17th May 1536
"You want to execute another woman and pretend that she's me? No!" Anne was appalled by what they were suggesting, astounded that they would be willing to take such a drastic step.
Although she knew in her heart that it was unlikely to happen, that Henry would never allow it to happen, no matter what, she had clung to a hope that when they returned from the room where they had gone to discuss her fate, they would return with the news that she was to be restored to her rightful place as Queen, with her innocence proclaimed throughout England and, although the men who had died this morning could not be restored to life, that they would be posthumously cleared of the charges laid against them and restitutions made to their families. They did not deserve to be remembered as traitors, and in George's case, as a man who committed the sin of incest, and she would have liked to know that their names would be cleared.
However, she had never expected this.
She would never stand by while an innocent woman was killed in her place... But how far might Henry be willing to go if she refused to cooperate?
He was clearly determined to marry his slut, despite her miraculous survival. She evidently couldn't be killed or harmed but the same was not true of her loved ones and, even if she couldn't be harmed, that didn't mean that she couldn't be imprisoned indefinitely. So far, it had not occurred to Henry that he still had options at his disposal and she didn't want him to realise it. If he was willing to see her dead, along with four innocent men, in order to persuade Mistress Seymour to spread her legs for him, he was still a threat to her, and those she held dear.
If it occurred to Henry that he could confine her to a cell in the Tower, or in some remote place, bricking the doors and windows and leaving her walled up in there, until she starved to death or was driven to madness by her isolation...
If he realised that he could threaten her sister or, worse still, their beautiful daughter, thereby ensuring that she would do whatever he wanted her to do...
It was unbearable to think that the man she loved could be capable of doing such a thing but the past weeks had proven just how far Henry was willing to go in order to be free of her, and what he might decide to do if she didn't go along with his proposal, before he had a chance to think on their situation, and realise the power he still held over her, realise that the deck was not as stacked in her favour as he initially believed it to be.
Cranmer's eyes were soft with sympathy as he spoke, trying to reason with her. "We would never consent to allowing an innocent person to be beheaded in your stead, Your Majesty, just as you would not," he reassured her, unable to fully suppress the suspicion that he was not speaking for the other men in the room, that if it came to it, they would be prepared to see an innocent woman murdered if it suited their purposes. "But we are not speaking of the death of an innocent person. There are other women in the Tower who have been sentenced to death – and to much more terrible deaths than decapitation at the hands of the swordsman of Calais, Your Majesty." He reminded her gently. "If we can find somebody suitable, somebody willing to help us, to help you, then she will benefit from a quicker, more painless death. Surely that would be an act of mercy." He suggested coaxingly, appealing to her compassionate side.
"Madam, the King has already decided that if this can be arranged, it is the course of action that he will undertake." Cromwell told her firmly, speaking of Henry as though he was not in the room, despite the fact that he was sitting at the table opposite Anne. "It would be in your best interests to cooperate with this, and if you do, His Majesty will see to it that you are well provided for."
Anne said nothing, merely raising an eyebrow by way of a question, not trusting so vague a statement. Henry had originally intended to see to it that Katherine was well provided for, after all, and the woman had been housed in misery and penury for her final years, her few remaining attendants staying out of loyalty and love when she could no longer afford to pay their wages.
She certainly had no intention of accepting so bleak a life, just to let Henry marry his slut!
He would have to do much better than that if he wanted her to hide away, though she knew that there was nothing he could give her that would be compensation for never seeing Elizabeth again.
"Should you agree to cooperate, a suitable residence will be placed at your disposal for as long as you have need of it, together with an appropriate household – though it is imperative that you will not reveal your identity to any of your servants who are not made privy to it in advance. The women who attended you in the Tower have consented to accompany you and to attend you." He added; the three women had needed no coaxing to agree to this, although they had gladly accepted his offer of far more generous wages than their position would warrant. They viewed Anne's survival as a miracle and Anne herself as almost a living saint, insisting that they would be honoured to continue to serve her, even if that meant sharing her exile. "His Majesty will also allow you to retain all gifts and property that were given to you before your marriage." Cromwell's lower lip twitched slightly at this, the only visible sign of displeasure he allowed himself to show.
