Author's Note: So this is a slight spin off of "King Arthur II" in which Prince Henry, Duke of York, enters the Church and climbs to the highest rank possible. As it is a spin off, I've kept with the original timeline laid out in my story, that is, I moved all historical events up eight years from the inception, so Arthur and Katherine would have married in November 1509 as opposed to 1501, with their ages being fifteen and seventeen at the time of marriage, so seventeen and nineteen at the opening of this story. Henry is born in 1500 (slightly different than my Arthur timeline), and Anne Boleyn, who will play an integral role, is 1506. It also means Elizabeth of York has survived, like in my timeline, and King Henry VII doesn't die until 1513.
I really hope you guys enjoy this, my friend gave me this idea and it would not leave me alone. I plan to tell it in three parts, but it may be shorter or longer depending on the ideas I come up with. It is a Henry and Anne centric story, with Katherine and Arthur playing supporting roles. The events of the first chapter go quite quickly, but they are needed for set up. I really screw around with history in this one guys, I'm not even going to try and claim to be accurate, and it's more than just England's history that I screw around with.
As usual, I claim no copyright. Showtime and History own these characters.
Please enjoy and review!
Once Upon a Time, Behind a Curtain in Whitehall
November 10, 1511
"God be praised, it is a boy!" As the midwife assigned to the Princess of Wales, her only concern had been that the baby was born healthy without any complications, but the new addition to the Tudor family seemed to her perfect. Mistress Smith smiled widely at the newborn, relieved that it was not harmed in any way by the stress that its mother had been under due to King Henry's stringent judgment and expectation that the young couple be fruitful and bring forth the future Prince of Wales, so he could die knowing that the next two generations of Kings had been born and thrived.
She had grown fond of the Spanish turned English Princess, the future Queen of England, and was delighted that Providence seemed fit to grant her a little prince. She was also excited at the prospect of feasts and jousts and celebrations, so rare in the Welsh marshes, and when Prince Arthur had taken sick a few years ago, they had become even more seldom, as the young Prince's health hung in the balance. With a son in the cradle, she was sure things would be more joyous around there more often, and she was sure that she would be able to bring forth a hearty commission for her family, and hopefully the prospect of servicing the Princess of Wales in the delivery of her next child.
Her thoughts were halted when Katherine of Aragon let out a loud sigh of relief and kicked her bloody blankets out from under her and held her arms out, her fierce look the most commanding she had ever seen the gentle Princess assert. "I want to hold my son," she demanded, her eyes dark with exhaustion but flaming with determination. She had waited so long for him to be born, kept under lock and key in Ludlow Castle under the King's Mother's rules, so strict and impossible to break, even as the lady in question sat miles away in Richmond Palace.
Her son was her firstborn, but not only that, her freedom, and her security. No longer could she be treated poorly by Margaret Beaufort or King Henry. She had Arthur's love, and now she had their son. The son she had yet to hold, she remembered with dismay, frowning as they carried it away from her to dress it.
She did not care if he was bloody or naked, it was her boy and she was so eager to see him!
"Catalina, they are washing him and dressing him, and your highness also needs to be changed and cleaned, to make sure that you do not get an infection," Maria Salines lightly chided, sparing a smile at her friend.
Katherine let out a heavy sigh but nodded, allowing her ladies to change her and the sheets, and then plait her hair into one long braid on the side. Maria thought her friend looked angelic, like the Virgin Mary come to receive the Christ Child. She had never prayed so hard for one woman before in her life, but the past six months, her thoughts were consumed by the Princess and her prayers that she delivered not just a healthy child, but that it be male.
There could be no question of the strength of her marriage now, as long as the boy continued to thrive. And Maria could stay in England and service her mistress, and not leave her or have to go back to Spain, which she was eager to leave behind her. Her home and her place was England now.
Katherine smiled with pride as the bundle was placed in her arms, and looked up with her with curious eyes. Her husband came in just moments later, his hair disheveled and his eyes full of love. "They tell me we have a prince. Is it true, my love?" he asked, his voice catching. He was worried his earlier illness would have left him impotent, but they told him it was a boy, a healthy boy, and his relief washed over him until all of his limbs felt weak. It seemed like such a perfect gift to have their first pregnancy be blessed with a son, but he was so happy that his father would trust him now, and come to love Katherine, as he loved her.
Katherine nodded vigorously, and at once, her husband was beside her, placing kisses all over her face, not caring about the impropriety or the solemnity of the moment. He loved his wife, and they were a family now, not just a couple brought together out of a union of two greedy kings. They had made their own fate, and nobody could tear them asunder, not if their boy thrived.
"The first King of our England was William the Conqueror, and he came to power through bloodshed and victory, much like my own father, Henry. Arthur was a king of peace, not war. Yet, to remember our origins, I think our son should be named William, as I am Arthur, for England to remember where we all came from," Arthur decided, kissing his new son's downy head, sporting a tuff of blonde hair. It was a fitting name for a prince of the Tudor dynasty, even if his father would expect Henry, in honor of him, but Arthur had a measure of sympathy for his younger brother, and did not want his new son to share the name of his eleven year old brother, probably the only person in England upset over little William's birth.
It would already be hard enough for him to accept little William would replace him as heir apparent to the throne, so Arthur would not further humiliate his headstrong little brother by making his new nephew share his name. The news would reach Richmond soon enough, and his tutor, Cardinal Wolsey, who was grooming him for the Church, would surely increase the vigor of his lessons now. There could be no question of him staying as competition to his new nephew. England had too many civil wars in its bloody history to risk his young and vibrant brother mustering an army and overthrowing them.
