Welcome to new reviewers Starfire201, sassygirl93, Elin, witch20, Girl Like Me, Phoebe Delos and Amy.
This is the final instalment of "Doubt", and I hope that you have all enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I'd like to thank everybody who has reviewed this story, and encouraged it, and everybody who has helped me in terms of plotting it, especially Darkvampirewitch and Boleyn Girl13, who were roped into being brainstorming buddies on a pretty regular basis and who helped me a lot. I'd also like to say a special thank you to Henry&Anne4Ever, for making the plot suggestion that resulted in the birth of this story.
Thank you all so much and I hope that you enjoy this last chapter.
12th April 1541
Henry's eyes were sombre, his hands folded in prayer as he waited in the presence chamber of Anne's apartment, outside her bedchamber, from which he was barred while Dr Linacre and the midwives worked. He would have given almost anything to be able to go in to be with his wife but they had made it clear to him that his presence would be disruptive rather than helpful, encouraging that he should wait outside, or else go to the chapel to pray for Anne if he wanted to help her. He tried to pray, tried to plead with God to protect Anne and, if He willed it, to give them a living child this time, but he could not focus on his prayers, not when he could hear Anne's cries, cries that rended his heart and made him want to forget propriety and run to her.
Maybe there was nothing he could do to keep their child from escaping her womb but at least he could hold her in his arms and give her his love and support while their child slipped away.
Few people were permitted to wait with him in Anne's apartment; her father was present, his expression as grave as Henry's was, his worry for Anne equally acute, and Anne's sister and brother were also present, silent and sombre, each of them aware of what was happening and how little hope there was that it could be stopped. Elizabeth was too young to be present and, although the little girl was with her mother when Anne first felt the pains that indicated that the child she carried was losing its battle to stay in the womb, Anne had pleaded with Henry not to let her stay and see what happened, so he commanded Lady Bryan to take her away to her own apartment, refusing to yield to Elizabeth's pleas that she wanted to stay and be with her mother.
He did not doubt that she was now demanding that her governess should bring her back to her mother at once but that was a command that Lady Bryan would know better than to obey.
No child of seven should have to witness such a thing.
Aside from Henry, the members of the Boleyn family and Anne's ladies-in-waiting, only one other person was present in the room now. Henry's daughter Mary was kneeling by Anne's prayer desk, a set of rosary beads twined between her fingers as she said her prayers, her attention focused on her devotions, so much so that she scarcely seemed aware that the rest of them were present. There was a time when Henry would have been convinced that Mary was pleading with God to ensure that the child Anne carried would not live to draw breath, certain that his eldest daughter would see the child as a rival and want it gone but he knew better now.
Anne and Mary had managed to forge a friendship between them over the past years, discovering shared interest and bonding over them, and Mary wished her well now.
Time crept by slowly for Henry as he waited, listening to every sound from Anne's bedchamber, willing his wife to be safe and get well. He almost killed Anne, through his selfishness and his folly, something that he would never forgive himself for, even if she was able to see past the grave wrong he had committed against her, and he pleaded with God not to take her from him now.
When one of the midwives emerged, carrying a tiny bundle wrapped in cloth, he could hear sounds of dismay from the Boleyn men, and all the ladies present broke into soft sobs at the sight of it, all of them knowing what it meant. He rose automatically, crossing to her side and looking at the bundle in her arms as she gently folded back the cloth to let him look down on the face of his child and reaching out to touch the tiny hand. A boy this time – though what did that matter now, when he would never live to be loved by his parents or revered as Prince? – perfectly formed from what he could tell but far, far too small for him to have any chance of survival. He had had scarcely four months in the womb, far too short a time for him to be able to grow strong enough for the world.
A babe so young could not even be baptised, not when he did not live to take a breath.
"My son." He murmured the word softly but he knew that the others within the room could hear him, and know that this baby might have been Prince of Wales if he had lived.
He looked at the tiny face for a long moment more before he finally nodded, signalling that she should cover him and take him away. She would know what was to be done to the tiny corpse that could not be buried in hallowed ground, as this would not be the first time that she had had to arrange such a thing. Perhaps it was not even the first time that she had had to arrange such a thing for him and Anne, although he could not remember the faces of the women who tended Anne for the other times, or know if they were the same women as before.
Dr Linacre did not emerge from Anne's bedchamber immediately but when he did, Henry immediately drew him aside so they could speak privately, in whispers so Anne would not hear. She would be distressed by the loss of another child and he did not want her to be upset any further by worrying about his reaction, or he was angry with her over their loss.
"How is the Queen?" That was the one thing that truly mattered, above everything else. If Anne was alive and safe, if her health was not in danger, then he knew that he could reconcile himself to the loss of their child, even if it was painful to think that they might have had a second child in the autumn, a baby brother for Elizabeth, if not for this loss. Anne was the one who mattered most.
"She is safe, Your Majesty." Linacre assured him. "Her Majesty will recover, given time."
"What happened?" He asked, wondering if there was something that he could have done to prevent this disaster, a disaster that he feared would break his wife's heart. He tried to think of ways in which he could have taken better care of Anne and ensured that their child would have a chance at life but they had taken every precaution this time, to no avail. Anne had even kept to her bed, at Linacre's suggestion, from the moment she learned that she was with child, eating the simple, nourishing meals he recommended and taking the tonics he prescribed, in the hope that the rest and care would help the baby grow strong. What more could they have done?
"We did everything we could to stop the Queen's miscarriage, Your Majesty, but there was nothing that could be done." Linacre explained apologetically. "We tried..."
"I know that you did." Henry cut him off, not wanting to hear his physician's protests about the efforts he had made to ensure that the baby would live this time. He knew that Linacre was the most skilled physician in the country; he would not have given him the prominent and honoured position as the first among the royal physicians if this was not the case, and he knew that the other man would do everything he could for Anne and for the baby. If it had been possible for him to save the baby, he would have done so. Henry knew that and what he was interested in was why Linacre had not been able to do it. "But do you know why the Queen miscarried this time? She was four months along... the same as the last time."
And the time before that, and that dreadful miscarriage five years ago that had almost destroyed their marriage, that had helped to set into motion a chain of events that resulted in him coming perilously close to making the worst mistake that he could ever have made.
Each time that Anne became pregnant since the son they lost the day she came upon him sitting with Jane on his knee, since they began to lie together as man and wife not long after their return from France, each time that they dared to hope that they would be allowed to have another child – and, boy or girl, Henry knew that he would welcome any child; as long as it was Anne's and it was born alive and healthy it would be precious to them, a tribute to the fact that they had survived the danger to their marriage and their love – they were allowed to hold onto their hopes only until the fourth month, by the end of which the child was always miscarried.
Three times now since they were reconciled.
"Yes." Linacre twisted his hands together, looking uncomfortable. It was plain that there was something he wanted to say, something that he would undoubtedly have said if he was speaking to an ordinary man instead of to his King, but it was equally plain that he was reluctant to voice his thoughts, afraid that Henry would take offence or become angry if he dared to speak.
