Disclaimer: The Tudors is property of Showtime. I make no claim on it and write this purely for my own entertainment and the entertainment of others. No copyright infringement intended.
Notes: This story is a response to the Tiny Tudors challenge at the Tudor Fanfic Forums.
All the Difference
Anne's coronation was a bit of a hurried affair, but then, so had been their marriage. Both of them had been determined that the child growing in her belly would be born in holy wedlock, even if he had been technically conceived out of it. Though really, Henry admitted to himself, Anne's coronation had been hurried mainly because of the rapid expansion of Anne's waistline, which was happening far more quickly than either of them had anticipated. It was something that rather surprised him, as he never recalled Katherine's belly rounding so quickly whenever a babe took root in her womb.
The festivities were hardly the great success that both he and Anne had envisioned mostly due to the reactions of the Londoners, who remained stony and sullen over the banishment of Katherine and Mary's new illegitimate status. Also, Anne's enlarged girth made it more and more difficult for her to walk, and she had to be assisted throughout the anointment ceremonies. Still, despite the changes in her figure, Henry was certain she had never looked more radiant. Or perhaps it was because of those changes that she seemed to glow? Impending motherhood often had that effect on women.
Even afterwards, once Anne was officially installed in the Queen's apartments and she took on every duty and responsibility as his wife and consort, her belly continued to widen. It grew to such an alarming degree that Henry finally ordered the physicians and midwives, the latter of whom had already been hired for the approaching occasion, to examine Anne out of fear for her safety and that of their child.
Henry waited outside of the Queen's chambers, surrounded by several of his friends and council. The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk were present, as were Anne's father and brother. Though, he noted, Charles seemed intent on keeping some distance between him and the other three men. Henry didn't ponder it long because the door to the Queen's chambers, revealing Doctor Linacre and Mistress Collins, the most senior of the midwives. Both of them wore serious expressions.
"What is it?" Henry demanded instantly, full of worry for the health of his wife and child. They'd gone through so much together, if they were to lose this baby just when their happiness had begun…
"We examined Her Majesty thoroughly," Linacre assured him, "and have felt about her belly. There were several vigorous kicks in response to our probing."
Henry smiled broadly and nudged Charles wit his right arm. "My boy's strong," he boasted. He quickly became serious again and asked, "Why has Her Majesty grown so… large?" he asked. "The Princess Dowager was pregnant several times and she never grew to such proportions when she was quick with child."
The physician nodded in agreement, as he himself had attended Katherine through some of her pregnancies. It was Mistress Collins who spoke, however. "Your Majesty," she said solemnly, "such growth on the part of the mother often signals that there are multiple babies within the womb."
Silence fell over the entire group, and Henry gaped at her in shock. "M-Multiple?" he stumbled over the word. "D-Do you mean Her Majesty could be carrying twins?"
Mistress Collins nodded. "I've seen such things before," she replied. "In fact, I just delivered a set of twins a year ago, two bonny lads, to Lady Gordon. She too was much larger than was thought normal."
Twins, Henry thought, feeling rather dazed. Not just one child, but two! This had to be a sign that God was smiling on his and Anne's marriage! Certainly Katherine had never carried twins during her childbearing years. Turning toward Thomas Boleyn, whose beaming face surely matched his own, he said, "We shall have to have another cradle ordered then." Only one royal cradle had been pulled from storage and placed in the Queen's chambers in preparation for the baby's arrival.
The earl nodded. "Of course, Sire," he said. The man paused a minute, clearly considering something, and then continued, "With Your Majesty's permission, I could send for the Boleyn cradle, which is in storage at Hever."
Henry thought on it for a moment, and then nodded. It would be an excellent tribute to Anne's family, and such a cradle would do fine for the second child. He turned back to Linacre and Mistress Collins. "Is my wife well enough to receive me?"
The midwife nodded. "Of course, Sire," she replied. "However, Your Majesty," she added somberly, "it is my duty that I should inform you that with multiple babies, the risk of labor is greatly increased. Bringing one baby into the world is a labor of Hercules for any woman, let alone more than one."
A flicker of fear swept through Henry, but he determinedly pushed it aside. He wouldn't visit Anne with fear in his eyes. Doing so would only upset her. Nodding to Mistress Collins, he pushed past them and entered the chambers.
By July, Anne could no longer walk unassisted, the weight of her belly was so great. Relegated to bed rest for the remains of her pregnancy, she was stuck issuing orders from there, and could not even see for herself the preparations that were being done in the nursery here at Greenwich not far from her apartments, not to mention the household that was being readied at Hatfield for the royal children's eventual arrival.
"This is intolerable," Anne complained to her sister while the two were bent over the chrism they were preparing. Though the traditional chrism was already aired and ready for use, the prediction of twins had sent everyone into a flurry of additional preparations to be ready for a second child. "I am so tired of sitting in bed, staring at these same walls!"
Mary looked at her in sympathy. Her own pregnancies during her marriage to Sir William Carey had been relatively uneventful and she had two beautiful children to show for her pains, Catherine and Henry. Still it was alarming to see her younger sister so bloated and swollen from carrying more than one child. "It shouldn't be too much longer, dearest," Mary said soothingly. "You know Mistress Collins said that having multiple babies usually means that you will have a shorter pregnancy."
Anne bit her lip, but nodded. That in itself was a little worrisome, because if the babies came too early, there would be little hope either of them surviving. She leaned back against the pillows and rubbed her enormous belly gently. Be strong and healthy, my little ones, she thought towards them. Your father and I look forward to meeting you.
The labor began in the late hours of September Sixth. It seemed as though half of the palace's occupants knew almost instantly, and it had nothing to do with Anne's groans of pain echoing out of her chambers and into the corridors. Gossip was rife, and had learned to travel faster than the fastest horses.
Anne moaned in agony with the contractions of her belly as it struggled to expel her children. She longed for the process to be over, begging the midwives to tug the babies out of her, but to no avail. "Your Majesty must do this the hard way," Mistress Collins told her gently, "as every other mother has done before you."
Mary, thankfully, didn't leave Anne, holding onto her hand and wiping her brow with a wet towel to cool her. "It's going to be all right, sister," she soothed. "You're doing so well!"
