Authors: Diane Haeger
“Oh, my dear, I beseech you, do have a seat.”
Also bad, Jane thought, since terms of endearment between them were as rare as jewels.
“Best to be quick about it,” Margery said stoically, yet still her face held her true feelings.
Jane’s heart began to race. Was it Edward or Thomas? Had something happened to her brothers? Father, perhaps, since he was not here with them at the moment? This could not be good.
“I would prefer it if you were quick,” Jane said.
“’Tis Master Dormer,” Margery said.
Pray God, no!
Jane shot back to her feet, visions of the sweating sickness seizing him, or an accident, like what had befallen Sir Francis, flashing in her mind. She could not speak at the mere thought of it.
“He is engaged to be married.”
Jane nearly laughed out loud, thinking for an instant that, of course, it was she to whom he was engaged. But then her mother reached out in an uncharacteristically maternal gesture and Jane’s heart nearly stopped.
“There is someone else,” she said gently, but Jane felt a huge, thunderous roaring in her ears.
Had she not just been with William, bound up in his embrace? Love between them promised? But none of it was real. William’s promise was as empty as her heart felt now. Swiftly, her shock became anger, beating at her to react. But she did not. Jane even held back the tears that threatened to undo her. She was stronger than
that. Oh, how court had changed her! Disappointment. Experience. Heartache. She was scarred. Embittered. But she was emboldened as well. Jane would find a way to persevere, and she would survive this latest heartbreak.
After all, it was true what they said: appearances really could be deceiving.
he tune had changed with the passage of time, but not the players.
Anne Boleyn had been queen for only two years following Katherine’s exile, first to the More, then to Bucken and to Ampthill Castle. But after the disappointing birth of a daughter, a stillborn son followed in 1534. Each chipped away at her influence as well as her hauteur. Easily bored, with no new challenge at hand, Henry for his part had endured Queen Anne’s second pregnancy by indulging in a discreet affair. No one, even the great gossips, seemed to know the woman’s identity.
Over the years, Jane’s parents received a steady stream of news from Thomas and Edward, both of whom remained in positions of increasing prominence at court. While the details fascinated her, Jane was glad to be away from anyplace where she might be reminded of William—and all she had lost.
She knew he had been swiftly married off to Mary Sidney and that he had gone to work for the increasingly powerful Thomas Cromwell in London, but that was all. She could not bear to know or
hear more. The designs of her life were once more at Wolf Hall as a helpmate to her aging parents. And so she believed she would remain.
Then one gray and wet winter’s day, as melting snow lay in patches on the ground, all of that changed when the king and a small group of companions stopped unexpectedly at Wolf Hall on their way back to Greenwich from a hunting trip.
“How fare you, good cousin?” Francis Bryan asked Jane as they embraced, his smile brightened by genuine affection.
“Apparently better than our sovereign,” she answered in a low voice as she glanced over his shoulder at the pale and limping king, who was being tended to near his horse.
The scout had explained to Jane’s father that His Majesty had taken ill with one of his now regular and debilitating headaches as they rode. Sir Francis, who was among the group, had volunteered Wolf Hall, which was nearby, as a place to repair.
It had been a year since Jane had seen Francis, who hunted with the king regularly now as Henry searched for any reason to avoid his wife. Jane and Francis stood on the threshold as the king hobbled slowly toward them then, surrounded by Nicholas Carew, Charles Brandon, Jane’s brother Edward, George Boleyn, and Henry’s personal physician.
The years had taken a remarkably heavy toll on Henry, she thought, particularly owing to Anne Boleyn. There were tales that swept across England of Anne’s increasingly outlandish demands, their battles, and his resulting infidelities. It was well-known that the King of England never wanted anything for long once he had acquired it, and even the arrogant queen was apparently falling victim to his tendencies.
Before Francis could explain anything more, the king was before them with the others, and everyone in the Seymour household fell into deep bows and curtsies. To her surprise, he swept past them without acknowledgment, his face distorted by a pained frown. Jane could see that his once trim and athletic form was rapidly deteriorating. The king had gained a noticeable amount of weight. His handsome face was bloated, especially his cheeks, his hairline had receded further, and his face now bore the rosy patches of a heavy drinker. The added girth accentuated everything.
He wore his age and the stress of conflict on his face.
Jane had already noticed that his once elegant stride had been replaced by a pronounced limp. From her curtsy, she could see that his calf was even more heavily bandaged than she remembered. He looked to be a slightly pitiable creature now, and she even felt a spark of empathy.
While the royal physician attended to him upstairs, the others gathered in the library as great tankards of ale for the thirsty riders were hastily brought in. Once it was determined that the king and his companions would be required to pass the night at Wolf Hall, the house was sent into an uproar of clattering dishes, exhilarated shouts, and directives beyond the library walls, which the elegantly dressed men courteously ignored as they downed their ale. Jane was thankful that her mother had gone to oversee the preparation of a meal, which left her alone to indulge in the company of the few courtiers of whom she had actually grown fond during her time at court.
Jane’s brother Edward, newly remarried to the court beauty Anne Stanhope, seemed softened to the idea of being home. He approached Jane, gathering her into an awkward yet sincere embrace as the others talked among themselves.
“You are looking well, sister,” he said with the first genuine smile
she could remember. “Francis told me what happened with that Dormer fellow. I am sorry I never quite found a chance to write to you of my regret.”
“You are busy with your own new circumstances, my lord, ’tis understandable.”
She could see that she had made her point deftly enough that he cringed slightly as he took up her hand.
