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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 king has written a song for me,” Mary informed me, more than a little smugly. “Shall I sing it?” Without waiting for my reply, she treated me to a few lines:

As the holly groweth green

and never changeth hue,

So I am—ever have been

unto my lady true.

“And you are that lady?” I asked skeptically.

“I am sure of it,” said Mary

Later, as we strolled one evening in her rose garden, Mary spoke of my betrothal to Jamie Butler. “Has there been further word from Father?” she asked.

“None,” I said. “Nor have I inquired about it, for I sincerely hope that it will not come to pass.”

“But why not? You could do worse—assuming you can stay at a safe distance from old Piers the Red.”

“The father at least sounds interesting,” I told her. “I find the son irresolute, fainthearted, and pusillanimous. His boldest move was his ridiculous attempt to kiss me.”

Mary laughed. “I would consider that act neither irresolute nor fainthearted,” she said. “As for pusillanimous, I know not the meaning of the word.”

CHAPTER 4: Lord Hal, 1522-1523

The warm and often damp weeks of summer gave way to cool, crisp autumn, and the royal court once again gathered at Greenwich. I welcomed the change of scene and was glad to be away from the constant presence of my sister, who often angered me with her little taunts, some unwitting, most not. My family was much involved in court activities, but I saw little of them except George, who hung about, gambling at dice with the servants when he should have been with his tutors.

At the end of November, we entered the season of Advent and counted off the days of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity. I did as the queen required of me and hoped that she would not pay me much notice; I had no desire to be a scapegoat for my sister. And I dared not question my father about Jamie Butler.

“Sweet sister Renée,” I wrote to my dear friend in Paris, “My father merely informs me that Cardinal Wolsey will see to my betrothal, but that the negotiations will take time, as both parties move forward with great deliberation. But I wonder—what if Jamie Butler insists that we leave England and make our home in Ireland? I have heard that the Irish are wild barbarians with only the merest pretense of refinement. The idea of living among them fills me with dread.”

Even when I was at court, my life at times seemed very dull, and I yearned for something exciting to happen. I often wished myself back in France, where gaiety reigned no matter what the season. To amuse myself I flirted with Hal Percy and gazed at King Henry whenever the chance presented itself I suffered occasional bouts of jealousy of my sister, which became almost unbearable when she bragged that King Henry had named one of his ships for her.

“The
Mary Boleyn
carries a crew of seventy-nine,” Mary boasted. “A lovely ship, indeed.”

No wonder the queen detested my sister and frequently took out her displeasure upon me!

On the Eve of Christmas, as Nell helped me into my petticoat and gown, I wondered aloud if the celebration could possibly be as amusing in England as it was in France. “No matter,” said Nell. “The king will be present. No doubt Your Ladyship will find pleasure enough in that.” I glanced at her quickly, but her serene face never revealed her thoughts.

I was fifteen now and no longer the youngest lady at court. And I had finally begun to attract attention. I looked nothing like the fair-skinned English ladies in their overwrought gowns, and I decided to make the most of my singularity. Rather than confining my abundant black hair in a headdress, as the others usually did, I wore it loose upon my shoulders. I was still rather thin, my bosom would never be as generous as my sister’s, but the gowns I’d brought from Paris showed off my womanliness to good advantage. Having caught their eye, I trifled with the gentlemen of the court, playing at the game of love according to the rules I’d learned in France. I longed to test my charms on King Henry, but he continued to devote most of his attentions to my sister and, I heard, engaged in minor dalliances with lesser ladies of Catherine’s court.

And I found my fondness growing for Hal Percy, who had proved no test at all.

At the first Yuletide banquet. Lord Percy had one of his servants deliver to me a confit wrapped in a bit of paper on which he had scribbled a few lines of verse. The poetry was indifferent, but when I saw Hal’s eyes upon me, I smiled and touched my fingers to my lips as a kiss.

Night after night of Yuletide we of the court supped and danced until we were too weary to continue. I had the pleasure of many partners for the galliards and the pavanes. Each time Lord Percy invited me to dance, I accepted him—his dancing was more proficient than his poetry—but I confess that all the while I was keeping my eye on King Henry.

