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The Heir Of Allington by Philippa Wiat (1974)

April 6, 2013

Once again, Thomas Wyatt takes the stage as Anne’s one true love – less usually, he leaves her with something more substantial than a poem to remember him by.

Our story begins with a king bellowing at an unhappy nobleman who’s in the process of being tortured – one would assume that this is Henry VIII, but a reference to his “dark Plantagenet beauty” clears things up; it’s Richard III, who’s hanging out in the Tower of London and personally supervising the torture of Henry Wyatt, Tudor loyalist. “No discouragement or persuasion will ever draw me from his service,” Henry Wyatt tells Richard, who swears a few mighty oaths and then leaves him to rot until the Battle of Bosworth finishes Richard off and improves Wyatt’s prospects – marital as well as financial, because it turns out that both Henry VII and Elizabeth of York have an unexpectedly sentimental side and like nothing better than matching a deserving young couple. Henry is duly wed and given the manor of Allington, and Thomas is born.

The usual idyllic childhood follows in which he spends a lot of time at Hever with Anne and her siblings, and even at that early age Anne is plainly a bossyboots in the making. “Must you always be the Queen?” asks Mary Boleyn angrily when once again Anne insists on their playing King Arthur and being Queen Guinevere herself. “Thomas could not remember a time when he had not loved Anne,” we are told, and Anne reciprocates – “Oh Tom, I do love you,” she tells him when he’s sent off to Cambridge and before she leaves for France.

Wyatt would like to marry her, of course, and his father wouldn’t mind, except that Thomas Boleyn has higher ambitions for his daughters and rejects Henry Wyatt’s offer. Wyatt is duly married off to Elizabeth Brooke and the marriage founders almost immediately – not because of any adultery on her part, but quite the opposite problem; she’s frigid, and this being a 1970s romance, the “young and hot-blooded” Wyatt makes her go through with it – “hating himself for his necessary cruelty, he forced her to his will.” She becomes pregnant and has a boy, but her continuing distaste for delights of the flesh leaves their marriage moribund.

Meanwhile, Anne has come back from France, happy to see Wyatt again but displeased at his being married, though she politely visits his wife at Allington and coos over the baby. Soon she has other things to worry about – Henry VIII, who has already had a run at her mother and her sister, has decided to collect the complete set. Anne, however, has no mind to be discarded as the other two were and demands that Henry marry her, apparently without regard for the special complications which would attend upon getting a divorce under these circumstances: “The condition of her surrender, as she told him plainly, was marriage. As a token of her promise to marry him once he had obtained a divorce from Katharine, she one day gave him a ring.” This turns out to be a bad tactical error, as she had previously given Wyatt a similar ring and this leads to the incident in which the King and Wyatt argue over Wyatt’s token while playing bowls, and Wyatt prudently decides that this would be a good time to do a little diplomacy abroad. First, however, he sends a messenger to her with a copy of “Whoso List To Hunt” and swings by Allington to pick up his six-year-old son to take him along on the trip. Capture by the Spanish follows, with Wyatt and his son being thrown into jail for several months, but eventually they escape by sweet-talking the jailer (a man) and head home, with the younger Wyatt having become an enemy of the Spaniards for life.

Anne is by now on the brink of getting married to Henry, although she’s having those last-minute doubts in which she realizes that she’s gone too far to turn back now. “The web in which I am caught is of my own weaving and the threads are drawn too fine for me to escape at this eleventh hour.” However, after a secret meeting engineered by Margaret Wyatt, Anne confides in Wyatt that although she’ll marry the king, she can never love him, and … “Oh, Tom! At this moment I need so much to feel safe in the arms of a man who truly loves me.” Since we are, again, in a 1970s romance novel, he takes her up on it, and while she makes a token resistance – prompting him to say “You know, my love, how to provoke a man to take his will of you,” – they are, at last, one flesh, although Wyatt (and the reader) are surprised at the casual revelation that “Anne was no virgin”. This Anne couldn’t resist the blandishments of some anonymous French wooer, apparently. But the encounter with Wyatt sticks in a way the other one didn’t, because all too soon she’s pregnant and they’re having a tense confab in which Anne, who’s running out of options at this point, announces that the time has obviously come to seduce Henry and make him think the baby is his. Throughout the next few months, Wyatt tenses his manly brow a lot, as Henry rejoices over his putative fatherhood, the secret wedding takes place, and Wyatt assists at Anne’s coronation.

