Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  Thank God the King would soon be gone. He was to blame. He had no business trying to seduce a young lady of good family; it was unforgivable, especially in one who enjoyed showing himself to the world as a chivalrous knight. How could anyone esteem such a dishonorable man so highly?


  “Lord Lisle took a ring from me,” the Regent said, as she preceded her attendants into her bedchamber after yet another banquet. “He would not give it back. I told him he was a thief.”

  They stared at her.

  “It really does seem that the handsome lord means to marry me,” she went on, her tone unusually flat. “And King Henry is pressing for the match. He has not ceased to remind me of its advantages.”

  “But your Highness is not sure?” one of the older women asked.

  “No, Jacoba.” Margaret sank down on the bench at the end of her bed. “In truth, I am in turmoil, not knowing what to do. Our ambassadors tell me there is gossip about this marriage all over Europe. It seems that many have us wed already! People are making wagers about it. It’s awful—and embarrassing.”

  Anne thought that the Regent should marry the captivating Brandon. They were a well-matched pair, and she had given every appearance of being smitten with him. And it would put an end to the rumors.

  “What prevents your Highness from accepting his suit?” asked Jacoba, who was close to their mistress.

  “A lot of people do not think it a fit match for me. It is being said that King Henry has made a nobleman out of a stableman. Even Erasmus disapproves—he wrote and told me so. And I do not know what my father the Emperor will say. My marrying an Englishman may preclude my ruling here, and I would not give that up easily.”

  “But your Highness loves Lord Lisle?”

  Margaret flushed. “I do not know. I like him very much. He has such grace in his person—I have rarely seen any gentleman who can match him. King Henry urges the match, and warns me that I should decide soon, since he fears that my father may force me into marriage with another. I think he dreads my allying myself with one of England’s enemies. But I told him that my father would do no such thing, and promised him only that I would not enter into any other marriage this year. And Lord Lisle has vowed that he will never marry another, but will remain all his life my humble servant. Maybe it was just the play of love; I must not be seduced by words. Now I must to bed. I have much to think about.”


  Henry of England went home, the Regent continued to speak fondly of Lord Lisle, and Etiennette emerged subdued but unscathed from her midnight liaison. The months that followed passed pleasantly—and quickly—at the palaces of Mechlin, Lille, and the Regent’s summer retreat of La Veure near Brussels.

  Speculation continued to rage as to whether or not she would marry Lord Lisle—or my lord the Duke of Suffolk, as he now was, having been ennobled after his return to England. Anne kept hoping that they would make a match of it, for the Duke was a jovial fellow, and with such a man at the helm, life at the court of Burgundy would be even more lively and pleasurable than it was already. And he had many eligible young men in his retinue whom he might bring with him. Not that Anne was in any hurry to be wed—she was too busy enjoying herself—but she did love the innocent flirtations that were now so much a part of her life.

  She had no wish to end up like Etiennette, whose father had arranged for her to marry a rich old man of sixty-two. Anne had heard Etiennette weeping at night; she had listened to her fruitless protests to the Regent, who had looked sad, but said that she could not override the will of a father. Anne had watched a tearful Etiennette take up quill and paper and write to King Henry, reminding him of his promise to give her a dowry. She had witnessed the girl droop with disappointment as the weeks passed and no reply came.

  There was much talk of weddings in the air. The Archduke Charles was now fourteen, and of an age to be married. For six years he had been betrothed to King Henry’s sister Mary, who was said to be a great beauty. Much joy she will have of him, Anne thought. He looked as happy as if they had been planning his funeral. But he, like Etiennette, had no choice in the matter. His bride would soon be crossing the sea, as sure as doom, and he must do his duty. God pity the poor princess who must endure such a husband.


  They were at La Veure, an exquisite turreted palace surrounded by a lake and a vast hunting park, enjoying the summer sunshine and embroidering Etiennette’s beautiful silk wedding gown, when the blow fell.