Twelfth Night was a time of misbehavior and mischief, far more boisterous than anything I had experienced in Paris. One would never have ridden a horse into the Great Hall of the French king’s palace in the midst of a banquet, as did the Lord of Misrule at King Henry’s celebration!

After hours of feasting and carousing, my head pounded from the drunken shouting and my eyes stung with smoke from the fire and the smoldering torches. Allowing those around me to think I was hurrying to the garderobe to relieve myself, I rushed out of the noisy, smoky hall and into the courtyard. Snow had fallen, but now a quarter moon and a scattering of stars shone brilliantly in the cloudless night sky. Breathing deeply, I drew my cloak close about me and hurried toward the gate, leaving a trail of dark footprints in the wet snow.

Someone called my name: “Anne! Lady Anne!”

I looked over my shoulder. Lord Percy was pursuing me. I scooped up a handful of snow and flung it at him. Then I turned and started to run. But I could not run fast enough through the snow to escape him. Nor did I want to. The roars of laughter in the Great Hall could still be heard when Hal caught up to me. I hurled more snow; he threw some back at me, both of us laughing breathlessly. Abruptly the game ended, and Hal wrapped me tight in his arms and kissed me. I responded with lips as eager as his.

Our kiss went on and on, until I realized that I must stop it. I pushed him away, but without the contempt that I’d shown Jamie Butler. “This cannot be,” I told him. “Have you not considered that perhaps I may be betrothed?”

Hal simply laughed. “What care I?” he said boldly, and tried to sweep me into his embrace once more.

But I eluded him. “Sir!” I cried, and hurried away, plunging back into the turmoil of the Great Hall, where no one even noticed that I had been away longer than should have been necessary and that my boots and my petticoats were wet with snow.

I ASSUMED THAT Hal Percy had imbibed too much spiced wine at the raucous Twelfth Night festivities and thus had found the courage to kiss me. I thought it an evening’s trifle. Hal Percy did not dismiss it so lightly.

The maids in the queen’s chambers were well acquainted with Lord Percy and spoke eagerly of him, for he was both pleasing and highborn, the son of the wealthy and powerful earl of Northumberland. Now he became a frequent visitor to the queen’s apartments, where he much amused the ladies with his cleverness. I looked forward eagerly to his witty conversation and his pretty songs, which I knew were intended for my pleasure. Increasingly, I found myself drawn to him, and I thought he might be falling in love with me. As the weeks passed, I realized that I was falling in love with him as well.

At a certain signal—I would touch the jewel at my throat—he would make his farewells to the ladies and leave us. Shortly thereafter I would find an excuse to go out. I knew of many secluded cabinets and darkened alcoves around the palace where we could meet in secret.

This was my first taste of love. The risk of discovery increased our excitement as we exchanged sweet words and sweeter kisses. After a time, I would tear myself away and hurry back to my needlework or whatever bit of nonsense I was supposedly attending to. There were so many of us that one maid of honor was scarcely missed—certainly not by Lady Alice, mother of the maids, who in her dotage seemed unable to count past twelve. Much harder to deceive was Lady Honor, who, it seemed, had also fallen in love. At first I had no notion what ailed her as she sighed and moped about. Then I pressed her to confess.

“Oh, I know that it is hopeless,” she sniveled. “I yearn for just a smile, a private word with him, but I am sure the gentleman of whom I speak loves someone else!”

“Of whom
do
you speak. Lady Honor?” I asked, in all innocence, for I truly had no idea.

“Why, of Lord Percy!” she exclaimed, amazed that I hadn’t guessed at once. “Have you not noticed how he lingers about the queen’s apartments?”

“Yes, I have noticed,” I said, covering my surprise and pretending to ponder her question. “But I cannot guess which lady’s favors he seeks.”

“Nor can I,” sighed Lady Honor. “Although I believe Lady Constance loves him as well.”

Poor Honor! I managed not to smile. “So you have set your cap at him then?” I asked.

Two tears coursed down her wan cheeks. “No, I have not, for it is of no use—for the other lady as well as for me! Lord Percy is betrothed to Mary Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury. They have been pledged since they were children.”

