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The Favor Of Kings by Mary Hastings Bradley (1912)

February 2, 2013

In the first twentieth-century novel to follow Anne’s post-marital career in any kind of detail, we are confronted with an intelligent, isolated, temperamental Anne who battles to the death with two of her most remorseless, unprincipled enemies: Catherine of Aragon and Sir Nicholas Carewe. (It’s better than it sounds).

We begin with an ending – the ending of Anne and Percy’s betrothal, that is. Percy is sweet but rather gormless, and he and Anne are both baffled, not knowing who could have betrayed them, but the truth comes out soon enough: Anne’s ill-intentioned cousin, Sir Nicholas Carewe, had spied on them trysting in a garden and slithered off to Wolsey to spill the beans, as Anne had previously turned down Carewe’s propositions and this would be a fine way of getting revenge. Afterwards, Anne furiously rejects Carewe’s pretended condolences and also begs Queen Catherine to appeal to the King and renew her and Percy’s engagement. Catherine, unfortunately, is as cold as a witch’s sixth finger towards her; she dislikes Anne’s French habits, envies her beautiful hair, and adopts a strictly mean-girl attitude towards her when talking with her Spanish cronies. “Percy is a boy,” she tells Anne, after informing her that it’s not for them to question the Cardinal, “and should be finding his happiness in his duty and not in stolen love tokens from silly maids. We will have no French ways here.” After telling Anne that she knows “her duty with the aid of Heaven”, Anne fires back by saying that “even Queens ask mercy from Heaven. It may be, on a future day your Majesty would not be sorry to have granted some.” Exit, pursued by knowing titters and glances at her “long pointed sleeves,” and soon afterwards Anne leaves for Hever, though not before Catherine has had the chance to make several witticisms about how Anne must be getting ready for her wedding, all of which are much appreciated by the “Spanish jades” at court.

She doesn’t stay at Hever long, as Henry VIII comes visiting and is startled to meet “Flora in her bower” while strolling the grounds, and on returning to court announces that Mistress Anne Boleyn will be recalled forthwith to resume her duties as maid of honour. Once she’s back at court, however, he acquires a rival in Thomas Wyatt, miserably married, desperately honourable poet who declares his love for Anne at a dance – “I love thee, I tell thee, in every fiber, in every pulse beat. God, how I love thee!” (We’re told that when he spoke, he also “bent forward, his face very white, his eyes seeking hers in glowing intensity.” Anne’s rejection of him may stem as much from alarm as morality). Approximately ten minutes after Wyatt is turned down, Henry passes a billet-doux to Anne, and her first great moral struggle has begun. She hates the bargaining, cynical attitude towards affairs in the court – why, even Catherine, who “prates the loudest of virtue” is universally regarded as only a semi-legitimate queen, seeing as she was married to Arthur and is rumoured to have had an affair with her confessor. “Pah!” says George Boleyn, “She was meal under the priest’s thumb – aye, even after she was Henry’s wife – if a brother’s widow be ever a wife, pope or no pope! He was closer than her women till the thing smoked so that Henry kicked him forth. Virtue!” Later, we’ll see a short section written from Catherine’s point of view, but while it makes her slightly more sympathetic, she still comes across as a stony-hearted bitch who not only refuses to believe that Anne may not have intended to ensnare Henry, but can’t even manage to be polite to her for five minutes.

Her rudeness does, however, help Henry along in what is his rapidly growing ambition not only to make Anne give in to him, but to give her a crown as well. After a ride in the woods during which Anne has rejected him yet again, he tells her that “Catherine is no lawful wife of mine … The Pope will soon rid me of that coil.” Annulments are a dime a dozen among royalty, after all, and he sets to work while Anne, shocked and bedazzled, retires once again to Hever, thinking of what it would be to supplant Catherine, and suddenly realizing that the Henry who was previously alarming and aggressive has suddenly become much more appealing. “Anne’s eyes saw Henry now through the glorious illusion of their romance.” Wolsey gets to work on the annulment in full confidence that by the time it comes through, he’ll be able to marry Henry to Renee of France and make a better alliance than he would if he married that silly Boleyn girl, but by the time the court at Blackfriars opens he’s starting to feel a certain chill in the air along with a sense that Anne may be harder to shake than he thought. Meanwhile, before the trial begins, Campeggio is urging Catherine to accept reality and step aside gracefully by going into a convent, and she, after denouncing the “scheming jade” Anne Boleyn, who has been carrying on an affair with Thomas Wyatt and got up to who knows what with Percy before him, delivers a remarkable speech:

“What is there in a man that makes him so like a devil … No, no, I do not mean you, my Lord Cardinal; you may mean only kindness, indeed I trust you do, but I have been so embittered with the man Wolsey, whose falsity and ambitions I will cast into his teeth an he come beseeching me again to throw my fair name into the mire to cushion his pathway! … I know the man … You are not he – but you are all men. You hang together – you condone each other’s vices – you veil each other’s crimes. An a woman – good God, let a woman but glance so fleetingly aside and what a stone throwing is there! All your hands are against her … What, my lord, are all your arguments to me? Are they for the right, the justice of the cause? Not one! ‘Tis all for expediency and prudence. It is `Bethink you, Madame, of the Princess Mary and anger not the king,’ and `Softly, lady, let the king have his way. Consider how much he yearneth towards this new – wife – and go you to a convent and pray God bless the union.’ And `True, your Majesty, you are the king’s wife and the crown is yours, but your head has grown gray under it – put it on a fairer brow, do not trouble to defend yourself when they call you no wife and your marriage a deadly sin – it will stir up strife and embarrass the pope and annoy Charles and disappoint Henry. All other men are freed when their old wives cloy. ‘Tis the way of the world. Let thy honor, thy daughter’s honor, go – ’tis for the best – ’twill please the king!”

It is at this moment that the story begins to double back on itself – we get a glimpse of Anne’s pride, intelligence, and inflexibility in Catherine, as well as seeing what they may one day become. While Catherine is still not likable, we can see that from her perspective, she’s quite justified – Henry is wasting his substance and imperilling his soul over a girl who’s obviously lost her virtue – she knows it, after all. And immediately after this comes the court at Blackfriars, and Anne, seeing Catherine kneel, remembers how she knelt to Catherine once herself, but instead of triumph she feels alarm, and when a gossipy noblewoman snorts at the assertion that there was nothing between Catherine and her confessor – everyone knows there must have been something, after all – Anne feels a sudden urge to rebuke her – after all, Anne herself, supposedly Henry’s mistress by now, knows how inaccurate rumour can be. She resists the urge and tries to remember Catherine’s “old insults” but finds it difficult to shake the memory of her pleading and her obvious sincerity. Finally she subdues herself; she will not allow herself to pity Catherine, she will not allow herself to doubt Henry’s sincerity or what her fate might be if she displeases him, and she will not allow herself to contemplate any end other than a crown.

Wolsey is dispatched, Henry fended off just enough, and her family is lavished with gifts, but as Wyatt sees when he returns from Italy some time later, Anne has lost something of her soul and traded it for what is admittedly a very handsome kingdom of this world. “He will devour thee, Anne, and cast thee aside!” he cries, after briefly duelling over her honour with the ever-odious Carewe, but she’s in up to the hilt now and has no wish to leave off; quite the opposite, she’s busy lining up incriminating information on Cranmer and the “bullet-headed” Cromwell in case they show signs of deviating from the policies she sets for them. With these men under her whip and the old Archbishop of Canterbury dead, there’s only one thing lacking to make Henry finally throw off the Pope and marry her:

“I dare not,” she whispered to herself, and then in a strangled voice, “I dare!”

…. She grew aware at last that her clasped hands were clutching each other so tightly that the rings were cutting into the flesh. She drew off the ring from the sharpest cut. It was one of Henry’s earliest gifts to her, a plain gold band with “Thy virtue is thy honor” graved within it. What a man for pious sentiments, she thought mockingly, her lips curling in disdain. Her virtue – God alone knew how she had hugged that comfort to her smarting pride against the secret sneers she divined about her. Yet now … the ring slipped from her fingers and rolled out across the floor. A bit of rush blocked it and it toppled and dropped through an open knot hole. The augury seemed to her complete.

… That year the Christmas revels were gayer than ever and King Henry was scarce for an instant to be parted from his marchioness.

