Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  A few days later, she received another nasty jolt. Uncle Norfolk came to her—a rare occurrence these days, for they did not speak to each other—and, in as gentle a manner as that brusque martinet was capable of, informed her that the King had taken a fall in the lists. “He fell so heavily that everyone thought it a miracle he was not killed, but mercifully he sustained no injury. Even so, madam, he gave us all a fright, for those of us who saw it thought his fall would prove fatal.”

  Again she found herself trembling, and even Norfolk looked concerned.

  “Niece, are you all right?” he barked.

  “Yes, Uncle. I am just so relieved. It is dreadful to think of what might have happened.” For an instant she had glimpsed the fearful prospect of a future without Henry there to protect her from a hostile world; of herself and Elizabeth cast adrift, swept up in the maelstrom of civil war, and worse…

  “I must go to the King,” she said, standing up on legs that threatened to buckle beneath her.

  “There’s no need,” Norfolk said. “He doesn’t want a fuss. He’s quite cheerful and is being divested of his armor right now. Then he is going in to dinner.”

  “I thank God to hear it,” Anne replied, calmer now, the specter of a sudden violent widowhood receding.

  —

  Henry had decided that Katherine should be buried in Peterborough Abbey with all the honors due to her as Princess Dowager of Wales. He spared no effort to afford her a magnificent state funeral, at which a great train of ladies was to follow the coffin, and provided black cloth for their apparel.

  Chapuys suggested that it would well become his greatness to rear a stately monument to her memory, at which he declared that he would build Katherine one of the goodliest monuments in Christendom. Now that she was dead, he could afford to be generous, and gave the command for a tomb and effigy to be made. But he confiscated all Katherine’s personal effects to meet her funeral expenses.

  “I’ve ordered a day of solemn obsequies,” he told Anne. “I and all my servants will attend, wearing mourning. It is fitting that I pay tribute to the memory of my sister-in-law.” It was a sentiment with which she could fully agree.

  On the morning of the funeral, Anne had an impulse to accompany Henry to the obsequies. It would give her credit in the eyes of the Imperialists and smooth the path to friendship with the Emperor. She had her ladies dress her in black, but when she arrived at the King’s apartments, the presence chamber was deserted. The guards saluted her as she walked through to the privy chamber. Not a gentleman to be seen. They must all be in chapel already. Then she heard a woman giggle in a nearby closet, the one Henry used as a study. With every sense on high alert, Anne strode over and opened the door. There was her husband, in mourning attire, with Jane Seymour on his knee, his hand on her breast.

  Of all the shocks she had received lately, this was the worst. It was one thing to know he was being unfaithful, another entirely to catch him in the act.

  “How could you?” she screamed, almost hysterical, all her worst fears coming to the fore. Jane was herself, nine years before, and she, by some diabolical alchemy, was in Katherine’s place. Fortune’s wheel had turned completely.

  Henry pushed Jane, none too gently, off his knee and leapt up.

  “Go,” he said to her, and she scuttled away, smirking at Anne, who would have smacked her had she not disappeared so quickly.

  “Darling, I am sorry,” Henry said, spreading his hands helplessly.

  Anne was crying uncontrollably now. “Have you any idea how you have hurt me?” she sobbed. “The love I bear you is greater than Katherine’s ever was, and my heart breaks when I see that you love another.”

  He had the grace to look abashed. “It meant nothing,” he said.

  “Nothing? I saw you with my own eyes.” Suddenly she felt a cramping pain in her womb. Her hands flew to her belly, as if to protect the child.

  Henry looked alarmed. “What is it?”

  The pain had ceased. “It is the distress you have caused me!” she cried.

  “Just be at peace, sweetheart, and all will go well with you,” he soothed. “Think of our son.”

  “It’s a pity you didn’t!” she flung back, and left him standing there, open-mouthed.

  No sooner had she reached her apartments than the pain came again.

