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Authors: Carolyn Meyer

Tags: #Fiction - Historical, #Royalty, #16th Century, #England/Great Britain, #Tudors, #Executions

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BOOK: Doomed Queen Anne
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The kings rode side by side; François astride a gray courser and Henry mounted upon a huge white warhorse. The horses were trapped to the ground in crimson damask, their saddles gilded, their tack inlaid with gems. As they drew abreast of his, my sister pressed dangerously close and reached up to King Henry, offering him her handkerchief. He reined in his horse for a brief moment, accepted the bit of lace and linen and touched it to his lips, and then, smiling, plucked a jewel from his doublet and tossed it to her.

As he turned away and rode on, King Henry’s gaze passed over me as though I didn’t exist. I stared after this dazzling figure, unable to tear my eyes or my thoughts away from him.

“You see?” Mary crowed, showing me the pearl the king had given her. “Look for yourself how His Majesty delights in me!”

I could see, indeed.
I will never be beautiful like my sister. No king will ever want me for his lover.
I tried not to care, and I tried not to show how much I
did
care. But I began to wonder if there was a way I might best my sister and achieve more than she had even dreamed of. What a triumph
that
would be!

If Mary noticed my darkening mood, she gave no sign as we hurried toward the lists. We should have been with our retinues to make a formal entrance: Mary with Queen Catherine and I with Queen Claude. We would surely be chastised for our tardiness. But Mary didn’t seem concerned, and suddenly neither was I. It was worth whatever punishment I would receive to have been so close to the king of England.

I STILL REMEMBER the first time I set eyes upon King Henry VIII. When I was four years old, my parents left my little brother, George, behind at our castle at Hever, in Kent, and journeyed with my sister and me to the royal palace in Greenwich for the Yuletide celebration. Mary, who was then nine, had visited court before. Naturally, she had a pretty new gown, pale green silk over a yellow petticoat, and I was given one of her outgrown gowns, but I was too excited to mind very much. For weeks our governess. Lady Guildford, had rehearsed me in court behavior.

“Whenever the king and queen enter the hall or leave it, everyone must rise. The gentlemen bow low, and the ladies drop into a deep curtsy. Like this.” She demonstrated, holding out her skirts, inclining her head, and gracefully bending her knees. I copied her until she was satisfied.

At last we stood in the crowd that had gathered at Greenwich to greet the arrival of the king and queen from London. Trumpets heralded their approach, and I strained for a glimpse of the royal couple. Queen Catherine rode in a fine litter all covered in velvet and cloth of gold, and at her side, mounted on a great black stallion, was the most magnificent man I had ever seen. He was young and handsome with red-gold hair, and he wore a dazzling cloak trimmed in ermine and covered with sparkling jewels. The crowd cheered wildly, men tossed their caps into the air, and the king and queen acknowledged our greetings with waves and smiles. The procession passed by, and the splendid king was gone long before I’d had my fill of gazing at him.

“When shall I see the king again, Father?” I asked, tugging at his sleeve. “Will he speak to me then?”

“You will see King Henry at the banquet tonight, Nan,” he said. “But he will not speak to you. Hundreds will be present.”

I was disappointed, but I consoled myself with the notion that I would be able to stare at him as much as I pleased.

Hours later, the hundreds of whom my father spoke assembled in the Great Hall of Greenwich Palace. There was much noise and hubbub until, from the balcony above us, a resounding trumpet fanfare hushed the crowd. As my governess had promised, the gentlemen bowed low and the ladies dropped into deep curtsies—all of the ladies, that is, but me. I was too awestruck to remember what I was to do; moreover, if I had gone down in a curtsy, I would not have been able to see the king. And so I alone remained bolt upright as King Henry and Queen Catherine entered the hall. Wanting him to notice me, I raised my hand and waved as the king’s keen blue eyes swept over the crowd. The king, laughing, waved in return.

My father observed my behavior and immediately pulled me down. Later, I was birched for it—Lady Guildford administered a half dozen whacks to the backs of my legs—but I never forgot that moment when the king’s eyes met mine in the midst of the crowd.

“I SHALL NO DOUBT be betrothed before Michaelmas,” Mary was saying now in a matter-of-fact way that caught me off guard. We spoke French, so as not to be understood by the English ladies all around us. She was still admiring her pretty new jewel. “The king has chosen a husband for me.” She said this as though it were the most common of occurrences.

