Mystic Events: Or, The Vision Of The Tapestry by Francis Lathom (1830)
Francis Lathom, prolific writer of gothic novels, is remembered today primarily for The Midnight Bell (1798), which achieved the distinction of being one of the novels read by the giddy girls in Northanger Abbey. When not turning out suspense novels, he appears to have had a somewhat unusual private life, if the Valancourt biography can be trusted. Married early, he and his wife Diana had four children together before things took a decided turn for the unconventional.
Around 1802 or 1803, under circumstances not yet known, Lathom left Norwich, perhaps for Scotland. Lathom’s father’s will provided him an annuity of £200 per year, provided that he relinquish custody of his children to Diana and have nothing more to do with them. [Montague] Summers posited that Lathom’s removal from Norwich may have stemmed from a gay love affair, which, while not substantiated, may nonetheless be true.
Lathom’s children had their surnames changed to his wife’s maiden name, and Lathom himself just kept writing: Mystic Events was his last book, published two years before his death. It provides ample evidence both that Lathom was running out of steam when it came to plotting and that Montague Summers, as much as I tend to take him with large helpings of salt, may have been on to something, because Lathom clearly had an enormous authorial crush on George Boleyn. George himself is sexually and emotionally ambiguous in the extreme, as are most of the men in the story, all of whom rely upon each other emotionally to the point where the female characters – including Anne Boleyn — often seem to be intruders in the story. One indirect result of this is that Mystic Events is the only work I have come across so far in which George Boleyn is the undoubted leading Boleyn. He’s had equal time with his sisters on occasion (sometimes sharing the stage with Mary, more often with Anne) but not once had I come across a work in which he was the Boleyn until this one, much less one which managed to anticipate Retha Warnicke’s hypothesis by about a century and a half.
Of course, the fact that he’s the leading Boleyn doesn’t mean we’re actually going to learn all that much about the real George; Lathom’s brand of fiction was much more of the “vaguely inspired by” than the “based on a true story” variety. On the plus side, this means that even the most obsessive Tudor fan will get to be surprised on a routine basis when she sees George acquiring six siblings instead of three, George being exsanguinated by an Italian beauty after being stabbed with a poisoned knife, George marrying someone who manifestly is not Jane Parker, George commending the genius of William Shakespeare, George being abducted by an Italian nobleman and forced to serve as a semi-willing sperm donor for said nobleman’s wife to prevent an evil nephew from inheriting an ancient estate, being kidnapped again by a courtesan serving Urania – all the typical adventures of a young Englishman on the Grand Tour.
George is not the point of view character; that distinction belongs to a young man named Leolin, whom we first meet as a seventeen-year-old with a mysterious background, who’s just been kicked out of the humble cottage he shared with someone named Mabellah who may or may not be his mother. Although poorly dressed, he’s quite handsome, and “Nature appeared to have placed upon him that stamp of independent superiority which the meanest vestments cannot debase.” Independently superior or not, he’s in bad shape, since he’s spent most of his life isolated with his mother (and earlier, a nurse and a tutor) and has no idea where to go. “Whither can I fly? Whither can I bend my uncertain steps, for the hope of finding a refuge, a home, or still more enviable blessing, where can I expect to meet a benevolent protector, who could befriend my hapless state….” Luckily, salvation awaits: after a few more pages, sixty men-at-arms come riding along and one of their superior knights asks the young man who he is and what he’s doing. “I am an unfortunate being, possessed of neither friends, nor home,” the young man tells the man-at-arms, and in response receives an offer of a bed and “every accommodation which your necessities require” at the local castle, little more than a rood away (A rood is a quarter of an acre. If the castle’s that close, shouldn’t they already be able to see it?) The knight who takes such an interest in Leolin is described as “a man of apparently between twenty-five and thirty years of age, of a countenance so peculiarly interesting, that it riveted the eyes of the observer, and created in him an anxiety to enter in an acquaintance with the heart as well as the person of the attractive being to whom in appertained.”
Once at the castle, Leolin is given a bedchamber featuring a skillfully done tapestry, featuring “the figure of a monk, bearing, in one of his hands, a folded scroll, which although conscious that the force of his imagination alone gave rise to the idea, he could scarcely persuade himself did not keep its eyes constantly fixed upon him, and even turned them, to observe him, to whatever part of the chamber he moved.” He falls asleep and then wakes, or thinks he does, to see …
The figure of the monk descended slowly from the tapestry, and with a placid, but authoritative expression of countenance, moving at a measured pace, it approached the foot of the bed; and having done so, it paused, unfolded to the view of Leolin the scroll which had hitherto been rolled within its hand, and he perceived deciphered upon it the following words: –
“THE HOUR OF YOUR FATE IS ARRIVED; EMBRACE IT WITH GRATITUDE.”
Leolin tells the knight (whom we’ve now learned is the Count of Beaumarchais) all about the dream the next morning at breakfast, but the knight laughs it off and says Leolin must have been dreaming. Leolin then recounts his personal history in detail – his isolated upbringing, and his bad treatment at the hands of Mabellah, who had beaten him and then thrown him out of the cottage when he asked if she were his mother. Beaumarchais promises to help solve “the mystery of your birth” while a passing servant helpfully remarks that Leolin looks a lot like the late Sir Ralph de Gastonville, who used to spend a lot of time at the castle and was rumoured to be heavily into alchemy. However, since Sir Ralph has been dead for forty years, he clearly can’t be Leolin’s father, and that bit about alchemy will clearly be in no way relevant. Anyway, Leolin soon has something else besides his parentage to worry about, since while out for a ride with Beaumarchais, they encounter the traveling trains of the Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Boleyn, and Leolin is instantly smitten by a certain young lady.