He loved his brother, but he was only eleven, and if he was allowed to stay in contention he did not know what kind of man his brother would grow up to become. Better for him to be in the Church as his father planned, and he knew that Harry was already enjoying his lessons, and Wolsey had expressed delight that his pupil was so eager and was able to so quickly absorb his lessons, thick and difficult they were.
Harry may have been his brother, but William was his son and heir, and if he needed to choose whose happiness he would protect, he knew it would be his son's.
"Prince William of Wales," Katherine stated outloud, rubbing her son's tuff of blonde hair. "May he be as strong and handsome as his father before him."
"I have no doubt he shall," he added. Then he thought to himself I shall make sure that there will be nothing in his way.
It was least he owed his son and his heir, and his beloved wife.
September 15, 1523
"I'm so proud of you. To be declared a Cardinal at twenty three! Such a smart, precious boy you always were," Elizabeth of York gushed to her younger son, straightening his gold doublet. She was well aware that her son did not want this life, not initially, but as a Cardinal, there could be no doubting the things he could accomplish. He was bright, and would service the Church well. But he was profoundly unhappy, watching his nieces and nephews be paraded as heirs to the throne, one after another once William had been born. She just wanted him to feel joy, at long last, because he deserved to.
When he became Archbishop of Canterbury, she watched him burn with unhappiness as he baptized his youngest niece and nephew, but his voice was clear and loud, and his mouth morphed into a charming Tudor smile, that his brother would be pleased enough with it. He had been a bishop at sixteen, in accordance with his royal blood given both the Archbishoprics of York and Canterbury, and now, after the death of one very aged Cardinal, he was recently back from Rome, invested in smart new robes and greeted as the prodigal son come back to England.
He had never wanted to be in the Church, Elizabeth reflected as her son once again smiled at her without the joy in his eyes that used to be so natural, but he was so talented. His writings had been praised, his defense of the Church and his condemnation of heresy were published widely just a year before, and he was so young, they always remarked, but a true Prince of the Church as well as of England. She knew that there were those who sneered at his rapid rise from the little Duke of York, to cleric then to Bishop, and now to Cardinal, but she knew her son was talented, and blessed. Though he was the second son, his natural princely gifts had never been able to be concealed, much to the chagrin of her husband, who lamented their birth order right before he had died.
But he insisted that their bright boy stay on track to become a member of the clergy, to service England through the ecclesiastical court, and to press on the interests of their country so overlooked by the Vatican, especially with the Tudor dynasty as new as it was. But most importantly, it would remove their son from the succession, and therefore remove the threat of civil war for a few more generations. Arthur had three boys now, and certainly at least one would be headed for the Church. It would now be the tradition of their family to ship their brightest off to service God as opposed to pursue their princely talents. It would keep them safe, and it would have to be the sacrifice made to keep the dynasty secure.
Henry would have made a great King, but God did not take away Arthur when he caught the sweating sickness all those years ago, nor did He render him impotent. King Arthur was meant to be, and then King William after him- never King Henry the Eighth. And perhaps her boy one day would sit on St. Peter's throne. But never would he sit on England's, or have legitimate children to threaten their royal cousins. Elizabeth had to count her blessings though, and to have both of her sons alive, and to have grandchildren, was all she could hope for now. And she had many to content herself with.
"They tell me Mistress Blount gave birth while I was away," Henry remarked casually, as if he had not set up a mistress in residence of his grand palace in York, heavy with his child, as he took his vows in Rome. "And that it was a boy. I trust mother and child are doing well?" he asked, turning to face his mother once he had donned his full regalia.
"Yes, Harry, the boy is healthy. She has given him your name, but his surname remains to be seen," Elizabeth remarked, trying to hide her discomfort. It was not uncommon for men of the cloth to have mistresses and children, but it was clear Henry was going to abandon her now that the child was born. She could only pray that because he was a servant of God, and therefore not supposed to have children, that he would allow his sympathy to outweigh whatever ambitions he had in the Church.
Not that she did not dream of seeing her son sit as the Vicar of Christ someday, if she could not see him marry and have children of his own that could be English nobility- but she also wanted to make sure that he watched over the children he had out of wedlock and they did not become sacrifices on the altar of ambition. She wanted to be a part of her new grandson's life, but she could only do that if Henry acknowledged the boy as his own, as much as a Cardinal could- providing for him, as his tutor Cardinal Wolsey had done for his own children. His mother could be married away quickly enough, but the boy was a Tudor.
"That will be seen to. Giving him the name Tudor would be likely to displease Arthur, but I'm sure some suitable alternative will be found, for recognition of this fine boy, as much as my new status will allow," Henry theorized, putting his mother's worries to bed. Though he no more love for Bessie, after she raved about him going to Rome without her and his refusal to recognize her as his official mistress, he no longer wished to have much contact with her. But their son, little Henry, was a different matter entirely. All of his brothers of the cloth had children, and provided for them well. He had the means now, even if Arthur did not approve of it, which was always a possibility, given the strains of their relationship as of late.
The Queen supported him though. Katherine had been a dear friend and ally to him throughout most of his formative years, making sure that he was always invited to royal events and honored and feted as a member of the family. Unlike Arthur, she did not view him as an immediate threat to William's succession; as she had the sense to realize that he never done anything but mind his place. She would be the first to wage war on behalf of her son, but she was much more prudent about Henry's place in the family. When Arthur invested the duchy of York on their second son, John, she convinced Arthur to give Henry the bishopric of York, something that he would always be grateful for. Canterbury was the closest thing he had to a birthright- York had made him rich and powerful- made it possible for the Holy Father to invest him with his new office.
