The other boleyn girl, p.1
The Other Boleyn Girl, p.1Part #9 of The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels series by Philippa Gregory
By the Same Author
THE FAVOURED CHILD
THE WISE WOMAN
MRS. HARTLEY AND THE GROWTH CENTRE
A RESPECTABLE TRADE
THE LITTLE HOUSE
BREAD AND CHOCOLATE
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2001 by Philippa Gregory Ltd.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
First Touchstone Edition 2003
Previously published in Great Britain in 2001 by HarperCollins Publishers
TOUCHSTONE and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
DESIGNED BY ERICH HOBBING
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Scribner Paperback Fiction edition as follows:
The other Boleyn girl : a novel / Philippa Gregory.
1. Boleyn, Mary 1508–1543—Fiction. 2. Henry VIII, King of England, 1491–1547—Fiction. 3. Great Britain—History—Henry VIII, 1509–1547—Fiction. 4. Mistresses—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6057.R386 O84 2002
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I COULD HEAR A ROLL OF MUFFLED DRUMS. BUT I COULD SEE nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.
By stepping to one side a little and craning my neck, I could see the condemned man, accompanied by his priest, walk slowly from the Tower toward the green where the wooden platform was waiting, the block of wood placed center stage, the executioner dressed all ready for work in his shirtsleeves with a black hood over his head. It looked more like a masque than a real event, and I watched it as if it were a court entertainment. The king, seated on his throne, looked distracted, as if he was running through his speech of forgiveness in his head. Behind him stood my husband of one year, William Carey, my brother, George, and my father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, all looking grave. I wriggled my toes inside my silk slippers and wished the king would hurry up and grant clemency so that we could all go to breakfast. I was only thirteen years old, I was always hungry.
The Duke of Buckinghamshire, far away on the scaffold, put off his thick coat. He was close enough kin for me to call him uncle. He had come to my wedding and given me a gilt bracelet. My father told me that he had offended the king a dozen ways: he had royal blood in his veins and he kept too large a retinue of armed men for the comfort of a king not yet wholly secure on his throne; worst of all he was supposed to have said that the king had no son and heir now, could get no son and heir, and that he would likely die without a son to succeed him to the throne.
Such a thought must not be said out loud. The king, the court, the whole country knew that a boy must be born to the queen, and born soon. To suggest otherwise was to take the first step on the path that led to the wooden steps of the scaffold which the duke, my uncle, now climbed, firmly and without fear. A good courtier never refers to any unpalatable truths. The life of a court should always be merry.
Uncle Stafford came to the front of the stage to say his final words. I was too far from him to hear, and in any case I was watching the king, waiting for his cue to step forward and offer the royal pardon. This man standing on the scaffold, in the sunlight of the early morning, had been the king’s partner at tennis, his rival on the jousting field, his friend at a hundred bouts of drinking and gambling, they had been comrades since the king was a boy. The king was teaching him a lesson, a powerful public lesson, and then he would forgive him and we could all go to breakfast.
The little faraway figure turned to his confessor. He bowed his head for a blessing and kissed the rosary. He knelt before the block and clasped it in both hands. I wondered what it must be like, to put one’s cheek to the smooth waxed wood, to smell the warm wind coming off the river, to hear, overhead, the cry of seagulls. Even knowing as he did that this was a masque and not the real thing, it must be odd for Uncle to put his head down and know that the executioner was standing behind.
The executioner raised his ax. I looked toward the king. He was leaving his intervention very late. I glanced back at the stage. My uncle, head down, flung wide his arms, a sign of his consent, the signal that the ax could fall. I looked back to the king, he must rise to his feet now. But he still sat, his handsome face grim. And while I was still looking toward him there was another roll of drums, suddenly silenced, and then the thud of the ax, first once, then again and a third time: a sound as domestic as chopping wood. Disbelievingly, I saw the head of my uncle bounce into the straw and a scarlet gush of blood from the strangely stumpy neck. The black-hooded axman put the great stained ax to one side and lifted the head by the thick curly hair, so that we could all see the strange mask-like thing: black with the blindfold from forehead to nose, and the teeth bared in a last defiant grin.
The king rose slowly from his seat and I thought, childishly, “Dear God, how awfully embarrassing this is going to be. He has left it too late. It has all gone wrong. He forgot to speak in time.”
