Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “Without any lady of rank to receive me, I cannot leave Calais and go into France,” she pointed out.

  “I know, darling, and François has been at pains to find a solution that will please everyone. He even suggested that the Duchess of Vendôme do the honors.”

  “But she is his mistress!” Anne cried.

  “I’m aware of that, and I told him it would be a disgrace and an insult to you and our English ladies. I’m sorry, darling, but reluctantly I’ve decided that you must remain in Calais when I go to meet François.”

  She was trembling with rage and disappointment.

  “Don’t be too disappointed. François is going to visit us in Calais afterward,” Henry comforted her. “And we will be together for much of the time. It will be like a honeymoon.” His hand moved down to her breast. “Cromwell says people are speculating that we will marry in France.”

  “You do not want that, surely?” she asked.

  “No, darling,” he reassured her.

  “I would never consent to it. I want our wedding to take place here in England, where other queens have been married and crowned.”

  “It will, I promise,” he murmured, drawing her to him.

  —

  They enjoyed a smooth crossing to Calais, having departed from Dover at dawn’s first light in a fine ship called the Swallow. In the great cabin, Mark Smeaton entertained Henry, Anne, and favored courtiers with some virtuoso playing on his lute. Anne, standing by the latticed window with her sister Mary, watching the coast of England receding, was aware of Tom Wyatt regarding her dispassionately across the crowded space. When their eyes met, he looked away. She marveled at how desire could turn to indifference.

  They arrived in Calais at ten o’clock that morning, and were greeted by a thunderous royal salute. There was a civic reception hosted by Lord Berners, the Governor of Calais, after which Henry and Anne were conducted in procession to the church of St. Nicholas to hear Mass. Later they proceeded to the Exchequer Palace, where Anne was impressed with her suite of seven fine rooms, with a bedchamber adjoining Henry’s. While her attendants were unpacking, she and Mary explored the palace, a large residence with a long gallery, a tennis court, and extensive gardens on both the King’s and Queen’s sides. Anne had not told Mary that she and Henry were now lovers, but let her draw her own conclusions from the sleeping arrangements.

  That night, Henry came to her. Always, since their first night together, he had taken the initiative in their lovemaking, and she had not yet ventured to do so herself. But now that they were in France, with that carefree sense of being on holiday, she decided that it was time to be more adventurous. And so, when Henry reached for her, she pressed him back on the bed and began trailing light kisses down the length of his body, using her mouth to pleasure him. He gasped and spent himself almost at once. As he lay there panting, she cuddled up by his side.

  “I wanted to please you,” she whispered.

  He did not answer. Was he asleep already? But no, in the flickering flame of the single candle they had left burning, she could see him looking at her, frowning slightly.

  “Where did you learn how to do that?” he asked.

  “At the French court there were books in circulation, showing people making love in different ways,” she said, realizing he’d thought some past lover had taught her, and that she was not as virginal as she’d led him to believe. “I have never done it, Henry! I just remembered, and thought to please you.”

  There was a silence, during which she realized, to her horror, that she had not pleased him at all. Of course, Katherine would never have…But there had been mistresses…

  “Darling,” Henry said, “if we are to get a son, that is not the way to go about it. And the Church frowns on practices like that. But I appreciate your wanting to please me. You do that best when you allow me inside you.”

  “Then I am your Grace’s to command,” she said lightly, knowing she had miscalculated badly. Never again would she take the lead in bed with him.

  Henry kissed her. “Remember that!” he said, his tone warmer.

  —

  It was frustrating being left behind at Calais when Henry sallied forth to Boulogne to spend four days with King François. But Anne made the most of her time, going hawking, gambling at cards and dice, and feasting on delicacies sent by the French King—carp, porpoise, venison pasties, choice pears, and grapes. She also did her best to evade Mary’s blatant curiosity about the exact state of her relations with Henry.

  The King returned in a jubilant mood.

  “François is sympathetic to us,” he told Anne. “I’ve invited him here on Friday.”