Perhaps with Katherine on his side, little Henry would be okay after all. He had never intended on getting Bessie pregnant. But what was done could not be undone. God knew of his sins already, the child was innocent.
"And this tiresome banquet?" he asked, sipping his wine gingerly, trying not to get too drunk before it began. Years ago, when he was invested with his grand many clerical offices, titles, and duties, he had told himself he would not be a man which would find comfort in wine. But now, now that everything weighed so heavily on him when he was still so young, he found himself taking comfort in it more and more. He could not have a wife, lead an army, have children whom he could give the name Tudor to- but he could still indulge in wine.
"Your brother thought it was suitable, given your triumphant return home," Elizabeth answered drily. She had listened to her eldest son talk for months about how proud he was of his little brother, but it was a thinly-veiled relief. His twelve year old son William was now secure as heir, with an uncle in the Church, an aunt and a cousin in Scotland, an aunt in the Holy Roman Empire married to a cousin, and a mother and father in England, and his own blood was half-Spanish. His kin stretched far and wide through Christendom and Arthur could allow himself to feel pride. He had established England as a power, at long last, and he wanted the people to understand that Henry's emergence into the Church was the last tick in a long list of well-laid plans, starting with his father and culminating in his reign.
No matter what he said, he could not fool his mother, brother, or his wife. Arthur's celebration was not in honor of his brother, but in honor of himself, and his little prince, coming fresh from his household at Ludlow under the guise of welcoming back his uncle.
"I'm sure it's just another excuse to show off the children, although this time I need to look honored, properly. I'll do it, just to keep harmony for you, dear mother," Henry embellished, giving his mother a smacking kiss. "And they are very cute children, so I suppose I cannot blame him."
It was times like this he missed his sister Mary terribly, away in Spain now, playing at Empress. She would have kept him company at such an insufferable gathering, dancing with him, always telling the best jokes at the most boring and uncrucial moments. And the children always adored her, as well, she told them the best stories and kept them entertained as Arthur entertained ambassadors' suites for their hands in marriage, a business Henry was not quite at ease with still, especially after watching both of his sisters get shipped off for the good of England, he was not keen to see his nieces go at such young ages either. He missed Mary terribly. And his friend Brandon was never allowed at this events, especially after he disgraced himself by bedding his sister and attempting to marry her before she left for Spain, something he was lucky he still had his head for. Henry wept as he annulled their rushed union, and now Mary would not even write to him, out of anger at his betrayal. Brandon had forgiven him easily, but Mary was an ocean away and her pen was cold. He missed them both, each day, terribly.
His niece Mary, the eldest girl, was ten years old and he could only hope that she would be a comparable alternative to his sister and her namesake, and not shipped off to France by the time she was twelve. Nevertheless, he had his mother, who was always dignified and kept the family together, but she was usually forced next to Katherine and far away from him. At least tonight, he would be occupying the space of honor, hopefully next to her. He never felt at ease at these royal gatherings, as if the weight of the cloth was too much for them to accept. He was either a threat or an exuberant man pitied by the court.
When he entered into the Grand Hall at Whitehall, he was immediately greeted by Arthur, who descended his throne and gave him the ceremonial kiss on the lips after pulling him from his deep bow. "Your eminence, red suites you," he said, pulling him to the side so he could speak to him privately. Henry expected as much, he often had some kind of business to attend to with his brother who could press their family's matters in a realm that Arthur never felt comfortable with crossing into.
"I should hope it was better than purple, your majesty" Henry responded jovially, trying to keep this banter. He loved his brother, and thought he was a fine King, who had done grand things for England, but he still found him insufferable at times, purposely condescending and belittling- not to mention the constant paranoia. Their father had died when they were both still young enough to be free from his clutches. Yet, Arthur did not free Henry from his bonds. From beyond the grave, Henry felt his father's hands constrict around his neck, choking the life out of him each time he dressed himself in his vestments, and Arthur did nothing more but ensure it could be this way.
Each time Katherine or their mother would try and convince him out of it, he would fabricate a new threat, or Katherine would have another child. It was never that he distrusted him, so he claimed, but that England could not handle such confusion and another strong heir when their family was still so new to the throne. Henry wanted so badly to believe him, believe that he was acting in the best interest of their family, but all he felt was deep, unending resentment for the way he had been shoved aside like a footnote, while his brother was proclaimed as the Grand King Arthur the Second, the renewal of Camelot and of England's place in the whole of Europe. Henry felt as though half of the things he had accomplished would not have been possible had Henry not entered the Church as commanded, but he never dared voice those opinions. His vows included humility, after all.
"I think so," Arthur responded, motioning for him to come closer so they could speak more intimately even as the music overpowered the Hall. "I hear that our dear Holy Father lies ill in Rome currently," Arthur whispered. Henry nodded, with hesitation.
The information was sensitive, and only a handful of monarchs and clergy knew, as to not cause a panic. The illness had come on so suddenly, Henry half suspected it was poison. When he was nominated to the position of Cardinal, the Pope was in high spirits, and by the time he landed on England's shore once more, there were disturbing reports. He did not wish to go back on a ship and return to Rome for conclave, but he would if he must. He had no high hope for himself; he was the youngest in the college and English. The Italians would likely get their pope, Cardinal Medici most likely, with the bank of Florence behind him. He would not even allow himself that wish, which is why his brother's words shocked him.
"How much would you need to get yourself elected?" Arthur asked, and Henry had to gasp. His own thoughts aside, he was far too young. Even with the name Tudor and therefore the backing of English arms if there were ever another threat to Rome's safety, he was still just twenty three years old. The conservative conclave would never nominate such a young man to give him the opportunity to rule for that long. His own mortal flesh would be much affected, he shuddered at the plots.
