August 2012 was a momentous month for me. I published my first Tudor book: Le Temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. It was a novel about Anne Boleyn and the story of her innocence. If you haven’t heard me talk about the inspiration behind writing the book before, you might want to catch up with this video in which I describe the life-changing moment in which I knew I had to put pen to paper.
Ultimately, it would be the writing of LTV that would lead me to found The Tudor Travel Guide. A life-long lover of visiting Tudor places, the research that I undertook to write the book led me to more deeply explore many aspects of Tudor life, including the places Anne knew and called home. I was fascinated by what I learned and how my depth of understanding of how Tudor houses were arranged had the unexpected side-effect of increasing my pleasure of visiting Tudor places many times over. I was inspired to share this with other Tudor history lovers – and hence The Tudor Travel Guide was born.
Now, as part of my celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the publication of Volume I of Le Temps Veindra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, I am publishing an excerpt from the second Volume II. As you will see, this excerpt comes towards the end of the book, just after Anne has been arrested and committed to the Tower. Writing about this period in Anne’s life was revelatory and deeply emotional. I feel humbled to have followed her story in such profound detail. So, I hope you enjoy this short piece of prose. Links to purchase the book (paperback and audio) on Amazon (or if you prefer a personalised signed copy, a link to my Shopify store) are at the end of the blog.
CHAPTER 41: THE TOWER OF LONDON, Thursday, May 4, 1536
From the window of the queen’s privy chamber in the Tower, I watched the slightly stooped figure of Sir William Kingston walk as quickly as his ageing bones would allow, down from Cold Harbour Gate and toward the entrance to the great hall. He paused briefly to speak to a man I did not recognise. I could just make them out behind the leaves and branches of the flowering cherry tree, which cast its magnificent, blossom-laden bower across a part of the Tower’s inner ward.
As they chatted, sharing words I could not hear, I recalled how Master Kingston had been one of the few men who had treated me with kindness when I was first thrown into my prison. He had spoken gently to me and assured me that I would not be cast into a dungeon as I had feared. Instead, the constable informed me that I was to be lodged within the royal apartments that had been built specifically for Anne three years earlier. I have become exceptionally grateful for such small acts of kindness, and for Master Kingston’s unshakeable humanity and determination to treat me with every courtesy.
I watched the two men make their reverence to each other, their conversation clearly complete, before they went their separate ways. I was physically exhausted. The unimaginable strain of my perilous predicament had stretched my sanity to breaking point. Looking back, I can see that in the first four days of my captivity, I was on the brink of a complete nervous collapse. Half-crazed and with every nerve frayed, I felt chaotic and virtually incoherent,
I looked at my hands. In one, I held a velvet-bound book of hours. The other, I stretched out in front of me, fingers splayed as I watched the tremor that had lately caused my hand to shake violently against my will. Feeling sick and virtually unable to bear my weight, I sat down in the window seat. With one leg bent up and tucked beneath the other, I rested my head against the leaded glass, my hands in my lap. Within them, I carried the book that had been constantly at my side, but which I was too disturbed to read. I had lost all of my ability to concentrate. In the centre of my chest, I felt the heavy weight of a burdened heart. It was a heart so afflicted with sorrow that I felt that I would never again be able to piece together all its shattered fragments. As I rested there, I reflected upon the last two days, which had been nothing short of a living nightmare.
After Norfolk and the other lords of the privy council had left me in Master Kingston’s care, my defences summarily collapsed, casting me into a sort of incoherent instability from which I was just beginning to emerge. This, I am afraid, is my only excuse for what happened next.
I should have known better, how to protect Anne and those men condemned with her. But my temporary madness disabled all rational thought and all ability to control Anne’s famously indiscreet tongue. And so, out of control, and to my shame, I had thought little but spoken much during my first two days of incarceration.
In those first forty-eight hours, the voice in my mind had been crazed, turning everything upside down and inside out, running around an endless labyrinth of ‘what ifs’, from which there was no escape. As a consequence, my fevered brain had spoken carelessly of dangerous, but innocent liaisons. A wiser person than I would have maintained silence.
In between, I wept inconsolably for hours, my ladies much perplexed by the great laughing that would quite suddenly, and irrationally, break forth from the same sorrow. They did not understand that only I saw the painful irony of how I had been deceived into believing I was truly loved by not one, but two men, who, 500 years apart, had abandoned me to die alone.
By the third day of my imprisonment, my initial shock began to subside, so that there were times of greater lucidity. During those times, I was increasingly beset with dread regarding things that I had uttered with the sole intention of defending myself, but which, in retrospect, I feared would be used against me and my co-accused. I had relayed fragments of conversations I had had with Mark Smeaton, Sir Francis Weston and Sir Henry Norris, rapaciously filling in the gaps with my own perilous ramblings.