"What is it?" Henry pressed him. "Tell me."
"It is possible – though I cannot be certain of this, Your Majesty," Linacre qualified hastily, "that when the Queen miscarried five years ago, the miscarriage harmed her body in some way." He did not dare to allude to the months of fear that had followed, or to the terror that his patient must have endured during the weeks when she was committed to the Tower and believed that she would soon be executed, terror that he could believe had a permanent effect on her nerves and her body's humours. That was a painful time, a time that neither the King nor the Queen liked to speak of, and it would be worse for them if he suggested that that too might have done damage. "She is still able to conceive, that much is plain, the difficulty lies in carrying a child to term. Perhaps there was damage that now keeps her from carrying a child longer than four months."
Henry digested this news in silence. If Linacre was right, then he and Anne would never have another living child but that was not what worried him. "Is she in danger?" He demanded urgently, terrified of what he might hear. "If you are right, could the Queen herself be harmed by this?" They could be careful from now on, and ensure that they did not conceive another child so that Anne would not go through the difficulty of carrying a child and the pain of miscarrying but if her body harboured an illness or injury, a cruel legacy from the child they lost when he was a fool and believed himself to be in love with Jane, what might it mean for her health?
He couldn't bear to think that Anne might die, especially if she died because of the way he had treated her years ago, when he did not realize how vital she was to his existence.
"I don't believe so, Your Majesty." Dr Linacre assured him, relieved that he had not drawn trouble on his head by suggesting that the Queen was incapable of bearing another living child, a suggestion that he knew could have resulted in his dismissal, if not worse, five or six years ago, and that might have had worse consequences for the Queen herself, who would surely have been cast aside if she was known to be barren. At least now she was safe from that. "Other than this matter, Her Majesty is healthy and strong and should live a long life."
"Thank God!" Henry exclaimed in heartfelt tones, knowing that if Anne was safe, they could deal with whatever difficulties or setbacks they were dealt, together. "Have you told her?" He asked, afraid of how Anne might react to the news that they were unlikely to have another child.
"No, Your Majesty." Linacre replied. "Since I cannot be certain, I thought it best not to distress the Queen by making such a suggestion to her. I may be mistaken, after all."
"You did the right thing." Henry told him. "May I see her?"
"Of course, Your Majesty. I have given the Queen a tonic to dull the pain but she is still awake, and I believe that it would help if she could see you." Linacre agreed at once, bowing deeply as he stepped back to allow Henry to enter Anne's bedchamber. He left the apartment altogether, judging it best to allow the royal couple some privacy so that they might comfort one another for their loss, though he remained outside in the corridor, within earshot so that he could be ready in case they had need of his services. As he left, the others in the Queen's apartment followed his example, filing out in silence before going their separate ways, the Queen's ladies waiting nearby while the Boleyn family and the Lady Mary headed towards their own chambers.
The last two midwives in attendance both curtsied deeply as soon as Henry entered Anne's bedchamber, backing out of the room to leave them alone when he gestured permission.
Once he was alone with his wife, Henry climbed onto the bed next to her, moving slowly and carefully so that he did not jostle her. Once he was lying next to her, he put his arms around her, holding her close to him and soothing her as she cried.
"It was a boy." Her voice was hoarse after screaming in pain and crying for their loss. "Our boy."
"I know, sweetheart." Henry said, rubbing her back with one hand and kissing the top of her head. "I saw him." Their boy would have been beautiful, had he lived, he was sure of that. No child born of Anne could fail to be beautiful and clever and perfect. "I'm so sorry." He apologized, both for their loss and for the fact that, if Linacre was right, he was at least partly responsible for it.
Just over five years ago, he berated Anne for losing their boy – his boy, he had called the baby, as though he had nothing to do with Anne, as though he was not her son too – feeling furious that she had not taken better care of him when he was inside her, and furious that his boy should die while the wife he no longer wanted lived, instead of it happening the other way around, with Anne dying in childbirth five months later while his son lived and thrived, loved by his father, his sister and by the stepmother Henry would have wasted little time in giving him once Anne was dead.
When he thought of those dark days now, and of the way he had once behaved towards Anne, Henry thought that he would dearly love to be able to go back and berate his younger self, to tell him that there were far more important things in life than the bearing of children, even for a King who wished to have a Prince to succeed him, and warning him that if he did not mend his ways and treat his wife with far more kindness and love, he would regret it until the end of his days, as Henry regretted every sharp word he ever spoke to Anne, every time he shunned her company for that of another woman and every time that he ever caused her pain.
He had caused her so much pain, far more than she should ever have had to endure.
He couldn't take it back, much as he might long to be able to take back his cruelties and harsh treatment, but he could work to be a good husband to her now, the husband she deserved.
"We're not going to be able to have another child, are we?" Anne's question was a bleak one.
With five miscarriages in succession, there was no way that anybody could fool her into believing that she was suffering from nothing more than bad luck. Elizabeth was born healthy and perfect but since then, every child she conceived died in her womb. There would be no Prince of Wales, much less a Duke of York, no other princes or princesses to share the nursery with Elizabeth. For herself, Anne could be content with her daughter but she knew that Henry would always be thinking of his country, worrying about what it might mean for England if he died without a son to succeed him, and hoping that if they had a son, his succession would keep the country safe.
She had promised him a son but she had not been able to keep her promise.
"I think that it may be my fault, sweetheart." Henry told her, keeping his arms around her as he spoke and reasoning that this might be no lie. Linacre's theory might be incorrect, and no man would ever have the courage to tell him that he might be the reason, not Anne. "Katherine was pregnant seven times, and only Mary lived, and little Richmond was never a strong child, even before he caught the sweating sickness. Aside from Lady Blount, no mistress I have taken has ever borne a child to me – and it's not something that any of them would try to hide," he added, frowning briefly at this thought; he couldn't imagine that any of the women he had taken as his mistresses would hesitate to tell him if he sired a child on them, especially after the recognition he gave to the young Duke of Richmond, so he doubted that he had any bastards out there that he did not know about. He banished the thought from his mind, smiling at Anne reassuringly. "We have Elizabeth, and maybe it's a miracle that we were allowed to have her. She's enough for me, I promise you." He kissed her. "As long as you're safe and our daughter is safe, I'm happy."
Anne relaxed at his words, giving him a faint smile as she rested in his embrace. As the tonic Dr Linacre gave her began to take effect, her eyes started to drift shut and she fell asleep in his arms.
Her husband was waiting for her when she returned to the opulent suite of rooms they shared and, as soon as she entered, he took her in his arms, hugging her gently and leading her to a cushioned chair before the fire, commanding one of the servants of their household to bring supper and wine for them to share.
"How is the Queen?" He asked, once she was settled on her chair. "The child?"