Anne might have said something cutting to both her sister and the midwife if another contraction hadn't overcome her, stealing her attention.
It felt as though this process would continue on forever. Anne spent the moments of lucidity and painlessness praying to God to end her agony, that she sincerely apologized for Eve's disobedience, and must he hold Eve's descendents responsible for her mischief? "Please, God," she gasped, tears in her eyes, "have mercy!"
As the late morning sun of September Seventh poured into his windows, Henry paced in his chambers, feeling like a caged tiger. Servants were constantly running between his chambers and Anne's bringing updates of her condition, but there hadn't been any change in the past several hours.
He'd initially been outside of Anne's chambers, hoping that the birth might be a quick one and he'd be on hand to immediately greet his new boy, or boys, as he was fervently hoping for two sons, though he would certainly be content with a boy and a girl if God willed it. However, as the labor continued and showed no signs of ending any time soon, he'd been persuaded to return to his own rooms and wait there, so that he might be more comfortable. Henry had finally agreed, if only because Anne's pained cries added to his own distress. George Boleyn had had been forced to hold him back more than once from bursting into the chambers to start barking orders that the midwives and physicians end his wife's pains immediately.
There was no change until the late afternoon, when George burst into his chambers. Henry, who had been sitting at his table, leapt to his feet, completely forgetting the food that sat in front of him nearly untouched. "Is it time?" he demanded from his brother-in-law.
George nodded, his eyes alight with excitement. "Word has come out that the first baby is close to arriving!"
When Anne was finally told that she had reached ten fingers and could now begin to push, she had sobbed out her relief, not caring how unseemly it sounded. Dignity had gone out the window within the first two hours of her labor.
She learned later that it was between three and four in the afternoon when Mistress Collins cried from the foot of the bed, "The first head is crowning! Well done, my lady! Keep pushing!"
A shiver of happiness shot through Anne's veins, giving her an extra reserve of strength that she'd hitherto not had, and she bore down yet again. She did so for several more minutes, until she finally felt isomething/i slide out from between her legs. Anne fell back against the pillows, clasping Mary's hands as she heard a piercing, unhappy wail. "What is it?" she demanded.
There was no instant response, and Anne's eyes widened. "Tell me!" she shouted.
Finally, Mary replied quietly, "Your Majesty has been delivered of a healthy baby girl."
In the years to come, Anne would be ashamed of her first response to the news of her daughter's birth. Horror and embarrassment fell over her like a wet blanket, and a fresh wave of tears filled her eyes. "Oh, God…" she breathed.
"Now, now, Your Majesty," Mistress Collins chided, "I'm afraid it isn't time to relax yet. The little princess' sibling still has yet to join us. Please push, my lady."
Swallowing her humiliation, Anne did so, silently praying to God that this next one would be a boy. Only with the birth of a healthy son was she completely safe in her position. Only with a boy could she hope to win the support of England's people, and cease hearing rumors of being called 'the Great Whore'.
Eustace Chapuys smirked when he heard the news. His spies and informants among the palace staff hadn't had to work very hard to hear the news of the Concubine's first effort – a girl, a worthless girl. He chuckled and leaned back in his chair, silently saluting the harlot's failure with the wineglass in his hand.
A girl would do nothing to solidify the witch's position, and left Queen Katherine and Princess Mary in a very strong position, perhaps even stronger than what it had been before. If the Boleyn woman failed to have a son, then even those who had supported her would likely turn against her. Her whelp, already thought a bastard by so many, would certainly never be accepted as a replacement for the beloved princess who languished now at Ludlow.
Roughly an hour after word had arrived of the girl's birth, there was an urgent knocking at his door. Chapuys looked to his servant and nodded. The young man, Carlos, crossed the room and opened the door. The ambassador couldn't see who was asking for entrance, but Carlos appeared to recognize them, so he let them in.
As the figure moved closer, Chapuys looked closer. It was one of his spies, a laundress who worked in the Concubine's household. The woman pulled back the hood of her faded cloak, and he saw her pale expression.
"What is it?" he immediately inquired sharply.
"It's a boy!" George shouted, bursting into the room without even bothering to knock. "A healthy boy!"
Henry's knees went weak and he was forced to fall back into his chair. "A son," he breathed. "I have a son?"
Thomas Boleyn, who had appeared from behind his son, grinned and bowed. "Indeed so, Your Majesty," he assured him.
Henry could feel his hands tremble, and his eyes began to sting with happy, relieved tears. "I have a son!" he repeated, his tone still amazed. "Oh, thanks be to God…"
"Your Majesty!" Now the Duke of Norfolk appeared, adding his presence to the growing crowd in Henry's chambers. "Lady Rochford has just given us word. The midwives have determined that there is still another child within the Queen's womb!"
The taste of defeat in Anne's mouth had quickly turned to one of victory when she'd been informed that she'd given birth to a son. A boy was her deliverance. Henry would be so delighted to have the boy that he'd no doubt see the girl as an unexpected delight, rather than an unwanted and unwelcome waste if she had been an only child.
Anne had beamed, despite her exhaustion. She'd been able to give Henry what he'd most desired. She'd succeeded where Katherine, the great Spanish Infanta, the daughter of the mighty Catholic Kings, had failed.
Then Mistress Collins had told her that there was another baby coming. "Push, my lady!"
Anne hadn't time to respond as the overwhelming instinct to do just that crashed into her. She was so worn out from the birth of the first two, but the urgency of the situation had given her one last bit of strength. She could only hope that it was enough.
Surprisingly, this baby came much more quickly than its older siblings, their arrival apparently having eased its journey. It couldn't have been more than ten or fifteen minutes before Anne felt the newly familiar sensation of a child sliding from her body.
"Another boy, my lady!" Mistress Collins cried. "He's… dear merciful Jesus!"
Anne jerked in terror, letting out an inarticulate whimper. Was her baby all right? Was he deformed?
"What is it?" Mary demanded, putting to voice Anne's worries. "What's wrong?"
"There's a hand, holding onto the little one's ankle! There's a fourth baby!"
