Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir


  “You must be Mistress Anne Boleyn,” she said in English. “I can see the family likeness.” She smiled. “Welcome. I am sorry to have to receive you in such sad circumstances.”

  “I am sorry for your Highness’s tragic loss,” Anne said.

  The Queen smiled at her. “Thank you. It was bad enough losing my kind husband, without having to suffer this incarceration for forty days. How do you like my deuil blanc? It is traditional for French queens to wear white mourning. God’s blood, I look like a nun. I feel like a nun.” The dame d’honneur was looking on benignly. Obviously she did not understand English.

  “Could your Highness not wear something else in private?” Anne asked.

  Mary giggled. “I like your daring, Mistress Anne! But I dare not, not with Madame Louise bearing down on me unannounced at all hours. And it would look disrespectful to my late husband.” For a moment she looked as if she was going to cry. “King Louis was very good to me. I miss him.” Her face brightened again. “You will be glad to be with your sister.”

  Anne nodded. It was true, although she knew it would not be long before jealousy reared its malevolent head between her and Mary. It had ever been so. She could feel her sister’s eyes on her.

  “We are fortunate to be serving your Highness together,” she said.

  “But not fortunate to be doing it in this place,” Queen Mary sighed. “Oh, the time does drag. I am willing the weeks to pass.”

  Anne was already willing it too. Yet she had no choice but to take her place alongside her fellow maids of honor and ladies-in-waiting and tend to her new mistress.

  She soon found that some of the maids were about her own age, and high-spirited, which made life more tolerable. They were kept in check by the dame d’honneur, whose name was Madame d’Aumont. Anne soon learned that she was impeccably connected, having once served the saintly Queen Jeanne, King Louis’s repudiated first wife, and married one of his most trusted seigneurs.

  It was hard not to compare young Queen Mary to the Regent Margaret. She seemed a kind girl with a wicked sense of humor and a naturally sunny disposition, but she had none of the Regent’s intellectual interests.

  King François—for so he was already calling himself—came to see the Queen almost every day. He was just as Anne had imagined him—tall, dark, saturnine, and lascivious, with a perpetual shadow of growth on his chin. When he looked at her—or at any woman—it was as if he was seeing her naked. His eyes were lustful, his long nose devilish, his lips sensual. No female was too lowly to escape his interest, and Anne had to stand there and look pleased when he tipped her chin up and told her she was charming, then lowered his gaze to the swell of her breasts. Yet she had to admit to herself that there was a certain attraction about him, which might spell ruin for any gullible lady. But not her!

  The Queen’s ladies were bursting with gossip about him, but Mary herself, Anne noticed, did not censure them. Instead she took a mischievous pleasure in joining in, knowing that Madame d’Aumont could not understand her.

  “They say he is habitually clothed in women,” giggled pale-eyed Lady Elizabeth Gray, sister to the Marquess of Dorset. Florence Hastings blushed all over her pretty face.

  “He considers whoring a sport on a par with hunting,” the Queen chimed in.

  “People say he boasts of his special ‘petite bande’ of courtesans, and drinks from many fountains,” Mary Boleyn laughed.

  “The word is,” murmured Mary Fiennes, with an impish smirk, “that he has had spyholes and secret doors made in his palaces, so that he can watch women undressing and making love.”

  This was greeted by a chorus of mirth. Anne wondered if the Queen knew that François had spied on her and Louis.

  But Mary was warming to their theme. “I read that Alexander the Great paid attention to women when he had no affairs of state—but King François attends to state affairs when there are no women!” There were more shrieks of laughter.

  “God pity his new bride.” Queen Mary shuddered. “You know he married Louis’s daughter Claude last year? She is no match for him, poor little cripple.”

  It was plain to all that, for the moment, François’s chief interest was in young Queen Mary. His constant concern for her health was transparently a means of asking the question he could not, in propriety, put to her. His mother was as bad—descending on the young widow as she lay in her dark chamber and asking pointed questions. You could not blame them, of course, for upon this crucial matter turned François’s likelihood of keeping the crown he had so long coveted.

