Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  By then, Anne was nursing a secret. She was sure she had conceived again. She had seen just one flowering of her courses since Elizabeth’s birth, in the middle of October. By late November, her hopes were high.

  “I am with child already,” she informed Henry.

  “Darling!” He was ecstatic. “That is the best news I’ve had in ages!” He folded her in his arms, pressing his lips to hers. “When will it be?”

  “In the summer—probably in July.”

  “It cannot be soon enough.” Henry’s eyes were shining. “How are you feeling?”

  “Very well,” she assured him, elated and relieved. If he had had any doubts that God approved of their marriage, this must allay them.


  In December, when Elizabeth was three months old, Henry established a household for her at Hatfield, which was convenient for London, yet well away from its noisome, often plague-infested air. In the capable arms of Margaret Bryan, and attended by an army of nursemaids, laundresses, officials, and servants, the Princess was taken north from Greenwich by a roundabout route, the better to be seen by the people and impress on them her status as the King’s heir.

  Watching her daughter depart, Anne felt that familiar ache of relief and guilt. When she had a son, she would love Elizabeth better, she assured herself.

  Among Elizabeth’s maids was nine-year-old Catherine Carey, Mary’s daughter by Henry, who was new to court. Despite her looking so like him, he had never acknowledged her, and she knew nothing of their blood tie. Anne was fond of her niece, and pleased that she had secured the place for her. Catherine was thrilled to be serving the Princess.

  Unlike Henry’s other daughter, Mary, who had impudently refused to recognize Elizabeth’s title. From Hertford, where she was lodging with her household, she wrote to the Council that she would call Elizabeth “sister,” nothing more.

  Henry was seething. “She shall be stripped of the title and trappings of princess!” he shouted. “She is not my lawful daughter, and therefore she cannot be my heir. She is my bastard, nothing more. From henceforth she must be called the Lady Mary.” Without hesitation, he sent a deputation of the Council to inform her of her demotion. Anne inwardly applauded him for being firm with Mary at long last.

  The councillors returned to Greenwich grim-faced. Mary had insisted that she alone was the King’s true daughter, born in lawful matrimony. She’d said she would say nothing to the slander of her mother, the Holy Church, and the Pope, and declared she would dishonor her parents if she falsely confessed herself a bastard. She had written a letter to her father, beseeching his blessing.

  “I will curse her rather!” he snapped, reading it. “She trusts I was not privy to the Council’s message. She doubts not that I take her for my lawful daughter, born in true matrimony.”

  “You will not let this pass?” Anne challenged. He could not. Mary was popular, while her own child was seen by many as a bastard. With Katherine out of sight at Buckden, she could see Mary becoming a focus for those who opposed the King. Mary’s resolve must therefore be broken, by fair means or foul.

  “I will write to her, never fear,” Henry growled. “I will leave her in no doubt that it was my will that she was deprived of the title of princess. And I will tell her that I’m giving her palace of Beaulieu to your brother Rochford.”

  “That is most bountiful of Your Grace,” Anne said, lowering her eyes so he would not see the triumph in them. “I would like her jewels for Elizabeth.”

  “You shall have them. A bastard cannot be permitted to wear what rightfully belongs to the lawful heir.”

  An idea occurred to Anne. “Would it not be a good thing to have Mary in Elizabeth’s household, where she can be under the eye of people loyal to us?”

  Henry was still simmering. “An excellent solution. Her household shall be disbanded. That troublemaker, Lady Salisbury, can go to the Devil, and Mary can go to Hatfield and serve Elizabeth. That’ll teach her to defy me. I’ll force her to bend the knee to my true heir.”

  Jubilation mingled with relief. “And who shall be her lady mistress in place of Lady Salisbury?”

  “Who in Elizabeth’s household would be most suitable?”

  “My aunt, Lady Shelton. She is utterly loyal.”

  “So be it. I will give the order.”


