Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “She’s with Lady Shelton in the schoolroom, madam.”

  When Anne appeared at the door, both ladies rose, but Mary threw her a look of such venom that she almost forgot her resolve.

  “Your Grace.” Lady Shelton curtseyed, and Anne embraced her.

  “Dear aunt, I trust you are well.” She turned to the thin, red-haired, snub-nosed girl who stood glowering at her.

  “My lady Mary,” she said, forcing herself to smile, “I would speak with you, as a friend.”

  “Lady Anne”—and Mary would not acknowledge her as queen—“you can be no friend to me.”

  “But I would be,” Anne said. “You have had a difficult time, but things can change for the better. I urge you, for the sake of your future happiness, to visit me at court and honor me as queen.”

  “Never!” Mary spat, her plain features—so like her mother’s—contorted in hatred.

  “Hear me out,” Anne insisted, trying not to lose her temper. “It would be a means of reconciliation with the King your father, who is as unhappy about this estrangement as you are. I will intercede with him for you, and then you will find yourself as well or better treated than ever.”

  Mary looked at her as if she were a clod of dirt she had just scuffed from her shoe. “I know of no queen in England save my mother,” she said, “but if you would do me that favor with my father, I would be much obliged.”

  Would the girl never see sense? “I exhort you to accept my offer, which was made out of kindness and in the interests of us all,” Anne challenged.

  “It would serve your cause well to have me on your side, Madam Boleyn. Don’t think I’m so innocent that I don’t understand the game you are playing. Thanks to you, I had to grow up very quickly.”

  “Speak to me like that, and you could find yourself in a worse case than you are now,” Anne warned. “But accept my offer of friendship, and you shall find me zealous to protect your interests.”

  Mary snapped. “You can protect them best by taking yourself and your bastard off to some distant land and leaving my father free of your bewitchment, so that he can return to my mother, the true Queen!”

  “Don’t speak to the Queen like that!” Lady Shelton cried.

  “The Queen is at Buckden,” Mary rounded on her.

  This was intolerable. “Trust me, I will bring down the pride of your unbridled Spanish blood,” Anne warned. “As for having you at court, I will not now hear of it. You have made your bed, now you must lie on it.”

  “Now see what you have done, you foolish girl,” Lady Shelton hissed.

  Mary shrugged. “It is labor wasted to press me, and you are deceived if you think that ill-treatment, or even the threat of death, will make me change my determination.”

  “We shall see,” Anne retorted, and swept from the room.

  Lady Shelton hurried after her.

  “Your Grace, she is not a bad girl at heart. She is confused and frightened, and deeply grieved at being separated from her mother. And she is at a difficult age, when the young are wont to be rebellious. She should never have spoken to you like that, but she is her own worst enemy.”

  “I care not,” Anne said. “I’m washing my hands of her.”

  But she did care. All the way home, as the litter rumbled along, she was in despair. Henry would be angry when he heard how Mary had spoken to her, but he was vulnerable where his daughter was concerned, and she did not believe he would punish her severely enough. And there was Mary, defiant and sure of her rights, popular, beloved, and pitied—and there was the Emperor, who might decide to use armed force to support her. What would then become of herself and Elizabeth? Would they indeed be banished to some distant land—or worse?

  Henry erupted in fury as Anne had anticipated; he erupted again when Mary refused to accompany Elizabeth’s household when it moved to the More in Hertfordshire, and had to be manhandled into her litter. His patience was wearing out.

  “I will so order it that she will never defy me again—her or anyone else!” he roared. “Parliament shall see to it!”

  That spring, he ordered that an Act be passed naming Anne as regent of the realm and absolute governess of her children in the event of his death. Another Act deprived Katherine of the lands she had held as queen, and returned to her the lands that she had once held as Prince Arthur’s widow. The Queen’s estates were now assigned to Anne. An Act of Attainder was passed against Bishop Fisher, condemning him to imprisonment in the Tower. Cromwell had learned that the Bishop had interrogated the Nun of Kent about her prophecies, but had failed to tell the King about it, and Henry was ready to believe that this signified treasonable involvement. But Fisher was too ill to travel to London.

