Authors: Olivia Longueville
The days of her early youth weren’t marked by Henry’s brutal betrayal and the betrayal by her father and her uncle – Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Howard. Those happy days were carefree and easygoing, and Anne wished that she had always stayed in France, thus avoiding her death at the stake.
The only pure thing that had come out of her love for Henry was her beloved Elizabeth who would never see her mother again and would be taught that Anne had been a treasonous whore and the usurper of the throne. Her forced separation from Elizabeth and Arthur infuriated Anne most of all, making her hate Henry with a ferocious hatred.
Anne’s love for Henry ended just as many fabled amorous legends had – with tragedy and betrayal. Their love had been broken into many pieces when she’d failed to produce a son for him, and that love had no potential to rise from ashes. It appeared that Anne had made a mistake because their love hadn’t been a fathomless, miraculous feeling of eternal love for each other. Although Anne had loved Henry for many years, she gradually grew to understand that he would always love himself more than anyone else, which, combined with his obsession to have a male heir, could make him manically cruel in his decisions as it had been in her case.
Anne remembered all of Henry’s numerous mistresses and at last Henry’s new infatuation – Lady Jane Seymour – whom he imagined to be an angel who would save him from the darkness and who became one of the reasons of Anne’s final downfall. She imagined how happy the Seymours were that Anne would be executed by burning, opening the way for Henry and Jane to marry.
Now, when her minutes were numbered and with the knowledge she would soon depart to another word, Anne hated Jane with all her heart, with a deeper hatred than she had ever felt for the woman whom Henry was openly courting and who would eventually become his next wife. She hated Jane so much that she wished her death at the stake instead of hers. At that moment of despair, Anne was convinced that if Jane had been sentenced to be executed for whatever reason, she would have preferred that her enemy had been burnt at the stake, and she would have witnessed that spectacle, laughing at Jane’s torments. She couldn’t have felt otherwise at that excruciating time.
On the threshold of her death, Anne was ready to laugh at herself because she once told her brother George that Lady Mary Tudor had been her death and that she had been Mary’s death. She was mistaken – Jane Seymour was Anne’s death.
Anne was ready to scream in pain and anger because she hated and despised Jane Seymour with all her heart. She hated her because Henry viewed Jane as an angel and her, Anne, as a demoness and a witch. But what angel would sit on the knees of another woman’s husband, even the king’s knees, when a wife of that man carried his child? Anne couldn’t forget how Henry paraded Jane Seymour around the court when Anne was expecting their last child whom she had lost only because of Jane Seymour. She was convinced that Jane had been born to be a country matron running her household somewhere in the countryside, but not to be a Queen of England. The idea that Jane Seymour would be a queen after Anne was repugnant.
Anne still didn’t understand how she could have been so foolish and hadn’t seen all the intrigues around her. She should have got rid of Jane Seymour earlier, but she was too blinded by her love for Henry. She didn’t take into account that if the king had truly wanted to be free of her, he would have found a way at any price. She knew that Jane Seymour had an oversimplified mind and was very undereducated compared to herself, but she also understood that the Seymours were an ambitious, crafty family, no less cunning than the Boleyns.
The Seymours had undoubtedly instructed Jane what to do and how to attract the king to her personality. She had underestimated the Seymours and Jane, and it was her fatal mistake. As a result, the Seymour faction was in the ascendancy at the court, while the Boleyns had fallen from their pedestal. Anne lost Henry’s love, and Jane Seymour, the mousy country girl, won. Finally, Anne lost everything, even her chance for survival. Her deep love for Henry had resulted in her and George’s deaths and the Boleyns’ downfall.
One of Anne’s ladies, Lady Eleanor, came to Anne and handed to her a glass of water. However the water wasn’t transparent and Anne noticed an odd precipitate at the bottom of the glass.
“What is it in the water?” Anne asked in a low voice, her breathing erratic.
“My lady, you will die very quickly as you drink it. The king granted this favor to you to lose your life before being burnt,” Lady Eleanor elucidated.
Despite her best efforts, Anne laughed aloud at such outrageousness, caught up in the swell of hilarity, hysteria, and fear. “Poison?” she asked.
Lady Eleanor nodded. “Yes, my lady.”
“It is a chivalrous and merciful gesture from His Majesty to give me poison before the execution.” Anne smiled with a smile hiding a slight twinge of cynicism and scorn. “I hope that the poison won’t leave any traces on my face. My skin is too sensitive.” She again broke into a thrill of laugh at her own acerbic wit.
“My lady, no traces will be left on your skin,” the lady assured her.