“Rarely,” exclaimed Leolin, addressing his friend, “has it been my fortune to observe a female of the superior ranks of life, and thus my admiration of her who is at this moment presented to my sight, may be regarded as being naturally of a more romantic kind than that with which her presence would inspire the heart of one accustomed to behold the various degrees of life; but of those of her sex, collectively estimated, whom it has been my chance to observe, did I ever perceive any one so eminently lovely, so enchantingly fair, as the damsel mounted on the milk-white palfrey, with the silver trappings, who now bends upon me her soul-subduing eye. Is she known to you?”
It is, of course, Anne Boleyn, or as Beaumarchais puts it, “one of the most lovely females on whom the luxuriant hand of nature ever bestowed its embellishments … and exhibits in herself the exact transcript of her grandame, whom I remember, at the remote distance of threescore and five years from the present period, to have shone the choicest flower of loveliness which graced the English court.” Leolin is naturally rather surprised to hear that the knight can remember sixty-five years back when he barely looks thirty, but the knight backtracks and says that he must be repeating what he heard from someone else, and for good measure gaslights Leolin a bit by telling him that the sight of Anne must have dazzled him so much that he couldn’t understand plain English. Well, that’s settled, then! Leolin is still sufficiently suspicious both of Beaumarchais’ verbal slips and his odd generosity to ask if “you are perhaps acquainted with the authors of my being,” but Beaumarchais tells him that “the hour of disclosure is not yet arrived” and leaves it at that. He does, however, give him the title Sir Leolin of Auvignac, arranges for him to have training in weapons and archery, and tells him to represent himself as Beaumarchais’ cousin. Beaumarchais kindly supervises Leolin’s archery instruction personally, during which he tells Leolin that he “exhibits one of the most perfect models of human statuary which I myself ever to have beheld, it will afford you every opportunity of displaying it to the best advantage.” This is only one of the many borderline-creepy comments which Beaumarchais makes to his young protege, but Leolin takes it in stride and before you know it, he and Beaumarchais are off to compete in a tournament held by Henry VIII in honour of his sister Margaret, and after which Beaumarchais has promised to get Leolin an interview with Anne. That promise isn’t the only thing he gives Leolin; he also digs into an ancient chest and pulls out an “invaluable fragment of vegetation”.
He opened a small box, which Leolin perceived to contain a transparent dust, of a silvery hue, into which having dipped his moistened finger, he applied to his tongue the particles which it had withdrawn. This done, he for some moments closed his lips, and on re-opening them, having breathed forcibly upon the plant, by an instantaneous effect it began gradually to resume its pristine freshness, and finally to appear adorned with all the varied tints and verdant animation which it had displayed in vegetable life.
This is the “love-apple” which will cause a bond of love to form between the giver and the receiver. (He tactfully doesn’t comment on the fact that Leolin is receiving it from him as a gift as well). Leolin duly wins the tournament and presents the love-apple to Anne, who is duly impressed, although not to the extent that she gets any dialogue. Leolin has clearly been noticed by the Boleyn family, however, as a few months later he receives an invitation to the wedding of Anne’s older sister Maria to Sir William Carey. Off he goes to the wedding and meets all of Anne’s siblings, and since she has 100% more living siblings here than she did in life, it takes some time. Not only does she have an older sister named Maria, she has another even older sister (the Marchioness of Dorset – no first name given) and a younger sister named Amabel who’s tactfully described as visiting with her aunt when it’s hinted that she’s actually recovering from an abortive love affair with a man bearing the ominous-sounding name of Sigismund Lovell. Anne is also furnished with three brothers; William, Edward, and, of course, George.
In George Boleyn, whose manners had been formed during his residence, in the character of a page, at the imperial court, and whose mind had since been enlightened, to a degree of perfection rarely attained at his age, by the unremitting assiduity with which he had, since his return to his native country, pursued his studies at the university of Oxford, [Leolin] found a youth of the most bland and engaging disposition, combined with a mind of equal sensibility and energy; and whom, as their acquaintance increased, he considered as an individual more congenial and interesting to his feelings, than any with whom he had yet conversed. The close connexion in which he stood to the lovely Anne, undoubtedly added a zest to the favourable sentiments with which he was regarded by him; but had he been utterly unknown to her, Leolin felt assured that he would have bestowed upon him the same preference; and it imparted no slender satisfaction to his feelings to believe that George entertained an equal partiality for his society.
