Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “That was not my fault. And I can’t believe you are turning a deaf ear to his treason.”

  “Madam, you are in no position to complain. Now go, and leave me in peace. I have business to attend to.”

  She fought back the tears. “How can I give you a son when you never come to my bed?”

  “I will come to you later,” Henry said, making it sound more like a threat than a promise.

  —

  He came, as he had said he would. She tried to be as alluring and welcoming as she could, wearing an almost transparent shift and lying with her long hair spread out over the pillows. He grunted a greeting, took off his robe, climbed into bed still wearing his nightshirt, and did what was necessary to get her with child without one word spoken. After he had lain beside her for a space, recovering his breath, he rose to leave. By then, she had turned away, weeping helplessly, not caring if he heard.

  Suddenly she felt his hand on her heaving shoulder. “Anne? I apologize if I was abrupt with you. It may not be your fault that our sons have died, but is it mine? Have I offended God in some way? In faith, I am so angry, so confused, and so frustrated. I am a plain man, and sometimes a rough one.” He sighed. “I wonder what has happened to us. Where we lost each other.”

  Anne turned to face him. She sat up in the bed, wiping her eyes. “I thought you blamed me for the loss of our sons, that I had forfeited your love because of it. And when I saw that you loved others, my heart broke.” He must believe that it was her heart, not her pride, that had been wounded.

  “You are still my lady,” Henry said, looking at her more tenderly than he had done in months. “I am determined to show the world that I was right to marry you. Pray God this night’s work will bear fruit. I will come to you tomorrow, and again after that, to make sure.” He was actually smiling at her.

  Relief flooded through her. She still had power over him!

  —

  This new kindness between them proved to be no fleeting thing. When Henry went away on his annual progress, to the West Country this year, he took Anne with him. Her presence was important, he said, his purpose not just to get her with child.

  “I am determined to see that my reforming policies are being enforced,” he told her. He would be inspecting monasteries, talking to bishops and clergymen, favoring with a visit those who supported his policies, as well as traditionalists whose goodwill he wished to retain. The aim was to rouse support for the coming closure of the religious houses. Cromwell, who was traveling separately, would be ensuring that the King’s laws were being observed and valuing the assets of the monasteries he visited. Anne was to be visibly supporting Henry’s policies.

  He was looking forward to the progress. He liked to be seen by his subjects, to bask in his popularity, and to win more by listening to what they had to tell him and redressing their grievances. Above all, he loved the good hunting to be had in this grease season. Anne caught his mood. She was happier than she had been in months.

  The great procession set off from Windsor, and she rode at Henry’s side. In their wake lumbered a long train of lords, ladies, officials, servants, carts, and sumpter mules bearing the rich furnishings that always accompanied the King when he was on progress.

  Late in July, they arrived at Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, where they were to stay at Henry’s castle of Sudeley, in the magnificent apartments built by his great-uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford. Anne sent George and some officers of her household to inspect Hayles Abbey, where there was a famous vial of the Holy Blood—Christ’s own life blood, spilled on the Cross—which people had flocked for centuries to venerate.

  “It’s the blood of a duck,” George informed her on their return. “The monks regularly renew it.”

  “And they charge pilgrims to see it?” she asked, outraged. “Tell them in my name that they must remove it from public view or face my displeasure.”

  George saw that the monks obeyed, but when Henry and Anne were on their way to Tewkesbury, they were annoyed to hear from Cromwell that the vial had been put back.

  “Soon they won’t have four walls in which to house it,” Henry growled.

  The progress continued. They stayed near Gloucester, at Painswick Manor, then moved on to Berkeley Castle, Thornbury Castle, a fine but unfinished palace confiscated from the late Duke of Buckingham, and Acton Court, where Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a reformist and friend of Cromwell and Tom Wyatt, had built a lavish new lodging, with the latest in antique decoration, especially for their visit.

