Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  Understanding dawned. “But he has brought others.”

  He did not answer.

  “In my time?” She turned to face him.

  “Don’t make me hurt you,” he begged, choked. “I love you too much.”

  It would have been so easy to go into his arms, to feel—for a magical moment—safe and cherished. Kissing him would come as naturally as breathing, and feel beautiful and right. She had never experienced anything like that with Henry. She cared not whether he had brought a hundred women in here. He had never had her heart.

  Yet she was his Queen, and—which mattered more—she did not want to forfeit Norris’s respect. She was no wench to be tumbled on that luxurious bed, although for a wicked instant she had been tempted. It would be the perfect revenge to cuckold Henry on the very bed in which he had betrayed her. But this precious thing that existed between her and Norris must not be sullied by revenge or any baseness.

  Her voice was gentle but firm. “You cannot know how much I have longed for you to hold me,” she told him, as he looked at her yearningly. “But we can never be lovers.”

  “I am ashamed of declaring myself,” he confessed. “The King accounts me his friend. He has been good to me. But I was overcome at the sight of you. I thought, we’re alone here and no one will know.”

  “Nor shall they. What we have said shall be our secret. It will be enough to carry in my heart. You have Madge. Be happy.” She felt tears threatening. Thank goodness it was growing dark. She did not want Norris to see her cry. “I must go back.” She led the way down the stairs. “My ladies might come looking for me. I’ll go ahead, you go after.”

  He caught her hand as she hastened to the door, lifting it to his lips and kissing it. “You are the sweetest lady that ever drew breath, Anne, and if I can ever be of service to you, you have only to crook your little finger.”

  “I will remember that. Now farewell. Give me a few minutes.” She slipped through the door and almost ran down the hill, her heart heavy with a poignant sadness.


  Her conscience would not let her rest. She wondered if Henry felt the same urge to confess to sinning with his mistresses. And her infidelity was only in her heart!

  She sought out Father Skip and unburdened herself. He absolved her and imposed a light penance, since he felt she had truly repented.

  Feeling as if a weight had been lifted from her soul, and resolving never to be alone with Norris again, she called for Elizabeth to be brought to court from Hatfield, summoned her tailor, and had the child fitted for more new clothes. Because Elizabeth was so adventurous, darting off without warning, she ordered two leading reins with big buttons and long tassels, then decided that her daughter would look very pretty in a new cap of taffeta with a caul of damask gold. Henry was not forgotten. She bought silver and gold fringe and buttons for his saddle.

  She became aware that day of a sense of unease pervading her household. There was nothing tangible, just the feeling that everyone was approaching her a little warily. Over the past week, some had absented themselves inexplicably, with no excuses offered. Today, a few others briefly disappeared. One was Jane Seymour. Was it her imagination, or was something going on? It was like being the only one left out of a secret.

  All her old insecurities surfaced again. She felt as if some unknown disaster was looming. But that was nonsense. All was well. Henry was behaving much more kindly toward her; he had defended her rights and Elizabeth’s; he was taking her to Calais soon. So what could she have to fear?

  Father came to see her and spent a few minutes admiring Elizabeth and grinning at her antics. But Anne could tell he was preoccupied.

  “Your uncle of Norfolk and I have been appointed to the Middlesex Grand Jury,” he told her.

  “Why look so miserable about it? It’s an honor, surely.”

  “I don’t know,” he admitted, as Elizabeth threw her ball at him. He tossed it back. “We are to sit on a commission that will inquire into all kinds of treasons, but I don’t know anything more, and I’m not supposed to talk about it. But you’re the Queen; I can tell you.”

  “Henry has probably decided to silence his opponents once and for all,” Anne speculated. “He might even be thinking of proceeding against the Lady Mary.”

  Father shook his head. “That really would scupper his entente with the Emperor. No, it can’t be that.”

  “Maybe he is planning to make a case against Cromwell.”