  —

  Henry loomed over her. In his face she could read bitter disappointment and grief.

  “A boy!” he wept. “A stillborn fetus of fifteen weeks’ growth, they tell me. This will be the greatest discomfort to all my realm.” He was in agony.

  “I was in peril of my life,” Anne murmured, remembering the pain and the blood. I have miscarried of my savior, she thought. Never had she felt such extreme misery.

  “And I have lost my boy!” Henry wailed.

  “It was because of your unkindness!” she burst out. “You have no one to blame but yourself, for it was caused by my distress of mind over that wench Seymour.”

  Henry stood up. “I will have no more boys by you,” he said icily.

  “What do you mean?” she cried.

  His look silenced her. “I see clearly that God does not mean to give me male children. I do not wish to discuss it now. I will speak to you when you are up.” And he left, glowering, looking very ill-done-by.

  His words had struck fear into her, and it took all her courage to smile at her weeping ladies. “It is for the best,” she told them, “because I will be the sooner with child again, and the son I will bear shall not be doubtful like this one, which was conceived during the life of the Princess Dowager.” Nan Saville took her hand and squeezed it.

  For two days she lay there brooding, wishing that Henry would come to her, terrified lest she had lost him for good. When she finally rose from her bed and looked in her mirror, she was appalled to see a thin, drawn, pinched old woman looking back at her. She was thirty-five, no longer the captivating young maiden who had ensnared a king—and never would be again.

  Many times she repented of her hasty words of reproach. She was in great fear, for Henry might now consider her as barren of sons as Katherine had been. Was he even now looking for a pretext to have their marriage annulled and their daughter declared a bastard? She did not have Katherine’s powerful friends—she had not very many friends at all—so there would be few to champion her cause. Without Henry, she would be an object of derision, calumny, and hatred; some would want her blood.

  —

  Early in February, she was informed that the King had gone to London for the Shrovetide celebrations and to attend Parliament.

  He left her behind. It proved that he was still angry with her. She wept when she remembered the time when he had been unwilling to leave her for an hour. Her only consolation—if it could be called that—was that he had been unable to take that bitch Seymour with him. With the Queen’s household remaining at Greenwich, he had been obliged, for propriety’s sake, to leave Jane there too. She was skulking about, keeping out of Anne’s way.

  Anne’s only companions were her ladies, who could talk of nothing, it seemed, but Madge’s betrothal and forthcoming wedding. For Norris had succumbed to her blandishments and asked her to marry him. Their families approved, and Madge, who seemed to have forgotten her reservations, was luminous with happiness. Anne felt like screaming. Norris did not love Madge. He loved her. It was in his eyes every time he spoke to her. Jealousy was like a sharp knife piercing her vitals.

  Every day she mourned her losses: her baby, Henry’s love, and Norris. Security and happiness had been almost within her grasp. Now she lived with fear and an overwhelming sense of failure.

  Messengers bearing packages and letters kept arriving from York Place.

  “They’re for Jane,” Madge whispered. Anne’s jealousy was a torment. She watched Jane continually, and lashed out at her for the slightest dereliction of duty—but it did not wipe the complacent smile off Jane’s face. One day the woman was brazen enough to wear a new jeweled
locket. Guessing who had sent it, Anne confronted her.

  “That’s a costly piece. Let me see it,” she demanded.

  Jane stared at her mutinously, clearly unwilling, whereupon Anne lost her temper and ripped the locket from Jane’s neck with such force that the chain cut into her hand. With blood welling in drops from the wound, she pried the locket open with unsteady fingers, to find inside a miniature portrait of Henry. Tears blurred her eyes.

  She thrust the locket back into Jane’s hands. “Take it, and him! You are welcome to him!”

  —

  The relief was indescribable when George arrived to tell her that Parliament had assigned her two royal manors.

  “Then I am not entirely out of favor,” she said, trying to forget what George had done, and to remember that he was her brother, whom she loved.

