Between Two Kings
(Book One in Anne Boleyn Alternate History Trilogy)
Anne Boleyn has been featured in many books, movies, and television shows. Her story has been told by writers many times. How is your historical fiction series different?
In my first book, Between Two Kings, I re-imagined the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England. When I think about Anne and her tragic fate, I want to rescue her from execution on trumped-up charges of adultery, high treason, and incest. Every time I visit the Tower of London, I see the place where she was executed, and I imagine that if I had been in the crowd watching her unjust death, I would have shouted, “Stop it! She is innocent!”
As a result of my fascination with Anne and her tragic life, I decided to write an alternate history novel about her where she does not die on the 19th of May 1536. Between Two Kings is part one of my exciting series that reimagines Anne Boleyn’s story in a unique way: having narrowly escaped her execution, she becomes the Queen of France. In a sense, Anne follows in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s footsteps.
My writing style is characterized by lush romanticism and passionate lyricism with beautiful and compact descriptions. In this series, I’m working to re-create the cultural atmosphere of the Renaissance and Tudor eras (my favorite periods!), giving my readers a strong sense of place to let them make the imaginative leap into these captivating times.
This series will appeal to you because this story is about a one-of-a-kind medieval woman, who excelled in a man’s world, and whose fate has been transformed into something utterly spectacular. Over the course of the novel, Anne emerges as a great Renaissance queen, whose indomitable nature refuses to surrender and enables her ascent to power again.
Perfect for fans of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, Judith Arnopp, Laura Andersen, Tony Riches, and other Tudor authors, as well as fans movies and shows of the Tudors.
Are there sequels to Between Two Kings?
In the second book, The Queen’s Revenge, Anne perseveres in her quest for justice and vengeance on the narcissistic, homicidal King Henry. Her odyssey takes Anne from a world of gloom, across the barren landscape of ruin and the tempestuous waters of peril, to a realm of potential happiness in her marriage to the flamboyant, chivalrous King François. Meanwhile, politics and disquieting intrigues abound…
The later sequels explore deadly plots against Queen Anne and King François, including those of Anne’s Catholic enemies. The Valois couple struggle, and intrigues against Emperor Charles V and King Henry VIII are woven into their story, for the English monarch will try to extract his own vengeance on his former wife. This culminates in a war of kings with unexpected participants. King Henry’s marriages to his historical wives have their own interpretation. Charles V’s union with Isabella of Portugal might not have an outcome as tragic as the one in history.
Beyond its theme of vengeance, The Queen’s Revenge is an optimistic tale of good triumphing over adversity and of Anne finding new love and building a life in France. The third book, The Boleyn Queen of France, is the tale of Anne’s life in France after everyone in Europe learns the identity of the mysterious French queen. It also explores how she grows into her new role as a French queen. The political background of the story is organically embedded into the romantic and suspenseful storyline.
Do any of the books in the series end in cliff-hangers? Are the books stand alone?
I’ve structured the trilogy so that the books end with exciting, pivotal moments. I created a sense of completion in Between Two Kings. Although The Queen’s Revenge concludes the plotline of Anne’s vengeance, it includes a political cliff-hanger centering on themes that will be developed and resolved in the third book.
Enough information is provided in every book, so a new reader will not be lost.
What is important for writers to create a plausible alternate history reality?
I love history because it shows how people lived in a completely different world. It reveals something new about the world, people, human evolution, traditions, and the way of life in different periods of time. Nevertheless, I often wish to explore history from new angles and to re-imagine events or fates of my favorite historical figures. What if certain events had never happened or had occurred in a different way?
It is a challenge to imagine and construct a plausible alternate history reality. You have to take real historical events and people, analyze them meticulously, and think how events could have unfolded differently, and how people would have responded to altered circumstances. If you like alternate history, you will definitely adore my alternate history universe.
Many are aggrieved with the unjust end of Anne Boleyn’s life. She was most certainly innocent of all the accusations leveled against her, and our hearts weep at the thought of her last days in the Tower of London and how she lost everything, even her life. In my series, I’ve created an alternate universe for Anne that includes the Tudor, Valois, Habsburg, and even Medici storylines, combining them in a plausible way.