"Anne lost the child." Her voice was soft and regretful. Like everybody around Anne, she knew how badly she wanted this baby and she was so sorry for her now that she miscarried him. When one of the maidservants appeared by her side with a goblet of wine, serving her before her husband, she reached for it automatically, taking a sip before addressing her. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, my Lady Mary." The maid said, bobbing a curtsey before withdrawing.
Despite the fact that she had been married almost a year now, and the fact that she had become a duchess by marriage, most people still addressed Mary as Lady Mary rather than her correct title of Your Grace more often than not, having become accustomed to addressing her as such in the years that had passed between her return to court and, later, to her father's favour, and her marriage the previous summer, and not yet managed to break themselves of the habit.
She rarely bothered to correct them, knowing that it would be difficult for them to break the habit of years, especially when they must have had trouble remembering to call her Lady Mary rather than Princess when she was first declared a bastard and lost her royal titles.
Mary had begun to despair of the prospect of ever being married, and to think that she would be happy if her father found her a humble baron to marry, as long as it meant that she could be a wife and have a family of her own, when Anne first sent for her to ask how she would feel about the prospect of marriage. The King had been negotiating with the Duke of Cleves to form an alliance with the league of German Protestant states, of which the Duke was a prominent member, and as the Duke of Cleves had a cousin who was still unwed, the idea of sealing the alliance through marriage was raised by his envoys to the King and Anne, who was always included in meetings with foreign ambassadors and who was treated as the King's closest councillor.
There could never have been any question of marrying Elizabeth to such a humble suitor, even if the Duke of Cleves' cousin was not so much older than she was as to make the match impossible. Mary knew that her father would never consent to such a match for Elizabeth, not when the child was his heiress and, to his eyes, the only Princess of England, and when a far grander match was already arranged for her with a son of the King of France, just as she knew that the match was being suggested for her because she, illegitimate in the eyes of the law and according to the oath she swore in order to win her father's favour once more and ensure that she would be safe, could not hope for the kind of royal match that was planned for Elizabeth.
Anne was gentle when she broached the question of the marriage, making it clear that this was a suggestion rather than a command and that, if Mary did not wish to marry the gentleman they were proposing for her, she would not be compelled to become his wife against her will but Mary was happy to consent to the match, and her suitor was soon sailing to England.
Duke Philip of Bavaria was a Lutheran, something that gave Chapuys, who still served as the Imperial ambassador to the English court and who vowed that he would do so as long as Mary was there and might have need of his services, some misgivings. Mary had her doubts at first, afraid that the Holy Father might condemn her for marrying a heretic, especially when she had already accepted her own father as Supreme Head of the Church of England and sworn an Oath to that effect, but those doubts melted away once Philip was presented to her and she found him to be a handsome, charming and, above all, very kind and gentle man. No man at court had dared to flirt with the King's daughter, even one who was branded a bastard, since Mary had been restored to favour so it was a heady experience for her when Philip began to pay court to her.
Since Anne and her father were reconciled, she had watched the love they shared, a tender devotion that made her heart ache to see it, and Philip was offering her the same devotion.
When he asked her to be his wife, she agreed without a moment's hesitation.
He was not a wealthy man, for all that he could boast royal blood and connections with various ducal houses, and he did not have a kingdom or a dukedom of his own to which he could take her after the wedding but that didn't matter to Mary – in fact, it was a blessing in a way, because it meant that they could make their home in England and she did not need to leave her homeland.
Her father had dowered her with generous estates, as well as ordering that a fine palace in London should be built for them and giving his new son-in-law the title of Duke of Somerset so that his daughter and grandchildren could enjoy the pre-eminence of the highest rank of the peerage, receiving them both at court with near-royal honours and ensuring that they would occupy a grand suite of rooms when they visited there, with a retinue of two dozen servants to tend to their needs, including four ladies-in-waiting for Mary, and four gentlemen to attend Philip.
Somerset House would be finished by the end of the year, as her father was paying a fortune to hire more builders and craftsmen to ensure that it would be ready for them as soon as it possibly could, and that it would be as splendid a palace as they could wish for. Maybe they would be able to spend Christmas under their own roof, and receive her father and Anne there soon afterwards.
Philip was a good man and a loving husband and he had never given Mary cause to doubt the wisdom of her decision to marry him, even for a moment. Virtually everybody at court seemed to like and esteem him, from her father and Anne and little Elizabeth to the young lords of the court, who admired his manners and his sporting prowess, while the ladies admired his handsome face, some of them bemoaning the fact that he was such a faithful husband to Mary. As he sat before her now, making enquiries about Anne, Mary knew that his concern was genuine.
"It was a boy." She said softly, twisting a pearl rosary around her fingers.
Anne gave it to her last year, after she found it in her jewellery box while she was hunting for a magnificent diamond necklace she wanted to give Mary as a wedding gift, and she had recognized that it had belonged to Mary's mother, left behind when she was ordered to leave court to live at the More. Anne must have seen her mother use it when she attended her at Mass during her time as a lady-in-waiting, and she had brought it to Mary, telling her that she should have it.
"The King and Queen must be grieving." Philip observed quietly, reaching out to take her hand in his and knowing that she too grieved for the loss of a baby who would have been her brother.
"The whole court will, and the country." Mary said.
It was just a fortnight ago that any public announcement was made of Anne's pregnancy, with the news restricted to family before that, though the courtiers had the suspicions once Anne withdrew to her own apartments, where she spent her time resting in her bed. Throughout England, people prayed that, this time, Anne would carry the child to term and bear a healthy boy to be Prince of Wales and King of England and though, in her heart, Mary could never view any child born of Anne, whose marriage to her father took place during her mother's lifetime, as legitimate and entitled to the title of Prince or Princess, she had hoped that the child would be born healthy.
"They wanted a prince." Philip agreed.
Years ago, when she was living at Hatfield as a member of little Elizabeth's household, Mary had dreamed of escaping England, even though she knew that her mother would tell her that she should not disobey her father by leaving the country without his permission. She imagined fleeing to the court of the Emperor, believing that her cousin would arrange a royal marriage for her and that, with her husband by her side, she would have a partner in her fight to restore her rights as her father's legitimate heir and who would ensure that no child of Anne's would be able to hold the throne that was rightfully hers as long as he lived to help her fight for it.
Philip did not harbour ambitions to sit on the throne as her consort, she knew that.
While another man might have taken the news that Anne had again been disappointed in her hope of bearing a prince as an optimistic sign, believing that without a male heir, he and Mary would have a better chance of securing the throne ahead of Elizabeth if they decided that they should fight for it after her father died, Philip was only sorry for Anne and for the King over their loss, never thinking that this loss would leave them better positioned to supplant Elizabeth.
What surprised Mary most was that she agreed with him.