  “The King approved the grant. It seems that his anger is spent and that he is determined to continue in your marriage.”

  “So Mistress Seymour is just another passing fancy. Thank God! She has caused me such grief, flaunting her presents from His Grace.”

  “Anne, hearken to me.” George was regarding her with unusual compassion. “Take stock. I am shocked to see how you have grown so thin and sad. Eat for your health. Look to your hair and your dress. Put a brave smile on your face. You can fight back! None knows better how to. You won the King once; now win him back.”

  “It’s not easy when he is in London and I’m here,” she said.

  “I will persuade him to summon you,” George promised. “Leave it to me.”

  —

  Days later, the summons came. George had played his part, and now she must play hers. She had herself garbed in a sumptuous gown of black velvet with oversleeves of fur and a low neckline edged with black embroidery and pearls. Around her neck, to proclaim her pride in her queenship and her family, she hung a pendant in the shape of a B—one of several initial jewels she favored. She was still too slim, but the black gown flattered her. Her hair she left loose in token of her rank, threaded with jewels as she had used to wear it.

  Henry received her courteously, looking her up and down with approval, yet failing to meet her eye.

  “It is a joy to me to see your Grace again,” she said.

  “I trust you are fully recovered.” Still his manner was distant.

  “I am very well, sir.”

  “Your brother told me that you were unhappy at Greenwich, and so I thought you would like to join me to celebrate the feast day of St. Matthias.”

  “I shall be honored and delighted,” she told him. She was also delighted to find that Jane was nowhere to be seen on the feast day.

  —

  Henry was being kind to her. He came to her bed most nights, and she began to believe that all was not lost. It was clear from the petitions she received that others still believed she had influence with him. She took care to be charming to all.

  Resolving to be a good mother, she sent for Elizabeth and spent lavishly on clothing for her, dressing the little girl up in caps of purple, white, and crimson satin, cauls of gold, ribbon for her plaits, and miniature court gowns of velvet and damask. She taught her how to manage a train. Watching her daughter toddling along, head held high, swaths of damask trailing behind her, Anne almost loved her.

  The signs were that the Emperor was hoping for an alliance with Henry.

  “And if he approaches me—so the terms be acceptable—I will be willing,” Henry told Anne. “I’ve heard from my agents in Rome that Pope Paul is ready to proclaim my excommunication. Charles’s friendship might prevent that. Not that I care a fig for what the Bishop of Rome does, but the rest of Christendom will. They may not deal with me honestly if I am cast out of the fold.”

  But what of me? she wondered. The Emperor hates me. I am a stumbling block to this alliance. She did not say any of this; it was for Henry to deal with, or rather Cromwell. Instead, she asked how François would take it.

  “Our relations have been unstable lately,” Henry said, “and I fear there is little hope of Elizabeth’s marriage being concluded. François is as slippery as an eel, and he’s ill of the pox and in a bad humor. All that fornication is catching up with him.” Henry’s lips were prim. You can’t talk! Anne thought. “He and Charles are at odds,” he added. “Soon they’ll be at war. Friendship with the Emperor offers us the greatest hope for the future security of this realm.”

  Yes, she thought again, but what of my security?

  —

  “Sir Edward Seymour has been appointed to the Privy Chamber,” Father announced one evening when they were supping alone in his lodgings. “I warn you, Anne, the influence of these Seymours increases daily.”

  Rage welled in her. “What can I do?” she stormed. “He flaunts her almost under my nose.”

  Father snorted. “I shouldn’t need to tell you what to do to win him back.”

  “That’s unfair!” she snapped.

  “You could bloody well cheer up.”

  “You lose three sons in a row, see your husband chasing other women and sense your enemies ready to pounce—you’d be cheerful, I’m sure! But Father, I do try. And maybe God will give me a son now that my marriage is not in doubt. When that happens—”

  “Anne, be realistic. Katherine lost five children. You’ve lost three. Is that telling you something?”

