Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  Henry was looking at her with fresh admiration. “I like your ideas, Anne.”

  “You would be remembered in centuries to come as the King who gave the gift of learning to his people along with the Bible in English. And that would be a greater achievement than any victory in battle.”

  “By St. Mary, you speak truth,” he declared. “The religious houses have riches beyond imagining, so I am told, enough to do all these things and fill the treasury.”

  “These causes would be more noble than selling off the land to buy the opinions of your lords.”

  “I might have to offer some inducements, Anne, but you are right. Some of the money should be used for worthy causes.”

  They spent a happy hour discussing those causes in detail, and it felt like old times. There was an intimacy in shared aims. Above all, he had heeded her. Her influence was still a force to be reckoned with. How she would love to see Cromwell’s face when Henry enthusiastically outlined his new schemes. He would know that she had bested him!

  And she wasn’t finished with him yet. Like Queen Esther, she would rid the kingdom of corrupt ministers—and at the same time she would show Henry that she would not tolerate any infidelity. She was fighting back.

  —

  On Passion Sunday, she had her almoner preach a sermon in the Chapel Royal on the text “Which among you accuses me of sin?”

  She sat next to Henry as Father Skip ascended the pulpit.

  “A king needs to be wise and resist evil counselors who tempt him to ignoble actions,” he began. “A king’s counselor ought to take good heed of what advice he gives in altering ancient things.” He paused, glaring fiercely at the congregation below him, leaving them in no doubt as to whom he was referring. Anne glanced at Henry, who was looking pensive—exactly what she had hoped for. Cromwell was frowning.

  “Look at the example of King Ahasuerus, who was moved by a wicked minister to destroy the Jews,” Skip continued. “That minister was Haman, who had tried to destroy Ahasuerus’s Queen, Esther. But after Esther exposed his evil plot and saved the Jews from persecution, Haman was justly hanged. And thus triumphed this good woman, whom King Ahasuerus loved very well, and put his trust in, because he knew she was ever his friend.”

  Henry was nodding sagely. He knew the story well. He had commissioned those tapestries depicting it.

  Skip now got to the pith of the tale. “Among his evil deeds, Haman had assured Ahasuerus that eliminating the Jews would result in ten thousand talents being appropriated for the royal treasury, and for the King’s personal gain.” Anne felt Henry stir beside her. “So, in our own day, we have cause to lament that the Crown, misled by evil counsel, wants the Church’s property, and will have it. We can only lament the decay of the universities and pray that the necessity for learning will not be overlooked.”

  All eyes were now on Anne; Cromwell’s were full of menace—and, she was gratified to see, fear. He could be in no doubt now. She was setting herself up in opposition to his policies. The swords had been unsheathed.

  Now it was Henry’s turn to squirm. Skip was looking sternly on his flock. “But it is not only in fleecing the Church that corruption lies. Look at the example of Solomon, who lost his true nobility through his sensual and carnal appetite, and taking too many wives and concubines.”

  Henry’s breathing quickened. He looked as mad as a bull about to charge. Only recently, his painter, Hans Holbein, had portrayed him as Solomon, the fount of all wisdom. It was as well that Skip had finished, and was exhorting the congregation to kneel in prayer. For all his fury, Henry had to obey.

  After the service, he grabbed Anne’s hand and pulled her into one of the holy-day closets behind the royal pew.

  “Did you put him up to that?” he asked angrily. “Or did he take it upon himself to preach sedition and slander me, my councillors, and my whole Parliament?”

  Before she could answer, Cromwell, forgetting his place, barged into the closet. He did not acknowledge Anne.

  “Your Grace will surely not let that pass!” he hissed. Anne had never seen him so exercised.

  “I intend to have my Council reprimand this priest, and warn him that he had best mind his tongue if he wishes to remain in the Queen’s service.”

  “But your Grace agrees with him,” Anne said. “Only the other night you were saying what a worthy thing it would be to divert the wealth of the monasteries into education and charity. It is not you who seeks personal gain.”

  “He made it appear that it was me,” Henry growled.

  “That was not his intention, I’m sure, and your Grace need not worry, for the world will soon know the truth.”

  “Your Grace, I must speak to you in private,” Cromwell insisted.

  “Must? Master Secretary, it is the King you address,” Anne reminded him.

  “I will see you later, Cromwell,” Henry said.

  “We are going to dine now,” Anne said sweetly, and swept out.

  —

  At table, Henry did not mention Skip’s attack on his infidelity. He could neither deny it nor risk another quarrel. But his mood was sour for the rest of the day, and the unfortunate almoner received a verbal lashing from the Council. Anne did not know what had been said between Henry and Cromwell. It did not matter. She was about to stir up public opinion again.

  Hugh Latimer, a fiery reformist who preached regularly before the King, had agreed to take up the struggle on her behalf the next day of that Holy Week.

  “Think on the parable of the tenants who refused to pay rent to the owner of a vineyard,” he enjoined in his homily in the Chapel Royal. “Once the tenants have been evicted, the vineyard will pass to more worthy persons, who may convert it to some better use.” There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was referring to the dissolution of the monasteries.

