Henry didn't even bother waiting as he stormed into the home arranged for Anne of Cleves. He was beyond angry, almost seeing red as he curled his fingers tighter around the parchment he had received. He knew she had to be a part of it. Katherine Howard was barely dead and he received this atrocity of a letter?
"What the hell is this?" he demanded of the woman, not seeing her distant, almost shocked expression. He didn't even register that they were not alone, besides her ladies' maids.
"What are you and your brother scheming?" Henry demanded of her. "Saying I should marry you again when Katherine Howard is barely dead?!"
Anne lifted her head, her eyes clearing slightly. "Wh… what?" She rose when she realized Henry was standing there, immediately curtseying.
"Do not play dumb!" Henry snapped.
"Henry, enough," Charles Brandon spoke up, bringing attention to the fact he was in the room.
"What are you doing here?" Henry demanded. "Are you behind this?"
"I am behind nothing, as I have no idea what you are referring to," Charles said. He walked over and helped Anne to her feet. For the first time, Henry noticed how pale she was and how shaky she seemed.
"Behind the Duke of Cleves sending this letter," Henry said. "Insisting I remarry Anne."
"Actually, that might not be a bad idea," Charles said.
"I knew it!" Henry roared. He felt guilt hit him in the pit of his stomach when he saw Anne flinch and recoil. He hated seeing her scared of him once more, after they had made such progress.
"Henry, Anne is with child," Charles said. That certainly took the wind out of him.
"What?" he finally managed to get out.
"Anne is with child," Charles said. "She sent a messenger to me asking to speak to me…"
"Are you…" Henry asked, hesitantly. Jealousy shot through him. He knew that the night he had spent with Anne himself was the first time she had ever been with a man. He distinctly remembered soothing her pain after he slid into her for the first time before sending them both into an oblivion of pleasure. It didn't mean, however, she hadn't taken Charles as a lover afterwards. He knew they had become close friends since even before she was no longer his wife.
"No," Charles said. He knew he should be angry at Henry for the implication, but he couldn't. Not after seeing the jealousy in his king and friend's eyes. "But I am her friend, one of her only friends here. She did not know who else to turn to."
Henry looked past Charles to Anne. She could barely look at him. Her body screamed that she was preparing for him to reject her. Could he blame her? He had done so many times before. The parchment in hand forgotten, he set it on the nearby table as he walked over to Anne.
"Truly?" he asked her. "You are with child?"
"Ja… your Majesty," Anne said quietly. "I am." She finally looked at him, eyes pleading. "I did not know what my brother intended, Your Majesty. Please do not think ill of me, I would never do anything to upset you. You have been nothing but kind to me…"
"Anna," Henry said, breaking off her tirade. "I am not angry. Not anymore." He took her hands. He stroked his thumbs across her knuckles, enjoying the feel of her smooth skin beneath his rougher ones.
"Charles is right," Henry said. "Remarrying is not a bad idea." He lifted his head to look at Anne.
"You are with child," he said. "So it must be done quickly. People will suspect as it is once they hear of our remarriage and see your body grow with…"
"What if I miscarry?" Anne said, her eyes wide and terrified. Her voice was so full of fear that Henry felt his stomach clench once more. Had he really instilled such fear in her that she would be so scared of him?
"You are healthy," Henry said. "Once you are back at Whitehall, we will ensure that you are well looked after." He didn't want to think what would happen to him if he were to lose Anne as he had lost Jane. But this could be what he had hoped for. Anne could very well give him another son.
Turning to Charles, he nodded to his friend. "We must prepare things quickly. Anne and I will be remarried and we will prepare everything so she is comfortable and looked after during her pregnancy."
Rumors through the court did begin to swirl when Henry announced that he would be taking Anne of Cleves as his queen once more. It was only a few days after Katherine Howard's assassination when the former, and once again, Queen of England took her place at Henry's side. People noticed a marked difference in the two, having been witness to Henry's original contempt for the German during their first marriage. Others had seen the change in Henry's opinion of his fourth, now sixth, wife when she had so easily accepted his terms of divorce and had adjusted easily to life in England, accepting her new home country easily and with great zeal.
