Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  How she got through the afternoon and behaved as if all was normal she did not know, but by five o’clock she could stand it no longer and dismissed them all, saying she needed to rest. Then she sent for Norris, the person she trusted best. He, of all people, would know if Henry was being unfaithful.

  “What can I do for your Grace?” he asked, standing before her, with Mary, for propriety’s sake, just out of earshot in the bedchamber beyond.

  “Sir Henry, can I ask you something in the strictest confidence?” Anne asked, trying not to cry.

  “Of course, madam.” His face was all concern.

  “Is the King being unfaithful to me with Lady Carew?”

  Norris looked embarrassed. He hesitated.

  “Your face says it all,” she said, and then the tears did fall.

  “Oh, my dear lady,” Norris said, and in an instant was on one knee before her, holding her hands. “I would not for the world cause you any distress.”

  “But I must know!” she sobbed. “If my ladies are talking about it, the whole court will be. And he has never been unfaithful before. For eight years he has been true to me.”

  Norris looked into her eyes. He was still holding her hands, and she would have given anything for him to take her in his arms and comfort her properly. Nothing else would make her feel better. It was her pride that was hurt, far more grievously than her heart, for it had never been truly Henry’s. But he adored her, surely: she was special, not like Katherine, whom he had deceived many times.

  It was his deception, and his making her an object of ridicule before the whole court—especially her enemies, who would be laughing up their sleeves, or not so discreetly—that was unforgivable.

  She resisted the impulse to melt into Norris’s strong arms and seek oblivion. She would not stoop to Henry’s level.

  “Are they lovers?” she asked, disengaging her hands and finding her handkerchief.

  “You are asking me to break my oath of service. I owe discretion to the King in all matters.”

  “I must know!” Anne insisted. “Just indicate yes or no. The gossip will be rampant anyway, so I could have heard it anywhere. Has he slept with her?”

  Norris’s nod was barely perceptible. His eyes were full of compassion.

  “Thank you. Please go and ask the King if he will visit me when he is free. And Norris—no hint of this to him, please.”


  Henry arrived within the hour, in a high good humor and with a bowl of choice apples for her.

  She greeted him cordially, then sent her women into the next room. When the door had closed behind them, she turned on him.

  “Is it true what my ladies are saying about you and Lady Carew?” she asked.

  Henry’s good mood evaporated. His eyes narrowed.

  “I danced with her, that’s all. What do you take me for?”

  “You were seen kissing her!” she cried fiercely. “And the gossip I heard accuses you of more than that. Do you deny it?”

  “I do deny it!” he flared, that menacing flush rising from his neck.

  “Then you are lying,” she accused. “I have it on good authority that you have bedded with her. Some ladies cannot keep a still tongue.”

  “You would believe gossip rather than the word of a king? By God, Anne, you try me!”

  “I have good cause—admit it!” she shrieked, beside herself with fury, feeling the poor babe leap in distress in her womb. “You pride yourself on your honor, but what price honor when your rod governs your royal will?”

  “Remember who I am!” Henry flung back. “When I think of what I have done for you—how I fought the whole world to have you, and honored you with my marriage. How I have showered you with gifts—look at that great bed I gave you. By God, Anne, you would not have it now, having used such words to me. You are my wife, and you must shut your eyes and endure as more worthy persons have done.”

  “Then you admit it,” she hissed.

  Henry’s face was like thunder, his voice icy. “Madam, you ought to remember that it is in my power to humble you again in a moment, more than I have raised you.”

  He walked out, leaving her stunned. Never had he spoken to her like that. And to compare her unfavorably to Katherine! How could he? She collapsed in a storm of weeping, and her ladies came running. They made her rest, fearful for the babe. If only its father had been, she thought bitterly.

  It was all bluster, she told herself. At heart Henry was a spoiled child who expected to have whatever he wanted and not be gainsaid. He would come around, begging her forgiveness, she was sure.