Elizabeth’s birth takes place, much to the rage and disappointment of Anne’s party, and to the over-interested inquiries of Wyatt, whose sister tells him that the baby looks an awful lot like his son did, some years ago. Then begins the familiar rendition of Anne’s last years, which are largely spent devolving into hysteria as first one pregnancy and then another fails; the nadir comes when Anne dresses in yellow at the news of Catherine of Aragon’s death (largely out of relief, thinking that at last she’ll be safe) only to be confronted with a Henry who’s dressed in full mourning and insisting that the entire court attend Catherine’s funeral. He takes a dim view of Anne’s choice of clothing. “In bright yellow! Jesu! ‘Tis a wonder you refrained from dancing at the De Profundis or giving three cheers at the Kyrie Eleison!” says Henry, “You deserve to be beaten and were it not for the babe you carry, I would thrash you with my own hands.” A violent quarrel ensues over whose fault it is that they haven’t yet produced a surviving son, in which Anne unwisely screams at Henry “Are you so sure that Elizabeth is your child? Do you really believe that any woman could have a child by you?”

Henry does nothing for the moment – Anne is pregnant, after all – but once she miscarries (following a quarrel with the “insolent” Jane Seymour in which Anne rips a locket from her neck) Cromwell sets to work on Mark Smeaton and soon Anne and the five doomed men – as well as Wyatt himself – are mewed up in the Tower and Anne is babbling to her unsympathetic ladies-in-waiting, who in addition to their barrage of questions about the other accused men, also tax her with having had Wyatt as her lover. “Some said he was the only man I ever truly loved,” says the weeping Anne, who’s wishing she had somehow managed to pull off a marriage with him about twenty years previously. “But tell Master Cromwell to take a long look into the Princess Elizabeth’s green eyes, and he will know that he spoke the truth when he called my child a bastard.” Cromwell, as it turns out, has always had some suspicions – not that we knew about this earlier, as we’ve barely seen him until now. Anyway, it turns out that Cromwell had considerable assistance in his youth from the kindly Sir Henry Wyatt, back when Cromwell was still some random tough from Putney and not Master Secretary, so he orders the attendants to silence, burns the paper this testimony was written on, and cuts a deal with Henry Wyatt to get Thomas released as a thank-you for favours previously rendered.

He’s still confined in the Bell Tower for a few more weeks, during which the other five men, and Anne, are condemned and executed within view of his cell window. The time isn’t totally lost, however – George Boleyn is allowed a post-trial visit to Wyatt wherein they talk about old times and George admits his suspicions about Elizabeth’s paternity, and in the days between condemnation and execution the men are allowed to circulate the Devonshire MS and Les Lamentations de Matheolus among themselves, writing poems and annotations on them to pass the time. But all too soon that time is done, and with Anne’s death, Wyatt’s life becomes void of meaning. The last six years of his life, we’re given to understand, will consist solely of marking time.

SEX OR POLITICS? Sex. The politics are handled as cursorily as possible – Wyatt does travel to Italy and there’s an amusing episode where he and Sir John Russell, peeved at the Vatican’s treatment of them, paint a minotaur and a snotty Latin epigram on the wall of their house in Rome in order to annoy the Pope. But the bigger picture is absent – and not just to us, but to the characters; Anne demands marriage from Henry without apparently considering that dissolving his marriage will be trickier than filing a no-fault divorce petition.

WHEN BORN? Unclear, as is the birth order. Wyatt is stated to be the oldest of the children, though, and since he was born c.1503, this makes a 1507 date likelier for Anne.

THE EARLY LOVE: We don’t see it at the time it actually happens, but Anne reminisces later on about Henry Percy, remembering him as a courageous man who was beaten by forces too strong for him. However “Methinks my love for Harry Percy was but a passing infatuation for I soon recovered my spirits. For him I cannot say for I have never seen him since.”

