Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  So much for discretion! Anne nudged him sharply to make him shut up.


  Henry sent George to France discreetly to inform King François that he had married Anne. Soon after George had sailed, the unsuspecting Pope’s bull confirming Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury arrived in England, speedily followed by the good doctor’s consecration in Canterbury Cathedral. Henry and Anne had privately feared that Clement would reject Cranmer, but whatever he might have heard about him, he too seemed keen to avoid an irrevocable breach between Henry and Rome.

  George returned to court early in April, whereupon Henry summoned his Council and informed them that he had married Anne two months before, and that she was carrying the heir to England.

  “You should have seen their faces!” he recounted, joining her for dinner afterward. “Stunned silence—then a belated rush to congratulate me. They have advised me to inform Katherine at once. I’m sending Norfolk and Suffolk to Ampthill the day after tomorrow.”

  “I don’t envy them,” Anne said. “You know how she will take it.”

  “I don’t care how she takes it! I’ll not have her making any more trouble. She must accept that I am married, and that henceforth she is to abstain from the title of queen and be called the Princess Dowager of Wales, as Arthur’s widow.”

  Neither of them was surprised when the two dukes returned and reported that Katherine had defied them. As long as she lived, she had declared, she would call herself queen.

  “By God, I’ll silence her!” Henry raged.

  “What can she do?” Anne asked. “She is isolated from her friends, a lone woman protesting in vain. No one hears her.”

  “The whole of Europe hears her!” Henry stormed. “That weasel of an ambassador has his agents in her household, be sure of it. And although the Emperor is busy fighting the Turks, we cannot be certain of what he will do when he hears of our marriage. It could mean war. Darling, I’m not jesting.”

  Anne paused as the implications of their marriage began to sink in.

  “It could happen,” Henry said, “especially if Katherine appeals to Charles. And the worst of it is, she’d have a lot of my ignorant subjects on her side.”

  “If she is the true wife she claims to be, then her first duty is to you, and she would surely never do anything to your hurt,” Anne reassured him.

  “Yes, but what if she considers that her first duty is to persuade me that my conscience is in error?”

  “Henry, she’s been doing that for years. And the Emperor has his hands full.”

  “I know, but he could still make trouble. Why doesn’t Katherine just accept things? I’m never going back to her. Let’s hope that Cranmer’s judgment makes that plain.”

  The very next day, Henry instructed Cranmer to proceed to the examination, final determination, and judgment of his Great Matter.


  Henry had decided that on the eve of Easter Sunday, Anne would appear as queen in public. On that Saturday morning, wearing robes of crimson velvet and decked with diamonds and other precious stones, she walked through Greenwich Palace in royal state to hear Mass in her closet, with sixty maids of honor following her, escorted by servants in liveries bearing her new motto, “The Most Happy.” In all the royal palaces, stonemasons, carpenters, glaziers, and seamstresses were even now at work replacing Katherine’s initials with hers, and the pomegranate of Spain with the crowned falcon, the badge she had chosen for herself. As she made her way slowly to Mass, past the astonished courtiers crowding into the halls and galleries, she made a point of cradling her hands over the slight swell of her stomach, hinting at the prince that lay within her.

  Some of those watching looked shocked, others as if they did not know whether to laugh or cry. Most made obeisance as Anne passed by, but others just stared.

  After Mass, Henry was waiting with Cromwell when Anne returned to her privy chamber. She was relieved to see him. It had been an ordeal.

  “Were you well received?” he asked.

  “I think that some of your nobles are less than enthusiastic about their new Queen,” she told him.

  “I was listening in the privy gallery,” Cromwell said. “Some were saying that His Grace has gone too far and that the Princess Dowager is the rightful Queen.” He turned to Henry. “A few, if they dare, will offer all possible resistance to this marriage. Men like Bishop Fisher.”