  “I would love to see his face if I told him I was pregnant,” Queen Mary said, after yet another interrogation. Her mischievous streak was surfacing more and more, and one day she could not resist telling François that she had a craving for cherries. “Sadly they are out of season,” she complained, “so I shall just have to go without. But I have never fancied anything so much in my life.”

  Anne, who was in attendance, was hard put to keep a straight face, especially when she saw the King’s look of alarm. But then she saw the angry glint in his eyes.

  “The Queen has gone too far,” she said to Mary later. “He looks as if he could be dangerous if provoked.”

  “I don’t think she realizes how perilous it might be to cross him,” Mary agreed. “They still speak of a queen of France who took lovers and was found out. She was put in prison and strangled there.”

  Anne shuddered. “We must never leave her alone at any time. We must warn the others.” It was agreed between them all, and Madame d’Aumont, that four of them at least would be in attendance at all times.

  François kept returning to the black-hung chamber, oblivious to the fact that his visits were increasingly unwelcome to the Queen.

  “I have had enough,” she seethed, after his questions had become a little too personal.

  “What will your Highness do?” asked the dame d’honneur. She was clearly uneasy about the conduct of her royal master, but nervous of offending him.

  “Put an end to his nonsense,” Queen Mary declared.

  The next day she sent to ask if the King would visit her. He came with all speed, and Anne was present at their meeting.

  “Sire,” the Queen said, “my forty days of seclusion will soon be at an end, and I am glad to tell you that you are the only possible King of France.”

  The sardonic eyes gleamed. François seized her hand and kissed it fervently. “That is the most welcome news I have ever had in my life, and it is doubly welcome, for not only does it make me a king, but it also means that the lady I admire more than any is free from ties. Marie”—he always used the French form of her name—“this is no life for you. You are beautiful and made for loving. Why sleep in this miserable bed when I can have you spirited out of here and into mine?”

  Anne was shocked at François’s boldness. It would never have been tolerated at the Regent’s court.

  The Queen’s eyes widened in outrage. “Sire, in your delight in your good fortune, you have obviously forgotten that I am a princess born, and mourning my husband.”

  “Let me comfort you,” he urged. “Let me help you to forget your sad loss.”

  “That is kind, but I would be left to weep in peace.”

  He ignored that. “I would set you above all other ladies, as your beauty and gentleness deserves,” he declared. He actually had his hand on his heart.

  “And what of your charming wife, who is now Queen in my place?”

  “Ma chère, there are ways of arranging these things. The crown of France looks better on your golden head, as we have all seen. Claude would rather have been a nun than a queen.”

  “She loves you, sire. She told me that herself. And she is to have your child.” Mary’s panic was becoming evident in her shrill voice and tense posture.

  “Popes have been accommodating before,” François told her. He seemed not a whit put out by her resistance. “Tell me I may wait in hope.”

  “Alas, sire, I cannot consent t
o anything that would harm my honor or that poor, blameless lady. And now, if you would leave me to rest…”

  —

  When François had gone, reluctantly and still protesting his love as he walked out of the door, Queen Mary controlled herself for a few moments, then burst into furious tears.

  “How dare he!” she cried. “He is unspeakable. I will write to my brother. I will beg him to send for me. I do not know how long I can hold out against this satyr! Bring me pen and paper.”

  Thanks to the good offices of Elizabeth Gray and Jane Bourchier, the letter was smuggled out and sent to England by means of friends of their families in Paris, and it was followed by another, and another, for François did not give up. He haunted the black-hung chamber. The citadel must yield: he was determined upon it. Queen Mary put up a brave defense, and although she did nothing to encourage him, and repeatedly rebuffed him, in private she confessed to her ladies that she feared she would not prevail: he was the King, after all.

