Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  With some difficulty, for she was in her sixth month now, she prostrated herself on the mosaic pavement before the altar while the collects were said, and then she was helped up and raised into her chair, and Cranmer came forward and anointed her on the head and breast with holy oil. Then he lifted St. Edward’s crown—with which every English sovereign had been invested since time immemorial—and placed it on her head. It weighed heavily, but it was a burden she was happy to bear.

  It was done, accomplished! She was the Queen of England.

  As she received into her hands the scepter of gold and a rod of ivory surmounted by a dove, she was thinking of the words of Christine de Pizan. How appropriate they were now. As the wife of a powerful man, she would ensure that she was highly knowledgeable about government, and wise. Knowledge was power; she must learn to understand everything, and make her influence felt. Moreover, she must have the courage of a man. I have that courage! she told herself. Exultation filled her heart.

  The choir burst into song with the Te Deum, after which Cranmer came forward and lifted the great diadem from her head, replacing it with the new crown that had been made for her, a gorgeous golden circlet studded with sapphires, balas rubies, and pearls, with crosses of gold and fleurs-de-lis around the rim. She sat there, crowned and enthroned, while Mass was celebrated.

  She had joined the ranks of great queens and women rulers, and she vowed to herself that, in her rule, she would honor the memory and inspiration of Margaret of Austria and Isabella of Castile, and make herself as widely respected as they had been.

  A fanfare of trumpets signaled the end of the ceremony, and Father stepped forward with Lord Talbot to support her on either side as she processed slowly out of the abbey. “Now the noble Anna bears the sacred diadem!” sang the children of the Chapel Royal.

  In Westminster Hall, Anne’s ladies brought rose water to refresh her, straightened her skirts, and adjusted the crown so that it was comfortable. Ready for her coronation banquet, she seated herself in solitary splendor at the center of the high table on the dais, with the countesses of Oxford and Worcester standing behind her, ready with a napkin and fingerbowl, and two maids sitting at her feet. She was so tense from the overwhelming excitement of the day that she could not eat. In fact she was nauseous, and the countesses had to shield her from view, holding a fine cloth in front of her when she needed to vomit. Archbishop Cranmer, sitting at the end of the high table at the Queen’s right hand, looked at her with concern.

  “Is your Grace all right?” he inquired.

  “Never better!” she assured him. “It’s just a case of too much emotion and too much rich food. Not a good combination for me, in my condition. Oh, no, more food!” she grimaced, as the trumpets sounded and the new Knights of the Bath brought in the next lavish course.

  “Would your Grace like some wine?” It was Tom Wyatt, acting as chief ewerer. He too looked concerned about her, and there was in his expression something of the old Tom she had liked so much.

  “No, Tom, but is there any barley water?”

  “I will get you some,” he said, and hastened away.

  Two hours later, she was still sitting there, sipping barley water. At the long tables below her, the guests were still indulging themselves, and there was a deafening clamor of chatter and laughter. She had managed just three dishes out of the eighty she had been offered, and even though she had admired the subtlety of her own falcon badge, which was made entirely of sugar, and carried in and presented to her with much ceremony, she waved it away.

  She caught sight of Mary at the first table on her right, leaning back and talking to a gentleman standing behind her. Anne knew his face. It was William Stafford, with whom her sister had flirted in Calais. They seemed to be getting on very well, for she could hear Mary giggling. In contrast, George and Jane were ignoring each other, chatting to their neighbors.

  It was late when the banquet ended and the order was given for the guests to stand until Anne had washed her hands and descended to the floor of the hall. Here she was served wine and comfits, and when she had nibbled at a couple, she beckoned the Lord Mayor over and gave him a gold cup, thanking him and the citizens once more for their efforts on her behalf. The barons of the Cinque Ports were waiting with their canopy to escort her to the door of her chamber, and thus she left the hall, tired but exhilarated. It had, she reflected, been the most extraordinary day of her life.

  —

  The festivities continued for some days more. There were dances, tournaments, hunts, and sports, all in her honor. Henry had made his pleasure clear, and his courtiers were outdoing each other to honor their new Queen. She suspected that it was not because they wanted to, but because they were aware of him watching like a hawk. But it was gratifying to have everyone striving to be as attentive as possible to her.

  Henry had decided that his heir was to be born at Greenwich, his own birthplace, and presented Anne with one of the richest and most sumptuous beds she had ever seen for her confinement. It was French, ornately carved and gilded; years before, it had been part of the ransom for a royal duke, and it had been languishing in the Royal Wardrobe ever since. Surely it was the most wondrous bed any queen had ever owned, Anne thought, luxuriating in its splendor.

  News of the death of her great critic, Mary Tudor, did not move her, but Henry was upset at losing his sister, and full of regret that she had died unreconciled to him.

  As the summer continued, and Anne grew heavy with her precious burden, she stayed mostly in her apartments resting, or enjoying pastime in her chamber with her favored courtiers, who exerted themselves to entertain her with music, verse, cards, or dice, and flirted outrageously with her ladies.

  “I feel sorry for Tom Wyatt and his fellow envoys, having to be overseas at this time,” Norris said, sitting down beside Anne and watching the amorous couples with amusement.

