I Believe I’m in love with Anne Boleyn……

I promised to show you a plot for an alternate history novel, and Anne figures, but there is some background to cover first. I never thought much of Henry the Eighth’s wives until I saw the models and costumes for a TV drama on the reign displayed at Longleat House during a visit. Suddenly, I realized these were not doughty and overdressed harridans raised and kept in aristocratic luxury, but sweet young women. I’ve had a soft spot for Anne ever since.

The charges Henry had placed on Anne (called by the populace, Nan Bullen, because her father was only recently raised to the peerage) were all monstrous lies and no more than a pretext to make way for his latest infatuation. Well, dynastic politics and the imperative for a son played a part, but only a part on Henry’s desires. Anne’s address to the crowd at her execution; at 8 am on the morning of 19th May 1536, that she knew would be reported to Henry, made her to me the premier among a long history of abused women.

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray that God save the king, and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler and more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartedly desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

She was just 33 or perhaps 34 years old. So much has been written and played about Henry and his wives, but I have to wonder if any of that output has done justice to the young woman who could speak thus as she stood before the executioner’s block.

I started to look into writing a story that could combine Anne with her daughter, Elizabeth the First, who was two and a half years old when her mother was beheaded. I decided it should include a time when Elizabeth, too, was but an angry accusation away from execution. The story might need an element of supernatural influence to bring the two together as actors.

The location of the story settled naturally around Greenwich Palace – the old one, not the one built by Wren for Charles II more than a hundred years later – where Henry’s families spent much of their lives. It was the birthplace of Henry VIII, of Queen Mary and of Queen Elizabeth, and where Edward VI died.  It’s likely Elizabeth’s half-sister Queen Mary, Bloody Mary, died there on November 17th 1558 and that Elizabeth lived there at the time.

The story of the perilous relationship between the two half-sisters is entangled in the plots and politics of their father’s court. When Henry had his marriage to Mary’s mother, Katherine of Aragon, declared unlawful (because she had previously been married to Henry’s brother, who had died before ascending to the throne) it made Mary illegitimate. When Henry had Anne Boleyn falsely convicted of adultery, it anulled that marriage and made Elizabeth illegitimate. The two were not drawn together by the common plight because one was inevitably bastardized by the other’s legitimacy.

I’ll get back to the story plot in a bit. Mary became queen before Elizabeth despite a plot to usurp the throne, which enemies of Elizabeth tried to blame on her. Elizabeth had to tread very gently for Mary’s whole reign because of the Spanish connection. Mary had married Philip of Spain, many years younger than her, but no toy boy – it was entirely a political plot to defeat England’s protestants and return the country to Rome. Mary’s entire administration was obsesssed with devising a way to avoid having Elizabeth succeed her. It naturally involved the aging Mary, almost 40, giving birth to a Catholic heir.

Twice Mary thought she was pregnant, once early in the marriage, before Philip left his bride for important business on the continent, and once more after his second visit to the realm he co-ruled with the old lady. Mary was in very poor health by this time,  the Catholics were getting desperate for a male Catholic heir, but again it was a false pregnancy.

In the real history, Mary gave up the dream in March 1558 some time after making a new will concerning the realm should she die in childbirth. The whole pretence was abaondoned by October of that year, and then she died on November 17th. There was no way the Catholic party of England could prevent Elizabeth from becoming queen — perhaps they entertained false hopes that she would retain the overlordship of Rome, because she had had to pretend to be Catholic for the entire reign to avoid being accused of plotting rebellion again.

In my plot, the courtiers around Mary decide to insert a ‘bedpan’ baby into Mary’s birthing room in March – a tried and true strategem from other dynasties that involved some other woman giving birth secretly close by so the child could be claimed as the royal child. Mary had restored the convent adjacent to the Palace of Greenwich early in her reign – the Convent of the Observente Fryers,  (Mary’s spelling) – clearly an ideal source of secret but illegitimate babies.

I’m nearly up to leaving the rest of the story to you, but I have one more twist I like. One of the household ladies, or perhaps one of the younger nuns in the convent learns of the duplicity and goes to Elizabeth’s quarters to tell her. I would have the girl a striking double of Anne Boleyn – close enough that Elizabeth almost faints at first sight of her. Not only this, but the girl knows the whole tragic story of Anne’s fixed trial and execution and has much spunk as Anne in seeking to ensure the daughter does not lose out to the same kind of injustice.

Supernatural? Perhaps, but otherwise my fictional protagonist could be a protege of one Henry Carey who was born of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, and claimed by her new husband William Carey –  although the royal secret was that Henry VIII was the child’s real father from an affair Henry had indulged before he met Anne. Henry Carey was raised partly by Anne when she was queen, and much later made Lord Hunsdon by Queen Elizabeth. One could suppose that Henry C, who would have been 32 in the month Queen Mary realized her second ‘pregnancy’ was also false took a hand in the matter. It wouldn’t be a big distortion of history for him to be watching over his mother’s neice, or for the whole plot of the false prince being covered up as a political necessity once it was foiled.

Well, there it is. If you think you’d like to take a stab at it, please let me know. Otherwise I may go back to it myself one day.

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2 Responses to “I Believe I’m in love with Anne Boleyn……”

  1. purplume Says:

    Very interesting. thank you.

  2. joylene Says:

    YES. The whole period was ripe for writers of this generation. So much time and little has changed.

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