Authors: Diane Haeger
As spring came and the May Day celebrations were once again in full swing, the king and his closest friends watched the queen and her ladies dance around the Maypole in the cool and breezy sunshine at Richmond Palace. By bribing Charles Brandon with a case of rare French wine, Edward and Francis had secured the seats closest to the king for the event, which he normally gave over to George and his father, Thomas Boleyn.
But many things again were changing.
Anne’s court during the May Day celebrations was a very different place from Katherine’s. It now was as entertaining as it was elegant, and the women surrounding the queen were young, beautiful, and full of daring. They were dressed in gowns with plunging necklines designed in the French style, and their hair was worn long down their backs beneath small French hoods, mirroring the queen. The king and his friends sat laughing and pointing like boys at the seductive dance.
“William Brereton tells me that the queen is in need of another lady-in-waiting since Lady Zouche is with child,” Francis carefully remarked to Henry as they watched the women twirl and dance.
“The queen is always in need of something, it seems,” the king responded brusquely, and they could see his gaze clearly following Margaret Shelton in the little production as she flitted blithely around the Maypole near Anne.
“I was thinking of proposing Edward Seymour’s sister for the post,” Francis casually said. “She is experienced with court ways, and so would need a minimum of training.”
“The queen has her chamberlain for that sort of thing. Let him sort it out,” Henry said with a swat of his hand. He smiled at the girl he called Madge, and she smiled back.
“Might I have Your Majesty’s leave, then, to speak to him on the matter?” Francis dared to press.
“Aye, that Seymour lark is a demure enough little thing not to ruffle the feathers of the raven nesting in the queen’s rooms. It might be a good match. Heaven knows I have trouble enough keeping her temper down over dear little Madge,” he said with a chuckle, nodding and smiling again at Margaret Shelton, who flounced her dress at the king.
In response, Francis, Edward, and Nicholas all joined him in a ribald laugh. George Boleyn alone shot Francis an evil glare.
William Dormer sat with his new wife, Mary, her father, Sir William, and his new benefactor, Thomas Cromwell, just behind the king at the May Day celebrations. Cromwell was an influential man. He exuded power from every part of his tall, slightly hunched frame, which was always swathed in velvet robes. Since Wolsey’s death after falling ill on a journey, Master Cromwell was entrenched as the king’s key adviser, and he needed a smart, ambitious aide.
William had willingly accepted the post in order to put his past heartbreak with Jane finally behind him. Yet hearing her name
suggested by Francis Bryan as a possible courtier jarred him. It was of no help that Mary clung so tightly to his arm that it had begun to go numb.
He was stunned, and he tried to take the notion in fully, but his skin smarted under the pinch of his wife’s desperate fingers. Desperation had always been unappealing to him.
Jane had never been like that. He had marveled at her independent streak, even on that first day in Savernake Forest. His mind had retained every moment of that first encounter, certainly glamorizing it through the prism of passing years. Ah, how he longed for the bittersweet innocence of childhood, when he had not understood what would be expected of him or of Jane.
He squeezed his eyes to press away the thoughts, since they always came back to how he had hurt her. William had wanted to be different for her, and with her. Yet in the end he knew he, like the rest of the world, had played a part in hardening her once achingly gentle heart.
That Jane might now return to court, where he would be forced to see her, filled William with almost as much dread as excitement, and a battery of questions assaulted his mind.
Did she hate him for marrying Mary Sidney when it was he who had pursued her in the first place, then failed not once but twice to win her? He shook his head, knowing the answer. He was a wretched man who deserved the heartache he felt.
“My dear, are you unwell?”
William’s wife studied him with a face full of concern. For a moment he was uncertain what to say since he knew he would never be truly
Mary was not without appeal. Like Jane, she was small, demure,
and obedient. Her eyes were large and brown, her lips full, and her heart open. As a man, he could be tempted by the novelty he saw in her. Mary’s hair was also fair enough that in the dark of night, beneath the tapestry canopy of their bed, he could almost convince himself that it was Jane with him beneath the covers. God help him and his fantasies, but he wanted to see her again. He hoped to see her; he longed for it. Even in all of their years of separation, it was she who was his last prayer every night and his every fantasy after that. But what would happen when she saw him again, William could not even begin to imagine.
Where desire doth bear the sway,
the heart must rule, the head obey.
t was another endlessly wet and gray day when the Seymours’ drawn litter pulled up the wide pathway through the massive golden gateway of Richmond Palace. Jane could see the golden-domed turrets, brightly painted brickwork, and colorful flying pinions. Though nothing had changed about the palace, she was changed from the girl who had left. She was a woman of no illusions this time, and only a sense of family duty to lead her.
With the sad announcement of the death of Katherine of Aragon, the past had been fully left behind them at last. Feeling magnanimous, Queen Anne had agreed, through her chamberlain, to put aside any bad feelings and accept Jane as a lady-in-waiting due to the high placement not only of her brothers, but of Sir Francis Bryan as well. Jane ruefully remembered her father’s pronouncement in the Wolf Hall dining hall that she was to return to court. There was no choice in the matter. She would help her brothers gauge how the wind was blowing as they navigated the increasingly choppy waters of the swiftly failing royal marriage.
