Jean Plaidy - Murder Most Royal: The Story of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard
MURDER MOST ROYAL
The King’s Pleasure
The King’s Secret Matter
Happiest of Women
No Other Will Than His
About the Author
A Reader’s Group Guide
An Excerpt From In The Courts of Love
Other books by Jean Plaidy
Defiled is my name, full sore
Through cruel spite and false report,
That I may say for evermore,
Farewell to joy, adieu comfort.
For wrongfully ye judge of me;
Unto my fame a mortal wound,
Say what ye list, it may not be,
Ye seek for that shall not be found.
Written by ANNE BOLEYN in the Tower of London
The King’s Pleasure
IN THE SEWING-ROOM at Hever, Simonette bent over her work and, as she sat there, her back to the mullioned window through which streamed the hot afternoon sunshine—for it was the month of August and the sewing-room was in the front of the castle, overlooking the moat—a little girl of some seven years peeped round the door, smiled and advanced towards her. This was a very lovely little girl, tall for her age, beautifully proportioned and slender; her hair was dark, long and silky smooth, her skin warm and olive, her most arresting feature her large, long-lashed eyes. She was a precocious little girl, the most brilliant little girl it had ever been Simonette’s good fortune to teach; she spoke Simonette’s language almost as well as Simonette herself; she sang prettily and played most excellently those magical instruments which her father would have her taught.
Perhaps, Simonette had often thought, on first consideration it might appear that there was something altogether too perfect about this child. But no, no! There was never one less perfect than little Anne. See her stamp her foot when she wanted something really badly and was determined at all costs to get it; see her playing shuttlecock with the little Wyatt girl! She would play to win; she would have her will. Quick to anger, she was ever ready to speak her mind, reckless of punishment; she was strong-willed as a boy, adventurous as a boy, as ready to explore those dark dungeons that lay below the castle as her brother George or young Tom Wyatt. No, no one could say she was perfect; she was just herself, and of all the Boleyn children Simonette loved her best.
From whom, Simonette wondered, do these little Boleyns acquire their charm? From Sir Thomas, their father, who with the inheritance from his merchant ancestors had bought Blickling in Norfolk and Hever in Kent, as well as an aristocratic wife to go with them? But no! One could not say it came from Sir Thomas; for he was a mean man, a grasping man, a man who was determined to make a place for himself no matter at what cost to others. There was no warmth in his heart, and these young Boleyns were what Simonette would call warm little people. Reckless they might be; ambitious one could well believe they would be; but every one of them—Mary, George and Anne—were loving people; one could touch their hearts easily; they gave love, and so received it. And that, thought Simonette, is perhaps the secret of charm. Perhaps then from their lady mother? Well...perhaps a little. Though her ladyship had been a very pretty woman her charm was a fragile thing compared with that of her three children. Mary, the eldest, was very pretty, but one as French as Simonette must tremble more for Mary than for George and Anne. Mary at eleven was a woman already; vivacious and shallow as a pleasant little brook that babbled incessantly because it liked people to pause and say: “How pretty!” Unwise and lightsome, that was Mary. One trembled to think of the little baggage already installed in a foreign court where the morals—if one could believe all one heard—left much to be desired by a prim French governess. And handsome George, who had always a clever retort on his lips, and wrote amusing poetry about himself and his sisters—and doubtless rude poetry about Simonette—he had his share of the Boleyn charm. Brilliant were the two youngest; they recognized each other’s brilliance and loved each other well. How often had Simonette seen them, both here at Hever and at Blickling, heads close together, whispering, sharing a secret! And their cousins, the Wyatt children, were often with them, for the Wyatts were neighbors here in Kent as they were in Norfolk. Thomas, George and Anne; they were the three friends. Margaret and Mary Wyatt with Mary Boleyn were outside that friendship; not that they cared greatly, Mary Boleyn at any rate, for she could always amuse herself planning what she would do when she was old enough to go to court.
