The Dark-Eyed Queen by Lozania Prole (Ursula Bloom) 1967
Reading a book by Lozania Prole is a bit like getting a look into an alternative universe in which Luna Lovegood became a romance novelist instead of a … whatever she ended up being. There’s an endearingly dotty quality to the narrative – the author lapsing into the conditional and chattily speculating about what the characters may or may not have thought, the misuse of idiom which suggests a fluent but not quite native command of English, some truly inspired typographical errors, and of course the characters themselves going off in directions which more conventional novelists – let alone the originals – never thought of. Sometimes it can be a diverting if unlikely change, like the scene in which the sweet-minded Jane Seymour sends a consolatory letter to Anne in the Tower. And sometimes it’s pure WTF, as when we discover that Thomas Cranmer is a coldhearted pederast who likes to bed servant boys after a particularly rewarding day at the office. But it’s certainly never dull.
As I suspected when reading The Two Queen Annes (1971) portions of this earlier book were cannibalized in order to patch together the later, “new” book. This doesn’t mean that all of the surviving details were the same, though, not by a long shot. The first half of Anne’s story, in particular, changed dramatically while transitioning between the two books. In the earlier one, we pick up with an Anne who is about to return home from France and is thrilled by the prospect – she’s grown tired of “the constant compliments, the love-making; even the French wines had begun to bore her.” Stopping over in Calais during rough weather, she ends up sheltering in the house of a dead-eyed woman who tells her how nice it is to have a future queen under her roof; Anne laughs off this prediction but it lingers nonetheless as she heads home to find out which prospective bridegroom her father has chosen for her. And it turns out to be … Henry Percy! “A young husband! That at least was something!” His family connections and presumed wealth don’t hurt, either – unlike many other Annes, this one has no problem marrying for the sake of connections. Why else would you do it? But since the marriage can’t take place right away, for business reasons, Anne is dispatched to be maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon – “I am not like my sister, Your Grace,” she says, as Mary Boleyn has recently been banished from court for having the king’s son. As it happens, she also meets Henry Percy during one of Cardinal Wolsey’s visits, and all goes swimmingly until the fatal day in which Anne decides to have mercy on the “plain, pock-marked” Princess Mary and play hide-and-seek with her in the garden. Henry VIII, balding, afflicted with mysterious recurring sores, fearing the loss of his youth, blunders on stage during this scene and discovers Anne hiding in the bushes. “So the Boleyns have dark flowers in their garden!” he exclaims, and soon he’s pursuing both his lost youth and Anne, while the cold, haughty Wolsey is sent to mop up the remains of her betrothal to Percy and to dispatch the latter back north where he can’t cause any trouble.
The king is soon pursuing Anne full tilt and sending her letters; it takes him a while to catch on to the fact that Anne’s refusal is not coy flirtation but a real determination not to follow in her sister’s footsteps. His boredom and disappointment with Catherine are also coming to a head as he feels his own youth slipping away, and looking at Anne he decides that she should be good for at least three sons, possibly more, and it’s at that point that he offers her the crown. She is tempted by the glory and excitement of it all (and after all, she’s not the one pursuing a divorce, so how could it be blamed on her?) and like many another Anne, she’s decided that now that Percy is gone she may as well console herself with a healthy supply of some other man’s worldly goods. And there was that prophecy, after all.
Campeggio’s visit and Wolsey’s fall all take place in the space of about five pages – Anne is the instigator both of Wolsey’s disgrace and of Percy’s being sent to arrest him, and before another page has passed Henry and Anne are en route to Calais, where she seeks out the fortune-teller from ten years previously and learns that she’ll have to marry Henry as soon as possible as their heir is slated to arrive within the next year. And in a scene which is not in this book but which does appear in The Two Queen Annes (and is obliquely referenced here) Anne seduces Henry on Christmas night and by New Year’s Day is announcing to the world that she’s craving apples for some mysterious reason. Their wedding takes place shortly afterwards, but Anne’s triumphant summer crowning turns out to be less than successful at the popular level, as the crowds don’t cheer but hiss “Concubine!” at her instead, even though she kindly insists that a heretical prisoner at the Tower be freed on the day of coronation. Elizabeth’s birth a few months later does nothing to help matters, as Henry is so enraged that he almost puts his fist through a window and has lost all interest in Anne, who had been rather free with her promises about the “Prince of Wales.” Furthermore, he’s gotten tired of Anne’s energy and defiance and is enjoying the company of Jane Seymour, who loves small children and has no particular political aspirations. (She’s also genuinely shocked by Henry’s attentions and tries to to fend him off, not very effectively). After Catherine’s death, when Anne is so relieved that she wears yellow and dances despite being seven months pregnant and subsequently gives birth to a stillborn boy, it’s clear to Thomases Cromwell and Cranmer that they have a chance to push her off the throne and install the apolitical, easily-controlled Jane Seymour instead. “Unless some change occurred in the King’s attitude, anything could happen and [Cranmer’s] head could roll in the straw as easily as anyone’s.” Luring Smeaton to Cranmer’s house for a round of torture is easy enough, and soon Norris and the others are locked up as well.