When Anne was created Marquess of Pembroke, Henry had granted her lands worth a hundred thousand pounds a year, a colossal sum and one that would have been more than ample to provide for her royally, as had been his intention when he gifted her with the property, intending it to fund her household and to serve as her jointure if she outlived him. Although once she became Queen, this income covered the expenses of her household and her charities, expenses that would otherwise have been met by the Privy Purse, it now represented a substantial loss to the exchequer, which would soon have another Queen and her household to support, along with the King's two daughters and any subsequent royal children, but that could not be helped.
He knew Anne well enough to know that she would not be bought off cheaply, not when she knew how vital her cooperation was for this affair to be settled to the King's satisfaction, so it was in everybody's best interests to err on the side of generosity.
It was better to placate her, whatever it cost, than to risk that she would refuse to adhere to her side of the bargain.
"I see." Anne said quietly, meeting Henry's eyes and wondering if he realized that the official jewels of the Queens of England were among those presented to her before their marriage, or if he even remembered the day he had given them to her, sending a message to Katherine without breathing a word of it beforehand so that he would be able to surprise her when he showed her what she would be able to wear on their trip to France. Whatever she was being promised now, she knew that the jewels would have to be left behind, so that Jane Seymour might wear them, as it would arouse suspicion if they disappeared but she was going to make sure that her favourite pieces accompanied her into exile, unable to bear the thought that they would adorn Jane.
When the time came, they should be Elizabeth's and she would find a way to arrange it, somehow.
"It's a generous offer, Anne, and you know it." Henry snapped at her, breaking his resolve to remain silent and to allow Cromwell to do the talking. "I promise that you will be well taken care of if you agree to this."
It was a generous offer, more generous by far than what she would have expected when she began to fear for her position before her arrest, fearing that she would follow in Katherine's footsteps, left to rot in penury. If she was to be exiled, at least she was to be amply provided for and, even if Henry wanted to cut her household or stop her income, he would not dare to do so, not when he would be constantly faced with the threat that she might show her face at court and turn his life upside down if he dared to try to cheat her.
At that thought, at the realization of how much power she might wield over him, simply by virtue of her continuing life, she made her decision.
"I agree – but on one condition." She added, before Henry could celebrate too prematurely. She looked him straight in the eye as she spoke, wanting to make sure that he knew that there was no possible way that she would back down, not where this matter was concerned. It was too important. "Our marriage is not to be annulled."
"What?" Henry gaped at her in disbelief, glancing in Cranmer's direction and wondering if he had said something to her, warning her that this was what he had intended to do as soon as she was dead and could not fight it. She couldn't seriously be asking this of him... could she?
"You heard me." Anne said calmly. "Our marriage will not be annulled and Elizabeth will not be named a bastard. Our daughter will continue to be known as a legitimate princess and as heiress presumptive to the throne, at least until you have a son. If the people don't know that I am alive, then they will have no reason to question the validity of your marriage to that worthless bitch, or the legitimacy of any brats she whelps." She pointed out coolly, amused both by the way that Henry took umbrage at her words and by the visible effort he made to control his temper, not daring to cross her, even in defence of Jane and the thriving family of sons that he hoped she would give him. "If she gives you a son, he will be accepted as your heir. If she has no children, or if she only bears you daughters, then Elizabeth is your heir. This isn't a negotiation, Henry." She stated firmly, not allowing him to deceive himself into thinking that she was trying to secure herself a better deal, that there might be something he could offer her in exchange for renouncing Elizabeth's rights. Elizabeth's future welfare was not going to be the subject of bargaining. "If you refuse, there is no deal and I promise you that the people will learn about what happened today."
She would have given anything to be able to ensure that her daughter would be the next Queen of England, confident that she would be a better ruler by far than either the Lady Mary or any child Henry managed to get on Jane, but she was realistic enough to know that she could not hold out for the throne. If Elizabeth continued to be recognized as a legitimate princess, with a guaranteed position in the line of succession ahead of any daughters Jane bore, even if it had to be after the sons, then she would be safe and honourably provided for. She would never endure the bitter humiliation that the Lady Mary had, humiliation that Anne deeply regretted helping to inflict on the girl now that her own child was threatened with the same fate.