  Henry made no comment. After the service, he threw Anne a withering look and stumped off, so she immediately enlisted the assistance of Archbishop Cranmer, who agreed to defend her in any argument with the King, and to write to Master Secretary in support of her views. Soon, thanks to Cranmer, Anne was gratified to find that Henry’s enthusiasm for her plans—and her bed—had revived. But while they had reached common ground and were getting on better than they had in a long time, it did not prevent him from dallying with Mistress Seymour. Anne saw them playing bowls together on Maundy Thursday, smiling at each other with that special intimacy of lovers, and she felt like weeping and raging as she performed the traditional queenly function of distributing money to beggars and washing their feet (which had been thoroughly scoured beforehand) in memory of the Last Supper. Was that little bitch always to be a malign presence in her life?

  —

  “We are moving closer toward friendship with the Emperor,” Henry told her that night, as they lay in bed. “There are still obstacles to be overcome. I am determined to get Charles to recognize you as Queen, and to that end I have asked Chapuys to come to court on Easter Tuesday, to give him the opportunity of paying his respects to you.”

  Relief and elation surged through her. This proved that Henry still respected her as his Queen, even if he did not love her as he used to.

  “It’s about time!” she said. “Chapuys has never bent the knee to me as Queen, never kissed my hand.” How she would savor her triumph!

  “He will do so now, and in public,” Henry growled, “and he will know he is acknowledging that I was right all along to put away Katherine and marry you. I will not sign an alliance with Charles on any other terms.”

  —

  Henry sent George to receive Chapuys at the gates of Greenwich Palace, so that the ambassador should be in no doubt that the hoped-for alliance was conditional upon his being cordial to the Boleyns. George had instructions to afford Chapuys a warm welcome, making it plain that Anne, her family, and friends were in favor of a rapprochement with the Emperor.

  Cromwell was to follow close behind, bearing a message from Henry inviting Chapuys to visit Anne and
kiss her hand, a great honor conferred only on those in high favor. “He will say that this will be a great pleasure to me,” Henry told her, rubbing his hands in satisfaction at the thought.

  Anne followed Henry into chapel, and they seated themselves in the royal pew in the upstairs gallery. Below them, in the main body of the chapel, there was a great concourse of people. Word of Chapuys’s visit had been spread, and everyone was curious to see what he would do. Some, she knew, were probably hoping that he would slight her.

  When the time came to make their offerings, Henry made Anne descend the stairs to the altar first, keeping close behind her. At the bottom, she almost collided with Chapuys, who was standing behind the door. There was a pause, and then he bowed to her. She smiled graciously. No one could touch her now. The Emperor would soon be her friend.

  Courtesy being the order of the day, she made a deep curtsey to Chapuys as his master’s representative, and was surprised when he did her the kindness of handing her two candles to use in the ritual.

  She emerged from the chapel feeling jubilant, and deeply relieved. As she walked along the gallery with Henry at the head of a long train of courtiers, she could not contain her euphoria. “I am sorry that Spain is at war with France,” she said loudly, so that all could hear, “but I am firmly on the side of the Emperor. I have abandoned my friendship with King François. It seems to me that, tired of life on account of his illness, he wants to shorten his days by going to war.”

  “He can’t shorten them quickly enough for me,” Henry murmured. He escorted her to dinner in her apartments, as was his custom after Mass; often he invited honored guests.

  “Will Chapuys be joining us?” Anne asked.

  “I have asked him to come,” Henry said, as they sat down at the high table. The room was filling up, but there was no sign of the ambassador. She looked in vain among the group of foreign envoys waiting at the door to be announced. Had Chapuys repented of his gesture already?

  “Why does not Messire Chapuys enter?” she asked Henry.

  “No doubt he has a good reason,” he answered. “His courtesy to you will have excited much comment, especially among the Imperialists, some of whom who will be angry with him for acknowledging you.”

  “They had better get used to it,” she said, and sent her usher to find Chapuys. He returned to say that he was dining with her brother and the chief nobles of the court in the King’s presence chamber. She smiled at Henry, satisfied.

  —

  The next day, George told her that there had been a furious row between Henry and Cromwell about the negotiations with Spain. From what he could gather from those within earshot, Cromwell had exceeded his instructions. George had seen him slumped on a coffer outside Henry’s presence chamber with sweat running down his face, looking as if he’d just escaped from the hounds of Hell.

  “It looks very much as if he is out of favor,” he said gleefully.

  Anne smiled. “I will take full advantage of that.”

  The following morning, Henry told her that Cromwell was ill and had gone home to his house at Stepney to recuperate.

  Good riddance! she thought. She was more concerned about the imminent annual chapter meeting of the Order of the Garter, for a vacancy had arisen for a new Garter knight, and she had asked Henry if George might fill it. Although it was the knights who voted, she hoped that he would make his wishes known.

  She was highly displeased to hear that they had chosen Sir Nicholas Carew, whom she had come to despise for his friendship with the Seymours. She knew what people would be whispering: that she lacked sufficient influence to secure this most prestigious honor for her brother.

  “But darling,” Henry protested when she took him to task in private, “I promised François years ago that I would remember Sir Nicholas, whom he loves, when a Garter vacancy arose, so I felt bound to put his name forward.”