It’s at the wedding that Leolin makes a written proposal to marry Anne, and after returning to Beaumarchais he receives a letter from Anne accepting him, and letters from George welcoming him to the family and then conveying the distressing news that their youngest sister Amabel has disappeared from her godmother’s care and is supposed to have “yielded to the persuasions of the unprincipled Lovell,” While Thomas goes off the London to request the king’s help in finding her, various signs of impending trouble continue to turn up; wandering minstrels stop by the Castle of the Rock (Beaumarchais’ home) bringing tidings that the harmony between king and queen has been disrupted, as “The king … has suddenly conceived himself to have committed a hideous sin in having espoused the widow of his late brother Arthur.” In addition, Leolin’s friend and fellow knight Le Brun, who’s the illegitimate son of a mysterious lord, is told several times just how much Leolin resembles him, and how much they both resemble the late Sir Ralph de Gastonville, who, it transpires, could never be persuaded to marry since he fell in love with a beautiful, lowborn Spaniard who killed herself to prevent him from ruining his life. (He had rashly said he wouldn’t marry anyone else as long as she was alive, and so she concluded that he’d be happy to do so after she was dead, which proved not to be the case). Since he never married, his estate was inherited by his nephew, Beaumarchais, whose portrait for some reason bears a date of 1484 even though he doesn’t look any older than thirty-five. Why could that be? Leolin doesn’t trouble himself too much about that, though, since while the hunt for Amabel is continuing, George Boleyn has come to spend time with him and they’re too busy commending each other to worry about other things. They’re very good friends, as they keep telling each other.
“I regard the existence of an individual,” said George Boleyn, “Who is unblest with the enviable treasure of an esteemed friend, to whose bosom he may unhesitatingly confide the inmost secrets of his heart, as a cypher in creation …. But hearts desirous of entering into a union of this sacred nature must be cast in the same mould which I have every reason, from the partiality with which we have mutually regarded each other from the first moment at which our acquaintance commenced, to believe that those which inhabit our breasts have been formed; and I hail the hour as the most fortunate of my life, which, in the possession of a friend like yourself, has rendered the alliance of our souls doubly firm, by the close bond of affinity by which we are shortly destined to be united … neither time nor circumstance, of whatsoever nature may be the secrets written in the unexplored pages of the hidden volume of futurity, shall shake my friendship, or divide my heart from thine.”
Leolin tells him “From this happy hour all your joys and griefs are mine, and mine are yours. Henceforth one heart alone shall animate our breasts – one soul comprise our thoughts, our inclinations and desires.” This is much more loverlike than any exchange we’ve seen between Leolin and Anne – not that that’s a fair way to measure, since at this point Anne has not actually had one word of dialogue. Never fear, though, Anne eventually gets to speak, right at the end of Volume 1. She’s been living with her aunt, Mildred Denny, and has just received word that Sigismund Lovell’s ship has sunk and that Amabel is presumed to have drowned; she’s sure that this is the reason she keeps dreaming first that she’s trying to save Leolin from drowning, and second that she’s standing atop a pillar until suddenly knocked off it by a thunderbolt.
The thunderbolt strikes between this volume and the next, since at the opening of Volume 2 George Boleyn has taken the reins again and is leading a retinue of men to the Castle of the Rock, a retinue which includes a Latin-spouting dwarf fool who comes bearing the bad news that “Mrs. Anne Boleyn, as thou namest her, no longer exists; the countess of Pembroke now fills her place … Her father, not only for the preservation of the high favour with which he was honoured by his monarch, but likewise for the contingent safety of his own person … had pledged himself to cancel the engagements into which he had entered for his daughter, with the wealthy heir of the count of Beaumarchais.” George is very unhappy to be bearing this news, but tries to console Leolin by telling his own story of young love nipped in the bud, and I have to say it beats Leolin’s story for interest any day of the week.
“The being from whom I lament my separation has been clasped to my panting breast – has pressed her willing lips to mine, whilst I inhaled the intoxicating odour of her fragrant breath – and – why should I hesitate to express myself without reserve to thee? – has admitted me to all the rights of a chose and acknowledged husband. Yet from her I am torn, and as it is impossible for me to doubt for ever, am ignorant of her name, her abode, and her connexions: and am defied by the most severe and terrific menaces from ever attempting to behold her … the head of my too-favoured rival has long since reposed upon the bosom of her whom I adore.”
It turns out George spent his formative years at the imperial court of Germany, where he met one Ferdinand, prince palatine of Ortenburg. On a trip to Florence to attend the wedding of his sister, George was abducted by a couple of Italian men, blindfolded, and carried off to a mysterious house, all the while being assured that “it is not an injury, but an honour, which is intended you,” and that if there were time to explain, he’d come with them willingly. “You will shortly find occasion to bless your benignant stars for having fixed their election upon you.” George explains their choice of himself as stemming from the fact that Englishmen are “universally allowed to excel those of other nations, in the honour, the courage, and the generosity, which animate their hearts and with which the voice of fame reports you as most eminently gifted.” After being released from his bonds (but still wearing the blindfold) George was told that he would be rendering service to “a most important individual” and would have his perpetual friendship afterwards. A servant named Bernado told George an involved story about a widowed and childless nobleman who had lost all of his family except for one dissolute nephew who once tried to have him assassinated. Unwilling to let the estate go to this unsavoury character, Anselmo married again to beautiful eighteen-year-old girl, “but unfortunately the chief end for which their marriage was contracted has not been accomplished; they are not yet blessed with an heir.” Anselmo, after speaking with an advisor, decided to procure the “secret intervention” of a friend, and since his wife “declares herself prepared to submit herself unhesitatingly to [her husband]’s will and happiness,” it looked like this might be George’s lucky night. Bernado helpfully pointed out that no duty will be broken, since both husband and wife are agreeable to the idea and Anselmo hand-picked George as a likely father for his putative child – not to mention he’ll be willing to pay handsomely after George performs. If George wanted to turn down his generosity, he was of course free to leave, but Bernado would strongly advise against it, and George is inclined to take him seriously.