I felt the blood drain from my face, and my mouth went dry as chalk. It took a great effort to conceal from Lady Honor my feelings of shock and betrayal. In all our secret trysts, Hal had uttered not one single word about a betrothal! But, I confess, neither had I spoken forthrightly to him of Jamie Butler, although I had hinted at a pending arrangement. No wonder Hal had shown no concern! Since I’d heard nothing for months about negotiations for the Butler betrothal, I had allowed myself to hope that it might never happen. But, if Honor was to be believed, Hal’s betrothal was real and binding. I felt deeply wounded and angry at him for treating me so carelessly, and I resolved to challenge him with what I had learned. In a week’s time Lord Percy would return to York Place with Wolsey for Lent, forty days of tedious fasting and prayer. We would see no more of each other until Passiontide, and I did not wish to wait that long to have it out with him.

At Shrovetide, the three days before Ash Wednesday, King Henry arranged a joust and several banquets. I had been sleeping little and eating hardly at all—a condition that did not escape the notice of my bedmate. Lady Honor. I determined to speak to Hal that night about the matter over which I had been brooding.

“What ails you, Lady Anne?” asked Honor that afternoon, feigning concern. “You seem unwell. Should we ask Lady Alice for a purgative?”

I brushed her aside. The cure I needed was a goodly hour alone with Hal, but although he was often within my sight, there were always people about.

Hal attended the final Shrovetide banquet, as did everyone else, including my parents, my brother, and my sister. Caught up with my determination to take this last opportunity to question Hal, I paid no particular attention to the looks that passed between my sister and the king. But I did take notice when Lady Mary Carey dropped her handkerchief, in plain view of the king (and the queen!). One of the king’s courtiers retrieved it for her. Soon the king departed by one door, my sister by another.

Not long after, Hal glanced my way, and I touched the jewel at my throat. Moments later we managed to slip into the wardrobe where properties and costumes for the masques were kept, a secret place we had visited several times before. Hal moved immediately to embrace me, but I pushed him away angrily, determined to speak my piece. Before I could utter a word, however, we heard a deep male voice close by, followed by muffled peals of feminine laughter. We both recognized that voice—King Henry. The laugh, of course, was my sister’s.

There was no way that we could leave the wardrobe without calling attention to ourselves. And so we stayed where we were, hidden among the folds of the costumes, listening to Mary and the king, my heart pounding with fear of discovery. By the time the king and my sister had gone out by separate doors, we could afford to be absent no longer. I’d had no opportunity to challenge Lord Percy concerning the matter of his betrothal to Mary Talbot. Now I would have to wait until Easter. I refused Hal’s parting kiss, then dragged myself back to my place in the Great Hall, doing my best to disguise my misery.

While we were apart through the dreary weeks of Lent, Hal wrote me long passionate letters, pleading to know why I had been so cold to him during our last encounter. I begged him stop, lest someone discover one of the letters—Lady Honor, for instance. As the days passed, I found that I missed him. Perhaps Honor was wrong, I thought, and no betrothal existed. Perhaps there was a simple explanation, and all would be well. The long separation slowly melted my anger.

At last, Lent ended, and the court cast off its gloomy pall at the Great Feast of Easter. When I saw Hal Percy again after our six weeks apart, I welcomed his embrace. Surely Honor was wrong. I shut my eyes to the possible truth, and we began to meet more and more often, employing less and less caution. I enjoyed the recklessness of our secret meetings. Nell became adept at standing watch, warning us of intruders with a birdlike whistle.

But there was still the matter of Jamie Butler. “One day soon we shall become betrothed, Lady Anne,” Jamie said whenever he managed to have me to himself for a moment or two by encountering me as I performed an errand for the queen or seeking me out as a dancing partner.

Jamie had adopted a fawning manner that annoyed me. He had abandoned his threats to tame me, which I saw now as empty. Unlike his warrior father, he had no will at all. Far more to my liking was the impetuous, hot-blooded behavior of dear Hal.

“I am determined to have you for my wife, darling Anne,” Hal whispered one fine June day when we had slipped away.

And why not?
I thought. The negotiations for the Butler marriage seemed to be going nowhere, for which I was grateful. Hal Percy had wealth and would one day inherit titles and even greater wealth. I had neither. My father would surely be pleased that I had made such a fine match for myself If Lord Percy wished to marry beneath his station, that was his concern, not mine. The king’s sister had done so, and she glowed with happiness. But there remained the unresolved matter of Hal’s prior betrothal.

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