Anne came forward now and stood before her governess, her demure pose—hands behind her back—belying the sparkle in her lovely eyes. The pose was graceful as well as demure, for grace was as natural to Anne as breathing. She was unconsciously graceful, and this habit of standing thus had grown out of a desire to hide her hands, for on the little finger of her left one there grew the beginning of a sixth nail. It was not unsightly; it would scarcely be noticed if the glance were cursory; but she was a dainty child, and this difference in her—it could hardly be called a deformity—was most distasteful to her. Being herself, she had infused into this habit a charm which was apparent when she stood with others of her age; one thought then how awkwardly they stood, their hands hanging at their sides.
“Simonette,” she said in Simonette’s native French, “I have wonderful news! It is a letter from my father. I am to go to France.”
The sewing-room seemed suddenly unbearably quiet to Simonette; outside she heard the breeze stir the willows that dripped into the moat; the tapestry slipped from her fingers. Anne picked it up and put it on the governess’s lap. Sensitive and imaginative, she knew that she had broken the news too rashly; she was at once contrite, and flung her arms round Simonette’s brown neck.
“Simonette! Simonette! To leave you will be the one thing to spoil this news for me.”
There were real tears in her eyes, but they were for the hurt she had given Simonette, not for the inevitable parting; for she could not hide the excitement shining through her tears. Hever was dull without George and Thomas, who were both away continuing their education. Simonette was a darling; Mother was a darling; but it is possible for people to be darlings and at the same time be very, very dull; and Anne could not endure dullness.
“Simonette!” she said. “Perhaps it will be for a very short time.” She added, as though this should prove some consolation to the stricken Simonette, “I am to go with the King’s sister!”
Seven is so young! Even a precocious seven. This little one at the court of France! Sir Thomas was indeed an ambitious man. What did he care for these tender young things who, because they were of an unusual brilliance, needed special care! This is the end, thought Simonette. Ah, well! And who am I to undertake the education of Sir Thomas Boleyn’s daughter for more than the very early years of her life!
“My father has written, Simonette....He said I must prepare at once...”
How her eyes sparkled! She who had always loved the stories of kings and queens was now to take part in one herself; a very small part, it was true, for surely the youngest attendant of the princess must be a very small part; Simonette did not doubt that she would play it with zest. No longer would she come to Simonette with her eager questions, no longer listen to the story of the King’s romance with the Spanish princess. Simonette had told that story often enough. “She came over to England, the poor little princess, and she married Prince Arthur and he died, and she married his brother, Prince Henry...King Henry.” “Simonette, have you ever seen the King?” “I saw him at the time of his marriage. Ah, there was a time! Big and handsome, and fair of skin, rosy like a girl, red of hair and red of beard; the handsomest prince you could find if you searched the whole world.” “And the Spanish princess, Simonette?” Simonette would wrinkle her brows; as a good Frenchwoman she did not love the Spaniards. “She was well enough. She sat in a litter of cloth of gold, borne by two white horses. Her hair fell almost to her feet.” Simonette added grudgingly: “It was beautiful hair. But he was a boy prince; she was six years older.” Simonette’s mouth would come close to Anne’s ear: “There are those who say it is not well that a man should marry the wife of his brother.” “But this is not a man, Simonette. This is a king!”
Two years ago George and Thomas would sit in the window seats and talk like men about the war with France. Simonette did not speak of it; greatly she had feared that she, for the sins of her country, might be turned from the castle. And the following year there had been more war, this time with the treacherous Scots; of this Anne loved to talk, for at the battle of Flodden Field it was her grandfather the Duke of Norfolk and her two uncles, Thomas and Edmund, who had saved England for the King. The two wars were now satisfactorily concluded, but wars have reverberating consequences; they shake even the lives of those who believe themselves remote. The echoes extended from Paris and Greenwich to the quiet of a Kentish castle.
“I am to go in the train of the King’s sister who is to marry the King of France, Simonette. They say he is very, very old and...” Anne shivered. “I should not care to marry a very old man.”
“Nonsense!” said Simonette, rising and throwing aside her tapestry. “If he is an old man, he is also a king. Think of that!”
Anne thought of it, her eyes glistening, her hands clasped behind her back. What a mistake it is, thought Simonette, if one is a governess, to love too well those who come within one’s care.