“In this case you must give me this glass.” Anne slowly drank the liquid. It had a tart taste, but she didn’t care. At least she would not die in the flame.
Anne felt that she was feeling weaker and weaker. Soon everything started whirling around her. She was disoriented and awkwardly sank onto the wooden bed. She felt nausea attacking her and claiming her body more and more with each second. Lady Eleanor approached Anne and wrapped a white cotton fabric around her head, entirely covering her face and her neck. Even Anne’s dark hair was concealed by that piece of fabric.
Anne closed her eyes under the fabric and tried to relax, expecting death to come soon. She felt as though she was in a mist. She didn’t understand what was going on. Her brain wasn’t working properly. It was as though she was flying somewhere between Heaven and hell. She just hoped that the poison would work before she was burnt at the stake.
Anne guessed that all her ladies had stepped aside and two guards had approached them. Soon they were dragging Anne’s body somewhere. Her legs touched the ground from time to time as they were going to the place of her execution, however, there was no crowd and everything around seemed to be silent, except for the labored breathing of the guards. Anne realized that two people had taken her in their arms and were now carrying her somewhere. It was strange, she knew that, but under the effect of the poison she was in such haze as though she had been severely intoxicated.
Next moment, Anne felt herself being placed gently on something firm and then a jerk as it moved beneath her. She realized that she had probably been inside the carriage and it had started moving. She was in a carriage, not at the stake, the place of her execution. She didn’t understand what was going on, and she was scared. She tried to scream, but her throat produced only unclear, strident sounds. A muffled cry erupted from her mouth, for her vocal chords were too strained to wail. In despair, she attempted to squeal again, but somebody put a large hand on her mouth to prevent her. In her mind, Anne no longer had clear images and understanding of reality, and everything was turning darker and darker, more and more unclear. Finally, she was swallowed by the salutary oblivion.
While Anne was struggling to comprehend what was happening to her, a vivid, nearly red flame was blazing up at the stake, gradually embracing the body of the well-dressed woman whose face was hidden by the white cotton fabric. The condemned woman wasn’t screaming in torment, and she didn’t writhe from pain in the flame. The witnesses of the execution wondered if she had already been dead. The acute smell of burning flesh filled the air, spreading further and further from the stake by the cold winter wind from the Thames. The sordid smell made people wince in horror and corrugate in disgust, and many of them put handkerchiefs to their faces.
The deep, lugubrious whispers rumbled through the air around the fire. In contrast to Anne’s fears, almost nobody in the crowd that gathered around the stake was happy with the method of her execution and with her death in general. It was normal for common people to desire to see a human and benevolent side of their king, but Anne Boleyn’s case had demonstrated exactly the opposite and shown the unrelenting, merciless nature of their lord and sovereign.
The people were displeased that the noblewoman, who had been the former Queen of England and who had recently had a baby, had been sentenced to that cruel death. There were extensive rumors that Anne Boleyn had recently given birth to a healthy son, and the common people wondered whether the boy was the king’s son.
Moreover, many people found the fabricated charges of incest with brother, multiple adultery, and high treason against the former queen to be highly unlikely and false. It sounded ridiculous that the queen, who had always been attended by the sea of ladies-in-waiting, could have had so many lovers simultaneously and for a long time, as it was believed by the king and disclosed to the English people.
In addition, Anne Boleyn was the anointed and crowned queen, even if many people called her the harlot and despised her for driving the good Queen Catherine away from the King of England. It was unacceptable for a queen to be burnt as a commoner and a witch. The queen and the king were perceived to be something like the representatives of God on sinful Earth, even if the queen was the notorious Anne Boleyn.
Many people perceived the fact of Anne’s death at the stake as the king’s act of horrible atrocity, which created an image of a tyrant in the people’s minds. The people knew that Anne was supposed to be executed by a French swordsman, but the king had suddenly changed his mind. The fact that the king had broken his word in such an important matter showed that he would be able to break his word on any occasion, at his pleasure or if it suited his immediate purpose and mood swings. However, the above was something the king didn’t wish to understand and couldn’t understand, as he was completely blinded by anger and rampage.
“The king killed Anne Boleyn,” a man in the crowd said to his companion.
“I heard she just gave birth to a child. The child is a healthy boy,” a woman declared.
“Is it true? Maybe it is just rumors,” somebody said in astonishment.
The same woman nodded. “Yes.”
“I have heard the same,” a man stated.
“But whose child he is?” the man inquired.
“There are rumors that the boy is the king’s son,” the same woman said.