Most of the rumors had quieted down until the queen began to wear slightly looser gowns and people's tongues began to wag, wondering if Henry had finally consummated his marriage and that Anne was with child.
Others who had not liked Anne when she had been their queen the first time began to make snide comments about the fact that she couldn't wait to find another English lover and trap their king, implying that the child she carried was not Henry's.
Soon many of them stopped their whispers when a couple of them grew too loud and paid for their insolence and treason with their lives.
"How are you feeling?" Henry asked Anne when they sat down to dinner one evening. There was the slightest swell to his wife's belly, indicating the child's growth. He knew that she had passed the phase of feeling ill and her appetite had returned. He had even agreed to all of his children joining them for dinner that night, waiting for them to arrive before the food was brought in.
"Tired today," Anne admitted. "But your physician said that is to be expected as the baby grows. He is pleased that I am no longer feeling quite as ill as I was, if I do at all."
"Do you still feel it occasionally?" Henry asked, concern in his gaze.
"Sometimes," she said. "But he said that is normal as well."
"Has he been able to predict if it will be a boy or girl?" Henry asked casually. It was a sore subject in some ways. Both he and Anne knew he wanted another son, in case something were to happen to his beloved Edward with Jane, yet he did not want Anne to fear him if she should deliver of a girl. Anne was young and fit, a son would follow surely if she did have a girl. "You said that of another Anne as well after Elizabeth's birth," a voice in his head taunted.
"He has not," Anne said, breaking his thoughts. "I have, however, been praying every day since learning I was with child that I will deliver you a healthy boy."
Henry smiled tightly, reaching a hand to squeeze her shoulder. "A healthy child and wife are important too," he said. Yes, he definitely wanted as many sons as he could have, but losing Jane did teach him a little more compassion than he once had. He had not expected to lose the woman he truly had loved so soon after gaining his son, despite having lost his mother to a similar fate shortly after the birth and death of his youngest sister.
Anne looked up at her husband. "I know a son is important," she said quietly. "I do pray for a healthy son for you."
Henry pulled a chair closer, sitting beside her. He took her hand, stroking a finger over her knuckles. He then moved to let their fingers intertwine. Despite her being taller than his other wives, his hand still dwarfed hers. Delicately boned, she was a stark contrast to his own harder, larger hands.
"I do not think kindly of myself that I have instilled such fear in you if you do not deliver a son," he said quietly. "I do not think kindly of myself for the pressures I have put on any of my wives due to my family's dynasty."
"A king is expected to produce an heir," Anne said quietly.
"Aye," Henry admitted before looking at her. "But what has this expectation cost me? Katherine, despite all that I proclaimed and did to rid myself of her, was not a bad wife. She delivered me a healthy daughter, a daughter I can be proud of. She tried to give me a son. In fact, she gave me three, but they were not strong enough to live long. Katherine gave me six children in total, only Mary was strong enough to survive. All because my quest to have a son pushed Katherine's body too hard."
His jaw tightened. "I allowed myself to be bewitched by Anne Boleyn," he said. "She gave me a child to be proud of, for Elizabeth is much like me, I know this. But she bewitched me to rid me of Katherine with false promises of healthy sons."
"My sweet Jane…" His voice caught as he mentioned his third wife. He felt his heart swell when Anne leaned down and pressed a kiss to his rough knuckles. "She gave me the only healthy legitimate son of anyone so far, but I lost her in the process."
His eyes lifted, staring into Anne's. "I never gave you a chance the first time we married," he said. "I believed Cromwell had tricked me, to keep the Protestant faith. I did not give you a chance to acclimate to being here, to being my wife and queen. I allowed myself to be bewitched by another of the Boleyn line with Katherine Howard. Nothing came of that marriage. She lied to me about her virtue, she lied to me that she was with child when no child existed. She took my favorite courtier as her lover without shame of the fool she was making me out to be."
"She was the fool for acting as she did," Anne said quietly. "Perhaps her misfortune and lies is what allowed us to become such close friends. For if not, I would not be with child."
