Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “Look at that,” she said to Maud, bitter bile in her throat.

  Maud’s full lips set in a hard line. “There has been talk in the court this past week or so. I did not like to tell you.”

  “I wonder how long it has been going on,” Katherine said faintly, fretting about how she could compete with such youth, charm, and elegance.

  “Not long, I would imagine,” Maud said. “We would have heard about it sooner otherwise.”

  Katherine suddenly remembered the jousts at Greenwich, a year past last February, and the motto Henry had worn. Surely it had not been going on that long? Then she thought of Anne Boleyn’s mysterious comings and goings and the increasing richness of her attire. Yet Katherine refused to believe it. As Maud thought, it must have been a recent development.

  “That there is talk now is bad enough!” Katherine exclaimed. “What if the Princess got to hear it?” She could not bear to contemplate the effect on Mary. “This is dreadful. Not just because he is being unfaithful, but because he has never, ever made a public display of adultery. It is as if he feels that he is free to do so, and never mind that I am humiliated and slighted by it. I am his queen! How can he shame me so?”

  But Henry could, and he did, and soon, it seemed, the world was full of rumors, fueled by the King’s open—some said blatant—courtship of Anne Boleyn.

  Speculation was rampant. She was his mistress, some said; no, said others, he meant to wed her when his Great Matter was resolved. Not so, he was merely trying to get her into his bed!

  Anne still attended upon the Queen daily. Never once did she scant her respect to Katherine or conduct herself as her rival. But the other ladies made it quite clear what they thought of her. Their methods were subtle: a slight withdrawing, a hushing of conversation, a disapproving glance; but nothing overt, lest she report them to the King.

  Katherine heard from those women what people were saying. She wanted, nay needed, to know, however badly it hurt. She saw too, with her own eyes, how it was between her husband and her maid of honor. She watched from her window as they walked in the gardens, arms entwined; she saw Anne at the center of the privileged crowd who clustered about the King, laughing and jesting and flirting. Her eyes never left Henry and Anne when they danced together, their bodies moving in harmony, their eyes and hands locked.

  Henry rarely came to Katherine’s apartments now. Every hour of every day, it seemed, he needed to be with Anne. Katherine knew intuitively—who better?—that he was hopelessly infatuated. Everything about him proclaimed it. He had eyes for no one but Anne, and appeared not to care who knew it. But Anne did not seem to have the same need to be with Henry. It dawned on Katherine that her rival was adept at holding herself tantalizingly aloof.

  “I fear that she is at the root of His Grace’s doubts about your marriage,” Maud told Katherine.

  “I had wondered about that,” Katherine said, hoping that Henry was not putting them both through this whole lying affair for the sake of a pair of dark eyes.

  The French Queen waxed indignant about Anne. “I hate that woman,” she declared one evening, as Henry was dancing with his new ladylove. “She served me in France and I took against her then. She’s two-faced and too clever for her own good. Forgive me, Kate, but I’m going home to Westhorpe. I’m not staying here to watch her queening it over the court—because that’s what she’s doing, mark my words. She means to have your crown, and before you know it, it’ll be on her head. Well, she’ll never see me bowing the knee to her, the jumped-up little madam.”

  Katherine felt cheered by this robust support.

  “What of the Duke your husband? Where does he stand in this?”

  “Charles? What do you expect, Kate? He is for the King. He has no choice. All that he is, Henry made him.”

  “That cannot make for marital harmony.”

  The French Queen’s expression was grim. “No, Kate, it does not, which is another reason why I am leaving court.”

  “I will miss you, dear sister,” Katherine said, watching Henry pressing Anne’s hand to his lips as the dance ended.


  As yet, Katherine had been afforded no opportunity to ask Henry what was going on between him and Anne, but there came a morning when, arriving in good time to hear Mass, she found him in the royal pew in the chapel, looking over some state papers. She sank to her knees beside him, said a prayer, then raised herself to her seat and summoned her courage.