  But he did not. For three endless days he did not visit her, and when, taking the air with her ladies, she came upon him practicing his archery at the butts, he greeted her coldly. She waited until he had finished and then walked back with him to the palace, their attendants following behind. She guessed he would have preferred not to have her with him, but did not want to argue in public.

  “A year ago you were my loving servant,” she said, low. “That man would never have spoken to me the way you did the other day.”

  “We are married now,” he said. “A husband is not a servant. As my wife, you owe me obedience, and it is not your place to criticize me. I will not brook it!”

  Anne walked on in silence, appalled at his words. Was this the man who had defied all Christendom to marry her? They had been wed but six months, and already he had been unfaithful. And he expected her to maintain a dignified silence! Well, silent she would be. At the door, she curtseyed and went alone to her apartments. He did not come after her.


  When they arrived at Greenwich, an uneasy truce between them, Anne took to her chamber to await the birth of her child.

  Henry had thawed a little. In the barge that brought them from Hampton Court, he had told her he was planning a pageant and tournament to mark the birth, and on the morning before she disappeared from public view, he kissed her for the first time since their quarrel.

  “I will come to see you, and I will pray constantly that God will send you a happy hour,” he said.

  She could feel her eyes brimming with tears. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

  “All will be well,” Henry reassured her.

  “What will you do while I’m in seclusion?” she asked.

  “I’ll be hunting hereabouts. I won’t be far away. I meant to say, I’ve had letters to the nobility prepared, announcing the birth of a prince.”

  She wished he had waited. It was tempting Fate.

  “Anne,” he said, tilting her chin up. “I love you. Never forget that.”


  Her heart lighter, she went to hear Mass, in company with her household. Afterward she went in procession to her presence chamber, where she sat beneath her canopy of estate and was offered spiced wine and little cakes. Then her chamberlain required all her people to pray for her, that she might be safely delivered. As the trumpets sounded, she withdrew into her privy chamber and then to her bedchamber—the Chamber of the Virgins, so called because it was hung with tapestries depicting St. Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins. There, dominating all, was the great French bed. She sank down on it thankfully as her ladies drew a heavy curtain across the door. They had most of them been appointed household officers, for no man save the King and her chaplain might enter her chamber while she was in seclusion.

  They brought her, along with the choicest food and anything else she fancied, all the latest gossip. The Duke of Suffolk was about to marry his son’s betrothed, a girl of fourteen—and he nearly fifty! Anne laughed aloud when she heard the name of his bride, for young Kate Willoughby was the only child of the Princess Dowager’s staunchest friend, that dragon, Lady Willoughby! She could foresee fireworks, for Suffolk had long supported the King…

  Early in the morning of the seventh day of September, Anne’s pains began and the midwife was sent for. All was progressing well, she pronounced, even when the contractions became unbelievable agony, with
little respite in between. It seemed to go on for hours, but around three o’clock in the afternoon, just as Anne thought she could endure no more, the midwife told her the babe was coming.

  “Chin down on your chest, your Grace, deep breath, and push!”

  Anne pushed—and pushed, and pushed. Travail was rightly named!

  “I can see the head!” the midwife cried. “Not long now!”

  Around the bed, the ladies were crying encouragement. She strained again, and felt the child slither out between her thighs. There was silence—then a lusty wail.


  A girl. She was devastated, racked with disappointment and fear of what Henry would say. He had set such store by all the doctors and astrologers who had predicted it would be a boy. Only William Glover had seen the truth.

  Would Henry lay the blame for this at her door? Would he see it as a sign of divine displeasure?

  He had been sent for. She lay tense in her grand bed, washed, refreshed, and clad in a clean lawn shift with a pretty embroidered neckline, waiting with dread for his coming. Beside her, in the vast gilded cradle bearing the arms of England, the sleeping babe lay swaddled, robed in crimson velvet, with an embroidered satin bonnet on her head. Anne had held her once, surprised at how tiny she was. She had looked down and seen the Tudor red hair, Henry’s Roman nose, and her own narrow face and pointed chin. It was an old face for so young a child.

