The Tower Is Full of Ghosts Today by Alison Weir


  ‘It is a most sought-after post,’ he was prone to boasting, ‘for it brings me into daily contact with the King. I enjoy great influence. I have His Grace’s ear.’ He would gleefully expand on the patronage he was in a position to exercise. Anne understood that there were many people who wanted Sir Thomas Boleyn to ask the King for favours, and that they were ready to pay him a lot of money to do that.

  She was pleased to see Father’s pugnacious face broaden into a wolfish smile as she rose from her curtsey. ‘I have some good news,’ he said. ‘The Regent Margaret was most interested to hear of your accomplishments and has offered to take you into her household as one of her eighteen maids-of-honour. It is a signal favour, much sought after.’

  ‘Me, sir?’ Anne echoed. ‘Surely Mary . . . ?’

  ‘I know, it is highly unusual for the younger sister to be advanced before the elder, and Mary speaks good French. But,’ and he gave Anne a calculating look, ‘I believe that you have what it takes to succeed at court and be a credit to me. Besides, I have other plans for Mary. And the Regent specially asked for you.’

  Anne felt excitement bubbling up.

  ‘When am I to go, sir?’ she breathed, envisaging the glorious palaces, the fine gowns, the glittering lords and ladies, the Regent smiling as she made her obeisance with everyone looking on.

  ‘Next spring,’ her father said, and the bubble burst. That was months away. ‘There will be many preparations to make. Your mother will know what is required. I’d rather it be you than the Devil who makes work for idle hands.’ He and Mother barely spoke to each other unless they had to.

  ‘You must work hard at your French,’ he went on. ‘You will complete your education at the court of Burgundy. There is no finer place, for it offers many opportunities for a young girl of good birth, and is universally well regarded. You will be well placed to attract a marriage that will advance the interests of our family. I hope you appreciate your good fortune.’

  ‘Oh, yes, sir!’ Anne exclaimed. It was almost too much to take in.

  ‘I would remind you that the competition for places in the Regent’s household is fierce, and there are many who are ready to offer substantial financial inducements to secure the honour of an appointment for their daughters. Each one of her filles d’honneur must know how to dress fashionably, be accomplished at dancing and singing, and be able to entertain her mistress and important visitors with witty conversation – and she must understand how to conduct herself when in attendance on the Regent in public and on state occasions.’ Father leaned forward in his chair, his rugged face intent. ‘It was for such an opportunity as this that I provided you and Mary with a good education, although much Mary has profited from it. But you, Anne . . . you will shine. And I have no doubt that the considerable outlay required of me to provide you with suitable court attire will be well spent.’

  ‘Yes, Father. Thank you, Father.’

  ‘You may go. It’s nearly time for dinner.’

  Anne sped upstairs, still buzzing with excitement, to the chamber she shared with Mary, whom she found fastening around her neck the gold pendant in the shape of a bull that she always wore on important occasions. The girls had been given one each by their father; the bull was his family’s heraldic emblem, and a pun on its name.

  Mary leaned into the mirror. Her black eyes, with their alluring slant, were watching Anne’s reflection.

  Anne was savouring her news, wondering how to break it to Mary with maximum impact. She could no longer contain herself. ‘I’m going to court!’ she announced.

  Mary swung round, shock and fury in her face. ‘You?’ she shrilled. ‘But – but I am the elder.’

  ‘Father knows that, but the Regent asked for me.’

  ‘The Regent?’

  ‘I am summoned to the court of the Netherlands to serve her. It is a great honour to be asked. Father said so.’

  ‘But what of me?’ Mary’s lovely face was flushed with outrage. ‘Am I not to go too?’

  ‘No. Father said he has other plans for you.’

  ‘What plans?’ Mary hissed.

  ‘I don’t know. He didn’t say. Why don’t you ask him?’

  ‘I will! He cannot pass me over like this.’

  But he had. Anne hugged that delicious knowledge to herself. For the first time in her life, it felt good to be the younger and less beautiful sister.

  Elizabeth Howard, Lady Boleyn, unravelled the bolt of tawny velvet and held it up against Anne.

  ‘It suits you,’ she said. The mercer standing respectfully at her side beamed. ‘We’ll have this one, and the good black, the yellow damask and the crimson tinsel. Pray send your bill, Master Johnson.’

  ‘Very good, my lady, very good,’ the merchant replied, gathering up the fabrics that had been rejected and withdrawing from the parlour.

  ‘I’m glad the Regent gave us good notice,’ Mother said. ‘It allows us time to get these gowns made up. You should be grateful that your father has made such generous provision for you.’ She tilted her daughter’s chin upwards and smiled at her. ‘You have fine eyes, and innate grace,’ she said. ‘You will do well and make me proud.’ Anne’s heart was full. She loved her mother more than anyone else in the world.