“You are to be wed? To whom?” I asked, forgetting the need for haste.

“Will Carey, one of the king’s courtiers. I know him well. It should be a decent match. I have no complaints about it. One husband is just as good, or bad, as the next, in my opinion.”

“So that puts an end to your career as king’s mistress,” I said rather coldly, for I felt then that she did not deserve the special attention of “the greatest king England has ever known,” as my father referred to him, adding, “or indeed shall ever know.”

“Not at all!” Mary replied with spirit. “I shall continue to be the king’s pleasure, if he wishes it.”

“But what of your husband?” I asked, thinking,
My sister is shameless!
“Will he not object?”

She laughed. “One does not object to the desires of one’s king! Of course, if I beget a child, that will put an end to it.”

“Then the king will be in search of someone to take your place, will he not?” I couldn’t help asking. We had arrived at the lists where the tournaments were held, and we prepared to hurry off to join our queens, hoping to slip unnoticed among their ladies.

Mary shrugged. “No doubt. King Henry always finds his pleasure among the queen’s ladies. It does put Her Majesty in a temper.” My sister winked at me knowingly. “Come home to England when you tire of those over-refined Frenchmen,” she said archly. “Perhaps, when you are grown up, King Henry’s fancy will alight upon you. Would you not like to be the king’s mistress?”

“No, I would not,” I said haughtily. “Anyone can be the king’s mistress. I should much prefer to be his queen.”

Mary laughed, showing her perfect white teeth. “What an amusing child you have become!” she cried.

“I am not a child, and I am quite serious,” I declared firmly “Wait and see—someday I shall be queen of England, and you will kneel at my feet!” And I flounced proudly away from my well-favored, detestable sister.

CHAPTER 2: Childhood, 1507-1520

I was always jealous of my sister. My mother had been a great beauty, and it was evident that Mary, who favored her, would be a beauty as well. I was a severe disappointment to my parents, for I was not a comely child. I had inherited the dark looks of my father, Thomas Bullen. My mother, Elizabeth, highborn daughter of the duke of Norfolk, was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine. My father lacked both title and wealth, but he was intelligent and ambitious. He meant to make himself important in the court of the brilliant young king Henry VIII. Mary and I became part of his scheme.

Soon after that long-ago visit to court, at which I had failed to curtsy, my father decided that Mary would be sent to Paris to join the court of Louis XII, king of France. Because of the close alliance between Louis and King Henry, my father believed it would benefit him and his family to have a daughter fluent in the language and the ways of the French court.

But he had not yet decided what to do with me.

One night when we were thought to be asleep in our bed, the candles already snuffed, Mary decided that we must go to our mother for something, I forget just what. Obediently I stumbled out of bed and followed her. We crept past our governess and the serving maids, fast asleep on their pallets, pushed open the heavy oaken door carefully so the creaking iron hinges wouldn’t give us away, and raced through the cold echoing hall to our mother’s chambers. About to enter, we were stopped by our father’s low rumbling voice within. We hushed each other and, shivering, crowded close to the keyhole to listen.

“What of Nan?” I heard my mother ask plaintively. “I cannot imagine that we shall ever be able to find her a suitable husband. The poor child is so ill-favored! Dark as a gypsy, and that blemish upon her neck, the little bud of an extra finger...”

“Ill-favored, true enough, but not dull-witted,” my father replied. “I find Nan’s intelligence far superior to Mary’s.”

Ha!
I could not resist administering a sharp pinch to my sister through the thin silk of her sleeping shift.

She swatted my hand away, and, in the brief exchange of slaps and counter-slaps that ensued, we nearly missed what was said next.

“...to a nunnery,” I heard my mother say. “As other parents have done with daughters with unfortunate defects. She would avoid the miseries of child-bearing. Perhaps Nan would not mind a life of prayer and stitchery,” my mother continued in her placid voice.

I gasped.
Defects! A nunnery!
Mary giggled and gave me a painful blow with her elbow, but I was too horrified by what I was hearing to pay her any attention. Tears gathered in my eyes as my mother in a few words sentenced me to a life of wretched piety.