  “Have him placed under house arrest,” Henry ordered. “I want him out of the way when Cranmer gives judgment.” He bent down and kissed Anne. “Do not fret, darling. I will suggest that my lords and gentlemen come and pay court to you, and tell them that I intend to have you solemnly crowned after Easter.”

  That was the moment, the supreme triumph, that Anne had been longing for. “This is the best news you could have given me,” she smiled, her spirits soaring.

  “It will be the greatest public celebration since my own coronation,” he beamed. “It will sweeten my subjects and proclaim my esteem for you to the world. I’m having you crowned as Queen Regnant, Anne, not just as my consort, and all eyes will be on you alone, for I would not draw attention from you. But I shall be in Westminster Abbey, watching behind a lattice.”

  “Was ever woman so honored?” Cromwell smiled.

  Anne embraced Henry with tears in her eyes. “Your Grace’s kindness to me is boundless. I am utterly beholden to you. Thank you, thank you!”

  “I cannot do sufficient honor to the mother of my son,” he declared.


  The Queen’s chair of estate was smaller than the King’s. It stood beside it beneath the ornate canopy of estate emblazoned with the royal arms of England. Wearing her robes of estate again for this first occasion on which she would preside as queen over the court, Anne seated herself beside Henry, arranging her heavy skirts around her. The presence chamber was crowded with courtiers and petitioners, craning to see how she conducted herself.

  She was dismayed to see that the first person who came forward and bowed was Chapuys.

  “I promised him an audience,” Henry muttered. “I can’t send him away without giving offense.”

  Chapuys did not look once in Anne’s direction. When Henry beckoned him forward, he spoke in a low voice. “Sir, I cannot believe that a prince of your Majesty’s great wisdom and virtue has consented to the putting away of the Queen. Since your Majesty has no regard for men, you should have some respect for God.”

  Henry’s face flushed an angry red. “God and my conscience are on good terms,” he retorted. “You sting me!”

  “Then I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” Chapuys apologized.

  Henry glowered at him. “If the world thinks this divorce so extraordinary, then it should find it strange that the Pope granted me a dispensation without having the power to do so. Moreover, messire, I wish to have a successor to my kingdom.”

  “Your Majesty has a daughter endowed with all imaginable goodness and virtue, and of an age to bear children,” Chapuys reminded him. “Nature obliges your Majesty to leave the throne to the Princess Mary.”

  “I wish to have male children,” Henry growled, really riled now.

  “Your Majesty is not sure of having them?” Chapuys asked boldly. Anne was holding her breath.

  “Am I not a man like other men?” Henry barked, incensed. “You are not privy to all my secrets!”

  Chapuys bowed, but persisted. “I must warn your Majesty that the Emperor will never recognize the Lady Anne as queen. Any annulment you might procure in England can have no validity in law.”

  “It was no marriage!” Henry snarled.

  “But your Majesty has often confessed that the Queen was a virgin when you married.”

  “Hah! A man when he is jesting and feasting says a good many things that are not true.” He leaned forward menacingly. “All your remonstrances are useless. The Lady Anne, as you call her, is my Queen. The Emperor has no right to interfere. I shall pass such laws in my kingdom as I like. And now, Messire Chapu
ys, this audience is at an end.”

  As Chapuys bowed himself out, Henry whispered to Anne, “Don’t let him upset you, sweetheart. He is all threats and hot air, and I’ve heard it far too many times before.”


  After the officers and members of Anne’s household had all sworn their oaths of allegiance, she summoned them to attend the first meeting of her council. Looking around at them as she sat in her great chair at the head of the table, she reflected that Henry had done her proud. The household he had assigned her was worthy of the greatest of queens. It was packed with Boleyn connections, all eager to serve her, and as officers he had appointed able men who were congenial to her.