“With the vindictive spirit of an insulted Italian I was well acquainted … The national spirit likewise, of which Bernado had spoken, glowed within my heart, and I could not but conceive that I should display an unpardonable degree of pusillanimity in withdrawing myself from an adventure which I was thus earnestly encouraged to prosecute; and having once permitted myself to debate upon the rectitude and propriety of the step to which I was urged, inclination, as it usually does in cases of a doubtful nature, preponderated over my scruples, and I resolved boldly to pursue my adventure to its close.”
He pursues the adventure to its close for two straight days, and when he and the masked lady of the house are finished, George is given some valuable jewelry, told that the count will be happy to come to his aid should he ever need it, and delivered blindfolded back to his original residence, still not knowing where he’s been or who he’s been sleeping with. A fine adventure, he thought, until realizing that he couldn’t get “the unknown companion of my hours of retirement” out of his head. He’s been pining for her ever since. Leolin, apparently feeling rather upstaged by all of this, goes off to consult with one Abijah Ginettbon, “king of the Egyptians”, who informs him that the magic love-apple which Leolin gave Anne has been “transferred to the possession of another object, in whose breast it is nourished, an in whose heart it has created for him an unalterable passion.” Who could this mysterious being be? Whoever it is, it clearly won’t affect Leolin’s fate, as another fiery prophecy states that “A.B. IS DESTINED TO BE THE WIFE OF SIR LEOLIN OF AUVIGNAC” and there’s only one person in the world who has the initials A.B, right? Meanwhile the possessor Leolin is thinking of is having a very difficult time reconciling herself to her new fate of becoming Henry VIII’s wife.
At the first communication made to Anne Boleyn by her father, of the passion with which she had inspired the king, a confusion of tumultuous ideas filled her mind, which rendered her for a considerable time unable to analyse her feelings, or to believe that the actual situation in which she was placed, was not a dream, from which she would speedily awake. The exultation, however, with which her father dilated on the high honour intended to be conferred on her, and the intelligence which he communicated to her, of his having already dispatched an apology to the count of Beaumarchais … gradually opened her eyes to the reality of her case; and a flood of tears, arising from sensations which she found herself unable to repress, were the only reply she was capable of returning to Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas, fearful for his own position, tells her of “the impossibility of a negative” being returned to Henry, and that if she wants to avoid giving a lot of trouble to her friends and family, she should “restrain her from giving vent to those feelings for which there existed no medicine, but that of a patient resignation to the will of her monarch.” Anne obeys, and tells George as much when he comes to find out if all hope of her marrying Leolin is gone. She tells him that “not withstanding the light and giddy disposition which I am said to display in the common events of life, I have ever maintained the highest sense of religion, and … my soul is equally unconscious of the commission of any sort of premeditated error.” Religion tells her to serve God, and her king, “and by those joint and indisputable authorities I am now impelled in suffering myself to be raised to that pinnacle of human exaltation, from my ascension to which, I, in secrecy, acknowledge to you that my soul revolts.” George urges her to meet with Leolin one more time so they can at least officially part as friends, and on the way to the cottage where Leolin is concealed, they bump into Ovidius the dwarf jester and one Philip Ledingham, boon companion of the evil Sigismund Lovell, who comes bearing the news that Amabel Boleyn didn’t drown with Sigismund on his ship because she wasn’t with him in the first place – Sigismund had moved on to a goldsmith’s wife by then, and he was as confused as anyone to hear about Amabel’s disappearance.
“Whither can the unfortunate being have fled?” wonders Anne, thinking that Amabel has gotten herself into even worse trouble than Sigismund would have given her. She doesn’t have much time to wonder, because she’s just arrived at the cottage where Leolin is waiting, and the latter is so overcome with emotion that “his lips quivered, his cheeks blanched, and his entire frame betrayed a convulsive agitation of the most violent nature.” Finally he “sunk inanimate” at Anne’s feet. When he wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by armed guards – it turns out that Cardinal Wolsey’s retinue, on the way to Hever, stopped in at the cottage to get away from the rain and upon discovering Anne with Leolin, she was taken under escort and he was left under guard. An individual in “undistinguished garb” introduces himself as Thomas Cromwell and explains that since he was caught in private conversation with the king’s affianced, he’s going to be taken to the Tower. While there he hangs out with Thomas Wyatt, who says he’ll probably be released once Anne is officially crowned queen. Which he is – albeit with a serious catch. “you are commanded, upon pain of the forfeiture of your existence, to retire from England for the remainder of your life.” Leolin goes off to the chateau of Auvignac, leaving behind his strangely girlish-looking page Egbert de Lacy but accompanied by a cranky Beaumarchais, who drops more hints about being a lot older than he looks and who is sure that Leolin is still fated to marry into a great English family, probably Anne Boleyn’s. Besides, you never know – “where is the impossibility of a speedy widowhood liberating her from the thraldom in which she is now entangled? … Anne may become the sole administrator of the realm, possess the ability of recalling thee from exile, and appoint thee as her consort, to become her regent at the helm of state.”