Anne let out a choking sound that might have been hysterical laughter under other circumstances. She had no strength left. How in God's name could she hope to deliver a fourth child, especially when the baby's arm was in an unusual position, sticking out ahead of the rest of its body, even the head?
Her eyes began to drift shut, even as she vaguely heard her sister speaking. "Anne, Anne! Stay awake! For the love of God, Mistress, do something!"
Charles Brandon could scarcely believe what was happening. The Boleyn bitch had already birthed three babies, and now there was talk of a fourth being stuck within her body. Was God truly showing favor to the marriage, he wondered, or was he just showing that she really was a bitch by giving her an entire litter of pups?
That was a thought that he didn't dare voice out loud, not at court and not even in private to his wife, who disliked Anne as much as he did. There was still a chance that it could be overheard, something that could be disastrous. If it got back to Henry that Charles had insulted his wife who had labored long and hard to give him not one, but two and possibly three sons all at once, well, Charles wasn't sure if the king would content himself with just banishing him back to his estates again. He might very well throw him in the Tower for it.
Instead, he did his best to grit his teeth and smile, acting as though he was perfectly delighted over the news of the birth of the king's sons. Seeing Henry's delight, it wasn't as difficult as it could have been, but a part of him couldn't help but think of Queen Katherine and Princess Mary. If these boys that Anne had born were declared hale and healthy by the royal physicians, then it could very well be a final blow to their hopes and to the support they had garnered from both within England and throughout Europe.
For the other countries, their condemnation of Henry's marriage to Anne had been a matter of policy, and probably a fair amount of bullying from both the Emperor and the Pope. However, once word got out about Anne Boleyn birthing four children, especially if they were healthy, that policy might very well be changed. Charles thought that the Emperor might continue to cling to his aunt's cause out of family pride and the Pope out of bullish stubbornness because Henry had turned his back on his authority, but France, or the German states, or even Norway and Denmark? If these children were healthy, then everyone would take it as a sign that God supported the king's new marriage, and their tune would quickly change. It wouldn't be long before envoys would come, offering the daughters of dukes and kings up as brides for the new princes, or even kings' heirs for the hand of the newborn princess.
This entire situation was going to turn their world inside out after it had already been tossed upside down.
George's expression had lost its joy and excitement when he returned to Henry with the latest news. "The physicians have entered Her Majesty's chambers to assist the midwives. They've informed us that this last infant is positioned awkwardly, since it had been holding onto its brother's ankle as the boy slipped from the Queen's body." He took a deep, shaking breath, and then continued. "The physicians have to inform you that Her Majesty's strength is failing, and that if something is not done, neither she nor the child will survive."
Henry closed his eyes. Please God, he prayed silently, don't take them away from me! This couldn't happen! Not now! He and Anne had waited for so long to begin their family, had sacrificed so much, and now on the very cusp of victory, she stood to lose her life and that of their unborn child.
George continued to speak, voicing even more unpleasant things that Henry would rather not face. "They also say that the time may be approaching when Your Majesty may have to decide between the life of the mother… and the life of the child."
Henry shuddered and bit his lip against the tears that threatened to well in his eyes.
Thomas Boleyn knew he was an ambitious man, and knew that people thought him cruel, even monstrous. He had always striven to rise in society. He'd been considered acceptable as a husband for the eldest daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, and had been happily married to her for several years until she'd died. He had been strategic with the lives of his three surviving children, pushing them into situations that would bring rewards and honors to their family. Mary had given her virtue to two kings, and they'd all been amply compensated for it. George had risen high in court, and married into the well-connected Parker family.
Anne, though, Anne had gone higher than any of them had ever dreamed. She had gambled, and won the greatest prize of all – a throne. His daughter had become Queen of England, and now had sealed her position with three children, two of them boys. Now there was a fourth who was still within her, and it could kill her.
Anne had always been his special girl, and had been certain from the moment of her birth that she was meant for great things. She had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and although he didn't often show it, Thomas was immensely proud of her.
This couldn't be how it was to end. It couldn't.
Lady Mary Carey swallowed with difficulty, and then stood up from her position next to her unconscious sister. Many of the other ladies were weeping already, wringing their hands as their mistress failed. Ignoring them, she focused on the king's physician, Linacre, and the midwife, Mistress Collins.
"She cannot die," Mary stated firmly, pushing her own fears and terror deep down to be managed later. "She must not! What can we do for her?"
They looked at her, and then at each other. Finally, Mistress Collins said, "We can maneuver the little one's arm back into a better position so that the child can be born naturally, but it's difficult and risky. Such maneuverings have killed just as many mothers and babes as they've saved."
Mary bit her lip. By right, only the king had the right to make such a decision, but undoubtedly Anne's state had already been reported to him, and no word had come back as to what his wishes were. Taking a deep breath, Mary straightened. "Do it," she ordered them firmly. The midwife and physician stared at her, eyes wide. "I'll take responsibility," she added.
They glanced at each other yet again, and then moved closer to the bed, getting to work. Mary slowly moved back to the bedside and knelt, taking Anne's limp hand and folding it between them as she began to pray, hoping against hope that she had not just signed her sister's death warrant.
Anne was nearly insensible at this point, her face bathed in sweat, her dark hair lying limply about her head and shoulders. Still, she tensed as Linacre and Mistress Collins began to work. Her eyelids clenched and her back arched, letting out a piercing, agonized scream.
"Quickly," Mistress Collins snapped to the other ladies, clearly not caring one whit that most of them were her betters in terms of station, "come here and press on her lower belly. It will help guide the little one out of his mother's body. Hurry up, girls," she roared at them when they didn't move quickly enough for her. "Or we shall lose them both!"
Mary leapt to her feet, hurrying to assist, all the while still pleading with God to not take her sister.
George paced in front of the door to his sister's chambers. There had been no word forthcoming since he had Anne's unearthly shriek. No one would come to the door, and thus he had no news with which he could report to the king.