If it was God's will that Elizabeth should be Queen of England, He would find a way to see it done, and Henry, Jane and their bastards wouldn't be able to prevent it.
"Besides," she added, hammering her point home, "if the marriage is annulled, then people will say that there can have been no adultery." She settled back in her chair, feigning a confidence she didn't feel, needing Henry to believe what she was saying and to go along with it, for the sake of her child. "It's your choice; you can leave our marriage as it is and then you and Jane can have a son that everybody will accept as your heir, or you can try to annul our marriage, I'll come to court to fight it and your marriage to Jane will never be secure."
She was right and Henry knew it.
His choice was an unenviable one, to say the least.
If he did not annul their marriage, then he would continue to be Anne's husband.
People might believe that Jane was his wife and Queen and that their son was his legitimate heir but he would know the truth, as would a handful of others who would be sworn to secrecy.
On the other hand, as long as it remained a secret that only they were privy to, his son by Jane – and he had to believe that there would be a son – would be accepted as his heir, without question. If he tried to annul their marriage, if Anne came forward to fight it, then it would be the situation with Katherine all over again. It might be years before he could finally be free of her, able to take another wife and by then, he might be too old to father a son, and he would certainly be too old to see his son grow to manhood. He might die without any legitimate heir, not even a daughter.
He couldn't allow that to happen, no matter what.
"Alright," he said after a few minutes of silence stretched between them. "I promise before God, on my Crown, my honour and my soul, that I will not annul our marriage and I will not allow Elizabeth to be declared a bastard." He vowed, thinking that the occasion called for a solemn oath. Anne probably would not be satisfied with anything less.
Anne nodded, trying to appear confident, as though she had never had any doubt in her mind that he would agree to her condition but she couldn't help but exhale in relief, glad to know that at least Elizabeth's future would be secure. "If you try to annul it later, if you try to make our daughter a bastard, then the deal is void." She warned him firmly, just in case he got it into his head to wait until she was safely out of the way to annul it.
"If you let anybody know that you're still alive, then I'll annul our marriage and Elizabeth will be a bastard." He threatened.
Anne nodded again, biting her lip to hide a smile.
Outwardly, it might seem as though they had an ultimatum, one that would keep balance between them and ensure that they both kept to their side of the bargain, but Henry had more to lose from it than she did if he breached their agreement. Once he entered into a charade of marriage with Jane, once their first son was born, he would not be able to afford for her to step forward. Even if he annulled their marriage, he would still have married Jane knowing that Anne was alive, and still his wife. It would be a blow from which he would not be able to recover easily, if at all.
"So we have an agreement?" Henry pressed, anxious to have this over with.
Anne's smile was faint but her eyes betrayed her sorrow at the thought that once she was sent away into exile, it was unlikely that she would see her child again. She had secured Elizabeth's future but she would not be able to see her, not even to say goodbye, and her daughter would grow up believing herself to be motherless and, worse still, she would be told that her mother was an adulteress and a traitor who betrayed her father and deserved death for her crimes. She could only pray that, when Elizabeth was older, one of her attendants would be able to tell her that her mother was innocent, and that there was no reason for her to feel shame over being the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Even if they didn't, she still had the comfort of knowing her child was safe.
As long as Elizabeth was safe, she could accept this arrangement.
During his time on this earth, Jesus had suffered greatly, giving His life for the sins of mankind, a sacrifice made in love, for the salvation of the world and, while Mary would never presume to compare the hardships she had endured to those suffered by Christ, as next to His, her pain was trivial, she wondered if there was a purpose to her suffering, as there was to His.
Was she being tested, in order to ensure that when the time came for her to become Queen – and she had to believe that this was what God had planned for her – she would be shaped by her suffering in her youth, into the kind of ruler that England deserved, a ruler strong enough to bring the country back from the brink of chaos and to reverse the damage of the past years?
Was it to be her destiny to restore the true Church to England, returning the country to obedience to Rome and to save the people from damnation?