After four months, George Boleyn turns up for a visit and encourages Leolin to continue on to Italy with him — “although I have no positive idea of returning to the spot where the extraordinary adventure which I formerly related to you occurred.” Yes, George, we believe you. Anyway, off they go to Venice, where George, as seems to be his habit, promptly disappears for three days and reappears with a strange story of romantic misadventure. It turns out that George was lured by a lemonade-seller in St. Mark’s square into visiting the Gardens of Urania, whose “goddess” Anastatia has developed a strong affection for him, though disappointingly it turns out that Venus Urania’s love is “of the most chaste and delicate description … and expressed by her disciples and votaries solely by the interchange of their congenial sentiments.” After a few days of royal treatment, George notices that Anastatia/Urania has a triple mole on her arm, exactly like the “fair incognita” he once spent such a memorable weekend with. When she notices that he’s noticed, she throws him out and later on an anonymous voice in the crowd whispers to George that it’s time to get out of town, so he and Leolin depart, encountering a few misadventures on the road while Leolin tries to persuade George that the “incognita” wouldn’t be worth finding anyway, as she’s clearly a person of at best flexible morals – and in one of the great understatements of fiction, Leolin points out that George’s introduction to her also constituted “infringement on the precepts of delicacy.” But wait, whom should they meet on that very road but Bernado, the servant who arranged George’s encounter with the count’s wife so many years ago! Bernado has been looking for George everywhere, since the count died six months ago. His wife didn’t have a child after her encounter with George, but it’s all right, since the evil nephew predeceased the count anyway. Bernado would like to know if George is still single, and upon learning that he is —
“Thus, then,” exclaimed the supposed Bernado, who must in future be known to us as the signor Montaldi, “thus let me clasp thee to my exulting heart, by the grateful title of son! I am the father of thy Amelrosa, betrothed to thee by the dying breath of my late friend, the marchese di Savina, and now consigned to thee with my fervent blessing, and her own free assent, to that union which will bestow upon thee the happiness for which thou has so long and hopelessly languished!”
George goes panting off to visit the lovely Amelrosa, and a sulky Leolin bumps into Thomas Wyatt, who takes him in hand and off to visit friends of his who have a daughter named Hermia. Hermia bears a strong resemblance to Anne Boleyn, and an even stronger one to Amabel Boleyn; she also manages to win Leolin’s love without so much as a single line of dialogue – “the advances which he was conscious the beautiful Hermia was imperceptibly making towards his heart” disturb Leolin intensely, especially since he remembers the prophecy that his wife will have the initials A.B. Even after he discovers the enchanted love-apple in Hermia’s desk, he still can’t figure out – he’s just distressed because he thinks Anne must have thrown it away. Meanwhile, back at the home of George’s future in-laws, he finds the company, and his fiancee, delightful – except that Amelrosa has a habit of always wearing “a sleeve descending to her wrist, and confined around it by a bracelet of pearl or amethyst.” He’s starting to wonder if the sleeve is meant to hide the mole, or the lack of one – after all, as taken as he is with her, he can’t be entirely sure of her identity – and after a few days he’s summoned by a mysterious monk to a cell where he encounters Anastatia once again, brandishing her triple mole and declaring that she was the woman he slept with, not Amelrosa. Amelrosa, while she really was the count’s wife and did agree to the arrangement for her to sleep with another man in hopes of ousting the evil nephew, found herself unwilling to do it afterwards and instead of getting into a fight with her husband about it, simply hired a ringer in Anastatia. Anastatia then proceeded to fall as hard for George as he did for her – “Oh, sir George! Noble, adorable Englishman! My fleeting life hangs on the determination of your lips.”
George, having discovered that his ideal beloved was in fact a hired prostitute, is prey to less exalted emotions. “Infatuated being, I pity thee, but can never again converse with thee, or behold thee; we meet no more on earth!” he tells her, which seems rather ungrateful considering how he had also been obsessing over her for years. She seems to think so as well, and promptly stabs him, then takes poison and expires after Amelrosa’s father bursts into the cell, just in time to rescue George, who’s half-dead from blood loss, though he still has the presence of mind – not to mention the lungpower – to advise the doctor that “as my wound is fortunately in my right breast, I do not believe myself to have received a mortal injury; but the agony with which I am affected is of an extraordinary and piercing nature.” It’s made even worse by Anastatia’s having poisoned the knife ahead of time, just in case, and the only way to keep George alive is for someone to suck the poison out of his wound, and there’s nobody there who has the stamina and the devotion to do this – except for Amelrosa. She spends half an hour sucking blood out of George’s chest wound and rinsing her mouth with vinegar at intervals, and at last the poison is gone, George is on the road to recovery, and I’m trying not to look directly at the page for too long because the mental image that scene produced was more deeply uncomfortable than anything even Robin Maxwell could produce. Fortunately, George and Amelrosa are much happier with these developments than I am, and after a little conversation, in which it turns out that after her late husband pointed George out in a crowd (post-Anastatia) Amelrosa developed great “partiality and admiration” for him; there’s a delicate implication that if she’d known that this was what awaited her, she would have gone through with the arrangement after all. They marry, and there’s only one volume of this monster left to read.
Now all of the loose ends are being tied up, and to our total lack of shock we discover that Beaumarchais is actually the father both of Leolin and Le Brun – the former born of his wife, the latter of a mistress. Beaumarchais’ alchemical experiments were pretty successful, hence his youthful appearance when in actuality he’s ninety-nine years old and is really Ralph de Gastonville; to avoid too many questions being asked about his eternal agelessness, he faked his own death and returned to the Castle of the Rock while pretending to be his own nephew. Mabellah really was Leolin’s mother, as it turns out – their incompatible temperaments, and his continued alchemical experiments, drove them apart and he ditched her in Paris and paid for Leolin’s tutors, thinking he would let him in on the secret of his birth after a decade or two. And the vision of the tapestry (remember that?) was actually Beaumarchais dressed up in a cowl, since he thought a vision advising him to stay where he was would make the strongest impression. I have to say, considering that they’re in the book’s very subtitle, I had had hoped for better things from that tapestry.