  Her great train of ladies was headed by the King’s own niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, who had served the Princess Mary as lady-of-honor, but seemed happy to fill the same post under Anne. Margaret was half Scots, the daughter of Henry’s older sister Margaret; she was a great beauty and a poet. Anne was also delighted to have Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester, who was a good friend, despite her half-brother, Sir William FitzWilliam, the treasurer of the King’s household, having shown himself hostile toward her. Her old friend from Hever days, Lady Wingfield, had come up from Stone Castle to join Anne’s retinue.

  Anne was not keen on having her overbearing Aunt Elizabeth among her ladies, but as her uncle, Sir James Boleyn, had come all the way from Norfolk to be her chancellor, she could not very well refuse. And then of course there was the resentful Jane Rochford, another whose appointment could not be avoided. Mary would be there to counteract her antipathy, for Mary did not like Jane either, but Anne was uncomfortable having her sister in her household. She now saw that her parents had been right, and that Mary would be an ever-present reminder that Anne’s marriage to Henry might be considered by some to be as incestuous as Katherine’s. Anne had felt obliged to invite her, feeling she could not do otherwise, but she would have preferred to keep her out of sight. God grant that no one knew or found out about Mary and the King.

  Among her bevy of maids of honor were her lively, learned cousins, Lady Mary Howard and Madge Shelton, pretty Nan Saville, demure Nan Gainsford, and pert Frances de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. The matronly Mrs. Stonor was Mother of the Maids, and Mrs. Orchard had come up from Hever to assist her.

  Anne knew it was important, now that she was queen, to overcome the slurs of her detractors and her undeserved poor reputation. People must see her as a patron of religion and learning, the living embodiment of virtue. She had this in mind when she addressed her household.

  Her voice rang out. “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen, while you are in my service, I expect you to conduct yourselves virtuously. Gentlemen, you are to resist frequenting brothels, on pain of instant dismissal, to your utter shame. You shall set a godly standard to others by attending Mass daily and displaying an irreproachable demeanor. Ladies, you too must be above reproach. I want you to have these, to hang from your girdles at all times.” She nodded to her chamberlain, who handed out exquisite little books of prayers and psalms to each woman in the room.

  From that day onward, Anne decreed, she and her ladies would spend several hours daily making garments for the poor.

  There were a few murmurs and downcast looks, but after only a week, Anne’s old silk-woman, who had served two queens before her, turned to her and said, “Madam, I’ve never seen better order among the ladies and gentlewomen of the court!” That pleased her no end. She hoped her enemies had noticed.


  Her new life was not all sewing and charitable works, although these occupied her for much of the time. For years she had been forging friendships with courtiers of wit, charm, and intelligence, who could be relied upon to ensure that the days were never dull, and they now formed the core of her inner circle. George, Norris, Weston, Brereton, Bryan, and other gentlemen of the King’s privy chamber flocked to the Queen’s apartments to enjoy stimulating conversation and flirt with her ladies and maids. Anne loved nothing more than to lead the repartee and banter, and she insisted on informality in the privacy of her chamber. Sometimes, when his duties permitted, Henry would join them. He would bring his lute and play for them, or dance with the ladies, or show a keen interest in the book of love poems that Margaret Douglas, Mary Howard, and Madge Shelton were compiling.

  When he was absent, the atmosphere was more relaxed. Couples were pairing off: Nan Gainsford with George Zouche; Frances de Vere with Anne’s cousin, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Norfolk’s heir; and Margaret Douglas with another cousin, Norfolk’s young brother, Thomas Howard. Anne hoped that Henry would consent to their marrying; it would reinforce the bond between her blood and the royal house. She had no doubt that she could persuade him to consent to Surrey marrying Frances.

  Surrey sometimes brought with him his great friend, Henry’s bastard son, the Duke of Richmond, a tall, gangling youth with his father’s looks but not his charm, for he was proud, insufferable, and resentful of his bastardy. He was showing an interest in Mary Howard. Anne thought she might talk to Henry about them too. It would be a feather in her cap to marry her cousin to the King’s son.