She prayed that she would prove to be worthy.
At the beginning of this month, she was part of the household of her little half-sister. Her removal from Hatfield when she fell ill proved to be a temporary one and she returned there, on her father's orders – orders she was sure he had issued only to pacify the then-pregnant Anne, who was said to have been disgusted and furious about the fact that the King had shown kindness to his eldest daughter and that he was so concerned for her health, begrudging even this slight gesture of affection on his part. When she was informed that she was ordered to return to Hatfield, the only consolation Mary could take was her knowledge that, if Anne was so threatened by such a minor concession, it could only be because she knew how much Mary's father loved her, and knew that it was only a matter of time before that love won out over Anne's witchcraft and he realised that Mary, the pearl of his world, was his most beloved daughter, not Anne's child.
But even that consolation couldn't make life at Hatfield bearable.
She was obliged to wait on Anne Boleyn's little bastard like a servant and to watch while the child was accorded the dues of a princess, honoured as the heir to the throne while Mary, the person who should have been accorded those honours by rights, was referred to by the title of Lady, with the offensive implication that she should be grateful to have even that, as though the blood that flowed through her veins was not purely royal, as though she was not entitled to a far grander title than the title used by almost every lady of the court.
She was insultingly spoken of as the King's bastard, with everybody at Hatfield pretending that she was illegitimate, the daughter of a union that should never have been, pointedly referring to Anne as the Queen whenever they spoke of her, which they seemed to do more and more often when Mary was within earshot. They appeared to delight in the discomfort and dismay that she could never quite conceal when she heard her mother's title applied to the harlot who had usurped her place. It was especially painful to hear them whispering of the celebrations that the King had staged when Mary's mother died, gleefully relating that all of the members of the royal family had worn bright yellow and that there had been dancing and banquets.
While she could easily believe that Anne would be callous enough to rejoice at the death of a woman she had caused such heartbreak to and to expect that the court would follow her lead, and while she had seen the yellow silk dress ordered for Elizabeth in preparation for her journey to court for herself, Mary had to believe that her father had taken no part in the celebrations, that he still had enough fond feelings left in his heart for the woman who had been his true and loving wife for so many years, the mother of his only legitimate child, to ensure that he would mourn her, and that he would regret all of the pain he had caused her... and their daughter.
She had to believe that her father had come to understand how much pain he had unjustly caused his true wife and their daughter.
She had to believe that he would set things right, and that what he was doing for her now was just his first step towards restoring her to her rightful place.
Now, although she was to continue to reside in Hatfield for the present, at least until arrangements could be made for her to be moved to a residence of her own, one where she was to have a suitable household as befitted the King's eldest daughter, she had been released from her hated duties in Elizabeth's household. She was to have her own spacious, comfortable apartment, furnished almost as richly as little Elizabeth's nursery – a far cry from the bleak, bare room that had been her home for the past two and a half years, since she was first condemned to a servant's existence – and she was assigned two maids of her own to attend her, a clear sign that she now stood higher in her father's good graces than she had for years.
She had not yet been restored to her proper place as a princess and, in the absence of a son of her father by a true marriage, as the heir to the throne but it was a beginning and she was sure that the rest would come eventually.
Now that her father had finally broken free of Anne's spell, now that the harlot would no longer be able to pour poison into his ears, turning him against his daughter and leaving him unable to show her the love and affection he truly felt for her, for fear of offending her, he would be a loving father to Mary once more, as he was when she was a child and when he had doted on her as the pearl of his world. Now that Anne could no longer blind him to the fact that his marriage to Mary's mother – who had been the true Queen of England until the day she died – was a valid one, he would be able to see how he had wronged her mother, his loving wife, by doubting their marriage and by subjecting her to the humiliation of the trial.
He would realize that Mary was his legitimate daughter, repent for the way he had treated her and she would forgive him, knowing that it was only Anne's black influence that had made him act as he had. She could not blame him for falling victim to the spells that witch had cast over him. She could only rejoice that he was finally free, free to be the loving father she remembered.
