[Author's note: I am a tad obsessed at the moment with the time period of King Henry VIII. The king who had six wives has always been someone I was interested in. I did some school projects on him. And one book of my 'English Roses Hamilton Saga' was set during the time period and part of 'Through the Wire' will be too. I've also been working on a novel about Queen Mary I- from her childhood through to death. But I was thinking about Anne Boleyn and her time at court. Who better to tell that tale through than someone related to her- her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn. Elizabeth was an interesting woman: daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, mother of some of the most notorious characters of the time period, she was also highly sexual having had many lovers, including one who lasted many years, Remi Jouet, a doll maker. I wanted to tell the story of the time of Anne Boleyn's influence on England through the eyes of the woman who gave birth to her. Some of the fiction and non-fiction I've read is divided on whether Elizabeth was close to her daughter, Anne or not. Some suggest she was not, perhaps because Anne when born was considered ugly, perhaps because she was more cantered on her own pleasure and life. Some suggest that she was close to Anne. Some research suggests that Thomas Howard was the one pulling the strings behind Anne's romance with the King, some suggests it was instead her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and some suggests it was Anne herself. So I am going to have to take my own views on these topics. Please let me know what you think. Amy.]
THE BOLEYN MOTHER.
Hever Castle, Kent,
I don't have much time left on this planet. Instead of this fact filling me with fear and wanting to bargain with Death, telling him I haven't finished all I wanted to do, I feel at peace with the knowledge that soon Death will come for me, wrap me up in his cold arms, and take me home.
There is little left in this world for me. Of the children I bore only three survived. Of those three only one is alive now and I have only seen her once since she left London in 1534. So far as my husband knows I have not seen her since the day she came to court, heavily pregnant, to tell us she had married Will Stafford, a soldier. My husband told her she was no longer part of our family. But, secretly, I applauded her at marrying for love. It was something I wished I could do but given my father never would have been given the chance.
I made a secret visit to her while my husband Thomas was at court being the King's lackey. The King who killed two of my children. I hate Thomas for that. I hate him for the fact that he sat in judgement of our children and pronounced them to be guilty.
I heard it said he went to the King on bent knees, supplicant, telling him "I would cut off my own manhood had I known the pain the fruit of my loins would cause your majesty. If I had known what they would turn out like I would have ordered them drowned at birth. I would do anything to have not had them cause your majesty so much pain and suffering. I offer up my own head to the headsman if it would help your majesty's pain." I laughed when I heard that.
Thomas was always well versed in court speak. Ironic for the man who was the grandchild of a shopkeeper- something Thomas was not proud of and something I sometimes threw at him in a heated moment to remind him that he was lucky to have me as his wife, the daughter of Thomas Howard, the second Duke of Norfolk.
Apparently the King leant down and took my husband's arm and gently helped him to his feet. "Thomas, you have always been a good and faithful servant to me. I bear you nor your wife no ill will for the pain your daughter caused me. Your head is safe." He had supposedly replied.
I'd gone to see Mary the year after the death of her brother and sister. She and Will were living at Rochford Hall in Essex. I did not think she would receive me but she did. Curiosity at why I was there got the better of her. She was cool with me, as I had expected.
I should have stood up for her when Anne, then Queen of England, said that Mary's second marriage had disgraced her, disgraced our family, and that she was no longer welcome at court and when Thomas told her she must immediately leave Hever Castle where she had been acting as our chatelaine in our absence. I should have stood up for the daughter I had always called my "golden girl." She'd come to me afterwards in my chambers, just before leaving, to ask me, "Lady Mother, will you not intercede?"
I'd looked at her coldly. "Your father and your sister do not listen to me, Mary. You know that. And you also know that with your sister being Queen we could have made you an excellent match. Better than your first husband." I'd said.
"I don't want an excellent match!" Mary had replied, through tears. "I love Will and he loves me. He's a good man, Mother. He truly is."
"He may be that but he's also just a second son. He may be from a good family but he has no real prospects. You are lucky that your sister so graciously will look after your children." I had said.
"Graciously?" Mary had said with a bitter laugh. "No. She knows well that Henry could be the King's son and she's worried that she won't give him the son he desires, the son she promised him for so many years before he got rid of Queen Catherine. So having the son of the King, albeit illegitimate and his parentage in doubt, in her keeping is the best she can do. But I will get my children back from her. Believe me."
I'd stood up from the chair by my dressing table and looking glass so fast it had fallen to the floor and crossed the room to my daughter's side and delivered a ringing slap to her face. "Don't. Do not even suggest that. Anne will give his majesty a son. We shall be triumphant."
Mary had slowly raised a hand to her face, shocked. I had not struck her before.