The day had been going so well, until this. Anne's labor was progressing as it should, according to the midwives, who said that first births often took a long time. Then the babies came, starting with the girl, which had been initially disappointing, but such feelings had been swept away when not one, but two boys had followed in their sister's wake. George had been imagining what the ensuing celebrations would be like, now that they not only had a Duke of Cornwall but a Duke of York as well. God was being so generous with England, but now He seemed poised to take their joy away again by exchanging the three live children for their youngest sibling, yet unborn, and their mother.
He stopped and leaned back against the wall wearily, staring at the door, hoping it would open. The lack of news was driving him mad, probably driving everyone mad. Let someone come out to give them news, be it good or bad! Just end this unending torment of not knowing.
As though they heard his silent demands, the door slowly opened. George pushed himself away from the wall, standing straight. It was his wife who stood here, her hair mused and her expression one of complete exhaustion. She stared at him, uncomprehendingly.
"Well?" he demanded fearfully. Was his sister dead?
She continued to gaze at him, and then finally spoke. "The Queen lives, as does the last child. It too is a boy."
Henry could not stop beaming as he was repeatedly congratulated by all those who he passed as he darted toward Anne's chambers. "It appears that Francis will be godfather to but one of three English princes," he said to Charles, George, and Thomas as they hurried along behind him. "The French Ambassador is to hold the Duke of Cornwall during the ceremony, and I told him that if he drops him, it's war!"
Thomas laughed. "Indeed, Your Majesty, though if His Excellency did actually do such a thing, my daughter may very well tear him apart herself."
Henry chuckled. That was true. Surely Anne would have her strength back by the time of the christening, and no doubt the thought that of one of their boys being so mishandled by the French King's representative would be enough to make her rise to the occasion.
"And names," he suddenly exclaimed. "I hadn't been able to decide between Henry or Edward! Now it seems I shall have to use both, and find another one besides! Not to mention a name for the little princess."
They continued their quick, steady pace until they reached the door to the Queen's chambers. Not waiting for someone to open the door for him, Henry threw it open himself and walked inside. The ladies were all busy at work, sewing clothing and other such tasks, though he noted that some of them were missing, mainly the more senior ladies of Anne's household, such as her sister, Mistress Seville, and Lady Margaret Shelton. Mistress Collins, he noted, was also not present. No doubt they were all within Anne's bedchamber, attending to her and the children.
Sweeping past the ladies, who had all hurried to their feet to do obeisance, Henry moved toward Anne's bedchamber. Coming to a halt at the entrance, he took in the scene before him.
There were still only two cribs, the royal one and the Boleyn one, and thus the children would have to share until other cribs could be obtained and cleaned thoroughly. The babies must have been there, because Lady Margaret and Nan were both hovering over them. Though Henry longed to gaze upon his children, to meet them, his eyes quickly darted over to the bed. Mary Carey was there, as was Mistress Collins, clearly trying to make the bed's occupant more comfortable. Then he saw Anne.
She looked like a ghost. Her skin, which was normally a little pale, was as white as the sheets of her bed. Her hair had been brushed, but it still appeared rather limp. Her eyes were dull too, full of weariness.
"Anne," Henry whispered, his heart pounding. She looked so fragile, so helpless. It brought back chilling memories of when he was a boy, after his brother Arthur's death, when his parents had franticly sought to shore up the succession by having another son. All they had received for their pains was a frail little girl who'd died within days, and his mother's death of childbed fever. His father had never been the most demonstrative or sentimental of men, but Henry knew that his mother's death had destroyed his father. For all that their union had been one of state and politics, a method of bridging the gulf between the houses of York and Lancaster, Elizabeth of York had become the light in Henry Tudor's dark, dark world, and that world had become darker than the darkest of nights when God had called her home. The man he'd been at the end of his life was a far cry from the man he'd been in Henry's earliest years.
Terror filled him. Was Anne truly to die after all? She had survived this long, had given England the greatest of gifts. Was she to be deprived of her triumph? Was she to leave him as his mother had left his father?
It took some doing, but Henry managed to tear his eyes away from the feeble figure of his wife to look at Linacre, who had appeared out of seemingly nowhere. The physician bowed to him, and then turned his gaze to Anne. "Her Majesty is quite tired and weak for the moment, but it is hoped that she will eventually make a full recovery. Mistress Collins had declared that all aspects of the birth have been removed from Her Majesty's person, and thus will not be at risk of infection from that avenue."
Henry nodded. "Good," he replied lowly. "Every care is to be taken. See to it."
Anne had never felt so terrible in all her life, not even when she had been riddled with the sweating sickness. That had been a chaotic series of moments, unable to tell one day from the next, or even recognize her family at times. This was different. She had never felt so exhausted in all her life, nor had her body been so wrung out. Any significant movement had already proved to be a bad idea, as it caused excruciating pain in her lower body.
For all that, though, Anne didn't begrudge the pain overly much. She had won. She had given Henry and England not just one heir, but three, as well as a legitimate princess. Where Katherine had failed so often, Anne had succeeded three times, and all in the course of a single pregnancy. She had no need to worry now.
When Henry entered her bedchamber, Anne wanted to beam at him joyfully and demand that their children be brought to them on her bed. She had not even yet been allowed to hold or see them. Mistress Collins and Doctor Linacre had both informed her that she and the youngest prince were both extremely fortunate to be alive, given the child's awkward position within her womb. They had both insisted that Anne be thoroughly examined and washed before she settled in to dote upon her children, if only for her own safety in these hours after a harsh, grueling labor. Tired as she was, Anne had not been able to summon the strength to argue with them, though her eyes had continually drifted in the direction of the cribs, where her cousin, Madge, and Nan were keeping a close watch.
As it was, Anne was only able to manage a weak, tired smile in her husband's direction that did nothing to accurately portray her elation. "Henry," she said quietly.
He stared at her and Anne thought she caught a glimmer of fear in Henry's expression, but it was gone as quickly as it came. Leaving Linacre standing in the doorway, he crossed the room and hurried to the side of her bed. Mary hastily stood up and stepped out of the way, no doubt knowing he might have pushed her aside in his haste to reach his wife. He sat down on the bed, and immediately leaned close and pressed a chaste but happy kiss to her lips. "My dearest, darling Anne," he said breathlessly, "You have given me the most wonderful present any man could ever hope for. I can never, ever thank you enough."