Jane saw how much Edward, now in his thirties, was growing to resemble their father, and how much that fact must bother him after what had happened with Edward’s first wife. Edward’s once dark crop of hair had begun to recede from his forehead, like their father’s, and his trimmed beard was peppered with a shock of gray. Like the king, Edward was no longer the trim, athletic youth she had so admired, but a thicker, more staid, middle-aged man.
“I’m sorry you were not able to attend the wedding,” he said of the time when she had gone into exile with Queen Katherine.
“I was needed elsewhere at the time, as you know,” she replied sweetly.
Edward smiled at his sister in response. She knew perfectly well that, like Francis and Nicholas Carew, Edward had advanced his position these past years by siding with Anne Boleyn over the queen. In that, brother and sister had followed separate paths.
Rarely had a day gone by since she had been forced to leave the More that she did not think of Queen Katherine, stripped of her title, her income, her daughter, and her dignity. Jane secretly despised the Boleyn witch a little more each day, as well as those who followed her. If there had been something Jane could have done to avenge her queen, sweet, gentle, plain Jane, as people still thought of her, would have done it in a heartbeat.
“Anne says you were always kind to her,” Edward said of his
wife, breaking into Jane’s thoughts then. “Yet you are always kind to everyone.”
“So they tell me,” Jane replied, pressing back her inner scorn with a gentle, yet cultivated, smile.
She found, as time went on, that she liked controlling what people thought of her. It was the only bit of power she had ever had, and she guarded it now ruthlessly.
When the king was not well enough to come down later that afternoon, it was decided that Jane should attend the servants who took him a tray of light fish broth and a small goblet of warm ale.
“Go on, girl,” her father prompted, adding with his own impatience that the king was not to be kept waiting. Edward and Nicholas Carew escorted her behind the servants, liking nothing so much as a reason to be in the king’s presence, whatever the circumstances.
She found him lying in the pitch-darkness with the heavy tapestry draperies drawn. “What troubles him?” Jane softly asked of the royal physician, a toady little man in black velvet who met them at the door.
“Only one of his headaches, mistress. He shall be fine, but just now he cannot do with the light, the scent of food, or even voices. I have given him the usual physic, so we should see it pass by morning’s light.”
Jane glanced over the physician’s shoulder at the recumbent king, who looked further weakened from the sovereign they had all greeted at the door an hour earlier. He was egocentric, pompous, vain…yet, now, undeniably pitiable as well.
“Who is it, John?” Henry called out weakly. His eyes and forehead were covered with a moist cloth, so Jane guessed he could not see her.
“Mistress Seymour, Your Majesty,” he answered softly. “She has brought you some broth and ale.”
“Bring her near.”
“But Your Majesty must—”
Henry held up a hand. “Now,” he commanded.
The physician nudged her forward with a shoulder, but not before she saw him roll his eyes at her brother and Nicholas Carew.
“Sit with me, Jane, will you? I’ve had enough of the company of the lads. Besides, ’tis soothing to hear a woman’s voice when one is in ill humor.”
Having heard the king, Edward moved forward deftly to place a chair closer to the bedside for his sister.
“Are you there?”
“I am, Your Majesty.”
“Ah, there is that sweet voice. I wager you did not think I would remember.”
“Indeed I did not think it, sire.”
“Well, speaking from experience now, the song of the lark is more soothing than the sharp cry of the blackbird. That is a sound that still fills my head a bit too often lately.”
One glance exchanged with Edward and Jane knew that the king meant Queen Anne. She thought again of all the gossip about their outrageous battles and what she herself had seen. There were even whispers of divorce again.
“I wish I could look upon your gentle face, but just now the light sends my stomach into a terror that I should not wish you to witness.”
“’Tis better to stay as you are, then,” she said as softly as she could manage and still be heard.
She glanced again back at Edward, and to her surprise, he nodded his silent approval at the exchange.
“So tell me, Mistress Jane, have you quite forgiven me for how things ended with my brother’s widow? I know you were forced to take a side.”
“’Tis only the Lord’s place to forgive, sire,” she tried to demure, as she had years ago when she actually was the innocent girl she had become so good at portraying.
“Indeed. But if it
yours to forgive?”
“I loved Queen Katherine, sire.”
“As did I, once,” he said with a sigh, sounding more sincere than his usual jovial, seemingly carefree self.
She glanced back at Edward, and he motioned for her to continue, although she had no earthly idea what was proper to say next.
“’Tis only when I follow not my God, but my heart, that I find myself in trouble,” she said meaningfully, pressing back memories of William. “So I try to avoid that.”
“Do you now?” She saw him smile. “Find you no room in your life for love?”
“’Tis more that it has not found me, sire.”
“You might not have the feathers of a peacock, sweet Jane, but believe me, if there is one thing I have learned, there is a certain alluring beauty in simplicity.”
In the next moment, he was asleep, and Jane was ushered out of the room as swiftly as she had been ushered in. But not before an impression was made on everyone else who had lingered near the door, witnessing the exchange. Particularly Edward, Sir Francis Bryan, and the queen’s own brother, George Boleyn.
In the wet and cold weeks of winter that followed, letters to Wolf Hall detailed the king’s return to the queen—and to a new mistress as well, although neither Edward nor Thomas revealed who she
was. Apparently the only requisite was that she be anyone but Anne Boleyn. Anne’s ceaseless demands and jealous rages had driven her husband from her bed and from her arms and threatened to drive her from his future.
Francis Bryan and Nicholas Carew, who had supported her against the first queen, pulled cautiously away from her now, yet they walked a fine line in doing so. Henry’s heart was a fickle, restless thing, and they knew it. They had witnessed the parade of women, including Bess Blount and Mary Boleyn, and even Carew’s own wife, Elizabeth, so they knew to take care until it was not merely over, but dead and buried.