It’s at this point that Jane Seymour’s claws come out – not for Anne, but for Henry. When it becomes clear that Henry is going to marry this delightful, pliable girl who only wants to be “the King’s wife – never his Queen” and that Anne will have to die first, Jane is cold and obstinate. When informed that Anne has “betrayed” Henry, Jane’s response is “I doubt that, for she is my cousin and a good woman.” Henry tries to persuade her, but Jane insists that “it is untrue” and that furthermore she’ll see to it that all of Henry’s children, including Elizabeth, have proper maternal care if he marries her (since the evil Cranmer has been urging Henry to demote and humiliate Elizabeth in every possible way). Luckily for Jane, Henry finds this behavior stimulating rather than the reverse, and Jane is allowed to send a letter to Anne “from the future Queen of England to her predecessor,” reassuring her on these points. Even Henry allows himself to be shaken for a moment – when he hears the cannon announcing Anne’s death. “She was my dark-eyed queen,” he tells himself, and the curtain falls on preparations for his third (and certainly final) marriage.
SEX OR POLITICS? Sex, for the most part, but now and then we get a long and awkwardly-placed scene giving us the potted version of what’s happening outside the royal bedroom, and near the end we see several long scenes in which Cranmer and Cromwell have teamed up and are trying to out-vile each other as they work to bring down the woman whom they believe is a threat to them (although why she’s a threat exactly is left rather vague).
WHEN BORN? 1503 – she’s nineteen when she returns from France in 1522. Mary is older, but her birth year isn’t clear; neither is George’s.
THE EARLY LOVE: Besides Henry Percy – tall, gangly, blond and charming — there’s also Henry Norris, who is Anne’s near neighbour and who visits her frequently while she’s at Hever after the Percy affair. His affection is not returned – as Anne reflects later, he would have been a good, unadventurous husband, but “not exciting – and Anne adored excitement.” It’s to Norris that Anne laments that “none of us are free to love , for our parents arrange us like pawns on a chessboard, and they decide with who we shall be blessed.” Norris himself is afraid that Anne will be corrupted by the court and ultimately be lost. He’s right, of course, but is too noble to mention this to her after they’ve both been arrested. He does permit himself a few mournful moments imagining what might have been if he had married her, though.
THE QUEEN’S BEES: Lady Rochford is there, but in muted form and surprisingly undramatic – she still plays her usual part, but instead of the usual over-the-top serpent comparisons, she’s described simply as a woman on the make who took advantage of her sister-in-law’s status for as long as possible and knew when to cut her loose. Her relationship with George seems to be nonexistent. Jane Seymour plays by far the biggest part of any maid – she’s depicted as a sweet, child-loving homebody who misses her parents in the country and who gives in to Henry’s attentions because she can’t see any practical alternative. She’s also Anne’s cousin, and defies Henry in order to comfort “my kinswoman” in a letter in which she assures a grateful Anne that she’ll look after Elizabeth.
THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Unusually, Jane Seymour is the closest equivalent.
THE PROPHECY: Two prophetic episodes, both from the same mysterious woman in Calais. Anne first meets her on her way back to England when she stops at the woman’s house for the night during an episode of bad weather. “You will be the Queen of England, for that is written in the stars,” she says, and adds that Anne will also be the mother of “the greatest monarch of them all … But you will die whilst your dark hair is still bright with youth, and you will die violently. I know.” Ten years later, during their trip to Calais in the autumn of 1532, Anne seeks the woman out again and is told that she must marry soon if “the monarch” is to be born legitimate, and when Anne asks if there’s any way to change the future with regard to dying violently and young, is told that there is no way out. Since she’s fairly well committed to Henry at this point, she resolves to get him to marry her as soon as possible and roll the dice on conceiving a boy.
IT’S A GIRL! Henry takes it violently.
Henry had always been vindictive, but he had had his good moments, and in his way he had loved Anne. Now, on the instant, the emotion died …. He strode into his own closet, with a low fire lit on the hearth, the flames crackling merrily, and that enraged him. Too hot, he vowed, and clenching a giant fist he thrust it through the window, not caring if he bled for it. He snarled. He was more animal than man in this hour. He would kill the Boleyn girl for bearing him another daughter; had she not promised him a son?
