Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “I will deal with her,” he muttered. “Let be for now.”

  Before they left, he took Mary aside into a closet, and kept her there for several minutes. But when he emerged, Anne could tell, from the look on his face and the tears in his eyes, that his daughter had bested him yet again.

  —

  She had a high belly now and tired easily. In three months, God willing, she would bear a son, a living image of his father. Henry fussed over her constantly. He had Archbishop Cranmer warn preachers that they must not weary her by over-long sermons in chapel. He gave her, for her delight, a peacock, and a pelican that had come all the way from a far-off country called Newfoundland. But the best gift of all was his sanctioning the translating of the Bible into English, in response to a petition from his clergy, which had been driven by the seven reformist bishops who had been appointed, thanks to Anne’s good offices, since she had become queen. A reformist scholar, Miles Coverdale, was undertaking the translation, and his work was going to be dedicated to Henry and to her. Anne had hugged and kissed Henry when he told her.

  She was delighted to receive from Lady Lisle, wife of the Governor of Calais, a brace of dotterels for her table, a singing linnet in a cage, and an adorable little dog. Of course, Lady Lisle had daughters she no doubt hoped to place at court, and wanted to ingratiate herself, but with well-wishers thin on the ground, the gesture was heartening. The dog was the sweetest thing. It gazed up at her with soulful, inquiring eyes, and she thought of a name for it at once.

  “I shall call you Little Pourquoi, because you look as if you are always asking me why!”

  Heartening too was Henry’s decision to punish Katherine for not taking the oath by sending her under house arrest to Kimbolton Castle, which was farther from London than Buckden. Then he sent out heralds to warn all his subjects that anyone slandering his beloved Queen or his lawful heirs would be guilty of high treason, for which the penalty was death.

  —

  In the second week of July, George, now Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, was sent on an embassy to France, leaving Anne feeling depressed. She wished he did not have to go away when her child was soon to be born and she needed him most to allay her fears, or just listen to them. Mary had gone home to Hever—not that she would be much comfort anyway. Even the antics of Little Pourquoi, or the docile loyalty of the greyhound Urian, failed to cheer Anne.

  A week later, Henry broke the news that his daughter had refused the oath. When he had gone, growling about making her pay for her defiance, Anne took up her pen and wrote to Lady Shelton: “Give her a good beating, for the cursed bastard she is.” She would see to it that Mary got her just desserts, even if Henry balked at it.

  George was soon home.

  “It’s been agreed that I won’t go to France this year,” Henry told Anne. “Katherine and Mary bear you no small grudge, and might in my absence make mischief.”

  “Thank God,” Anne said. “I feel much safer when you are with me.”

  Henry caressed her cheek. “It will not be long now, darling. The doctors say it is often easier the second time.”

  It was easier—in fact it was all over within two hours. The baby came sooner than she had expected: she had not even taken to her chamber. But her pains were for nothing.

  As the midwife wrapped the tiny babe in a cloth and covered his dead face, Anne lay racked with sobs. “Why? Why?” she kept crying out. “Other women have sons—why not me?”

  Her women tried to soothe her, but when they heard that Henry was coming, they drew back nervously, warning, “The King! The King!”

  Anne twisted in the rumpled bed. She knew she must look dreadful, her face raw from weeping, her body sweaty from her travail, as yet unwashed and still clothed in her bloody shift. She pulled the sheets and counterpane around her. Little Pourquoi leapt up and snuggled next to her, as if sensing her distress.

  Henry’s gaze was wounded and accusing. There was no doubting that this was her fault.

  “I am so sorry!” she sobbed. “He came too early.”

  “Where is he?” Henry demanded.

  “Here, your Grace.” The midwife nervously handed him the shrouded bundle. Henry pulled the covering aside. “Oh, God, my son, my little son,” he murmured brokenly, tears streaming down his face. “Take him.” He thrust the body back into the midwife’s arms, mastered himself with an effort, then bent his gaze on every soul in the room.