"This is true," Henry said, smiling softly at his wife. One thing he had learned of Anne as he got to know her, beyond her unfailing kindness, was an unflinching optimism in situations. Instead of seeing Katherine Howard as the witch she was, and had died as, she saw her as a catalyst for their newfound relationship. Perhaps she was right. If he had allowed himself to continued being bewitched by Katherine, she could very well be with child in that moment. The child, however, could very well have been Culpepper's and not his. And he would never have found what he needed in Anne. She was now a friend and confidante first, a lover second, and once again his wife. Soon she would be the mother of his child, and more children should God be so kind.
"Your Majesty, your children have arrived," his new courtier stated as he stepped into the dining room, bowing to Henry and Anne.
"Wonderful," Henry said. "See them in." He rose, helping Anne to her feet as the children entered. He took a moment to watch them.
His much loved son, Edward, was going to be tall. Pale of skin, Henry simply let himself think it was due to Edward's recent confinement while ill, plus the fairer complexion of his mother. Edward was just as fair as Jane was, yet he could see his own features when he looked at him.
His gaze shifted to Elizabeth. This child that was most like him, surely. Even at not quite nine years of age, she held herself as if she had every right to demand people bow to her as a member of royalty. Despite legally being seen as a bastard, she held herself as a true princess of England.
Finally his eyes fell on his first born daughter, Mary. He was no fool, knowing that despite her proclamations otherwise, she was as steeped in her Catholic faith as her mother had been. She was the spitting image of her mother, though her hair was darker.
He watched as his wife embraced and spoke to each child. Edward was animated as he spoke of his latest sword lesson, showing Anne the moves he had learned, pretending he had a sword in hand. Anne watched him with fascination, encouraging him to tell her more. Elizabeth watched, looking a bit bored, but a ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of her lips. Mary was bemused by her brother's antics, almost too old in some ways in comparison to her siblings. When her eyes met his, she gave him a smile reminiscent of her mother's, but her eyes were what caught his attention.
They were sad and held so much knowledge. Too much knowledge for one so young. An old soul, one might call her. He had done that to her. With all of his political necessities to ensure his male heir, he had aged his daughter beyond her years. Never looking out for her future, only caring for his own. His mind shifted to a young man that had made her look younger, one that had been a cousin to Anne of Cleves. Anne had sought to marry Mary and the Duke of Bavaria, yet Henry had denied it. He remembered a lady of Anne's telling him that Mary had taken the news stoically, that a marriage between them would have been for naught, for Philip was a Lutheran, just as his cousin was.
Yet in those brief moments that he saw Mary during her courtship with the prince, he had seen a light that he had seen only twice from others. When he, himself, had first been in love with Mary's mother, and when he had fallen in love with Jane. His infatuation with Anne Boleyn had never yielded such a light, for it had been lust and infatuation with her that had pulled him away from his first wife.
Perhaps he had been too rash when it came to Mary and this prince that his wife had insisted would be a good match for Mary. Perhaps he would rethink bringing this Philip back to England for his daughter. He was already penning a missive within his mind to be sent. For surely Anne would want some family here when she gave birth to their child, and he wanted to see that happiness and light within his Mary's eyes once more.
The royal family sat down to dinner, their conversations filled by his children as he asked each of them how they were faring, learning of Edward and Elizabeth's studies, listening to Mary's discussions of the things she did for their people. His gaze often fell upon Anne, noting the soft smile as she watched and listened to each of his children. A love shone in her eyes, love for children not of her womb, even while she caressed the swell of her belly. He truly had been a fool to not give this woman a chance before. To think that it took his treacherous fifth wife and a single night of passion to show him what he had given up too easily. He would not cast her aside again, not even if the child she carried was not a boy.
Henry's fingers sought out Anne's as they sat side by side in the great hall. He had promised himself months earlier to send a missive to Bavaria to bring Philip back, and it was a promise he kept. It was a promise he was glad that he had kept, for his daughter was now alight with happiness and love.