It would not be long now before he called her to court, welcoming her back into his life and restoring her to her rightful place.
She said a short prayer in Latin and, hearing the sound of somebody clearing their throat behind her, she made the sign of the cross and rose, turning to see Ambassador Chapuys, a diligent supporter of herself and of her mother, standing behind her.
He bowed low, kissing her hand, as was his custom. Even when others would not or dared not do so, Chapuys had always given her her due as a Princess of England, defying her father by according her the honours of her rank, a gesture she deeply appreciated, just as she appreciated the fact that he had always referred to her mother by her rightful title as Queen.
As soon as she saw him, she blurted the question that had been preying on her mind.
"Is it done? Is the harlot dead?"
Despite everything, she did not think that she would be able to feel fully at ease as long as Anne continued to draw breath, afraid that, despite everything, her enemy might still be able to rally and claw her way back to power, bewitching the King again and wreaking her vengeance on Mary and on anybody else who had tried to stand against her. An Anne who had come so close to losing everything she had schemed for, who had come within a hairsbreadth of paying for her sins with her life, would be more dangerous than ever, like a cornered viper.
"I don't know." Chapuys answered honestly. "But certainly, she will be dead before very long."
Mary made the sign of the cross again. "The Lord is good." Chapuys murmured assent. "Tell me," she began, beginning to walk away from the altar with Chapuys by her side and her ladies following at a discreet distance, "why is she really to die?"
While she had never given up hope, there had been times when doubted whether she would be able to hold out long enough to defeat Anne, who seemed so strong, so able to manipulate others, using them as her puppets and forcing them to dance to her tune that her capacity to do harm should never be underestimated, and now that Anne was finally finished, it seemed like a miracle.
Had the Devil finally deserted Anne, seeing that he and his disciple could not hope to prevail against God and His goodness, against whom they had set themselves, determined to wrench England away from the true Church, determined to lead its people down the path of heresy and damnation? Had he abandoned Anne, stripping her of the unnatural powers for which she must have sold her soul, the powers that had enabled her to keep Mary's father in her thrall for so many years, allowing her to corrupt a man who had once been a loving husband and father and a good King who only wanted to do right by his people in order to secure Mary's mother's rightful place as Queen for her own selfish ends? Had he left her defenceless against the punishment she had richly deserved and which was long overdue, deciding that she could do no more for him?
Was her father finally free, able to see the harlot for what she was and to be disgusted by her?
It was said that Anne had gambled all on her ability to give Mary's father a son, believing that if she did this, her power would be assured because he would not be able to repudiate the mother of the male heir he so longed for, and that but for her miscarriage, she might still be sitting on the throne. However, if that was the case, Mary considered her father's former mistress a fool if she had gambled on the hope of a son. A son was the one thing that the Devil, for all his dark power, could never give her, it was a blessing that could only come from God and He would never have blessed that woman with a son, not when He knew of the damage that a son of Anne Boleyn's, brought up to follow his mother's teachings, could do to England.
"They say that she was intriguing with countless lovers." Chapuys said in a low voice.
"How many lovers was she supposed to have?" Mary asked, both revolted by Anne's corrupt nature and amazed by her daring and by the extent of the power she must have possessed, until recently, that would allow her to carry on her liaisons undetected. She could only be thankful that Anne's powers deserted her before she could do more damage than she already had.
"According to Mr Cromwell, over a hundred men – including her brother, Rochford." Mary crossed herself again, repulsed by what she was hearing. Her own brother! How wicked could one woman possibly be? "But I am told she also blames me for what has befallen her and holds me accountable for her doom." He remarked with wry humour, giving Mary a slight smile. "Naturally, I am flattered by the compliment, since she would have thrown me to the dogs, if she could."
Mary smiled in response to that, knowing that this was true.
It must have infuriated Anne to know that Chapuys was an ardent supporter of herself and of her mother, unwilling to desert them in their time of need, and to know that, despite the fact that he was forced to treat her with outward courtesy, he viewed her as the harlot she was, and that he was one of the few men immune to her witchcraft and to know that there was nothing that she could do about it, as even she could not dare to harm the Imperial ambassador.