The secret January wedding follows, and the coronation – not seen, but as recounted to Catherine of Aragon, with her bitter commentary and memories of her own coronation. “Happiest of women!” she says furiously. Meanwhile, now that Anne and Henry are married, the bloom is being rubbed pretty thoroughly off the rose, as Henry no longer feels the need to be chivalrous and Anne is both extremely pregnant and extremely uncomfortable both mentally and physically. After Elizabeth’s birth she’s both desperately scrambling to make sure her daughter is pre-eminent and realizing that the feelings she shut out of herself at Blackfriars aren’t gone. “Something of her natural sense of fairness, yet uncorrupted by her hatred, whispered to her that Mary was behaving exactly as she herself would behave in her place.” Her efforts to make a friend of Mary are genuine, but when she’s rejected she recoils into pure nastiness, not helped by the fact that no second pregnancy seems inclined to occur and her enemies, headed, of course, by the lustful and thwarted Carewe – who hits on her yet again, is rejected, and swears revenge – are always on the lookout for anything to her disadvantage. She finally becomes pregnant in the fall of 1535, but whatever relationship still existed between her and Henry ends with Catherine of Aragon’s death. Anne at first is overjoyed and puts on yellow of her own accord, but when she sees Henry rejoicing just as much and finally toasting “Catherine’s progress through hell!”, the barriers she built around her own thoughts at Blackfriars break down and she is, if not exactly sympathetic to Catherine, sympathetic to her situation and thinks that Henry has treated her disgustingly. Shortly afterwards she surprises Henry and Jane Seymour together and miscarries, Carewe and Co. start teaming up with the Seymours in mutual scheming, and by April Anne is making remarks to Jane which are just as bitchy and disbelieving of her intentions as any of Catherine’s were.

Her arrest, prison hysterics, and trial, are done without much deviation from the record. Her speech in her own defense at trial is a lovely melodramatic piece of work, which sadly is not accompanied by a speech from George – in fact, the incest accusation (“criminal intercourse”) is skirted over rather quickly, with Anne simply saying that brothers and sisters are allowed to be alone together without suspicion, and George never gets his moment of reading aloud about the king’s impotence. Lady Rochford is not, for once, behind the incest accusation or any of the rest, but I’m sure you can guess who is; in the one major deviation from the record, Carewe comes to visit Anne in the Tower to gloat over her downfall, revile her as a whore, horrify her with descriptions of Mark Smeaton’s torture, and, um, hit on her at the same time. After she turns him down for the last time:

“By God!” he choked out, “I’d like to behead you with these hands!”

“Fie! I would ne’er let you as near me as that.”

… He could gloat ghoulishly upon her danger, he had plotted and connived at her death, but he had never wanted her now as when she was escaping him forever.

Cromwell is in the book, but in a strictly business capacity; the plot to bring Anne down is all on Carewe, who makes it clear that had she slept with him earlier, she might not be in prison now.

Anne spends her last few days as she did in life – regretting that she was not yet past her pain, confessing to Cranmer, and rising at two in the morning to pray. She also has a last talk with her maid of honour Helen Sackville, long embittered from her own unreturned love of Thomas Wyatt, who tells Anne that Wyatt will love her to the death, and afterwards. “He said to me that if all were hopeless and the end came that he would not let you lie under the stones here in a dishonored grave. He will come and steal you, he said, and carry you by night to a place in Blickling, or Hever Churchyard.”

Anne proceeds to her execution the next day, gives her speech as she did in life, and whispers to Mary Wyatt to “tell Wyatt I send my love to him too late.” She commends herself to God in Latin, and these are the last words she speaks before the executioner strikes.

SEX OR POLITICS? Sex, with just enough side servings of religion and politics to have a reasonable if over-simplified idea of what’s going on. Anne has a few speeches about reform, telling her stepmother about George Zouche losing his fiancee’s book and also how she saw a man burned for heresy and recoiled at such a penalty for trying to read the Bible in English.

WHEN BORN? 1507 – she’s twenty-three when Wolsey falls. George is twenty-two years old in 1522, so 1500 for him. Mary doesn’t get a specific age, but she’s presumably older than Anne since she’s already married to William Carey by the time Anne returns from France.

THE EARLY LOVE: Henry Percy is appealing, weak, and disposed of by Wolsey in Chapter 1 – Anne loves him and misses him, but is loved more faithfully by Thomas Wyatt – the flame in his breast is “the dying breath of old chivalry.” As Mary Wyatt informs Helen Sackville later – “[Percy] could not have made her happy, I think. That was but a girl’s fancy. I think that if my brother had been free, there had been no Percy Northumberland – nor anyone else.” Wyatt’s devotion goes beyond death, as Helen Sackville tells Anne in the tower that “Wyatt will come and steal you” so that her body will be buried in Kent and not left in St. Peter ad Vincula. Sir Nicholas Carewe is the early anti-love; he’s had a foul lust for her since before the book began and ultimately contrives to ruin her. After his rejection “He seethed with impotent anger and impotent desire for her …. knowing the hopelessness of it all, he yet spent time inventing situations in which she would be utterly in his power, utterly his …”