Back to the English court, where George Boleyn has just arrived to visit and introduce his new wife to Anne, who hasn’t been having nearly as entertaining a time of it as George has. Her firstborn child, a boy, has died in infancy, and the king isn’t interested in anything but replacing him as speedily as possible, which has “imparted feelings of a most inimical tendency to the heart of the tender and devoted Anne.” She has, after all, given up the man she really wanted because Henry told her to, and now her reward is to see that “she was regarded by the partner of her fate only in proportion to the promise which his alliance with her afforded him of propagating his line.” Equally unhelpful are her jealous sisters, Maria Carey and the Marchioness of Dorset. “Their minds were not formed of the same pure materials which composed that of their royal sister,” we’re told in an ominous aside, and now they’re really annoyed because George is returning with a wealthy, beautiful wife (not to mention an “epistle of introduction from the Pope”), and since George had never shown an interest in marrying before, they had been counting on his portion of the inheritance. In fact, he had never seemed interested in any woman before except for Anne! Hmm, could his interest have possibly been a bit more than brotherly? Personally, I’d worry more that his interest in Leolin might be well beyond brotherly – but at least now he’ll actually get to be Leolin’s brother, as Thomas Boleyn turns up to negotiate a marriage between Leolin and … well, Anne gets to perform the final reveal: “Accept from my hand, in the person of your esteemed page, Egbert de Lacy, and the supposed Hermia de Lussan, my long-lost, dearly-beloved sister Amabel.” Amabel has returned in the nick of time, as it turns out – not for Leolin, but for Anne, whose two elder sisters have been trying to convince the king that she’s sleeping with George. However, Amabel was able to persuade him of her innocence, and he’s fairly well contented with Anne now – as long as the baby she’s pregnant with turns out to be a boy.
Amabel’s adventures, as it turns out, really began back in Book 1 when she spied Leolin from afar at the tournament – the same one where he gave Anne the magical love-apple. She was very taken with him then, but didn’t get the chance to introduce herself since the king made a pass at her and as a result she fled early. Later on, her love for Leolin became even stronger when she found the love-apple left out by Anne and took it, not knowing how significant it was. Amabel, knowing that Leolin was in love with Anne, decided she’d have to get at him some other way and disguised herself as a boy, Egbert de Lacy, and became his page. Having run into Thomas Wyatt on the road, he recognized her at once, but instead of blowing her cover he secretly told her father, and they hatched an elaborate plan to get Leolin both back into the king’s good graces and back into the Boleyn family: Amabel was sent to France, and Leolin was to be gradually steered in her direction, and meanwhile Thomas requested a pardon for Leolin after Anne’s wedding, when the king was feeling generous. The king has, however, since retracted his pardon upon hearing that Leolin came back into the country before being officially told that he could, and Amabel is promptly tossed into prison, only to be released again in order to attend upon Anne, who is suffering an illness “predictive of the approximation of her expected parturition.” She’s in labour for four days, and Wyatt knows Henry well enough to say that if the baby is a boy, he’ll be ready to forgive anything, but that if it’s a girl Leolin had better make tracks for France and hope that Amabel will be able to catch up some point.
An old woman brings the news to Henry that the baby has arrived and it’s a girl, but right afterward Amabel rushes in with the news that “the promised boy is granted you; the queen has given birth to twins, of whom the latter is a son.” Henry, exulting, promises her anything she wants (you’d think he’d have learned his lesson about that by now) and she asks for Leolin’s life and pardon. Henry gives to her, but tells her to “fly with him to France; and beware that ye trespass no more upon my well-tried lenity.” She does, and they live happily ever after.
And Anne and George? After all of this drama, their fates are summarized in one grudging paragraph which I suspect the author didn’t want to write at all:
Of the termination of the unfortunate lives of Sir George and Anne Boleyn, history affords the most satisfactory record; and as a conclusive remark, we have only to state, that those who are acquainted with the writings of Madame Genlis, will discover in her anecdotes of the count of St. Germain, the outline of the extraordinary life of the count of Beaumarchais.
FINIS is written below, and it’s high time I wrote it here.
SEX OR POLITICS? Sex, no question. Politics get the barest possible nod, with a few references to the ongoing divorce, Cardinal Wolsey appearing to arrest Leolin, and Thomas Cromwell getting a walk-on appearance, but if you didn’t already know what these people did you certainly wouldn’t learn it here.
WHEN BORN? 1507 – Henry VIII’s accession takes place “about two years after the birth” of Anne, and of course Henry succeeded to the throne in 1509.
THE EARLY LOVE Leolin himself, and her only love as well. Otherwise her early history is given a quick summary and is about what you’d get from the history books of the time; Anne is described as having waited on the elder Princess Mary, then on Queen Claude, and then went on to the English court. Percy is simply omitted from the account, and Anne’s residence at Hever is described as voluntary; she likes to take time off from court now and then to enjoy simple family pleasures in the country.
Wyatt tells Leolin of how “the poetic fire, which animated his heart,” had always found its muse in “the syren” Amabel Boleyn, but Amabel, most disappointingly, rejected Wyatt’s suit and instead preferred first Sigismund Lovell and then Leolin. After his rejection in favour of Lovell, Wyatt has moved on from Amabel sufficiently that he goes along with Thomas Boleyn’s plan to introduce her to Leolin while she’s living under another name and encouraging Leolin’s attraction to her.