  “You will not speak of this to anyone,” he commanded. “If you are asked, you must say that the Queen miscarried. Do not say it was a boy. Do you all understand?” Anne knew he would not look a fool in the eyes of Christendom.

  The women nervously nodded assent.

  “I will leave you to rest,” Henry said to Anne. “See to the Queen, ladies.”

  Anne lay there weeping silently. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. What of her dreams of power and of the reign of virtuous women? It was all an illusion, dependent on the will of men. Because, when it came down to it, power depended only on a woman’s body not letting her down.

  —

  She mended quickly, and by the end of July she was ready to accompany Henry on his annual summer hunting progress. But her spirit was crushed, for he had been cold to her since she had lost their son. It was cruel of him, for she was grieving too, for her baby, for herself, and what this tragedy might mean for her.

  If she had been depressed before the birth, she was in despair now. It was hard to rise above it and be the sophisticated, witty woman with whom Henry had fallen in love. And yet she must win him again. He too had suffered a bitter disappointment, but underneath the distant exterior, his heart still beat with love for her—she must believe it.

  She could not find in herself much appetite for lovemaking, but Henry returned to her bed, almost with an air of doing what he had to do. She submitted willingly, knowing that conceiving another son was the only way to keep him hers. She did not deceive herself: it was a joyless experience.

  And soon she found out why. Apparently it was no secret that he was betraying her—with her own maid of honor, too! Joan Ashley was seventeen, a pretty girl whom Anne had thought shy, but a more apt word would be sly. With her own credit with the King lower than it had ever been, there was no shortage of people to drop hints. She had even come across Jane Rochford gossiping about the affair, and been met with an embarrassed silence. It seemed it had been going on for some time.

  Rage consumed her. When Henry next came to dine, she dismissed the servants and stood with her back to the door.

  “Why are you wasting your seed on that worthless little cow Joan Ashley?” she challenged him. “You’re my husband and you’re old enough to be her grandfather!”

  “You forget yourself, Anne,” Henry barked, his voice icy. “I am your King, and you have good reason to be content with what I have done for you—which I would not do now if I were to begin again.”

  “That’s rich! You’re the one who commits adultery, yet you have the gall to censure me!”

  “Stand aside!” Henry commanded, red with anger. “I’m dining elsewhere, where I’m sure of a welcome.”

  “Go to your whore, then!” she hissed, and let him push past her. When he had gone, she collapsed, whimpering, to the floor. How had it all gone so wrong? Why had God withheld the blessing of a son? And where was the adoring servant who had so passionately courted her? How had he turned into this cruel and thoughtless man?

  For three days she did not see Henry. She longed for someone to confide in, someone she could trust. George was at Dover, presiding over the warden’s court, and Mary was still at Hever. She should be back any day now. She was not George, but she was loyal at heart.

  That evening, there was to be a feast in the presence chamber in honor of some visiting envoys from France. Anne took her place beside Henry, who inclined his head but would not look at her. She was aware of his stern profile, mostly turned away from her toward her father and his other guests. His displeasure with her w
as plain for all to see. Father was frowning. He knew about the tragedy that had befallen her.

  Afterward there was dancing, and Henry rose, bowed, and led her out to the floor. She did her best to dance alluringly and gracefully, knowing that all eyes were on her, but to little effect, because afterward Henry escorted her back to her seat and took himself off to partner Joan Ashley. Watching the silly bitch with her triumphant simper, Anne trembled with anger. People were staring at her, some with pity, some smugly. She would endure it no more, she decided. When the dance was over and everyone milling around, she would slip away.

  And then she saw her sister enter the hall: Mary, with a ripe swell to her belly, blooming with fruitfulness, drawing all eyes. Mary, proclaiming her condition for all the world to see, and the courtiers, even the King, staring in shock or glee…

  Anne rose at once and went to greet her sister, putting on a smiling face, then she curtseyed to the King and hustled Mary away as quickly as she could. Hot on their heels came Father with a face like vengeance. He followed them into Anne’s apartments and, before she could speak, rounded on Mary.