I hope you will join me as we reimagine the fate of one of history’s most intriguing woman.
Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts. She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities. At present, she helps her father run the family business.
During her first trip to France at the age of ten, Olivia had a life-changing epiphany when she visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau and toured its library. This truly transformed her life as she realized her passion for books and writing, foreshadowing her future career as a writer. In childhood, she began writing stories and poems in different languages. Loving writing more than anything else in her life, Olivia has resolved to devote her life to creating historical fiction novels. She has a special interest in the history of France and England.
Olivia’s social media profiles:
Personal website: http://www.olivialongueville.com/
Project website: http://www.angevinworld.com/
Book 1: Between Two Kings: Amazon buy links. The first is for Amazon.com, and the second is for the UK Amazon store. These are not affiliate links.
Prologue: Betrayed by Everyone
May 17, 1536, the Tower of London, London, England
“The march of mortality has begun, Your Majesty. Now they are all walking to the scaffold.” The soft female voice was laced with compassion and melancholy.
Anne Boleyn, the anointed Queen of England, turned her head to the young woman, who stood on top of a chair in front of a small window. The queen saw the sympathy written all over her face, and a smile of gratitude flitted across her own pale features. Although the ladies who served her in the Tower had been handpicked by Thomas Cromwell and were his spies, they all treated her as a queen, despite her disgrace, and some empathized with her sufferings.
The announcement tolled a mournful knell and dealt a crushing blow to Anne’s very soul, a reminder of her own imminent death. “Thank you,” she replied as she rose from the bed.
Anne hastily crossed the chamber and stopped near the window. As Lady Anne Shelton climbed down from the chair, the queen took her place and peered out, fixing her eyes on the large crowd that had gathered on Tower Green. Chains of dread began pulling at her spirit.
George Boleyn, Viscount of Rochford, as the highest-ranking man among the condemned prisoners, faced the axe first. Her view was not perfect because of the lattice on the window, but Anne was still able to see Tower Green well enough. Her brother mounted the scaffold and made a speech before the throng; she regretted that she could not hear his final words.
His countenance tranquil and dignified, George knelt at the block. A petrified Anne watched the executioner practice strokes several times above her brother’s neck, then swing the axe high in the air, and down, landing with a resounding crack. An instant late, George’s severed head fell into a pile of straw, and a spray of blood spurted out of his body.
The queen’s countenance whitened to a ghostly pallor, and her jaw dropped in shock. Waves of unbearable pain washed over her, pummeling her like storm-driven tides lashing a hapless shore. George, her favorite brother, was dead! Anne would never see George again, would never rely upon his support, advice, and consolation. Only two pieces were left of him.
Her throat constricted, and tears pricked at the back of her eyes, all her energy drained away. However, Anne steeled herself against the devastating emotions and watched. She did not move until the scaffold was littered with mutilated corpses, until all of her alleged lovers – George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, Henry Norris, and Francis Weston – were no longer in the world of the living, caught in the coils of the fiendish conspiracy waged against her.
The universe was now tinged in crimson hues of slaughter, and it seemed that the deities of death were performing a gruesome dance across the room. Unable to contain her pain any longer, Anne howled with horror, descended from her chair, and collapsed to the floor in a heap. She buried her head in her hands, her screams dissolving into blood-curdling wails of despair.
Anne did not care who heard her. “Why? Why? Why?” she sobbed.
Moved by such grief, the queen’s ladies, witnessing this woeful scene, cried as well.
Lady Eleanor Hampton approached Anne. “Your Majesty, please…” The woman stopped speaking, uncertain about what to say until empathy took over. “Let me help you get to bed.”
The distraught Queen of England wept, wept, and wept. Her anguished heart hurt so much that she wondered how it was possible to still be alive. She cried so hard that she could not breathe, releasing all the stress of the past weeks in an abysmal lake of tears.
“We are all innocent!” bemoaned Anne. “I’ve loved King Henry, my lord and husband, for years! I’ve never sinned against him with my body and mind!” Her features contorted as a sob racked her trembling form. “Why did he kill them? Why does he want me dead?”
