The queen sat sewing with her ladies in her chambers, enveloped in silence except for the wind outside and a twitter of distant birdsong. It was much quieter than it used to be in the queen’s rooms, years ago when she was young and beautiful and adored by the king, the most powerful woman at court. But times had changed. Anne had changed, the court had changed. She looked up at the sound of footsteps approaching, her fingers twitching over her embroidery.
“The king is asking for you, your majesty,” said the page, dropping into a low bow in front of Anne, an action which still lifted her heart.
Anne had been expecting to be summoned. She quite enjoyed these visits, which took place most afternoons. In some ways, they were closer now than they had been for years. She stood up and snatched a glance in the mirror as she glided by, eager to please Henry in all ways. She made her way quickly along the lavish corridors, her heart quickening. She did fear for Henry’s health; it surely would not be long now.
As she entered his private chamber and reached his bedside, he held out a swollen hand to her. She clasped it warmly, and put it to her lips.
“My wife,” breathed Henry. “How are our children?”
Anne smiled, and settled herself on a chair close to her husband’s bedside. She had seen the children that morning.
“Elizabeth is at her lessons this afternoon, as conscientious as ever. Her Latin is practically unparalleled at court. Henry is well, and delighted with the dog your majesty so generously gave him.”
Henry’s eyes twinkled, and for a moment, Anne was transported back to a time long ago; before they were married, and Henry was twirling her in front of the entire court, when she was his jewel. His eyes had twinkled then, too. She had felt safe in his embrace; as they the world existed only for them. Surprised at herself as tears twinged the back of her eyes, she shook her head slightly and leant still closer to Henry.
“You look tired my love, would you like to sleep a while?”
But Henry was already drifting off. Anne was used to this happening most afternoons, but she still enjoyed sitting with him. She sat there lost in thought, the image of them both dancing still clear in her mind. She worried about the future, and was still shocked by the changes time had wrought on Henry. Their son Henry would be a fine king, but he was still a boy.
Anne shivered as she remembered the couple of months in 1536 when her future had seemed so uncertain. She had miscarried a precious boy; and the joy of her pregnancy and Katherine of Aragon’s death were wiped away. Distraught by the miscarriage, Henry had become distracted by one of Anne’s ladies, Jane Seymour. Rumours had circled about her usurping Anne’s place, and how could Anne feel secure? Is that not what she herself had done to Katherine? Anne’s rooms were always filled with laughter and music and dancing and courtly love, but it was a dangerous atmosphere for the queen to be immersed in. Whispers about her propriety were heard in the corners of the court. Not that she felt like dancing after her miscarriage. Lost in grief, ignored by her husband and fearing Thomas Cromwell’s influence over Henry, Anne withdrew into herself, unable to trust any one.
Upset, confused and furious at the cooling of Henry’s ardour, Anne had ordered her father and brother to visit her, her queenly anger pouring down on them both.
“Everything we fought for is in danger, and Cromwell whispers in Henry’s ear, vile lies against me,” she hissed at them both.
“Calm yourself, Anne,” her father had reprimanded. “You must regain your composure, and bring Henry back to your bed. That is your duty; leave Cromwell to us.”
In May 1536, Cromwell was poisoned, and Anne never asked her father or brother if they were involved. The story was that a servant had poisoned his food, and then disappeared even before the body was found. Anne still could not quite believe that the crafty Cromwell had been lax enough to employ a servant who was a potential danger; but her thoughts were not shared with anyone. Instead she offered platitudes and comfort to Henry.
Henry had been thrown into disarray by Cromwell’s murder, and during his grief Anne coaxed him back to her. Jane Seymour was pregnant with Henry’s child; although she was boiling with rage, Anne knew that a legitimate heir was the best way to upstage the little slut. When she gave birth to their son, Henry, Anne’s place as Henry’s true wife, and the mother of his heir, was assured.
Jane Seymour gave birth to a son, Edward, but he was a sickly child and Anne hoped that he would perhaps not make it to adulthood. Jane herself had died in childbirth, and Anne had unsurprisingly not wasted any time in mourning her passing.
Henry moaned in his sleep, and Anne was abruptly brought back to the room and the present. Today Anne was the undisputed queen, but she had faced mistresses and Catholics who despised her. She was the ultimate survivor of the Tudor court; and perhaps Henry did not love her with the fervent passion of their days of courthood, but he had always come back to her and loved her in his own way, especially as the mother of his heir.
After Cromwell’s death and the birth of Henry’s bastard son, Anne had felt she had to stop the merriment in her rooms for good. She had felt threatened, insecure and in fear of her life. If Cromwell could be murdered, any one could. Anne still lived a comfortable life as queen, and had been a devoted mother to their children. She had even offered herself as a mother to Mary, the daughter of Katherine of Aragon; and in the atmosphere of fear that those close to Henry felt permeating the air, she at least greeted Anne with the courtesies owed to the Queen of England, even if a coolness remained between them. Little Henry had been sent away to Wales as its prince; but during the last year Henry had allowed him to come back to court, and Anne loved him for it. If he was to be king, she believed he needed to see the workings of the court as well as benefit from his education as a prince in Wales.
Anne looked around the room restlessly. Henry was sleeping deeply; she would leave him now. Usually she would sit here for hours without complaint, until Henry’s eyes opened and saw her again, but today she felt compelled to go outside and bask in the January sun on a walk with her ladies. The ghosts of the past would then be free to fade away into the shadows.