Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

“What caused it?” Lady Kingston asked.

  “It was for the sorrow she felt for me,” Anne told her. There was a silence.

  Anne turned to the Constable. She desperately needed to know if she was to face trial. “Master Kingston, shall I die without justice?”

  “The poorest subject of the King hath justice,” he replied.

  She laughed at that. She could not stop herself.


  It was ten o’clock. The chaplain had long gone, and Anne was completing her light penance in her closet when she heard Lady Kingston, in the outer chamber, say to her aunts that Smeaton had at last been found a lodging in the Tower, and that it was meaner than Norris’s. Would to God she knew where Norris was lodged. But as she fell, exhausted, into her bed, at the close of what had been the most dreadful day of her life, it was a small comfort to know that he could not be far away.

  Sleep was impossible. She had suffered night terrors before her arrest, but they were a hundred times worse now. Henry, she was convinced, wanted to be free to take a third wife who could give him sons, but without the trouble that had ensued when he had tried to set Katherine aside. But she, Anne, would go quietly, if only she were given the chance—and she would say so as soon as the opportunity arose. It might be her only hope of saving herself. Unless, of course, he was just trying to frighten her into submission. How many times had his threats proved to be mere bluster? He did not really mean to put her to death, not after all she had meant to him. She tried not to imagine herself kneeling before the block, waiting for the ax to fall—the thought was too terrifying. And she had thought rape was the worst thing a man could do to a woman! Her thoughts kept revolving, an endless, convoluted torment, until she saw another bright May morning dawn outside her window.


  A few hours later, she was allowed to sit in the Queen’s garden, a walled enclosure with an unkempt lawn and poorly tended flower beds. Her four guardians had to accompany her, and she realized that Lady Kingston, who was ostensibly busy with her sewing, was watching her closely. Lady Shelton’s overt hostility was unmitigated. It hurt, especially after Anne had done her the honor of appointing her to Elizabeth’s household.

  “Why are you so angry with me, aunt?” she challenged.

  “You should know!” Lady Shelton hissed. “Not content with bringing disgrace on our family, you have ruined my Madge’s reputation! Do you deny that you pushed her into the King’s path? Or that Norris, the man she loved, betrayed her with you? Thanks to you, her good name is gone and her happiness destroyed.”

  “None of that is true,” Anne protested. “I have brought no disgrace on our family, for I have been true to the King. Those charges are all lies. I never betrayed him or Madge with Norris. And it was Madge who offered to seduce His Grace.”

  “You lie!” Lady Shelton spat. “My daughter would never do such a thing.”

  “I beg to correct you, but she did. Ask her.”

  “I know what her answer will be. But your wickedness did not end there, as I well know. You forced me to make the Lady Mary’s life a misery; that poor girl, that good girl, lived in fear that you would do away with her. How would you like someone to treat your daughter like that? Think on it, madam, for soon you may not be here to protect her.”

  “Lady Shelton, I think you have said enough,” Lady Kingston said, as Anne sat there trembling. She might indeed be facing death, and if there was anything that should trouble her conscience, it was the vile way she had treated Mary.

  Lady Kingston was looking at her with pity in her eyes. “I suggest you refrain from making wild threats,” she told Lady Shelton, “as we don’t know what is to happen to the Queen here. We await the King’s orders.”

  So there was cause for hope after all. Anne did not know how much longer she could live with the uncertainty, the wild veering between optimism and despair. But she was resolved that, if Henry did spare her, she would be truly kind to Mary and make up to her for all the misery she had inflicted.

  Mrs. Coffyn, who had been feeding the birds with crumbs from the breakfast table, now sat down beside Anne. “I am most sorry for your present trouble,” she said. “I cannot imagine why you are in this situation. I’m told it is because of something your chamberlain said. Why would Sir Henry Norris tell Father Skip that he would swear you were a good woman? Why should he even speak of such a matter?”

  It dawned on Anne that Mrs. Coffyn, and the others, had been set to spy on her and get her to incriminate herself out of her own mouth. No doubt every word she said was being reported back to Kingston—and Henry!

  “I bade him do so,” she said, deciding that telling the truth was the best course. “We had exchanged some remarks in jest, no more, that we feared had been overheard and misconstrued.” She recounted the conversation she had had with Norris.

  “You should know that, even now, Sir Francis Weston is being questioned by the Privy Council about his relations with your Grace,” Mrs. Coffyn revealed, watching her closely.

  Weston too! She had wondered if he was the third man. “I fear him talking more than anyone else,” she admitted. “He thinks that Norris is in love with me.” And she related her exchange with Weston about Norris being reluctant to marry Madge. “And that,” she said, glaring at Lady Shelton, “was all there was to this so-called treason.”

  She turned back to Mrs. Coffyn. “I will not be convicted,” she declared. “There is no evidence they can produce against me. If they are twisting silly talk like this, they must be groping around in the dust for a means to get rid of me. But my brother will speak for me, and Norris will declare my innocence, as must Weston and Smeaton.”

  “Lord Rochford has been arrested too,” Lady Kingston revealed. “He is here in the Tower.” She would not meet Anne’s horrified gaze.