The others gasped and shuddered in dread, for it was high treason to speak such words.
Anne cried until she had no more tears to shed, and her whole being was fractured with the enormity of the unjust executions which had just taken place. Finally, she summoned sufficient self-control to calm down and was able to stand up. She wobbled to the bed in chilling silence.
“They shall find peace in heaven.” The queen settled herself on the bed.
Lying on the bed, Anne struggled to comprehend why her husband, King Henry VIII of England, believed the absurd story of her multiple adulteries, incest, and other acts of treason. Thomas Cromwell had orchestrated her plight. But what was Henry’s role in it? Had Cromwell deliberately misled the king? Or did the monarch know that all the accusations against her were false but chose not to care, wishing to end their marriage without another lengthy divorce?
The deposed queen reckoned that Henry had not commanded his chief minister to fabricate the charges; it was all Cromwell’s conspiracy against her. Yet, it changed nothing because her beloved brother and the other men were all murdered by the king. Anne ruminated on how Henry now fancied himself in love with Jane Seymour and, driven by his lust for that plain, undereducated wench, was ready to go to any lengths to rid himself of his inconvenient wife.
Anne looked across at her ladies, who kept at a little distance from her.
Her lips curled in a bitter grin. “My only fault is that I’ve not birthed Henry’s son.”
“Your Majesty…” one of the women commenced, then abruptly trailed off.
“Leave me be,” the queen enjoined. “I’ll mourn for them in silence.”
They nodded and curtsied; then they retired to the opposite side of the room.
The queen snuggled into rough linen sheets, nasty and uncomfortable. She closed her eyes, endeavoring to block out the harrowing reality. “My God… Why?”
Everyone had betrayed Anne: they had all left her like rats running away from a sinking ship, even her father. Her loneliness was so deep and sharp, as if she had been hollowed out. For the first time in her life, she abhorred her husband with every fiber of her being; Henry’s horrendous betrayals were festering wounds on her heart, all of them putrid and vile.
“I do hate you with all my soul, Henry,” hissed Anne under her breath. “I shall never forgive you for the atrocities you have committed in your quest for freedom from me.”
Chapter 1: An Unexpected Discovery
May 18, 1536, the Tower of London, London, England
“I’m doomed,” Anne whispered to herself with resignation. “They will gladly wash their hands in my blood. Death begins its walk towards us the day we are born, but the fact that one passes away does not prove that they lived. I’ve lived and loved like no one else!”
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, lay on a bed, its headboard carved with lions, which dominated the sparsely furnished chamber. Her heart was fragmenting with pain, as if the merciless hands of destiny were pulling it apart. Her thoughts reeled like a trapped bird flinging itself against the bars of a cage in vain attempts to regain its freedom, but only succeeding in hurting itself more and more.
Despite it being a fine May day outside, it was chilly inside the Tower apartments, where she had been confined since her arrest. The cold weather mirrored the chill in her soul. The stark reality was dreadful: she had been accused of multiple adulteries, of enjoying an incestuous relationship with her own brother, George, and of plotting the English monarch’s murder. The latter charge was a veiled accusation of treason because her husband was the King of England.
It was truly ludicrous that the queen, who was always attended by her ladies, could have had numerous secret lovers for such a long time. In several cases, her alleged paramours had not even been present at the places where her prosecutors claimed she had undertaken illicit encounters with them. There was no evidence whatsoever that she had plotted the ruler’s death. Her trial had been an unjust farce! Twenty-six peers had declared her guilty of all charges, and she had been unjustly condemned to be either beheaded or burned according to the king’s pleasure.
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, entered. Anne rose from the bed and stepped to him, smiling a welcome; Cranmer could not save her, and she still viewed him as a friend.
In the next moment, Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, walked in.
The queen’s ladies watched their mistress with doleful expressions from a distance. During these weeks, she had been attended by five women, who had served either Catherine of Aragon or her daughter, Mary Tudor. Anne knew that they all were obliged to report anything she might say or do to William Kingston, while he, in turn, informed Cromwell about the prisoner’s behavior.