  “Henry, I must ask—I have heard much talk, and I have seen you keeping company with Anne Boleyn. Is there something I should know?”

  Henry would not look at her. His eyes were fixed on the stained glass behind the altar. At length he spoke.

  “I am in love with her, Kate, and I mean to marry her.”

  Katherine drew in her breath. It was what she had feared most.

  “So this is why your conscience is troubling you!”

  “No, Kate. This is no trivial matter. I know what it looks like, that I am pursuing this divorce out of love for some lady, and not from any scruple of conscience; but that is not true, for I am moved to it only to discharge my conscience.”

  He turned to face her then. “Be realistic, Kate. I need a son. You cannot give me one, more’s the pity.”

  “But if our sons had lived, would you still be saying that our marriage was invalid?”

  “If they had lived, I would have had proof that God had smiled upon our union. But they did not, God rest them, and I fear greatly for the succession and the future of my kingdom. Dammit, Kate, can’t you see reason? The Pope will find for me. He will understand that I need to take another wife who can bear me children. The fact that I have found her is immaterial, really.”

  “And what of me?” she asked, trembling with grief and anger.

  “I’ve told you, Kate: you can have anything you want! My case is grounded upon justice, and not from any grudge or displeasure toward you. I mind to treat you as my sister, with the greatest honor and love and kindness. Mary will still have her place in the succession, after Anne’s sons.”

  His sister! Arthur’s widow. But Katherine was spared the necessity of answering because at that moment the chaplain arrived with the children of the Chapel Royal and the Mass began. She wept most of the way through it. Henry must have seen, but he made no move to comfort her.


  “That woman should be suppressed!” Maria hissed. She was in a bad mood these days because, against her will, the Duke of Suffolk had bought her daughter’s wardship from the King and was made the child’s legal guardian—and he was supporting his master.

  “She’s no better than a—Well, I won’t say it!” Maud fumed. “How can you tolerate her here, madam? Send her home!”

  “I cannot do that,” Katherine said. “That would appear vindictive. And the King would probably recall her and command me to receive her back into my household.”

  “Your Grace is a saint,” observed Gertrude Blount, exasperated. “You show no grudge or displeasure, you just accept things in good part.”

  “I try to have wisdom and patience, and I do my best to hold Mistress Anne in estimation for the King’s sake. I am still playing Patient Griselda.” Katherine attempted a smile.

  “Why do you do it? Other wives would be tearing her hair out.”

  “Because when he discards her, as he will, I want him to think kindly of me. And I am the Queen and should show some dignity. Mark me, this lady will have her day, and then she will be gone.”

  “She wants the crown of England!” Maria cried, exasperated.

  “I know my husband. Once his desire is satisfied, he will soon tire of her. And I am his lawful wife, as will be proved.”

  “So your Grace believes that she is his mistress?”

  “I am sure of it.” It pained her to admit it, and she knew she should not be talking so disloyally of Henry to her ladies like this, but she had to talk to someone or she would go mad.

  “Like mother, like daughter,” E
lizabeth Stafford muttered. “Lady Boleyn had quite a reputation in her youth.”

  “And I hear the sister is a trollop,” Gertrude Blount sniffed.

  Maud muttered, “This talk is not seemly for the Queen’s ears.”

  With an effort, Katherine changed the subject, although she would dearly have loved to pursue it.


  Henry was behaving like a man possessed. On the few occasions when they came to words on the matter, Katherine had to contend with his absolute conviction that he was right. Talk of his passion for Anne Boleyn—and this of a man who had once been the soul of discretion—was rife. He was so amorous and affectionate toward her that it seemed his will was master of all and that discretion was banished. Katherine realized that he was so much in love that only God could abate his madness.

  Anne was far more circumspect. She was playing a clever game, no doubt of it, for when Henry was fawning over her—as he did even in full view of Katherine—she appeared cool and detached. Anne was with Henry so often now that Katherine felt that she was living in a ménage à trois—as, effectively, she was. Sitting down to play cards with Anne and Henry, she wondered at herself for being so accepting, and at Henry, who apparently saw nothing unusual in including both his wife and his sweetheart in his pastimes.