  Anne was not especially eager to welcome François, that great lecher, and Mary—who had thought not to see him—flinched at the news, but she agreed to attend Anne with the other ladies, there being safety in numbers. Anne made them all practice for a masque to be performed before François. She expressed delight in the costly diamond he sent her by the Provost of Paris.

  —

  A three-thousand gun salute was fired in the French King’s honor when he arrived. For two days, at Henry’s request, Anne kept out of sight, but on the third evening she graced the high table at a lavish supper and banquet given by Henry in the great hall of the Staple Inn, where François was staying. The hall looked magnificent, hung with gold and silver tissue and gold wreaths glittering with pearls and precious stones, which reflected the light from the twenty silver candelabra, each bearing a hundred wax candles. A dazzling display of gold plate on a seven-tier buffet proclaimed Henry’s riches, as did his suit of purple cloth of gold, his collar of fourteen rubies, and his two great ropes of pearls, from one of which hung the famous Black Prince’s ruby. They feasted on one hundred and seventy dishes, with a lavish variety of meats, game, and fish prepared from both English and French recipes.

  Afterward, Anne led Mary, Jane Rochford, and four other ladies in the masque, attired in a costume of cloth of gold slashed with crimson satin, puffed with cloth of silver and laced with gold cords. All wore masks. After the ladies had danced before the two kings, Anne went up to François, curtseyed, and led him out to the floor, at which Mary and her companions invited King Henry and the other lords to join them.

  “These ten years have not changed you, my lady Marquess,” François said gallantly. “We have missed you at the French court.” He himself had put on weight, and his saturnine features had coarsened. It repelled her to hold his hand, but she kept smiling and set herself to charm him, for he was willing to be a friend to Henry and could prove very helpful. This new alliance would counterbalance any threat from the Emperor.

  Henry was laughing, going about the dancers and pulling off the ladies’ masks. He stopped before Anne and removed hers. “Now you may see how beautiful my lady is!” he said to François.

  Anne accepted the compliment graciously, as Henry led her into the next dance. She noticed that Mary was talking animatedly to her partner, a young man Anne did not know.

  “Who is that?” she asked Henry.

  “Young Stafford, a distant cousin of mine. He’s here in my train.”

  They seemed to be getting on very well together. Anne watched Mary flirting with Stafford, who looked some years younger than her. It was good to see her enjoying herself after being a widow for so long.

  After the French had left, with François promising to do all in his power to bring about a reconciliation between Henry and the Pope, violent storms blew up in the English Channel, which meant that Henry and Anne had to stay on at the Exchequer for another fortnight. It did not matter. Henry welcomed his enforced break from state duties, and gave himself up entirely to Anne. They ate long, leisurely meals, rode out beyond the town walls to see the rolling countryside of the Calais Pale, a little part of England on the edge of France, and made love every night and morning. Anne even donned a pair of breeches and beat Henry at tennis. She felt closer to him than ever before.

  Their idyll came to an
end one midnight in the middle of November, when Henry decided that they should seize the opportunity afforded by a favorable wind to sail home to England. The voyage was appalling, twenty-nine hours of hell in roiling seas, and Anne, usually a good sailor, was more than grateful to see the cliffs of Dover ahead at last.

  They took their time enjoying a sedate progress eastward through Kent. They lodged at Leeds, a fine castle that seemed to rise out of a lake, and then rode on to Stone Castle, where they stayed as guests of an old friend of Anne from Hever days, Bridget, Lady Wingfield. After a good dinner, Henry and Anne joined their hostess, Sir Francis Bryan, and Francis Weston in their favorite card game, Pope Julian, and a groaning Henry lost heavily to Anne.

  Afterward, they all sat by the fire and talked, as spiced wine was served. Weston spoke of the happiness he had found in his recent marriage to Anne Pickering, and how much he was looking forward to seeing her.

  “You mean Weston the wanton has finally settled down?” Bryan joked.

  “I long to get home to Sutton Place,” Weston sighed.