  Father’s eyes gleamed. “Maybe! Cromwell is still at Stepney. That would be a surprise for him, hah!”

  “No more than he richly deserves,” Anne said.

  It was only when she was lying in bed alone in the dark that a dreadful thought came to her.

  Suppose Henry had determined to marry Jane Seymour? The Emperor would far prefer Jane, who was known to be a good Imperialist. Yet Henry, surely, would not want to go through another divorce. Could he be plotting some other way to get rid of her? Oh, God, had she and Norris been observed? Had it been a trap? And had her father been appointed to that jury to lull her into a false sense of security while her enemies plotted a case against her?

  They were legion. Cromwell, the Seymours, Chapuys, the Papists, Francis Bryan, Nicholas Carew…A disparate group with one thing in common.

  She must calm down. These were night thoughts. She would feel better in the morning. She must remember that Henry had shown no sign of displeasure toward her—rather the opposite.

  But she did not feel better in the morning. She still had a terrible feeling of nameless dread, that something awful was about to happen. She wished that Henry was there so that she could unburden herself to him. If anyone could make her feel safe, he could. But Henry had not visited her bed for three nights now, and that in itself seemed ominous.

  What if something evil befell her? It would leave Elizabeth so vulnerable. What could she do to protect her?

  She sent for her chaplain, Matthew Parker, a good reformist and a great preacher. Henry liked him as much as she did, and would heed what he said.

  “I am afraid!” she told him. “I hope I’m mistaken, but I fear I might be accused of treason.” She was weeping now. The young chaplain waited until she had composed herself, his blunt features creased in concern. He tried to reassure her, saying it was all in her imagination, but she would not be comforted.

  “You must help me!” she insisted. “If the worst happens, will you look to the care of my child? There is no one I trust more.”

  Father Parker regarded her with compassion. “Your Grace may count on me,” he vowed. “I give you my word.”


  She sat with her women, trying to concentrate on her sewing, but hemming smocks for the poor did not offer much distraction. Furtively she glanced at Madge, and Mary Howard, and Margaret Douglas, and all the rest. Did they know what was going on? What about those unexplained absences? Dare she confront them? They might think she was mad. For the first time, she found herself missing her sister. There had been no letters exchanged between them in nearly two years. Mary was still in Calais. George kept in touch. He said she sounded very happy. Lucky Mary!

  Still Henry had not visited Anne. He had been in Council every day until late in the evening.

  Anxiously she asked George if there was anything afoot.

  “There’s trouble with France, I think,” he said. “Certain letters have been brought by the French ambassador. There’s no need to look so worried.”

  Maybe François had threatened war. If so, Henry’s visit of inspection to Calais was timely. They were due to leave three days after the traditional May Day jousts. Anne distracted herself by planning her wardrobe, choosing her most flattering gowns. Maybe the passion Henry had shown during their first sojourn at the Exchequer Palace would be rekindled. And maybe she would send for Mary and forgive her.

  Leaving her maids and chamberers to pack the gowns in her traveling chests, she returned to her presence chamber, where she found Weston playing on a lut
e, Margaret Douglas deep in conversation with Thomas Howard, and Mark Smeaton standing in the oriel window looking miserable.

  “Why so sad, Mark?” she asked briskly, disliking the bold, haughty mien he always adopted. She had avoided him since he had stared at her too familiarly in Winchester.

  “It is no matter,” he said, and leered at her. By God, he was trying to play the game of love with her—and he but a lowly musician.

  Her voice was icy. “You may not look to have me speak to you as I should do to a nobleman, because you are my inferior.”

  He was still smiling at her. “No, no,” he said, “a look suffices me.” He bowed. “Farewell, your Grace.” And he sauntered out of her chamber, the insolent knave.

  Well! she said to herself. Any more of that kind of conduct and Henry would hear of it.


  After Mass on the last Sunday morning in April, Anne took Urian for a walk in Greenwich Park and stopped to watch a dogfight. She laid and won wagers, and returned to the palace feeling a little more cheerful.

