The Rise, Reign and Fall of Anne Boleyn, Part 4

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Anne Boleyn

The populace were divided in their reaction to Henry’s destruction of Papal influence in England. Many welcomed it, but others saw it as the uprooting of security and familiarity in the country, the destruction of their spiritual lives – and the inevitable excommunication of their King which they saw only too clearly on the horizon terrified them, with its inherent repercussions for the rest of England.

Many objected to the schism on doctrinal and religious grounds, many on the simple basis of fear of the unknown and love of the familiar. Henry, however, had the bit between his teeth and would not be swayed. In spite of the resignation of Thomas More, his new Lord Chancellor, and egged on by the advice of his new henchman, the unscrupulous and secretly Protestant Thomas Cromwell, Henry undertook the dissolution of the monasteries, abrogating to himself their incredible wealth, and filling his coffers with their collections of jewels and gold, dividing up their lands and estates for his own use and for rewards to his loyal servants – even taking to himself the fabulous Hampton Court Palace which Wolsey had built as his own showplace – an enchanted castle of over 1,000 rooms and unparalleled beauty, designed by Wolsey himself.

Having once usurped the power of the Church in England, Henry could declare his own divorce, banish Catherine into one of his most barren, most distant palaces, exile his daughter Mary, the now-bastardized former heir to the throne, and marry Anne, thereby gaining gold, increased power and a new wife at one fell swoop. Though troubled by an inconvenient conscience which made it necessary for Henry to always be convinced of the rightness of his actions, the King seemed to have a very elastic vision of God’s plan for him in the world, persuading himself that he was following God’s plotted course on the conviction that he ruled by Divine Right, and that God would have stopped him if he were erring in any way.

His urgency was amplified by the events of late 1532 which saw him finally accomplish the fulfillment of one, at least, of his dreams. Sometime late in the year, Anne, possibly desperate at the snail-like pace of events, (or possibly succumbing to her own long-denied desires and needs, depending on which historian you believe), finally opened her bed to him in one last wild throw of the dice She became almost immediately pregnant with a child she was convinced would be the long-sought heir.

Henry, overjoyed and panicked at the same time, secretly wed his Anne in early January 1533, and planned for her a royal coronation in the spring, the pomp and majesty of which would, he hoped, reconcile his unhappy subjects to his choice of a successor to their beloved Queen Catherine. Catherine was no longer a player at court, having been moved to a far corner of the kingdom and allotted barely enough servants or money to eke out an existence or to pay for the doctors which were becoming increasingly necessary to her survival.

And what of Anne at this time? The events on the world stage seem to have overshadowed her up to this point, in spite of the fact that she was the catalyst in nearly all that took place between Pope, Emperor and King. Based on chronicles of the time, it is evident that Anne grew in influence and favor at court, alternately bewitching the king with her affection and veiled promises of surrender, and bedeviling him with temper tantrums and continued threats to leave him, which reduced the mighty monarch to tears and pleas and humiliating sessions of groveling.

Whether she truly loved him and desired to be legitimately wed to him, or whether she was playing the dangerous game of power at her own whim or at the command of her father, Anne’s behavior seems to have been by turns ingratiating and then alienating – a combination calculated to keep Henry in a constant fret of uncertainty. Once she became pregnant, it became absolutely essential to officialize their relationship, thus safeguarding the legitimacy of the heir she carried. Her pregnancy, which could hardly be kept secret for long, was hinted at by Anne herself before it was publicly admitted – or, indeed, before she was fairly wed.

The story goes that Anne, laughing and flirting with Thomas Wyatt and several other courtiers, declared that she had the most enormous craving for apples. “The king says that this means I am with child, but I tell him this cannot be!” Then she laughed wildly and danced away, leaving the nobles bewildered and apprehensive. They would have been even more frightened if they had known how many among them would lose their heads and their places at court before the long odyssey of Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall was finished. The forgotten and derided Wolsey met a happier fate than many others would manage. The king commanded his summons to court for trial on charges of treason and praemunire – that is, putting the Pope before the King in his allegiance.

The messenger chosen by Henry, ironically enough, was that same Henry Percy, now Duke of Northumberland, who had once been engaged to Anne Boleyn, only to have that engagement broken at Wolsey’s command. But Wolsey escaped the inevitable fate of the treasonous in those vengeful times. During the trip to London he became so ill that the cavalcade was forced to stop at a nearby abbey to seek shelter. The brilliant and flawed Cardinal Wolsey died there before he could be brought to trial. His last words were reportedly these: “If I had served my God as faithfully as I have served my King, I had not come to this pass.” Henry evidently mourned at the death of his former friend and servant – but not for too long, since he was preparing for the grand coronation of his new wife, and the birth of his son and heir.

The crowning was a pretty comprehensive fiasco. Though the weather was lovely, and Anne, dressed all in white with her luxurious black hair flowing loose about her, was greeted with pantomimes and music and cannon salutes all through the city of London and on her trip by boat down the Thames to the Tower of London for the traditional stay there the night before the crowning – yet the crowds were tellingly silent, and very few cries of “God save the Queen!” were heard.

At Henry and Catherine’s coronation the people had danced in the streets, torn up bits of the ceremonial red carpet to keep as souvenirs, and toasted the new royals in wine which flowed from fountains provided by the court. Now Anne rode in her litter through the crowded alleys and byways, and her appearance was met with a resentful silence. They might have had their adored Queen Catherine torn from them, and they might be forced to accept this immoral usurper as their new queen, but they didn’t have to like it, and they were going very palpably to show their displeasure.

Henry was nowhere to be seen, as he had decided that this should be Anne’s day of triumph. After the almost coma-inducingly long ceremony at the cathedral, Anne was feasted in regal splendor while Henry looked on from behind a partition. Anne was seated alone at a table on a dais, with courtiers feasting at tables placed on the floor of the hall; she was waited upon by innumerable servants, including a lady-in-waiting whose job, apparently, was to hold a napkin “for the queen to spit into, whensoever she listed”.

She ate off gold plate encrusted with jewels, and listened to the finest musicians available – but in spite of the glory of her surroundings, she had to know that she was hated and reviled, and that, while she was being saluted and toasted by those present in the hall, the toasts in the taverns down in the City and all across England that day were honoring Queen Catherine, ill and enfeebled in her thankless exile. The people might be forced into loyalty to their new queen; they could not be forced to love her.

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