Excerpt from Je Anne Boleyn Struck with the Dart of Love
with a tribute to Professor Eric Ives
by Sandra Vasoli
The first part of a two volume series, Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love, was published very recently. ‘Je Anne Boleyn’ is taken directly from an inscription made by Anne, which loosely translates as ‘I, Anne Boleyn’. It seemed to me a fitting title, since this series is a fictional memoir, as would have been recounted by Anne herself.
Of course, as a part of my research, I read Professor Eric Ives’ marvelous and transformational biography of Anne Boleyn from cover to cover. I share the profound admiration expressed by almost every reader of Professor Ives’ work for his thoroughness, his comprehensive interpretation of the available facts about Anne’s life and times, and his readability. There was something he presented, though, which I found so compelling, so different to anything else I had ever read about Anne, that it confirmed my beliefs about her, and encouraged me to try to speak with her own voice in a telling of her story. For the first time, at least in my experience, here was a historian intent on providing this woman her due right. His view of the history available to us today, 478 years after her death, is the observation of a woman clearly ahead of her time: one who paved the way for other female leaders and women of accomplishment to bravely step forward and assert themselves. This may appear to be a statement in the extreme, but I don’t believe it is. The loss of Professor Ives is sad and untimely. His thinking and his contributions, as well as his personal warmth, are much missed.
In the Preface to his book The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, he very logically and systematically presents the case that Anne was, indeed, an exceptional woman, by any standards, then or now. He suggests that a monarch as powerful and as charismatic as Henry VIII would not have pursued a woman of mediocre intelligence or appeal for over six years. He proceeds to point out that, in a day when most women were illiterate, Anne was fluently bilingual, and was extremely well read in theology and the classics; able to converse about such topics, not only easily, but convincingly. She was very evidently an early female patron of the Renaissance arts in England, encouraging and admiring works by Italian masters, and fundamental in the establishment of Hans Holbein the Younger as a prolific court painter; a documenter of the notable men and women of the time. Anne was a woman of great style and personal self awareness, setting trends – and, no doubt, invoking great jealousy among other women – as trendsetters do, even today. Ives describes her as ‘captivating, sharp, assertive, subtle, calculating, vindictive’. Moreover, Professor Ives states in no uncertain terms that Anne married for love. He also observes that through knowing Anne as best we can, we seek and try to understand her husband and the mate of her soul, Henry.
In my favorite passage, Professor Ives describes Anne in this very powerful way: “although we cannot recover Anne in sharp focus, she does come through as more than two-dimensional, more than a silhouette. She was the most influential and important queen consort this country has ever had. Indeed, Anne deserves to be a feminist icon, a woman in a society which was, above all else, male-dominated, who broke through the glass ceiling by sheer character and initiative.”
Hear hear, Professor Ives.
Excerpt from Je Anne Boleyn: Struck With the Dart of Love
I did not know what to do.
The enigma caused me great agitation. I admired decisiveness, yet my mind continuously sought a way forward, and nothing came. I knew the King wanted me – but what was the true nature of his heart? Of that I could not be certain. I longed to be his – a desire greater than I had imagined possible for any man. My determination to avoid becoming his mistress, though, was at war with my yearning for him. While the role of mâitresse would fulfill my need to be with him, I feared that in the very briefest amount of time the lustre would fade, and the relationship cheapened in a way I could not tolerate. Hence, there seemed no possibility of anything more between me and Henry, since the Queen, although ageing, still appeared healthy and strong.
Around and around ran my thoughts ’til, in an effort to seek some peace, I decided to ask permission to go home to Hever for a while.