"What of this other lady? This Jane Seymour?" Mary knew very little about the woman but the fact that Jane Seymour had been able to act as an antidote to Anne's poison, helping to free her father from her thrall after so many years and after Anne had pushed him into committing so many grave sins in order to give her what she demanded, was a very hopeful sign, and she prayed that her future stepmother would be a friend to her, somebody who would recognize her rights as Princess and do everything in her power to persuade the King to recognize and honour those rights.
Although Lady Jane had not yet written to her – Mary did not resent this, understanding that, given the delicacy of Jane's position, she could neither allude to her future role as Queen or openly commit herself to the cause of her future stepdaughter when the King had not yet made his intentions regarding her position clear – other courtiers had hastened to write to Mary after Anne's arrest, expressing their respect and good will, and a couple of them had discreetly hinted that, once Jane Seymour became Queen of England, Mary could expect to find a true friend in her.
After her past suffering, she hardly dared to believe that she could be so fortunate in her new stepmother but Chapuys was smiling slightly, showing that he was optimistic.
"I have been told, in confidence, that she is of our faith and that the King loves her and means to marry her and that she means to restore Your Grace to the succession."
It was welcome news!
If her future stepmother was prepared to act as her advocate, championing her interests to her father and urging him to restore her to her rightful place, he would surely yield, out of love for them both, especially since he would need an heir, at least until Lady Jane bore him a son – and if she did not, Mary would become Queen when her father died, as she was meant to be. Her sainted mother, watching over her from Heaven, would rejoice to know that, within a matter of days, weeks at the most, she would see Mary welcomed to court as a beloved daughter and Princess.
It all seemed so perfect; there was only one thing more that she needed to hear...
"And Elizabeth will become a bastard now, as I have been a bastard?" Mary asked hopefully, feeling that justice demanded nothing less.
She did not dislike Elizabeth, trying not to hate the child for being her mother's daughter, knowing that she could not help this and that, regardless of what Anne had done, the woman's child should not be held accountable for it. Her own mother would have urged her to love her sister and to be kind to her, especially now that she was to lose her mother, and at such a young age. For all her faults, Anne was a loving and devoted mother, spending as much time as she could with her child, and Elizabeth was certain to miss her. She had even become quite fond of her sister, singing to her and playing with her whenever Lady Bryan was prepared to allow it, which was not often as the governess seemed to be convinced that Mary could not be trusted alone with little Elizabeth.
However, after the years she had spent in misery because of Anne Boleyn, stripped of her rightful titles so that they might be bestowed on Anne's child, she longed to see the situation set to rights; herself restored as Princess and as heir, the position she should never have been deprived of, while Elizabeth was downgraded in name to the bastard she was in truth.
She was determined to be kind to her little sister but that could not keep her from wishing to see their respective positions made clear to the world.
Chapuys hesitated a moment before he responded, reluctant to answer her question. When he spoke, his tone was gentle and regretful. "No, Princess. The King has ordered that the brat will continue to bear the title of Princess and that she will be known to all as his legitimate daughter... and, for the present, as the heir to the throne, until such time as a legitimate prince is born."
"No..." Mary felt her knees crumple and, had in not been for Chapuy's supporting arm guiding her to sit on one of the benches, she would have fallen to the floor in a heap. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could her father do this to her? How could he continue to deny her rights, even without Anne? He must know that he was wrong to ever doubt that she was his legitimate daughter! How could he be so determined to downgrade her and yet be prepared to allow Elizabeth to continue to enjoy the privileges of a princess, privileges that she had no true right to and that her mother had usurped on her behalf, especially after the way that Anne had betrayed him? "How can my father even be certain that she is his child at all?" She demanded.
If Anne had had so many lovers, then her father would be a fool to discount the possibility that Elizabeth could have been fathered by one of them – perhaps she was even a child born of the incestuous coupling of Anne and her brother, a child born from the blackest of sins instead of just an ordinary bastard! – and he was no fool. Why was he unquestioningly accepting the harlot's word that he had fathered her child? Why was he so willing to have Elizabeth continue to be known as a princess when he was prepared to deprive Mary, the pearl of his world, of that right?