  For some weeks Anne had been hearing talk of a rift between King Henry and his allies, the Emperor and King Ferdinand. She had given it little thought, being more preoccupied with refurbishing her clothes in the latest French style, or discussing love and art with her mistress, or learning the latest dance steps and polishing her French, in which she was now almost fluent.

  It did not dawn on her until afterward that preparations for the Archduke’s wedding had come to a standstill. She only realized that something was amiss when Isabeau asked the Regent if the Archduke and his wife would be having their own establishment.

  “The Princess is not to come here after all,” Margaret of Austria said, her cheerful face suddenly clouding. “King Henry has broken her betrothal.”

  Two dozen needles were stilled or suspended in midair as the ladies and filles d’honneur looked up in surprise.

  “Apparently His Grace of England feels that his allies have not kept faith with him, but have betrayed him by making peace with the French. He is to make a new treaty with King Louis.”

  Anne resumed her stitching. This had little to do with her. She hoped the Regent would not think badly of her for being the subject of a king who had suddenly become unfriendly to the Emperor her father.

  Thankfully Margaret continued to treat her with the same affection and kindness she had always shown her. Despite the difference in their ranks and ages, they had become friends; it was a friendship that Anne prized above almost everything else.

  But then came the day when the Regent sent for Anne to attend her in the little gallery overlooking the lake. She had a letter in her hand.

  “Mademoiselle Anne, I have heard from your father. He has sent two gentlemen to escort you home to England.”

  Home to England? It could not be true!

  “No, madame!” Anne cried, horrified. Surely the Regent could make Father understand that her place was here, at her court. But Margaret was raising a hand to silence her.

  “Let me finish,” she reproved gently. “Your father has found a new place for you. The Princess Mary is to marry King Louis. Yes, I see you are as shocked as I am. Another young girl being tied to an old husband. Ah, but it is the way of the world, la petite Boleyn! And for compensation, the delightful Mary will be Queen of France. You and your sister are to serve her. She has asked for you both, and naturally your father could not refuse. As for me, I will be deeply sad to lose you. But I think you have benefited from your time here, and been happy. Your French is now excellent, and you have a certain polish about you. Your father will be pleased, I know. It is what he sent you to me for. Now all he desires is that you conduct yourself worthily when you go to the French court, and I have no doubt that you will do that very well.”

  It was too much to comprehend at once. All Anne could think of was that she was to leave this brilliant court and the mistress she loved. She knew nothing of the Princess Mary, and had no desire to go to France.

  The Regent was regarding her with sympathy.

  “I had to leave my homeland three times,” she said. “I was sent to France, to Spain, and then to Savoy. The French court is magnificent. It is famed for its art and its culture. You will like it, I promise you. This is an excellent opportunity for you, being given the chance to serve the Queen of France. Do not despise it. And who knows, maybe one day we will meet again, ma petite.” There were tears in the Regent’s eyes now; it was obvious that she was putting on a brave face to enable Anne to do as she was bid.

  “So, I will write t
o your father,” she continued briskly, “and tell him that his request is granted. Now go and make ready. And you also can send him a letter, telling him how pleased you are at your good fortune.”

  Anne dragged her footsteps as she made her way back to the dorter. Everything in her path reminded her that she would soon be leaving the glories and familiar sights of this beautiful palace. Worst of all, she would be cut off from the Regent. She wanted to weep and rage at her father. She did not believe that the Princess Mary would have asked for her; why should she ask for someone she had never met? No, Father had boasted of her—and her sister Mary, although Heaven knew why—and the Princess had been persuaded to appoint them maids of honor.

  The dorter was, mercifully, empty, so she threw herself headlong on her bed and gave herself up to a torrent of tears. Later, when she had cried herself out and washed her face, she wrote, with gritted teeth, to Father. It was hard to be civil to him when he had ruined her life. All she could think of was the inevitable parting from the Regent. How hard it would be not to give way to weeping and to conduct herself as courtesy demanded.

