Interlude: George Boleyn's Great Matter
The snows of winter had come unusually early this year. England had been whitewashed from all her sins, it seemed, and was now as pure as a maid again. One year after the Pilgrimage of Grace, silence had settled upon the matter and new stories had begun to be told.
The King had been blessed with another son. Joy and mirth had arisen in the entire country upon hearing of the birth of Prince Edward on the 12th of October 1537. Of course Henry was proud. Another son, another proof of his virility, another stabiliser for the Tudor dynasty. The prize for this gift however was a huge lie that would stain his conscience forever. He had promised to bear it since it was the lesser of two evils, but from time to time his conscience weighed him down.
Today was one of those days. To free his mind, he had decided to go out riding with the only man in his realm who shared in his secret: George Boleyn, his brother-in-law.
"How's my wife, George?" The King asked.
"Her Majesty is very well. She has told me that she would return to court for Christmas to preside over the festivities."
Henry nodded. "Then it is as it should be. A court needs its queen. And my son?"
"Prince Edward is as healthy as can be expected and will no doubt be a credit to Your Majesty one day."
They dashed through a small forest. Henry fastened up his pace to bring more distance between them and their servants. Only then did he dare to ask the question that was pestering his mind.
"And Lady Seymour?"
George sighed. "As Your Majesty knows her… ordeal has not been an easy one and she barely escaped with her life. The nuns at St. Agatha's however assure me that she will most likely recover fully by January or so," he replied and frowned. "But the hurt in her heart, I don't know about. I have seen the sadness in her eyes when I took… it… away from her."
"We had an agreement," Henry insisted firmly. "Tell me, George, will she keep this agreement?"
"I believe she has every intention to honour it. Your Majesty has been most generous to her."
Henry smiled. "Good. I am glad that she chooses to keep her promise and I can assure you that if she continues to be so conformable, I will prove my gratefulness to her in deed."
"How so?" George asked curiously and pulled his reins closer.
"I have made up my mind to pay for her dowry. Of course we must find her a suitable husband first."
George nodded. "A difficult matter."
"What do you mean? The Lady is still young and pretty, isn't she?" Henry returned frowning.
"That I did not refer to," George laughed. "No, I worry more for my sister's opinion on the matter. She would not take it lightly if a husband was chosen who… well, if she did not agree with the choice."
Henry sighed. "Indeed, indeed. I am glad that you reminded me of this possible danger," he said and patted the other man's shoulder. "For this reason, I am appointing you to find a suitable husband for the Lady and negotiate a dowry."
"Me?" George stopped his horse puzzled.
"Of course. You know Her Majesty better than anyone else, I believe, and I have also reason to suspect that you have gained insight into the Lady's person. I trust you to find her a good husband who will keep her safe and make her happy," the King insisted. "Can I trust you with this, George?"
Hesitation. George wanted to flee the responsibility, but he saw the determination in Henry's face. In a way, this situation seemed providential. He could have seen this coming from the first time he had visited Lady Jane. Perhaps it was fate. George nodded.
"Good," King Henry smiled.
"But…" George began and waited for the King to allow him free speech. "May I in turn make a suggestion to Your Majesty?"
"As you may be aware, some of the demands of the pilgrims are unanswered as of yet. Lord Cromwell is dead, so is Sir Richard Rich, but they still call out for the head of Cranmer," George carefully began. "Your Majesty has not yet taken position in this matter."
"May I then suggest a possible solution?" Again, George waited for the King to urge him to continue. "Perhaps the Archbishop can be spared a tragic fate. As far as I know, he is not guilty of any charge other than being suspected to be a heretic by the pilgrims. Most of all, they wish to see him removed from his post as archbishop and care not so much for his life. Their thirst for blood has been quenched."
Henry frowned. "What do you want me to do, George?"
"Convince Cranmer to abdicate and resign from his post as archbishop. It will satisfy those who deem him a heretic. For his own safety, he should not remain within the boundaries of England since there are some malicious souls who will never be satisfied until they can wade through the blood of their enemies. Perhaps Your Majesty could allow him to quietly retire to the continent, to Germany for example. His Grace has many friends in the German states and will surely be able to make a living there."
"Hm." It was to remain Henry's answer for a very long time of pause. Then, finally, he sighed. "I have to think about it George. It is not an easy decision to make, but I am very grateful that you have brought up this solution. Perhaps I will follow your advice. Yet in the meantime I insist that you dedicate yourself wholly to the task I conferred you early. Agreed?"
George nodded and smiled. "Yes, Your Majesty."
His head was crammed with thoughts and deliberations. The task he had been assigned to by the King was perhaps the most difficult in his life. Now, he had to please both the King who wanted a good and friendly husband for his former mistress as well as the Queen whose primary interest was to keep her rival under lock and key. It was virtually impossible.
Thus he had taken to the countryside to visit his sister and subtly find out what kind of husband exactly would suit her tastes. Much to his surprise, he found her sitting in the parlour with the new-born babe in her arms. Had he not known the truth behind all of this, George would have thought her to be a serene mother and in a way, she was. It was strange to think that the first child she was actually allowed a good deal of time with before it was taken from her wasn't her child at all.