Jane liked Richmond Palace precisely because Queen Katherine
had favored it and Queen Anne did not. It was too provincial for Anne, lacking elegance, yet sporting all of the wonderful details of an Arthurian castle straight from the pages of Sir Thomas Malory.
In a gown of amber velvet, she stepped from the closed litter and into a swirl of activity. Horses were taken by grooms to and from the stables, and ox-drawn carts brimming with vegetables rolled past. Another cart, laden with dead geese, drew toward the kitchens as the daily task of feeding a mammoth-sized court began once again. There was so much going on that Jane’s arrival was barely an event, but the two opulently dressed Seymour brothers were there to greet her nonetheless.
“You are looking elegant.” Thomas beamed as he kissed her cheek.
“Father did not hesitate to remind me of the cost of this elegance,” Jane said, remembering her father’s words before she had left.
“This style of living takes money, and plenty of it,” Edward put in as both brothers appraised her.
Since they had last seen each other, Thomas had grown into his looks. Now he was tall and trim. Any traces of boyhood in his face had given way to a perfectly elegant nose, square jaw ornamented by a neat, light mustache and beard, and azure eyes that could only be described as piercing. He and Edward both carried their mother’s features, but Thomas had clearly inherited better versions of them.
As the trio made their way toward a wide, carved entrance door to the east wing of the palace, Thomas linked his arm through Jane’s. Edward did so with the other arm in a futile attempt to keep up with their sibling bond.
“Now that you see her again, do you suppose there is any hope
of it at all?” Thomas asked Edward as they passed the threshold and entered the first long, tiled gallery.
“There is always hope,” Edward countered sagely. “The king grows more restless by the day, and I told you how softened to her he was at Wolf Hall.”
“Was that not only the vulnerability of his ill health?”
“We shall put it to the test these next days, shan’t we? When the queen is pregnant and his duty is done, the king feels perfectly free to indulge himself. It has been the same song since the earliest days with the last queen. Our timing in this is impeccable.”
Jane stopped dead in her tracks at the base of a wide wooden staircase and reached out to clutch the wooden banister. “You two could not possibly be talking about me, could you?” she asked.
Edward began to lead her by the elbow up the flight of stairs. “We are indeed.”
“Edward, Sir Francis, and I think the king may well be ready for someone new; someone patient and kind, rather than the tempestuous partner he has done battle with these last years.”
“Impossible,” Jane scoffed as they briskly walked together. “I have been in His Majesty’s presence dozens of times, and he has never shown the slightest interest in me!”
“Much has changed since you have been away, sister. His Majesty’s health has continued to decline and he has been made vulnerable by it. At first, Queen Anne took advantage of that weakness, raging her demands and pressing her power. But now, like a wounded bear, he has begun to resist, and even lashed back at her boldly. It has made for some interesting encounters to witness,” Edward said.
“As you know,” added Thomas, “upon the death of Sir William Carey, Francis took over his position in the privy chamber, which
has brought him quite close to the royal center of things. And in those most private hours, a man talks to his gentleman servant.”
“I thought our cousin was loyal to his more prominent relation, the queen.”
“Francis may be a profligate, but he is a wise one. If the queen does not give Henry a son, the marriage will come to an end,” Edward put in.
“Is that what he speaks of?” Jane asked skeptically as they made their way down a second, tapestry-lined gallery depicting scenes from Ovid’s
“That, and of uncomplicated days with gentle, loyal friends like Wolsey, though he speaks guardedly of the dead cardinal.”
“A bit late for nostalgia, as poor Queen Katherine grows cold upon her bier and the cardinal is six feet under at Leicester Abbey!” she exclaimed angrily.
Her sister-in-law, Anne Stanhope, had written to her that in the queen’s final hours, her most faithful, lifelong friend, Maria de Salinas, had broken all protocol and risked everything to be at her bedside.
The poor queen had died three days before in the arms of her dearest Spanish friend.
“Yet he believed he loved Queen Anne,” Thomas put in. “Surely you understand how blinding love can be.”
Jane shot her brother a sharp look, feeling the sting of the reference to William. She could not help herself. The next words crossed her lips even as she tried to stop them.
“Have you met William’s wife?” she asked.
The brothers exchanged a glance. “She is a pleasant enough sort. So is her father. The Sidneys know nothing of your history with her husband, Jane. I bid you to keep that in mind as you begin here.”
Her heart squeezed and she felt the old pain as if it were new. This was not a beginning. It was the same performance with a predictable cast of players. Only she had been changed by the years. “I have seen with my own eyes the sort of beauty the king chooses,” Jane said defensively. “You two are whistling in the wind with this,” she warned callously as they reached the queen’s apartments. It was a very different place from that over which Katherine of Aragon had presided. Jane saw that the first moment she stepped beneath the gilded arched doorway and into richly redecorated rooms dripping with gold cloth, heavy silver tassels, and large tapestries woven with seductive images. The one that first caught Jane’s eye depicted Bathsheba with King David. Above the fireplace hearth was Anne’s own emblem—a white falcon sitting atop a bare tree stump. In its claw were red and white roses. Jane knew that the tree stump was a symbol of domination over the king’s previous failure to sire a male heir. Clearly the emblem had been constructed well before her less-than-successful attempts to bear a son, Jane thought as they advanced. It was strange to be back. She had changed. Nothing else had.