  “She’s strong and healthy,” the midwife had said. All the women had praised the child, saying that her safe arrival presaged a long line of sons. And the wet nurse had exclaimed at how quickly the babe had latched on the breast and taken suck. But Anne felt strangely detached from her. She had heard that mothers experienced a great rush of love for their newborns. It had not happened to her. She was too disappointed, too gripped by a strong sense of failure. The tiny creature in the cradle would be a constant reminder of it.

  There was a muffled commotion outside, then the curtain was drawn back, the door opened, and Henry strode in, wearing his hunting clothes and bringing with him the scent of the open air.

  “Darling!” he said. “Thank God you are come through this safely.” He bent over the bed and kissed her, then peered into the cradle. “Hello, little one,” he said, and picked up the sleeping infant, tenderly kissing the tiny head. “May God bless you.”

  “Sir,” Anne whispered, “I am so sorry I did not bear you a son.”

  He looked up. She could see no reproach in his eyes.

  “You have given me a healthy child,” he said. “You and I are both lusty, and by God’s grace, boys will follow.”

  She could not help herself. The relief was so great that she began weeping.

  “Darling,” Henry said, handing the baby to the midwife and taking Anne in his arms, “I am proud of you. I would rather beg from door to door than forsake you.”

  “Thank you!” she sobbed, laughing and crying at the same time.

  He let her go and reclaimed the infant. “We will call her Elizabeth, after my mother,” he said.

  “By a happy coincidence, it’s my mother’s name as well,” Anne said. “The perfect choice.”

  “She has my nose,” Henry remarked, kissing the child and laying her back to sleep, beckoning the rockers to come forward. “Now I will leave you to rest, darling. I have the christening to arrange.”

  “What of those letters you had prepared?” Anne asked.

  “There is room to amend ‘prince’ to ‘princess,’ ” he said. “They will go off tonight.”

  “When will you hold the tournament?”

  “I’ve decided not to.” For the first time, Henry looked a little downcast. “But we will have a splendid christening. Until we have a son, Anne, Elizabeth is my heir, and all must recognize her as such.”


  When Elizabeth was three days old, Anne watched her being wrapped in a purple mantle with a long train furred with ermine. Then she was borne off in the arms of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk to be taken in a stately procession to her baptism in the chapel of the Observant Friars. Father would be supporting his granddaughter’s long train and George was one of those carrying the canopy of estate above her head.

  Anne lay on her grand French bed, an ermine-trimmed mantle of estate about her shoulders. Henry, wearing cloth of gold, had come to sit beside her to await their daughter’s return. They would not attend the christening; it was the godparents’ triumph. Henry had chosen four: Archbishop Cranmer and the Dowager Duchess, and two supporters of Katherine, the Marchioness of Dorset and the Marquess of Exeter. “It will look as if they approve,” he gloated.

  As they waited, Henry described for Anne the tapestries that had been hung on the outer walls of the palace and all along the processional route; the font of solid silver, set on a platform three steps high beneath a crimson satin canopy fringed with gold; the ceremonial to be observed; the noble guests. She listened approvingly. No honor had been scanted.

  Presently, in the distance, they heard a fanfare.

  “They’re bringing her back,” Henry said. Soon the Princess was carried into the Queen’s chamber and placed in the King’s arms. He gave her his blessing, then passed her to Anne, who gave hers and called the child by her baptismal name for the first time, as was a mother’s privilege. Refreshments were served to the godparents and chief guests, and then Henry directed Norfolk and Suffolk to convey his thanks to the Lord Mayor and aldermen for attending.

  “Will there be fireworks tonight?” Anne asked Henry.