"Some alchemy to make me age at least twenty years, brother, and then the entirety of whatever treasure you can spare without bankrupting the country," Henry wryly replied. He knew well enough what it would require, and he did not think it was something Arthur could give to him. Not yet, at least.
"I cannot age you. But I can give you treasure. I need you in that chair, brother, if not now then later. I have two daughters whose marriages are threatened by the Italian families, especially the Medici. I need them to have alliances that suite me, and only the Pope in Rome can make sure of that. I'd prefer it were you, brother, I know how well you'd do," Arthur explained, the paranoia in his voice disconcerting despite his high praise. Henry was uncomfortable with discussing this so publically, but he could not dismiss himself, so he knew he had to refute his brother's absurd suggestion quickly, so he could return to his wine and his bird.
"Your majesty, with all due respect, perhaps Cardinal Wolsey would be better suited for this task. The Pope is a position for life- I am far too young to be considered, regardless of my money or my royal brother's connections," Henry replied, hoping to edge himself away from this madness that had engulfed his brother. Surely he could not be so naïve to the way of the Vatican!
"I do not trust Wolsey the same way I trust you. He is the son of a butcher; you are a prince of both the Church and of this family. I do not think he would be embraced the same way a noble soul such as yourself could be," Arthur theorized, clearly already thinking this through. It was not that Henry did not want the office. He wanted it more than words could possibly describe- but the timing was off. "I will give you everything you need, just say you will do this bidding for our family!"
Henry wanted to give him what he wanted, truly, after everything that had transpired he wanted to see his family secure, he shared those ambitions like his brother did. But he wanted to be Holy Father under better circumstances, in his own time, after he had some time to establish himself. What his brother asked him for was impossible, and he would not spend himself on a task that would never be accomplished. He would not be that malleable of a servant to his brother- not when he was a servant of Rome now as well.
"Can it not wait? Do not think I do not share this ambition, brother, but it would be more prudent to wait until I am a true Cardinal and not simply this newly appointed foal. Let the Medici have their Pope. We will bid our time and resources and then in a few years, as he is not a young man, we shall have our throne," Henry responded. It was the only option they had. Arthur would be anxious to see his youngest daughter married to Spain, with Mary betrothed to the Dauphin just three years past, but he worried that a Medici Pope would not back his ambitions. Yet, if he ever wanted his brother to sit on the throne of St. Peter's, he would have to listen to him.
"I worry for Isabella's prospects," Arthur whispered, but Henry could detect his nod of agreement for their new plan.
"She is so young still, brother, only three. Promises are made and unmade all of the time. If the Medici sell one of their daughter's, do not think I will keep the promise of a dowry when I assume what I intend to take. She will be a beautiful girl, and a far more royal one than Catherine di Medici, and perhaps even richer than her as well," Henry expressed. His brother had been wise about his funds, hardly ever joining a war unless it would be in his gain. He was in so many ways their father's son, but far more beloved.
"You are right, of course. You are far too young to be Holy Father. Best to cultivate that cardinalship that is the best stroke of fortune this family has had recently," Arthur muttered, pulling Henry into a deep hug. "I missed you, truly!"
"You as well, brother. The children look so well, so healthy. Father would be proud," Henry remarked. He did not know their father well enough to make the statement with the full backing of truth, but he knew that like him, Arthur looked for their father's ghost in every hallway in Richmond, which was why they were in Whitehall more often than not. He wanted his father's approval, he waited for a calling beyond the grave to guide him, and Henry could imagine it never came- unlike Henry, who felt his father's gaze fall upon him with pleasure and oppression each time he presided over Mass or wrote his texts, the texts that made him Cardinal.
He supposed that was the price of being just a step closer to God than his brother.
"Did you see William? He is a hand taller than Katherine now, and soon he will be taller than me, and maybe someday, you!" Arthur exclaimed with joy, the pride so evident in his voice. Henry felt a pang of guilt run through him- he had still not seen his namesake and son. He wondered whose features he shared, Bessie's fair one or his darker ones. There was no doubting the boy was his, Bessie had been his true mistress for many months and was unmarried, a poor choice on his part in hindsight. He swallowed deeply, praying Arthur did not notice the hurt look on his face.
"He is a fine boy. I do hope to preside over his marriage someday soon," Henry responded, trying to enthuse his tone. If his brother noticed how flat it was, he did not comment.
"Ah well, back to your bird, and the wine you so generously brought back from Rome. I trust shortly you will leave our shores once more for the eternal city, but I would have you drunk here first," Arthur remarked, leading him back arm and arm into the Grand Hall. "And my wife has just gotten a fresh crop of ladies. I can only gaze, not indulge, but I do not think they would mind getting underneath those skirts of yours, brother," Arthur lewdly joked, and Henry tried to look scandalized, but he mostly just managed to blush.
Arthur was the ever faithful husband, as to never upset Katherine during her great many pregnancies. Henry knew his brother was weaker after his teenage ailment in any case, but he knew that it was motivated out of love for his wife and children more than his own physical failings. He marveled at their love, envied it so deeply. He had many women, something he was glad Arthur did not see threat in (what could the bastard son of a Cardinal do to the Prince of Wales truly?) but he had never loved. He never allowed himself to love. It was for the poets and the Kings and the knights, not for the clerics.