  That day Anne, elegant in black velvet studded with pearls, won the highest stake by drawing a king.

  Katherine could not stop herself. She smiled. “Mistress Anne, you have the good chance to stop at a king, but you are like the others: you will have all or none.”

  Henry flushed, and Anne had the grace to bow her head. But the battle lines had now been drawn, and that marked the end of Anne’s dutifulness toward her mistress. From now on her hostility was clear. She came and went as she pleased, and behaved toward Katherine with marked disrespect. She missed no opportunity of demonstrating her ascendancy with the King and over the court. She was relentless, and Katherine came to realize that the young woman she had admired and pitied and defended was as dangerous as the serpent who had brought Adam and Eve to grief in Paradise.


  With Wolsey still in France, the relentless surveillance of Katherine’s movements had abated to a degree, and this time Francisco Felipez succeeded in slipping unnoticed out of England. For many days Katherine remained in suspense, wondering if he had escaped the authorities’ vigilance, but as time went by and she heard nothing she began to hope that he had reached Spain and told the Emperor of her plight.

  Confirmation came in a letter from Charles.

  You can well imagine the pain this news caused me. Were my own mother concerned, I should not experience greater sorrow. I have immediately set about taking the necessary steps for a remedy, and you may be certain that nothing shall be omitted on my part to help you in your present trials. Inform me as soon as possible of the course of this ugly affair, that I may do all that is necessary for your protection and your health.

  Thank God, Katherine thought, thank God!


  Gossip and speculation that Henry meant to make Anne queen provoked widespread outrage. When Katherine had occasion to travel in London, as she did several times over the next few months, the people applauded and cheered her loudly, and shouted their disapproval of Anne.

  “We’ll have no Nan Bullen!” they cried. “Burn the whore!”

  “God save Queen Katherine!” they shouted. “Long live the good Queen!”

  She prayed that there were no such demonstrations when Mary showed herself in public, and resolved to instruct Margaret Pole to keep the child indoors as much as possible. But Mary could not be confined to her apartments forever. It made Katherine so angry that this dreadful business was overshadowing their lives to the extent that Mary could not come and go freely. It infuriated her that Henry did not feel these concerns about his daughter. No doubt he was too distracted by the charms of Mistress Anne Boleyn!

  Katherine learned that Wolsey had returned when she was sitting in her chair of estate next to Henry in the great hall one evening, about to watch a masque. Anne was there, of course, dressed tonight in white damask with jewels threaded through her loose dark hair. The color did not become her sallow complexion, but Henry could not take his eyes off her.

  Katherine anticipated that the Cardinal would be joyfully received by Henry, especially if he brought news that King Francis was ready to support the divorce. When Wolsey’s messenger arrived and asked where his master was to be received, she expected Henry to excuse himself and make his way to Wolsey’s private closet to hear his news, as he usually did. But there was Anne, butting in before Henry could answer, and demanding of the messenger, “Where else should the Cardinal come? Tell him he may come here, where the King is!”

  “Yes, tell him to come here,” Henry concurred.

  Thus Anne made plain to the whole court her power over the King and her hatred for the Cardinal.

  Oh, she is clever, Katherine thought. She remembered a distressed girl vowing vengeance on Wolsey. It came to her that Anne had borne this deadly grudge for, what was it, four years? The thought chilled her, but then it occurred to her that she and Anne had one thing in common: their loathing of Wolsey. For had she herself not borne him a similar grudge, and over a longer period? But with Henry in thrall to her, Anne could prove a more formidable adversary than she would ever be. She could almost find it in herself to feel sorry for Wolsey, who was visibly squirming to be received like any place-seeking courtier, with his enemies looking on triumphantly.


  But then suddenly Anne was gone from the court. No by-your-leave—nothing! Just like she had disappeared in July.