Archbishop Cranmer lowered his gaze. “My lady, I bring word from the king.” He sighed. “Your marriage to His Majesty has been annulled.” Grief shadowed his expression.
Anne stared at him with unseeing eyes, and her heart compressed into a dense ball of distress. The words of Henry’s denial of their marriage sounded in her mind like the tolling of a funeral bell. How was it possible? Among her turbulent emotions, disbelief overrode all others.
“Has it really happened, Your Grace?” Her world was breaking, piece by piece, into fragments, and she felt as utterly hopeless as a captain at sea might, if marooned without a compass to guide him.
“I’m so sorry, Madame.” Cranmer averted his eyes, his dejected sigh wafting through the air. “Your daughter, the Lady Elizabeth, has been declared a bastard.” He veered his gaze to her.
Anne nodded, and a ghastly blend of anguish and fear engulfed her. Questions flew through her mind like arrows seeking a target in the dead of night. Why was Henry treating both her and their daughter so callously? Why and when did he become such an iron-hearted beast? Even though she had fallen from his good graces, why did he punish their innocent child?
Her inability to find these answers shackled her in the chains of endless misery with no hope of liberation. Why is Henry so callous to me? His deeds symbolize the very essence of ruthlessness. I loved him more than life itself, but he ceased feeling anything even vaguely resembling affection for me. It seemed as if he wanted to cause her more heartache by annulling their union only a matter of days before her scheduled execution. Henry’s cruelty was as boundless as the sky.
The former queen composed herself with a gargantuan effort. Her fathomless dark pools gleamed with warped humor. “This surprise is the best gift His Majesty could grant me. Of course, he has played his last trump card. I should have expected that.”
The archbishop blanched. “Madame, please…”
A semblance of contrition suffused her face. “I don’t know what has come over me.”
Once more, Cranmer found himself astonished with the self-control she was displaying. “I promise I’ll do my best to safeguard and help your daughter in any way I can.”
A grateful Anne murmured, “Thank you very much.”
The time for her last confession had arrived. “Your Grace,” she called, “I beseech you to hear my last confession.” Her gaze oscillated between the archbishop and the constable. “I’d like Master Kingston to stay and listen to what I say when I confess the truth.”
She wanted Constable William Kingston to hear everything for an important reason. His witnessing her last confession on earth meant that there was a small chance that, in the future, the people of England, including the king, would learn of her innocence.
Kingston nodded. “As you wish, Madame.”
Cranmer took a seat, and Anne knelt in front of him. As she trained her eyes upon him, his heart twisted in helpless agony at the sight of the great woman whom he respected and loved.
“Madame, speak honestly and truthfully,” intoned the archbishop.
“Yes.” Anne dragged a deep and shuddering breath, as if it were her last. “Before the Lord, I confess my innocence of all the charges brought against me. I solemnly swear upon my eternal soul that I’ve never been unfaithful to King Henry, my lord and husband, although I’ve not always treated him with the obedience, respect, and humility which I owed him as a wife.”
She paused for another breath, and then continued in a voice layered with confidence, “God is all-seeing and knows that I’m innocent of these accusations.” She trailed off, leaned forward, and grabbed the Bible from a nearby table. “The Almighty is my witness that during my relationship with His Majesty, never once, by word or look, have I made the slightest attempt to interest any other man in my humble person. I was a true maid when the king first took me to his bed.”
A crestfallen silence reigned in the chamber. A muted sadness hung in the air.
Anne proceeded, “I do not say this in the hope that the king will exonerate me of all the phony charges, for I’ve accepted my fate. But there is something that you must all know.” Her eyes blazing with an inner fire of truth, she promulgated, “I’m carrying King Henry’s child.”
A ripple of astonishment flitted through the group of women, who had also heard it.
In these moments of her triumph, Anne felt herself like a messenger of a higher power who had charged her with divine strength. “On the eve of my execution, I’ve realized that I’m pregnant. Fate has a bizarre sense of humor, don’t you think so? I’ve felt rather unwell during the past few weeks, but I attributed my sickness to the horror of my situation and to my constant stress. Nevertheless, now I have no doubt as to my condition, and I’m certain that a physician shall confirm.”