It’s at this unlucky moment that Jane Seymour enters his life, maternal, soothing, and simple, and his son-having ambitions become transferred to her.
DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? Six fingers on both hands, actually – she has a rudimentary second thumb on each. No concealing sleeves are mentioned, and anyone with two extra thumbs would be hard put to conceal them like that anyway.
FAMILY AFFAIRS: We don’t see very much of Mary, but George is the affectionate brother who tells Anne the news of her betrothal to Henry Percy early on – he fades out of the story later as Henry Norris takes his place as chief confidant. Anne’s parents are both generically ambitious in the usual manner.
DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? No.
WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: Not precisely purple, but I’ve never seen weirder use of idiom than in these books. Illegitimate children are “blow-bys” instead of byblows, monarchs’ titles are written as “Henry VIIIth”, Anne demands full marriage rites “with bell, book and candle” before sleeping with Henry when bell, book and candle meant something much less enjoyable. Jane’s family resides at “Woolf Hall”, so spelled, which while not technically incorrect did bring many distracting thoughts of Henry VIII taking tea with Leonard and Virginia. Like I said earlier, there’s an air of someone with excellent but not quite native command of English here, though there’s no excuse for that kind of thing not to be corrected by an editor. It’s not all dire, though – there are some effective passages, including, surprisingly to me, the ones where Anne visits the old woman in Calais who prophesies to her. Usually such scenes leave me cold but the description of the woman was genuinely creepy:
She looked tired, old in a remote way, almost as though she had never been young; once again there came the forbidding feeling that the woman was dead, that she had never really lived, and that death had already decayed part of her body.
Unfortunately, such good moments are more than cancelled out by passages like the following, in which Cranmer enters the rolls of Posthumous Sexual Malefactors.
A page brought him in first strawberries and cream. The berries came from Kent, and he associated the Queen with Kent. He looked at the boy. He was a nephew of the Warwicks, fairn, with an exquisitely molded body, and intense eyes which smiled at him. Cranmer lifted a hand with the ring of office on it, and beckoned.
“Come hither!” he said, and sneered slightly. There was lust in his eyes. The boy looked at him, and advanced coldly. He had been warned by his fellows of the momentary madnesses of the Archbishop.
ERRATA: In what was possibly the best typo I’ve ever seen, Mary Rose Tudor is described as having married Louis VII of France. Who wouldn’t like to watch her competing with Eleanor of Aquitaine across three centuries? In more mundane errata, Cranmer is portrayed on zero evidence as a pederast, Henry VIII is described as having inherited syphilis from his father, Princess Mary is described as ugly and hated by her father (at the age of six, when in fact he couldn’t show her off enough), Queen Catherine is having stillbirths and miscarriages well into the 1520s (her last confirmed pregnancy was in 1518, when she was thirty-three years old), Jane Seymour is called Lady Jane Seymour and also portrayed as Anne’s cousin – though these last are Strickland-inspired errors. And since Jane Seymour was not officially the future queen of anything until after Anne’s death – though of course, there were rumours – there is no way she could have written that letter to Anne even if she had wanted to do any such thing. Smeaton was lured not to Cranmer’s house but to Cromwell’s, and Cranmer’s role in Anne’s downfall is heavily exaggerated — while he didn’t exactly stick out his neck for her (witness the famously waffling letter in which he appeared to change his mind about her between between signature and postscript) losing her was a heavy blow to his aspirations and there’s no evidence that he knew anything about it beforehand.
WORTH A READ? It’s a curiosity, but unless you’re very strongly interested in these sorts of books and can find a fifty cent copy at the library sale I wouldn’t do it. It isn’t so much the weird points of the book itself as the fact that in addition to being very inaccurate it’s also written in a choppy manner and the plot is such that anyone who didn’t already know the period well would become lost very quickly. Cranmer and Cromwell appear as Anne’s enemies virtually of out of nowhere about two-thirds of the way through the story, and while there’s some neatly-done explanations that they feel like it’s Anne’s life or their own and that they resent her interference in politics, the reader is left completely in the dark with regard to what her interference was, or what it meant – the scene where she orders a prisoner to be released on her coronation day is about it. Furthermore, Anne’s character has some weird hiccups in its consistency – she’s lively, cheerful, and insistent, but after her marriage to Henry she’s described as loosening up at court where she’d previously been seen as shy, reserved and haughty due to the pressure she was under to act perfectly. Well and good, except that we were never shown any scenes in which Anne was acting particularly shy or reserved. A few of them may have migrated into The Two Queen Annes (like the Christmas seduction scene; it’s in that book but not this one) but it’s annoying and tends to give the reader a feeling of there being a missing reel in the movie. The book is a curiosity, but skippable.