  The Nun herself and four of her acolytes were attainted for high treason. But the piece of legislation that meant the most to Anne was the Act that vested the succession to the crown of England in her children by Henry. Better still, this new Act required all the King’s subjects, if so commanded, to swear an oath acknowledging Queen Anne as the King’s lawful wife and the Princess Elizabeth as his legitimate heir. Those refusing to swear would be accounted guilty of abetting treason and sent to prison.

  The prospect of her enemies being forced to acknowledge her calmed Anne’s nerves. But on a sunny day in early April, Henry burst into her chamber.

  “That whoreson Pope!” he spluttered, seething with fury. He looked so puce in the face she feared he might have an apoplexy. Rising quickly from her curtsey, she made him sit in the chair she had vacated.

  “What has he done?” she asked.

  Henry looked ill. “The French ambassador has just informed me that Clement has found for Katherine. He said that our marriage always had been, and still stands, firm and lawful, and Mary is its legitimate issue.”

  Anne felt sick. This judgment might rally many waverers to Katherine and her daughter, and the Emperor might now decide that making war in his aunt’s cause was worthier than crushing the Turks. The Act of Succession had been passed not a moment too soon.

  “But he has ignored all the determinations of the universities!” she exclaimed. “Plainly the opinions of the finest minds in Europe are of no consequence to him. He is a disgrace to his office, and should be defrocked!”

  Henry nodded in vehement agreement. “He has ordered me to resume cohabitation at once with Katherine. I’m to hold and maintain her as becomes a loving husband and my kingly honor. If I refuse, I will be excommunicated. And—this is the final insult—I am to pay the costs of the case!”

  He was visibly shaken, and Anne realized that even after all he had done to break with Rome, he had been hoping, right up until the last minute, that the breach could be healed. But Clement, by this judgment, had wrecked all hope of that. If England was in schism, it was the Pope’s fault.

  “This was a political decision,” she said.

  “Aye, but that’s been Clement’s approach these seven long years. He cares not a fig for the Scriptures, or the theologians, who are far more learned in these matters than he is. But he shall rue the day he gave this judgment. The sentence of this Bishop of Rome no longer carries any weight in England. I will have sermons preached in every church in the land declaring his perfidy.”

  The order went out. On Easter Day, congregations all over England were informed of the wickedness of Pope Clement, and true subjects were commanded to pray every week for King Henry VIII as being, next unto God, the only and Supreme Head of the Church, and Anne his wife, and Elizabeth their Princess. It did not prevent public celebrations being held in some places in anticipation of Katherine’s expected return to favor.

  Henry now sent out commissioners to all parts of the realm to administer the new oath upholding the Act of Succession to all who held public office and anyone else whose loyalty was in question. Anne was tense, waiting for reports of disaffection to come pouring in, but her fears were soon allayed, because most people, even members of the religious orders, were swearing it without demur. Only a few refus
ed. She was not surprised to hear that Bishop Fisher, whose sentence had been commuted to a fine, was among them—and Sir Thomas More. He had refused the oath twice, and no amount of pressure could persuade him to say why.

  Henry was deeply hurt. “I accounted him my friend,” he said. “This will go against me with the people because he is so universally respected. My commissioners advise that he should be left alone.”

  “You mean they would collude in his breaking the law?” Anne was amazed. “Henry, this man should be made an example of. If others see him defying you and getting away with it, they will refuse the oath too.”

  Henry had his head in his hands. “How can I proceed against More? I have loved him, Anne. And I would bring much hatred on myself by punishing him.”

  “Whatever he is, he should not be exempt from your laws. By allowing it, you undermine the oath and the Act and our marriage.”

  “Very well,” Henry capitulated. “I will have the oath put to him again.”