  Anne was happily nursing her triumph over Mary when a message arrived from Katherine asking if the King would let her move to a healthier house, as her lodging at Buckden was damp and cold, winter was descending, and her health was beginning to suffer.

  She had brought it on herself. If she had seen sense, she could have been living in luxury with her daughter at her side. But maybe Henry’s harsh measures were beginning to achieve results. No doubt the ever-industrious Chapuys had informed Katherine of what was planned for Mary. It was one thing to suffer yourself, another to see a loved child suffer unnecessarily. And if the mother broke, the daughter would too.

  Anne did not want to hound Katherine to her death, although she kept thinking that Katherine dying would solve everything. But a little more of the same medicine might teach the stubborn woman what was good for her.

  Cromwell was the man to ask. He seemed to know everything. She summoned him to her privy chamber.

  “Tell me,” she said, “do you know of any great houses that are in poor order yet habitable?”

  “Is this for the Princess Dowager?” he asked.

  “You must have read my mind,” she smiled.

  “No, madam, I read her letter to the King.” Nothing, it seemed, escaped him.

  She explained her strategy, and Cromwell thought for a bit.

  “The Bishop’s Palace at Somersham near Ely is surrounded by deep water and marshes,” he said. “Your Grace might like to suggest that to the King.”

  Anne went straight to Henry and told him that Cromwell had suggested a house for Katherine.

  “How long she stays there is up to her,” she said. “When she arrives at Somersham and sees that her situation is not going to improve unless she obeys your orders, she may capitulate.”

  “Darling, I fear you want hope to triumph over experience,” Henry observed. “I think she would go into the fire rather than admit she is wrong.”

  “It’s insane, when she could be having a good life in retirement.”

  “If she remains obstinate, I’ll have her declared as insane as her sister Juana,” Henry said. “There’s madness in that family. People will believe it.”

  Chapuys, unusually well informed, protested of course.

  “He complains that Somersham is the most unhealthy and pestilential house in England,” Henry huffed. “He’ll be telling tales to the Emperor if I don’t send Katherine somewhere else. I thought of her castle of Fotheringhay. It was a royal palace fifty, sixty years ago, and after I granted it to her she tried to restore it. But it was already decaying, and despite the works she had carried out, it’s now in an even worse condition than Somersham.”

  “Send her to Fotheringhay,” Anne urged.

  But Katherine, it seemed, was well apprised of the state of Fotheringhay. Back came the answer from Buckden: she would not go there.

  “Then she must go to Somersham,” Anne decreed, and Henry issued the order.

  Again Katherine refused to go.

  “I’ll teach her to defy me!” Henry stormed, and ordered the dismissal of all but the most necessary of her servants, insisting that those remaining must not address her as Queen, but as Princess Dowager. To enforce her obedience to these commands, and escort her to Somersham, the Duke of Suffolk was sent to Buckden with a detachment of the King’s guards. He was reluctant to go. Anne guessed he would infinitely have preferred to spend Christmas at court with his young bride. But north he marched, and she held her breath, hoping that this show of armed force might persuade Katherine to give in.


  “Sir John Seymour begs that you will accept his daughter into your service.” Henry han
ded Anne a letter. “She served the Princess Dowager at court, and was with her at Buckden until Sir John summoned her home.”

  “I remember Jane Seymour,” Anne said, recalling a quiet-spoken, fair girl with a pale complexion, watchful eyes, and a prim mouth.

  “Her father clearly regrets sending her to Katherine, and is worried about losing my favor because of it—and about not finding her a husband. But, as he explains, it’s not been easy to obtain another place for her. No one wants someone who was associated with Katherine.”

  “Is Jane Seymour a friend to her?”

  “As I remember, she’s a little mouse who wouldn’t say boo to a gnat. Sir John is loyal. He has served me well. She’ll do as he bids her.”

  “Very well. I’ll have her as a maid of honor,” Anne agreed.

