Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  Looking out of her window one day, she saw Jane Seymour surrounded by a small crowd of people. Sir Francis Bryan and Sir Nicholas Carew were there, talking animatedly with Jane’s brothers, Edward and Thomas, who seemed rapidly to have risen high in the King’s favor of late. And with them, to her surprise, was Chapuys.

  The sight filled her with a sense of foreboding. It was disconcerting to see these men making so much of plain little Jane.

  And now Henry came into view, wrapped in furs against the cold, his entourage at a respectful distance. As if on cue, Jane’s admirers bowed and dispersed. Anne watched as she curtseyed and Henry raised her, took her hand, and kissed it fervently. And then, to her surprise, Jane drew it away, said something, curtseyed again, and hastened back toward the palace, leaving him standing there looking utterly discountenanced.

  It was true: he was chasing Jane. And she, the sly bitch, was playing a clever game, one that Anne herself had played in her time. For, once denied something he wanted, Henry would move Heaven and earth to have it.

  Anne had to sit down, she felt so faint. She must think of the child. She would not reproach Henry. Jane was powerless while she, Anne, carried the heir to England in her womb. By the time this babe arrived, Jane Seymour would probably be a distant memory, a passing irritation, no more.

  What was more worrying was the possibility of the Emperor bearing down vengefully on England.

  “I cannot tell you how it terrifies me to think that, if we are invaded, our children might be excluded from the throne for the sake of the Lady Mary,” she told Henry when he came to pay the daily duty visit he felt due to his gravid wife. “Because, if the Emperor has his way, that is what will happen.”

  “You must stop worrying, Anne,” Henry comforted her. “If he invades these shores, we will be ready for him.” His bravado sounded a little forced.

  “Sir!”—and she was vehement, desperate—“The Lady Mary will never cease to trouble us. Her defiance of your just laws has only given courage to our enemies. I pray you, let the law take its course with her! It’s the only way to avert war. What profit can Charles gain when there is no one to fight for? He needs our trade and our friendship.”

  Henry’s solicitous expression had turned into a scowl. “You are asking me to send my own daughter to the scaffold.”

  “She is a traitor, and a danger to you. While she lives, our son will never be safe!”

  He was looking at her with distaste. “Maybe my threatening to have her executed would serve as a sufficiently effective warning to the Emperor.”

  She said nothing. It was enough for now, and as a strategy it might work. She would bide her time until her son was born.

  But then Henry spoke again. “You’re right. I am resolved. It shall be done.”


  The next day, he visited her before dinner.

  “I have just come from the Privy Council,” he told her. “I declared to them that I would no longer remain in the trouble, fear, and suspicion that Katherine and Mary are causing. I said the next Parliament must release me by passing Acts of Attainder against them or, by God, I will not wait any longer to make an end of them myself!”

  “What did they say?”

  “They looked shocked, but I told them it was nothing to cry or make wry faces about. I said that, even if I lose my crown for it, I would do what I have set out to do.”

  Would he? Still she wondered.

  “It was well done, Henry,” she congratulated him. “It is the only way to secure the future of our children.”

  “Yes, but, by God, at what a price!” he cried. Already he was wavering.


  Later she sent for George and told him what Henry had threatened.

  “Even if he weakens now, when I have a son, he will not deny me. But it is now that I worry about. I fear that my enemies are poised to destroy me. Already they pay court to that wench Seymour.”

  “They cannot touch you if you bear the King a son,” George reassured her.

  “No, but what if God denies me that blessing?”

  “Pray that He will grant it.”

  Anne bit her lip. “I cannot help fearing that while Katherine lives, I will never bear a living son. And even if I did, there would always be those to call it bastard. If only I could be the true and undisputed Queen!”

  George said nothing. He just sat there, pensive.

  “Katherine is my death and I am hers,” she said. “I will take good care that she shall not laugh at me after I die.”

  “And how do you mean to do that?” he asked.

  “I will think of something.”