"The King has decreed that Elizabeth is his own child and that, regardless of the crimes her mother committed, he will not punish their daughter for them." Chapuys told her gently, knowing how much of a blow this news was for her and wishing that he could console her.
The news had come as a shock to him as well, and as a very unwelcome one, as it must to all people who hoped to see Mary restored to her rights. Had the King's concubine died when she miscarried the son that would have been her saviour, he would have understood it if the King, in his grief – and perhaps only his relief over the fact that the harlot had died, sparing him the need to end their marriage when he wished to be free of her to take a new wife – chose to allow their child to retain her royal title and honours, but when he was so angry with her over her betrayal, it was astounding to see that he was still willing to be so generous to little Elizabeth.
He did not know if the brat's tender years had inclined the King to show more kindness to her than he had to Mary, his trueborn daughter, when he sought to set Queen Katherine aside or if he was motivated by a desire to calm some of the public anger over the harlot's fate by showing the people that their child was not being punished for her mother's crimes, the result was the same.
He would never have believed it if he had not had the news directly from Master Cromwell, who made it plain that the King was unwilling to consider diminishing the status of his younger child.
Even his thinly veiled warning that the Emperor would view it as a grave insult if the child of Anne Boleyn continued to enjoy the royal status that Queen Katherine's daughter was denied, and the hint that the very least the Emperor expected was that the brat should be declared a bastard so that she would not be set above Princess Mary, was unable to sway Cromwell, who merely repeated that the King had made his decision, and considered the matter closed.
"Since the harlot is to die, the King need not also annul their farce of a union in order to free himself to marry Lady Jane. It could be that he does not wish to open the issue of his union with her unnecessarily, for fear that he would be mocked if he said that a second marriage was unlawful, and perhaps he has taken pity on the brat, as she is so young and as she is to lose her mother – he has given orders that nobody may allege that the brat was fathered by another man, on pain of imprisonment, perhaps worse." He added, a clear note of warning in his tone.
Mary nodded mutely, knowing that he said it to protect her, afraid that if she tried to suggest that Elizabeth's paternity was doubtful, she would anger her father and undo any good work that Jane Seymour did on her behalf. If he chose to acknowledge Elizabeth, he would take umbrage at any suggestion that he might be honouring a cuckoo instead of a child of his own blood.
She pictured Elizabeth's face, trying to recall if her sister – if she was even her sister – shared any features with her father, wishing that she could have seen the faces of the men who had been Anne's lovers, so that she could see for herself whether or not the toddler's face bore the stamp of their fathering but when she visualized Elizabeth, all she could see was Anne.
Anne, who had caused her and her sainted mother so much misery in life, all for the sake of her sinful ambition, and who, even when the hour of her death drew so near, was still able to strike one final blow, summoning what little remained of her unnatural powers and choosing not to try to extend her own life or to try to win the King's affections again, knowing that she lacked the power to do either, but to achieve a final victory over Mary and over her mother through her child, manipulating the King into continuing to accept little Elizabeth as a legitimate princess, knowing what that would mean for Mary if she could manage to achieve this aim.
If Elizabeth was recognized as legitimate, then Mary could not be.
If her father accepted that his marriage to Anne was a true and valid one – and he could scarcely condemn her for adultery if it was not – then his marriage to Mary's mother was invalid, as he had claimed years ago, when Anne first ensnared him and refused to yield to his advances until he could offer her marriage and a crown, and Mary was a bastard, not entitled to the title of princess or to a place in the line of succession. The rights and privileges that were hers in justice would belong to her little half-sister, the harlot's child, a child that Mary would be expected to yield precedence to as though Elizabeth was truly a princess, a thought that galled her.
Jane Seymour sounded like a good, kind woman and Mary believed Chapuys when he said that her future stepmother wanted to encourage her father to restore her to her former, rightful position, as she knew that there were many people in the country who still knew that she was the rightful Princess of England and her father's true heir and who longed to see her recognized as such once more, but no matter how sincere her good will and her desire to help, Lady Jane would not succeed, she could not succeed, not as long as Elizabeth was considered legitimate.