  “I hear the house is beautiful,” Anne said.

  “It’s magnificent,” Henry told her. “It was my gift to Francis’s father for his good service to me. He must be very proud of you, Francis.”

  “He is, sir, apart from when he’s telling me off for beating your Grace at cards.”

  “He has a point there,” Henry grinned. “Come on, then, since Mark is abed, give us a song on your lute, Francis.”

  Weston picked up the instrument. “Here’s one for your Grace and the Lady Anne.” And he sang in his rich baritone voice:

  Whoso that will for grace sue

  His intent must needs be true,

  And love her in heart and deed,

  Else it were pity that he should speed.

  But love is a thing given by God,

  In that therefore can be none odd;

  But perfect indeed and between two,

  Wherefore then should we it eschew?

  Henry’s arm stole around Anne and he looked down at her with one eyebrow raised.

  “It’s your own song,” she said. “No one surpasses you when it comes to the perfect marriage of music and lyrics.”

  “Never mind that,” he muttered in her ear. “Just come to bed, as soon as he’s finished.”

  —

  They were at Whitehall Palace, preparing for Christmas, when Anne found a thin volume lying on the table in her privy chamber. It was a book of prophecies containing crude drawings, and it had been left open at a lurid one depicting a woman with her head cut off. As she looked closer, she realized it was meant to be her. The caption warned that this would be her fate if she married the King. Nan Saville, coming up behind her and seeing it, was horrified.

  “If I thought it true, I would not have him, were he an emperor,” she declared.

  Anne slammed the book shut. “Tut, Nan, it’s just a bauble, and I am resolved to have him, so that my children may be royal, whatever becomes of me.”

  For all her bravado, the drawing had upset her, and she consigned the book to the fire. Who had left it for her to find? Access to her privy chamber was restricted to approved servants and those who were close to or approved of by her. She wondered if Jane Rochford had done it. She mentioned the book to Jane, but got no reaction.

  As the days passed, she forgot about the incident. Christmas was coming, and this year, God be praised, she would not be spending it in exile at Hever, but presiding over it at court, by Henry’s side.

  1533

  Anne felt excitement mounting as she came from her close stool and washed her hands. She was a week overdue, her breasts were tender, and today she had felt nauseous on rising. She was with child, she was sure of it.

  She hastened to find Henry, but he was in Council. She waited in the gallery, fidgeting, for him to emerge. When he did, she hurried up to him as the lords following in his wake stared curiously.

  “I must speak to your Grace,” she murmured, barely able to contain herself. What would he say when she told him that the heir to England slept under her girdle?

  “Of course, sweetheart,” he agreed. “Gentlemen, we shall meet again at the same time tomorrow.”

  And by then everything would have changed!

  He led her into the nearby chapel and looked at her questioningly.

  “I’m with child!” she burst out.

  His face was transfigured; it burst into a radiant smile. “Thanks be to God!” he breathed, bowing to the crucifix on the altar. He turned to her. “You know what this means, Anne? It is a vindication of all I have done. Heaven has smiled on us both. Our marriage will be truly blessed. Oh, my darling, I am so proud of you!” And he took her in his arms, very tenderly, and kissed her gently. “You must take care,” he urged. “You carry a precious burden. Thank you, Anne, thank you! You cannot know how much this news means to me.” He laid his hand on her belly. “A son—an heir to England, and her savior, no less. Now we will be free from the threat of civil war.”

  “I am the happiest of women!” Anne exulted. “I shall choose ‘The Most Happy’ for my motto as queen, to remind me of this precious moment.”

  “We must be married without delay,” Henry said. “I’ll go and talk to Cranmer now.”

  He returned to her chamber rejoicing. “Cranmer says there is no impediment, and that my union with Katherine is unquestionably null and void. He says he will confirm everything formally in his court. Darling, there is no need to wait, and no time to be lost. People must believe that our child was conceived in lawful wedlock. We must be married now.”