She chuckled wearily. "Well, perhaps you could start by having our children brought to us," she suggested. "I have not yet been permitted to greet them."
Henry beamed. "Of course, sweetheart." He looked over toward the crib. "Bring them," he ordered. "Let me see my sons and my daughter."
Mary, who had slipped away from the bed with Mistress Collins to give Anne and Henry some privacy, led the tiny procession back to the bed, carrying a bundle. Madge, Nan, and Mistress Collins followed her, all carrying similar burdens.
Mary stretched across the bed, handing the swaddled infant to Henry. "Your firstborn son, Your Majesties," she introduced, smiling indulgently.
Madge was right behind her, her face a little timid and nervous as she approached them. "Your second-born son," she said quietly. The bright, pleased smile that Henry threw in her direction made Madge blush furiously, and she ducked her head as she backed away.
Nan was next, and handed her small load to Anne. "Your third son," she told them softly. Anne managed a small smile for her dear friend, but that was all when Mistress Collins finished off the introductions.
"Your daughter, Your Majesties," she said. It took some doing, mainly adding several pillows beneath Anne's arms so that she could continue to hold her children despite the heavy weight of her arms, but eventually Anne held two of her babies.
She stared at them. They were wrinkly and their eyes were shut, though they did not sleep. Mary had told her before the birth that infants didn't look all that attractive, but such unseemly appearances soon faded and the babies became beautiful, or so had been her experience with her own children. Anne didn't agree with her sister, however. All four of her children were the most fine-looking creatures she had ever beheld in her life. They were surely angels sent to Earth at God's behest.
"Whatever shall we name them all?" Anne wondered aloud, peeling her sight away from the infants to look at her husband. "We weren't expecting so many."
Henry laughed. "True," he admitted, looking down at the two boys in his arms. "The eldest shall be Edward, I think. It was the name of my grandfather, he was a merry man who ruled very well in his time. My mother always spoke so highly of him."
Edward IV had been a great monarch, wresting England from the corrupt handlers of the mad king, Henry VI. Perhaps his greatest failing had only been to die when his eldest son was still a child, and thus unable to rule the kingdom himself. Yes, Edward was a good name, Anne thought. It might help redeem the name from the fate of young Edward V, the child's granduncle.
"The second, Henry," Henry continued. He grinned at her. "It has been many years since there was a Prince Henry, Duke of York."
Anne nodded her agreement. Edward and Henry had been the names they'd been considering for their son, only recently daring to hope that they might have the opportunity to use both names when Mistress Collins and Doctor Linacre theorized that she was carrying twins. She looked down at the two babies in her own arms. That left her third boy and her little girl.
"What do you think, darling?" Henry asked her softly as he too turned his attention to the infants she was holding. "What shall we call them?"
Anne took a deep, steadying breath, considering the options. She didn't think it untoward that she draw a name from her own family, and thus considered her family tree, which had been drummed into her mind as a girl. She loved her father, but his ambitions had consumed him to the point that he cared for them above everything else, even the fates and lives of his own children. Mary's infamous reputation and George's unhappy marriage were proof enough of that. Plus, Thomas was also the name of her uncle, and Anne had never liked the man enough to wish to name any of her offspring after him. George was a possibility, but Anne thought that he might wish to name his own son after himself, when he had one. She thought back further. One of her Boleyn forbearers had been the Mayor of London, a well-liked and respected man in his day.
"William," she finally declared. Anne pressed a kiss against the baby's forehead. "Let him be William."
Henry cocked his head, considering it, and then nodded. "It's a good, strong English name," he agreed. "Excellent." Then he turned his gaze onto their daughter. "And our little princess?"
Anne smiled. This was hardly a difficult choice. She'd had this name picked out since she was a little girl, since her mother died. "Elizabeth," she told him. "For your mother and mine."
"Prince Edward, Prince Henry, Prince William, and Princess Elizabeth," Henry rattled off, his proud smile threatening to split his face in two. "Our little ones." His joy turned a little vindictive. "Let Katherine, the Emperor, and the Bishop of Rome say our marriage is against God's will now."
Anne winced. "Let's not think of them now," she beseeched him. "Don't let them spoil this perfect moment."
He looked at her, and then his expression gentled. "Of course," he nodded. "Let us enjoy our children for the gifts as they are." He looked down at Edward and Henry, who both appeared to have fallen asleep. "They look remarkably alike," he commented. "We may have to put some kind of protocol in place so that they can be distinguished from each other."
Anne nodded in agreement. It would be disastrous if a careless servant somehow managed to mix the two up. As the eldest, Edward was first in line to succeed his father. If he and Henry were somehow switched, then they could one day have a succession crisis. Something similar had happened in the reign of Edward I. Some of the king's detractors had begun claiming that his brother Edmund had actually been the firstborn child, and thus was the true king. Nothing had ever come of the claim, but still, it was troublesome to even have such whispers.
She looked down at William. He was a fair bit smaller than his brothers, and even his sister. Anne frowned, and commented on it, looking toward Mistress Collins. "Is Prince William healthy?" she asked. "He's so small."
The midwife stepped closer. "He seems to be, for all that he's not as big as the others, Your Majesty," she assured her. "His Highness has yet to show any signs of weakness, so it's quite possible that given time and nourishment, he will catch up to his brothers and sister."
That made sense. Still, that left the resemblance between Edward and Henry. Considering the problem for several more moments, Anne suddenly had an idea. "Nan," she said, "get my container of ribbons, would you?"
The lady-in-waiting jumped into action, opening a nearby chest. It took only a moment of rifling before she found the object of her search. Bringing it to the bed, she then held it open so that Anne could view its contents.
She stared at them for several moments, and then came to a decision. "Take a piece of white ribbon, and tie it around Edward's wrist. Then take a green one for Henry, and a red one for William." There would be no need for a ribbon for Elizabeth, obviously.
"Wonderful idea, Anne," Henry praised. "We should make certain that Henry and William's clothing always has a dash of green and red upon them. That will reinforce which prince is which."
Anne opened her mouth to agree, but instead a yawn slipped out. Instantly, Mary, Mistress Collins, and Madge appeared at her bedside. "Her Majesty should rest as often as she can," the midwife stated. "Her strength will return all the quicker for it."