  “Have you been whoring again, daughter?

  Mary faced up to him. “No! I am married.”

  “Married?” he repeated. “Without my permission?”

  “Or mine!” Anne chimed in. “I am your Queen! Who is he?”

  “William Stafford,” Mary said with a defiant flourish. “I met him in Calais and again at your coronation. He has been visiting me at Hever.”

  “He’s been doing more than that!” Father bellowed.

  “Forgive me,” Mary pleaded, “but we love each other.”

  “Stafford of the Calais garrison?” Father thundered, his pug face puce. “A man of little status and no fortune! You could at least have contrived to marry to our family’s advantage.”

  “He is a dozen years younger than you,” Anne added, disgusted.

  “William loves me! He was eager to marry me.” Mary was prouder than Anne had ever seen her.

  “Love, bah!” Father spluttered. “Marrying for love offends God, good order, and all. It’s wayward and foolish. It’s bad enough neglecting to ask our permission, but you had not the courtesy to ask the King! What of your mother? Did you have the grace to inform her?”

  Mary shook her head. The bravado had vanished. “We paid a clerk in Tonbridge to wed us. Mother was so angry when we told her. She’s written to you. That’s why we had to come here.” She was weeping now.

  Father was implacable. “You just went ahead regardless of us, and the King’s likely displeasure. You’re the Queen’s own sister! Did it never occur to you that the scandal this marriage will cause will do nothing for her reputation?”

  “You did not think of me,” Anne said, near to tears herself. “A scandal is the last thing I need at this time.”

  There was the sound of footsteps outside. The door flew open and the King was announced. Henry strode in, his face dark with fury.

  “Mistress Carey, the whole court is talking about you,” he snapped. “A fine show you put on for my guests.”

  Mary curtseyed, shaking, tears running down her cheeks.

  “She has secretly married William Stafford of the Calais garrison,” Anne said.

  “Really?” Henry replied. “I’m surprised that one of your blood has married so cheaply. And to someone whose name is tainted by treason. I have not forgotten that this Stafford’s kinsman Buckingham lost his head for plotting my ruin, or that the Staffords have supported the Princess Dowager.”

  “Sir, William is loyal, and he is your Grace’s loving cousin,” Mary said, finding her voice. “He is a good man and he loves me.”

  “Be that as it may, you should have asked permission before marrying him. You have scanted your respect and the obedience you owe to my lord your father here, and to your Queen. They have every reason to be angered by this misalliance.”

  “Sir,” Mary pleaded, “all the world set so little store by me. I was in bondage. My family are ashamed of me. But Master Stafford was kind, kinder than anyone has ever been—and kindness means more than lineage or standing.”

  How true that was, Anne realized jealously. It was dawning on her how favorably Mary’s situation compared with her own. Mary had a husband who adored her and was kind to her, whereas Henry was unfaithful and could be cruel; Mary had hopes of a child, when Anne’s had just been brutally dashed. Through her folly, Mary had landed the world, while she herself, who had longed and schemed and prayed for years, had yet to experience true love and the security of holding a son in her arms. Her anger burned against her sister.

  “You never appreciated me,” Mary accused her. “You always had to be the successful one, whereas I had compromised my reputation and stained the family honor, even though it was not my fault.”

  Anne was aware of Henry stirring uncomfortably beside her. Serves him right! she thought. Let him squirm!

  “You would do well not to speak thus to your sister,” Henry warned Mary. “She is not at fault. What matters is this misalliance you have made. Was this child conceived in wedlock?”

  Mary blushed. “No, sir.”

  “Then you’ll get not a penny from me,” Father snorted. “And I’m sure His Grace will agree that I’m justified in stopping your allowance.”

  “It is your husband’s duty to support you now,” Henry agreed.

