Today I am happy to feature a story that was a submission to the last contest I had! One of the reasons why I started this blog was to allow people to express their creativity with their love of the Tudor era, and I believe Gail has captured that.
A Simple Plan by Gail Thomas
The dark-haired young woman stopped and turned round to face the page who was breathlessly trying to keep up with her. “Please let me be! I cannot accept any more gifts from the king. I am so tormented already, and they do nothing but bring me unease.”
The page looked at her uncertainly. “But his Majesty said that it would give him great pleasure to present them to you, my lady. What am I to tell him?”
Anne Boleyn sighed, eyeing him sadly. “Tell his Majesty I have been suddenly taken with a fever, and must leave court immediately.” The king’s great fear of disease was well-known, and she knew that this, above all, would keep King Henry VIII at bay for a measure of time. She would retreat to her family’s home at Hever Castle, away from the bustle of court, and consider what she could conceivably do to quench the King’s ardor.
The hapless page backed away, unsure of whether the lady was speaking of a real or imagined ailment. He scurried back the way he had come, to make his report to the king.
“And now,” thought Anne to herself, “I had best take myself off to Hever, before Henry happens to see that I am actually in good health.” Grown weary of Henry’s constant attentions, she had already requested leave to her mistress, Queen Katherine, who had looked at her curiously, seeing no signs of ill health, but had allowed her to go. Anne could not determine how much, if anything, the queen knew or suspected of her husband’s wandering eye, but she thought she detected a slight look of relief on the queen’s face as she gave Anne permission to leave court.
The horses pulled up to Hever Castle, and as Anne dismounted, her heart lightened. She ran through the courtyard, through the open doors and into the great room, where her mother Elizabeth was sewing. Elizabeth welcomed her warmly, and Anne kissed her and dropped heavily into the chair next to her mother.
Elizabeth asked with some concern, “Why did you ask to return home? Is the life at court not to your liking, my darling?”
Anne spoke lightly, but her voice trembled. “Mother, I must confess to you, the king has been showing favor to me that is most unwelcome. I have no desire to take up with him, as Mary did, and I feel I am betraying the queen although I myself have done no wrong. There is talk at court about us, and I fear it will soon reach the queen’s ears.”
Elizabeth’s face turned dark. “Your uncle Norfolk has spoken of his intention to put your name before the king, but I did not realize he had already begun to speak of you and press his suit! Oh, my dear Anne,
I wish I could help in this matter, but I cannot. I will, however, speak to your father. I believe he will be arriving from court in a few days, a week at most.”
Anne said nothing. She had tried to see her father, Thomas Boleyn, before she left, but he had always been occupied with the king’s various matters and put her off. Now she understood why.
The next few days passed pleasantly, and then early one afternoon, Anne was playing her lute when the clatter of horses’ hooves in the courtyard made her quickly cease playing. She looked up expectantly as her father appeared in the doorway, looking quite displeased.
“God’s bones!” he cried, as Anne’s mother appeared to greet her husband. Elizabeth exclaimed, “What ever is the matter, Thomas?”
“Come to the great room, and get us some ale!” He motioned to Margery, and the maid hastened out of the room. When he, Elizabeth, and Anne were seated with their mugs of ale, he took a great draught and then announced, “King Henry is going to divorce the queen, and has taken up with one of her maids of honor. It’s said he is besotted, and has every intention of marrying her! The court is in an uproar. I had to leave and share the news.”
Elizabeth looked at Anne in horror. “My daughter, what has happened that you have not explained?”
Thomas had an incredulous look on his face. “Anne, I know that your uncle and I have, perhaps, encouraged the king to look to you for diversion and courtly love…” At this, Anne gave a short laugh. “Perhaps, Father? He has been chasing me all over court! The gossips have had more than enough to keep them occupied, and I am amazed that the queen has not chastised me yet!”
“Well,” Thomas said, “the queen now knows that Henry’s heart has been captured by that mousy little Jane Seymour!”
Elizabeth gasped. “From what I have heard, she is a good and chaste girl. How could this be?”
As her mother and father drank their ale and spoke excitedly back and forth, Anne sat back and closed her eyes. Her mind wandered back to her and Henry’s first meeting, behind closed doors. Henry had acknowledged the intentions of her father and uncle, and had noted her reticence…oh, he was charming and sensual, but – although they discovered that they enjoyed each other’s company – there was no real physical attraction on either side. Anne was dark and slender, and Henry preferred the fair English roses of the Tudor court…like Jane Seymour. As for Anne, beneath Henry’s surface charm, she intuitively felt him to be capable of dishonesty and cruelty…so she was relieved to find that he enjoyed her witty banter and lively personality, but that his interest in her went no further.
And so, they had made a pact, of sorts. To the court, it appeared that Henry was pursuing Anne, and all the while, he was paying courtly love and attentions to Jane, who apparently was all too eager to accept his gifts and affection. Anne gave a slight smile. Who ever really knew others, she thought. Sweet little Jane had fooled everyone. Anne almost laughed aloud. She had even helped Henry compose some love letters to Jane, silly musings from a monarch who detested writing letters, while she secretly lost respect for one who regarded his marriage vows so lightly.
And what was she getting out of this arrangement? She had asked for the one thing she desired most of all, and so Henry agreed to extricate Lord Harry Percy from his marriage pre-contract, as only the sovereign could. Anne smiled as she remembered how Cardinal Wolsey had done his utmost to prevent the lovers from being together. Well, let him see all his plans undone! He will have his hands full trying to undo Henry and Katherine’s marriage…but that was no concern of hers.
Anne sighed. She had become tired of the deception, and felt nothing but pity for Queen Katherine. She was slightly ashamed of her part in the scandal, but knew that her own happiness depended on playing her role in the king’s secret affair. And she realized, from her private conversations with Henry, that he was determined to shed his wife, who was no longer fertile, and marry a woman who could give him, and England, a male heir. Jane seemed to fit the bill, as she was young and came from a large family that included several sons, and one of her sisters had already married and given birth to a male child.
And now, Harry Percy was free to marry Anne Boleyn. The thought of his dark good looks made her heart skip a beat. She was anticipating his marriage proposal any day now, and her fondest wish would become reality. They would live at his estates, away from court, with no regrets. As for Henry and Jane, once their situation was resolved, Anne expected they would live happily ever after. They were, after all, so well suited for each other…