THE QUEEN’S BEES None are mentioned except for her sisters the Marchioness of Dorset and Maria Carey, who are of course jealous of her and George and try to get them framed for incest.
THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR Lots and lots of faithful retainers here: Ovidius the jester has the most lines – he’s a dwarf jester who loves his Latin tags and puns (a typical one comes when someone accuses him of being in his cups. “The cups are unfortunately all in me,” followe by a relentless storm of Latin catch-phrases). He’s the one who always happens to be bringing important messages (and sometimes important people) just as the heroes need them. Dinah Seaton, an illiterate maid at the Castle of the Rock, and Old Bertha, a former servant at Hever who owns the cottage nearby where Anne and Leolin get interrupted by Wolsey and arrested. Wyatt has a fool called Dunstan Lightbody, who talks a lot like Ovidius without the Latin. Aboukir Amelique Juan is another dwarf fool, working for a French family, but he turns out to actually a Frenchman who dresses up and exoticizes himself (Swearing by Allah etc) to make himself more interesting. Amabel Boleyn is also one for a while, when she’s posing as Leolin’s squire under the name of Egbert de Lacy.
THE PROPHECY Anne has lots and lots of ominous feelings about the future – a representative sample turns up in one conversation with her aunt, where she talks of “strange forebodings that the current of my existence is not fated to run in a smooth and even course. I am not superstitious, and yet I have of late been disquieted by painful dreams, which have awakened me from my slumbers, and left unpleasant impressions on my mind.” Later on she has more gloomy forebodings that “true felicity will never be my portion upon earth,” and drops many similar remarks throughout the story. The King of the Egyptians makes more straight-up predictions – saying that Leolin’s love-apple has gone to someone else, and that he’ll marry someone with the initials A.B. – all of which turn out to be true.
IT’S A GIRL! Anne’s first baby is “an heir to the throne, whose entrance into existence had been hailed by its royal father with a joy as extravagant as the disappointment which he had expressed at its removal from the scenes of life; and his soul appeared to exist only in the expectation of speedily replacing its loss.” Presumably a boy then, sounding very much like Catherine of Aragon’s first son, the boy who lived for seven weeks. Anne’s second pregnancy turns out to be Elizabeth, or as Lady Denny tells Henry, “a girl, who promises a boy hereafter.” Henry’s “sullen” reaction is to tell a servant to give her a hundred marks and “see that the queen be delicately attended.” He’s much happier afterwards when Amabel tells him that Anne has in fact given birth to twins, and that the second baby to arrive was a boy. This departed so far from history that I assumed that it was a ploy of Amabel’s to get Leolin’s pardon and escape quickly, but it’s never mentioned as such and so it looks like Elizabeth had a twin brother in this version of the story.
DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? No (this is pre-Strickland, after all) but she nonetheless makes her contribution to fashion. Thanks to her time in France, “she had, in a considerable degree, ventured to discard the stiff and unbecoming costume of the British fair, so inimical to the just display of female loveliness, and to introduce a more light and airy form of habiliments, infinitely better calculated to add grace to the form of woman; and her example had already, especially in the immediate circle of her own family, and intimate friends, produced a considerable number of converts to her superior taste.” Just what this “light and airy” fashions are is never told to us, however. George Boleyn’s future wife Amelrosa has her own peculiarity when it comes to sleeves – she wears them right up to the wrist and cinches them with bracelets so nobody can see her arms. It turns out that this is to hide the fact that she doesn’t have the triple mole that George saw on her substitute during their encounter.
FAMILY AFFAIRS Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn were a love match, according to Beaumarchais when recounting Anne’s history for Leolin’s edification. “The Earl [Surrey] who had been induced, by the extreme affection which he entertained for his child, to disregard his own ambitious views for the promotion of her felicity, by consenting to her marriage with Sir Thomas, had no sooner accepted him as his son-in-law, than it became his object to reduce him into the obedient slave to his opinions and his will; and under his guidance Sir Thomas immediately became a statesman and courtier.” We never hear about Elizabeth Boleyn again and since Aunt Mildred Denny appears to be the chief caregiver and confidante for Anne and Amabel, I would assume that Elizabeth is supposed to be dead, but it’s never directly stated that she is. Thomas Boleyn is quite present, though and, uniquely in my reading experience, is not only not very good with money but can be actively bad with it – at one point he actually embezzles from the treasury and has to get a loan from Beaumarchais so Wolsey doesn’t bust him for theft. While he’s not living on a shoestring ordinarily, he is “unable to portion his daughters so richly, as to encourage a hope that any man of superior rank or eminence could be induced to offer himself to them in marriage, unless impelled to seek their alliance by the influence which their personal charms might possess over his senses.” Of course, since he has twice as many living children here as he did in real life, it’s understandable that marrying them off would be an expensive proposition. These children are the Marchioness of Dorset (no first name is given), Maria, Anne, Amabel, William, Edward and George. William and Edward get no characterization beyond the fact that they’re not as brilliant and interesting as George, and Maria and the Marchioness of Dorset exist only to be jealous of Anne and George and try to pin an incest accusation on them.