The court and kingdom were celebrating Mary's marriage to Philip, the newlyweds dancing together, blissfully unaware of anyone but one another as they did so. It was a sight to behold for Henry, finally seeing true happiness within his daughter. She accepted Philip, despite their religious differences.
Henry, himself, listened to Mary's proclamations of her faith when they spoke privately. She hated admitting to her father that she had lied, but he told her it was all right. He confided in her that they would not return to the Catholic faith as it stood now, for he would not bow to the Pope and those in Rome once more. However, he knew that some basis of the Catholic faith was needed to truly establish the Church of England, while also accepting the differing views of the Protestants. He explained to his daughter, after negotiations for her wedding to Philip had occurred, that he was going to look to her and her new husband as religious advisors, along with members of the two clergies that each of them trusted enough to be religious heads.
Mary was the first female to be a member of the privy council.
A soft gasp to his side had Henry alert and looking to Anne. Her hand was resting against her very swollen belly, her face pinched a bit. Slowly her head turned to look at her husband. Out of the corner of his eye, Henry saw Mary and Philip both pause, their attentions on the dias where Henry and Anne sat.
"It is time, my King," Anne said, her voice thick with her German accent.
"Charles," Henry called to his best friend. The Duke of Suffolk came over to them and helped Anne to her feet. Philip hurried over to his cousin, supporting her other side. Everyone within the hall knew what this meant, and quickly parted as the Queen was escorted from the halls. Many had questioned why she had been there, but knew that she was close to the Princess Mary and would want to see her wed to Philip. They said very few negative words about not being in her necessary confinement instead.
Anne was taken to her chambers quickly. While the pregnancy pains she experienced were not overly intense, the midwife having informed her that labor could take hours, she was thankful they did not take long to get her to her chambers. Once inside, Charles and Philip were shooed away by her ladies and those that would assist with the birth.
Mary squeezed her father's hand, pressing a kiss to his cheek. Despite her wedding finery, Mary pushed into the chambers to be at her stepmother's side as she gave birth, the same as she had been beside Jane when she had delivered Edward. She prayed that the outcomes would be quite different.
"Henry," Charles said, walking over to his king, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Come. Let us retire to your sitting room to await news. The wedding festivities have paused, waiting to recommence at the news of a royal birth."
Henry looked at Philip with a soft smile. "This was meant to be your day with Mary," he said.
Philip could only smile at his new father. "Mary nor I mind sharing this day with the birth of a new family member," he said. "For we have rejoiced so often at our union that this would only add to our happiness."
Henry clapped his shoulder, squeezing it. He knew now that he would never regret rethinking his thoughts on this man for his beloved daughter. The three men turned to head for Henry's sitting room, members of his privy council already waiting to hear word of their queen's progress.
Unlike Jane's labor with Edward, which took days, Anne's labor began moving quite quickly once she was in bed and the midwife was examining her. Just moments after the witching hour on the day following when her labor began, Anne delivered her child. Despite her exhaustion and pain, she felt her heart lift when the ladies and midwife rejoiced before proclaiming that the wailing child was that of a healthy boy.
Mary had tears on her cheeks, pressing a kiss to Anne's hair where she lay. She took the baby from the midwife and turned to hand him to Anne. The tired queen looked down at her son, brushing a finger over the tight fist that he occasionally flailed as he cried in protest of being pushed from his mother's womb.
Turning to Anne's ladies, she nodded to them. "Clean her from the birth and dress her in a comfortable dressing gown. I shall deliver this joyous news to the king. He will want to visit her as quickly as possible," she said. Receiving a nod from them, she walked back to Anne.
"He is beautiful," Anne said, in awe of the sturdy lad in her arms.
"Aye, he is," Mary said, her voice catching. "You did well, my queen." She rested her head against Anne's. "They will clean you up and clean the baby more before swaddling him. I shall go tell Father so he can come see you."
"Thank you, Mary," Anne said, giving her a smile. Kissing Anne's forehead, Mary rose and left the room.