  Yes, and because he is known to be close to the favorite, he got the vote. But she could not say that to Henry. It was galling to have to accept that her enemies had scored this small triumph.

  —

  Walking into her chamber the next day and coming upon Francis Weston flirting with Madge, Anne’s patience snapped. It offended her to see Norris being made a fool of. Madge should not have encouraged it. She did not deserve such a good man.

  “Go to my chamber and finish those smocks!” she ordered. Madge fled.

  Weston looked at her sheepishly. “Your Grace wouldn’t deny me a little innocent pleasure, surely? She is such a comely wench.”

  “If she’s so comely, I wonder why Norris has not yet married her,” she retorted.

  The smile vanished from Weston’s handsome face. “Does your Grace want the truth?”

  “What do you mean?” she asked warily.

  “We all know that Norris comes more to your chamber for you than for Madge.”

  Her heart sang, but she must not show it. “Nonsense!” she snapped. “You just want Norris discountenanced because you love Madge and you don’t love your wife.”

  Weston’s gaze was bold. “I love one in your household better than them both.”

  “Who is that?”

  “It is yourself.” There was a silence. Weston loved her? It was the first she had known of it. He was just chancing his luck at the old courtly game!

  “I defy you to tell the King that!” she retorted, and left him standing there.

  —

  “I’m taking you with me to Calais,” Henry said, as he watched Anne raise her bow to shoot at the butts.

  The visit had been arranged some weeks before, and she had assumed he was going alone. It was gratifying to hear that he wanted her with him. It was the physic she needed, after receiving news from Hever that her mother was ill with a cough that grieved her sorely. It had come on in the winter and seemed to be getting worse. Anne had written, promising to visit as soon as she returned from Calais, and prayed fervently that Mother would soon be restored to health.

  “Bull’s-eye!” Henry applauded. The courtiers clapped.

  “We’ll make a progress of it,” he told her, reaching for his bow. “We’ll go via Dover, as I want to inspect the new harbor and fortifications.”

  “You’re not planning to meet with François this time?” she asked warily.

  “I’ve not decided. I have to choose whether to ally myself with Charles or François. Charles is insisting that Mary be restored to the succession before Elizabeth, but I’ve told my envoys to oppose his demands.”

  “I do not want Elizabeth’s rights overturned,” she said, alarmed.

  “I will never allow it,” Henry assured her.

  —

  The last week of April was mellow and warm with the blossoming of spring. Anne walked daily in the gardens at Greenwich with her ladies, often accompanied by George, Norris, and the other gentlemen she favored. While Henry was busy with state business, she watched tennis matches, played bowls, and ordered baskets of food to be eaten outdoors. Whenever she encountered Jane Seymour, she threw her an icy glance and walked on. Her position seemed once again secure. She would not let Jane bother her.

  One fine evening, as dusk fell on a golden sunset, she climbed to the very top of the hill behind the palace to Mireflore, an old tower that had been part of the original palace of Placentia, which Henry had had refurbished but rarely used.

  “Come on, you snails!” she yelled at her ladies, who were puffing along some way behind her. “Oh, wait there then!” she laughed, and they gratefully collapsed onto the grassy slope.

  The tower stood four-square before her, looming up imposingly against the darkening sky. Close up, it looked eerie and forbidding, but Anne was not one to be frightened by phantoms. Using the key the sergeant porter had given her, she unlocked the iron-barred door and pushed it open. Inside she found herself in a dim vaulted chamber covered in wall and ceiling paintings. There was something repellent in the stark black outlines of the people portrayed in them.

  It seemed
that no one had been here in a long time. Cobwebs trailed across the pointed windows, and a musty smell pervaded the still air. Anne climbed the spiral staircase in the corner. It led to a bedchamber, but the tester bed had been stripped bare. On the floor lay a dusty lady’s stocking.

  There was nothing of interest here. She was about to leave when she heard a footfall above. Her heart began to race. What if someone who wished her ill had seen her coming, raced ahead and hidden, determined to kill her?

  The footsteps were coming down the stairs now. Her instincts told her to run down to the ground floor as fast as she could, but then a man appeared in the doorway.

  “Norris!” she cried in relief.

  “Anne!” he exclaimed delightedly. In his surprise he had not used her title.

  “I came to explore this place,” she said. “And you?”

  “I…had to collect some things.” She noticed he had nothing in his hands.

  “What’s up there?”

  “Another bedchamber. There’s not much to see.” He seemed reluctant to move, so she sidled past him and ran up the stairs. She was astonished to enter a sumptuous apartment with a bed made up as richly as her own, three tapestries, and some fine pieces of furniture. On the floor lay a costly Turkey carpet.

  Norris had ascended the stairs behind her.

  “This is a room fit for a king!” she exclaimed.

  “His Grace uses it occasionally,” he said.

  “For his trysts with Jane Seymour? Don’t worry, Norris, I know about that.” Her voice was bitter. “But I didn’t know that they were making the beast with two backs.”

  Norris hesitated again. “Jane Seymour has not been here,” he said.

 
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