A/N: Here's the first chapter of my novel about Henry VIII's second and third wives, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. I really want to get some constructive criticism on it, and it may or may not be updated. If it is, the updates will be far apart.
A note on old English terms: "Methinks"- I think, "Ne'er"- Never
My wedding to King Henry VIII of England was a secretive affair, held in his own chambers, with only a select few members of the Howard clan (my controlling family) and some of his closest advisers as witness. I was certainly displeased by the lack of the luxurious pomp that had been part of his unlawful wedding to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, but I did not complain. I would not spoil that which was such a joyous day for Henry.
But my elaborate coronation ceremony has certainly made up for the dull wedding. With the King's eager consent, I meticulously planned a day of feasting, dancing, and merriment in my own honor. I have always had a talent for planning. Ever since I began enjoying the King's favor, I've been in charge of planning all festivities and masques. My brother, George, who I've always been close to, aided me in the preparations. Even the King, from time to time, would help. We made a jolly time of it. In the end, I believe that we have produced a perfect day. From the moment I left the Tower of London and boarded my royal barge that would take me down the Thames to Westminster Abbey to the moment when Thomas Cranmer placed that beautiful, glittering crown upon my head to just now as the minstrels sing songs of love for our entertainment, everything has been performed like a well choreographed masque, which, in a sense, it is.
Everyone who is akin to me smiles their broadest smiles, happy to see that their little scheme proved a success, especially my Uncle Norfolk. Ever since I first caught the King's eye, the thought came into his Machiavellian mind that the Boleyns and Howards could one day be kin to the Queen of England. So they pushed me out of my beloved Henry Percy's arms and into King Harry's.
Oh, Henry Percy… The King has called him and his wife away from Henry's vast estate to court to witness my coronation. Back when I left the France (I had been educated in the court of King Francis and Queen Claude) to join the English court, Henry Percy and I were deep in love, and we had promised ourselves to each other. Somehow word got out, and we were each exiled to private country homes in disgrace- he to one of his estates and I to Hever Castle, my father's estate. Henry Percy is my first and only love. I do not truly love my sovereign, king, and husband. I would be married to Henry Percy right now, not to this other Henry who sits at my side, if my family hadn't forced me to become queen. Now I see poor Henry, once a page and now the Earl of Northumberland, sitting beside his ugly bore of a wife, the Countess of Northumberland, forcing a smile upon his handsome face. I long to reach out to him and assure him that my love for him is still just as strong as it was back then, but I fight myself. I am not foolish.
Henry suspects nothing of the truths, though. He is convinced that I love him as he loves me and that I desire him. I remember when Henry once brought me to a secluded corner, during all of those years that he courted me, and begged me to come to his bed that night. I sighed and looked away.
"Sweeting, what is the matter?" he asked. "Have I offended you? Tell me what I might do to gain your favor, gracious lady."
I sighed again and replied, "Your Grace, you could never succeed in offending me. My Lord, how could I bed you without being married to you? I am a virtuous woman. A woman's reputation is all that she has." Then I paused, leaned my head against his chest, and purred, "Oh Henry! You've no idea how I long to come and belong wholly to you, but I could never dishonor my family in such ways."
Henry looked down at my head against the rich fabric of his doublet, a bit in shock, a bit pleased, before saying "Do you mean that, Lady Anne? If I made you my wife right here, right now, would gladly come to me tonight?"
"Yes, My Lord."
"Then you shall be my wife."
"And dethrone Queen Catherine? I couldn't do that." I was playing innocent. Of course my goal in all of this was to send the Queen back to Spain. No, it wasn't my goal, but my family's.
"You needn't do it, I shall. Don't call her 'Queen' any longer. She is not my lawful wife- she is my brother's. You shall be my true wife, Anne." At that moment, I knew that my family would finally stop assaulting me. I had done my job, and their ambition would be quenched. When Henry kissed me, I accepted it. If women were aloud to appear on the stage, I think that I should be one of the most admired and talented players.
But enough of memories, those days mean little now. Six years I have deceived him thus, and I shall have to keep at it until one of us dies.
I look out at the Great Hall. It hasn't changed much since I first came to England in 1522, but the changes that have been made are especially important. The servants' livery are now blue and purple, my chosen colors. All of Catherine of Aragon's pomegranate seals have been covered with my own falcon symbol, which I find a bit more suiting. Those pomegranates would surely have haunted me if I hadn't replaced them. I do not need a poignant reminder of what my family has forced me to do.