"George," his sister greeted him smiling.
He bowed his head. "Dearest sister. How are you? And how is… he?"
"We are both well," Anne replied. "I am very glad that you should have come here today for you can act as my courier now. There is a letter that I want to be delivered to the Ki… my husband. It is on the table."
George nodded and bent over to grab the parchment. "May I know its content?"
"It contains a proposal for an act of Parliament. I intend to ask my husband to pass a new Act of Succession. Since the Bishop of Rome has now professed our marriage valid and lawful, this new act could cement the succession in the eyes of Europe more firmly," Anne explained.
"But the succession is already vested in your children with the… him," George returned frowning.
"There are some slight alterations. His heir apparent is of course our eldest son Henry, and if, God forbid, he should die without issue, it would pass to William. Yet if he were to die prematurely, this new act puts the Princess Mary as William's heiress presumptive."
Now, George was genuinely surprised. "Mary? Why would you name Mary as heir?"
"Can't you see that it would otherwise go to the child of that wench?" Anne returned darkly. "I cannot allow that to happen."
George shivered to hear her speaking so darkly about the innocent baby that was sleeping in her arms right now. "But Mary isn't your child either. She's Katherine's daughter."
"She's the granddaughter of kings, George, and I trust her. In a way she is my daughter also. I'd rather see her on the throne than ever allowing that wench to triumph over me," Anne insisted.
"And how will you justify this decision before Parliament? Why exclude a male heir in favour of a woman?"
Anne moaned. "Oh, what do I know, Henry's weasels will find a grounds! He can tell them it's God's will that Mary should succeed if two princes died before her or that Edward is too weak and frail or whatever the hell he likes," she ranted. "I don't care how this act is brought about, but it will be done."
The baby began to cry.
"Of course it will," George agreed flinching. "Of course. His Maj… after all, your husband loves his eldest daughter and has great respect for her talents. He might see it as an expression of his love for her."
"Yes he will," Anne agreed firmly.
George feigned a smile. His sister's determination frightened him even though he could understand her fears and emotional troubles. It may be an overreaction, but it was not altogether unjustified. His only hope was that in time, Anne's hurt over the betrayal would be washed away and she would come to accept this entire agreement in her heart.
"Anne, there is something else… Your husband has asked me to find an eligible husband for the Lady," he now remembered.
She looked at him with a mixture of anger and sadness.
"This task is a most complicated matter, thus I came asking for your advice," George continued.
"You must be careful," Anne warned him. "Though the Lady herself may be just a little fool, some of her family are not. Once she leaves the convent they will try and use her again. You must prevent that under all circumstances. Find a man who will keep her mouth shut. Someone of our trust."
He nodded. "I had thought so, too."
By now, Anne had managed to calm down the crying child and dandled him in her arms. She smiled softly, causing her brother to frown. Women, he thought. How can they be kind to a child and at the same time try to disinherit it?
"Is he a good child?" He tried for some light conversation.
"He appears to be as far as I can tell," Anne said nodding. She looked her brother in the eyes. "But I am afraid, George, so afraid. I fear that I shall always remember his mother when I look in his eyes and that I can never forget the truth."
George Boleyn was desperate. He had been writing names and drawing lines for hours now. His desk was a mess of books and pedigree charts that smothered him down. If only Cromwell was still alive! He had known absolutely everything about everyone at court, it seemed, and could have done in minutes what now took George hours and days to achieve. How was he supposed to find a man who met all the criteria when they were contradictory?
The husband had to be loyal to the Queen in order not to anger Anne, but if he were too loyal, he would probably mistreat Jane out of spite and thus violate the King's wish for a happy marriage. He also had to be a knight at the least and a man with enough backbone to keep his new wife away from the schemes of her own family. George sighed. There was no such man in England!
His best choice had been Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, but after his initial rejoicing he had discovered that Stanley had just gotten married. To a commoner! Jesus Christ, the times we live in… George had thought. His next best options were not even half as good: There was Sir Anthony Cornish, born a commoner but knighted for his efforts during the royal wedding. From what George could tell, Cornish was shrewd and loyal to both the King and the Queen, but he was also rumoured to be a notorious philanderer. No good choice for a woman like Jane, he found. The other option was Charles Brandon, the long-widowed Duke of Suffolk. He was of course more than eligible and loyal - perhaps too loyal. George knew of the friendship and devotion between his sister and the Duke and also of Brandon's contempt for the Lady's family. It was very unlikely that Charles Brandon would treat Jane with sufficient respect.
In a sudden rage of madness, George screamed and waved all the books of his table. He buried his face inside his hands. This past week's pressure and sleep deprivation finally took its toll on him. He sobbed silently.
By God, why is it so hard to find someone for her? Officially she's a virgin still, but everyone knows the King favoured her once. She's tainted in their eyes. Poor girl, for all her faults she does not deserve to be sold off to the highest bidder like second quality cabbage.