  She was drawn and tense, having spent so many sleepless nights raging against him and bewailing her lot. Inevitably there came a day when her patience snapped.

  “Sire, I beg you to leave me alone,” she flared. “I cannot love you, and I have no wish to be married to you.”

  Anne had never heard her speak so plainly to the King before, and the effect was dramatic.

  “Then perchance you wish to be married to a prince of my choosing, to France’s advantage,” he retorted nastily. The ardent lover had been instantly eclipsed by a dangerous adversary. The Queen gasped, then quickly recovered herself.

  “My brother shall hear of this!” she cried.

  “By then it may be too late,” François warned, and stalked out.

  —

  “He is using me!” the Queen stormed, as her women hastened to console her. Anne and Mary glanced at each other, then looked at their mistress, who was sitting on the bed twisting her rings, utterly distraught.

  “How can he do that?” Anne whispered.

  “He is threatening to marry Her Highness to England’s detriment, in revenge for her rejecting his advances,” Florence murmured.

  The Queen nodded. “It is for the King my brother to dispose of me in marriage, and he has made me a promise,” she said mysteriously. “I will not be married to some foreign prince. If François did that, King Henry would declare war on him, I am certain of it.”

  Anne hated to think of women being forced into marriages they did not welcome. Poor Queen Mary had been made to wed the King of France, and now his successor was trying to compel her to marry someone else. Even the Regent had feared being forced by her father into marriage. It was wrong, surely, that men had the right to make women take husbands against their will. She would never let anyone force her into marriage!

  Fortunately King Henry had taken his sister’s complaints seriously. Word came that he was sending an embassy to Paris to bring her home.

  Hard on the heels of that welcome news came a furious King François.

  “Madame, I will not allow the King your brother to marry you to anyone hostile to France.”

  Mary glared at him. “Sire, I have no intention of marrying anyone!”

  “You dissemble!” he growled. “And these English ladies abet you in your scheming. No doubt they smuggle out your letters to England. Well, I will have them replaced by French ladies.”

  Anne was torn. Her life in France was tedious, but going home to Hever held little appeal, unless, of course, Father could find her another place at court—any court. She did not want to leave her kind mistress in such peril and distress, yet go she must, it seemed. On the King’s orders she and the rest were escorted to a set of chambers in another wing of the Hôtel de Cluny, and left to wait there, comfortably accommodated but under guard, until arrangements could be made for their journey to England. Most were indignant.

  “My brother shall hear of this,” sniffed Elizabeth Gray. “And I shall write to King Henry, who is my cousin. He would not wish me to be treated in this way.”

  Mary Fiennes and Jane Bourchier said that they would write to their relatives too. Florence Hastings was all for packing her things and going home at once.

  Anne fretted about the Queen. “Shut in here, we can do nothing to help her,” she lamented.

  They were not confined for long. A few days later they were summoned to see Queen Mary, and astonished to find that there were no guards outside their door.

  It was a great relief to discover the curtains drawn and the black hangings gone from the Queen’s chamber. The walls were now hung with beautiful floral tapestries in rich shades of blue and red, and the room looked so much more cheerful with the hazy February sunlight streaming in. Where the mourning bed had stood there was a chair upholstered in velvet beneath a cloth of estate bearing the royal arms of France and England—the lilies and the leopards—quartered. Here the young Queen was seated, still wearing her white weeds and veil, and in a defiant mood.

  “The embassy has arrived,” she told them. “I have dismissed the guards and the French ladies. You are restored to your places. Let King François complain if he dare! My brother’s envoys will answer for me. Now stand around. They will be here soon.” She was in a fever of excitement.

  Minutes later, the embassy was announced, and in strode several well-dressed gentlemen in furred gowns. Anne stared at the man who led them. That spade beard, those powerful good looks—it was the Duke of Suffolk! As he bent low over the Queen’s hand and she reached out both hers and raised him, Anne saw the look that passed between them.