  Elizabeth Howard herself was dark in colouring, but her long Howard face was rounded with generous lips and fine eyes. In youth she had been a celebrated beauty, and the poet laureate, Master Skelton, had dedicated verses to her, likening her charms to those of the gorgeous Cressida of Troy. It was Mother’s little conceit. Her great conceit was her pride in her aristocratic lineage. She let no one forget that she came of the noble House of Howard, and it was no secret that, had her family not been in royal disfavour at the time, plain Thomas Boleyn, as he then was, could never have aspired to marry her, even though his grandsire was the Earl of Ormond. But with her father stripped of his titles and not long released from the Tower for fighting on the wrong side in the battle that had put the late King Henry on the throne, her chances of making a decent marriage had been slender; and so she had permitted herself to be tied to a young and ambitious man whose recent ancestors had been in trade.

  But thanks to that, the Boleyns were rich. By dint of their business acumen and by marrying wealthy heiresses, they had steadily acquired wealth and lands. Anne’s great-grandfather, Sir Geoffrey, had been a mercer like the fellow who had recently departed with his wares, but he had risen to be Lord Mayor of London and been knighted. That was the way one made good in the world, and it was new and able men such as the Boleyns, rather than the old nobility, who were now favoured by the young King Henry.

  But for all that Father had done – and was still doing – to make himself a suitable husband in the eyes of his high-and-mighty in-laws, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, even her children’s, that Mother had married beneath her.

  ‘You will be the equal of any of the other maids,’ she said to Anne now. ‘You can be justly proud of your Howard ancestry. Remember, we Howards are descended from King Edward Longshanks and from all the English monarchs back to William the Conqueror, so you have royal blood in your veins and must be worthy of it.’

  ‘Yes, Mother,’ Anne said, bobbing a curtsey. She walked slowly back to her bedchamber, thinking on what Lady Boleyn had said. She was deeply proud of her heritage, especially now that the Howards had been rehabilitated and were firmly back in favour at court. In the long gallery she paused before a portrait of Grandfather Howard, the Earl of Surrey. She was in awe of this just and honest aristocrat, the head of the family, and of his son, whose picture was further along – Uncle Thomas, her mother’s brother, a stern-faced, no-nonsense soldier and courtier. She had only a few memories of his wife, the aunt for whom she herself had been named, but she could never forget that the late Princess Anne of York had been daughter to King Edward IV and sister to the present King’s mother. It made King Henry her own cousin, in a
sort of way.

  Anne had long been aware that any love her parents might have had for each other in the beginning had long since died, for they avoided each other as much as possible. It was easy to understand why Mother looked down on Father. What was more difficult to comprehend was why Father treated Mother, that highly prized bride, with ill-disguised contempt.

  It disturbed Anne that Mother had once been compared to the Trojan beauty Cressida. For, having pledged her undying love for Prince Troilus, Cressida, cruelly captured by the Greeks, had treacherously betrayed him with the heroic Diomedes. Father Davy had read them the story when they had studied the Greek myths.

  ‘Her name has become a byword for a faithless woman,’ the good friar had said. Anne stifled a gasp. Clearly he did not know what Skelton had written of her mother. The five of them – Tom and Henry had been at home then – had looked at one another, appalled.

  Yet Anne had never heard of any hint of a blemish on Mother’s reputation. Lady Boleyn presided over her household with competent authority, and preferred country life to the teeming existence of the court, although she did sometimes go there when needed as an occasional lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine.

  At home Anne and Mary helped Mother in her still room, where they made comfits and jams while she distilled sweet waters or prepared medicines and poultices from the herbs they had gathered in the gardens.

  ‘It is essential that you both learn the skills that will enable you to run a great house,’ she was always reminding them. ‘A lady should keep her servants busy not only by precept, but by example.’ But if Anne might happen to glance up from what she was doing, she would occasionally surprise Mother with her hands idle, a faraway look on her face and a tune playing on her smiling lips, as if she had withdrawn into a secret life. And again she would wonder if her mother had a lover.

  The months that she had envisaged dragging sped by. Expensive tutors were engaged to give her and Mary advanced instruction in singing and dancing, skills that Anne acquired easily and enjoyed.

  ‘Bravo!’ cried the tutor, as she twirled and leapt and skipped in branles, farandoles and basse dances. It came easily to her, as if she had been born to it. Mary, who was all arms and legs at awkward angles, would glower at her. Father had not revealed what his plans for Mary were, and Anne now doubted that he had any, while Mary’s angry jealousy simmered and often bubbled over. Thrown together as the sisters were, it did not make for a peaceful existence.

  Sir Thomas, however, was impervious. Anne was to go into the world as his ambassador, a walking testimonial to his greatness. If there was any talent that might be useful at court, she was to acquire it. Father Davy was deputed to enhance her musical skills.

  ‘You have a true voice,’ he said, and Anne thrilled to hear it, for his praise was never won lightly.

  He also encouraged Anne and George’s love of poetry. The two of them would sit together for hours composing and transcribing verses and binding them into books. Father Davy told Anne she had a rare talent for it, especially for a woman. He refrained from remarking on how Mary thought that cow rhymed with low.