THE QUEEN’S BEES: Helen Sackville, tall, blunt-spoken and gooseberry-eyed, loves Thomas Wyatt unrequitedly and her attitude towards Anne is ambiguous but ultimately loyal. Mary Wyatt, sister of Thomas, is sweet and simple, described as untouched by court corruption. Madge Shelton, “a little shallow piece, all giggles and airs” appears in 1534 to provide Henry with some Howard-approved distraction. Amy Gainsford is another briefly-mentioned maid – the first name presumably changed to avoid duplication of Annes. Lady Rochford is there as well, “mine own honorable wife” as George terms her, who spends most of her time gossiping, backstabbing, and sleeping with anyone not named George Boleyn. Jane Seymour actually gets lines, albeit not many – she’s the maid who brings Anne’s conciliatory message to Princess Mary and has it roundly rejected. Jane’s repertoire of charms includes soft glances, downturned eyes and similar lamblike behaviors. “Jane had a quiverful of these mild tricks that she spread about her, adorning her somewhat uninspiring speech.”

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: She has a maid named Bet at Hever, and a young Francis Weston (sixteen years old when she meets him, accurately enough) is Henry’s messenger during their first flirtation, carrying their billets-doux back and forth.

THE PROPHECY: Anne tells Catherine that one day she may wish she had granted Anne’s request to marry Percy.

IT’S A GIRL! Anne is furious and disappointed but has the presence of mind to tell Henry that the baby is strong, and “she will have strong brothers.” Henry and Anne both seethe afterwards but at least they behave well.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? She has a “double nail”, which Catherine taunts her about in front of the other women at court, calling it a sixth finger and saying Anne was clever to design a “pointed sleeve” to hide it. When Anne corrects her that it’s not, in fact, an extra finger, Catherine, with a truly Henry-like distaste for anything in less than perfect health, says “Faugh! Put thy hand down – I could never bear to look upon blemishes.” On another occasion Princess Mary calls Anne “Six-fingered scum,” at which Anne boils with impotent and justified fury.

FAMILY AFFAIRS: George is “a dashing, gay-humoured fellow” who is protective of his youngest sister but doesn’t mind scolding her when she gets herself into trouble during the Percy business, and is useful in passing on court gossip and exposition. While somewhat embarrassed at the prospect of Anne’s having an affair, he’s not so horrified that he’s willing to help her actively defy the king. Mary is barely there – she’s even described in-story as “shadowy” – and mostly lives away from court with her unsuitable husbands, grateful for any crumb of beneficence they might be granted. Thomas Boleyn is described as being all “affable selfishness” – he’s a penny-pincher and is happy enough to see his daughter rise but will not risk the smallest fraction of his gains to help her daughter out. He has “an eye for cracks and keyholes” (taking that job from Lady Rochford, for once) and is married to a nice, sensible countrywoman – Anne’s former nurse – as his second wife, whom we see at length in only one scene, in which she and Anne are debating over the issue of Henry’s leaving his first wife, which the stepmother doesn’t like, but she takes Anne’s side when she discovers that Catherine has been ill-treating her as a result of Henry’s courtship – the stepmother is too fond of Anne to forgive anyone who’s nasty to her, whatever the provocation.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No, but Carewe wishes she had with him.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: It’s much more readable than its exact contemporary, Anne Boleyn (1912), but does have the occasional descent to melodrama – usually in the portions featuring the villainous Sir Nicholas Carewe (as in the other book, Sir Nicholas is sometimes described as doing something “evilly”). There’s just something about him which makes people talk like they’re writing dialogue cards for silent movies. Here’s Anne, after she discovers that Carewe is the one who betrayed her and Percy to Wolsey:

“Thou art a sly, scheming, blackhearted fool, Nicholas Carewe, a spying tattler, not fit to win any woman’s heart, nor any glance of her eyes save in disgust, so plainly is thy black heart written on thy black face. What thou hast done thou hast done in malice and spite, like a snapping cur; and, like a snapping cur, you are not worth an honest anger; you are fit only to be kicked into the dirt and so I spurn you, and so I laugh at your antics!”

However, when the author is on, she is on – Catherine’s speech to Cardinal Campeggio, which I already quoted, is probably the best example, and Anne’s moments of clarity as she gets older are also well done. Here’s Anne, shortly after Catherine’s death, remembering her own closing off of her natural instincts after Blackfriars and wondering, as many have since, what on earth her younger self was smoking:

She recalled a girl, proud-eyed, impatient for the crown, and she shook her head contemptuously at that girl’s cares and crosses. What a slight inexperienced creature she was, after all! How little she knew life, life as this older woman knew it! … How she had striven! How she had suffered! How she had – sunk … She had done things from which that light-hearted Anne would have shrunk in horror.