  She was astounded. These two knew each other! And there was that between them which suggested intimacy. Had it been so before Suffolk paid his addresses to the Regent? Anne had heard gossip that had Margaret of Austria still cherishing notions of marrying him. He had sworn to be her servant for always!

  “Ladies and gentlemen, I would speak with my lord of Suffolk in private,” the Queen said, her cheeks pink and glowing against her lawn veil. Madame d’Aumont raised her eyebrows, and Anne cast a look at her sister, who widened her eyes expressively. In the outer room they settled to their embroidery under the eagle eye of the dame d’honneur, whose stiff manner betrayed just what she thought of her young mistress being closeted alone with a man not related to her. No one spoke, but the maids kept exchanging surreptitious glances, conveying that they had all read the situation correctly.

  When Madame d’Aumont visited the privy, a buzz of chatter broke out.

  “What was Her Highness thinking of?” Florence Hastings hissed.

  “It’s plain on her face!”

  “Aye, and it’s been plain for a long time.”

  “Did you not know?” Mary asked Anne. “It was common knowledge at the English court that the Princess was in love with the Duke.”

  “And it was common knowledge in Mechlin that the Regent was thinking of marrying him,” Anne countered. “He led her on! I saw him.”

  “But what of Lady Lisle?” Mary Fiennes put in.

  “Lady Lisle?” Anne echoed.

  “Yes, silly. How else do you think he got his title?”

  “I assumed the King ennobled him,” Anne flung back, cross at being called silly.

  “No,” Jane Bourchier said. “His betrothed is Viscountess Lisle in her own right, for all she is but ten years old. Two years ago the King consented to my lord of Suffolk contracting himself to her, and using her title in anticipation of their marriage.”

  Mary Boleyn giggled. “By then he had had two wives already.”

  Anne’s jaw dropped. “What happened to them?”

  “The first he divorced. The second died. He is as good as wed to Lady Lisle, so I know not what business he has pursuing any lady, let alone royal ones.”

  That a man could be so perfidious—so deceitful! Anne shook her head. How sorry she felt for the Regent, who had been duped by his flattery. Maybe Queen Mary had been duped as well.

  Florence made a face. “Betrothals can be b
roken. What worries me is Her Highness’s lack of respect for the conventions.”

  Anne turned to her. “I admire her. Look what she did today, dismissing those guards and ladies on her own authority. Why should she not receive a man alone? Are all men beasts, that they cannot be trusted?” She was aware that the Duke of Suffolk was not to be trusted—but even he would surely not stoop to molesting a queen.

  The others stared at her.

  “Maybe it’s she who can’t be trusted,” Mary giggled, and the tension broke. Anne was about to defend her bold statement when Madame d’Aumont returned and the interminable stitching resumed in silence.

  An hour later, they were summoned back by the Queen. She was alone. Her eyes were swollen from weeping, her manner distracted.

  “You all know how this King has importuned me,” she said, “and about his threats to force me into an unwelcome marriage. Well, I had already chosen my future. Before I married King Louis, I had an understanding with my lord of Suffolk that if my husband died, we would be wed, if he could be released from his betrothal. The King my brother knew that I did not wish to marry Louis, and he promised me that I could choose my second husband. He knew who it would be. And yet he has sent my lord here with strict instructions not to marry me, even though he is now free to do so.” She raised her tearstained face to them, looking distraught. “I told my lord that my situation was becoming intolerable. I urged him to wed me without delay, but he refused. So I warned him that if he did not, I would retire to a convent.” She was crying now, her shoulders heaving. “And I will!”

  There was nothing that any of them could do. They gave her handkerchiefs, they brought her wine, they murmured words of comfort. And then the Duke of Suffolk was announced, and they had only moments to make her presentable before she hissed that they should leave. They flew through the door just as the Duke was about to enter, and the last thing they heard was him saying, “My sweet lady, I cannot let you do this…”

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]