to believe.

  He had himself slid the nightgown from her shoulders, then held her away so that he could gaze on her body, revealed to him for the first time. Then he’d pulled her down on the bed, his eyes dark with desire. And yet—she was sure she had not imagined this—he had been nervous. He kept touching his manhood and squeezing it. And then he entered her, painfully, breathing heavily and thrusting frantically back and forth—and it was all over very quickly.

  Was that it? she asked herself, as they lay together afterward with his strong arms around her, his face buried in her hair. Was that what the poets and lyricists made such a song about? What men languished or killed for? What Henry had broken with Rome for? If so, it must be very different for men! Yet she was not unduly disappointed, apart from wishing that it could have happened after the wedding. What mattered was power and founding a dynasty and pushing through reforms. Sex was a means to an end, and now all those things were within her grasp. She was Henry’s; they might even have conceived the son who would crown all their blessings. Within her, triumph burgeoned.

  Henry had held her for a long time after they made love. He told her several times that he loved her, and thanked her for letting him possess her. He had kissed her hand when he left the bed to write his letter, and murmured a fond farewell. He had done all the right things. So why was it that she was left with the disconcerting feeling that something was out of kilter? Was this culmination of all the years of waiting and denial? Had she done something wrong? She had played a passive part, letting him take the initiative; wasn’t that what women were supposed to do? And then she remembered things from her days at the French court: the reliefs on that golden bowl; the very paintings on the walls; those lewd books that had been passed around. No, she had it all wrong. Women were meant to take an active role. That was the way to keep a man interested, once he had conquered you.

  She tried to imagine doing those things to, and with, Henry. It made her realize how little she knew him. What would make love special for him? Should she ask, or should she surprise him? Just do it, she told herself, smiling.

  Then, unbidden, came a treacherous thought, of how much more wonderful love would be with Norris. If he were in her bed, she would feel something, she knew it. But that could never be; she must never think of it. And yet, when Henry returned an hour later, claimed her once more, and climaxed again in her arms, she let herself imagine that he was Norris—and then desire did stir in her.

  —

  The next morning, Anne was hoping that Henry would lie abed with her so that she could pleasure him as she had planned, but he was up and pulling on his nightgown as she awoke. He bent and kissed her.

  “Good morning, sweetheart!”

  “Good morning, your Grace,” she smiled, stretching luxuriously.

  “I wish I could stay, but I must go,” he said, reaching for his night
cap. “I ride to Hunsdon this morning.”

  “To Hunsdon? Why?”

  “I had planned to visit Mary.”

  Anne sat up, her good mood evaporating. “I marvel that you show her such favor, considering how disobedient she has been.”

  Henry bent to put on his slippers. He had his back to her. “At heart she is a good child, and loving. I would bring her around with gentle words.”

  “It’s more than she deserves!” Anne retorted. “She’s sixteen and should know her duty better. If I were her father, I would have her whipped, and put an end to this nonsense.”

  “Darling, give me a chance. I would speak with her.”

  “You’ve spoken with her before, to no effect! I had thought you would spend this day, of all days, with me.”

  Henry turned and squeezed her hand. “I promise I will not stay long. I’ll be back by evening, and then, sweetheart, we can be together again.” His eyes were alight with promise.

  “Very well,” she conceded, “but see you do bring her to heel. She could prove every bit as dangerous as her mother.”

  “I am her father,” Henry said. “She will obey me, you’ll see.”

  —

  That morning, after Henry had kissed her lovingly and ridden off to Hertfordshire, Anne joined George to watch a game of bowls in the palace gardens.

  “You heard about Warham?” she asked, as they sat on the grass a little away from the others.

  “I did! Things are moving speedily your way, sister.”

  “I know. But still the King is being too lenient with the Princess. He’s gone to visit her today to make her see sense, but he won’t succeed. That little madam is molded from the same clay as her mother. God help me, but I could strangle her! When I am queen—and it won’t be long now—I’ll have her in my own train and give her too much dinner! Or I’ll marry her to some varlet!”

  “Would that I were in want of a wife!” George teased. “I’d teach her!”

  “Would that you were,” Anne agreed, wishing that he could be released from his unhappy marriage to sour-faced Jane.

  —

  When Henry returned that evening, he embraced her absentmindedly. Who would have thought that they had become lovers only the night before? He was tense and morose.

  “Don’t tell me,” Anne sighed, as she poured him some wine. “The Princess proved difficult.”

  Henry sighed. “She’s as stubborn and opinionated as her mother. I warned her she had better look to her future, for big changes were coming. But darling, I don’t want to dwell on her unnatural behavior. I’ve decided that, in advance of our visit to France, I am raising you to the peerage. You will accompany me as my lady Marquess of Pembroke. It is a royal title; my Uncle Jasper bore it. No woman has ever before been granted a peerage in her own right in England, so consider yourself very special.”

  Anne hugged and kissed him heartily. “Sir, it is a great honor.” And a reward, of course. “I thank your Grace.” Her mind was racing through the implications. Such a title not only elevated her status for the coming trip: it also conferred nobility on Henry’s future queen.

  “I want you to see the wording on the patent of creation,” Henry said, and handed her a paper on which he had scrawled some sentences. It began, “A monarch ought to surround his throne with many peers of the worthiest of both sexes, especially those who are of royal blood.” She liked that reminder of her descent from Edward I. But she was perturbed to see that something was missing from the passage relating to any children to whom her new title might one day descend.

  “Shouldn’t it say ‘lawfully begotten issue’?” she asked.