“Come now,” she said. “We must write a letter to your father. We must express our pleasure in this great honor.”
Anne was running towards the door in her eagerness to speed up events, to bring about more quickly the exciting journey. Then she thought sadly once more of Simonette...dear, good, kind, but so dull Simonette. So she halted and went back and slipped one hand into that of her governess.
In their apartments at Dover Castle the maids of honor giggled and whispered together. The youngest of them, whom they patronized shamefully—more because of her youth than because she lacked their noble lineage—listened eagerly to everything that was said.
How gorgeous they were, these young ladies, and how different in their own apartments from the sedate creatures they became when they attended state functions! Anne had thought them too lovely to be real, when she had stood with them at the formal solemnization of the royal marriage at Greenwich, where the Duke of Longueville had acted as proxy for the King of France. Then her feet had grown weary with so much standing, and her eyes had ached with the dazzle, and in spite of all the excitement she had thought longingly of Simonette’s strong arms picking her up and carrying her to bed. Here in the apartment the ladies threw aside their brilliant clothes and walked about without any, discussing each other and the lords and esquires with a frankness astonishing—but at the same time very interesting—to a little girl of seven.
The King was at Dover, for he had accompanied his favorite sister to the coast; and here in the castle they had tarried a whole month, for outside the waves rose high against the cliffs, and the wind shrieked about the castle walls, rattling its windows and doors and bellowing down the great chimneys as if it mocked the plans of kings. Challengingly the wind and the waves tossed up the broken parts of ships along that coast, to show what happened to those who would ignore the sea’s angry mood. There was nothing to be done but wait; and in the castle the time was whiled away with masques, balls and banquets, for the King must be amused.
Anne had had several glimpses of him—a mountain of a man with fair, glowing skin and bright hair; when he spoke, his voice, which matched his frame, bellowed forth, and his laughter shook him; his jewel-trimmed clothes were part of his dazzling personality; men went in fear of him, for his anger came sudden as his laughter; and his little mouth, ready enough to smile at a jest which pleased him, could as readily become the most cruel in the world.
Here in the apartment the ladies talked constantly of the King, of his Queen, and—to them all just now the most fascinating of the royal family group—of Mary Tudor, whom they were accompanying across the Channel to Louis of France.
“Would it not be strange,” said Lady Anne Grey, “if my lady ran off with Suffolk!”
“Strange indeed!” answered her sister Elizabeth. “I would not care to be in her shoes, nor in my Lord Suffolk’s, if she were to do that. Imagine the King’s anger!”
Little Anne shivered, imagining it. She might be young, but she was old enough to sense the uneasy atmosphere that filled the castle. The waiting had been too long, and Mary Tudor—the loveliest creature, thought Anne, she had ever set eyes on—was wild as the storm that raged outside, and about as dependable as the English climate. Eighteen she was, and greatly loved by the King; she possessed the same auburn-colored hair, fair skin, blue eyes; the same zest for living. The resemblance between them was remarkable, and the King, it was said, was moved to great tenderness by her. Willful and passionate, there were two ingredients in her nature which mixed together to make an inflammable brew; one was her ambition, which made her eager to share the throne of France; the other was her passionate love for handsome Charles Brandon; and as her moods were as inconstant as April weather, there was danger in the air. To be queen to a senile king, or duchess to a handsome duke? Mary could not make up her mind which she wanted, and with her maids she discussed her feelings with passion, fretful uncertainty and Tudor frankness.
“It is well,” she had said to little Anne, for the child’s grace and precocity amused her, “that I do not have to make up my mind myself, for I trow I should not know which way to turn.” And she would deck herself with a gift of jewels from the King of France and demand that Anne should admire her radiant beauty. “Shall I not make a beautiful Queen of France, little Boleyn?” Then she would wipe her eyes. “You cannot know...how could you, how handsome he is, my Charles! You are but a child; you know nothing of the love of men. Oh, that I had him here beside me! I swear I would force him to take me here and now, and then perhaps the old King of France would not be so eager for me, eh, Anne?” She wept and laughed alternately; a difficult mistress.