Many people around the speakers gasped in horror and crossed themselves.
“It is blasphemy to burn any woman at the stake after she has given birth to a child,” a young woman said. “God rest Anne Boleyn’s soul!”
“God rest her soul,” many people said aloud together.
“It seems that the king simply wanted to take another wife, and that devil Cromwell designed trumped-up charges against Anne Boleyn,” somebody said boldly.
“The king simply switches wives when he wants,” another man said.
“Be careful. It is still a treasonous talk, even if it is true,” somebody warned quietly.
As the guards were commanded to disperse the crowd, the witnesses of the execution began to leave. The common people who had once shunned Anne Boleyn were now truly shocked with her untimely demise. Very few people, if any, could truly believe that Anne had simultaneously had four lovers without anyone knowing about that for so long, especially a woman whose life was observed by so many people. It would have amused Anne if she had been aware of anything the people said as they watched her death in the fire.
December 1536, Dover, England
Anne opened her eyes. Her head was heavy, and her temples were hurting. Anne blinked several times, clearing away some of the fogginess and black spots from her vision. She closed her eyes again and inhaled, holding her breath for a long, long moment. Her head was lying on something quite smooth, even comfortable, while the rest of her body was placed on something firm and rough.
Anne’s blue eyes flung open as she comprehended that she was able to think and that she wasn’t dead. As she stared ahead of her, she saw a familiar male face with a vague smile and a ceiling of the carriage. It was the face of Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, her former fiancé. Anne’s eyes focused on his face, and she blinked in confusion. Her eyes wandered around, examining her surroundings.
Indeed, she and Henry were in the carriage, and her body was lying on the seat inside the carriage, her head on Henry’s knees. Then her eyes returned to Henry Percy’s face. She noted he was dressed in a brown brocade doublet and white taffeta shirt. The black velvet flat cap with one white ostrich plume was placed on his head. As it was winter, he also wore a long ermine cape tossed across his shoulders.
“Henry,” Anne murmured in bewilderment. She was at loss. Then she cast her eyes down, looking at herself. She was dressed in the same clothing as on the day of her execution. It was a simple dark grey damask gown with a low square neckline and long marten fur cuffs. She was draped in a brown marten fur cape.
Henry Percy smiled at her. It was a gentle, sincere smile. “Good morning,” he said softly.
Anne’s heart beat wildly as she cast a feverish glance at Henry. “Oh, my Lord! Wait!” she cried out. “Am I in Heaven?”
He laughed. “No, Anne. We are in Dover, in the County of Kent, in South-East England,” he answered. “You should remember where it is.”
Anne felt as though cold water was poured on her face. “What? What?”
“Anne, you are not dead,” he asserted.
“But… but… I had to be executed…” Anne was stammering. She fluttered her dark long eyelashes up and down. “I was even given the poison to die before being burnt at the stake.”
Henry laughed. “Anne, you aren’t dead. Soon you will sail from Dover to Calais. In Calais, you will be met by someone who will further accompany you to the Republic of Venice where you will stay to live.”
Anne shook her head, as though she tried to put aside perplexity. “I don’t understand.”
Henry touched Anne’s forehead shortly as her head was still on his knees. “Anne, I wanted you to live. Although I voted that you were guilty at the trial, I had always known that you were innocent. I understood that the king had wanted to dispose from you – he wanted to murder you in order to marry that wench Jane Seymour. All the judges realized that you had been the lost cause to fight for; they delivered the verdict which the king so much desired.” He sighed as he noticed the pain in her blue eyes. “However, while you were at the Tower, your father and I were plotting to save you.”
Amusement sparkled in her eyes that were so large at that moment. “My father?”
Henry gave a nod. “Your father, Anne.”
Anne was taken aback. “But how is it possible? In God’s name, Henry, what are you talking about?” She couldn’t believe that her father wanted to save her. Maybe he loved her, but simply didn’t show his true feelings.
“Anne, it seems that Sir Thomas, your father, still has some dignity, after everything he caused to happen in your family,” Henry ruminated. “Anyway, he is still your father. Probably, after your brother’s execution, something changed in your father’s heart, and he decided to help you.”
The blue eyes flashed. “Probably, Henry.”
Henry gently stroked her hair. “Actually, it was your father who came to me and asked me whether I could try to talk to the king in order to persuade him to send you to a nunnery. I told Sir Thomas that the king would never agree to do it. Cromwell wouldn’t let it happen. As a result, we figured out another plan. I daresay that your father was almost in despair when he came to my estate and begged me to talk to him, although he tried not to show his despair.”
