(POV: Thomas Cranmer, May 1536)
“The queen wanted his head smitten off, Your Grace.”
Ralph Morice told me Queen Anne fell out hard with the King’s Secretary, their differences rising to a fight for survival. Did Cromwell keep me away to plot her undoing? To keep me from His Majesty’s ear? Does this all lay at his feet, or at His Majesty’s? Or did they conjure this all up together?
I know His Majesty longs for a male heir, and our realm is in desperate need of stability. I know deep down too that my beloved queen is not beloved by the people. As Dearest Cromwell so pointedly chides, I admit that she and the Boleyns – who pray for reforms more than I do – stand in the way of our long awaited reformation. And yes, the poor last babe lost, God’s will, changed His Majesty’s heart, hardened it to stone.
O Lord, why disgrace Anne with lies? Defame her integrity? Paint her a whore? A treasoner? Kill her?
My mind is clean amazed. I knew nothing, nothing… nothing. On a sunny May day, I rose from bed with my wife hidden in, visiting from my estate most far and least seen. Cromwell called me to court to await the king’s pleasure, and I find the world is upside down, the court spinning in chaos, people hiding in the shadows, afraid for their very lives.
The King’s Secretary told me he beseeched His Majesty to send Queen Anne to a priory in Europe. I believe him. The king could not be swayed from his will, wants her dead and commanded dear Cromwell to make it so. His Majesty is like a god on Earth, Supreme Emperor of this blessed realm, Defender of the Faith. His command is law.
God in heaven, do forgive me. As Archbishop of Canterbury, I found the king’s marriage at his command to Queen Anne null and void, bastardizing my own beloved godchild. All I could find the courage to do was write to His Majesty and plead mercy – and pray that his heart softens. Alas, we are all sinners, even His Majesty — especially since his last fall, the day a joust stunned the realm.
When King Henry sins and commands sin, do I obey? Scripture says I must, so I do. Oh Lord, help me see my way through it. I will follow Your word, do forgive me.
As I kneel in prayer in the chapel, distracted by my thoughts, I feel a hand gently rest on my shoulder. I look up. There stands Margerete, the woman who risks all to be with me.
“Thomas, you have been here for hours, love. God knows your heart. Do come break bread with me before you go to The Tower,” she whispers softly in Latin, our one shared tongue.
I nod, rise to my feet and hold my wife close. I draw all strength from her, truth be told. “Margerete, Anne is innocent. They all are. I know deep down to my soul.”
Whilst I speak these words, Margerete steps back. Looking deep into my eyes, she says, “Yes, I know. Do what you can, what your heart speaks you to do, but also do what you must. Think of us, Thomas. Think of our daughter.”
We eat breakfast together, but no words come between us. Knowing my weakness of humors more common of a woman than a man, my wife holds my arm for support. Done, I look to her and say simply, “Time; I must go.”
She nods, tears welling. We both rise, and as I head towards the door to leave, I turn back. She rushes me, and we hug close. I kiss her softly. “Pray for me that I find the strength, Margerete, that my long tormenting frets stay unknown.”
“I will, Thomas. You are a good man. God will strengthen you, dear husband.” With love in her voice, I hear the words I need.
I step outside into another sunny spring day, the gardens at Lambeth blooming full. How ironic, I think. In my mind, all is black. I breathe in the sweet smell of roses, walk over to the dock and step onto my beautiful barge, gifted by the woman I visit this day to celebrate my consecration. As the barge floats on slowly to The Tower, my mind fills with memories of Queen Anne, our first meeting, our prayerful discussions of the Lord, her beautiful coronation, the birth of Elizabeth. I pray for her soul, that she finds acceptance, and that the Lord blesses her with strength to do what she must do, rewarded with everlasting peace in heaven. I pray also for those poor men, caught up in the evil lies and innuendo that laid their ruin.
My thoughts turn to my lord of Rochford, diplomat… poet… dear friend. My hands begin to tremble. Damn them to hell. I try to shake them, wring them one hand to the other, but there is no use.
Most times I ride my wonderful barge people call out excitedly to greet me, children running along the shoreline. I respond with sincere hearty blessings. This day, few take notice. This day, those who do receive a simple wave.
When the barge reaches the shores near The Tower, I see Sir William Kingston awaits. He helps me on to the dock and steadies me. We begin walking to the Queen’s chamber. I ask simply, “How is she?”
“Your Grace, when she first came, the Lady spoke quite wildly, making strange comments such as all crops will fail unless she is released, that no rains would come until she is vindicated, and so on. These last few days the Lady is completely preoccupied with preparing for her death, every waking moment in discussion of it. I do believe she is reconciled with the inevitable.”
I shake my head in bewilderment. “Reconciled you say?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Whilst we approach the chamber, the very place the queen resided as she prepared for her coronation, I look to Sir Kingston and admit, “My heart grieves for what I do this day.”