“This is the Lord’s doing!” A smile of hope illumined Cranmer’s face.
All pairs of amazed eyes were glued to the former mistress of their sovereign’s heart.
Still on her knees in front of the archbishop, she crossed herself. “I solemnly swear that the king’s child is growing inside of me. I beg you to allow it to be born. Regardless of what might befall me in the future, my baby is innocent of any crime – it must live.”
“Lady Anne, I shall do everything to help you.” Cranmer removed the Bible from her hands and then clasped them in his own. “This child is a blessing.”
Tears burned like red-hot pokers behind her eyes. “Your Grace, Elizabeth and this child will need friends after my death. His Majesty will not spare me, but I want my babe to live.”
“Madame, I cannot guarantee that…” The archbishop’s voice faltered.
With salty liquid glistening on her cheeks, Anne looked as if the skin on her face were woven through with silver threads of anguish. “I’m sorry for the sins I’ve really committed. At times, I was callous to those who did not deserve it. However, I do not dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, because the Lord forgives those who repent, and my contrition is sincere.”
Anne inclined her head slightly after finishing her confession. At this moment, she looked so humble, so gentle, and so honest that her touching beauty tugged at everyone’s heartstrings.
Her ladies were now crying. Having heard her speak from the bottom of her heart, they no longer believed that their mistress was guilty of the allegations leveled against her.
Archbishop Cranmer made the sign of a cross on the doomed woman’s forehead. “Master Kingston, go fetch a doctor and a midwife. As Lady Anne asked you to stay in order to share her last confession with the world, never forget this day and comply with her request.”
Kingston stood up and bowed. “You have my word.”
In half an hour, the doctor and the midwife appeared in the queen’s apartments. After a careful examination, they voiced their conclusion – Anne was indeed with child.
That evening, Anne Boleyn stood near the window, watching an eerie darkness blanket the firmament. It might be her last night on earth. Would God interfere? Would she be saved? She was a realist: the king would no doubt insist that the father was one of her alleged lovers.
To distract herself from these traumatic musings, she resorted to a mental journey into her early youth: her carefree childhood at Hever Castle with her siblings, Mary and George, and her parents – Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn, who had been such a loving father back then.
With fondness, she reminisced about her years at the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria. A small girl in 1513, she had been one of Margaret’s eighteen filles d’honneur. Margaret had found and hired a suitable tutor so that Anne could learn the French language and master the sophistication of court life; she had been so eager to join the various entertainments.
Yet, Anne had preferred the happy time at the French court, where, despite her youth, she had served to Queen Claude of France, King François’s first wife. She remembered the golden years of her adolescence. Anne had stayed with Queen Claude for nearly seven years, spending most of that time in the Loire Valley, at Châteaux Amboise and Blois, where the queen had usually resided.
The English court could not rival the more refined European courts. Thus, Anne had focused on acquiring a profound knowledge of French etiquette and courtesy while having lived in majestic Renaissance splendor in France. She had completed her study of the French language and cultivated her interests in fashions, humanism, theology, music, and the arts. Yet, Anne’s life had not always been public since Queen Claude had spent much time in confinement during her annual pregnancies.
Anne recalled her conversations with Marguerite d’Angoulême, King François’ sister. At that time, Marguerite had been the Duchess d’Alençon; now she was the Queen of Navarre. Marguerite was a prominent patron of humanists and reformers, as well as a talented author in her own right. She had encouraged her entourage to engage in discussions on a multitude of topics, including theology, and Anne had participated in these. Anne hoped that Marguerite would remember her fondly.
With this comforting thought, a flood of half-hope, half-relief swarmed the condemned woman, refusing to be contained – Anne laughed merrily, as if genuinely amused by something. Her ladies-in-waiting granted her odd looks, but Anne’s smile widened, and then she laughed again. Nonetheless, burdened by the hopelessness and injustice of her situation, her mood then swerved to one of deep despondency. Staring into the darkness, she swallowed hard, suppressing sudden sobs.