My only defence is that in my fragile state, memories flooded into my mind with a pressure that had been difficult to contain. Clever Cromwell capitalised on my unstable state, deliberately releasing only the merest slivers of information, tempting me to taste a morsel of their deception but carefully ensuring that they never gave me enough that I knew fully of their suspicions. Of course, none of it would have mattered if I had been surrounded by the ladies of my chamber and friends of unquestionable loyalty. But here, Cromwell had dealt Anne another decisive blow.
As I thought on it, I turned my head to look toward the four women so cruelly placed by Cromwell, who sat nearby, three of them busily working their embroidery, the third reading from a prayer book. I resented them all deeply.
The eldest of these was my namesake and aunt, Anne Boleyn, Lady Shelton, my father’s elder sister. At sixty-one years of age, she remained a vigorous woman, who had, for some time, been in charge of the Lady Mary’s household. My father had first suggested Aunt Anne’s appointment shortly after my daughter was given her own household in December 1533 I could never warm to my aunt’s sombre character and austere nature, but my parents reassured me that she was a strong disciplinarian who would put Mary firmly in her place. She would protect my daughter’s interests during my long absences.
At the time, I had just conceived the son I would lose the following summer. Despite my happy estate, I still feared that my daughter’s future was far from safe, thus I welcomed Lady Shelton’s loyalty and rigorous application of Elizabeth’s primacy. Along with my Uncle Norfolk and my brother, I even encouraged my Aunt Anne’s antipathy toward her charge. To my shame, I instructed my aunt to denigrate and mistreat Mary if she continued to defy the king’s will to accept me as lawful Queen of England. These were words and actions that I would truly come to regret. But on that day, I merely studied Lady Shelton as she embroidered blackwork on a linen shirt in her lap, her English hood hiding her greyed hair, the delicate lines upon her face giving tell of her advancing years.
I wondered if she resented me for the pressure that the Boleyns had placed upon her to mistreat the king’s bastard daughter, or indeed, if she despised Anne because of what the queen had done to her own daughter, Madge. Dear, sweet Madge. Her pretty face flashed through my mind. I knew that in the spring of 1535, the Boleyns had deliberately placed the young girl as a tasty morsel before the king. It was a deliberate ploy to divert Henry’s affection away from Lady Elizabeth Harvey, whose religious inclinations and sympathy toward the Lady Mary had made her a thorn in Anne’s side.
I did not command it myself, for, at the time, I had been plucked back into my modern-day life. But I saw it all clearly enough in my mind’s eye, accessed through Anne’s own memories. My cousin’s famed beauty and pretty charms quickly lured Henry. All the Boleyns had to do was steer her into his path at exactly the right time. Once His Majesty commenced the hunt, such a sweet and innocent child was hopelessly overwhelmed, unable to defend her honour against the overbearing omnipotence of her sovereign lord. So, he had plucked the sweet, fleshy fruit of her maidenhood, devouring her until he sucked the nectar of her innocence dry, before discarding her six months later.
Next to Lady Shelton, seated on a stool to her right, was Margaret Dymock, the forty-six-year-old wife of my Master of the Horse, Sir William Coffin, appointed by the king in 1533. Both Margaret and her husband had been at court during the early years of the king’s reign; Sir William proving himself to be trustworthy and diligent as a household administrator, his wife having served Katherine since the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. Neither of them cared anything for Anne Boleyn. Their loyalties were with the king first, and with Katherine’s death, her daughter, Mary.
Margaret was also engrossed in her embroidery. Sensing the icy chill of my stare, she briefly looked up to meet my gaze. Like all the women present, I knew her from about the court and had long ago formed the opinion that Margaret Dymock was as thin and pasty in her face as she was in her spirit—at least toward Anne, whom she served reluctantly.
She relished her newfound role as my tormentor, jibing relentlessly at my supposed indiscretions, or refusing to answer, with any kindness, my heartfelt enquiries about the health and wellbeing of my mother, or those who were imprisoned on my account. In her antipathy toward me, she had soon fallen into step with the woman opposite her, a woman with whom I was sadly well acquainted, Elizabeth Wood, Lady Boleyn, wife of my uncle, Sir James.
Of course, I had had many brushes with Lady Boleyn. And. despite my mother’s warning to treat her well and with kindness, unfortunately, I never found the generosity of spirit to do so—and I now pay the price for my negligence. Years of simmering resentment toward her much-vaunted niece were unleashed without reserve She took every opportunity to place a thousand cuts upon me, her sneering disdain and salacious accusations stinging me like a swarm of angry hornets. I watched her revenge shore up her own fragile personality, and in those early days of my imprisonment, I truly hated her for it.
I reacted to their mean-spiritedness by fighting their cruelty in kind, lashing out with my own angry tongue; at other times begging them to show mercy and to give me news of my family and friends. To their shame, my obvious suffering seemed only to fuel their wickedness and determination to inflict ever greater misery upon me.