  “I haven’t ordered any,” he replied, looking uncomfortable. She knew he would have had a prince been christened. She was upset to learn, the next day, that there had been no celebratory bonfires in the streets of London either, and appalled when George, visiting her and his niece, told her that two friars had been arrested for saying that the Princess had been christened in hot water that was not hot enough.

  “How can they say that of an innocent babe?” she asked.

  “Ignore them,” he counseled. “Chapuys told me to my face that we should not have expected the people to celebrate. He said there was little love for you or any of our race.”

  “I trust you told him to go hang himself,” Anne seethed.

  “Something of the sort!” George snorted.

  Henry had not visited her very often. For all his brave words at Elizabeth’s birth, she was convinced he felt she had failed him. Was he asking himself why he had risked so much for her, and—more crucially—why God had denied him a son? Yet he had made it implicit to Anne that he was determined not to lose face, and was as adamant as ever that he had been right to put away Katherine and marry her.

  As if to prove this, he suddenly had the Nun of Kent and her supporters arrested and imprisoned.

  “What will happen to her?” Anne asked, sitting up in her chair for the first time since giving birth.

  “She will be tried. She has said enough and more to incriminate herself of high treason.”

  This was one aspect of the new Henry of which Anne could approve. He had been too patient, too forgiving, toward his opponents. She rejoiced now to see him so resolute.

  He was more resolute in bed, too. As soon as she had recovered from the birth and had been churched, he appeared at her bedchamber door.

  “Let’s make that son you promised me,” he said, bearing down on her, lust in his eyes.

  She was reluctant to let him make love to her so soon. She had lost the weight she had put on in pregnancy, but her belly and breasts were slack, and on her hips there were silvery marks where the skin had stretched. She did not want him to see her like this. She feared being penetrated so soon after giving birth, and she really did not want to be pregnant again yet. She had also been tormenting herself with thoughts of him cavorting with Lady Carew. Was he still swiving her? She did not dare to ask. She was maintaining the dignified silence he had enjoined.

  But she knew her wifely duty, and she was well aware of the urgent need for her to bear a son.
So she opened herself to him, and was surprised by the force of his desire. Maybe he had been celibate since August. At least it proved one thing: he still wanted her.


  It worried her that she could not love Elizabeth as she ought. She was quite content to leave the child to her nurses, in her elaborate nursery. Sometimes, out of guilt, she commanded that the Princess be brought to her chamber and laid on a cushion at her feet, so that all could see how devoted a mother she was, and not guess at the heavy sense of failure she carried.

  She often wondered if she could have loved Elizabeth had she been a boy. Would she love a son who had that old face and seemed such a self-contained infant, as her daughter did? Margaret, Lady Bryan, who had efficiently run the Princess Mary’s nursery and had been appointed by Henry to preside over Elizabeth’s, reported that the Princess was a good baby generally, but was given to roaring tantrums when denied something she wanted. “But she’s very forward for her age, madam, and takes her milk well.”

  Anne salved her conscience by buying the child pretty toys—a rocking horse, a cloth doll, a wooden stump babe for teething—and commissioned jewelry for her: a bracelet for the tiny wrist, a miniature string of pearls and a golden girdle book of psalms for when she was older. She did all the things she thought a good mother should do. And she suffered in silence, because she did not want anyone thinking her unnatural and unfeeling.


  Late in November, the Nun of Kent was found guilty of treason, and an example was made of her and the Observant Friars and priests who had abetted her. All did public penance, walking through the streets of London to Paul’s Cross, where they were made to stand on a scaffold, holding lighted tapers, while a sermon was preached against them.

  But the sympathies of the watching crowds were with the “Holy Maid of Kent,” as they called her, shouting out their encouragement. It was gratifying that the evidence for her treason had sounded suitably damning when blasted from Paul’s Pulpit, and that the crowd had witnessed the accused being hustled to the Tower to await sentencing. Henry was trying to persuade his reluctant Council to agree to Parliament passing an Act of Attainder condemning them. He did not want them sentenced in open court because he feared there would be demonstrations.

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