A whole swarm of memories of Henry whirled through her brain, and a strong wave of dismay assaulted her as she reflected on their relationship. Henry had been so passionately in love with her, and she with him. Her mind drifted through memories of their long, romantic courtship. The monarch’s countless professions of love and his promises echoed through her mind like a sardonic snicker, taunting her – by now, each of them had proved to be worthless and meaningless.
Images of her little Elizabeth inundated her head. Henry had been utterly disappointed with the birth of a healthy daughter, but Anne loved Elizabeth with every fibre of her being since the midwife had placed the baby girl into her arms. An intense cold swept over her at the remembrance of how two unborn children had died in her womb. Her second miscarriage had been triggered by the shock she had felt upon seeing Henry’s adulterous kiss with Jane Seymour, who had been sitting in his lap.
That night, sleep eluded Anne for a long time, and she rested on the bed, staring at the ceiling pretending to be asleep, but listening to her ladies’ quiet conversation.
Her two aunts – Lady Anne Shelton née Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn’s elder sister, and Lady Elizabeth Boleyn née Wood, wife of Sir James Boleyn, Anne’s uncle – sat together at the table.
In a voice colored with total incredulity, Lady Anne Shelton murmured, “What an unexpected and bewildering turns of events! What will happen tomorrow?”
“The execution should be rescheduled, but we cannot guess the outcome.” Lady Elizabeth Boleyn’s utterance was more in hope than belief that the monarch would reprieve her niece.
Three other ladies approached and settled themselves around the table.
Lady Eleanor Hampton chimed in, “A pregnant woman cannot be sent to the scaffold.”
“That would be unlawful,” stressed Lady Margaret Coffin.
“Indeed,” Lady Mary Kingston concurred. “But her fate is sealed after the child’s birth.”
Lady Boleyn sighed. “It must be the king’s babe.” Everyone nodded.
“This is so unfair,” muttered Margaret Coffin. Her companions dipped their heads.
Anne squeezed her eyes shut, her world narrowing to concerns about the little creature she already loved. Sliding her palms under her nightgown, she lay them flat against her stomach. Henry, you would not dare murder a pregnant woman… That would imperil your immortal soul! Or will you? She busied herself with praying for her daughter, Elizabeth, and her unborn child.
May 19, 1536, Palace of Whitehall, London, England
The first rays of the spring sun warmed the white ashlar stone walls of Whitehall, the former York Place, which had once been owned by the late Cardinal Wolsey. The building was still being extended and redesigned, and King Henry had invested heavily in this project, planning to make it a grand masterpiece of Tudor architecture to rival those of his French counterpart.
It was a little past dawn and several hours before Anne Boleyn’s execution. In spite of the early hour, the court was wide-awake, and a sense of anticipation was palpable in the air.
Meanwhile, the royal apartments were alive with the morning traffic of servants. King Henry had been woken early as Thomas Cromwell requested an immediate audience with him.
“Damn Cromwell,” the ruler cursed as he yawned. He was still abed, reluctant to get up so early. “It must be something extraordinarily urgent if my chief minister dared ignore the official protocol regarding the rules and hours for gaining an audience with me.”
An old man, his face sharp-chinned and withered, approached the monarch’s bed canopied with a red brocade cloth. His once strawberry blonde hair had faded to a rusty graying color, and now it almost matched his pale brown serge attire. He was William Sandys, Baron Sandys of the Vyne and Lord Chamberlain of the royal household, as well as the king’s favorite.
“Good morning, Your Majesty,” began Sandys. “Which clothes should we prepare?”
The king’s face split into a grin. “I’ll wear vibrant colors today.”
“As you wish.” Lord Chamberlain aided him to climb out of bed.
With a menacing air about him, Henry pontificated, “History will remember this day forever. The Boleyn witch shall be punished for her odious crimes against God and her sovereign. Neither my court nor I will mourn for her. I’ve decided to wear the color blood red.”
“This color suits you, sire,” William Sandys said, his features shock-whitened. His feelings over Anne Boleyn’s execution were conflicted, but it was not his place to decide.
The monarch stood dressed in a white taffeta shirt with a standing collar, wrought with red silk. His doublet of crimson brocade glittered with rubies and diamonds. Scarlet silk hose were pulled up his legs and fixed to points hanging from around his waist. A purple velvet cap with a red ostrich feather was placed upon his head; a long gold chain with massive rubies adorned his neck. It was as though his attire symbolized the slaughter of the Boleyn adulteress, which the king craved.