Seized with a conviction to give these two women no further satisfaction from their toils, I played the only card I saw left in my hand. Anne was still their queen, and the strict rules of Tudor society deemed that without my implicit consent, they could not speak to me unless they were spoken to first. And so, I withdrew my favour, refusing to address them and making clear my own contempt for their rudeness and ill-will. I smiled inwardly to myself just thinking on it. It was churlish to be so pleased by their obvious frustration at having their merry disport curtailed. Perhaps to my shame, I had, with great satisfaction, rubbed salt into their wounds by making a point of only addressing Lady Shelton and the last of my four ladies-in-waiting, Mary Scrope, Lady Kingston.
Lady Kingston was, of course, Sir William’s wife. I knew well enough from my history books that she, like all the others, had been commanded to report my every word to the constable of the Tower. She was a firm supporter of the Lady Mary and showed no great gentleness toward me However, she remained ever courteous and took no obvious pleasure from my misfortune. It seemed that Master Kingston’s humanity had rubbed off on his wife.
Of the four women, it was Lady Kingston who read from religious texts, wearing a set of spectacles upon the end of her delicate, little nose. Like the other ladies, she was around sixty years of age. Her English hood covered the blonde hair of her youth, which had long since become coarse and flecked with grey.
My troubled thoughts were suddenly interrupted as the door to my privy chamber was opened and the supper, which I had recently called for was, announced
The room in which I was to dine remained virtually untouched since I last saw it in May 1533. The chamber was exquisitely decorated in the height of Renaissance style; the walls panelled with wainscot, inlaid with elaborate antique work. Sandwiched between the great presence chamber and my privy bedchamber, the unusually large space was meant to also serve as a grand dining chamber. Once, I had presided in that very room with the king at my side; a sumptuous feast for many of the noblest men of the land had been served in my honour: dukes, earls, lords and knights had sat alongside an archbishop and other clerics, who had become amongst my most favoured of Reformist bishops. But I feared that few of them would speak up for me, their loyalty was as fragile and transient as a snowflake falling upon warm skin—melting away into nothing, as if it had never existed.
The table, which dominated the centre of the room, was laid with my own silver-gilt plate. I stood to take my seat with a swishing of skirts, my ladies rising with me, as courtesy dictated. Taking my place at the head of an empty table, I arranged myself, placing a white, linen napkin across my right shoulder, as I spoke to Lady Kingston,
‘Madame, have you heard from your husband regarding the sacrament that I requested be put into my closet?’ It was one of the first requests that I made to my gaoler, yet still, it had failed to arrive. Anne’s faith was unswerving, and, in truth, it had been my only comfort since my return to her world. It seemed all but God had deserted her. Lady Kingston replied bluntly,
‘Nay, Your Grace. He has not spoken of it.’ For a moment, I felt tears sting at the back of my eyes. It seemed as though the extent of the king’s callousness toward me was without depth. As had become commonplace since my incarceration, my self-pity was suddenly swept aside and replaced with black humour that saw only the utter absurdity that I had been so comprehensively deceived in love.
Quite without warning, gentle laughter bubbled to the surface, before breaking into a great belly laugh. I lifted my hand to cover my mouth, unable for a moment to quieten myself. When I looked back at my ladies, they were staring at me, perplexed once again by my erratic, illogical behaviour. As my laughter finally died away, I addressed myself to Lady Kingston.
‘Tell me, Madame, what of your husband? I marvel that I have seen him not today.’ As I spoke, Lady Boleyn and Margaret Dymock came forward, the first carrying an elaborate silver-gilt ewer, and the other a matching bowl. I placed my hands over the bowl, as my aunt poured warm water over them, so that I could wash them before I began to eat. As I did so, Lady Kingston replied,
‘My Lord husband has been busy this day, your grace. As I have been attending Your Majesty, I have no knowledge of what matters have occupied him’ Drying my hands on a cloth, I turned to look Lady Kingston in the eye. I knew she was lying but I was growing used to it. They only told me what they wanted me to know. Seeing that I would get little from her, I commanded,
‘I should be grateful, Lady Kingston, if you would ask your lord husband to attend upon me presently, for I wish to speak with him’. After a moment’s hesitation, Lady Kingston dipped a curtsy before retreating from the room to convey my request to her beleaguered husband. As I waited, I turned to gaze out of the open window. I sensed no breeze, but the pretty, warbling song of a blackbird as it heralded the onset of dusk upon the City of London. For about the thousandth time, I cast my mind beyond my prison walls and thought on those who I had loved and loathed, and pondered on where they would lay their heads that night; whether they celebrated, or mourned my downfall; whether there was anyone left in this world to fight for the life of Anne Boleyn.’
To read (or listen to) Le Temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn: Volumes I & II, from the heady days of Anne’s romance with Henry to the traumatic end, click on any of the links below…
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