She felt a lump in his throat, and she swallowed. “Master Kingston mentioned that my father refused to be the guardian of my son.”
“Anne, it was a necessary part of the plan. We couldn’t appear to be associated with you to avoid suspicion.”
Anne tossed her head. The muscles of her face were tense, her jaw half clenched. “Any association with me is treason for His Majesty King Henry VIII of England,” she hissed the words like a curse upon her tongue, as if she had spoken of hell itself.
“Anne, please relax. You are no longer at the Tower.”
“I will try, Henry.”
“I advised Cromwell to burn you at the stake,” he confessed.
Anne felt that her blood froze. Her heart missed a beat and began pounding harder and harder. “Why did you do it?”
“It also was a part of our plan. Your father and I decided to fake your death. You understand that it would be much easier to achieve if the body of the executed person is indistinguishable, which, for example, can happen when the person is burnt as only ashes remain. In this case it was not necessary that exactly this condemned person died in the fire. We were lucky that Cromwell was pushing the king so hard to accelerate your execution. Given that the French executioner from Calais couldn’t come to London in December and, I suppose, under Cromwell’s vigor, the king decided to change the method of execution from beheading to burning at the stake.”
Anne blinked. “I am still confused.” Her voice sounded like some amazed murmur. She tried to sit up, but Henry didn’t let her do it.
“Anne, calm down. Please lie down for a while as we have time now. You need some time to wake up and feel better after the sleeping draught which we gave you yesterday.”
“I am fine, Henry,” Anne replied. “And who was burnt instead of me?”
“Another dead woman,” he responded.
“How is it possible?”
“One of your ladies, Lady Eleanor, was my accomplice. Two guards at the Tower also were my entrusted people. As you were dressed for the execution, Lady Eleanor gave the sleeping draught to you. She also arranged you to be collected by two guards, my people. They took you in one of the corridors and replaced you with the body of another woman. That woman died yesterday and was deliberately dressed in the gown similar to yours.”
“My Lord, how complicated it is.”
“Anne, it wasn’t easy, but the result is positive, and I am happy that you are saved.”
Anne wanted to know the whole story. “Where did you take this poor deceased woman?”
“That woman was a criminal condemned to death. She committed a suicide – she hanged herself. We just took her body and substituted it for your body.”
“Oh, God!” Anne exclaimed.
“It doesn’t matter now. Anne Boleyn is technically dead, and she will remain dead. My people are loyal to me. Actually, now they are on the way to my castle in Northumberland.”
A strong afflux of tenderness and gratitude to Henry slashed through Anne’s heart. Her blue eyes locked with Henry’s grey eyes. “Henry, thank you very much. Please also thank my father for his help. I greatly appreciate your efforts.”
Henry was beaming. “It is fine, Anne. You know my attitude to you. It hasn’t changed.”
Fresh tears were oozing in the corners of her eyes, like tiny silver threads of pain. “I know, Henry. Thank you very much,” Anne purred. “Please forgive me.”
Henry tenderly brushed away her tears. “It is fine, Anne.” He smiled at her with some sentimental, subtle grace.
“Henry, do you know where is my son Arthur? Did Mary take him into her household?”
“How do you know about it?”
“Master Kingston told me that Mary had tried to talk to the king, but he banished her from the court.” A smile illuminated her pale face as she thought about Mary. “One of my ladies told me that Mary had sent several petitions to Cromwell and the king, but these petitions were ignored.”
He smiled wistfully. “It is true that Mary tried to save you in a legal way. However, it was impossible, but it was predictable.”
“Oh, I see,” Anne breathed. “I am so happy that my son is now with my sister. At least he will have a family.”
“Mary will take care of him. Please don’t worry, Anne.”
“Does Mary know that I am alive?”
“No, she doesn’t. We decided not to tell her.” Henry’s voice’s was a flat, unflinching baritone. “The fewer people are involved in your salvation, the safer you are, Anne. At least for now it is the best decision. We will see whether we need to tell Mary the truth, but later.”
“I agree.” Anne shook her head. Then she stared at Henry, her gaze wild and desperate. “I betrayed Mary! When she married William Stafford, my father disinherited her and banished her from the family. I didn’t support my own sister and banished her from the court. And even after my betrayal, Mary tried so hard to save me.” Her voice was trembling. Her heart was beating to suffocation. “God, what a fool I was!”
Henry furrowed his brows, alarm skittering through him. “Anne, it is not time to think about it. Now you must be strong,” he admonished. “Now, please listen to me. We are running out of time. In two hours, you will board the ship sailing for Calais.”