  “If they thought that these ladies favored them, and hated parting with their faithful servants, they should see them now,” Anne laughed.

  He turned to her and gave her that sweet smile she loved. “And how is your Grace? I trust that all is well with you.”

  “I shall be glad to be delivered,” she said. “I am becoming very cumbersome! Soon I must think about taking to my chamber.”

  “If there’s anything I can do to bring your Grace comfort, do not hesitate to command me,” Norris invited.

  “That’s very kind. And how are you these days, Norris?”

  He shrugged. “I do well enough. My work in the Privy Chamber keeps me busy.”

  “You should marry again,” she teased.

  “Alas, madam, my heart is given to a very special lady, whose name I may not say, for she is wed.” He looked meaningfully at her with eyes full of devotion.

  Her heart stirred. How different her life would have been if she had given herself to this loyal, honorable, and gentle man. She could have loved him as she had never loved Henry. But she could not regret choosing the crown. It was enough to have Norris’s friendship and bask in the warmth of his kindness.

  “You are wise, sir,” she told him, “for, being married, she must guard her reputation, whether she loves you or not. And some husbands can be very jealous.”

  —

  A deputation of lords of the Council had informed Katherine of Cranmer’s judgments.

  “She refuses to recognize them,” Henry snarled, stalking up and down beside the bed where Anne was resting. “I told them to tell her that I cannot have two wives, or permit her to persist in calling herself queen. It was made clear to her that my marriage to you is irrevocable, and has the consent of Parliament, that nothing that she can do will annul it, and that she will only incur my displeasure and that of Almighty God if she persists in her obstinacy. And what did she do? She took the parchment laying out my terms for her submission, and wherever she found the name of Princess Dowager, she struck it out, insisting she is my true wife and Queen.”

  “Will she never desist?” Anne cri
ed. “She has lost you. What more do you have to do to convince her of it?”

  “I’m sending her to Buckden, which is further north, with a reduced household. The tower there is fifty years old, and damp. That should make her see sense.”

  “I hope so!” Anne said fervently. “You should ban all visitors.”

  “I’ve already given the order. There will be no letters either. We don’t want Chapuys cooking up mischief with her.”

  “Or the Princess,” Anne said. “I heard today that when Mary went abroad in the countryside recently, the people came hastening to greet her as if she were God Himself descended from Heaven. Henry, you should stop her from inciting demonstrations like that, and punish the demonstrators.”

  “I don’t think Mary would have incited them,” Henry said. “They just turned up to see her.”

  “Will you never see the truth?” Anne flung back. “She’s playing a clever game, building up sympathy for herself. Poor sweet little Princess, parted from her mother…Henry, she’s seventeen! I was parted from my mother at the age of twelve, and didn’t see her for six years. Mary should count herself lucky.”

  Henry subsided. Where his daughter was concerned, he was weak, but Anne was determined that he take a firmer stand with her. Let Mary put another foot wrong, and there’d be a reckoning.

  —

  In July, the King took Anne to Hampton Court to rest in the final weeks of her pregnancy. They spent the balmy days taking slow strolls in the beautiful gardens, picnicking in the little banqueting houses that Henry had built in the grounds, reading companionably together in Anne’s privy chamber, and making merry at supper. He no longer came to her bed, for he did not wish to disturb her rest, and in truth, the size she was, she preferred to sleep alone. She felt well, and had never seen Henry so happy.

  It was only in these last weeks of her pregnancy that she began to worry about the possibility of her baby being a girl. Henry had always referred to it as a son, and she too had come to think of it as a boy. But what if it wasn’t? Henry had done all that he had sworn to do: he had broken with Rome to marry her, and had her crowned with as much pomp as if she were a reigning monarch. It was now up to her to seal her part of the bargain by presenting him with the son that, at forty-two, he needed more desperately than ever, not only to ensure the succession, but also to justify the risks he had taken on her account. The blessing of a male heir would show the world that God smiled on their union, and would undoubtedly bring many waverers and dissidents over to their side—and it might silence, once and for all, that infuriating woman at Buckden!

  So much hung on the sex of the child. That it might not be a son did not bear thinking about. And so she grew daily more anxious, when she should have been enjoying the calm euphoria of these last weeks before the birth.

  The wretched Nun of Kent had chosen the day of Anne’s coronation to prophesy doom for the King and his new Queen. This time the authorities had pounced, and Elizabeth Barton had been brought before Cranmer to be examined.

  “He should not have let her go with just a warning,” Anne complained. “She’s already ignored it.”

  “Sweetheart, do not excite yourself,” Henry exhorted, all concern, as they sat down to cold chicken, a raised pie, salad, and a dish of cherries in the banqueting house that stood on the hillock overlooking the privy garden. “I had her re-arrested this morning, and Cranmer examined her again. She’s admitted that she never had a vision in her life.”

  “What will you do with her?”

  “Let her go. She’s been discredited, out of her own mouth.”

  “That won’t deter her. Mad or not, she’s never held her peace before.”