  Early in September, they arrived at Wulfhall, a manor house on the outskirts of Savernake Forest in Wiltshire. It was the residence of Sir John Seymour, Sheriff and Justice of the Peace for Wiltshire, whose daughter Jane was in Anne’s train. She had been proudly telling the other maids about her family seat, which was nowhere near as grand as she had given them to believe.

  What Anne saw before her was a substantial timbered manor house. They rode into a cobbled courtyard, where Sir John and his lady were waiting, their strapping sons and pale-faced daughters drawn up in a line behind them, all bowing and curtseying. Henry greeted his host affably, and kissed the hand of Lady Seymour. Then, when Jane had been embraced by her parents, the King and Anne were shown by their effusive host to the comfortable lodgings that had been prepared for them. On the way, Sir John took great pleasure in pointing out the impressive long gallery he had had built, and the tapestry-hung family chapel.

  It had been a long ride, so Anne dismissed her ladies and lay down on her bed to rest. Presently Henry joined her, and soon they were making love, feeling the warm September breeze drifting through the open window and caressing their entwined bodies.

  Afterward Henry poured some of the wine that Sir John had thoughtfully left for them.

  “He’s an old rogue,” he said. “A capable administrator, and something of a diplomat, but a scoundrel with the ladies.”

  “What? He must be at least sixty!” Anne sat up in the bed and took the goblet from Henry.

  “He’s an old Priapus! You met his son, Edward—the tall, serious one, not that buffoon, Thomas, or the rustic, Henry. Edward’s been at court for years, ever since he was my page. He was young when his father found him a bride. She bore him two sons, and then I heard that she’d been packed off to a convent. She died last year and Edward married again. When I gave my permission, he told me that his father had seduced his wife and had probably sired her sons too.”

  “My God!” Anne exclaimed.

  “He has disinherited them now, and do you blame him? Did you not notice the frostiness between Sir John and Edward Seymour?”

  “I didn’t. I was more interested to meet Lady Seymour, because my mother served with her in the Duchess of Norfolk’s household when they were girls. The poet Skelton dedicated verses to them both.”

  “My old tutor,” Henry said. “I know one of those poems: ‘To Mistress Margery Wentworth.’ The poor lady has had a lot to put up with.”

  “And yet she seems cheerful enough. How awful for her, having her husband dally with their son’s wife—and probably under her very roof.”

  “We will not mention it. It’s best forgotten.”

  “It doesn’t seem fair,” Anne pondered.

  “What doesn’t?” Henry stroked her hair.

  “If Lady Seymour had fornicated with her daughter’s husband, all hell would have been let loose. But let a man commit incest, and he gets away with it.”

  “There will be a greater reckoning, Anne. God, who knows all, will judge him.”

  “I rather think an earthly power would have judged Lady Margery—and harshly.”

  “That is because a wife must not compromise the issue she bears. Her husband must be sure it is his, or all the laws of inheritance will be in jeopardy.”

  Anne sat up. “True. But I think Sir John should have been called to account.”

  “No doubt he has—by his wife!”

  —

  Anne pointed to the great silver-bound ivo
ry hunting horn resting on brackets on the wall of the Broad Chamber, where they were having an abundant and delicious dinner, all prepared under the supervision of Lady Seymour.

  “That’s an impressive horn,” she said.

  “It’s been in our family for generations, your Grace,” Sir John told her proudly. “We Seymours are hereditary rangers of Savernake Forest, and that is the symbol of our office.”

  “There’s good hunting to be had hereabouts,” Henry beamed, helping himself to another custard tart. “These are excellent, Lady Margery.”

  “We’re in for a good season, sir,” their host said. “We’ll ride out tomorrow and show your Grace some lively sport. But I fear that’s all that’s lively in these parts. This year’s harvest has been ruined due to the bad weather.”

  “So I heard,” Henry replied, his good mood wavering. Anne knew that the common people blamed him—and her, naturally—for the rains and the poor harvest, seeing them as a sign of God’s displeasure with them both. There were still murmurs of disapproval about the executions that had taken place earlier in the year.