  “And I don’t want you under my roof!” Father barked.

  “But where shall we go?” Mary wailed.

  “That’s no concern of mine,” he replied.

  “I don’t want you at court,” Anne said. Scandal aside, she did not need a constant reminder of what she herself lacked. Seeing Mary with the doting Stafford would be more than she could bear. She turned to Henry. “They deserve banishment for their offense, sir.”

  Henry nodded. “I agree. Mistress Stafford, you have brought this upon yourself through your own foolishness. You will leave court and not return until summoned.”

  “No! Please!” Mary cried, but Henry had turned to leave, and Anne followed after him.

  “See that she goes tonight, Father,” she said before the door closed behind her.

  —

  The autumn leaves were thick on the ground when news came from Rome that Pope Clement had died.

  “The great devil is dead!” Cromwell observed, breaking it to Anne. “They’ve elected a successor, Paul III. Already he has made it clear that he will not countenance what he likes to call the King’s disobedience. He has threatened to put into effect a sentence of excommunication that Clement drew up but never published. His Grace, of course, intends to ignore this threat, but we must be wary. If the Bishop of Rome decides to publish the sentence and incites the Emperor to war, the King, as an excommunicate, would stand alone, and could not expect aid from other Christian nations.”

  “Do you think the Bishop of Rome will carry out his threat?” Anne asked, envisaging Katherine and Mary being borne back to Whitehall in triumph, and herself…Oh, God, what would they do to her?

  “We must not be complacent,” Cromwell said, “but I think it may just be political bluster.”

  —

  Although Henry had supported Anne in her stand against her sister, and was gradually thawing toward her, gossip informed her that he was still dallying with Joan Ashley. It ate at her. In desperation, she determined to put an end to the affair.

  Jane Rochford had taken pleasure in gossiping about it, so Jane could compensate for that by helping her. Anne had never liked her sister-in-law, and the antipathy was mutual, but that did not matter. Jane would pay for her gloating.

  “I want to get rid of Joan Ashley,” Anne told her. “I need a pretext to send her away. Maybe we could contrive an urgent summons home?”

  Jane’s wide eyes gleamed. Anne suspected that, lacking excitement in her own life, she enjoyed it vicariously at one remove, hence her willingness to be involved in this intrigue.

  “Far better if she merited dis
missal,” Jane said.

  “She certainly does,” Anne agreed. “If it could be put about that she is making herself available to all and sundry, then I would have every justification—and the King would be angry with her for sharing her favors. He will brook no rival. Jane, you know all the latest gossip. Who better to spread the word?”

  —

  Within days, the entire court was whispering about the King’s mistress, and how strange it was that he was paying his addresses to one who was so promiscuous. Anne smiled inwardly. Revenge was sweet! She would give it a day or so, and then she would send the girl packing.

  But that very afternoon, Jane Rochford came to her in tears of rage. “I have been banished from the court!” she cried. “I am to leave at once, and it’s all your fault!”

  “On what grounds are you banished?” Anne demanded to know.

  “For spreading gossip! I’ve been before Master Secretary. He told me that several people had testified that I had made it all up so that you could get rid of Joan Ashley. I think I’ve been watched. I wish I had never helped you in your foolhardy scheme!” And, omitting her curtsey, she flounced off to the lodging she shared with George.

  Good riddance, Anne thought. But she was disturbed to think that Jane thought she had been watched, because if she had been, then Anne herself might be under surveillance too. Jane was right. She had indeed been foolhardy.

  “I’m sorry,” she hastened to say, when George came to her chamber and told her that Jane had gone home to Grimston.

  “I’m not!” he grimaced. “I’m relieved to see the back of her. She makes my life a misery with her constant barbs. I wish I’d never set eyes on her.” His steely expression softened. “I’m more concerned about you, sister. How has the King taken this?”

  “I don’t know,” Anne said, chilled at the thought of Henry’s reaction. “I haven’t seen him.”

 
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