  He looked at her skeptically. He knew her too well. Of all the things people called her, they were unjust in naming her “murderess.” She did not have it in her.


  And then it seemed that God Himself intervened. Katherine, Henry was informed, had fallen seriously ill. It seemed like the answer to all Anne’s prayers. Her son might be indisputably legitimate.

  But the next report informed them that Katherine had rallied.

  “I beg of you,” Anne said to Henry, desperate, “put an end to her and her daughter! For our child’s sake!”

  Henry rounded on her. “Such sentiments do not become a woman.” His tone was scathing.

  “You will never know security until you are freed from these traitors!” she cried. “I will never be satisfied until they are dead.”

  “Then you will be satisfied soon, at least in part. Reading this report, I suspect I need do nothing to hasten Katherine’s end. Peace be, Anne. Let Nature take its course.”


  “Chapuys wants to see me,” Henry told Anne. It was a week into the new year, and mercifully the nausea of early pregnancy was abating. And Chapuys might be bringing the news she needed to hear, having just returned from Kimbolton. Believing that Katherine was dying, Henry had at last permitted him to go to her.

  “It cannot do any harm now,” he had said.

  Anne took her place beside Henry in the presence chamber, which was packed with courtiers anticipating a drama. Father was there, and George, eager to hear that she was now the undoubted Queen of England.

  Chapuys was announced. He came wearing unrelieved black, his face gray and solemn.

  “Your Majesty,” he said, rising from his bow, “I have great sorrow in telling you that the Queen is dead.”

  The Angel Gabriel had hardly brought better news. “Now I am indeed a queen,” Anne declared.

  “God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!” Henry said jubilantly.

  Chapuys threw him a fleeting, withering look. “I bring you this, her last letter.” He handed over a folded paper sealed with the arms of England and Spain. Henry broke the seal and read, with all eyes upon him. Suddenly he was very still, and Anne saw a tear trickle down his cheek. But he recovered himself. “God rest the Princess Dowager,” he said, crossing himself.

  Anne heard her father muttering that it was a pity the Lady Mary did not keep company with her mother.


  Afterward, when she was resting in her chamber, hardly able to believe that her great rival was finally no more, George came to see her.

  “It has fallen out the way you wanted it,” he observed. “You should be pleased.”

  “I cannot thank God sufficiently,” she said. “If we needed proof that He smiles on us, this is it.”

  “Sometimes He needs a little assistance in working His will,” George observed.

  “What do you mean?” she asked sharply, sitting up to face him.

  “He helps those who help themselves.”

  Horror gripped her. “Brother, what are you trying to say to me?”

  “I think you know, Anne.” He smiled at her. “A few well-chosen herbs…But never fear, all is well now. And she would have died anyway. We could not risk her living until your son is born.”

  She was in turmoil. That George, her beloved George, should have done th
is terrible thing—and for her! And worse that, out of her own mouth, she had unwittingly said the words that had driven him to it. Yes, she had wanted Katherine dead—but by the just process of the law, not by the hand of a murderer. For that was what he was now, her brother—a murderer. God had had no part in this at all.

  “I did not ask it!” she hissed. “It was not done in my name! How could you? Now we will all be cursed. How can God smile on me now?”

  Breaking down, blinded by tears, she stumbled from the bed and fled to the little oratory that led off her chamber. Ignoring George’s pleas to listen to him, she locked the door.

  “Go away!” she cried. “You have done me an evil that can never be mended.” And she slid to her knees, weeping copiously. God would surely punish her for this, even though she had not intended it. Her son, if it was a son, was cursed. And if he was born dead, like the others, there was little hope for her. Henry would get rid of her as he had Katherine, and her enemies would waste no time in finding him another wife. He was highly suggestible, as she well knew, and—she must face it—his passion for her had died. She realized suddenly that, while Katherine had lived, he would not have contemplated abandoning her. It would have been tantamount to admitting that he had been wrong to marry her, and that Katherine was his true wife. But with the Princess Dowager dead, all that stood between Anne and disaster was her unborn child.