If Arthur felt guilty about their fortunes being so diametrically apart, he had made up for it by sometimes even arranging his affairs, and always keeping his court full of the most beautiful women. Perhaps it was easy for him, with the knowledge that any children he had would be bastards, and any woman he loved and was faithful to could never be called his wife. It plagued Henry. He would never seek to curb his lust, not when so many ladies were so willing and eager, but he could not open his heart.
He sat down next to his mother and kissed her hand. "Arthur wants me to be Pope. I convinced him to wait until the next one passes and goes, but I have his backing," Henry expressed, and he smiled at the glee on his mother's face. His fate weighed just as heavily down on her. As he allowed himself to absorb his mother's joy, the full weight of what had just been accorded behind a curtain in the Grand Hall of Whitehall Palace hit him with full force. He would be the Pope someday, with his brother's blessing, and most importantly, his wealth. Whatever it took, they would be steadfast in seeing it through. His mother's gleeful laughter and her tearful kissing of his face brought him out of his reprieve.
"Mother we must dance!" he exclaimed suddenly, pulling her out of her chair and swinging her merrily around the floor, indulging in the raucous applause and cheers of those courtiers around him. For the first time since he had begun this journey from Duke to Cardinal, he let out a true laugh, echoing from wall to wall. His heart felt lighter and free. He did not feel as burdened any longer, and perhaps it was the shock value of the exchange which had just occurred that did not allow him to realize this sooner, to not understand the importance of what had transpired that evening. He felt the resentment of his clerical prison break, like the chains from a lion.
The thought had just occurred to him; after all, Kings must answer to Popes, not the other way around.
Four Months Later
"The Cardinal will now be looking for a new mistress, now that Bessie Blount has been married," The Duke of Norfolk stated, as if he had no interest in the movements of Cardinal Tudor, just as a neutral observer. Only Anne Boleyn could see the curled smile hiding beneath his façade of neutrality, and her uncle's next words assured her of his plot. "Our family must be able to put somebody in his way. Arthur will never take a mistress, after all, too many have tried and failed there- but Cardinal Tudor is at the height of his brother's favor, and of Rome's. We must make sure that one of our girls is there to greet him on his return from conclave."
Anne sighed, looking at her cousins and sister wearily. This conversation bored her, just as it did in France, when her father came to tell her sister that she would be forced into King Francis' bed. It never had much to do with her anyway, just like it did now, and all she felt was pity at her sister's nervousness. She watched Mary eagerly wring her hands, fingering her newly encrusted jewel wedding band. Her sister did not want this, but Anne knew that she was the prettiest out of the four of them sitting there. Her father always managed to get them included in the Howard dealings, something that Anne knew could only be good for her family's ambitions, but this felt so wrong.
Cardinal Tudor was a man of God. She knew that did not stop men, any man, from indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. But she did not feel like her family should be purposely pushing temptations of lust in his way. Another failing of the Catholic Church, and a need for reform, was that families like hers were able to seduce a man of the cloth with a family meeting and a plot. The Church kept poor families away from the word of God by refusing to translate the Bible into a common language, but rich ones like her could get even richer by using their daughters as bait for so called Holy Men. It did not matter that the Cardinal was the King's brother, or that he was undeniably handsome with one bastard son already in the cradle- he was not a man to be toyed with pretty bosoms.
She had read his works, and although her heart was tended towards Reform, she admired his thoughts. She did not think that it was good for her family to try and hurt him this way. She knew of the stories, the Cardinal was a passionate man, and she remembered Bessie giggling as she read each of his love letter's out loud to Mary when she was still in the Queen's Household. Anne always left the room. It was as if she was forcing her lover to strip before all of them, to bear the contents of his soul.
Mary would make him happy, though, she was sure of that. And she supposed that was well enough for her. She was fond of Henry Tudor; he was a friend of her brother's before he left to get invested in Rome, when he was still just a bishop in those days. She remembered being invited to go riding with them, and though the handsome brother of the King never noticed her, or took much note of any girl that travelled with them at all, Anne was charmed by him since she had returned from France three years ago.
When she was a girl, too, she had played with him in Richmond's garden, when her father was receiving his blessing from the old King Henry to be his diplomat to the Low Countries. The Prince of Wales, Arthur, before he had become a father and a King, saved her from drowning when their game got out of hand- and when she returned, the King had still been endeared by her, claiming that she had helped prove himself to his father and grandmother when he was a young man. She felt a connection to that exuberant little boy still, that chased her straight into a pond, and she did not want to see him hurt by her family's scheming.
And despite herself, and her own jealously, she did not want to see Mary get hurt again either. One look at her sister's pale face told her that well enough- and it wasn't right anymore. She had been married a year into their time in England, to a knight named William Carey. They had a daughter together and she knew that Mary prayed for them to have a son each night, and not to be forced into another royal's bed, no matter how handsome he may be.
She prayed that her family would stop this folly and leave her poor sister in peace, which is why she cringed at her father's next words.
"It should be Mary, then. She has already caught his eye; I saw it travel with her when she was at the banquet celebrating his return. She is married too, and experienced. Everybody knows she was with King Francis. He won't have to worry about marrying her off once they are finished," Thomas Boleyn remarked to his brother-in-law, an eager smile on his face. He was the upstart of the Howard family, after the beautiful Elizabeth Howard had married him out of love and not because of his weak family connections, and he was determined to continue to prove to his brother by law that even though his sister had died, her husband was still worthy of the Howard spoils, and his children worthy of their maternal connections.
"What of Anne?" Norfolk asked, turning to gaze at her with neutral, cold eyes. Anne could not help but flinch.
"No," she muttered, weakly. When he looked at her in surprise, she elaborated, her voice growing harder and stronger. "No, I won't. Cardinal Tudor is a good man; he does not deserve to be used this way."