"The King is already sick of her." Mary had said. Her hand had gone to her belly and she had caressed it lovingly. "You don't know everything my lady Mother. Maybe one day you shall. But, until then, I am happy to live in- as father says- a thatched roof shack with my soldier husband. I would rather live there, loved and happy, then in this vipers nest masquerading as a court. Goodbye Mother."
On that visit I told her that. "Mary, I was not a good mother to you when you needed me. I sent you some jewellery last year to help with money. Did you get it?" I'd asked her.
We were sitting in the living room. I had been shocked at the appearance of my once-lovely daughter. Her hair was not golden now, it had begun to turn a shade of grey, and it was lank and greasy. Her once lovely curves had changed and now she had run to fat. But she looked happy. She looked happier than she had been when she had her looks and was at court.
"Yes. Thank you Lady Mother." Mary had said dutifully. "Anne sent me something too. Before she…lost the King's favour. A golden cup and some money. It helped greatly."
"The child…where is he or she?" I'd asked.
Mary's eyes had filled with tears. "I can't, Lady Mother. I can't discuss it." She'd said.
"Perhaps you were right in leaving court. If you'd stayed I don't know if you wouldn't have gone the way of Anne and George. I don't know if I would have lost all three of my children at once." I'd said.
"I am no longer your child. Didn't Father say that? That I was no longer a Boleyn? No longer part of the family?" Mary had replied bitterly.
"I care nothing for what Thomas Boleyn has to say. I never have. But I certainly don't after he and my brother sat in judgement of their kinsfolk and pronounced them guilty. Knowing it would mean their deaths. They may as well have wielded the axe themselves!" I'd replied angrily.
Mary had surprised me with her reply. "What else were they to do Mother? If they'd said not guilty they too might have ended up in the Tower, on trial, and executed. No, they did what they had to do to survive. I cannot hate them for it." She'd said.
"I can. I do." I'd replied.
"Anne gambled everything on the roll of a dice and lost. The King got his much desired for son with Jane Seymour. It's a shame it cost her her life but that is the lot of women. Childbirth is a dangerous thing." Mary had said.
I'd made a face. "That insipid creature. It bothers me that she will be the one who the King forever loves because he gave him his much longed for legitimate son. I never liked the Seymour's. And I liked them even less when they kept putting their pale, beak-nosed, wispy-brained daughter in the King's way even when Anne was still his wife." I'd said.
Mary had laughed. "Oh Mother, it was not Jane's fault. After all, did not my Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and Father do the same with me and then with Anne? It is the lot of women to also be naught but pawns for our menfolk." She had said.
"I am no pawn. Your father certainly got more than he bargained for with our marriage." I'd replied. I'd always made a point of letting Thomas know he was not good enough for me. The day I'd first met him, when my father the Duke had bid me to come into his study, and been told I was to marry him I'd wanted to rebel. And, in my own way, I had done so. I thought of Remi, my doll maker lover, and smiled to myself. I hoped there was a way I could let Thomas know after my death that I'd had many lovers throughout our marriage and all had been better than him. Even Mark Smeaton, the lute player Judas who had loved Anne and George, had been my lover for a time. I could never resist a good looking man. It was my small rebellion against my marriage. That and my constant cutting remarks to Thomas. Oh I'd hoped our marriage would grow to affection. I'd known it would never grow to love. Thomas loved only himself and what he could get from life- money, power, homes, titles. I was just another possession for him to bring out and parade around and brag about how he had married the daughter of a Duke.
"I went you know. To their executions." Mary had confessed. "I had myself hidden in a cloak but I went. I think they both saw me. Or perhaps I like to think they did, or need to think they did."
I had hesitated before making my own confession. "I went too. I dressed as a peasant and went. I was sick and Thomas sent me back to Hever but I managed to go. Then afterwards I collapsed again when I'd barely left Tower Green. Lucky I wasn't alone, I took a maid and some men for safety. The next time I woke I was in Hever again. And your father, that traitious man, went to London to celebrate the King's engagement and then marriage to that Seymour brat." I'd told my daughter. My once favourite daughter but now only daughter.
When we had parted that day I'd allowed her to give me a brief hug and kiss and I think we parted friends. We would not be mother and daughter anymore, too much had happened for Mary to want or need her mother in her life and I knew that Thomas would never allow it should he find out. But I was at peace with Mary and that was all that mattered.
Especially now when I know Death will take me soon. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this week, maybe not even this month but I knew that by the time the weather began to turn warm again I, Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, wife of Thomas Howard, Earl of Wiltshire, the grandchild of a mere shopkeeper, mother of Anne Boleyn, the former Queen of England, mother of George, and Mary, and many other babies who had been born still or died in their infancy, would be no more. I'd be with Anne and George again. Maybe in death I could be the mother to them I had never been in life?