Henry nodded. "Of course." He allowed the four women – for Nan had already cut out the three ribbons that Anne had asked for – to take the children and return them to their cradles. Anne watched in silence as the children were laid down carefully, Edward and Elizabeth in the royal cradle, and Henry and William in the Boleyn one. Another good way to maintain Edward and Henry's separate identities, keeping Edward away from his brothers and closer to his sister, Anne thought. No one would mix up Henry and William, not with William being so much smaller for the moment.
Henry had meanwhile occupied himself by assisting Anne in lying down again, rearranging her pillows so that she was more comfortable. Still smiling, he leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek. "Sleep, my queen," he whispered. "They will still be there when you wake up. I'm off to make sure the preparations for the celebrations are underway, as well as those for their christening."
Anne yawned again, but still managed a faint nod. Her eyes drifted shut, and no doubt she was asleep before Henry even left her apartments.
Fireworks were set off throughout Whitehall and the rest of London. Courtiers and nobles were all drinking heavily, toasting the birth of the royal children, most especially the three boys who now had the potential to one-day succeed their father when God inevitably called him to his reward. The common people were also reported to be celebrating, even toasting 'the Queen' for her remarkable achievement and wishing her long life and good health.
Just a few months ago, Chapuys thought sourly, those very same people had glared at her as she rode through the streets to her coronation and openly calling her a 'naughty whore'. No longer, though. Now they praised her with every bit of the same sincerity as they had with Queen Katherine, who was languishing away in a dirty and cramped castle.
This news might very well be a death blow, Chapuys thought worriedly. Her Majesty was not a fool who wouldn't be aware of what this kind of blow could do to her cause. She'd likely retain the staunch loyalists to her cause, such as good Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More, but once the news made it abroad, Chapuys couldn't even continue to guarantee the Emperor's continued support. Three boy infants was a powerful symbol to stand against after prophesizing that this scandalously patched up union between the king and the harlot would be cursed to be childless. The King of France might even try to capitalize on the births as well as the harlot's favor of all things French to secure an alliance between his country and England, and that was something the Emperor could not allow. He had the Turks to contend with in the east, and thus couldn't afford to have England and France united against him in the west. He might decide to suffer the blow to family pride and sacrifice his aunt and cousin for the sake of the security of his realm.
A part of the ambassador longed to not tell the good queen, to let her continue to live in hope, but it wasn't a possibility. The news would reach her quickly, even if it was only through her jailers. Better the news come from a friend than an enemy.
Taking a deep breath, Chapuys turned away from the celebrations going on outside his window. Walking over to his desk, he lit another candle and sat down, preparing to write a most regrettable letter.
Many of the older courtiers recalled the celebrations held for the birth of the young Duke of Richmond, the king's bastard son. They remembered the palpable relief on the king's part, as the boy's birth proved that he truly was capable of fathering a healthy, living son. That the boy would later die by the age of three, a victim of the Sweat, was neither here nor there. The festivities for the boy's arrival had been truly grand, as grand as any could be had even for a legitimate son, or so people had thought at the time.
The celebrations that were happening now, though, put those festivities to shame. Wine and ale flowed within the hall of Greenwich, just as ale and beer did in the pubs and other alehouses of London. Food was distributed throughout the great hall, music was played loudly and merrily by the court musicians, and the gunpowder was lit in the mock cannons, brought out for everyone's amusement.
Henry raised his mock pistol and took aim, firing toward the target that had been set up. It hit just to the right of center, but he didn't mind. His spirits were far too high to be spoiled by not hitting the exact mark.
Surely everything was going to change now. The people had been lukewarm, if not completely cold, in their reception of Anne as their new Queen, but surely now they would welcome her. She had done what Katherine had never done, had given them their future king; and if that wasn't enough, she'd done even more than that, having provided two additional boys to stand ready to take their eldest brother's place if the worst should happen.
He looked around at the room. People seemed to be enjoying themselves. His brother-in-law was seated at a table, surrounded by several other men of the court. They were laughing as George splashed more wine into their cups, his unsteady hand a clear sign of his intoxication. Henry laughed under his breath. It was just one instance of the delirious happiness that had overtaken the court.
Henry himself could only recall ever being this happy when he and Anne had finally married.
The noise of the celebrations reverberated throughout the palace, and no room was immune to the sounds. Still, that didn't stop Thomas Cromwell from continuing about his work, even if it was late and his staff had long since gone to join the merrymaking.
The birth of three princes at once may have been a miracle sent from God, but it was playing havoc in bureaucratic terms. The physicians and midwives had informed the king of the possibility of multiple children, and in turn, Cromwell had prepared for them, but he had been expecting twins, not quadruplets. Now the accommodations that had been made ready were suddenly woefully inadequate. Fortunately, the king had agreed that it would be best to keep the four royal children together in a single household during their tender years. It was far easier to augment what already existed, rather than having to create completely new and independent households for each successive infant.
Then there was a matter of godparents as well. The king had asked King Francis to stand as a godfather to his son, but with three princes, there was a mad scramble to find other appropriate men to serve as the spiritual councilors to the royal children. James V of Scotland would do for Prince Henry, Cromwell supposed, even if relations between England and Scotland were hardly the friendliest. That also left Prince William without a royal godparent, given that they could hardly invite the Emperor to stand for the child. Sighing, Cromwell glanced at the notes he'd been making. Perhaps it would do just to have the Earl of Wiltshire to stand up for the boy, given that the Queen had already requested that Archbishop Cranmer stand up for the Princess Elizabeth.
Nonetheless, for all of these practical considerations, though, it truly was a great relief that the queen had given birth to sons. As long as even one of those boys lived, then the great gamble everyone had taken would reap the hugest of rewards. The queen's position would be secure, her family would rise even higher in the nobility, and Cromwell himself would continue to have the king's high esteem. Such support would enable him to continue with his plans to deal with the corrupt religious houses that were spread over England like cankers.
Another gale of laughter caused Cromwell to look up from the papers he had been engrossed in. Looking around, he saw just how late it was. It was black outside, though punctuated by bursts of light as the fireworks continued to be lit. His office was lit primarily by a few sparse candles.