  “I thought about that, but we need to ensure that any child we conceive is provided for in the event of my dying before I can marry you,” Henry explained, coming up behind her to nuzzle her neck. She relaxed in relief. For a horrible moment she had feared that, having possessed her, he was thinking of pensioning her off and providing for any bastard she might bear him. And that, she knew, was what others might think when they heard the patent read out at the ceremony of ennoblement. But they would soon find out how wrong they were.

  —

  It was at Windsor, on the first day of September, that Anne received her peerage. A fanfare sounded as, preceded by Garter King of Arms carrying the patent of nobility, and her cousin Mary, Norfolk’s daughter, bearing a robe of state of crimson velvet furred with ermine and a gold coronet, she entered the presence chamber, flanked on either side by the countesses of Rutland and Sussex, and followed by a great train of courtiers and ladies. For this ancient ceremony she had been given the traditional robes of nobility, in a style dating from centuries ago: a short-sleeved surcoat of crimson velvet trimmed with ermine, with a close-fitting long-sleeved gown beneath it; like a queen, she wore her glossy hair loose about her shoulders.

  Ahead of her the King sat enthroned, attended by Norfolk, Suffolk, the French ambassador, and the lords of his Council. She curtseyed three times as she approached him, then knelt as the Letters Patent conferring her new title were read out by Stephen Gardiner, who had been made Bishop of Winchester as a reward for all his hard work in Rome. Henry rose, smiling at her. He placed the mantle of estate about her shoulders and lifted the coronet onto her head, then presented her with her patents.

  “I thank your Grace most humbly,” she murmured, then rose and curtseyed again, before leaving the chamber to another burst of trumpets. Afterward, Henry joined her for Mass in St. George’s Chapel, where the Te Deum was sung in her honor.

  How could she ever have thought there was something wrong? She had imagined it. Henry was as loving as ever—more so now that they were lovers in every way, every night. It was as if he could not leave her alone for an hour.

  —

  There were now only a few weeks to go before the visit to Calais. Henry had high hopes of it.

  “I have never desired anything as much,” he declared. “François hopes to meet with the Pope early next year, and I’m glad of this chance to see him first and tell him in person of the determinations of the universities. That will make Clement sit up and think!”

  Even now, he was hoping that, at the last minute, Clement would decide in his favor.

  “Darling, I want you to wear the Queen’s jewels in France,” he told her. Anne had seen those jewels many times when she served Katherine. She knew they had been handed down from consort to consort, and that some were centuries old and had great historical or sentimental value. When she was queen, they would be hers, but the prospect of having them now—and of Katherine being made to realize that she had no right to them—suddenly assumed prime importance.

  “It will show the world that our marriage is as good as made,” Henry said, and sent a messenger to Katherine demanding that she deliver up the jewels to him.

  But the messenger came back empty-handed: Katherine had refused to surrender them without the King’s express command in writing, because he had commanded her not to send him anything. Anne stood in the privy chamber, her cheeks burning, as the messenger repeated what Katherine had actually said: that it was offensive and insulting to her, and would weigh upon her conscience, to give up her jewels for such a base purpose as that of decking out a person who was a reproach to Christendom and was bringing infamy on the King through his taking her to France.

  “I’ll write the order now!” Henry shouted, enraged.

  Within two days, the jewels were in Anne’s possession. But they were not compensation enough for her humiliation. That still smarted.

  “If I may have the Queen’s jewels, might I have the Queen’s barge as well?” she asked. It would be gratifying to be rowed up and down the Thames in that ornate, gilded vessel, and have everyone know that their future Queen sat therein.

  Henry agreed, but after Anne gave the order for Katherine’s coat of arms to be burned off the barge and replaced with her own, his smile slipped.

  “That wasn’t very tactful,” he reproved her, looking weary af
ter a long meeting with the Imperial ambassador. “Chapuys is complaining that the barge has been shamefully mutilated. He hopes that you will content yourself with the barge, the jewels, and the husband of the Queen. For God’s sake, Anne, don’t provoke him unnecessarily.”

  “No offense was intended,” she replied, “but some damage was unavoidable. They had to break up the arms first, and then burn off the rest. And, for the record, I’m very contented with the husband of the Queen!” She put her hands up to Henry’s cheeks and kissed him.

  —

  “Sweetheart, we have encountered a problem,” Henry said, looking embarrassed as he sat down on the bed beside Anne. “For some weeks now my envoys have been discussing which royal lady will receive you in France. François’s new Queen, Eleanor, is the Emperor’s sister, and naturally her sympathies are with Katherine. François felt he could not command her; besides, I’d as soon see the Devil as a lady in Spanish dress!”

  He reached for her hand. “I asked that the honors be done by François’s sister, the Queen of Navarre, whom you once served.”

  Marguerite! How she would love to see clever, spirited Marguerite again after all these years. “That would be wonderful,” she said.

  Henry hesitated. “I’m afraid she refused. I wouldn’t tell you this for the world, but you may hear it from others in France. She said she would have nothing to do with one whose behavior was the scandal of Christendom.”

  Anne could have wept. And this was the same Marguerite who had held such enlightened views and advocated the reign of the virtuous woman? The same Marguerite who had shown herself so friendly to her?

  Henry lay down and put his arm around her. “Things have changed in France since you were there,” he said.

  “I know. The King is no longer as tolerant as he was in matters of religion.” Marguerite, she was aware, had had to abandon her forward-thinking views. Three years ago, a protégé of hers had been burned for heresy in Paris with all his books. She had been powerless to protect him. She had even been questioned herself. It seemed that she had changed in other ways, too. But Anne had still thought her a friend.

 
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