  But when the time came to leave, it was Margaret of Austria who wept and could not bear to release Anne from her embrace.


  Anne finally arrived in Paris on a cold day at the beginning of January, weeks later than planned. The delay had been frustrating—she had arrived back at Hever after an arduous journey to find, to her chagrin, that Mary had long departed for the court—but it had been necessary, for Anne’s budding figure was beginning to outgrow her fine court gowns, and Mother had decided that some should be altered and some replaced, summoning the tailor and setting Mrs. Orchard to work to ensure that her daughter was fittingly attired to serve the Queen of France.

  The preparation of her new wardrobe had delayed Anne for a month, and then the bad weather had set in, with storms rendering the English Channel impassable, so she was forced to remain at Hever for Christmas, missing Burgundy, and angry and resentful because her sister was enjoying herself at the French court, having been dispatched from home in time to attend the new Queen Mary’s proxy marriage ceremony at Greenwich, her wedding to King Louis at Abbeville, and her triumphant entry into Paris.

  She missed George. She hadn’t seen him or Father, for Sir Thomas had taken George to court for the festivities, in the hope that the King would make the boy one of his pages. And though her older brothers came home for the festive season, back from Penshurst and Oxford, they inhabited worlds too far removed from hers to offer any comfort.

  It had been with huge relief that she drew back her curtains on St. Stephen’s Day and saw that the winds had died down. After that there had been all to do packing her gear and making ready for her journey. Her brother Hal had been appointed her escort, with two of the Hever grooms to look after the baggage cart.

  And now—at last—she was in Paris, a beautiful city that seemed to be abundant with opportunities. As she and Hal rode along the left bank of the River Seine, in company with the guide they had paid to escort them, they could see ahead of them the Île de la Cité with its turreted palace, the soaring Sainte-Chapelle, and the mighty towers of the cathedral of Notre-Dame, their stonework painted in bright colors. The great bells were tolling, their clamor echoed by other city churches.

  “Someone important has died,” Hal said, his dark features creasing in a frown.

  Paris had spread well beyond its stone walls, but when they entered the old city, Anne found her senses assailed, for it was cramped and noisy, and it stank. She wrinkled her nose, trying to breathe through her mouth as they negotiated their way along streets teeming with people, who all seemed to be in an excitable mood. Passing around a corner, they glimpsed a procession of clergy wearing black robes.

  “Something is definitely going on,” Hal declared.

  Ahead of them were the towers of the Louvre, the royal palace, but that was not their destination. On approaching Paris, they had been directed to continue southward to the Hôtel des Tournelles, where they would find the court. Anne could not wait to get there. But when they arrived, the stately building had a deserted, shuttered look about it.

  Hal approached a porter lounging by the gatehouse.

  “Is the court in residence?” he asked.

  “Have you not heard?” the man replied. “The King is dead. The court has moved away.”

  The news hit Anne like a blow. Hal looked at her in dismay.

  “Where is the Queen?” he asked.

  “Gone into seclusion at the Hôtel de Cluny, across the river.” The man pointed and turned away.

  “I’m sorry, little sister,” Hal commiserated, turning to Anne.

  Anne’s stomach was churning. “I pray they do not send me home. Even a widowed queen needs attendants. I wonder what happened to the King.”

  “Mary will tell us, no doubt,” her brother said. For once, Anne was looking forward to seeing her sister.


  The Hôtel de Cluny was a small medieval palace with fashionable classical embellishments. They were shown into a parlor, as if they had arrived at a religious house, and indeed an atmosphere of piety and silence did seem to cast a pall over everything. It was so quiet. The bustle of the streets seemed a world away.

  A young woman entered. It took Anne a moment or so to recognize Mary, whose beauty had flowered in the nineteen months of their separation. Her face was a perfect oval, her eyes doelike, her mouth a rosebud. The black damask gown and halo-shaped hood became her delicate coloring and dark hair.