Anne shrugged. “How will I go there? I cannot travel as Anne Boleyn.”
Henry smiled and leaned over Anne. He placed a short, friendly kiss on her forehead. He was so happy that she was alive. “Anne, we have prepared new documents for you. You will have to live under a false identity of Anne Gabrielle Marguerite de Ponthieu. This lady was the only grandchild of Jean Frédéric Roger de Ponthieu, Count de Montreuil.”
She arched her eyebrows. “Who is Monsieur Jean de Montreuil?”
“Count Jean de Montreuil is your father’s old and close friend. Currently, Monsieur Jean lives in Venice where he had been serving as the French ambassador to Venice for many years. Count Jean de Montreuil visited France several times while Sir Thomas, your father, served in France as the English ambassador. Your father got acquainted with Monsieur Jean in France when he saved his life while they were hunting. Now Monsieur Jean lives in Venice and doesn’t plan to go back to France.”
“Count de Montreuil,” she said thoughtfully. “I think I remember this title and name. It seems to me that I have heard about him once, if my memory serves me well.”
“Probably,” Henry said. “Your father contacted Monsieur Jean, and he agreed to help us. Don’t worry – he is a loyal, responsible man and knows what he is doing. Besides, Venice is to a relatively safe place for you.”
Anne broke into a violent, loud laugh. “But I don’t look like Anne de Ponthieu. And where is this woman herself?”
“Shhh, Anne,” Henry warned her. “Please be quiet.”
“I am sorry,” she said in a half whisper.
“Anne de Ponthieu is of the same age as you are. She passed away several months ago. She spent many years in a convent after she had finished her education there. Then that poor girl got married to a commoner from Hungary several years ago.”
“And what happened to her after her marriage?”
“After her marriage, she disappeared for several years from the sight of French and Venetian nobles. Monsieur Jean kept that marriage in secret. Recently Madame Anne and her Hungarian husband both passed away somewhere in Hungary – smallpox took their lives.” Henry enlightened Anne on the case. “Nobody in France and in Venice has seen Madame Anne de Ponthieu for a long, long time. Besides, Sir Thomas said that she was dark-haired, and this simplifies our task.”
“Oh.” Anne’s lips parted.
“Don’t be alarmed, Anne. In Calais you will be met by a special person sent by Count Jean de Montreuil himself,” he told her. He extracted from the bag two envelopes and handed them to her. “There are two letters for you here. One of them is about the background of the Ponthieu-Montreuil family, and another one is from your father.”
Anne took the letters in her hands. “I will read them once I board the ship.”
“It is a wise decision.” Henry winked at her. “I also prepared for you a large bag with several gowns, undergarments, and other accessories, as well as a purse with money and several sets of jewelry. These should be enough for your journey.”
Anne smiled warmly at him. “Thank you, Henry.” She sighed heavily as her thoughts drifted back to her children. “But how can I leave my children here in England?” Her voice was flat, but the tautness of her tone betrayed her emotional tumult.
“You must do it, Anne. We have no other alternative.”
“How is Elizabeth? Did Henry send her away from the court?”
Henry’s lips twitched in tension. “The king sent Elizabeth away from the court.”
“Where is she, Henry?”
“The king sent your daughter to the Woodstock Manor,” Percy replied reluctantly.
Anne felt blood draining from her face. She blanched. “It is an exile! An exile!” she cried out. “My poor girl! My dear, dear girl! She doesn’t deserve it! She did nothing wrong to Henry!” Anne felt her hatred for Henry rise in her chest.
“Calm down. There is nothing you can do about it right now.” Henry understood that Anne was very worried about her children, but he didn’t want to distress her more than she had already been after everything she had gone through.
“But my daughter–”
He interrupted her. “I promise you that I will do my best to take care of your children. I will do everything I can to help and protect them.”
Anne’s blue eyes twinkled. “Thank you, Henry.”
“You are welcome, Anne.” He smiled at her. “Now we must go. Please brace your energy and stand up. You will have more time to rest on the board of a ship.”
Anne climbed to her feet as Henry helped her. She still felt a little weak, which was the result of her general emotional distress and the somniferous poison she had taken. Anne rubbed her temples and exhaled deeply. Finally, she felt better and was able to leave the carriage.
“Anne, I recommend that you take into account that your new French grandfather, Count Jean de Montreuil, was a close friend of Charles d’Orléans, Count d’Angoulême, a member of the Orléans family. Unfortunately, I don’t know French lineages very well and cannot tell you all the details.”