  Jane Seymour was twenty-five, demure and dutiful. She performed her duties efficiently, behaved with circumspection and decorum, and gave no cause for complaint. But Anne could not like her. Her friendly overtures had been received with courtesy, not warmth, and Jane seemed to exist alongside the life of the Queen’s household, rather than as a part of it. When there was pastime in Anne’s chamber, she was rarely to be seen. She kept her head down and herself to herself. No doubt she still nursed an affection for her previous mistress. Yet Anne could not sense hostility, only detachment. She did her best to make the young woman feel welcome, but it was hard work.

  She was more preoccupied with the nausea of early pregnancy and what was happening at Buckden. In Suffolk’s first letter, he had reported that Katherine had shut herself in her chamber and refused to open the door. Neither threats nor entreaties could persuade her. The Duke dared not use force, and had contented himself with dismissing her servants, leaving only a few to care for her needs. In his second letter, he described how he had stood outside Katherine’s door and pleaded with her to come out. Against all reason, she had refused, saying she would not go to Somersham unless he bound her with ropes and took her by violence. “She is the most obstinate woman that may be!” he complained, adding that he had found things at Buckden far from the King’s expectations, and would explain further when he returned to court.

  The next they heard was that a hostile mob of yokels, armed with scythes and billhooks, had encircled Buckden and were just standing there watching menacingly. Suffolk feared that, if he tried to force Katherine to leave, they would pounce.

  Exasperated, Henry instructed Suffolk to return to court.

  “There’s nothing he can do,” he explained to Anne. “I cannot risk an ugly confrontation. Imagine if Katherine was hurt. We’d have the Emperor here at the head of an army in ten minutes, never mind the Turks!”


  As soon as Suffolk returned to Greenwich, he asked to see the King in private. Anne was present when Henry welcomed back his old friend, warmly assuring him that he did not blame him for what had happened. “The Princess Dowager is best left to her obstinacy,” he declared.

  “Your Graces, there is more to the situation than that,” Suffolk said, gratefully taking the chair Henry indicated.

  “Leave us, please,” Anne ordered the servants. “I will pour the wine.” She handed out the goblets and the Duke took his gratefully. He looked exhausted. No longer was he the dashing hero of the lists of Tournai, but a middle-aged man running to fat, his once-handsome face showing lines of strain, his hair grizzled. Beside him, Henry, his mirror image, was a paragon in his prime.

  “So tell me, Charles, what is the true situation at Buckden?” Henry asked.

  “The Princess Dowager is a sick woman, sir. I hardly recognized her. Her chamberlain told me she has dropsy and will not live much longer. I can well believe it.”

  Anne realized she had been holding her breath. Maybe God was smoothing the way for her son to be born as the undisputed heir to England. Because, once Katherine was dead, no one could deny that she, Anne, was the true Queen.

  “She’s not so ill that she can’t defy me.” Henry’s voice was peevish.

  “Her spirit is undaunted,” Suffolk conceded. “I do not think she will ever give way.”

  “Then the sooner God Almighty takes her to Himself, the better,” Henry muttered. “Her obduracy only encourages Mary. Did you know that Mary made a scene when they came to escort her to Hatfield? Norfolk told her plainly that she was unnatural and, if she was his daughter, he would knock her head against the wall until it was as soft as a baked apple.”

  “I can imagine him doing it,” Suffolk observed.

  “He’s right,” Henry said. “She’s a traitor and deserves punishment, and so he told her.”

  “Lady Shelton will treat her as she deserves,” Anne said. “I have every confidence in her.” Mary must be brought to heel. Anne had come to hate and fear her more than she hated and feared Katherine. Elizabeth was the King’s true heir and, however deficient her own qualities as a mother, Anne was determined that her blood should sit upon the throne. It was Mary who posed the deadliest threat to Elizabeth’s future.


  Mary had been at Hatfield for two weeks when Henry received a letter from her, begging leave to see him.

  “You won’t say yes, will you?” Anne flared.