Sighing, Cromwell put aside the burdens of state, and pulled out a fresh parchment. Putting his pen to it, he shifted his attention to a far more agreeable pastime – writing to his son.
My Dear Gregory…
…celebrations here for the Concubine's deliveries are quite vulgar and border on the obscene. The king rejoices, calling the little bastards his legitimate heirs. I fear what this may mean, Madam. As painful as it is to admit, I can no longer guarantee the Emperor's full and continued support until he responds to my message concerning the births of these children. The king and many others here at court – in particular the Concubine's relations – are taking the arrival of these four brats as a sign of God's approval of His Majesty's scandalous relationship with the harlot. It is quite possible that the Emperor may be forced to make peace with the king, though I continue to fervently hope that he will continue to show his full support for you and your royal daughter.
I wish I had not been forced to bring you such disquieting news, Your Majesty. Would that God had only required me to tell you of the birth of a daughter, or of a stillborn child. Alas, God's ways are ever mysterious, and especially so now.
Your obedient and loyal servant,
Katherine of Aragon sighed wearily and closed her eyes, allowing the letter to fall into her lap. She wasn't a fool. She knew that dear Eustace was right. The birth of three boys was going to make many people waver in their support of her cause, no matter that she still truly believed that it was just. If the Boleyn woman had given birth to only a girl, then very likely Katherine's support would have increased because of the other woman's failure to deliver the son she had promised to the king and to the world. It was, however, not the case.
By God's grace, Katherine thought, four children, and three of them boys! This was a great setback for her and Mary. She knew her husband. In his eyes, this was a vindication of the arguments that he'd been making. No one would ever be able to shake him of the belief that God had rewarded him for his actions by sending him three sons all at once.
Pushing her tired, aching body out of her chair, Katherine crossed the room to the corner, where a small altar had been set up. Kneeling down, she crossed herself and gazed up at the cross that sat there, surrounded by candles. "Please God, help me," she whispered. "Help me to understand Your will. These sons that You have sent to this woman, these sons that You have denied me, is this Your will? How am I to regain the place to which You called me when You further harden my lord and husband's mind against me and our daughter?"
She remained there for some time, praying fervently and hoping that answers would come. She did not rise until it was nearly nightfall and her few remaining ladies brought her a light meal. It wasn't until then that Katherine rose up and turned away from the altar, soothed from her devotions but with no more answers than when she had begun.
The tenth of September was a beautiful day. The procession for the christening had grown exponentially, and had required some careful instruction and planning in order to provide for four babies as opposed to the projected two. Still, as Anne waited for the sounds of the procession making its way from the chapel to her apartments, she couldn't help but marvel at the continued buoyant spirits of everyone around her as well as the reports of the almost-frantic jubilation of those beyond the doors of her apartments. People were still celebrating the children's arrival, raising toast after toast to their health.
As for Anne herself, she was feeling a bit better since the birth. Just as Mistress Collins and Doctor Linacre had predicted, the more she rested, the better she felt. She was still not up to her usual strength and good health, but she had hope that she would return to that state, given time.
Besides, Anne thought, it wasn't as though she had cause to worry. She and Henry had everything they could possibly want. There was no need to rush. Smiling to herself, she murmured, "God is very good to us."
From his spot beside her, Henry chuckled, "He certainly is, sweetheart." He reached over and took one of her hands, bringing it his lips. Just as a loud voice penetrated her chambers, the king added, "Enjoy this, my darling. This is your moment."
She beamed at him, twisting her wrist to brush her fingers along his cheek. "Thank you," she said.
Neither of them had a moment to say anything else, because the doors to her chambers were thrust open. The court presenter stepped inside, proclaiming, "Their Highnesses, the Princes Edward, Henry, and William, and the Princess Elizabeth!"
The infants were brought in then, carried by either one of their godparents or one of their godparents' representatives. Edward was carried by the French ambassador, Henry by the Scottish ambassador, William by his grandfather, and Elizabeth by her aunt. They were brought to Anne's bedside according to precedence, permitting each of the four babies to receive their parents' blessings.
"God be with you, my darlings," Anne whispered as she kissed each of their bare heads. "You are England's greatest joy, and the light of my life."
May 19, 1536
Hatfield's gardens were rife with color and life beneath the warm summer sun. The gardens were immaculately well-kept, and would be a delight for any child to play in, as evidenced by the high-pitched squeals of laughter emanating from just beyond a small copse of trees.
Henry laughed. "They certainly sound like they're enjoying themselves," he said.
Anne smiled at him teasingly. "Perhaps we shouldn't interrupt them, but wait for them to come back to the house?"
He shook his head. "No, then they'll be too tired and cranky to want to see us. Perhaps they'll condescend to allow their parents to join them in their games."
They walked in companionable silence through the trees, eventually finding the source of the laughter. Their four children all had wooden swords in their hands and were apparently playing at being knights. Even Elizabeth was involved, most likely having refused to play the damsel-in-distress in need of being rescued from the fearsome dragon. Instead, she was waving her mock-weapon just as enthusiastically as her brothers.
"Give up the treasure, dragon!"
"You stole it!"
"It must go its rightful owners!"
"We'll trade you Bessie for it!"
Young Henry's comment made his siblings stop their play. Called Hal, he perhaps shaping up to be the most impetuous of the four children. Even though not yet three, he already had a tendency to say things unthinkingly. Henry hoped it would be something he'd grow out of. Or, at the very least, that his siblings would knock it out of him.
"You can't trade Bessie!" William, known as Willie, protested.
"The dragon'd eat her!" Edward, who was referred to as Ned, echoed.
Elizabeth didn't protest verbally, but the glare she sent in Hal's direction held all the promise of revenge if he didn't take back his hasty words.
Hal, though, clearly had a plan in his mind. "We'd rescue her before he could, and then we'd have her and the treasure!"
None of the other three looked particularly convinced. Indeed, there appeared to be an argument brewing, so Henry called out, "Perhaps the dragon would settle for honorable combat?"