"Anne should not be his mistress, your grace. She is not yet married. He will not want another unmarried mistress," Boleyn remarked, shooting his youngest daughter a look of warning. He loved her and was not willing to throw her down this path, but she would not help her cause if she continued to defy her powerful uncle. "Besides, she is too plain for him. He prefers girls like Mary." He prayed his favorite would forgive him for speaking so lowly of her. But he had to convince Norfolk to move away from this plot- he would not let his brightest child be used like a whore. It would be a waste. He only took her with him to let Norfolk be aware that he did have a younger daughter who needed to be married, a decision he now regretted.
"He used to prefer girls like Mary," Norfolk responded, walking towards Anne and placing his hand on her chin. He traced the skin around her eyes. "You could keep his interest prolonged, couldn't you, with those eyes of yours? And that beauty? And that tongue? And that mind?"
"And what of my prospects if I fail to keep his interest? Will I be like Bessie, married to a nobody, with a bastard son that nobody gives two figs about?" Anne asked sharply, and to her surprise, Norfolk laughed.
"Your father told me you were much more intelligent than that. You will keep his interest, and you will be made into the Pope's Mistress, not a Cardinal's, do you understand girl? He will be the next Holy Father, and you will be his whore, and you will be lavished with every comfort and riches, and we will be better for it. It is a position of immense influence, but if we wait too long, it will not be one of us, but another family that takes this opportunity," Norfolk explained, his tone condescending. "Your father tells me you are the smartest of your siblings, of this entire family. Prove it. Ensnare him long enough so you can travel to Rome with him. Make him love you. I wanted somebody clever, not beautiful."
"And how do you know he will be Pope?" Anne sharply asked. She was not willing to take this task simply because there was the thought of being the Pope's mistress, something she also found unappealing. This was a man of God. She was a woman, she wanted a husband, legitimate children, and a husband with a title perhaps, with a grand library and a position at court- she was not unambitious as such- but to be the Pope's mistress was not something that she had planned on doing. Where was her protection in law? Where was her stability? She would have to make sure he loved her long enough to keep her with him for however long it took for him to become Pope. The idea of it was exhausting and discomforting. Not to mention the insults that would be heaped on her, like they were once heaped on Mary.
"Because he is the King of England's brother and they love him in Rome already. Once this Medici passes through he is almost assured. They are calling him the prodigal prince of England and Rome. He has almost all of the Church's holdings in England and he will have the wealth and connections in five or so years needed," Norfolk predicated, and Anne could see the pieces in her father's head place with merciless precision. He would not fight for her any longer.
Like her, her father and brother were reformers. They had spent many an hour reading over the new works that she was getting sent from France, from her former mistress, so generous considering her low station in comparison. They wanted to see changes just as much as she did, though she was not sure what it would do to further her father's ambition, except place him at the front of reforms that would never come to pass with Katherine of Aragon sitting on the throne alongside the King. Yet, this would be an opportunity for all of their ideas to come to fruition by using her to seduce a Prince of the Church.
If she was not so horrified, she might laugh. She had just as good of ideas as her brother, but he would never be forced to lift up the skirts of a Cardinal just to further their family's goals.
"And what if I refuse?" Anne asked, daringly. She knew that she would have no choice. She was trying to reconcile herself to the idea, but she did not think she could. It made her feel nauseous. She felt Mary shift next to her, and place her hand over hers, squeezing in comfort. When she turned to look at her, there were tears gleaming in her eyes. Were they in pity or relief?
"We'll send you to Ireland, to marry the Butlers, as planned. I hear the boy only has one lame foot," her uncle said sardonically, and she heard her Howard cousins laugh. She whipped her head to face them, her eyes fierce with rage. They immediately stopped. "What did you expect Anne? To be free? You are a member of this family. You will advance our interests or so help me, you will be cut off from the name Howard," Norfolk threatened.
Anne felt her tears well but said nothing as the rest of the Howards shuffled out, leaving her alone with her father and sister. Mary held her arm and she stood up, her legs shaking in anger and fear. She was only seventeen and she felt her world come crashing down around her. It took her everything not to faint. "How could you do this to me?" she asked her father, her voice shaking.
"This is the best thing for our family, darling," her father softly comforted, wiping the tear from her face. "You will be happy with him, you'll see. He is very intelligent and passionate, he will treat you well and love you," Boleyn attempted to convince her, kissing her forehead. He wished it could be different, but he knew Norfolk was right. Anne was the most intelligent of the Howard children. She would not have been happy in a normal marriage or a normal life. She could do great things this way, with Cardinal Tudor wrapped around her enchanting finger. The men at court may have found Mary more beautiful, but their eyes traced Anne as she joked in court, or danced, or sang, or played her music. She was so accomplished and clever. She was the only who could do what Norfolk wanted.
The King himself would have jumped into bed with her had she asked, Boleyn was certain. A future Pope would have no chance to resist her charms.
Norfolk was no reformer; he was as devout as the Queen herself, despite his laundress mistress. But he had no idea their family's sympathies; they had kept them very quiet. He wanted this for the prestige of having a Howard girl beside the Pope in Rome- with the family on the entire stage of Christendom. If Anne could give him bastards, they too would be clergy and Dukes and leaders of armies and the girls perhaps even Queens. If another family got the chance to become Cardinal Tudor's official mistress, his wife in all but name, they would have lost a chance to use Anne in the way he was sure God intended.