  —

  He sent More to the Tower for defying him a third time. Anne had not thought him capable of it, but he surprised her. She suspected he had done it as much for fear of her reaction if he had not, as out of anger and righteousness. He would not risk upsetting her while she carried his child.

  As Henry had predicted, there was much murmuring at More’s imprisonment, which would no doubt soon reverberate all over Europe. And there was a lot more murmuring when the Nun of Kent and her associates were drawn on hurdles to the gallows at Tyburn, where, before huge crowds, she was hanged until dead, then beheaded, and the men suffered the horrors of a traitor’s death: hanging, drawing, and quartering. Theirs, Anne realized, was the first blood that had been spilled on her account. Well, it would serve as an example to the people, and a warning that they must obey their King or it would go worse for them.

  —

  Cromwell, she was aware, was becoming very powerful. That April he was advanced to the office of Principal Secretary to the King. He had risen above everyone except herself, and had more credit with his master than ever the Cardinal had.

  “There is now no one who does anything except Cromwell,” George said, sitting with Anne in the window seat in her chamber. “He is become the most influential of the King’s ministers. You had best watch out, sister.”

  “Henry heeds me more than he heeds Cromwell,” she insisted, but her brother’s words had chilled her. What would happen if she bore another daughter? Would Cromwell creep closer into the King’s counsels and oust her? He could prove a formidable rival. “Cromwell is on our side,” she declared. “He is still my man, and we owe much to him for implementing the changes Henry has made and promoting the royal supremacy.”

  George frowned. “I’m just asking you to be watchful. This man thrives on power. He controls access to the King. He uses a host of paid informers and grateful clients anxious to do him service. Knowledge is power, Anne, and Cromwell has seen to it that he occupies a position of enormous influence. He could try to undermine you.”

  “Henry would not let him,” she assured him. “He doesn’t love Cromwell as he loved Wolsey. And Cromwell and I share common aims. We both support reform and the King’s supremacy.”

  “Well, just make sure that you keep him on your side,” George warned. “He’s already unhappy with what Brereton did.”

  Brereton had accused a man of killing one of his Welsh retainers, but when a court in London acquitted the fellow, Brereton had taken matters into his own hands and hanged him.

  “Master Secretary is most put out, with Brereton, and apparently with you. Father heard him say it was done out of sheer malice, and that he had liked the man and tried to save him.”

  “Brereton says he was a villain,” Anne replied. “He told me how justice had failed him, and I authorized him to have the fellow rearrested and re-tried.”

  “That explains why Cromwell mentioned your name.”

  “Well, he’ll have to get over it,” she said. “Justice has now been done.”

  Norris joined them, lute in hand.

  “I hear you are to be congratulated,” George said, clapping him on the back. “Keeper of the King’s Privy Purse and Master of the Hart, Hounds and Hawks! And Black Rod in the Parliament House.”

  “It is thanks only to the gracious favor of your Grace and the King,” Norris protested. “I fear I am not worthy of your goodness to me.”

  “Nonsense!” Anne smiled. “The King loves you as he loves no other man. And I—I have every confidence in you.”

  Norris went down on one knee, took her hand, and kissed it. “I am blessed to serve such a loving mistress,” he declared fervently.

  Anne drew her hand away. She had seen George looking at them curiously.

  —

  “Mary is ill,” Henry said, arriving late for supper. “Chapuys has begged me to let her go to her mother, but I do not trust him—or them. Don’t say anything, Anne—I would never consent to it. Cromwell recommends that I send my own physician to Mary.”

  Pray God that this child is a son, Anne was beseeching inwardly, as she sat down at the table and her napkin was placed over her shoulder. Until she had borne a prince, she would feel—and, indeed, be—insecure on her throne. In her most desperate moments, in the still watches of the night, she fretted that Henry would cease to love her if she gave him another daughter. Her worst nightmare was that he would heed the Pope’s sentence and return to Katherine.

  A few days later, news came that Mary had recovered from her illness, and Anne could not stop herself from thinking it would have been better if Mary had died, and her mother, too. It would resolve everything.