As the dancing and music comes to a climax, the King leans closer to me and asks softly, "Are you happy?"
Quoting my new motto, I reply, "The most happy."
"I am glad." He continues, "It was my greatest fear that those crowds earlier this morning had unnerved you. They ought to know better, and I shall do everything in my power to punish them." Suddenly, the golden day that I had so carefully crafted shatters as easily as glass and I remember the crowds who had stood beside my royal barge. For the first time in my life, I lost all of my self-confidence. Those dirty faces had mocked me, jeered at me, and yelled slanders at me that are so vile that they cannot be writ on paper. Some of them cried out "HA! HA!" in parody of Henry's "H" and my "A" that were entwined together on the cloth that served as a roof on my barge. I could see a mad glint in a few of the peasants' eyes- they wanted me dead. It took all of my grace and composure not to break down and cry. Henry had assured me that the people of England would be glad that he had rid himself of his unlawful queen, Catherine of Aragon. Apparently, his assumption was incorrect. The people loved Catherine. They had only loved me when I was the King's beautiful mistress who rode beside him during hunts, no threat to the queen's throne. Never before has a queen been thrown aside for a mistress. Two days ago, I had experienced the repercussions of what I have done. The people of England hate me. Oh, what I would give to be just a maid-in-waiting to Queen Catherine again. Curse my family's ambition.
I force a smile on my face and lie, "How could a few peasants unnerve me, when I am married to the most wonderful man in all of the world?" Henry smiles. He has always been nothing but a spoiled child, and loves to be flattered. I must admit that I love being flattered too. Henry showers a million compliments on me as he gazes, enthralled, at my bulging belly, which is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. Even my rich plum velvet robe, which has been made to be a bit loose to cover the roundness, cannot hide it any more. I am six months pregnant with that which Henry and all of England desires more than anything: a son and an heir to the throne. My spirits lift. I am Queen Anne, Anna Regina, for the rest of my days, and once I give birth to a Tudor son, all of England shall blush at the very thought of their former dislike and line the streets, singing my praises.
Ever since I was expelled from my childhood home, Wolf Hall, four years ago and thrown into the dangerous world of the English court, Anne Boleyn has been the object of King Henry's affections. I had been sent to court to be maid-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, although she wasn't really queen. Lady Anne (as she was called then) had yet to be even married to the King, but she already lived in the queen's rooms, Catherine having been given the third best rooms in each palace we visited. Anne was queen in every way but in name. From then on I have watched her keep the King loving her faithfully for a longer time than I can ever remember. I have watched her rise to where she is now. This moment is her piece de résistance, the piece that shows just how far she as risen. As I watch the King fawn over Queen Anne, I find myself in awe of her. The Queen isn't fair-haired or fair-skinned, but she has a certain allure and a certain beauty. Her brilliant dark eyes are her best feature: they draw you in. She also has an excellent wit: ne'er has a dull word been omitted from her mouth. Anne can also sing and play the lute very prettily. She is indeed skilled in dancing and the feminine arts (needlework, household management, and the like), as well as reading. At time, she makes me feel quite a fool, for I can neither read nor write my own name. In edition to her looks, wit, and skills, I cannot help but envy all that she has. Once she was simply a maid-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and now she is queen herself. She has the most powerful king in all of Europe at her beck and call. The King cannot bear for one of her tears to fall or for her to be in any way angry or discontented. She is an amazing and intriguing woman- I have learned that over the years.
My family is not as mesmerized by Queen Anne as I am. In fact, they despise her, although they wouldn't dare to make a public show of it. Anne is part of the Howard clan, and the Howards are own sworn enemies. Both the Seymours and Howards are powerful, ambitious families, always trying to be on top. When I see the King and Queen, I believe that the Howards have at last won, for that is not a Seymour girl sitting atop the throne (as much as my kinfolk sincerely wish that she was). Still, my family will not give up. They are plotting to knock Queen Anne off that plush gold and red throne and place a Seymour girl on it. If Anne Boleyn could do it, then certainly a Seymour girl can. I watch the King, infamous for his lusty behavior, and see that he is not enticed by any other woman in the room but his Queen, I am sure that all of their attempts are in vain, especially if the baby resting in Queen Anne's womb is a boy, a little Tudor prince for all of England to enjoy.