Her opinion about the validity of her parents' marriage and her own legitimacy was unchanged. Although she might have taken an oath to the contrary, she would never believe in her heart that her mother was not her father's true, lawful wife for as long as she lived and that she herself was anything other than the King's legitimate daughter, born in wedlock and a rightful Princess. While she loved Elizabeth, and had even grown to esteem and like Anne as a friend, she still wished that her father would restore her to proper place, even though it was an impossible hope.
However, despite her wishes that things could be as they once were, she was intelligent and could recognize that things had changed, and that the people now accepted Elizabeth as the Princess Royal and the heir to the throne. When her father died, the majority would be happy to accept Elizabeth's succession as Queen and, if Mary tried to challenge her, she would only succeed in dividing the country in two, pitting sister against sister in a civil war.
Her cousin the Emperor would not be able to help her; even if he was willing to commit military resources to aid her, Elizabeth was betrothed to a son of the King of France, who would be quick to intercede to send soldiers of his own to defend the claim of his daughter-in-law if the Emperor made any attempt to challenge her on Mary's behalf... and once the fight was over, regardless of which sister won, she would never be able to hold her throne safely unless the other was imprisoned, perhaps even sent to the scaffold.
Mary was not willing to take that step, just as her mother was unwilling to countenance war to ensure her restoration as Queen and to force Henry to set Anne aside while she was alive.
England did not need a war over the succession, one that would tear the country apart. England needed peace and if that meant that Elizabeth would sit on the throne in her place, Mary could accept that. She was married now, and happily, and that was enough for her, something that she was reminded of every time Philip spoke those three magic words: "I love you."
2nd May 1541
When she had recovered from her miscarriage, at least enough to allow her to leave her bed and to go out among the court once more, leaving the apartment of which she had grown rather tired during her convalescence and joining Henry in his Privy Chamber instead, one of the first issues Anne raised with him was the question of the succession, a question that he had studiously avoided since her miscarriage, not wanting to distress her by speaking of their loss.
As much as she grieved for the loss of their child, and for the certainty she felt that they would not have any more living children, even if they tried, Anne knew that the issue could not be buried.
The question of England's future was too important for her to avoid it, or to allow Henry to do so in order to spare her feelings, so she felt that she had to bring it up since he would not.
"But I have an heir, sweetheart – Elizabeth." Henry reminded her when she raised the issue, holding her on his lap as they spoke, and trailing feather-light kisses down her neck, wondering anew how he could ever have contemplated allowing that neck to be severed. "Don't you remember what I told you in France?" He asked, wondering if she remembered that night and the questions they asked one another with the same, perfect clarity as he did. If he lived to be a hundred, he was sure that he would not forget a single word they spoke that night. "I meant it when I said that Elizabeth would make a great Queen – and young Charles is shaping up to be a fine consort for her, when the time comes." He added with a smile.
Last summer, just before Mary's marriage to Philip, Henry sent an envoy to Francis suggesting that, as the his youngest son, promoted from Duke of Angouleme to Duke of Orleans upon the death of his eldest brother, the Dauphin, was now twelve, the time had come for him to join his young bride-to-be at the English court, something that would not only give him and Elizabeth a chance to become friends so that they would know and love one another when the time came for them to marry, something that was denied to most royal couples but that Henry wanted for his daughter, wanting her to be as happy with her spouse as he was with Anne – happier, as Elizabeth would never make the mistakes he had made with Anne, she was too clever for that – but also give the boy a chance to be educated by English tutors, who would perfect his grasp of the language and ensure that he was taught of the country's history and traditions.
It was vital that the people should see the boy being raised for his future role.
England had accepted Elizabeth as heir, and he was sure that the people would welcome the succession of the little girl who had charmed them all into adoring her but they would not be as pleased with her husband as they were with their future Queen, not if his foreign language and manners marked him out as a stranger, and they would fear the prospect of England becoming an outpost of France, suspecting that Charles' ties to the country would lead him to champion alliances with his homeland, perhaps even dragging England into French wars.
To allay those fears, he wanted them to see that their future King Consort, instead of turning Elizabeth into a Frenchwoman, was instead to become an Englishman for her, even taking an English title, that of Duke of Clarence, when he married Elizabeth and being known by that title instead of by his French title of Duke of Orleans.
If they could know this, they would be reassured that they did not need to fear him.
Francis – aware that Henry and Anne had not yet had a son and thinking that they were unlikely to have one, and that Elizabeth's succession as Queen was all but guaranteed – was not prepared to lose such a fine match for his youngest son, a finer match than a younger son of a royal house could usually hope for, and had agreed to entrust the young boy to their care, sending him to England with his retinue of servants, to be brought up as an English prince.
Henry had had his doubts at first, half-afraid of the kind of upbringing that a son of the King of France might have had in that licentious court and wondering what kind of bad habits and unfitting behaviour the tutors he had engaged to take charge of Charles would have to break him of before he could be trusted to behave as Henry expected a boy who would one day be his daughter's husband to behave but he soon realized that he had not needed to worry.
Charles was a good-natured boy, one who was eager to please the family he was to marry into. His good fortune at making such a fine match had plainly been drummed into him for the past few years, since the betrothal was first agreed upon, with his father and tutors making it clear to him that he was lucky to marry as well as he was and, if he was not as clever and precocious as Henry's two daughters, he was still bright enough to be able to absorb his tutor's lessons fairly quickly and to benefit from them, picking up English ways easily and settling in well.
Anne was very fond of him, a sentiment Henry shared, and they both believed that he would be a good husband for Elizabeth, and a great help to her when she was Queen.
Henry didn't think they needed to worry about the succession but Anne was not to be distracted.
"Elizabeth is my only child," she began slowly, "but she's not your only daughter. We should restore Mary to the succession so that she can be heir after Elizabeth." She knew that Mary, as the elder daughter, should be first in line to the throne by rights but she couldn't bring herself to suggest that her precious little girl should be disinherited, even for her sister's sake, even if she knew in her heart that it would be fairer for Mary to be her father's heir, and she believed that, of the two, Elizabeth would be a better ruler for England but that didn't mean that Mary should be left out entirely. The fact that Henry had declared his elder daughter illegitimate did not mean that it was impossible for her to be restored to the succession, not if that was what Henry chose to do, and she wanted him to know that this was what she wanted.
When she and Henry fell in love and wanted to marry, she knew that their marriage could only take place once his marriage to Katherine was annulled but, although she was able to accept that, believing that Henry could be right about Katherine's marriage to his brother being consummated and feeling that the love she and Henry shared was worth fighting for, she had given little thought to Mary and to how she would be affected by the means through which Henry intended to secure his freedom from Katherine, never dwelling on the fact that, if Henry's marriage to Katherine was annulled, their daughter would become a bastard, or of what it would mean for Mary.