  George too? It did not make sense. Why should he be imprisoned on her account? God forbid, had his part in Katherine’s death been discovered? If Chapuys knew of it, Henry would need to make an example of her brother to satisfy the Emperor, whose friendship he desired. And she, Anne, for all Charles’s fair words, remained an obstacle to that. Were they also trying to make out that she and her friends had been accomplices in murder, so that the alliance could go ahead? Was this about adultery or murder?

  “This is becoming farcical,” she declared. “I pray you, Lady Kingston, send for your husband so that I might speak to him.”

  Sir William, duly summoned, was soon standing before her, hat in hand.

  “I hear that my lord my brother is here,” she said.

  “It is true,” he confirmed.

  “But why?” she asked.

  “You know I cannot discuss that with you.”

  She sighed. “I am very glad that we are so near each other.” It struck her that, without George and Norris to speak for her, she really was utterly friendless.

  Kingston cleared his throat. “Madam, I may also tell you that four other gentlemen are in the Tower on your account: Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Richard Page.”

  That made six men beside her brother! Wyatt she could perhaps understand, for he had loved her once, but she barely knew what Page looked like. What sort of sexual predator did they suppose her to be? Or were they trying to suggest that, being so desperate to get a son, she had resorted to lover after lover in the hope of filling the royal cradle? It was ridiculous. Had they not remembered that she had had no trouble at all making sons with Henry? Or were they trying to imply that those sons—and even Elizabeth, God forfend—were not Henry’s?

  Something was becoming clear. This whole stinking matter was not just Henry’s doing: it was Cromwell’s, of that she had no doubt. He had feared her enmity, and he had counterattacked. The arrest of Brereton proved it. Cromwell had a score to settle with him. The hand of Master Secretary was becoming all too evident in this business. This was not about adultery or murder!

  Well, she would deal with him!

  “Master Kingston,
I desire you to bear a letter from me to Master Secretary,” she said.

  “Madam,” he replied, “tell it me by word of mouth, and I will do it.”

  “I beg you, say to him that I much marvel that the King’s Council does not come to see me. They have not questioned me at all, and yet they have arrested these seven gentlemen. I should like an opportunity to explain everything and clear my name.”

  Kingston said nothing.

  Anne looked up at the cloudless sky. “If good men will do nothing to remedy my situation, God will make manifest His displeasure. I’ll wager we shall have no rain till I am delivered out of the Tower.”

  “Then I pray it will rain soon, because we need fair weather for the crops,” Kingston said, and left her.

  When he had gone, Lady Kingston gave her a frame, some fabric, and some silks, and she tried to concentrate on embroidery. As she stitched, she warmed even more to her theory about Cromwell. None of her women had been arrested for abetting adultery, and it would have been impossible for her to have indulged in a succession of liaisons without the collusion of at least one trusted maid. In accusing her of whatever crime she was supposed to have committed, Cromwell had taken a breathtaking risk, which showed how desperate he must be.

  But Cromwell was no fool—whatever proofs he had shown Henry would have had to be convincing, or the consequences for Master Secretary could be horrific.


  By the following evening, Anne had grown so sick of the unwelcome vigilance and barbs of her attendant ladies that she could stay silent no longer. At dinner, when they were all present, she turned to Kingston.

  “The King knew what he was doing when he placed my aunts and Mistress Coffyn about me, for they tell me nothing about anything.”

  Lady Boleyn snorted. “Your love of intrigue has brought you to this, niece.”

  “I have never intrigued against the King,” Anne declared.

  There was a silence. Mrs. Stonor filled it. “You know Mark Smeaton is the worst treated of all the prisoners here, for he wears irons.”

  Anne was disturbed to hear it. “That is because he is no gentleman,” she observed. “I know of no wrong he has done. He was only ever in my privy chamber at Winchester, when I sent for him to play for the company. I did not speak with him after that till the Saturday before May Day, when I found him standing in the window in my presence chamber.” She related what had happened. “Is it for this he was arrested?”

  The ladies said nothing. She hoped they would report her defense of Smeaton.

  After dinner, her spirits sank again at the thought of another night spent agonizing about her situation. When Kingston was preparing to escort her back to her lodging, she broke down. “My lord my brother will die!” she wailed.

  “That is by no means certain,” he said.

  “I have never heard of a queen being so cruelly treated,” she told him. “I think the King does it to prove me.” And suddenly she was laughing again. It was the thought of Henry, who had been constantly unfaithful, testing her devotion. With an effort, she controlled herself. “I shall have justice.”

  “Have no doubt of that,” Kingston assured her.

  “And if any man accuses me, I can say nothing but nay, for they can bring no witness. I wish, though, that I could have made some statement of my innocence. If I had done so, my case would be won. I would to God I had my bishops with me, for they would all go to the King for me if they knew the truth.” It appalled her to think that those who had known her as a friend to true religion might now believe the worst of her.

  Kingston was looking skeptical, which aroused her anger.

  “I think the most part of England must be praying for me,” she said, “and if I die, you shall see the greatest visitation of divine punishment that ever came to England. But I shall be in Heaven, for I have done many good deeds in my days.” And, at the thought, she wept again.