“I have a better plan, one that I have already set in motion,” my father announced. “I have petitioned the king, who has agreed that Nan be sent to join the court of Archduchess Margaret in the Spanish Netherlands. Her court is said to be brilliant. Nan can learn the necessary courtly skills there, and with luck we might contract a good marriage for her with some Spanish or Italian nobleman.”

Mary stared at me with her great blue eyes. Suddenly our father’s footsteps approached the closed door. Fearing that we might be discovered and forgetting whatever it was we’d wanted of our mother, we raced recklessly back to our own bedchamber, shut the bed-curtains, and burrowed under the coverlet. My heart was pounding, and I felt like weeping.

“So,” Mary whispered in the darkness, “you need not go into a convent after all. Father thinks it possible to make a lady of you, even if you are ill-favored.”

Of course I hated my sister, the cherished beauty of the family, but I took some comfort in my father’s words:
She is not dull-witted.
Perhaps he would one day take pride in me after all.

I HAD NO IDEA who the Archduchess Margaret might be or where the Spanish Netherlands were. I understood only that I was to be sent far away from Hever, where I had spent my childhood. I could speak of my fears to no one—certainly not my parents, for that would have meant admitting that I had eavesdropped. Nor could I confide in my disdainful sister, who was already preparing to leave for the French court and missed no chance to lord it over me. So I kept my peace, attended to my lessons with Lady Guildford, and awaited my fate with a sinking heart.

Finally, in the autumn of 1513 when I was six, my father decided the time had come for me to leave England. Mary had sailed for France months earlier, an expensive array of new gowns and petticoats packed in her wooden trunks. Her outgrown wardrobe had been altered to fit me.

I bade my mother farewell at Hever, both of us choking back tears. I clung for a long moment to my younger brother, George, who was too young to understand that years might pass before we saw one another again. It was very hard for me to leave them.

My father had arranged for me to travel in the company of Lady Guildford, whom I neither liked nor disliked but who was at least familiar to me. Father accompanied us as far as Dover, to the small sailing ship that was to take us across the English Channel. I knelt to receive his blessing and promised that I would be a dutiful and obedient child. As soon as I was free, I hurried aboard to inspect the masts and ropes and other nautical things. I was excited, for I had never been at sea.

As the shore slipped away, billowing clouds darkened and piled one upon another; waves slapped hard at the sides of the wooden craft. No sooner were we out of sight of land than the furious storm broke from an angry sky. Hour after hour we were tossed about by cruel seas and lashed with torrential rain.

Belowdecks, bilious passengers lay strewn about; I stayed above, clinging to the mast as the ship climbed to the crest of each towering wave and then plunged into a deep trough. With the wind tearing at my sodden clothes and my streaming hair plastered to my body, I was frightened, but also exhilarated. It did not occur to me that I might die.

At last the storm subsided. As we went ashore at Calais, the captain patted me on the head and said what a brave child I was.

“Brave and foolish,” Lady Guildford retorted. “It will be the death of her.”

But I was not feeling at all brave as we neared the end of the three-day journey from Calais to Mechelen, capital of the Netherlands. What would the archduchess be like? Would she treat me with kindness or cruelty?

The Archduchess Margaret herself greeted us warmly at the gates of the magnificent palace, addressing me as Mademoiselle Anne. A tall woman dressed in black with shrewd eyes, she was known as Margaret of Austria or Marguerite d’Autriche, but everyone called her simply “Madame.” I liked her at once.

I was still too young to become officially
une fille d’honneur
, a maid of honor. “But, Mademoiselle Anne,” said Madame, “you are not too young to begin learning those things that will one day win you a favored place at any court in the world.” Slowly she set my heart at ease.

I had my lessons from a tutor. Monsieur Symonnet, who spoke to me only in French, even when I wept piteously, “Oh please, monsieur, just tell me it in English!” To no avail. He merely smiled and repeated what he had just said, still in French. Gradually the sounds soaked into my mind, and my tongue learned to pronounce them.

My dancing tutor. Monsieur Bosc, was tall and thin with a wispy yellowish beard and a crooked nose. Each afternoon he arrived with his long stick for tapping out the meter. We practiced the
basse danse
, consisting of small, gliding steps, with frequent bows, followed by the leaps of the galliard, and on to the stately but complicated pavane.

BOOK: Doomed Queen Anne
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