  Henry was considering making a state visit to France. She would not be accompanying him, because of her condition, but that suited her perfectly.

  “If Mary is taken ill while he’s away, I’ll not be sending my own physician,” she told George when they were relaxing in her chamber that afternoon. “I’d as soon do away with her. I might starve her to death.” She was bursting with angry frustration.

  George frowned. “I wouldn’t answer for how the King might react if you did.”

  “I wouldn’t care, even if I was to be burned alive for it afterward,” she cried, feeling herself becoming hysterical.

  “Hush, sister, you must not say such things.”

  “But she is a threat to me, George, and to Elizabeth. I wish she were dead!” She was near to tears now.

  “Soon she will be silenced,” he soothed. “The King said today that the oath is to be administered to the Lady Mary and the Princess Dowager. He’s sending the Archbishop of York, who won’t stand for any nonsense. He’ll visit the Princess Dowager first.”

  “Thank God!” Anne exulted, relief flooding through her. “If they take the oath, well and good. If they refuse it, Henry must proceed against them. Whatever they do, we have them!”

  —

  Katherine had refused the oath. She had stated that, if she was not the King’s wife, as he maintained, then she was not his subject, and could not be required to take it.

  “But since she has always insisted that she is your wife, she must know that she is laying herself open to punishment,” Anne observed to Henry as they rode at the head of their cavalcade, through lanes made festive with spring blossom, on their way to visit Elizabeth at Eltham Palace.

  “They will persevere with her,” Henry promised.

  —

  The Princess’s household made obeisance in unison as the King and Queen entered the nursery and found their daughter on her lady mistress’s lap.

  Elizabeth was seven months old now and talking already.

  “Come to your father,” Henry said, scooping her out of Lady Bryan’s arms and dandling her on his knee.

  “Papa!” the infant crowed, pulling at his beard.

  “Ouch! You’ve a strong hand there, sweetheart,” Henry told her. “She is as goodly a child as I’ve ever seen, don’t you agree, Anne?” he asked.

 
; Anne bent down and kissed Elizabeth on her downy head. “Indeed,” she said, feeling the familiar emptiness. All would right itself, she hoped, when her son was born. Then Elizabeth would not be a living and breathing reminder of her failure to bear a prince.

  They left her with her nurses and went to inspect the nursery that was being prepared for the Prince. Well satisfied with its gilded splendor and luxurious furnishings, they proceeded to the chapel for Vespers.

  As they came out, Lady Rochford approached Anne. “Madam, I must tell you. The Lady Mary was in chapel, and curtseyed to your Grace as you left.”

  “Would that I had seen it!” Anne exclaimed, as Henry beamed. “If I had, I would have done as much to her. Where is she?” She looked eagerly around the crowded gallery, and espied Mary’s back, disappearing through the door at the far end.

  “Go after her, Jane,” she said, all her ill intentions toward Mary forgotten. “Tell her that I salute her with much affection, and crave pardon, for if I had seen her make a curtsey to me, I would have done the same to her. Tell her I desire that this may be the beginning of a friendship between us, which will be warmly embraced on my part.” Lady Rochford hastened away.

  When Henry and Anne arrived in the soaring great hall and seated themselves at the high table for supper, Anne saw her stepdaughter at one of the long tables set at right angles. Not so long ago, Mary would have occupied the place of honor by the King.

  She was aware of the girl watching her as the first course was served. And then, as the company began eating and there was a lull in conversation, she heard her address Lady Rochford in a carrying voice. “It is not possible that the Queen can have sent me such a message, Her Majesty being so far from this place. You should have said it was the Lady Anne Boleyn, for I can acknowledge no other queen but my mother. I curtseyed in chapel to the Lady Anne’s Maker and mine, so they are deceived, and deceive her, who tell her otherwise.”

  It was humiliating and it was offensive. Henry flushed angrily, but before he could speak, Anne turned to him and in tones as ringing as Mary’s declared: “I swear I’ll bring down this high spirit!”

 
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