Henry marched to the presence chamber, passing many courtiers, who all bowed and curtsied as he strutted forward, but he acknowledged only a few with a slight nod.
Burly and powerfully built, the handsome English ruler inspired sheer awe and yet terror of his power. Not all of his subjects were comfortable when that aquamarine gaze, intense and hard, came to rest upon them. Broad of face, his rather small eyes and a well-formed, yet petulant and small, mouth, sat beneath the short, straight, auburn hair that showed from beneath his cap.
Henry towered majestically a head above most of his court, although his French archrival, King François I, was taller, which stirred jealousy in him. Henry had inherited the attractive looks of his maternal grandfather, King Edward IV, and carried the best of the York and Tudor features.
“Good morning, Your Majesty!” his nobles chorused.
Henry’s countenance was like that of a mighty sovereign without earthly peer, which usually impressed his subjects. Yet, today his appearance, tinged with hues of blood red, frightened them. His whole being exuded the savage darkness, which had always lurked within him, and it was now so close to the surface that courtiers could feel the breath of his inner beast.
As the king stormed into the presence chamber, Thomas Cromwell dropped into a deep bow.
A silence full of trepidation reigned. Henry paced back and forth restlessly, like a lion caged in an ancient amphitheater. He paid no attention to the room’s grandeur and its elaborately carved oak furniture, decorated with figures of Jupiter, the supreme God of the Roman pantheon. On the walls there were tapestries portraying the life of Gaius Julius Caesar. At his feet, a costly carpet of cloth woven with gold threads took the brunt of his relentless march back and forth across the room.
Finally, Henry stopped near the marble fireplace and peered at his chief minister. In a voice layered with impatience, he barked, “Cromwell, why are you here?”
His guest heaved a sigh. “I beg Your Majesty’s pardon, but we have a grave problem.”
The ruler growled, “The only problem I know of is about to be removed from this earth. The Tower is where you must be ensuring that this is so!”
The advisor was immensely skilled at masking his emotions. However, the unforeseen turn of events had unnerved him a great deal, making it rather difficult to keep an inscrutable demeanor. “Sire, you have always been clever and shrewd; your guess is correct.”
“What is it?” demanded the monarch.
“Lady Anne Boleyn is with child,” proclaimed Cromwell.
“What?” rasped a nonplussed Henry, his eyes venomous caverns.
At Cromwell’s nod, the king’s previously cool façade cracked wide open. Henry blanched as a lethal mixture shock, bewilderment, anger, pain, and disappointment passed through him.
Questions circled the monarch’s mind like vultures preying upon him. How could Anne carry a child, and who was its father? Was it a dark irony of fate or the Lord’s blessing? Why was it happening now, when he was so close to getting his freedom? Was heaven laughing at him?
Anne Boleyn played with me like a cheap toy. She made me fall for her to ensure her family’s enrichment and elevation. What a fool I was to believe that whore! She wanted only the crown for herself and power for the Boleyns! Such were Henry’s scornful thoughts of the woman whom he had once worshipped. She must have been taught by her vile father and her brother how to set herself in his way and to ensnare him. They had calculated every step of their ascent to power.
When an enamored Henry had offered her to be his mistress, Anne had sworn with soul-stirring fervor that she would give her maidenhood only to her husband. Whatever purity she had brought to their bed, Henry now believed it was sullied, and all of it pretense. Anne had never loved him! She must have feigned her virginity! All her fake amorous words were as poisonous as those siren songs that drew sailors to the rocks and certain doom. Her counterfeit sweetness had almost ruined him.
To make the harlot his queen, Henry had disposed of Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. He had declared his daughter, the Princess Mary Tudor, a bastard. Henry had torn the country apart because Pope Clement VII would not grant the annulment of his union with Catherine. His battles with Rome had led to the separation of the Church of England from the papal authority. Anne Boleyn was the driving force of almost everything that had occurred in the country in the past several years.