Boleyn believed his daughter could be great enough to see at least some of the reforms they wanted to come straight from the Vatican. He just needed to convince her that this was worth it, though he knew she felt her honor was slighted and being sacrificed at the altar. His daughter was moral, and she abhorred the abuses of the clergy. She would be taking advantage of a system in which she felt disgusted by. But she was ambitious too; he could see it burning beneath that exterior of goodness. She needed to take advantage of this opportunity or else be married to somebody who did not deserve her.
"The reforms, Anne," Mary muttered as her sister began to convulse with sobs. "Think of what the Duchess would say if you were the Pope's Mistress and you commissioned an official French bible. And they would call you La Bella Anna. You'd be the beloved of God's highest servant on earth," Mary said stronger, and that made Anne stop crying and look up at her with astonished eyes.
"Can you not see the hypocrisy? I will damn my soul by lying in bed with a Cardinal, and then a Pope, and never truly marrying! My ambition and passion does not reach that far," Anne expressed.
"My dear daughter," Boleyn began, taking her into his arms, grateful she did not fight. "Have you not read Dante? All of the interesting, notable people of this world are damned."
Anne could not help but laugh.
A Year Later
My Dearest Heart,
My heart swelled at your last gift, but it is nothing without your presence. I command that you bring yourself at once to Whitehall, or if there is no response to this letter, I will come to Hever Castle, where have you relieved yourself of the Dear Queen's service to be of aid to your sister- though it keeps you so far away from me! What did I do to upset you thus?
I offer you my love, though I know it is not truly what a woman like you deserves, but it is all I can give, impoverished by my office. And I long to be in my sweetheart's arms. I long to hear your sweet voice read Ovid or see that beautiful neck of yours wear my gift.
I miss you and my heart burns for you more than I ever thought was possible.
Your loyal and humble servant,
Cardinal Henry Tudor
Anne had reread the letter for the fifth time in the past three weeks, and her father had just informed her that at last, Cardinal Henry Tudor, Archbishop of Canterbury and York, Papal Legate of England, Lord Chancellor, and Prince of England had sent a messenger to inform the Boleyns of Hever Castle that he was coming to command his daughter to come back to his brother's court in person. Anne could not help the grin engulfing her face.
She did not think she would actually love him. She thought that she would always resent him for what her family had forced her to do, to become. Yet, each time she would dance with him at Court, each time he would walk with her in the garden of Whitehall, each time he had personally invited her and her family to hear his mass at York, or even each time he had lead the entire Court to Mass and prayer throughout the course of the year, she felt her heart grow fonder of him and her body lust to be with him alone at night. She had grown to love him, to the worry of her father and uncle, but to her extreme delight.
She had not given in to him, thinking it a better strategy. She knew that this was a game in which her purity would never be kept. But she would not give herself to him without the assurance that she would have his protection. He had tried, so many times, to get her to come to his chambers, sent so many messages, but she had sent each one back, and only recently had she begun to keep his expensive gifts. She would never be his wife or any man's true wife as long as this plan was successful, but that did not bother her. There was no man in the world in which she would rather give herself to, to spend the rest of her days with.
The moment she realized she was truly in love with him was just a few months ago, when he introduced her informally to Elizabeth of York. His mother was so kind to her, treating her as if she was truly her son's wife and not some prospective mistress. She knew Henry loved her, and would have married her if he was still the Duke of York. And she would have married him if he were a pauper in the street. The frightened her, but awoke something deep within her. She had left. She had left to her family's home because she was so afraid that this was not what was supposed to happen.
Her brother was sympathetic but still told her father and uncle of the development. They had warned her to keep her heart cool and to play her part, not to fool herself. But she did not fool herself. She knew what her true feelings were. It occurred to her when she realized she was penning love letters to a Cardinal, looking forward to when they could walk together alone and debate matters of theology, of literature, of Court gossip, of anything in truth. She had never felt such a true connection to another person in her entire life. She had never had many friends, just her siblings and a few girls in France, but in England, Henry Tudor was her truest, dearest, and most beloved friend.
She had cried one night when she realized she would never be able to truly be with him in the way that she had always dreamt of. She resented her King for what he forced his brother to become. But it only strengthened her resolve to make sure that once they were intimate with each other, that they were as good as husband and wife, and that when he became Pope, she would go with him to Rome. It was no longer because of her family's ambitions, or even because of her own desire for reformation, which she had hid so well from her beloved even in their stringent of debates. It was because the idea of him leaving her hurt her heart so badly.
Which is why the last two months at Hever had been absolute torture, even as Court exhausted her and she had missed her heavily pregnant sister- she just wanted to be with Henry. Only he understood her. He too, had been overlooked in his family, as all three of his siblings had been monarchs and he had been shoved into the clergy because he was a threat, despite being his mother's favorite. And while Anne was her father's favorite child, she too had been forgotten about too, as her brother received a grand education and her sister was sent to France to be finished, Anne was sent as an afterthought and was never believed to have amounted to much of anything. They had been sacrificed for their family's ambitions. Anne had expressed to him their love was forbidden, though it was anything but, but if he knew it was encouraged, it would wound him.
He could never understand the depth of her family's ambition, but she felt comforted by his own stories of how he too had been used as a pawn. Even royalty could feel isolation. She lay in his arms and listened to him talk about his childhood all day, watching the heavens above them, and she had never felt more content, even as she lay on a sea of red Cardinal's robes and clung to her lover's jeweled cross, a reminder of the barrier that would always lie between them. It was the most at peace she had ever felt, a thought that once would have filled her with guilt but now just made her feel alive.
"You cannot keep him waiting much longer," Mary expressed warily, resting on a chair in Anne's chamber as she began to pace nervously back and forth. "He will grow tired of the game. The Seymours have brought both of their sisters to Court; do not let them sink their teeth into the man that you love."