  Sir John turned to Anne. “Your Grace, I trust that Jane is giving satisfaction.”

  Anne smiled at Jane, who was sitting demurely farther along the table and gave a faint smile in return. “I have no complaints,” she said. Except that she never says anything but what she has to for courtesy’s sake, and that I have a strong feeling that she doesn’t like me, and I don’t really like her much either.

  “She is a good girl,” Lady Margery said.

  “You have a fine family,” Henry told her, looking wistful.

  “Ten I’ve borne, sir, and buried four, God rest them. We count ourselves lucky.”

  “Oh, to be a country gentleman and have a houseful of children and a good table like this!” Henry mused. It pleased him to entertain such fancies.

  —

  When did she first notice that Henry was paying too much attention to Jane Seymour? Was it when she saw them standing together in the garden, Henry looking down at Jane as she pointed out the various plants in the herb bed she had made? Or was it when Henry leaned over Jane’s chair on the third evening of their visit and praised her needlework? She had looked up and given him a rare smile.

  These incidents could have meant nothing, but when they arrived in Winchester, Anne noticed that Henry seemed to be in Jane’s vicinity more and more—and that Jane seemed to have acquired a new confidence.

  She decided to ignore her suspicions, and made an effort to be merry and enjoy the daily hawking expeditions that had been arranged. She came to love Winchester, as Henry did. He was fascinated by King Arthur’s Round Table, which hung in the great hall of the castle. Sometimes Anne thought he fancied himself as the reincarnation of the hero King.

  In the evenings, they feasted, and afterward Anne’s ladies and some of the King’s gentlemen gathered in her chamber to play cards or make music. It hurt her to watch Madge flirting with Norris, yet she was pleased to see that Norris was not responding, possibly out of consideration for her presence, or that of Nan Saville, who was seated on his other side. One evening, she sent for Mark Smeaton, who was in Henry’s train, to play the virginals for them. George insisted on accompanying him on the lute, and Anne watched them covertly, relieved to detect no sign that they were anything other than friends. But Smeaton kept throwing her bold glances that made her feel uncomfortable. In the end she dismissed him, saying that it was late and the music would disturb the King in his chamber below. She would not call on Smeaton again, she resolved.

  They were still making the most of the good hunting that Hampshire had to offer, and were following the beaters one day when Cromwell arrived, his clothes mud-stained, his horse lathered.

  “Your Grace, I must speak with you urgently. Tunis has fallen to the Emperor, and the Turks have lost a great naval base.” He looked unusually perturbed. “Effectively they’ve been crushed, for this will halt their encroachment upon the eastern reaches of the Empire.”

  The holiday mood melted away. Anne began to tremble. Henry’s face drained of color. “That leaves Charles free to make war on England, if he chooses,” he said hoarsely, after a long pause.

  “Indeed it does. Does your Grace want me to look into the state of the kingdom’s defenses?” Cromwell asked.

  Henry nodded. “I’ve inspected many myself, although Dover may need reinforcing. Yes, get surveyors out.”

  He could not sleep that night. He lay restlessly, turning this way and that.

  “Can’t you get comfortable?” Anne asked.

  “No. I have too much on my mind.” He got up, lit the candle, and used the stool chamber in the corner of the room. Then he sat down heavily on the bed, rubbing his leg. Of late, an old wound from a fall from his horse years before had started to give him pain. “I doubt that Charles would make war now on Katherine’s behalf, for he must know she is always ailing, but he might decide to enforce what he sees as Mary’s rights.”

  “If you had proceeded against them both when they defied you, you would not be suffering this anxiety,” Anne said.

  “If I had done as you urged me, I’d have had Charles and his army on my doorstep long ere this.” He sighed. “All we can do now is wait and see what he will do—and pray that the Turks find some means of fighting back, although, God knows, I never thought I’d hear myself saying that.”