Henry regretted that he had fallen for Anne. He had married her, but it would have been better if he had never met her. Thanks to Anne, the King of England had been made the laughingstock of Europe, especially when she had birthed a girl – not the boy she had promised him. A daughter was useless: only a son could guarantee the smooth succession and the continuation of the Tudor dynasty. Just as unforgivably, Anne had lost a male child at the start of the year and had blamed him.
Anne had seen him with Jane Seymour sitting on his knee, and miscarried due to the distress. Henry’s love for Anne, which had once been the most ennobling expression of chivalric devotion, had evolved into a murderous hatred. Then his chief minister and the Duke of Suffolk had reported to him that Anne had entertained men in her rooms. The investigation had revealed that she had cuckolded him with at least five courtiers and committed another the most abominable crime – incest.
In a voice as sharp as a million of swords, the king snarled, “I crave to spill the whore’s blood. Her sins are irredeemable.” He slid his wrathful glare to Cromwell. “I want Anne Boleyn dead.”
“Your Majesty, under the laws of England, we cannot send a pregnant woman to the block.” Cromwell did need Anne gone. He was a man of action and never admitted any hesitation in carrying out the royal commands; but he could not allow a child of royal blood to die.
After a brief pause, Henry spoke in a more controlled voice edged with a trace of clear distrust. “Anne has always been a good actress. Are you sure she is with child?”
Cromwell bobbed his head. “Yes, I am. The physician and the midwife both confirmed her condition. We will have to wait until the birth of her baby. Only then can she be punished.”
The ruler flinched at the sudden remembrance of the several nights he had spent with Anne in March despite Lent, but he thrust these thoughts aside. Anne could not be expecting his child! Her bastard was of no importance to him. Most definitely, he would have a brood of legitimate, healthy children with his beloved Jane, who was so lovely and very obedient – an ideal wife for him.
The king’s face screwed up in disgust. “This baby could be the product of incest.”
“It could have been fathered by any of her lovers.”
Cromwell had inflamed his anger, and Henry roared, “Anne is the worst whore ever! She lured me into marriage by means of sorcery! Is this child not the result of witchcraft?”
After more pacing back and forth, Henry finally threw himself into a chair. Cromwell stood quietly, smiling inwardly, pleased that his careful scheming had come to fruition.
The hands of Chronos, the Greek God of time, were pulling the monarch to a point where his life would be changed forever. The Almighty had taken the matter of Anne’s death out of his hands, and he could not kill her today, despite his antagonism towards her. As his gaze flicked to a nearby tapestry depicting Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, he made a fateful choice.
The monarch sighed with aggravation. “As I’m unfortunately bound by law, I must allow the Boleyn harlot to live until her bastard’s birth.” A rueful laughter boomed out of him. “I feel as if I were Caesar entering Italy under arms. His close friend, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, betrayed him just as Anne betrayed me. However, Caesar’s victory in the civil war put him in an unrivaled position of power. When that whore dies in a few months, I shall prevail as well.”
His chief minister sought to reassure him. “Lady Anne’s death will be a new beginning for Your Majesty. Your life will be long and happy, unlike Caesar’s.”
“Of course. God has blessed me to rule England for many years.” Henry’s thoughts went to the keeper of his heart. “I’ll wed Lady Jane Seymour as planned.”
“It would be better to postpone the ceremony until Lady Anne’s death. Then nobody would ever doubt the legitimacy of any future children born to this new marriage.”
Henry saw the truth in these words. “Indeed, my sons must be untainted.”
A golden future stretched before the King of England, a future without worry and troubles. A future with his dearest Jane and many male heirs. How fortunate Henry was that he and Jane had found each other, and soon they would forge a marriage of love and commitment. The rest of his reign would initiate a Golden Age of peace and prosperity for the Tudor dynasty and England, one that would be better than the Pax Romana of the first Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.
In the omnipresent silence that followed, the castle clock chimed a soft melody, marking the time. The course of Europe’s history had just been altered irrevocably for all time. Yet, was it to Henry’s benefit or not? A strong sense of premonition stole over the Tudor monarch, coiling around the edifice of his dreams like the eerie fog that frequently enveloped Whitehall.