The walk to Henry's sitting room felt as if it were taking forever, but Mary knew it was merely her impatience to deliver this news to her father. Knocking, she was let in by one of the valets, her heels clicking on the floor as she stepped into the sitting room. Members of the privy council had finally left after Henry had grown tired of their impatient chatter. The only ones still there with her father were her husband and former uncle. Charles, Philip, and Henry rose.
"The queen has delivered of a healthy son," Mary said, the smile on her face radiant.
"Anne," Henry said. "How is she?" He moved forward to take Mary's hands. "Tell me, my darling."
"She is tired, but she is well," Mary assured him. "Her labor was quick and the midwife says she did well. When I left, they were cleaning the room and her, changing her into a dressing gown so that you may see her and your son."
"My son," Henry breathed. He finally let the dread that had been filling him since Anne went into labor start to dissipate. He turned to Charles and Philip, his smile wide. "I have another son."
"Congratulations, your Majesty," Philip said.
"Go to your wife, your Majesty," Charles said, smiling. "Go to your wife and son."
Henry did not need to be told twice. He could not move as fast as he once did, but he moved with as much purpose as he could to get to her side. He reminded himself that his slower gait allowed the ladies' maids and midwife to make sure Anne was ready for visitors.
Upon arriving at her door, he knocked gently. The door opened and one of Anne's ladies smiled at him, curtseying in his presence. Stepping into the room, his eyes were riveted to the figure in the bed. She was sitting up, her hair brushed and laying in a thick braid over one shoulder. She lifted her eyes from the bundle within her arms and she smiled with such radiance that Henry felt his heart cave in.
There was no sickly pallor to her skin, no dullness to her eyes. There was nothing like he saw in Jane, or even the tiredness he had seen in Anne Boleyn's or Katherine's eyes after their births. He could see that his wife was tired, but it was a different sort. She was physically tired, but the emotion and joy had given her a renewed vigor.
"Henry," she said. When they first met, her voice aggravated him. He had found her German accent grating and annoying, nothing soft about it like Katherine's Spanish-laced voice, or the French that peppered Anne Boleyn's speech from her time in France. Even Jane's soft-spoken English accent. He had grown accustomed to her voice, relishing in the sound of it as they grew to be friends. The way it had thickened that night they had conceived their son. Now it melted every part of his being, because it sounded ibhealthy/i/b and whole. His wife was healthy and whole. His son…
"Come meet your son," Anne said to him. He moved to her side, his eyes never leaving her or their child. He stepped up to the bed, resting beside her. Tears filled his eyes as he looked at an almost mirror image of himself within Anne's arms. A thatch of red-gold hair covered the top of the boy's head, his lips a soft cupid's bow. His eyes opened slowly and Henry fell madly in love with both his wife and the child in her arms. For his son's eyes were a newborn blue, but he could already tell that they would darken to his mother's deep brown. While his son looked so much like him, there were hints of his mother.
"My son," Henry whispered, a large hand coming up to brush his finger along the velvety cheek. Anne shifted until she could place the newborn in his father's arms. She rested her cheek against Henry's upper arm, watching him cradle their child.
"What will you name him?" Anne asked after a moment, lifting her eyes to watch her husband's face.
"I… do not know," Henry admitted. "My sons before Edward I named after myself and my father, but I lost them all too. I am afraid my name is cursed."
Anne frowned, reaching up to soothe the creases of his forehead. "Do not think such things," she said. "Henry is a good name. A strong name. Your father proved that when he won at Bosworth Field. You have proven that as you have led your country."
Henry turned to look at his wife, his heart softening at her words, the soft smile gracing her features. He leaned forward enough to press a lingering kiss to her forehead, then to her lips. "I have come to love you, my dear Anna," he whispered. "You have given me so many gifts. Your company, your compassion, your understanding. To give me another son has merely added to everything you have given me, things I do not know if I truly deserve."
"You deserve more than you think," Anne said. "Including my love." She kissed his lips once more. "Now… your son's name?"
"*Our* son," Henry began. "Will be named Henry, Duke of York."
Anne smiled brushing her finger over little Henry's fist. "Welcome, my son, Prince Henry, Duke of York."