  “She left for Hever last night, madam,” said Jane Seymour, Katherine’s newest maid of honor, looking worried. Katherine liked and approved of Jane—she was no beauty, but then Katherine had thought better, now that she’d grown older, of taking on attractive young women to serve her and make a good showing in the court. Jane was of good lineage—a descendant of King Edward III—and the Seymours were a solid English knightly family. Fair, pale-skinned Jane was devout, quiet, and helpful, not clever, but shrewd. Her needlework was beyond compare, and one day she would make an excellent housewife. But for whom? Katherine was aware that there had been talk of a betrothal, but the mother of the young man in question put a stop to it. Jane had confessed to having been upset.

  “She felt I was not good enough for her son, madam,” she’d explained, looking mournful.

  “Well, Jane, if you are good enough to serve me, you are too good for William Dormer. I am most grateful to Sir Francis Bryan for recommending you to me.”

  “He is a good friend to my family, and it is a great honor to serve your Grace.”

  Jane’s devotion was touching, and it was a relief not to have to suffer Anne’s unwelcome and combative presence marring the harmonious atmosphere of the Queen’s household. Katherine wondered what had caused Anne’s precipitous departure. Was it some new tactic to further ensnare Henry? Absence, people said, made the heart grow fonder. Ah, but there was another old saw, that out of sight meant out of mind. Katherine hoped that might prove true—but her hopes were not high.


  In September, Sir Thomas More, lately returned from an embassy to Calais, came to see Katherine at Hampton Court.

  “I have just come from the King,” he told her. “We walked in the gallery.” He paused, looking uncharacteristically troubled. “He asked for my opinion on this Great Matter. He even had his Bible ready to show me, the marker in Leviticus.”

  “What did you say, my dear friend?” For Katherine, More’s opinion was crucial. She could think of few men who had such integrity.

  “I told him plainly that your marriage is good and valid.”

  “Thank you for that,” Katherine said, relieved. “He values your opinion more than anyone else’s, as do I. What did he say?”

  “He was clearly disappointed, but he accepted it benignly. Then he said I should speak to
his chaplain, Dr. Fox, who is writing a book setting out His Grace’s case. I assured him I would do so, and I will, but that I was unlikely to change my views as they are founded on Scripture. His Grace said he respected that and would not press me.”

  “Then all is not quite lost,” Katherine observed. “Most people seem to be supporting my husband.”

  “He is the King, madam. It is only to be expected. Did you know that he has sent an embassy to Rome?”

  “No, Sir Thomas, I did not. No one tells me anything.”

  More smiled kindly at her. “Do not fret, madam. You have many friends who wish you well.”

  “Yes, my good friend, but I also have powerful enemies.”

  “Have courage! His Holiness will set all to rights!”


  Anne Boleyn had rejoined the court in time for the Yuletide festivities at Greenwich, and Katherine, again having to suffer the sight of her dancing with Henry, was relieved to find Mendoza standing next to her.

  “A very merry Christmas, Highness!”

  “And the same to your Excellency.”

  The ambassador lowered his voice. “I must be brief, but there is news I must tell you. The Pope has escaped from captivity, but he is still subject to the Emperor. My master has ordered Pope Clement not to take any steps toward annulling your Grace’s marriage, and not to allow the case to be tried in England. The word from Rome is that Cardinal Wolsey has asked His Holiness to grant him the power to hear the case and pronounce judgment. He has also requested the appointment of a fellow Papal Legate. He has even sent draft dispensations to Rome, one annulling your marriage, the other authorizing a second, to which the Pope need only affix his signature and seal.”

  Katherine could hardly take it all in, and there was no time to ask questions…

  “Thank you,” she murmured, and as Henry, laughing and heated from the dance, returned to his throne beside her, Mendoza melted into the shadows.

  “May I speak with you?” Katherine asked Henry.

  “Later,” he said, his good mood evaporating. He glared as Francis Bryan led Anne Boleyn out in a round dance.

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