But I was wrong. He did not leave it too late, he did not forget. He wanted my uncle to die before the court so that everybody might know that there was only one king, and that was Henry. There could be only one king, and that was Henry. And there would be a son born to this king—and even to suggest otherwise meant a shameful death.
The court returned quietly to Westminster Palace in three barges, rowed up the river. The men on the riverbank pulled off their hats and kneeled as the royal barge went swiftly past with a flurry of pennants and a glimpse of rich cloth. I was in the second barge with the ladies of the court, the queen’s barge. My mother was seated near me. In a rare moment of interest she glanced at me and remarked, “You’re very pale, Mary, are you feeling sick?”
“I didn’t think he would be executed,” I said. “I thought the king would forgive him.”
My mother leaned forward so that her mouth was at my ear and no one could have heard us over the creaking of the boat and the beat of the rowers’ drum. “Then you are a fool,” she said shortly. “And a fool to remark it. Watch and learn, Mary. There is no room for mistakes at court.”
“I AM GOING TO FRANCE TOMORROW AND I SHALL BRING YOUR sister Anne home with me,” my father told me on the stairs of Westminster Palace. “She’s to have a place in the court of Queen Mary Tudor as she returns to England.”
“I thought she’d stay in France,” I said. “I thought she’d marry a French count or somebody.”
He shook his head. “We have other plans for her.”
I knew it was pointless to ask what plans they had. I would have to wait and see. My greatest dread was that they would have a better marriage for her than I had made, that I would have to follow the hem of her gown as she swept ahead of me for the rest of my life.
“Wipe that surly look off your face,” my father said sharply.
At once I smiled
He nodded and I curtsied low as he left me. I came up from my curtsy and went slowly to my husband’s bedroom. I had a small looking glass on the wall and I stood before it and gazed at my own reflection. “It’ll be all right,” I whispered to myself. “I am a Boleyn, that’s not a small thing to be, and my mother was born a Howard, that’s to be one of the greatest families in the country. I’m a Howard girl, a Boleyn girl.” I bit my lip. “But so is she.”
I smiled my empty courtier’s smile and the reflected pretty face smiled back. “I am the youngest Boleyn girl, but not the least. I am married to William Carey, a man high in the king’s favor. I am the queen’s favorite and youngest lady in waiting. Nobody can spoil this for me. Not even she can take this from me.”
Anne and Father were delayed by spring storms and I found myself hoping, childishly, that her boat would sink and she would drown. At the thought of her death I felt a confusing pang of genuine distress mixed with elation. There could hardly be a world for me without Anne, there was hardly world enough for us both.
In any case, she arrived safely enough. I saw my father walking with her from the royal landing stage up the graveled paths to the palace. Even from the first-floor window, looking down I could see the swing of her gown, the stylish cut of her cloak, and a moment of pure envy swept through me as I saw how it swirled around her. I waited till she was out of sight and then I hurried to my seat in the queen’s presence chamber.
I planned that she should first see me very much at home in the queen’s richly tapestried rooms, and that I should rise and greet her, very grown-up and gracious. But when the doors opened and she came in I was overcome by a rush of sudden joy, and I heard myself cry out “Anne!” and ran to her, my skirt swishing. And Anne, who had come in with her head very high, and her arrogant dark look darting everywhere, suddenly stopped being a grand young lady of fifteen years and threw out her arms to me.
“You’re taller,” she said breathlessly, her arms tight around me, her cheek pressed to mine.
“I’ve got such high heels.” I inhaled the familiar perfume of her. Soap, and rosewater essence from her warm skin, lavender from her clothes.
“You all right?”
“Bien sur! How is it? Marriage?”
“Not too bad. Nice clothes.”
“Very grand. Always with the king, high in his favor.”
“Have you done it?”
“Yes, ages ago.”
“Did it hurt?”
She pulled back to read my face.
“Not too much,” I said, qualifying. “He does try to be gentle. He always gives me wine. It’s just all rather awful, really.”
Her scowl melted away and she giggled, her eyes dancing. “How is it awful?”
“He pisses in the pot, right where I can see!”
She collapsed in a wail of laughter. “No!”
“Now, girls,” my father said, coming up behind Anne. “Mary, take Anne and present her to the queen.”
At once I turned and led her through the press of ladies in waiting to where the queen was seated, erect in her chair at the fireside. “She’s strict,” I warned Anne. “It’s not like France.”
Katherine of Aragon took the measure of Anne with one of her clear blue-eyed sweeps and I felt a pang of fear that she would prefer my sister to me.