He uncovered his face again and stared into the fireplace. In a way he felt reminded of another Jane that had once played an important role in his life- Jane Parker. Of course there were differences between the ladies – at least Jane Seymour was able to smile – but generally speaking both of them were kind souls maltreated by fate. George bit his lip.
What has happened to you, George Boleyn? You were a ladies' man once, famous for your flirtatious skills. You had such big dreams. Now look at you. You're thirty-three, you have no wife, you have no children, and your path is paved with unhappy women. Yes, it may be just an odd coincidence. It may be. But perhaps it's your fault after all. Perhaps you're doomed to make women miserable.
Angrily he downed his cup and grabbed a staple of four or five papers with names of acceptable husbands on them. Damn this shit, he thought. I'll present them to the King now and God forbid he is not satisfied with it!
On a frosty day in December 1537, George was riding to St. Agatha's to inquire after his prisoner's health and inform her of her upcoming marriage. The bad weather and his iced beard reminded him very closely of his first visit to the convent. It felt as if a circle was closed here and now. He dismounted his horse quickly and rushed into the house to warm up his frozen bones. Much to his surprise, the Lady entered the main hall while he was still trying to thaw in front of the fireplace.
The last time he'd seen her she had barely escaped the scythe of death; she had been pale and weak. To see her walking on her own again was a tremendous relief.
"Your Grace," she said curtseying. "I had not thought to be visited by you again. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Matters of state, as usual," George joked. He was glad to see she actually smiled at his words. "Please, my Lady, let us return to your room and speak in private."
Jane nodded. "If you so wish."
In her room, both of them took a seat and said… nothing. It was a very awkward situation. Jane scrutinised her gaoler's face until she felt safe enough to ask the question that was burning her mind.
"The Prince Edward, you mean?" George finished her sentence. He could see the shine in her eyes once she realised he had kept his promise. "He is healthy and well and will soon go to Hatfield to live with his brothers and sister."
Jane crossed herself. "Thanks be to our Lord."
"But it is not what I have come here for," George went on and cleared his throat. "You are to leave St. Agatha's after Christmastide in accordance with the wishes of His Majesty. However, you are not to come to court but instead retreat to the estates of your new husband whom the King in his bounty has chosen for you." He waited for a response, but there was none, so he added: "Should you comply with the King's wishes and accept his choice, he will pay for your dowry and has also indicated that he will return some of the confiscated goods to your sister Elizabeth and her husband."
A sad smile came into Jane's pale face. "His Majesty is most generous. I would never dare to doubt the choices he has made for me."
George nodded. He was glad that she proved to be obedient. Over the past nights he had played through this scene over and over again in his head imagining the worst-case-scenarios that grew darker and darker each night. But here she was, smiling and agreeing.
"Will you not tell me about my future happiness, Your Grace?" Jane asked.
"Forgive me. Yes, I will. His Majesty has appointed me to search for and determine a suitable husband for you."
Jane smiled. "I'm glad."
Her words irritated him deeply causing him to lose the thread for a moment. He blinked a few times and cleared his throat again. "Well, in any case, His Majesty has agreed to my choice of Sir Anthony Cornish. Sir Cornish is a man of thirty; handsome and gallant. Perhaps you remember him as the hero who caught the Wedding Assassin."
Jane nodded quietly.
"As far as I can tell Sir Cornish is a good and gentle man and would make a fine husband for you," he said and paused for a moment. "Yet the King was determined to grant you a certain amount of freedom of choice and thus offers you a second candidate for your hand."
"Oh," Jane gasped. She certainly had not seen that coming. Curiosity got the better of her. "Who?"
George took a deep breath. "Me."
The sound of cracking wood in the fireplace.
"Of course I would never seek to influence or indoctrinate you, but let me assure you that if you made the latter choice, you would never lack anything nor ever have cause for complaints and within time, you would perhaps even be allowed contact with the Prince Edward since he would be your official nephew and…" George stopped himself. His nervousness was making him sound like a five-year-old imbecile. He sighed and began anew. "Lady Seymour, all I can say is this: Despite the unlucky events of the past, I have come to like and respect you and would gladly offer you a good life. However if you thought me your enemy and gaoler, I could understand your reasoning and would not object to it. In this case, I would wish you and Sir Cornish every happiness."
It took Jane a moment to find words, but while she was searching she gave him this wonderfully pure and guileless smile that he had grown to like so much.
"You are not my gaoler, Your Grace. Over these past months I was utterly abandoned and alone, yet you found it in your heart to forgive my actions and treat me with kindness. I believe that if ever I had a friend in all this world, it must be you," she said calmly.
George gasped at her smile. Had it worked? Had he made a woman happy for once in his life? He took her hand into his trembling hands and smiled.
"So you will be my wife?" He asked half-whispering.
Jane smiled. "I will."
AN: Short break until next week (real life) / until 1539 (in story). Hope you enjoyed so far and will shower me with your critique, suggestions and other reviews until I'm back ;) Cheers, Rahja