  Mary held out her hands. “Thank God you are here,” she said, as Hal embraced her. She turned to Anne and kissed her on both cheeks in the French manner. “Sister, you have grown so! You are become a lady. Oh, I cannot tell you how relieved I am to see you both. But Hal, you cannot stay long—this is a house of women now. No man may go near Her Highness.” She made a face. “She has to remain in seclusion for forty days, until it is known that she is not enceinte with the King’s child. A pretty storm that would stir up, I assure you.”

  “Tell us what happened,” Hal said.

  “The King died on New Year’s Day. They are saying that Her Highness wore him out by making him perform marvels in the marriage bed, but it is not true. He was ill, and she had shown much care for him. The truth is, he defied his doctors and ate foods that were bad for his gout. That brought on the fit of vomiting that killed him. When they told Queen Mary, she fainted. We had all to do to revive her and offer some comfort. She was distraught.”

  “Is she enceinte?” Hal wanted to know. He had inherited Father’s interest in dynastic breeding.

  “It is too early to tell, but I think not.”

  “Then Louis’s cousin, the Dauphin François, will be king.”

  “He acts as if he is king already,” Mary said.

  “I can see why an announcement that Queen Mary is pregnant would cause trouble,” Anne observed.

  Mary sank down on a stool. “It’s more complicated than that. The Dauphin’s nose was much put out of joint when King Louis married our Princess, seeing his chance of a crown flying out of the window. He even had them spied on in their marriage bed, to see if Louis could sire children. But then—this, you understand, is a man whose brain is in his codpiece—François began to take a blatant interest in Queen Mary, not caring what King Louis might do. She did nothing to encourage it; she does not trust him or even like him, but you should have heard the gossip. The word was that François’s mother, Madame Louise, gave him a piece of her mind. She’s as ambitious as he is, and minds to see herself ruling France at one remove as the King’s mother.”

  “He sounds a devil!” Anne cried.

  “He is, and if he hears that you have been here, Hal, he’ll make something of it. You must go. We dare not compromise the Queen.”

  Hal stood up. “Then I will take my leave, dear sisters. I have to be home for the Hilary term, though I had hoped to spend some time with you both first.”

  They said
their farewells, then, when Hal had gone to find his horse, Mary took Anne to see Queen Mary.

  “I warn you, it’s very gloomy in there,” Mary said. “But I would not leave her service, the poor unhappy lady. Thank goodness she has been allowed to keep her English attendants—or rather, those of us who weren’t sent home after she arrived in France.”

  Anne’s spirits sank. How she wished herself back at the court of the Regent. Leaving it for the French court had been bad enough; finding herself in a house of mourning was fifty times worse.

  “My gown!” she said suddenly, looking down at her skirts; she had worn the wine-red damask for her presentation to the Queen. “It is not suitable.”

  “You can change it later,” Mary said. “I trust you have a black one.”

  She led Anne through an antechamber, opened a door, and pulled aside a heavy curtain. The room beyond was in darkness, even though it was full daylight outside. The only illumination came from a few flickering candles. As Anne’s eyes accustomed themselves to the dimness, she could see that the windows were shrouded in heavy curtains, blocking all the light, and that the walls and the great mourning bed that dominated the room were hung with black. It felt like being in a tomb.

  A ghostly pale figure lay on the bed, swathed in voluminous robes and a nunlike mourning veil and cap, all in white. Around her sat several black-clad maids of honor and an older lady, very finely attired, who must surely be the dame d’honneur in charge of them. She watched as Anne sank into a deep curtsey.

  Queen Mary propped herself up on one elbow, regarding her new maid of honor. She had exquisite features, with green eyes, pouting lips, and fair skin like her brother, King Henry; a tendril of flaming red hair had escaped from her cap. She looked younger than her eighteen years, with her slender child’s hand extended to be kissed.

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