And Anne knew this.
Anne knew that if she could only ensure that her daughter continued to be recognized as a legitimate princess, she would place a barrier between Mary and the restoration of her rights, one that might prove to be insurmountable, even when Mary enjoyed the good will of the next Queen of England, as well as the support of her powerful cousin, who would surely speak for her.
Had Anne also turned her venom on Jane Seymour, cursing her with barrenness or ensuring that the sons she bore would be too sickly to reach manhood, so that she might secure the throne for her child ahead of the rightful heir?
Anne might die soon – might even be dead already – but if she had secured Elizabeth's position as a princess, if she had paved the way for her bastard child to inherit the throne, then she had ensured that the damage she had begun would continue in the next generation and that the harm she had done to England could not be reversed.
If Elizabeth succeeded as Queen, she would never return England to the true religion, returning the country to the arms of Rome so that the English people could have the blessing of the pope.
She couldn't, not when she was a bastard in the eyes of the Holy Church and unfit to rule, regardless of the King's insistence on calling her the Princess of England. If Elizabeth wished to hold her throne, then she would have to continue to promote the heretical teachings of the reformers, knowing that only they would be misguided enough to view her as the lawful heir to the throne. Even if, in her heart, she believed in the true religion, she would have little alternative but to continue to lead the people of England down the path that Anne had laid for them.
She was Anne's child, so she would not willingly yield possession of the throne. She would do whatever she had to in order to stay Queen, even cheat her own sister out of her rights.
Anne was to die but her vile work would continue through her daughter.
She had won.
Despite everything, Anne had won.
Tears were a luxury that Mary very seldom allowed herself, particularly in front of others.
Her father had once boasted that she was a girl who never cried and she strove to live up to that description, both to please him and because her mother taught her that a princess should never be a slave to her emotions. She was determined to always present a strong facade, not to let anybody see how much the humiliations she was forced to endure hurt her, never letting them see such weakness, knowing that it would give her enemies pleasure and cause her supporters to think her weak, to believe that she had given up hope and yielded to despair.
Now, however, she could not staunch their flow and they trickled, unchecked down her cheeks as her chest heaved with silent sobs.
The sword was still stained with the lady's blood.
It might seem absurd to some but to the executioner of Calais, this was, in some ways, the most disturbing thing he had seen thus far. The generous purse of money the Queen had presented him with before he beheaded her… before he attempted to behead her… was heavy in his pocket and he had already been promised another, far larger sum in exchange for his cooperation over the coming days and, more importantly, for his silence. They were so desperate to keep the story from spreading that he was offered enough money to ensure that he need never work again.
Even if he was inclined to speak of what he saw, he knew that nobody would believe him.
He certainly would never believe the story if somebody else told it to him.
It was explained to him that he would be called upon to execute another woman, as soon as a suitable one could be found, that this execution was to take place outside, before a small number of people who would be admitted to the precincts of the Tower, instead of in private as the Queen's was to have been and that until then he was to remain within the Tower, speaking to nobody save Master Kingston and selected representatives of the King. It would be put out that he had been delayed on his journey to England to explain why the execution was to be delayed.
Knowing that he would soon be called upon to use the sword again, he took out a rough cloth to clean the blood from it, intending to polish it to a shine, ready for use, but despite his best efforts, the blood did not shift, even after several minutes of hard scrubbing. More astonishingly still, when he examined the cloth he was using, there was no trace of a stain on it, despite the fact that the blood was still wet.
He examined it more closely, noting that while it might be expected that the blood would be dry by now, it had not even begun to congeal. It was still wet and ruby red, as it was the instant the sword passed through the Queen's slender neck.
Fascinated, he reached out with a tentative finger to touch it, feeling amazed and horrified when he found that it was still warm, as it must have been when it was flowing through the Queen's veins. When he withdrew his finger, none of the blood clung to his skin and the stain on the sword remained as it had been, undisturbed by his touch.
He was not superstitious man. He believed in God, as a good Christian should, but he prided himself on being rational but for this, there was no explanation… apart from one.
This was a miracle!