  After dinner, she gathered her ladies and favored gentlemen and led them into her privy garden, to make the most of the sunshine. Norris was of the company, and she guessed he was trying as hard as she to make it appear that there was nothing more between them than friendship—not so easy now that they had declared their feelings.

  She bade him sit next to her on the stone bench in the arbor, keeping a safe distance between them. A few feet away, well within sight, the others were strolling along paths, chattering away, laughing and even kissing.

  “Why have you not gone through with your marriage to Madge?” Anne asked.

  Norris paused. “I’ve decided to tarry a time.”

  She lowered her voice. “You look for dead men’s shoes, for if anything evil befell the King, you would look to have me.”

  There was another silence. “No,” Norris murmured. “If I had any such thought, I would wish my head off. Madam, this is dangerous talk. To speak of the King’s death, even in jest, is no light matter.”

  She knew it. It was treason to imagine or plot the death of the sovereign, and probably even to speak of it.

  “Yes, but I can trust you,” she said. “Remember, I can undo you if I so please!” It was said in jest, but Norris was looking at her in horror.

  “Madam, I pray I can trust you too,” he said, standing up and bowing.

  “Don’t go,” she whispered.

  “I have duties to attend to in the King’s privy chamber,” he said. “Good day to your Grace.”

  As he walked away, she saw Lady Worcester’s brother, Sir Anthony Browne, enter the garden. He bowed in her direction and went to speak to his sister. They were looking at her curiously. She realized with a shiver of fear that he would have approached her garden by the path that skirted the arbor. Oh, God—he hadn’t heard what she and Norris had said? Sir Anthony was close to Henry and much respected by him. If he told the King about their conversation, Henry might well believe him. She would be condemned out of her own mouth, and Norris too. It might be inferred, from what she had said, that they shared a guilty secret. Violating the King’s wife was high treason. Any man convicted of it would suffer the unthinkable horrors of hanging, drawing, and quartering.

  Not Norris! Not loyal, good, devoted Norris, who had done nothing wrong apart from love her hopelessly from afar.

  She must warn him! Bidding her attendants stay, she hastened into the palace, heading for Henry’s apartments. She caught up with Norris in the pages’ chamber, where he was administering a rebuke to some wretched boy for idleness. When the page had gone, goggling at the sight of the Queen standing there, she closed the door. Norris stared at her in dismay.

  “I think we were overheard,” she said, as he looked at her with horror. “Sir Henry, I pray you, go to my almoner now and swear that, whatever he hears of me, I am a good woman.”

  “Anne, is this wise?” Norris asked, profoundly agitated. “It smacks of protesting too much. I could swear it myself, should the need arise.”

  “Go!” she shrilled. “There is no time to be lost!”


  “Madam, the King wishes you to attend him,” her chamberlain announced.

  Having spent the past two hours agonizing over what had happened with Norris, Anne was expecting the worst. This was the retribution she had been expecting. Henry had found out. Well, she would not go down without a fight! For ammunition she picked up Elizabeth—with her child, so unmistakably the King’s, in her arms, she would appeal to Henry as a wronged mother.

  She found him staring through an open window at the courtyard below. He was frowning, restless. She curtseyed, still clutching the child, and he turned.

  “I have been hearing strange things of you, Anne,” he said, his eyes like steel. “Your almoner told your chamberlain that you felt the need to send Norris to protest your virtue to him.”

  “Sir,” she cried, “it was to counteract horrible gossip about me, that I am a loose woman, and I did not want Father Skip believing it. I thought it would come well from Norris, because he is known for an upright man and loyal to you.”

  Henry did not answer. “If I thought you had played me false, I would never forgive you,” he said.

  “How could you think that?” she asked. “I love you, Henry. This child was born of our love. I could never forsake you for another.”

  His gaze bore down on her. “Never let it be said that you made me a cuckold, madam!”