She should have thought of Mary then, and spoken to Henry about what could be done for his daughter – and perhaps Henry could have ensured that Mary would be able to retain her status as Princess, and a place in the line of succession after their children, if they tried to find a way, something that might even have persuaded Katherine to withdraw from her marriage to enter a nunnery when the suggestion was first broached by Cardinal Campeggio before the trial – but, while she could not change the past, she could help put things right for Mary now.
Henry's face was grave as he looked at her, studying her face intently as he pondered her words. Getting his Privy Council and Parliament to agree would be easy enough, once they knew his wishes, and if the people were prepared to accept that Elizabeth should be heir while Mary was excluded from the succession altogether, he could not imagine that they would make trouble over the fact that Mary would be placed after Elizabeth in the succession. It would probably please them to see Mary restored to the succession, as they loved the girl very much.
It was certainly something that could be arranged in law... if that was what Anne truly wanted and she was not just suggesting it to please him or because she believed that she needed to make amends for the fact that they would not have a son.
She had nothing to be sorry for and he didn't want her to believe that she did.
"Are you sure that this is what you want, sweetheart?" He asked. "One heir is enough, and when Elizabeth marries, she and Charles will give us grandchildren. If they don't, there is my sister's child." Although Brandon and his wife did not come to court often these days, Edward Brandon was a well-known presence, and was welcomed there as the King's nephew. As a grandson of Henry the Seventh, he was next in line to the throne after Elizabeth, and would be followed by any children he had, but Henry couldn't deny that the idea of placing both of his daughters first, so his line was secure on the throne and his blood would continue to rule England, was appealing.
Perhaps it was fitting that, as the King's daughter, Mary and her children should come before Edward Brandon, even if she was not legitimate.
"I'm sure." Anne insisted. "Mary deserves this."
"Then I'll arrange it." Henry promised her, before giving her a teasing smile. "Anything else?"
"One thing more." Anne told him before making her other request, one that made Henry's smile widen, telling her that she had done the right thing by raising the matter.
"Your wish is my command, my beautiful and beloved Queen." He declared, in a courtly fashion, his arms around her. "And there's one more thing that I have planned, something I hope will make you happy, and our little girl too." He told her, leaning closer to her to whisper his plan in his ear, rejoicing when he saw her nod at his suggestion, her smile wide and joyful.
They told the rest of the family the good news in the evening, after Henry and Anne met with the Privy Council to explain what it was they wanted to do and to discuss the question of how best to proceed, and after Henry had commanded that his secretary should begin to draft the revisions to the Act of Succession, placing Mary as second in line after Elizabeth, so that the revised Act could be presented to Parliament for its approval at the next session.
As was sometimes their custom, they dined in the privacy of Henry's Privy Chamber, with family and sometimes a few close friends, rather than in the Great Hall with the court in attendance. Invitations were much sought-after by the courtiers, who viewed them as one of the greatest signs of favour, but very few were ever asked to join the royal couple at dinner.
For tonight, Elizabeth and Charles were invited – the former delighted to be dining with her parents and allowed to stay up late in order to do so instead of having dinner in her nursery, as she usually did, with Lady Bryan keeping a watchful eye on her to ensure that she did not eat too many rich foods and sweetmeats – along with Mary and Philip. Anne's father was also invited to join them, along with Archbishop Cranmer who was, as always, overawed by the invitation.
Boleyn was the first to arrive, bowing deeply to Henry and Anne before coming to kiss Anne's cheek and whisper an enquiry about how she was feeling. The concern in his voice was genuine and, unlike after her first miscarriage years ago, there was no hint of reproach in his tone, no hint that he was angry with her that she failed to carry the child to term – not that she had expected it.
"I feel fine, Papa." Anne assured him, returning his kiss.
"Your Grace." Henry greeted his father-in-law genially, motioning for him to take a seat at the table, which was already laid out for eight, with servers waiting in the background, silent and discreet shadows who would not move or speak until they were called upon to serve. On nights when they dined privately, the servers were even more discreet than usual, allowing the illusion that they truly were alone, with no prying eyes or ears nearby.
He knew that most people at court assumed that his decision to elevate Boleyn as Duke of Wiltshire shortly after their return from France, after he and Anne spent an enjoyable autumn on progress throughout the country with Mary and Elizabeth, was motivated by his decision to make amends for what had happened regarding Anne's arrest, a decision based primarily on his desire to please Anne rather than for her father's sake. Only he and Boleyn knew the true reason for the honour; above all else, Henry wanted to express his gratitude to Boleyn for speaking to him as he had that night, showing him his folly and how he had wronged Anne, as well as reassuring him that Anne had truly loved him, the words that had helped Henry make things right with her.
Few men would have dared to speak to him honestly, as Boleyn had, setting aside their fear at the consequences if their words angered him and saying what needed to be said.
Henry thought that he should be rewarded for that.
Boleyn was settling himself at the table when Cranmer arrived, entering hurriedly, terrified that he might be late, despite the great effort he always took to arrive punctually whenever he was summoned by either the King or the Queen. He bowed low as he entered, kissing Anne's hand and smiling nervously when she praised him for the excellent work he had done establishing a university at one of the large monasteries that was closed two years ago, when an investigation revealed that, despite the warnings the abbot was given to reform the religious house in his charge, he and his monks continued to live as licentiously as ever.
"It is Your Majesty who deserves praise for that." Cranmer told Anne, once the blush resulting from her compliments receded from his cheeks and he recovered the use of his voice. "You were the one who suggested that St. George's Abbey should become a university, and it is your support that has ensured that the project is a successful one, not my poor efforts."
"We will have to call it the Queen's University." Henry suggested, wrapping one arm around Anne and squeezing her gently.
Even if Anne was not the one woman in the entire world who was a perfect match for him, the one woman he adored above all others, he would still be glad that he had her by his side as his Queen. Few of his councillors would have thought to suggest that the property of the suppressed religious houses should be put to better use – and most of them probably longed to get their hands on the confiscated land, to enhance their own wealth – but Anne had voiced the suggestion once they returned from France, and Henry had never had any cause to regret taking his wife's advice.
The people were pleased to see that the confiscated properties were used primarily for their benefit, instead of enriching whatever noblemen could buy the estates cheaply, and they loved Anne for seeing to it that they would have schools and hospitals and farms that could be rented at very low rates, in place of the monasteries, convents and abbeys that had tricked them into giving what little money they had over to corrupt monks and nuns in exchange for pretended miracles and promised prayers that would never be said, and him for agreeing to her wishes.
Cranmer took his seat next to Boleyn, who spoke with him in quiet tones as they waited for the rest of the guests to appear, so that the meal could begin.
The arrival of the Princess Royal and the Duke of Orleans was announced by Henry's chamberlain before the doors were opened to admit a beautiful little girl of seven with shining red-gold hair, escorted by a tall youth of thirteen, whose smile was wide as he listened to what his young betrothed had to say. Lady Bryan accompanied them as far as the door but she did not enter with them, as tonight was a knight for the royal family to be alone, so she curtsied and withdrew. Once they entered the room, the young princess and prince made their curtsey and bow to Henry and Anne, then Charles released Elizabeth's arm so that she could run to her parents, to be hugged and kissed by her mother before her father swung her up in strong arms.