THE QUEEN’S BEES: Jane Seymour is there, described as sly and simpering but seldom getting any lines, and Lady Rochford does her usual turn as the bitter, nasty neglected wife – unusually, she’s also twenty years older than George, and was forced on him by his father purely because of her fortune. Margaret Wyatt turns up as a supportive but practical presence – she’s the one who sees her brother safely into Anne’s presence during their secret meetings, breaks the bad news of Elizabeth’s birth to Henry, and when Anne orders her maids to wear yellow after Catherine of Aragon’s death, Margaret refuses to do so, telling Anne that her better self wouldn’t want to do this. (Margaret Wyatt did the exact same thing a hundred years earlier in Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy In Six Acts., 1884). A “Mistress Dormer” makes a brief appearance as one of Anne’s maids of honour – I wonder if this is supposed to be Jane Dormer, who came along a generation later.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Anne has a maid named Jane Edmonds, who mostly carries messages.

THE PROPHECY: Several, all appropriately dramatic. As a child she gets her fortune told and is told that she has the mark of a witch and will suffer the fate of all witches. Later on, Henry is sure that Anne will have a boy because a prophecy has assured him that his next child will be male. Of course, there’s the hitch that Elizabeth isn’t actually his …

IT’S A GIRL! “You have borne us a daughter then, Madam,” is Henry’s first remark to the newly-delivered Anne, and when she tries to reassure him by saying that it’s sure to be a boy next time, he snarls back “Next time! Next time! By the Mass! See that next time, Madam, you keep your promise.” However, he does warm to the baby and announces that her name will be Elizabeth as a mark of affection for his long-dead mother.

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Yes, a “tiny deformity of the finger” which Anne worries is a witch-mark.

FAMILY AFFAIRS: Thomas Boleyn is in his usual situation where he’s Vile Ambition personified, although we see comparatively little of him. Elizabeth Boleyn is cold-hearted, ambitious, and seldom around – she was Henry VIII’s mistress briefly when he was very young, and Wyatt has heard the rumour that Anne was actually Henry’s daughter (although he discounts it, as the timing is all wrong). Mary Boleyn is sweet, silly, and mostly absent – she was briefly Henry’s mistress and was sent home to Hever in disgrace when it became apparent that she was pregnant. She’s then married off to the flexible William Carey and that’s the last we see of her, except for a brief mention of her son unhistorically dying at the age of three.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? Once, with Wyatt, but before she was married. However, she did father Elizabeth on Henry, so this can be a partial “Yes”, I suppose.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: Instead of other hardy standbys like “Verily” or “For certes” this book has one of the odder recurring expressions: “Criminy!” It’s used in moments of extreme emotional turmoil and the effect is really strange. When Norris balks at Anne’s remark about dead men’s shoes, her response is “Criminy! You pretend to misunderstand my meaning, but for that I must forgive you.” When the other maids of honour are teasing Jane Seymour about Henry’s pursuit of her, one of them asks if he uses the royal We in bed. “Criminy! It must be a bit disconcerting.” And so on and so forth. Henry also likes to use coinages like “God’s eyeballs!” which at least don’t sound so blatantly out of period.

Less an authorial than a typesetting issue is the problem that Henry Norris keeps changing his name to Henry Morris. It’s not just one or two typos, it’s that he’ll be Henry Morris for three or four pages, then switch to being Norris again, and then Morris will make an appearance again. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Norris, having some presentiment of his fate, decided to import a ringer from Scotland to try and pull off a last-minute switch a la A Tale Of Two Cities. I was a little sorry when the typesetter finally got the issue straightened out in the last chapter; I’d rather liked this Henry Morris fellow.

ERRATA: In the foreword, the author tells us that when Anne Boleyn was asked if Wyatt was her lover:

“Ah – he! … ” she exclaimed, and then a section of the manuscript recording of the evidence has been removed. Why?

This story of Sir Thomas Wyatt has been handed down through four centuries and many generations, and its knowledge cost Sir Thomas Wyatt’s son his life.

It has come into my possession and is, I believe, the truth.