  In these months in which her wardrobe was being prepared, Anne became an expert embroiderer. She made biliments to edge necklines and hoods, quilted sleeves and pouches, and decorated her lawn night-rails in bright scarlets and greens. She discovered the pleasure of enhancing her clothes with novel details: a border here, a contrasting colour there, and – always – long hanging sleeves to hide her extra nail. Her nurse, Mrs Orchard, a plump, motherly soul who had been with her since birth and was to accompany her as chaperone on her journey, did all the plain sewing, stitching and hemming under-smocks and petticoats. As the weeks went by, the pile of finished garments stowed in Anne’s new travelling chest grew and grew.

  In the autumn, Father returned to the court of the Netherlands, leaving Mother in charge of the preparations for Anne’s departure.

  ‘Remember,’ he said to Anne before he left, ‘your task is to perfect the attributes that will secure you a good marriage. I have had you educated to that purpose, and to instil virtue.’ Father was very zealous on virtue. He was always warning his daughters of the dire consequences – mostly for him – if they fell from it. They were his assets – his jewels, as he liked to put it – and their success was essential to him.

  In these last months at Hever, Anne found herself resenting the dull routine. She longed for her escape into the glamorous world of courts. She and Mary found their chief excitement in putting on their best gowns and, escorted by a groom and a maid, riding the three miles into nearby Edenbridge for the market that was held there every Thursday, just to show off their finery. When they were not at lessons or sewing, they played cards, or visited the houses of neighbours with their mother – and fought constantly over silly things until Lady Boleyn lost patience and sent them to their rooms to cool down.

  Their existence was dominated by the unchanging round of the seasons. That autumn of 1512 was heralded as usual by Michaelmas, soon followed by Harvest-tide, when St Peter’s Church by the castle was filled with ears of wheat and hymns of thanksgiving. That was the grease season, when all the local gentry went hunting. Father had ensured that Anne and Mary were both competent horsewomen, and they were allowed to participate in the chase or go hawking in the company of their neighbours. In the evenings they savoured the rich game from their bag, served on thick bread trenchers saturated with meat juices.

  On wet days they took their exercise in the long gallery above the great hall, a new-fangled improvement to the castle that Father had decided he must have. Up and down his daughters walked, past the pictures and hangings that adorned the walls, bickering and gossiping and occasionally slapping and pinching each other.

  As autumn fell, fires and braziers were lit, and the castle was filled with the sweet aroma of beeswax candles. The three young Boleyns played cards, dice and chess in the flickering light, or teased each other with riddles, before tumbling into their feather beds. On many nights Anne lay awake, with the damask bed curtains pulled back and the moonlight glinting on the diamond-paned windows, imagining the glittering life to come in the magnificent court that lay miles across the sea in another land.

  Hard on the heels of All Souls, when the nights were dark and ghosts were said to walk in the woodland that faced the castle, came the season of Advent, followed by the Christmas and Twelfth Night celebrations. Before Anne knew it, it was Candlemas, then Lady Day – and soon it would be May Day, when she and Mary always observed the ancient custom of rising early to bring in the May blossoms.

  With the May came Father, back from the Netherlands.

  It was time, at last, for her to depart.

  The woman haunted by the face of her predecessor.

  Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King.

  She has witnessed at first hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son . . . or face ruin.

  This new queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne – in doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

  Jane Seymour. The third of Henry’s queens.

  Her story.

  Turn the page for a glimpse of the brand-new SIX TUDOR QUEENS novel by Alison Weir.

  Available May 2018. Pre-order now.

  Chapter 1

  1518

  ‘A health to the bride!’ Sir John Seymour smiled and raised his goblet as the company echoed his toast.

  Jane sipped her wine, watching as her new sister-in-law blushed prettily. Edward seemed besotted with his new wife. At seventeen, Catherine was a very comely girl, a year younger than he. Jane had been surprised at how practised she was at the art of coquetry, and how warmly the men were looking at her. Even Father seemed to be under her spell. Catherine’s father, Sir William Fillol, was leaning back in his chai
r replete, looking well pleased with the match – as he should be, for Edward, being Father’s heir, had good prospects and the determination to do well. Even at the age of ten, Jane knew that for an ambitious young man, marriage to the well-bred co-heiress of a wealthy man would be a great advantage.

  Sir William had been boasting of how the Fillols could trace their ancestry back to one of the companions of the Conqueror.

  ‘And we Seymours too!’ Father had countered smugly, sure of his own exalted place in the world.

  All in all, it was a most satisfactory union, and worthy of this great feast. The long tables in the Broad Chamber of Wulfhall were laden with extravagant dishes, all prepared under the watchful eye of Lady Seymour herself. Meat and fowl of every kind graced the board, the centrepiece being a magnificent roasted peacock re-dressed in all its glorious plumage. Sir John had provided the best wine from Bordeaux, and everyone was attired in the new finery they had worn for the wedding.

  Sir William normally resided less than fifty miles away from Wulfhall, at Woodlands, near Wimborne, but he had opened up Fillol’s Hall for the wedding, and Jane’s whole family – her mother and father, and all their seven children – had travelled to Essex to be present. Father was so delighted with his new daughter-in-law that he had insisted that Sir William and Lady Dorothy accompany Catherine when Edward brought her back to Wulfhall to continue their celebrations. That had set Mother into a flurry of preparation, and everyone agreed that she had risen to the occasion splendidly.

 
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