He nods. The man has an evil job, but a good heart, mayhaps?
With that, he unlocks the chamber door, opens it wide and announces, “His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
We both step in, and my heart sinks. There she is, my beautiful queen, dressed simply, as pale as a spook in the mist. She looks at me and smiles. We lock eyes, and I sigh deeply. I bend a knee with the respect deserving of the Queen of England. I take a deep breath, and careful with my words as Kingston and the ladies he assigned not by her choice hearing all, I say simply, looking at her with a slight nod, “Your Majesty, I am humbled to be in your presence. It pains me to confess what I did do. Please sit. I will explain all as gently as I can, and with God’s grace, you will hear me.”
“Your Grace, I must remind you that this is the Lady Anne. Her former titles were stripped at trial yesterday,” Kingston interjects.
“Oh yes… oh yes, forgive my transgression… My Lady Anne, please do sit.”
With Kingston and the ladies at my back, attention focused on their prisoner and not me, I mouth silently and motion to a chair, “Your Majesty…”
I move a chair from across the chamber and sit before my queen. “Your Grace, what say you then?”
“The reasons for my visit Lady Anne are purely pastoral. I came to offer you to share your last confession with me and any pastoral care you most desire.”
“Your Grace, I shall gladly confess my sins, but what be yours?”
Chided, I stumble for words… “Well, Majesty… ”
Kingston glares me down. I shake him off and wave my hand dismissively. Yes, I fear his reporting to Cromwell, but I will not show it. “Be careful, Thomas. Choose your words wisely,” I remind myself. God make it so.
“Your Grace, I trust all my pastoral needs to you gladly, as well as my almoner. I shall confess to you this day, and again to him before meeting our Lord.” I sigh, humbled. Yet again, this time in her hour of most desperate need, my queen chimes in when I stumble.
“Your devotion to God’s will is admirable, Lady Anne.” Her courage, her graciousness touches me to the core. I so want to tell her, but I dare not, maybe later when we are alone.
“Your Grace, you look pained. Do tell me your charge, good man. Be out with it. I am condemned to die. What else could there be?”
Our eyes lock once more, and I see the fear in hers plain. Her death inevitable, I see instead the terror of a mother’s love. Oh God, please forgive me what I do now. Scripture says to abide the supreme authority of the King. I look down at the hay scattered across the floor to settle the fleas, ashamed. Shoring myself, I look up again avoiding her gaze. “Lady Anne, I did it… as I told you afore I must. Your marriage to His Majesty was not legal and never was a true marriage in the eyes of God.”
My queen rises, pacing to and fro. Finally, she stops and looks to me, “Your Grace… Thomas… our Elizabeth… my daughter… your Godchild… a bastard? How could you?”
I hold my hands together to halt their trembling, to compose my humors still flushing my cheeks red. My Queen sits and glares me down. “On what scriptural justification, Your Grace?” she asks me pointedly, her regal authority rising.
I answer simply, “His Majesty’s prior affinity with your sister…”
I pause and add as if it be any consolation, “I did not state the reasons why just the proclamation.”
“Your Grace, you vowed to God you would protect Elizabeth on her Christening Day. You vowed to God!”
My queen, her tears now flow. “Your Grace, you… you… if you had a wife, a daughter of your own, you would know the pains of my heart.”
No words come easy, so I say nothing. Her pain is my pain, my penance. I so deserve it. My queen, her words stab at the truth of things. She doesn’t know, only Cromwell. So many times I wanted to tell her, confess my marriage and family to her. It was a selfish desire, as all who know risk with me, so I held my tongue. That is how one survives.
“Yes, and I shall protect Elizabeth. As archbishop, I do what I must. As her godfather, I will do what I vowed, most willingly, I promise you.”
I place my hand gently on her knee and say softly, “I will do all I can for Elizabeth. That is my vow first to God and now to you.”
“Thank you, Thomas.”
My queen’s words, so soft, said so simply, raised the weights hanging heavy on me, if just a moment, respite for my weary soul.
I look around this now haunting chamber and recall the exquisite tapestries now gone that Cromwell so directed be hung for my queen in happier times. Then this chamber was duly decorated for the promise of a new day.
O Lord, why here? Why torment this woman with glory now gone? My queen’s ladies, here to spy rather than console and serve, prepare the altar for the Eucharist I will celebrate after Queen Anne confesses her last.
I shore up my humors, dig down deep for my courage, and say firmly, “I shall meet with the Lady Anne alone now. Her confessions are to the Lord God, not the court spies.”
Kingston motions the women to leave, and once he shuts the chamber door, locking it tight, we are alone. My queen readies to kneel, and I hold my hand up. I speak quietly, so quietly she needs lean in to hear. “Your Majesty, tell me all. I beseech you. I knew nothing. What happened with Cromwell? What brought on this horror?”