Anne’s maternal grandmother is also mentioned briefly – she’s not Elizabeth Tilney, but one Lady Bridget Sackville, who was engaged to Sir Ralph de Gastonville / Beaumarchais until he met the Spanish charmer Hyppolita di Ravina and broke off the engagement with Bridget. Anne’s aunt Lady Mildred Denny, godmother and guardian to Amabel and later to Anne, is said to be Thomas Boleyn’s only surviving sister; she’s described as vain and “arrogant of the sufficiency of her own prudence” but nonetheless with a good core, and she genuinely loves her nieces even as she hopes to see them rise in the world. Mildred is the only character who seems less than bowled over by Leolin, as she makes clear when advising Anne that in her shoes, she’d pick Henry over Leolin. “I’faith, my dear child, were I in want of a bed-fellow, my choice not light on a beardless boy, that would steal under my coverlid almost as imperceptibly as a pilfering mouse; give me a partner that looks like a man, and weighs like a man, ay, and feels like a man; and by my holy-dame, such is royal Henry. I am much deceived in him, or he would make the best bed that ever a Norfolk carpenter put a saw to, bounce and crack at his lay-down, and its joists groan at every turn he took on his pillow.”
It’s not every nineteenth-century book that has someone telling Anne that she should pick the suitor who looks like he’d be better in bed.
DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? We never get that far but I’m pretty sure she didn’t.
WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE The prose is very, very clotted; this was Lathom’s last book and I got the impression he was just cranking out words so he could produce the requisite ten chapters each of four volumes and get paid. You’ve already seen a lot, and believe me, in a book where speeches can last four pages and consist of five anaconda-length sentences, there’s much more where that came from.
There are a few unintentionally comic moments; when Leolin learns that he is fated to marry A.B., we’re told that he “fell upon his knees, and returned thanks to the benignant stars for the decision which they had confessed themselves to have made in his favour; and his ejaculation being concluded, he sprang from his recumbent position.” George Boleyn couldn’t have done it better.
ERRATA In a preface addressed to the “Gentle Reader”, the author notes drily that “various slight anachronisms will be observable to the keen-eyed critic, but as they cannot mislead the scholar, and will, no doubt, be accepted as venial errors by the regular list of subscribers to a circulating library, who read principally for the story, and are consequently complacent pardoners of chronological deviations, it is not deemed necessary to add an apology to the frank acknowledgement.” In other words, “It’s just fiction, guys!” Setting aside George Boleyn’s Italian adventures and extra siblings, I’ll mention a few things before fleeing this section.
Beaumarchais refers repeatedly to “the British realm” – highly unlikely terminology before James VI/I (though to be fair the idea had been around for a while). Shakespeare is mentioned several times, always as a fully grown, well-known poet – in the 1520s, his sonnets are said to be “growing into the highest repute and admiration” which even Thomas Wyatt can’t match, and George Boleyn later cites Shakespeare as the poet of the age. And lemonade wasn’t invented until several centuries after Anne’s death. I’m sure you’ll be able to find more.
WORTH A READ? It’s certainly interesting as a period piece but it is an absolute beast to read. The summary is ridiculously long because I realize that virtually nobody reading this will ever come across the original book, and I wanted to give a fair sense of what it was like. While the plot is as I described, the book is rendered even slower by the fact that it keeps wandering off onto long, verbose garden paths which end up going nowhere – every character, minor or major, gets either a long introductory speech or a long exit speech (sometimes in the form of a posthumous letter), and keeping up with the story is made that much harder by the terribly stilted prose and the plot devices which must have creaked even as Lathom wrote them. A lot of loose ends are dropped, most notably the one in which the count whose wife George (supposedly) slept with promises repeatedly to help him should he ever find himself in trouble. This is repeated numerous times, and I was expecting to see it pan out in some sort of rescue (perhaps even from the scaffold in May of 1536) but the count ends up dying offstage and we hear nothing of that promise again.
I did think it significant that while Lathom comes down hard on the side of conventional morality (notice how George doesn’t marry a woman who actually committed adultery, no matter how her husband felt about it, and he quickly scorns the woman he actually did sleep with once he learns what is) all of the major heterosexual relationships in the book were, in one way or another, forced upon one of the participants. Leolin falls quickly for Anne Boleyn, but it takes the love-apple to make her fall in love with him. Amabel takes an initial liking to the unknowing Leolin, but she doesn’t decide to become his page and follow him everywhere until she takes the love-apple, not knowing that it’s actually a charm. And then, of course, there’s George Boleyn – he met his “incognita” under circumstances that could these days be described as rape, and his visit to the garden of Urania a few years later takes place under similar circumstances. And even if you disregard the circumstances under which Amelrosa learned of George’s existence, George is collared by her father on the road and greeted as his new son-in-law without ever being given a vote, and after Amelrosa saves his life by sucking his wound for half an hour … well, it would be an ungrateful man who wouldn’t give her and her family what they want. By contrast, the relationships between Leolin and George, and even between Leolin and Beaumarchais (until the reveal of the latter’s paternity) are practically bubbling over with unsolicited vows of eternal love, devotion, and two hearts beating as one. George and Leolin both talk very conventionally about their adoration for their women, but the women themselves scarcely get a word in edgewise and seem to exist mostly because they have to. Anne Boleyn’s characterization here is as thin as it is in any nineteenth-century production (and there have been some very thin ones). She has some giddiness of temper, but that’s her only distinguishing characteristic, and we never see that giddiness in action – she never does much of anything, really, except pine and obey what her father tells her is the will of the king and of God. Granted, none of the characters are particularly complex, but this Anne was so inactive as to be depressing; it’s like she knew that even the author didn’t really want her there.