  Madge Shelton was doing her best to attract the attentions of Norris, but without success. Anne suspected that he came to these gatherings for her alone. There was still that unacknowledged frisson between them, but things had changed. She might indulge in innocent flirtations with him and the men in her circle, but she was Caesar’s wife now, and must be above reproach. And her advancing pregnancy seemed to have unsexed her. Henry was still sharing her bed every night, but showing heroic restraint. He caressed her, kissed her, asked her to use her hands to pleasure him, but he would not enter her, fearing to harm the child.

  George was the foremost member of her court, and the person in whom she confided most. Henry had showered him with preferments: he was now Constable of Dover and Master of the Buckhounds, and was often away on diplomatic missions. It would only be a matter of time, Anne was sure, before Henry gave him a peerage in his own right.

  She had grown to like William Brereton since he had come one day with a greyhound puppy for her.

  “My bitch had a litter, and he’s the best. His name is Urian,” he told her as she took the pup in her arms, exclaiming in delight.

  “A little devil,” she teased, for in Burgundy Urian had been another name for Satan.

  “Your Grace, he is named for my brother, who serves as groom in His Grace’s privy chamber. Believe me, he is a little devil!”

  Soon Anne and Urian were inseparable. He was forever at her feet or at her heel.

  She knew there was another side to Brereton. He was a lot older than most of those who frequented her chamber, and a man of some standing, being the Duke of Richmond’s deputy as Steward of the Welsh Marches, where he exercised great power. Anne had heard Cromwell, who didn’t like him, refer to Brereton as an over-mighty subject, but she was determined to see that Brereton continued to enjoy the King’s favor. It was upon loyal supporters like him that she depended.


  Her marriage had now been proclaimed all over England, but it had not been generally well received. There was still a great swell of love for Katherine and the Princess Mary, and there were very vocal complaints that Anne’s elevation to queenship would mean war with the Emperor and disaster for the lucrative trade that England enjoyed with the Empire.

  Henry’s Council was dealing with a torrent of public protests against her marriage. He spared her the details, but they were notorious at court, and there were those, such as the half-Spanish Lady Exeter, a friend of Katherine, who seemed to take great pleasure in repeating them to Anne’s ladies.

  “What are they saying about me?” Anne pressed George, as they sat down to dinner in her chamber and the King’s waiter arrived, punctual as usual, to wish her, on her husband’s behalf, “Much good may it do you.”

  She smiled graciously at him. “I thank His Grace.” When the waiter had departed, she turned to her brot
her. “You can’t just say there’s seditious talk and not tell me what it is!”

  “Do you really want to know?” he asked, his dark eyes concerned. “The King would kill me if I told you.”

  “And I will kill you if you don’t!” she retorted. “Forewarned is forearmed.”

  He gave in. “Some fools are greatly agitated about your marriage. A priest was hauled before the justices for calling you the scandal of Christendom and worse. Another priest commended you to his flock and was abused by the women among them. And when you were first prayed for, as queen, in the churches, a congregation in London walked out. The King has personally reprimanded the Lord Mayor. Do you want to hear more?”

  Anne had listened with mounting dismay, but she nodded.

  “The Dean of Bristol has lost his office for forbidding his priests to pray for you. One woman who cried out ‘God save Queen Katherine!’ and called you—pardon me—a goggle-eyed whore, has been sent to prison, as has Mrs. Amadas.” Anne knew Elizabeth Amadas slightly, for her husband was keeper of the royal Jewel Tower.

  “What did she say?” she asked, feeling a little faint.

  “I hardly dare repeat it,” George replied. “She predicted that you would be burned as a harlot. She accused Norris of acting as bawd between you and His Grace. And—I hesitate to say this—she alleged that the King had kept both Mother and Mary as his mistresses, and that Father acted as bawd to them and to you.”

  Anne was horrified. The allegation about her mother was monstrous but ridiculous, yet far worse was the realization that, somehow, Henry’s affair with Mary had become public knowledge.

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