  She had calmed down by the time Henry joined her for supper that evening, but she was still in shock about what George had done, and Henry noticed.

  “Why so serious?” he chided. “You should be rejoicing tonight. I’ve ordered my cellarer to bring a good Burgundy to celebrate.” She realized he had not donned black.

  She collected herself. “I can’t stop worrying that the Emperor might invade on Mary’s behalf.”

  “Don’t fret. I spoke to Chapuys before Vespers. I told him I wanted Charles to withdraw his support from Mary and get the Papal judgment revoked. He said he didn’t think such things would be possible, but I said I was confident that Mary can be brought to submission now that her mother is dead, and that I hoped the Emperor would be willing to offer friendship now that the real cause of our enmity no longer exists. I gathered from Chapuys’s demeanor that he knows Charles would prefer us to be allies. His merchants are suffering as ours are. So be of good cheer.”

  She tried to smile. She could never tell Henry the truth. How could she condemn George to the dreadful death that had been meted out to Richard Rouse? And he being her brother, people would point the finger at her as his accomplice, or even the begetter of his crime. They thought the worst of her anyway, so few would doubt it. They would be baying for her blood.

  Thinking of Rouse brought to mind the attempt to poison Bishop Fisher. Had George been behind that after all? She dared not ask him, for she did not want to know.

  No, silence was imperative. She must bear this burden alone.

  Henry sent for the Princess Elizabeth to be brought to Greenwich, and the next morning he carried her triumphantly to Mass with the trumpets sounding a fanfare and the child—she was two and a half now—sitting solemnly in his arms. The message was clear to all: she was his undoubted heir. She sat between her parents, very well behaved, a cushion on her chair so that she might see over the edge of the pew. Already, Anne noticed, her daughter knew when to make the responses in the service.

  Anne spent the rest of the morning playing with Elizabeth, getting to know and like her better, this little stranger whom she had hardly seen. She was extraordinary, with her quicksilver wits and eternal curiosity; she spoke as well as a four-year-old and could read all the letters on the horn book she wore at her girdle. She was so self-contained, so poised, so much her own mistress already, that Anne began to feel less guilty about not loving her enough. Elizabeth did not need her. Lady Bryan was, clearly, far more important to the child. What mattered was that Anne did her best for her and defended her rights. And soon she could take pleasure in preparing for Elizabeth’s marriage to the Duke of Angoulême.

  In the afternoon, Henry arrived in the hall where Anne and her ladies were dancing. He was dressed defiantly, from head to foot, in yellow, the color of joy, hope, and renewal, with a white feather in his cap, and brought in his wake a company of gentlemen.

  “Ladies, let us celebrate England’s liberation from the threat of war!” he cried, and took Anne by the hand. She danced as she had not danced in a long time, the other couples swirling around her as he led her in measure after measure. If she gave herself up to pleasure, she might forget the dreadful secret that overshadowed her.

  After an hour, Henry departed for his apartments, urging everyone to carry on with the revelry. Minutes later, he reappeared with Elizabeth in his arms, and proudly showed her off to everyone present, with the gentlemen kissing the tiny imperious hand and the ladies cooing at her. Anne looked on, gratified and relieved that Henry had chosen to emphasize Elizabeth’s importance. Following his example, she herself donned yellow for the banquet he hosted that evening, and showed the world a triumphant face, but later, when her ladies were preparing her for bed, her fears returned.

  “Is anything the matter, madam?” Madge ventured, looking concerned.

  “Is your Grace feeling unwell?” Margaret asked, in her pretty Scots accent.

  “It’s not that,” Anne replied. “I keep thinking that, throughout Christendom, most people will now regard His Grace as a widower. And if I do not bear a son, I am afraid they may do with me as they did with the Princess Dowager.”

  “Nonsense!” Margaret exclaimed. “You only had to see how proud of you the King looked today, and how he favors the Princess, to know there is no danger of that.”

  “But if this child is a girl, or…” She could not voice it.