I have no idea what the source for this story is – I’ve seen nothing remotely like it in the printed versions of the Cottonian letters (although many of them were partially destroyed by fire). But there is no evidence anywhere that Elizabeth was Wyatt’s child, no matter how romantic an idea it might be. Nor is the rest of Wyatt’s life presented without alteration – a bit omission is his separation from his wife. Wyatt married around 1520 and repudiated his wife for adultery a few years later – while still legally married, they weren’t living together in any fashion. Whether the accusation of adultery was true is impossible to say, but it does seem to make portraying his wife as frigid something of a long stretch.

As in a number of other books – both better and worse than this – the timelines are badly tangled up. Wyatt’s son is described as six years old in the mid 1520s and then as five years old in 1530, Henry’s fall at jousting takes place in 1534 and precipitates Anne’s first pregnancy loss, not her second, and the Duke of Richmond dies a year before Anne although in fact he died a few months after her. Mary Boleyn’s son (who’s also Henry’s in this version) dies at the age of three to underline the weakness of the king’s offspring; in fact, Henry Carey lived into the 1590s and appears to have enjoyed himself thoroughly, if his substantial properties, patronage of players, and sixteen or so offspring are anything to go by.

Elizabeth is described as having been born very early in the morning of September 7th, when at least according to Chapuys that event took place around three in the afternoon. The trials of the two Boleyns and the four other men did not all take place at the same time, and sentence was not carried out on the same day for all of them – the other men were tried on the 12th and executed on the 17th, George and Anne were tried on the 15th, with the result that George died on the 17th with the other men and Anne remained until the morning of the 19th. And while the introduction of the satire on marriage and the Devonshire MS was certainly different and technically falls into the category of “You can’t prove it didn’t happen” I could not bring myself to believe it. Condemned men with a few days left to live were not going to be allowed to while away their last hours sending witty epigrams to each other, and they would have been too busy either trying to secure a reprieve and/or getting their affairs in order to do so anyway. Thomas Boleyn is described as having been allowed to keep all of his offices thanks to his craven willingness to leave Anne and George to their fates – he didn’t, he lost quite a bit, although he did keep his earldom. Even that, though, was sharply reduced in value since he now had no child to succeed to it.

Henry Wyatt is described as being tortured in the Tower of London; in his own account, written much later and possibly somewhat enhanced, he says it was in Scotland (where Richard III doesn’t seem to have spent much time post-1483). Wyatt also says that the bones of the princes in the tower had been found beneath a staircase some years previously and he fears that Elizabeth would end up the same way should her true paternity become known. It would be a reasonable fear regardless, but the two skeletons he’s referring to weren’t found until the latter half of the 17th century.

George Boleyn (not “Sir George” as he’s called – he was never knighted) may or may not have been unhappily married, but Jane Parker was not twenty years older than him – nor for that matter was Mary Talbot twenty years older than Henry Percy. At least it’s a somewhat different explanation for their marital discontent, but it’s not the real one.

WORTH A READ? I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it, but I will say that it was a lot of fun to read – highly unlikely central premise and all. One thing I did enjoy was that Wyatt’s wife got more attention – even some scenes of her very own that didn’t include him! – and she wasn’t just a one-note shrew. She just dislikes physical contact, a lot, but is a kindhearted type who does well running the estate and loves her husband and son. She just can’t love the former like that. One scene which, for me, redeemed the entire book, featured the tenderhearted Elizabeth trying to prevent her six-year-old son from attending a bullbaiting, because she thinks it’s a cruel sport. Anachronistic as it was, it was nice to see someone other than the designated heroine having that thought. It was especially nice because after her son vomits at the bullbaiting, she’s thrilled that he has the same dislike of it that she does – only, as it turns out, he threw up because he was nervous about meeting the king, not because he cared about the bull. After recovering, he happily runs off to watch the second round of baiting, thoroughly at home in his own time period. For that alone, I’m glad I read this book.

From → Book Overviews

  1. Susan Higginbotham permalink

    I think I have this. I’ll have to dig it out!

    • sonetka permalink

      Read the bullbaiting scene, if nothing else!

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