"How are you today, my little princess?" Henry asked Elizabeth, settling her more comfortably in his arms, so that their faces were level. At seven, Elizabeth was tall for her age and it would not be long before she was too big for him to be able to lift up like this, or sit on his lap. At this thought, Henry felt a pang of regret and he sternly reminded himself that it was the way of the world for children to grow up, even children as sweet and as innocent as his Elizabeth. She would never be able to rule England if she remained a child forever. "Were you good for Lady Bryan?"
"Yes, Papa." Elizabeth assured him. "Very good."
As he held Elizabeth in his arms, Charles approached Anne, bowing low over her hand and kissing it. "Good evening, my lady mother." He said, his French accent making the English words sound musical. He spoke the greeting tentatively, as though he was afraid that, after losing the son she was carrying, Anne would not want to hear another boy call her 'mother' but Anne smiled in response to his greeting, allowing him to take her arm to escort her to the table.
"Good evening, Charles. I hope that you are well."
"Yes, my lady mother." He responded. "The Earl of Ormonde taught me to shoot a long bow today." He added eagerly, referring to George Boleyn, who was now Earl of Ormonde after his father's elevation to the rank of duke. Although Charles had tutors who were responsible for teaching him of England's history, laws and culture as well as the language, George had taken the boy under his wing when it came to coaching him in sports. "He also said that my riding is improving by the day, and I will soon be ready to joust." He said proudly.
"That's good." Anne replied.
"Very good." Henry confirmed. "Elizabeth will need a champion, won't you, my jewel?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Charles is going to be the best champion – after you, of course, Papa." She added hastily, in case her father might be offended to think that Charles was better than he was.
"Oh, my jousting days are over, sweetheart." Henry remarked ruefully, carrying Elizabeth over to the table and gently setting her down in her place, between Anne and Charles. "I'm happy to leave the tiltyard to younger men, and I'm sure that Charles will be a fine champion for you."
"I will do my best to always acquit myself with honour as Princess Elizabeth's champion, my lord father." Charles assured him earnestly, his eagerness to please shining through him.
"I'm know you will." Henry gave him a kind smile. It could not be easy for a prince to have to leave his home to travel to a foreign court, there to become immersed in the language and ways of his new country – a fate that was usually reserved for princesses, who were more often the ones called upon to leave their home countries to travel to the realm of their betrothed, where they were expected to learn new ways and to adapt to them, no matter how difficult it was – but Charles had done well, and pleased him very much. If he was destined not to have a son of his own, then he knew that he could be content to have such sons-in-law as Charles and Philip.
Outside the room, the chamberlain banged his staff one last time. "Their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Somerset." He announced before the door opened to admit Mary and Philip.
Mary had scarcely finished making her curtsey before Henry raised her and embraced her, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
"My dear daughter." He greeted her affectionately before motioning to Philip to rise and reaching out to clasp his son-in-law's arm. "I am pleased that you could both be with us tonight."
"Thank you, Father." Mary's pleasure at the warm welcome was plain to everybody present. Despite her reconciliation with her father almost five years previously, and despite the fact that both Henry and Anne had seen to it that Mary was treated with honour, as a member of the royal family, Mary could never feel fully at ease about her place in the family or in her father's favour, and was never fully free of the fear that she might find herself exiled from court once more. Although she was happy now, she could never be confident that her happiness would last.
Henry waited until they were all seated and the first course was served to them before he made the first of his announcements.
"I wanted you all to be the first to know of this," he began, watching as the others at the table, even little Elizabeth, looked up at him with curious eyes, wondering what he was about to tell them. He reached out to take Anne's hand in his before he continued, squeezing gently in the hope of softening the sting of his words with a physical reminder that he loved her. "As you all know by now, it is not likely that the Queen and I will have a Prince for England." He was glad that nobody tried to reassure him that this was not the case, or suggested that, if he was patient, his patience would be rewarded with a son. They all knew the truth and accepted it. "Elizabeth,"
"Yes, Papa?" Elizabeth looked up at him with wide eyes, wondering what her father was going to say to her. She had prayed very hard for a baby brother, as her mother asked her to and as Lady Bryan encouraged her to every morning and she was very sorry that her prayers were not answered. It would have been fun to have a baby brother, even if he was going to be King of England one day, instead of her becoming Queen.
"This means that you will be Queen of England one day, my jewel." He told her gently, pleased to see from the gravity of her expression as she nodded in response to his words that she understood what he was saying, and knew that it would not all be fun. No woman had ever held the English throne without having it snatched from her, but he was sure that if any woman would manage to hold her crown and rule over England successfully, it would be Elizabeth. "Do you remember what I told you when you became Princess Royal? That the first prince is given the title of Prince of Wales, to show that he is the heir to the throne and will be King one day?"
"Yes, Papa." Elizabeth might have been very little then, not even three, but she could remember it clearly. The ceremony was one of her happiest memories from when she was very small.
"Your mother and I have spoken about it and we decided that, since we know that you are going to be Queen one day, you should have the title of Princess of Wales now." Henry told her, smiling at the delighted astonishment on her face. When he spoke about it with his Privy Council, they were initially dubious about the prospect of formally investing a daughter with the title of Princess of Wales – and even with Mary, he never formally created her Princess of Wales, though she was often addressed as such once he sent her to Ludlow Castle with her household, and had adopted the title informally – but they agreed that it would be possible to grant Elizabeth the title, if special Letters Patent and legislation was introduced, and Henry was determined to see it done.
Elizabeth was his heiress and he wanted he to enjoy all the honours given to other English heirs.
He and Anne were both in agreement that there would be no question of sending Elizabeth away from court to preside over an establishment at Ludlow Castle, not yet, but in the future, when she and Charles were married, it would be a good idea to allow the young couple to have their household there, so that Elizabeth could govern Wales with the help of the Privy Council chosen to assist her in that task, to give her and Charles a chance to prepare themselves for their future roles. Henry didn't doubt that the Welsh would be delighted with Elizabeth, when the time came.
She was a Tudor, and could therefore boast a Welsh heritage, but she was also a beautiful, charming and intelligent princess, one that Wales could take pride in and whose people were certain to take into their hearts, proud to think that the future Queen would live among them.
"Thank you, Papa!" Elizabeth exclaimed in delight, jumping down from her chair so that she could run to him and put her arms around his neck, giving him several smacking kisses in thanks. "And Mama!" As soon as she let go of Henry, she turned to embrace Anne, beaming at her.
"May we take it that you are pleased, sweetheart?" Henry asked teasingly.
"Very, very, very pleased." Elizabeth insisted, placing more and more stress on each 'very'.