"Or maybe some other kind of trade that did not include your sister?" Anne suggested.
All four of them whirled at the sound of their voices. Their eyes lighting up, they bolted toward them, dropping their toys in the process. "Mama! Papa!"
Henry grinned and knelt down on the ground, holding his arms out. Elizabeth and Hal leapt into his embrace, while Ned and Willie threw their arms around their mother, who returned their hug with just as much enthusiasm. Hugging his children, Henry was glad Anne had coaxed him into joining her on her trip to visit Hatfield. He'd been so busy recently that he hadn't seen them since January, when they'd come to take part in welcoming the Danish envoys who had come to sign a marriage treaty between their crown prince, Frederick, and Elizabeth.
"How are you, my little hellions?" he asked them lightly.
"Very well, Papa," Elizabeth answered. She often appointed herself the spokesperson for the four of them, taking her position as the eldest very seriously even at such a young age. Henry often laughed at the way all three of the boys seemed to defer to their sister without turning a hair. It so often reminded him of the way his eldest sister had commanded him and their younger sister when they were in the nursery together, playing the games she wished to play. It had irritated him to no end as a boy, but it was something he looked back on as an adult with fondness.
"You've been listening to Lady Bryan and not misbehaving?" Anne asked sternly. She had demanded regular reports from Lady Bryan ever since the children had been sent to their household at Hatfield. At the time, it had mainly been due to constant worrying over Willie's fragile health, but soon enough the missives became regular reports of the children's behavior as well as their health. As a result, Anne had intimate knowledge of what went on at Hatfield even when the two of them were busy in London and unable to visit.
There was a significant pause and the four children glanced at one another guiltily. Henry raised an eyebrow, curious as to what had gone on. "Why don't we go sit down?" he suggested. His knees were starting to ache a bit.
He and Anne led the children over to where several carpets had been laid down by the servants. Lady Bryan and the other ladies present curtsied and then withdrew a distance away, leaving the family in privacy. Once they were all settled, Anne asked, "Is there anything you wish to tell us?" The pointed tone in her voice said that there was definitely something they would do well to confess to, and not try to hide it.
Again, the four of them looked at one another. Then Elizabeth, again speaking for all, began to talk. "We were playing in the chapel. We knocked over some of the candles."
"But they weren't lit!" Ned added.
Henry flinched. That could have been a disaster, if those candles had been lit. A fire could easily have started and killed all of them. Straightening, he said, "You must all be more careful! You could have been hurt, or even killed. Then your mama and I would have been very, very sad, and what would we have done?"
Willie buckled first under such a thought, flinging his arms around his mother. "I'm sorry, Mama!" The other three quickly echoed his contrition. Their apologies were accepted, but Henry knew that he hadn't been exaggerating. If anything, he had understated how he and Anne would have felt if the worst had happened. In time since the children had been born, Anne had not conceived again, despite the fact that they shared a bed almost every night. When they'd consulted Linacre, the physician had admitted that multiple births sometimes caused damage to the mother's body, preventing her from conceiving again. He and Anne continued to try, of course, but nothing had yet come of it. Still, Henry was coming to accept that it was becoming more and more likely that Elizabeth, Ned, Hal, and Willie were going to be their only children. Thus, losing them would be a catastrophe.
The children were eventually allowed to return to their play, though this time they decided to play at being King Arthur and his knights. Ned had immediately claimed the part of Arthur, since he was the eldest boy, while Hal and Willie had decided to be Lancelot and Gawain. Elizabeth, predictably, had refused to be consigned to the part of Guinevere, and instead decided to that she would be the Lady of the Lake, the wise and gracious woman who gave Excalibur to Arthur and fought against the wiles of Morgan le Fey.
Henry leaned back against the tree behind him and wrapped his arm around Anne's shoulders. She cuddled closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder as she watched their children play. Henry too watched them, but his eyes were also drawn to where Lady Bryan had settled with the other ladies. Mary was among them, as she had been ever since the household at Hatfield had been formed. His eldest daughter had continued to join Katherine in her disobedience and refused to accept her bastard status, and so Henry had sent her to wait upon her new siblings, hoping she would eventually yield. She didn't, however, and kept obstinately insisting that she was his trueborn daughter while the four little ones were bastards.
Katherine had died in early January, still clinging to the idea that she was his true wife and Queen, though her supporters had been few. As he'd predicted, the birth of three boys at once had silenced many of his and Anne's detractors. The people began to show Anne the proper respect due to his wife and queen, even if they didn't show the affection that they'd had for Katherine. Henry hoped that would begin to change now that Katherine was gone.
Despite Katherine's death, however, Mary still refused to back down, and Henry admitted that he had been a little lax in forcing the issue. He too had his informants within Hatfield House, mostly informing him of Mary's doings and even of her meetings with Chapuys, who continued to visit her frequently. One thing that he was told of was Mary's behavior toward her siblings. Even if she maintained that the four of them were bastards, she still showered them with love and affection, something that they gave to her in return. Nonetheless, he knew he would have to deal with Mary, once and for all.
He just hoped it wouldn't have to be the harshest of responses. He had no desire to throw his eldest child into the Tower and charge her with treason.
Despite that one negative chord, life was going quite well for him, Anne, and their family. Elizabeth was affianced to Denmark, and would one-day be that country's queen. Henry had not yet arranged any matches for his sons. The Emperor had a young daughter, but although Charles had softened his stance on Henry's marriage since the children were born, he still hadn't made any real effort to reconcile or promote an alliance between them. Francis had only two daughters, but they were significantly older than the boys, and would be long married by the time Ned, Hal, and Willie were of an age to marry. Henry knew he could look elsewhere, perhaps some of the other northern countries like Norway, or perhaps to the German principalities, but he had made no definite moves just yet.
There was plenty of time, after all. No need to rush.
An outraged shriek caught Henry's attention and he watched as Elizabeth, Ned, Hal, and Willie began lunging at one another with their toy swords. They couldn't harm each other too badly. He and Anne laughed when Ned knocked Hal's sword out of his hand, and he promptly threw himself at his older brother. Soon, all four of them were a pile of squirming limbs as they tried to pin each other to the ground.
It was a good day.