“All I speak is true, my salvation will attest, Your Grace. The King’s Secretary and I did struggle for Henry’s ear, our advisories opposed. His Majesty, my beloved husband, wanted the advice of his wife not,” she says in a hushed whisper.
Cocking her head pensively, she continues. “Your Grace, we wanted the religious houses used for enrichment of the poor. They want the crowns for God knows what, a war with France mayhaps. You and I desire the poor attended. They suffer for want of the care the monks, friars, and nuns provided. The people will rebel this, trust me on that.”
I nod. She speaks truth, but I hold my finger to my mouth to hush her. The walls, they have ears. When tongues wag, heads roll. Queen Anne, she was never cautious enough. I did advise, but her will strong, her words did flow, her defiance to His Majesty’s will plain before all.
“Did you threaten to smitten Cromwell’s head, Majesty?” She nods.
“Is it true Cromwell and Majesty had words in front of the Imperial Ambassador?” She nods again.
“Ralph Morice told me dearest Cromwell then left court, feigning ill. While he was away from court ears, the Lady Worcester clucked like a chicken, turning rumor to fact. Does dear Morice speak the truth?”
Tears welling, Her Majesty hands begin to tremble, so I place my hand on hers to steady them. She nods again.
My queen leans to my ear once more. “Your Grace, His Majesty is courting the Lady Jane Seymour and Cromwell aims to bed her sister. You know me. I did not hold my tongue. I spoke quite arrogantly to Norris, I confess, but nothing was between us. You must believe that.”
I pat her arm reassuringly and nod. “I believe you all, Majesty.”
I dwell a moment, then decide I will tell her. “The musician was tormented, Majesty. Norfolk told me.”
She smirks in agreement. Finally, I swallow hard and whisper my truth, my voice breaking. “I know in my heart dearest Cromwell kept me a far to hasten your fall from grace without impediment, but now the deed done, my obligations lay to His Majesty’s will. God’s word in scripture commands it. Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you willingly,” she says, forcing a smile.
“We best get started, then… or they will think you have many a sin to confess indeed. We both laugh lightly, the tension finally broken.
I clear my throat to curb a quiver, a trick learned at Cambridge. “Do you wish to confess your sins, my queen?”
Queen Anne kneels before me, holding her prayer book and a small cross and chain. We both make the sign of the cross as if one, and I say simply, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
“Bless me, Your Grace, for I have sinned. I last confessed to my almoner the morning of the day my world fell asunder.”
I rise and lay both my hands upon her head gently, “Bless you, my beloved queen. Speak your truth.”
“I confess before you and God, Your Grace that my heart and words leave five men dead at the scaffold.”
Tears come, the poor woman. “You always so wisely advised to keep words close, let them settle deep before speaking. I spoke near treason to His Majesty’s Master of the Stool, chiding Norris that he desired my hand when Henry breathed his last. This be my most outward sin. Though the man said naught, his head was smitten.”
I place my hand on my Queen’s shoulder to shore her. She raises her dainty hand up to gently hold it, so small, so pretty, so soft , so like my beautiful Joan’s. “Go on… only God and I are here.”
I watch as she talks a deep breath, holding on to the shiny cross and prayer book tight. “I confess before you and God, Your Grace that my thoughts did wander to murder. I wished death to the King’s Secretary and the Lady Mary. I confess my hatred towards them both. My sins laid in my thoughts only towards the Lady, but I do confess if I had my husband’s trust still, the Secretary would fall like his beloved Cardinal, damned to hell.”
“Oh my, I never knew, Majesty,” I admit quite stunned.
“Be there anything more?”
“Yes, I confess though I did not give His Majesty always the respect as I should as his wife and loyal subject, I never offended with my body. I came to him a virgin, and I laid only with him.”
She looks up at me, tears running down her cheeks.
“O Lord God, I pray most humble sorrow for my sins with all my heart. I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things.” My queen then kisses her cross and lays her pray book down.
I make the sign of the cross.
“God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, brought forgiveness to sin of the world. As archbishop of His blessed Church of England, I grant you pardon and absolution for your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
I hold out my hand to my queen, and she grasps a tight hold and rises. We look upon each other. As a father holds a child, I draw her in close.
“God keep you, Anne,” I whisper.
Finally, tears come, and with the grace of the angel this beloved woman shall become, she lifts her slightly trembling hand to wipe them dry. Touched by her tender kindness, I find no words. Instead, I let the moment pass slowly, our thoughts felt down deep to our souls, one to the other.
“Do you wish the Eucharist alone or would you prefer the ladies join?” I finally ask.
She steps back and says in a strong voice, “Bring them in, and Kingston. Let them witness my love of the Lord.”
Before I can call the goaler, my queen draws back in, opens my hand and places the cross and chain upon it. She then closes my hand clenched tight, guides it to her lips and kisses gently. She raises her lips to my ear.
“No man with so gentle a spirit is alone, Your Grace. My gift to your beloved wife. God keep you both.”