  She had been in the Tower nearly a week when a deputation of councillors visited her.

  “Make a full confession of your crimes and it will go better for you,” they exhorted her.

  “What crimes?” She faced them boldly, holding herself regally, as their Queen. “My lords, I have no further hope in this world, but I will confess nothing, certainly not to things I have not done. All I want now is to be delivered from this purgatory on earth, so that I can go and live in Heaven. I no longer care about dying.” It was true. She was calmer now, resigned to the worst. Her life had become such a living hell that death would come as a welcome release.

  They stared at her, astonished. Had they expected tears and pleading?

  She returned their gaze. “I can confess no more than I have already spoken.”


  Two days later, Kingston stood before her. “I am to tell your Grace that I have this day received orders that I am to bring up the bodies of Sir Francis Weston, Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, and Mark Smeaton to Westminster Hall to be tried for treason on Friday next.”

  Two days hence.

  “And what of Lord Rochford and myself?”

  “I have received no instructions about that, madam.”

  “This is outrageous!” she flared. “We should all be tried at the same time. The outcome of the one trial may prejudice the other.”

  “Madam,” Kingston said patiently, “these men are commoners and will be heard by the commissioners who brought the case against them. You and Lord Rochford have the right to be tried by the peers, your equals, in the court of the High Steward of England.”

  She knew that whoever tried whom, and when, the law was heavily weighted against anyone suspected of treason. She had heard of only one person ever being acquitted.

  “What of Master Wyatt and Master Page?” she asked.

  “Again, I have received no instructions,” Kingston said.


  She was on a dagger’s edge on the day the men were tried, and kept sending to know if Kingston had returned. The sight of his grave face when, late in the afternoon, he appeared before her made her fear the worst.

  “Tell me!” she begged. “Were they found guilty?”

  “All,” he said, swallowing.

  “Of what?” she cried.

  “I may not discuss the indictments with your Grace.”

  “Tell me at least if they protested my innocence,” she pleaded.

  “Only Smeaton pleaded guilty,” Kingston told her, “but the verdict was unanimous.”

  This was a worse nightmare than any she had suffered in the hours of darkness. “What will happen to them?” she whispered, dreading the answer.

  Kingston looked distressed. “They will suffer the death meted out to traitors.”

  Not Norris! her heart cried out. Not that true, loyal man. Nor Weston, who was young and full of life, or Brereton, whose only crime had been to offend Cromwell, or Smeaton, for all his insufferable pride! This could not be happening. And what did it portend for her and for George? They were all doomed.


  The next day, Kingston returned. “Madam, I have received the King’s writ commanding me to bring your Grace and Lord Rochford before the Lord High Steward on Monday for trial here in the King’s Hall.”

  So she was not to go out of the Tower. No doubt they feared demonstrations on her behalf—or more likely, against her.

  “But I have not been told what has been alleged against me!” she cried. “How can I prepare my defense?”

  “You will hear the indictment in court, madam, where they will also read out the depositions of any witnesses.”

  “May some lawyer be appointed to speak for me?”

  Kingston was looking increasingly uncomfortable. “Madam, legal representation is forbidden to those charged with treason. Nor may you call witnesses on your own behalf.”

  She laughed bitterly at that. “It is doubtful that any would dare come forward anyway. So how can I defend myself?”

  “You may dispute with you
r accusers.”

  “You told me I would have justice!” she snapped. “This sounds like a travesty of it.”

  Kingston lowered his guard, and she could see the compassion in his eyes. “As my good friend Cardinal Wolsey once said to me,” he observed, “if the Crown were prosecutor and insisted on it, justice would be found to bring in a verdict that Abel was the murderer of Cain.”

  The realization that she was in the same plight as she had intended for Wolsey stung. “Then I am brought to fight without a weapon,” she whispered.

  Kingston hastened away, saying there was much to be done, leaving her to her frustration and her fears. She spent much of the rest of that day, and all day Sunday, watching from her window as the courtyard of the inmost ward below became the scene of frantic activity, with workmen carrying wood and scaffolding poles into the adjacent King’s Hall, a flustered Kingston directing them, and Tower officials running back and forth to do his bidding. Looking at the rich furnishings being borne in—a great gilded board bearing the arms of England, tables, Turkey rugs, upholstered chairs, and a chest of silver goblets—she realized that she was to be tried with an appropriate degree of state and ceremonial. She was, after all, the Queen of England.


  She waited in the porch with Kingston, Sir Edmund Walsingham, her four female warders, and—a welcome surprise—four of her former maids of honor: Nan Saville, Margery Horsman, Mary Zouche, and Norris’s sister, another Mary, all of whom it was a comfort to see. She was near tears as she embraced them, although the evident distress in their faces alarmed her. They would have heard the gossip at court. Did they know something she did not?

  At least, as queen, she would be properly attended, but this was no court ceremonial. The Gentleman Jailer of the Tower waited with her, and there were guards before and behind her.

  From inside the hall she could hear a great hubbub of conversation. The place must be packed. She had seen the common folk queuing from before dawn to get in. At least she was to be tried in the sight of the people.

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