ERRATA: In her foreword, the author states that she has attempted to stick as much to known facts as possible, and that “the only liberties I have taken with the known facts are a reference to Surrey and his love affairs when he was yet ten years too young and a use of the name Helen Sackville instead of Nan Sackville [Savile, but spellings varied a lot] to avoid a continual conjunction of Nan and Anne.” She then goes on to cite various authorities for such matters as the 1507 birthdate, and while these are not generally accepted now you can’t say that she hasn’t done her research. There are some slips besides the ones she states – Anne and Henry have a pivotal meeting when riding through St. James’s Park, for example, although the park didn’t exist as such until James I was on the throne, and Henry’s fall at jousting is never mentioned and apparently never happens – but the biggest problem is that sixteenth-century Snidely Whiplash, Nicholas Carewe. He was certainly no friend of Anne’s, being a strong supporter of the Catholic/Conservative faction, and actively assisted in Jane Seymour’s rise in the spring of 1536 (lodging her at his house, among other things), but there’s no indication that he was directly involved in the plot to kill her, much less its mastermind. Certainly there’s no evidence that he was an aspiring rapist or was ever in love with Anne in any manner, however disturbingly manifested.

WORTH A READ? I didn’t expect to like this book very much, and for the first third or so I got pretty tired of the constant nastiness of Catherine – but then came the increasing number of looks into Catherine’s head, and then the fantastically well-done scene centered around the Blackfriars court, in which Catherine shows her real feelings to Campeggio and we’re punched right in the solar plexus when we see both how Catherine became what she is, and how Anne has set herself up to become another Catherine, to suffer the same disappointments and be destroyed in the same way; worse, as she doesn’t have Catherine’s pride of blood and noble family to back her up. I still think that Catherine’s taunts at the beginning could have been toned down – even with the shift of perspective later, they still make her look like a pretty sad advertisement for a royal upbringing. Nonetheless, I loved how smoothly the rug is pulled out from under the reader – poor, innocent Anne! Nasty Catherine! And then, as time goes on, the older Catherine and the older Anne begin showing us how our own first impressions may be just as mistaken and damaging as theirs, and our memories of their earlier interactions as distorted as their own. It’s really well-done; it’s not Sigrid Undset, but certainly better than many later novels in this particular genre.

The problem is, of course, Nicholas Carewe. Anne and Catherine begin as deceptively simple characters who later show us some surprises, and even Henry VIII, who is unappealing but not ogre-like, shares this their tendency to continually reflect and recast his own memories –”I have always loved black hair,” he thinks when he meets Anne, as years earlier (and years later) he will tell himself honestly that “I have always loved fair hair.” Carewe is the flat, mustache-twirling exception who seems to have wandered in from a much worse book by accident – he’d be right at home with the rape-minded Henry VIII of Anne Boleyn (1912) or the panting groper Henry Norris of At The Mercy Of The Queen (2012), though considering his curious mingling of hatred, lust, and mild necrophilia, he’s probably better suited to hang out with Mark Smeaton and Jane Boleyn in The Uncommon Marriage (1960). He does not, however, belong here, and he does his best to drag the book down. Why the author included him, especially as she says that tried to follow the historical record accurately, is very puzzling. By doing this she’s merely following the older custom whereby Cromwell always managed to be cut from the story, or at least have his presence played down a great deal, but these earlier excisions were usually done for ideological reasons – it looked bad for Anne the Protestant Martyr to have had her death engineered by Cromwell, another Protestant Martyr. But in this book the religious question gets only the obligatory treatment, and if we didn’t already know that Carewe was part of the Catholic faction we certainly wouldn’t learn it here. His motive for destroying Anne is purely personal – she wouldn’t sleep with him, and ultimately if he couldn’t have her nobody would. So instead of Anne’s death coming about as a result of her life – the meddling in affairs which Henry later warned Jane Seymour against – she ends up dying as the result of a plot unrelated to any of her policies or earlier actions. It’s a little like Hector’s appendix suddenly bursting before he’s able to charge out onto the field for the last fight with Achilles. Yes, he was doomed, but it wasn’t supposed to be like that.

That being said, it’s still an excellent read. Inevitably you’ll feel more like you’re listening to women chatting in Edwardian drawing rooms than in a Tudor palace, but the conversation is so interesting that you won’t mind.

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