  Her hand flew to her mouth as the possibility of Henry being in some way at fault dawned on her. “But if that’s true, what can I do?”

  Father shrugged. “Nothing but pray. And be watchful. Those Seymour brothers are greedy, ruthless, and cunning, and they are in daily contact with the King. And there’s another thing you should know. Our friend Cromwell has willingly obliged your husband by vacating his chambers so that Sir Edward Seymour and his wife can lodge there. The King can access these chambers from his own apartments by certain galleries without being perceived. You can imagine what his purpose is.”

  “You mean Cromwell is encouraging this infidelity?” That chilled her to the bone.

  “He has been accommodating. What worries me more is that the wench and her family are insisting that His Grace pay his addresses to her only in the presence of her relatives. It’s supposed to be a discreet arrangement, but it’s being bruited about the court as if the town crier had announced it.”

  “Dear God!” Anne whispered, sinking back in her chair. “If she’s playing that game, what end to it can there be but marriage? Unless he tires of her, which I pray he will. But this preservation of her virtue smacks to me of preparing her for queenship. I, of all people, know that! And if Cromwell has readily facilitated this, then he obviously takes it seriously. I have long suspected that he had become my enemy—now I know. Well, he shall hear about this from me!”

  Angrily she summoned Cromwell to her closet. He bowed low before her.

  “Your Grace. This is a pleasant surprise.”

  “Don’t cozen me, Master Secretary. I’ve just learned that you have readily given up your lodging to the Seymours, so that my husband can dally with his mistress.”

  “Your Grace must not call her that,” Cromwell said. “Mistress Seymour is a most virtuous lady. Had she been otherwise, I would not have agreed to it.”

  “Virtuous or not—and I beg leave to doubt—trying to steal her mistress’s husband is not edifying behavior.”

  “No, madam, it is not.” He looked pointedly at her. By God, he went too far! “May I give you a word of advice?” he went on. “Do not meddle in state affairs. The King doesn’t like it.”

  This was outrageous! “You mean, Master Secretary, that you don’t want me interfering with your plans for the monasteries. Now that Parliament has approved their closure, you will make the King rich and grateful. But he listens to me too—I am not so far out of favor as you might like—and I mean fiercely to oppose the wealth of these houses being sold off wholesale to buy support for the royal supremacy. I think the King would be shocked if he knew that, under the guise of the Gosp
el and religion, you are advancing your own interests.”

  “Not so!” Cromwell protested. She could sense him becoming riled. It was satisfying to pierce that urbane facade.

  “So you don’t plan to put everything up for sale? You don’t accept bribes to confer ecclesiastical property and benefices upon the enemies of true doctrine?”

  “I am the King’s good servant,” he replied coldly.

  “I think Sir Thomas More said much the same thing, and look what happened to him! I tell you, Master Secretary, other reformists support me. My almoner, John Skip, is one of them. We are determined to see a substantial portion of the confiscated riches used for educational and charitable purposes that can benefit everyone.”

  “And you think the King will agree with you?” Cromwell smiled patronizingly, as if she were an ignorant fool. “The treasury is empty. He is a man who likes to live lavishly. I don’t see him turning down this unique opportunity to make himself rich.”

  “The King is virtuous too,” she countered. “He loves learning. I know I can persuade him to listen to me—and you know it too.”

  Cromwell continued to smile at her. “We shall see, madam,” he said.

  “We shall!” The gauntlet had been flung down. “In the meantime, don’t encourage Mistress Seymour, or you will find yourself in the greatest trouble.” And with that she dismissed him.

  —

  When Henry came to supper with her the following evening, Anne brought up the subject of the monasteries. “Sir, I know you need money, but would it not be a worthy thing to divert some of their wealth to education and charity? I can think of so many deserving causes. Henry, you could become renowned for founding schools and supporting scholars. You could establish chairs at the universities, set up a fund for the poor who are in desperate need and will be more so when the monasteries are gone.”

 
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