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the highest point of all my greatness

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The firstborn son of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII of England is born early in the morning of February the 24th, in the year 1535. The birth was greeted with great rejoicing, as cannons were fired and bells rung in celebration of England’s new prince. A Te Deum was sung, and Archbishop Cranmer proclaimed from his pulpit that the child would usher in a new and glorious age for England.

Anne listened to the celebrations with a smile, as she lay in her birthing chamber, the babe asleep in her arms. Her position was secure. Her crown was safe. Her child would one day sit on the throne of England. All she had sacrificed, all she had hoped to gain was safe and sound asleep in her arms.

“It’s all thanks to you.” she whispered. The infant merely yawned and flexed his fist, tiny fingers opening and closing like flower petals. Anne smiled.

* * * *

They christened him William, for William the Conqueror. Anne’s own preference was Henry, as his father and grandfather had been, but she reluctantly yielded to her husband’s choice. She had secured her position, but Henry’s eye still wandered, and she knew that he would not tolerate any nagging on her part. She had her husband’s respect, but not his heart, and she would have to tread carefully to earn it back. Her predecessor had made many mistakes, but her conduct towards her rivals had kept her in her place for a long time. The only trick she’d failed to learn was when to recognize a true threat. It was a mistake Anne did not intend to repeat.

William was christened a week after his birth, with her aunt the Dowager Duchess and Charles Brandon serving as godparents. The latter pleased Anne especially, as she could still see resentment in his eyes whenever he looked at her. Still, he would not dare refuse Henry’s command, and so he stood by the baptismal font as her son was proclaimed Prince of Wales. Anne only wished she could have witnessed it.

Of course, she did not. She was relegated to her chambers, and was only allowed to see her son again when the ceremony was over. As before, she received the baptismal party sitting up in bed, and smiled as the attending lords bowed down to her and her son. She nodded graciously to them. She could afford grace. She was their queen.

* * * *

Three months after William was born, there was an uprising in the north.

Henry’s wrath when he received the news was a sight to behold. He strode up and down the room, bellowing like an enraged bull, his eyes glittering with fury. The messenger who brought the news received a blow to the head for his trouble, and scurried out of the room as Henry shouted. Anne sat in her chair, hands clasped tightly in her lap, watching her husband pace. He leaned over her chair, an arm on either side, and she shivered in spite of herself. If the wrath in his eyes was ever turned towards her, she would have reason to fear indeed.

“You need not worry, sweetheart.” he vowed. “I will crush these rebels. I will see them on the block before this fortnight is out. Their blood will paint the walls of their castles when I am through!” The last was shouted to the assembled courtiers, who murmured their agreement. A few applauded. Anne, always more observant than her husband, noticed a few uncomfortable looks- mostly from those who she knew still supported the Catholic cause. She would be sure to remember their names, in case there was ever need of it.

Henry kept his word. The day after they received the news, Charles Brandon was dispatched with an army of three thousand men to put down the rebellion. No mercy was show. Men, women, and children all were hung from the trees of the north, and those killed in battle were left to rot in the fields. The leader of the rebellion, Robert Aske, was brought back to London and beheaded, his head impaled on a pike on Tower Hill. The lesson of the Northern Rebellion reverberated through the country: Henry VIII was the King of England, and his word was law. Anyone who dissented could expect no mercy.

Anne was glad to see the rebels put to rest, and gladder still that her husband had shown such steadfast determination in defending their son's right to the throne. She had left tender mercies behind long ago, when she had consigned Catherine of Aragon to a lonely end in the northern marshes, and she had no intention of reviving them. But sometimes at night, she lay awake wondering if her son's path to the throne would always be steeped in blood.

* * * *

The next step was bending the Lady Mary's will to her father's command. She had been permitted her obstinacy thus far- at least, she had kept her head, which was more than some of Catherine's supporters could boast- but after the rebellion, her lack of respect was no longer an option. It was clear that the country remained loyal to her, and so long as she refused to acknowledge her new queen, she would remain a rallying point for malcontents. Weeks after the rebellion was put down, Francis Bryan and Thomas Cromwell were sent out to Hatfield to inform her that the hour of judgement had come. If she would not sign the Oath, she would be arrested and placed in the Tower. If she persisted in her obstinacy, no mercy would be shown. Anne smiled and told her husband he had done well, taking note of the flint-hard look in his eyes. If she ever turned his affections against herself, she had no doubt that a similar fate would befall her. It was a chancy game to play, but Anne Boleyn never played to lose.

Mary acqueised and signed the oath. She had little choice; a nest of her supporters had been broken up in the wake of the rebellion, and their necks lay on the block alongside hers'. Anne suspected that Chapuys had a hand in sudden obedience, though she had no doubt that he remained her enemy. He was Spain's ally, first and foremost. Whatever he did was not with her interests in sight, even if they did benefit her. Still, she wrote a letter praising his role in bringing Mary to her father's side again, and smiled to herself as she sealed it. She had read Chapuys’ description of her as a whore and a concubine, and she had no compunction about reminding him who had won.

Mary returned to court that Christmas, and sat at her father and stepmother’s side. Anne watched the girl carefully throughout the festivities. She was still no friend of Mary’s, and she knew quite well that Mary was no friend of hers. Now that she had a son to sit on the throne, the chances of Mary usurping her children grew increasingly few, but she still had support among the populace, and across the sea. Her greatest rival was dead, but it seemed that another had risen to take her place. Her dance with Henry, with the church, with England was a never-ending one.

Mary returned to Hatfield after the season was over. Six months later, they received the news that she had died of apparent consumption. She was buried beside her brother Henry Fitzroy in Framlingham Church. Anne and Henry mourned appropriately, clad in sombre black, and suspended court entertainments for a month. Secretly, Anne breathed a sigh of relief. Her last and most threatening rival was gone. She was safe.

Thirteen Years Later

“A dispatch has arrived from Germany.” Henry announced, laying the letter down on the table in front of him. “William of Cleves has accepted our offer of Elizabeth’s hand.”

Anne glanced at her daughter, who sat at her right hand. Elizabeth, as always, showed little of what she felt, but a small smile did creep across her face. “I am glad, Your Majesty.”

“’Father’, no?” Henry walked around the table to kiss his daughter’s forehead. “If I am to lose you to Germany, I wish that you might call me Father one last time before your departure.” He chucked her under the chin, and she laughed a little. Anne smiled. Elizabeth always had been her father’s daughter.

“It is a goodly marriage.” she agreed, reaching over and taking her daughter’s hand. “William is spoken highly of by the ambassador, and it will strengthen the Protestant alliance.” A lump rose in her throat, and she swallowed. “I will miss you, Elizabeth.”

“And I you.” Elizabeth took her mother’s hand and squeezed it. “But I am happy to further our alliance with Germany. It is my duty.”

Anne smiled through a sudden rush of tears. “As it is mine to let you go.”

This was what you fought for. she reminded herself. This was all she had strived for. Her daughter would sit on the throne of Cleves, and help to usher in a new age of Protestantism. Her son- now thirteen years old, the mirror image of his father- would be King of England. The Boleyns had risen high indeed.

"I am glad." she said, with another squeeze of her daughter's hand. With her other, she reached around to take Henry's.

Elizabeth smiled.