  “If she spouts more sedition, she will feel the full force of my displeasure,” Henry declared. “But let’s not speak of unpleasant things. You do not want to agitate the babe. I am of the belief that what a woman thinks or feels can affect the child in her womb—it stands to reason.”

  “I don’t know about that,” Anne smiled, “but this one leaps about as if it’s practicing for the joust! Feel!” She guided Henry’s hand to her belly.

  “By God, here’s a future king to be proud of!” he chuckled. “Darling, I know I can’t be there with you when our son is born, but I want to be near at hand. I’m not going far on my hunting progress this year; I’m keeping near to London.”

  “That is a great comfort to me,” Anne said, reaching across and squeezing his hand.

  He smiled at her. “I’m ordering that prayers for your safe delivery be offered up in every church, and I will ask my loving subjects to pray to Jesus, if it be His will, to send us a prince. I’ve consulted the physicians, and they all assure me that the child will be male.”

  How did they know? They had never examined her, merely inquired how she was feeling and exhorted her to take care of herself. Childbirth was women’s work! She had already engaged a midwife, who was even now in residence at court, guzzling rich food and idling away the days in luxury. But she had come highly recommended by Lady Worcester.

  After they had finished their meal, Henry took Anne to see an astrologer he had summoned. She had heard of William Glover, for he was celebrated throughout the land for foretelling the future. He was not the first of the seers Henry had consulted; he was as anxious as she was about the baby’s sex. Of course, they had all assured him that it would be a boy, but the pronouncement of this Glover, with his great reputation, would carry special weight.

  He was a raven-haired, thin-faced man with bushy brows, completely immersed in a world of his own. He showed them charts of celestial configurations, then looked into his glass and paused for a very long moment before turning to Anne.

  “I see your Grace bearing a woman child and a prince of the land.”

  She was shocked.

  “Two children?” Henry barked. “A prince and princess?”

  “No, your Grace. I see only one child.”

  “How can a woman child be a prince?” Henry countered.

  “My vision does not reveal that.”

  “You’re a charlatan!” Henry accused him. “Everyone else says it will be a son!”

  “Lord King, I know only what my glass tells me,” Glover insisted.

  Henry dismissed him, glowering.

  “Don’t let him upset you, darling,” he said to Anne, when the man had gone. “He’s a knave!”

  “Indeed he must be,” she agreed, wanting to forget the episode. “Henry, I have been thinking about the Prince’s baptism. Are there special christening robes and bearing cloths in the Royal Wardrobe?”

  “Maybe. Katherine used a very rich triumphal cloth she brought from Spain to wrap up our children for baptism.”

  “Do you think she still has it?” It would be sweet revenge to wrap her son in that cloth.

  “Probably,” said Henry.

  “Will you ask her for it?”

  He grinned wolfishly. “It will be my pleasure.”

  —

  Back came the prompt answer. It had not pleased God that Katherine should ever be so badly advised as to assist in a case as horrible as this.

  “How dare she!” Anne raged.

  “Darling, as she rightly says, the robe is her personal property. I don’t think I can press the point.” As usual, Henry was hopeless in the face of Katherine’s malice.

  “But it’s a snub.”

  To her astonishment, he rounded on her. “We should not have asked in the first place. Anne, I have more pressing matters to worry about. I’ve just heard that the Pope has annulled all Cranmer’s proceedings and declared our marriage null and void, making it appear to all Christendom that we are living in adultery. Worse still, he has threatened me with excommunication if I do not put you away by September.”

  “You must ignore him!” Anne cried. “You don’t need him now!”

  “I intend to ignore him!” Henry shouted. “God, who knows my righteous heart, always prospers my affairs.”

  But she could see the
fear that belied his bullish words. In the eyes of the faithful, he was a schismatic adulterer who might soon be cut off from God. And his enemies would be waiting to pounce…It was more imperative than ever that she bear him a son, to show that God smiled upon him.

  —

  “The King danced many times with Lady Carew last night,” Jane Rochford said.

  “They are old friends,” Anne replied, handing the basket of silks across to Nan Gainsford. Gossip had it that Lady Carew had bedded with Henry before her marriage to Sir Nicholas Carew, but that was long ago, even before Bessie Blount’s time. Yet Jane was looking at Anne with a sly, gloating expression, as if to say, I know something you don’t.

  “What is it you wish to tell me, Jane?” she asked briskly.

  Jane seemed reluctant to speak, but Anne suspected that she was enjoying this. “I did not like to say anything—after all, it probably means nothing, but…well, with your Grace being with child…”

  “What, then?” Anne demanded to know. The other ladies and maids were looking from one to the other.

  “I saw him kiss her,” Jane said.

  It was like a punch, winding her. “Kiss her? What, beyond what is courteous?”

  “It looked more than courtesy to me,” Jane replied.

  Anne searched the shocked faces around her. “Did any of you see this?”

  Nan Saville looked guilty. “Yes, your Grace.”

  “Just the once?”

  “I saw him kiss her three times,” Jane said.

  “Well, well,” Anne retorted, “probably it was just a courtly flirtation. Now, what design shall we embroider on this altar frontal?”

 
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