  —

  By the time they reached the Vyne, the fine residence of the King’s chamberlain, Lord Sandys, Anne had begun to fear that Henry had again distanced himself from her. Since receiving the news about Tunis, he had been preoccupied and sometimes abrupt, and for the last two nights he had not come to her. He must be distracted by the very real prospect of war, a war that might lose him his throne. God knew, it struck terror into her too. But could there be a reason closer to home, in the person of quiet Mistress Seymour?

  Soon, though, it might not matter! She was cherishing the secret hope that she was with child, waiting until she was absolutely sure before she told Henry. If only God would look kindly on her this time!

  She prayed alone in the Vyne’s chapel for the great blessing of a son. The room was gloomy, the windows above the altar shrouded in canvas sheeting. Lord Sandys, apologizing profusely, had said that they were being repaired, but the work had taken longer than promised. But if any glaziers had been working in the chapel, there was no trace of them now, no tools, nothing. Curious, Anne entered the sanctuary and lifted the canvas—and there, in all the glory of their jeweled colors, were exquisite stained-glass portraits of a young Henry and Katherine. No wonder Sandys had hidden them—and no wonder he had no intention of destroying them, for they were very fine indeed.

  Should she tell Henry? The possession of that glass could be seen as evidence of disloyalty, and yet she knew Sandys to be wholeheartedly the King’s man. No, she would hold her peace and let him keep this great treasure.

  —

  The next day, as they were preparing to mount their horses for the chase, Henry beckoned George over.

  “Lord Rochford,” he said, very stern, “you should look to your wife.”

  George grimaced. “What has she done now, sir?”

  “I’ve just been informed that, when the Lady Mary lately left Greenwich, a great crowd of women—unknown to their husbands, I have no doubt—were waiting for her, weeping and crying that she was their true Princess, notwithstanding my laws to the contrary. Some were poor women, some the wives of citizens and a few were of gentle birth. One, my lord, was your wife.”

  “God’s blood!” George swore, shaking his head. “She is a born troublemaker.”

  “Certainly she is in trouble now,” Henry told him. “She is among the chief offenders, for she persists in her opinions, and to teach her the error of her ways I have sent her to the Tower. Your aunt, Lady William Howard, is there too.”

  George winced. “I can only apologize for my wife’s conduct. Your Grace knows that ours has been a miserable marr
iage. We see as little of each other as we can; she has lived at Grimston since your Grace banished her. Had it been otherwise, I would have curbed her treacherous folly.”

  “She should have stayed there!” Henry’s eyes narrowed. “It seems strange to me that your wife should support the Lady Mary.”

  “It is not so strange when your Grace considers that her father, Lord Morley, loved the Lady Mary from her childhood, and that Jane herself was brought up at court in the household of the Princess Dowager. She always held the Lady Mary in great esteem.”

  “She hates our family,” Anne told Henry, “but she has never until now been disloyal.”

  “I think there is a reason for this protest,” George explained. “Lord Morley once served your Grace’s grandmother, the Lady Margaret Beaufort. He was a great friend of her confessor, the late Bishop Fisher. I think it must have been the Bishop’s execution that turned Jane.”

  “That may be so,” Henry said, severe, “but I am charging you to ensure me of her good behavior in future. Do that, my lord, and you shall see her released.”

  “I will stand surety for her,” George promised, his tone implying that it would be the most unwelcome task in the world.

  —

  At last! At last! The thing she had prayed for, which might save her and render her invincible, had come about.

  “I am with child,” Anne murmured to Henry as they came from Mass on the first Sunday of December.

  “Truly? God be praised! It is the answer to all our prayers.” He seized her hand and raised it to his lips in full view of the courtiers. Anne smiled at them in triumph, ignoring the thinly veiled hostility in many faces. Soon they would have cause to regret their enmity.

  She was horribly sick with this pregnancy. Henry was all solicitude in public, sending for delicacies to tempt her, urging her to rest, concocting remedies to soothe her nausea. Outwardly he did everything a concerned husband should do, but she had a strong sense that he shrank from her in private.

 
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