As always, my lady mother was there for me; a support and friend when one was needed most. I held my mother in great esteem, and hoped that I had inherited at least a few of her fine qualities. She was an elegant woman, now forty-two years of age, and in good health. This was somewhat surprising, considering she had withstood so many difficult pregnancies in succession, and endured the heartbreak of several children’s early deaths. She was nobly born, having been a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk – my grandfather, Thomas Howard – and was descended from 13th century English royalty. As a girl she had served in the court of Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, and then had spent considerable time as a lady in waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. It was through these experiences that she’d adopted the grace and poise she was known for. She carried herself with an aristocratic air and great dignity, no matter the circumstances, and I admired this attribute greatly. Her features had a delicate beauty, with enviably smooth skin. It was a face I loved very much, and nothing in the world could replace the comfort and reassurance I felt when I looked upon it.
While the cold rains of March fell, I busied myself with the daily tasks of helping to run the large household at my parents’ estate. My father was not present, being one of a diplomatic envoy recently departed for France. The King was in pursuit of a treaty which might pave the way for the marriage of the Princess Mary to the Duke of Orléans, and there was much to do to achieve that objective. So my mother and I had time to ourselves, and I leaned on her to listen and to give me her advice.
“Mother, I am in a predicament from which I see no apparent way out,” I lamented, letting out a groan as we sorted and organized linens for the bedchambers. The weather was utterly dreary, raw and chill, and I felt exactly the same way. “I may as well remain here for the long term, and not return to court at all because it is simply too trying when I am in the company of the King. And, oh, it is even worse when I am near Katherine! She has turned very sharp with me, and there is such tension between us. It is clear she suspects an affair is taking place behind her back … yet the irony of it is that her suspicions are completely unfounded. Here I am at Hever, while the King is at Greenwich, and there is nothing – nothing at all – taking place between us.”
My mother allowed me to twaddle on, patiently tolerating my inclination to unload all my imagined troubles. I grant this tendency sometimes got the best of me. It seemed especially rife at certain times of the month, between my monthly course. I do not know why, but when the headaches came upon me and I felt generally awful, it was almost impossible for me to keep my mouth closed and my peevish reflections to myself. I tried to contain those impulses, but was all too often unsuccessful.
“Anne,” she hurried to interject during a brief pause in my grumblings, “all I can tell you is that you need to be honest with yourself. You must do, as concerns the King, what your true heart and your conscience tells you. You know I would not say such a thing in earshot of your father, but I firmly believe that women must do whatever they can to assert their rights. Discreetly, yes – but do their best to live a life which will be meaningful and gratifying to them.”
“Mother! I know you have a mind of your own, but had not realized you were quite so progressive in your thinking!”
“For me, that opinion has become stronger with age, my daughter,” she said ruefully. “Women have so much to offer, yet very little of it is ever allowed to be expressed. My talents might have served to accomplish more than just the management of this house, but there was no opportunity for me to exercise them. Perhaps it will be different with you, Anne. Your intelligence and accomplishments are prodigious.”
“What high praise indeed, Mother.” I was touched by her generous compliment. It served to quickly banish my grumpiness. “You know that your advice means a great deal to me. I will take it to heart, I promise. And I could not agree with you more – in my reasoning, there is no validity to the perception that a woman cannot govern a city, a country … even an empire if she possesses the wit, courage, and desire to do so. I am keenly interested in what goes on at court. I do not mean the idle gossip and uninformed speculation. No, I find myself more intrigued by the political complexities, and the debates and decisions which result. The important decisions! The ones which affect not only England, but the entire world. I find it fascinating. Oh how I would welcome the chance to express my opinions on matters of such consequence.”
Deliberating further, I glumly concluded, “Sometimes I think I should have been a man! Life would have been so much easier.”
Sandra Vasoli is an historical fiction writer from Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, USA. A graduate with a dual degree in English and Biology from Villanova University, Sandy enjoyed a long term career of leadership and organization development before turning her attention to her passions of writing and Tudor Era history. Sandy has written all her life: essays, stories, and articles, but Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love is her first work of published fiction. Sandy’s career, working for several of the largest companies in the world, allowed her the study of people, especially those in leadership positions. Thus, she is keenly interested in the bold and insightful qualities possessed by Anne Boleyn. For more information about Sandra Vasoli, visit her website at http://sandravasoli.com/.
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