  “His Grace loves you,” Madge assured her.

  “He pursues Jane Seymour,” Anne said.

  There was a silence. “I know by your faces that it is true,” she told them. “But as long as he respects me as the mother of his heir, and does not publicly slight me, I am content.”


  In the second week in January, Henry came to Anne’s chamber after supper and sent her attendants away.

  “I’ve received the report of the chandler who examined the Princess Dowager’s body,” he said, his face grave. “I wanted to talk to you in confidence.”

  Anne’s heart began thudding against her chest. The child must not be affrighted. She had to calm down.

  “Why?” she asked, trying not to sound as if it mattered much.

  “Because I’m concerned, and Chapuys is asking questions,” Henry said. “They found all the internal organs sound except the heart. It had a black growth, hideous to behold. The chandler washed it, but it did not change color, and it was all black inside. I don’t know what to think, Anne, but I’m doing my best to keep the report secret. Already people are saying that Katherine was murdered. They’re even accusing me of sending a messenger to hold to her lips a poisoned gold cup. Chapuys is very suspicious.”

  “No doubt some hold me responsible,” she said, inwardly shuddering to think how close Henry had come to guessing the truth. He might yet guess it, she thought, the hairs on her neck prickling with fear.

  “I didn’t like to tell you,” Henry admitted. “Some blame you and your family. They say you had the most to gain. Do not heed them, Anne—they are ignorant. But I came to warn you what is being said, so that you won’t heed any gossip. We have to think of the child.”

  She did not like the way he was looking at her, as if he was remembering all the times she had urged him to proceed against Katherine, and wondering if the gossips were right.


  That month, the Lady Mary fell dangerously ill at Hunsdon. She had taken the news of her mother’s death grievously, and was in a desperately sad condition.

  It was time, Anne felt, to give lie to rumor and extend the olive branch. Hate Mary as she did, she could yet feel pity for
a girl who had lost a beloved mother, and now that Katherine was no more, Mary might feel able to recognize her as queen.

  She sent a message asking Lady Shelton to tell Mary that, if she would obey her father like a good girl, she, Anne, would be the best friend in the world to her and, like another mother, would try to obtain for her all that she wanted. And if she would come to court, she would be exempt from carrying the Queen’s train and would always walk by her side, as an equal. She couldn’t have offered more.

  Mary’s reply was like a slap in the face. To comply with Anne’s terms would conflict with her honor and conscience.

  Well, she had had her chance. Infuriated, Anne informed Lady Shelton that her pleasure was that she attempt no more to make the Lady Mary obey the King’s Grace. “What I have done,” she wrote, “has been more for charity than because the King or I care what course she takes. When I have a son, as soon I look to have, I know what will come to her. Remembering the word of God, that we should do good to our enemies, I have wished to give her warning before then, because I know the King will not value her repentance, or the cessation of her madness and unnatural obstinacy, when she no longer has power to choose. Lady Shelton, I beseech you, do not trouble yourself to turn her from any of her willful ways, for to me she can do neither good nor ill.”

  She entrusted the letter to a messenger and went to lie down. The effort of dealing with her stepdaughter had exhausted her.

  She was awakened by Urian barking and the acrid smell of burning. The Turkey rug in front of the hearth was afire. She leapt up and ran into the outer chamber, yelling for help. Her grooms and ushers came running, and smothered the flames before they could spread.

  No harm had been done. The floor had been scorched, nothing more, and the room needed a thorough airing. She sat in her presence chamber, cuddling the dog, shuddering at the thought of what might have befallen her. She could not get out of her head one of the seditious prophecies that had been reported to the Council: “When the Tower is white, and another place green, then shall be burned two or three bishops and a queen.” It was a prediction that had been openly—and hopefully—recited by her detractors, and now it had so nearly come true. She was badly shaken. It had been Katherine who was meant to suffer martyrdom, not herself. She remembered that other prophecy, which had accompanied the horrible drawing of herself with her head cut off. It was frightening to think that there were those who sought her death.

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