  “Why is Papa cross?” Elizabeth asked as Anne carried her away.

  “It is nothing to worry about,” Anne assured her, fighting tears and praying that was true. “All will be well, sweeting.”


  That evening there was a banquet, and Henry was once more his usual self, courteous and companionable. His anger, to Anne’s relief, had burned itself out. They led the dancing, and he admired her gown, a new one of gray damask with a crimson kirtle. He left at ten o’clock, pleading the need to attend to urgent state business.

  When he had gone, she became aware of an undercurrent of speculation in the presence chamber. Around eleven o’clock, someone said that the Council was still in session. Clearly some deep and difficult question was being discussed. Was war imminent?

  She waited until the meeting of the Council broke up, and caught her father as he emerged from it. His face was gray and he looked as if he was bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders.

  “What is it?” she asked urgently.

  “I cannot tell you, Anne,” he croaked. “We are all sworn to secrecy. But the King’s visit to Calais is to be postponed for a week. They’re announcing it shortly.”

  “Does this concern me?” She could hear the fear in her voice.

  “It concerns us all. Now I bid you good night.”

  If it concerned everyone, it must be war.


  Anne had always loved May Day and the annual court festival celebrating the coming of spring, which was customarily marked by a great tournament. This year it was to be held in the tiltyard at Greenwich. It was a warm day, and pennants fluttered in the breeze as she took her seat at the front of the royal stand, her ladies clustering behind. Presently Henry arrived, to a great ovation. He greeted her cordially, but seemed preoccupied as he took his seat. He had been meaning to compete himself, but the old wound in his leg was still giving him trouble, and did not seem to be healing.

  They watched as the contestants ran their chivalrous courses, lances couched, armor gleaming. George led the challengers, thrilling the crowd by his skill in breaking lances and vaulting on horseback. Norris headed the defenders, but his temperamental mount refused to enter the lists, whereupon Henry called down that Norris could ride his own horse as a token of his esteem. Anne was thankful that Henry seemed to harbor no suspicions of his old friend.

  Tom Wyatt excelled himself, surpassing all the rest, although Norris, Weston, and Brereton all performed great feats of arms, and Henry was l
oud in his applause and appreciation. Anne smiled down encouragingly on all the gallant knights.

  Halfway through the contests, a page appeared and handed a folded piece of paper to Henry, who read it, flushed a dangerous red, then got up and stalked off, nearly overturning his chair. Father and George were among the lords who hastened after him.

  Anne could not credit that Henry was leaving. There was a hubbub of comment. What had happened? Had the French invaded? He had not troubled to say farewell to her—he who rarely scanted in his courtesy—so it must be serious. She could not help but read something ominous into his hasty departure.

  She signaled for the jousts to resume, but she was aware of the whispers and the speculation. When, bewildered and fearful, she returned to the palace a few hours later, and was told that the King had gone to Whitehall, she knew that some great catastrophe was at hand. And there was no one she could ask about it. As soon as the jousting ended, Norris had hurried to join the King. All her powerful protectors were gone.

  She slept fitfully that night. In the morning, hoping and dreading that the day would bring Henry’s return, or at least some news of what was going on, she had her women dress her in a sumptuous gown of crimson velvet and cloth of gold, and then tried to divert herself by watching her household officers playing tennis. Her champion won, which lifted her spirits a little.

  “I wish now I had placed a wager on him,” she said to Madge, who was sitting next to her in the viewing gallery. Madge nodded, indicating that there was someone behind her. Anne turned to see an usher in royal livery standing, waiting.

  “Your Grace, I am come to bid you, by order of the King, to present yourself before the Privy Council at once,” he said. The Privy Council was here at Greenwich? She had thought it with the King at Whitehall.

  “Very well,” she replied, trying to stem the tide of panic that gripped her. For a queen to be thus summoned was strange indeed, and she was in deep trepidation as she entered the Council chamber.

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