Anne sighed and sat down on her bed. Mary would not understand that they were truly in love, but she knew she had a point nonetheless. He was a passionate, overzealous man, in everything that he did. He would not want to wait for her maidenhead any longer, not after he had expressed his commitment over and over again to her, more so than any other man of the clergy was willing to do, he reminded her once, his hug and kiss a gentle warning of what she would lose if she kept him waiting much longer.
Love was not something that she could count on forever, her father and uncle had warned her of this, and his impatience had ground down.
She heard the door open and her father's voice, over enthusiastically, welcome their honored guest. Anne steeled herself, shooing Mary from her chamber hurriedly after giving her little niece a kiss, and stood ready. She had worn a simpler gown, she wanted him to see her for what she was- a girl who loved him, openly, not a seasoned courtier with a plan or a game. Still, she made sure she wore a gown that emphasized her breasts. Henry had always adored them.
"Your eminence," she said clearly, sweeping into a confident curtsey.
"Oh my love, I've missed you," he exclaimed, kissing her hard, sweeping her feet off the ground. She clutched his robes fiercely, inhaling him. She could feel his smile.
"I'm so sorry I left," she said, no longer sounding as confident as she wanted to look.
To her surprise, Henry sighed and began to pace the length of her room. "I had wanted to come here to admonish you for daring to leave me, but the truth is I cannot offer you anymore than what I have given. I will make you my official mistress, and all of court will recognize you and honor you as I wish. But I cannot make you into a princess, which I have longed to do the moment I laid eyes on your celestial face. And you deserve nothing else. If you wish to abandon this folly, I would not stop you any longer," Henry's voice was heavy as he stated the truth of the matter. She reached out to touch his arm, and smiled at him when he looked up at her, stopping his pacing.
"My love, I want you more than I could possibly express. I want to be with you and by your side. But I have no protection. My father has only recently been made a Viscount, and my family is of little means. I just want to know that you will love me for the rest of our days, as if I was your wife," Anne argued, pulling him down next to her on her grand bed. "Nothing would please me more than being by your side when you go to press your suite in Rome. But how can I know this will come to pass? One man's affection, strong though it may be, is not a solid insurance."
"What can I do to show you that I have never loved any other woman, nor would I dream to love another again?" he asked, and Anne stared pointedly at his Cardinal's ring. He could not give her that, but she wanted one just like it. One that showed that while she was the whore of Cardinal Tudor, and then to the Pope of Rome, she would have his protection as well, and so would their children, unlike poor Bessie Blount's son, often forgotten. She did not know how to be an ecclesiastical wife, but she would make her own rules.
To her surprise, Henry pulled one out from underneath his skirts. She smiled as he placed it on her finger. "The highest form of blasphemy," Henry joked. She laughed; of course he would have thought of that as well, they were often of one mind. She watched as the red reflected off the light and she felt her smile before she felt his lips on hers, pushing her backwards onto the bed. "You are now my wife, not before God, but before me." The symbolic ring felt hot on her finger, but it did not matter as he began to unlace her, kissing her neck passionately. Damnation was sizzling on her body, and she no longer cared.
"Are you not God, my love?" she asked after a long pause, before they committed the deed that would seal her fate, and his. It felt like a consummation before God, but she was not sure if the Lord had to deal with these matters. Satan did not feel like he was in this room with them either, but Eros, piercing them. It may have been in her family's plot to make her an ambitious mistress, but she felt like this was fate of the erotic, not the political, kind.
Henry laughed, to her joy. He was not angry at her for speaking so boldly. Perhaps he was the only man in her life that would not be. "Not quite yet, my love. But in time, He and I shall speak the same." Neither of them said anything more, engrossed in the solemnity of the moment.
In post-coital contentment, hours later, when the sun peaked behind the clouds, Anne lay in the arms of a royal Cardinal and future Pope and thought and so shall I speak with God's authority.
Six Years Later
Henry watched as Anne's gold gown reflected off the sunlight, chasing their little Elizabeth around the garden of her home, her palace, that he had built for her. Their son was in a cradle, shielded by a canopy, next to him as he read over his documents from Rome and from London. Their laughter distracted him periodically, and he longed for the hour in which he could shed his robes and his papers and play with his daughter and Anne. The sun felt so hot today, so stifling, as did his offices.
He called for his servant to come to fan him, when a document bearing a red seal caught his eye, buried underneath the latest bill to dissolve a religious house, long corrupted. He was going to ask when it came but the boy was gone to get his feather fan. He opened it gingerly with a sharp blade, and felt his entire body tremble with fear and excitement as he read the contents, spelled out in rushed Latin.
"Elizabeth, go inside!" he called, and his daughter protested, but he heard Anne shuffle her away before she came to his side at once, kissing his temple and reading over his shoulder. He felt her sharp intake of breath through her gown. After six years of life together, he could tell when she was feeling the same as he.
"Is it time then?" she asked, her voice never sounding more beautiful. He moved to kiss her passionately, placing his hand on her belly, shortly to swell with child. He almost felt loathe at his next words, because of the life that they had somehow managed to build against all odds, but he knew it was what they had been preparing for as long as they had their pseudo-marriage.
"It is time for us to press on our suite to Rome, then, my love."
Wow, okay, so this is clearly not a new chapter of Arthur. That will be after finals week. This is a product of me binging on the Borgias and the Tudors all around the same time. There will be two more parts to this- let me know how you like it, and what else you would like to see included. It literally would not leave me alone. Please let me know what you thought! Until next time, Marissa.