Anne hugged her daughter, kissing her cheek. "I'm so proud of you, my darling." She told her, holding Elizabeth close. Despite Elizabeth's youth and the enthusiastic, childlike delight on her face, Anne was sure that there was already something truly regal about her precious little girl, as though Nature had already marked Elizabeth out as a future Queen. Looking at her now, it was very easy for her to believe that Elizabeth was born to rule. She was kissing Elizabeth again when she glanced in Mary's direction, and saw the expression on her face.
There was no bitterness in Mary's face.
Despite the fact that Elizabeth's position as heir was to be publicly emphasised again, something that would make it plain that Mary was not her father's choice as his heir, Mary was smiling at Elizabeth's infectious delight in the honour that would soon be bestowed upon her, feeling pleased for her sister without resenting the idea that Elizabeth should be honoured above her. There was a hint of sadness in her eyes, however, one that let Anne know that, while Mary might not begrudge Elizabeth the honours she received, it hurt to know that she would never again be honoured thus, as she was when she was a child, before Elizabeth was born.
She released Elizabeth, who hastened over to her grandfather to receive his kisses and congratulations, along with those of Charles, before turning to smile at her stepdaughter. "Your father and I also have some news for you, Mary." She said gently, looking up at Henry to prompt him to give Mary her share of the good news. Restoring Mary to the line of succession might have been her suggestion but she knew that the news would mean more from Mary if it came from her father than it ever could if it came from her.
Henry caught her meaning and nodded, turning his attention to Mary. "You know that Elizabeth is going to be our only child," he told her, gesturing to himself and Anne, "and, God willing, she and Charles here will give England a fine family of princes and princesses but..." He hesitated, not liking to voice the thought that Elizabeth and Charles might be childless, afraid to ill-wish his daughter, and even more unwilling to allow himself to think that Elizabeth might die before she reached adulthood. Such contingencies had to be planned for but that didn't mean that he needed to speak of them aloud, least of all in front of Elizabeth herself, who would be distressed by the suggestion. Mary would know what he meant without him having to spell it out. "The Queen pointed out to me that it would be wise for us to secure the succession as much as we possibly could, and she made a suggestion that I was happy to agree with."
Mary held her breath, not daring to believe that her father would say what she thought he would say. Under the table, she felt Philip take her hand in his and squeeze it gently.
Henry rose from his place at the table, moving around to stand in front of Mary, who rose to her feet as he approached her, so that they stood face to face. He cupped his eldest daughter's face between his two hands, drawing her gently towards him and kissing her on the forehead. "At the Parliament's sitting next week, I intend to see to it that a second Act of Succession is passed," he told Mary quietly, "one that will make you the next heir to the throne after Elizabeth."
"Your Majesty..." Mary swayed at the news, her face growing pale with shock.
Henry caught her in his arms before she could stumble. "I've got you." He told her, waiting until she was steady on her feet and the colour returned to her cheeks before he released her. He leaned close to her ear, speaking in a whisper. "Are you happy, Mary?"
"Yes, Your Majesty... Yes, Father... Thank you..." Mary tried to voice her thoughts, wanting to express her gratitude at this unexpected boon. "It's more than I could have hoped for." She said honestly, knowing that, while she might see herself as having more of a right to sit on the throne than Elizabeth did, it was a miracle that her father had decided to restore her. Although his manner towards her had been very loving since her restoration, and over the past years, she had never expected that he would take the step of restoring her to the succession, believing that he would be too proud to do so when he was the one who declared that she was no longer his heir.
She was so thankful to have been wrong!
"There's more." Henry told her softly, turning to catch Anne's eyes. "My love?" He prompted her. This was Anne's idea, and he wanted Mary to fully appreciate that her stepmother was the one to whom she owed the most thanks for her good fortune. Anne hesitated, unsure whether she should be the one to say it or if she should let him do it, but he gave her an encouraging nod. "We shouldn't keep poor Mary in suspense, my love." He pointed out good-humouredly, waiting for Anne to stand and move over to them before he released Mary.
When Anne tentatively extended her hand, Mary took it and the two women looked into one another's eyes for a long moment before Anne began to speak.
"Your father told you that you are to be restored to the line of succession," Anne said, watching Mary's reaction and praying that her stepdaughter would understand why she had not advocated that she should be made heir ahead of Elizabeth, as the elder sister, and forgive her for the mother's pride that would not allow her to recommend that her child should take second place. "And because of this, we both want you to be known, from now on, as Princess Mary."
This time, Henry half-expected his elder daughter to swoon in shock and he was quick to catch her before she could begin to sway, gently lowering her into her chair and patting her hand. Philip's arms were around Mary as soon as she was seated, and he whispered his congratulations into her ear, well aware of how much this would mean to her.
Elizabeth clapped her hands in pleased approval. "Now you are a Princess too, Mary!"
Henry lifted his younger daughter into his arms again, swinging her around, glad to see that Elizabeth was not jealous to lose her standing as England's only princess. "She is indeed."
"A toast!" Boleyn called, rising to his feet and raising his goblet of wine. His smile was a broad one, the happiness in the room infecting him as well, leaving him unable to regret his daughter's generosity in suggesting that Mary should be restored to the succession, or to fret about the potential difficulties Elizabeth might face as a result. "To the Princess of Wales and Princess Mary!"
Glasses were raised and the toast echoed by six pleased voices.
"To the Princess of Wales and Princess Mary!"
19th May 1541
The ceremony was more magnificent than the one that had invested Elizabeth with the titles of Duchess of York and Princess Royal almost five years ago, even more magnificent than the ceremony that would have marked the investiture of a Prince of Wales with his title. Henry was determined that this would be a day for his country to remember and he spared no expense in seeing to it that this would be the case. England would have a Princess of Wales, and every man, woman and child in his kingdom would know that she was as honoured and as valued as a Prince.
His original intention was that the ceremony elevating Elizabeth should take place on the 17th, marking the fifth anniversary of the day Anne was released from the Tower and he had begun to make amends for the greatest mistake of his life and a date that had become, to his mind, a sacred day of celebration and thanksgiving, but they were unable to make the necessary preparations in time, and the ceremony and accompanying celebrations were delayed by two days.
The 19th of May.
Something about the date sent chills down his spine and, when he took Anne's hand in his, feeling a sudden need to reassure himself that she truly was standing by his side, alive and safe, he could feel that her hand was cold and trembling slightly, as though she too was affected by the date.
They sat on their thrones on the dais, wearing their finest clothes and jewels. Henry wore his crown and Anne wore St. Edward's crown, the crown she wore for her coronation. The gold embroidery on their clothes and the gold of their jewels and crowns gleamed as the sun streamed through the tall windows of the Great Hall, illuminating them both so that they glowed.
This time, unlike when Elizabeth was given her titles as Duchess of York and Princess Royal, they were not alone on the dais. Charles stood at Henry's side, a pace or two away, looking handsome in white satin and cloth of gold, a ducal coronet on his head, waiting for his betrothed to appear, and Mary and Philip were standing at Anne's side, Mary's rank as Princess allowing them the honour of standing there next to the King and Queen.