  “No,” he said, after the barest hesitation. “But darling, she is my daughter, and for all her disobedience, she has many good qualities. I would not be too harsh on her.”

  She stared at him. What an about-turn! “She is a traitor—you said so yourself. We deal harshly with traitors in this realm, and quite rightly!”

  Henry sighed. “I will ignore the letter. I would not have you upset at this time.”

  As she well knew, the bonds of parenthood could be strong; look how fiercely protective she herself was of Elizabeth’s rights. It would be a struggle to make Henry see Mary as the subversive rebel she really was. When he announced one morning that he was going to visit Elizabeth at Hatfield, she fell into a frenzy of anxiety lest he decide to see Mary too and be moved by her youth and his fatherly pity to treat her better and restore her title. That Anne could never allow.

  After he had gone, she summoned Cromwell and commanded him to ride after Henry and prevent him, at any cost, from seeing or speaking to Mary. Cromwell looked at her askance. His expression said that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Jewel House, and Master of the Rolls, he was too busy to act as her messenger, but he pursed his lips, made no comment, and left.

  Whatever he said to Henry had the desired effect—to begin with. Probably he had warned him of the need to keep Anne calm while she was breeding. But, as he explained later, all his persuasions were for nothing.

  “When the King was mounting his horse, ready to leave, the Lady Mary appeared on the terrace at the top of the house, and knelt with her hands joined in supplication. His Grace turned around and saw her. He bowed to her and put his hand to his hat. None of the rest of us had dared to raise our heads, but, following His Grace’s lead, we had to salute her.”

  Anne could not contain her rage.

  “How could you do it?” she screamed at Henry when he arrived a few minutes after Cromwell had left.

  “Do what?” he countered, but she could see from his face that he knew.

  “You saluted your bastard, as if she had done nothing wrong.” She was in tears now.

  “It was but a courtesy,” he said defensively.

  “She does not deserve your courtesy,” she snapped, and sank into her chair in a storm of weeping.

  “Darling, please!” Henry begged, kneeling down and embracing her. “Think of the child.”

  “The child! The child! All you think of is the child! What of me?”

  “You know very well how precious this child is,” he said coldly, standing up. “I will send your ladies to you.” And he was gone.


  She could not rest, could not calm her agitation. She was sick to the teeth of Mary’s defiance, and Henry’s failure to deal with it. It galled her to think that that proud, obstinate
girl was universally loved by the people, whereas if she herself went out in public, they still cried “Whore!” “Heretic!” “Adulteress!” And it was not just the common people who slandered her.

  One day, hearing voices below her window, she had peered out to see Harry Percy talking to Chapuys.

  “The Queen is a bad woman,” she had heard Harry say. “I am certain that she is determined to poison the Princess.”

  Anne leaned back against the wall, shaking. That even Harry, that good man who had once loved her, should say such things of her was shocking. She had never dreamed of poisoning Mary!

  In desperation, she resolved to change her tactics and use kindness to win over her stepdaughter. If the girl was seen to be friendly to her, it would give the lie to what Harry—and no doubt others—were thinking, and make the people love her.

  It was time to pay a visit to Elizabeth.


  All was in pristine order in the royal nursery at Hatfield. The baby—how she had grown in two months—slept serenely in her cradle, lulled by the young maids rocking her, and all around there was an atmosphere of peaceful activity.

  “Her Highness is doing so well, madam,” the plump and motherly Lady Bryan told Anne. “I do believe we had a smile today! And she takes suck lustily.”

  As Anne bent over the cradle, Elizabeth opened her blue eyes and blinked at her, regarding her solemnly. Then she went red in the face, opened her tiny mouth, and roared.

  “She’ll need her clouts changed,” the wet nurse smiled. “Come along, my poppet.” And she picked up the baby and bore her off to the adjoining bedchamber.

  “I will come back later,” Anne said to Lady Bryan. “Do you know where I can find the Lady Mary?”

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