Today marks the forty-second anniversary of Henry's birth. I admit that I am surprised that, after such a lavish coronation as I was given, he could find the money in the treasury to give himself equally lavish revels. England is a richer country than I supposed it to be.
For most of the day, there is a joust planned. Henry may be getting on in age, but he still loves to joust. None of the men who compete will ever let it be known that they let the King win, for he is convinced that he wins out of pure skill. But there is an unwritten code among all of the joust competitors: Always let the King win. I have sat in the Queen's box during the jousting many times before. As a maid-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, I would always sit behind her, and after Henry banished her to a country manor, I have sat in her place. Today as I sat I felt as if I really belonged there for the first time. In the back of my mind, I had always thought this to be Catherine's box, but now I think of it as mine. I have been crowned Queen now. On the canopy that covers the box are H's and A's written out in gold thread and woven together, covering up the old H's and C's.
The participants of the joust each ride by me on the horses and bow to me, both to pay their and respects and to see whether or not I will give them my favor. I only give my handkerchief to Henry, who displays it proudly as he rides. George winks at me as he rides past, and I try my hardest not to laugh. After all of the contestants have paid their respects, the jousting begins.
The first two jousters on the program take their spots at either end of the field, lances pointed straight ahead, and charge at each other. These two particular men are very young and aren't very skilled, so on the first pass they do not manage to knock the other man off his horse. It took a few more passes before one of the jousters managed to knock the other down.
After a few more rounds pass, my husband and brother are up against each other. I personally arranged that, because George is so good at jousting at whenever he allows the King to best him, it is quite funny. George has yet to master the art, so it becomes obvious to all but the King that he is feigning the loss. Again, I have to control my urge to laugh. As expected, Henry knocks George from his horse after the first pass, and rides up to me triumphantly while the crowd cheers.
"What do you think, Anne?" he asks as he rides up to my box. "Was I not good?"
I reply, "Darling, you were wonderful. No one could ever be better at jousting than you."
Henry jousts a few rounds, but then he is no longer on the program, so he comes and sits with me. From time to time, I lean over and whisper a clever comment in his ear.
"Ah, Anne!" he laughs. "I daresay that I have acquired the wittiest queen in Christendom." His kisses me, without the crowd noticing for they are watching the jousting. When he does those few things, I wonder whether or not I could forget Henry Percy and learn to love him.
After a full day of jousting, the closing ceremony begins, and all of the competitors walk out on to the field. As usual, Henry is proclaimed the champion of the joust. He calls from the field, like a child showing his mother a great accomplishment, "See Anne, see, I did it!" I blush perfectly on cue. Henry sprints across the field and gives me another kiss before taking my arm and leading the court back into Whitehall Palace.
Jousts never cease to bore me. The sport never held much appeal to me. I sit quietly throughout it all, except to cheer the winner of the round. Sometimes my sister, Elizabeth, or my sister-in-law, Anne Stanhope, will lean over and speak to me and we will pursue a hushed conversation. Other from that, I never have anything to do during the festival. I seem to be one of the few people at court who find it boring. Perhaps it is only the Seymours who think so of the sport, because the only people with long faces like mine as my relatives. Certainly Queen Anne seems to be enjoying the festivities, but I have never seen her otherwise. She's always merry. I am not a very lively person. That I know. Yet the court is a very lively place. It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that I am not most at home in court.
Thankfully, the joust is ending and we all proceed into the palace's great hall to dine. All sorts of sweetmeats, fruits, salads, and puddings are set out for the King's birthday feast, as well as the best ale and French wine. Just recently, five pheasants were gifted to the King from one of the country lords, so they are also set out on the table. The English court has always been a bit of a gluttonous one, yet I cannot eat with the appetites of the others. Thankful am I that ladies aren't supposed to eat too much. Halfway during the meal, Queen Anne stands up, raising her goblet high and commanding everyone's attention.
"I would like to make a toast," she says, turning to the King, "to our most great and noble King Henry on this joyous occasion." She turns back toward the hall and cries jubilantly, "Long live King Henry!"
"Long live King Henry!" the hall repeats.