  —

  It was still dark when Anne rose on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the twenty-fifth day of January. Anne Savage was dressed already, and waiting to attire her for her wedding. Around them the palace slumbered on.

  She had chosen to wear white satin, with her hair loose, in token of the symbolic virginity of a queen. The gown was beautiful, with its low square neckline, hanging sleeves, pointed stomacher, and heavy skirts. It was a gown made for display, but this wedding had to take place in secret, so she suffered her ladies to conceal it under a voluminous black velvet mantle lined with fur.

  With Anne Savage bearing her train, she hastened silently up a deserted spiral staircase to a little oratory in a high tower. There, awaiting them in the sanctuary, stood Henry’s chaplain, Dr. Lee, in full vestments. Then Henry arrived, tall, eager, and imposing in cloth of gold, accompanied by his gentlemen, all sworn to secrecy: Norris, who met Anne’s eyes with a slight but poignant frown; Thomas Heneage of the King’s Privy Chamber, and William Brereton. Anne Savage divested her mistress of her mantle. Anne curtseyed gracefully to Henry, who took her hand and kissed it. “You look beautiful,” he said, his eyes drinking her in.

  They knelt together before the altar, and Dr. Lee began intoning the words of the Holy Sacrament of marriage. The King’s eyes never left Anne’s as they spoke their vows.

  “I, Henry, take thee, Anne…”

  “I, Anne, take thee, Henry…”

  “Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder!” Dr. Lee commanded, and pronounced them man and wife.

  Anne could barely contain herself. She wanted to shout out to the world that she was Henry’s wife and Queen, but she controlled the impulse. It could not be long before their marriage was proclaimed, for in a few weeks her pregnancy would start to show. She contented herself by telling her friends that she was now as sure that she should be married to the King as she was of her own death.

  Now that Anne was his wife, Henry was utterly resolved to brook no opposition. In anticipation of that, he banished Katherine to Ampthill Castle, forty-six miles from London, determined to break her resistance.

  Gladly Anne battled the nausea that had plagued her from the first. The only thing that helped was eating apples, for which she had developed a sudden craving. One day, coming out of her chamber with a host of courtiers, she saw Tom Wyatt approaching
along the gallery. He stopped and bowed stiffly, avoiding her gaze. She would teach him to be distant, he that had once been so hot in pursuit!

  “Tom, do you have any apples?” she asked mischievously. “I have a wild desire to eat apples, such as I never had in my life before! The King tells me it is a sign that I am with child, but it is nothing of the sort.” At the look on Tom’s face, she burst out laughing.

  He turned on his heel and walked away. She looked for him all day, intending to apologize, but he did not return.

  —

  “I think I might go on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham after Easter,” she told Henry.

  “And I think you should rest and not go gallivanting around the country,” he told her. “Go and give Our Lady thanks after you’ve been delivered. She will understand.”

  “But I’m feeling very well, apart from this nausea in the mornings,” she protested.

  “No, darling,” Henry commanded. “You will not take any risks with our son.”

  His insistence brought home to her, for the first time, the fact that, as his wife, she was now bound to obey him in all things. When she had been his mistress, she had had the mastery of him, and he could only have commanded her as her King, which he had rarely done, having always played the role of devoted servant. But now that they were married, he seemed to think he could be master of her as he had been master of Katherine. Well, he must think again! This pilgrimage was a small issue; she would let it go. But she was not about to let any man, be he king or husband, order her about.

  Together they hosted a great banquet in Anne’s presence chamber at Whitehall, and anyone might have guessed it was a wedding feast, for Henry was behaving like a bridegroom, fawning upon Anne, unable to refrain from caressing her. By the end of the evening he was so drunk that most of what he said was incomprehensible, but Anne’s aunt, the Duchess of Norfolk, gave him a sharp look when he began waving his hands at the sumptuous furnishings and asking her, “Has not the Lady Marquess got a grand dowry and a rich marriage, and all that we see? And the rest of the plate belongs to the lady also.”

 
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