Henry thought that Mary looked beautiful, more beautiful than she had on any day since her wedding day, when it filled him with pride to be able to escort her down the aisle of the Chapel Royal to the altar where Philip was waiting to make her his bride. Mary wore white that day, her face covered by an exquisite veil, so fine that it couldn't conceal her features and beautifully embroidered by Mary and her ladies. Today, she wore purple, as was now her right, and a jewelled coronet that proclaimed that she was, once more, a Princess of England.
Philip was by her side, tall and handsome and with eyes for nobody but Mary.
A hush fell over the Great Hall as the chamberlain banged on the floor three times before announcing Elizabeth's arrival ceremoniously. "Her Highness the Princess Elizabeth, Princess Royal and Duchess of York."
The crowd of courtiers parted as Elizabeth approached, making Henry think of the way the Red Sea parted before Moses. The nobility and gentry swept deep obeisances at the approach of their future sovereign, keeping their eyes downcast until Elizabeth had passed them by and they could straighten to watch the ceremony unfold.
Elizabeth's long, heavy train was carried by the Duchess of Norfolk and supported by two of her maids of honour, with the other young ladies assigned to Elizabeth's household following in procession, their smiles showing their delight at their little mistress' elevation. Four noble lords were chosen for the honour of carrying the cloth of gold canopy of estate over Elizabeth's head, and Edward Brandon, newly ennobled as Earl of Lincoln in honour of the occasion, walked at the head of the procession, carrying a cushion on which a new coronet, more intricate than the one Elizabeth was wearing at present, and more lavishly encrusted with jewels, was placed.
Henry rose as his little daughter approached, holding out his hands to her to help her kneel down on the plump, purple velvet cushion waiting for her at the foot of the dais. The Duchess of Norfolk and Elizabeth's maids of honour carefully straightened her train before sweeping deep curtsies and stepping back, so that Elizabeth could enjoy centre stage at the ceremony in her honour.
He had practiced the words of the ceremony so often since he decided to give Elizabeth this title, the greatest title he could give her until his death made her the new Queen of England, and they came to Henry effortlessly now, allowing him to speak the ceremonious words without the slightest faltering or hesitation that might make some of those listening think that he was reluctant to bestow this honour on Elizabeth, and that he might regret his decision to do so.
He had no regrets, not about giving Elizabeth this title and certainly not about the decision he had made that led to him remaining married to Anne instead of wedding another woman, one who might have given him a son but who would never be as dear to his heart as Anne was.
The ceremony was a fairly brief one, and it passed Henry by in a haze, as he focused less on the words he was speaking than on the pride and deep love he felt for the little girl kneeling before him, and his delight to be able to honour her. Once the words were spoken, and Archbishop Cranmer stepped forward to bless Elizabeth, leading the nobles present in a prayer that, when the time came for her to rule England, she would be ready for the task God called her to, Henry motioned for Edward Brandon to step forward. He bent down to gently lift the coronet Elizabeth was wearing, the one he had commissioned for her in honour of her elevation as Princess Royal, from her head, laying his hand on her bared head in a gesture of blessing before he took the other coronet from Edward Brandon, and set it on Elizabeth's head.
He extended his hands to Elizabeth to help her to her feet, bending down to kiss his jewel of all England on both cheeks. When he spoke her full title, he savoured the words.
"Her Highness the Princess Elizabeth, Princess of Wales, Princess Royal and Duchess of York."
He felt as though he was dreaming as he watched Elizabeth curtsey gravely, holding her head high so that her coronet would not be knocked askew, and then turn to receive the obeisances of the court. He watched in silence, the smile on his face growing broader and broader, as Charles stepped forward to make a deep bow to Elizabeth, who gave him her hand to kiss and allowed him to take her arm. When Elizabeth gave him a quizzical look, wondering if she and Charles should lead the way into the banquet in honour of her elevation or if she should wait for him and Anne to precede them, he smiled at her, shaking his head.
"This is your day, sweetheart." He told her. He and Anne had discussed it already, and decided that they should absent themselves from the banquet, as he had absented himself from Anne's coronation feast, so that Elizabeth could sit in the place of honour and preside over the feast.
This was Elizabeth's day, and they both wanted her to enjoy it to the full.
With the new Princess of Wales and the Duke of Orleans leading the way, the rest of the court followed, first Princess Mary and the Duke of Somerset, then the rest of the courtiers in order of precedence, until the Great Hall was emptied of everybody except the King and Queen.
When Anne rose from her throne and came to stand by his side, Henry took her hand in his, bringing it to his lips for a kiss. "We have the most wonderful little girl in the world."
"I know." Anne's smile was radiant as she looked at him, curling her fingers around his hand.
He leaned forward to capture her lips in a kiss, putting his free arm around her and tugging her closer to him. They stood like that for several minutes, close together and hand-clasped, before Henry released Anne, kissing her again. "You've made me so happy." He whispered in her ear.
"Have I?" She intended to sound playful but Anne couldn't keep her tone as light as she had wanted it to be, unable to keep herself from wondering whether, despite his protests to the contrary, Henry might feel some regret that he had married her instead of another woman who would give him the sons he wanted, the sons he once wanted from her, before they knew that it would be impossible for them to have more children.
"Of course!" Henry answered at once, hugging her again. "I love you, sweetheart, more than anything else in the world – do you doubt that?" He asked, troubled by the thought that, despite everything, his efforts to show Anne how much he loved and valued her had not been as successful as he had hoped, that she might still harbour doubts about the sincerity of his professions of love.
Anne looked up at him before answering, seeing the love in his eyes and his need to know that she understood his feelings. "No," she told him. "No, I don't."
They kissed one more time before leaving the Great Hall, hand in hand, walking towards the gardens, where they would be able to enjoy privacy, as the court would be occupied with the feast, leaving the gardens all but deserted, with nobody to spy on the King and Queen as they walked, enjoying the privacy that was so rare for people of their station, and their chance to be alone with the one they loved. They had come through so much to be able to be together, to love each other, and to know that nothing would ever again come between them and their love.
There was no more need for doubt.
Author's Note: To those who were disappointed that Anne and Henry didn't have a son, I decided against giving them a boy for a few reasons. Firstly, I think that Henry has grown beyond the point where he needs a son and I didn't want to cheapen his growth by denying him the chance to prove that, son or no son, he loves Anne and wants her as his wife and nobody else. Secondly, Elizabeth I was such a fantastic Queen and, since she's already been displaced by a brother in both "On The Edge Of A Golden World" and "Three People In A Marriage", I wanted her reign to stay part of history in this story. Thirdly, without a son, I thought that Henry and Anne would both be more willing to restore Mary to the succession and make her a Princess again, and I wanted that for her.