As I sit down after my toast, I meet Henry's beaming gaze. My toast has more than pleased him; that is obvious to everyone. At the other tables, the courtiers glare at me with eyes like fire, except my family, who bask in my triumph. My ambitious ladies look at me thinking, "What has she done to capture the King's heart that I cannot seem to do?" I keep my smile on my face, not allowing all of mine enemies the joy of seeing me break down or falter under their murderous stares.
Henry leans over and whispers in my ear, "I am sorry to have stolen all of the attention from you today." I take a sip of my wine, calculating the proper response.
"My lord," I reply with a slightly teasing tone, "why should people look at me when they could look at you?"
"My queen flatters me too much."
"As you flatter my ladies." The acid remark slips from my tongue. After all, the King, even though head-over-heels in love with me, continues to flirt with the ladies of the court. For a moment I feel as if time stops as I wait to see how Henry responds.
He lets out a deep laugh and booms, "What a wit my little queen has!" He kisses me before the court's jealous eyes, and I breathe a sigh of relief. The pins holding my emerald-colored velvet hood in place somehow wiggle loose and the hood tumbles to the floor, allowing my dark tresses to cascade down my back. Henry and I share a laugh, and I make a move to retrieve the hood from the floor, but Henry snatches it up before I can and hands it to a servant.
"My hood!" I cry.
Devilishly smiling at me, Henry tells the servant, "Return the hood to the Queen's chambers." The servant leaves. "I like you better with your hair down, Anne." I can already hear hurried whispers that proclaim me to be wanton, but I pay no attention to them. Over the years, I have learned to simply block them out. Besides, I am having fun. Either that or I drank a bit too much wine.
The dining comes to an end, and the courtiers who I have selected to take part in the masque to be performed in Henry's honor slip away to go change into their costumes while one of Henry's crooners entertains us with a song. When the song has finished, the players are not yet ready. The hall remains silent for a moment.
Henry turns to me and asks, "Anne, why don't you sing for us?"
"Whatever you wish, my lord." The troubadour comes up to me with the lute. I play it on my lamp and begin to sing.
"Why don't you sing for us, Anne?" The question scandalizes the entire room. Never has a queen entertained during an official ceremony like a commoner. Queen Anne does have a love of music and can be found much of the time sitting in either her rooms or the King's, picking a lute and singing a jolly tune. She has a sweet voice that is pleasant to the ear. Henry dotes upon it and gives it a bit more praise than it deserves, but this is utterly unexpected.
The Queen shows no hesitation when the minstrel gives her the lute and she breaks the common rules of conduct. She begins to sing an air of love in French that I need my sister Elizabeth to roughly translate for me.
She explains, "The song retells the old Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. Eros was a god, and Pysche was the world's most beautiful woman. She was condemned to be the wife of a monster, but then Eros took her as his wife, provided that she never found out his identity. When she did, Eros was forced to leave her. Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and Eros' mother, was jealous of Pysche and forced her to complete near impossible tasks. The nymphs and other gods took pity on Pysche and saw to it that she and Eros were reunited." She whispers seriously, "Some think that Anne sings this song so often because she means that the wicked Aphrodite be a sort of parallel to Queen Catherine, and that she and Henry represent Pysche and Eros."
"Do you believe that?" I ask.
"I don't know what to believe. All I know is that Anne Boleyn is Queen, and we must obey her."
After Queen Anne finishes singing, those who are to perform in the masque are ready. It tells a tale very common in court masques about the triumph of virtues of vice. One would think that since this message is preached so much that the court would take good heed out it, and yet it does not. Sometimes it seems as if I am the only truly virtuous woman here at court.
"Look at him," Elizabeth says, pointing to one of the courtiers playing the defenders of the Seven Heavenly Virtues.
"What of him?" I ask.
"Isn't he handsome? Beneath the cloth mask he wears, I can see a strong man."
"You are married, Elizabeth."
"To a man who doesn't harbor so much as friendly affection for me. I am young yet, and some have ventured to call me beautiful. Why shouldn't I look around and notice all who are far more interesting than my own husband?"
"Because it is wrong."
"It is not terribly wrong, sister. Remember that." I look at her curiously. We were both raised on good morals, how could she speak like this? I haven't much time to ponder the question, though, for the masque ends and the party dissolves