Anne swept the queen an immaculate French curtsy, and came up as if she owned the palace. She spoke in a voice rippling with that seductive accent, her every gesture was that of the French court. I noted with glee the queen’s frosty response to Anne’s stylish manner. I drew her to a window seat.
“She hates the French,” I said. “She’ll never have you around her if you keep that up.”
Anne shrugged. “They’re the most fashionable. Whether she likes them or not. What else?”
“Spanish?” I suggested. “If you have to pretend to be something else.”
Anne let out a snort of laughter. “And wear those hoods! She looks as if someone stuck a roof on her head.”
“Ssshhh,” I said reprovingly. “She’s a beautiful woman. The finest queen in Europe.”
“She’s an old woman,” Anne said cruelly. “Dressed like an old woman in the ugliest clothes in Europe, from the stupidest nation in Europe. We have no time for the Spanish.”
“Who’s we?” I asked coldly. “Not the English.”
“Les Français!” she said irritatingly. “Bien sur! I am all but French now.”
“You’re English born and bred, like George and me,” I said flatly. “And I was brought up at the French court just like you. Why do you always have to pretend to be different?”
“Because everyone has to do something.”
“What d’you mean?”
“Every woman has to have something which singles her out, which catches the eye, which makes her the center of attention. I am going to be French.”
“So you pretend to be something that you’re not,” I said disapprovingly.
She gleamed at me and her dark eyes measured me in a way that only Anne could do. “I pretend no more and no less than you do,” she said quietly. “My little sister, my little golden sister, my milk and honey sister.”
I met her eyes, my lighter gaze into her black, and I knew that I was smiling her smile, that she was a dark mirror to me. “Oh that,” I said, still refusing to acknowledge a hit. “Oh that.”
“Exactly,” she said. “I shall be dark and French and fashionable and difficult and you shall be sweet and open and English and fair. What a pair we shall be. What man could resist us?”
I laughed, she could always make me laugh. I looked down from the leaded window and saw the king’s hunt returning to the stable yard.
“Is that the king on his way?” Anne asked. “Is he as handsome as they say?”
“He’s wonderful. He really is. He dances and rides, and—oh—I can’t tell you!”
“Will he come here now?”
“Probably. He always comes to see her.”
Anne glanced dismissively to where the queen sat sewing with her ladies. “Can’t think why.”
“Because he loves her,” I said. “It’s a wonderful love story. Her married to his brother and his brother dying like that, so young, and then her not knowing what she should do or where she could go, and then him taking her and making her his wife and his queen. It’s a wonderful story and he loves her still.”
Anne raised a perfectly arched eyebrow and glanced around the room. All the ladies in waiting had heard the sound of the returning hunt and had spread the skirts of their gowns and moved in their seats so that they were placed like a little tableau to be viewed from the doorway when the door was flung open and Henry the king stood on the threshold and laughed with the boisterous joy of an indulged young man. “I came to surprise you and I catch you all unawares!”
The queen started. “How amazed we are!” she said warmly. “And what a delight!”
The king’s companions and friends followed their master into the room. My brother George came in first, checked on the threshold at the sight of Anne, held his pleasure hidden behind his handsome courtier’s face, and bowed low over the queen’s hand. “Majesty.” He breathed on her fingers. “I have been in the sun all the morning but I am only dazzled now.”
She smiled her small polite smile as she gazed down at his bent dark curly head. “You may greet your sister.”
“Mary is here?” George asked indifferently, as if he had not seen us both.
“Your other sister, Anne,” the queen corrected him. A small gesture from her hand, heavy with rings, indicated that the two of us should step forward. George swept us a bow without moving from the prime place near the throne.
“Has she changed much?” the queen asked.
George smiled. “I hope she will change more with a model such as you bef
The queen gave a little laugh. “Very pretty,” she said appreciatively, and waved him toward us.
“Hello, little Miss Beautiful,” he said to Anne. “Hello, Mistress Beautiful,” to me.
Anne regarded him from under her dark eyelashes. “I wish I could hug you,” she said.
“We’ll go out, as soon as we can,” George decreed. “You look well, Annamaria.”
“I am well,” she said. “And you?”
“What’s little Mary’s husband like?” she asked curiously, watching William as he entered and bowed over the queen’s hand.
“Great-grandson of the third Earl of Somerset, and very high in the king’s favor.” George volunteered the only matters of interest: his family connections and his closeness to the throne. “She’s done well. Did you know you were brought home to be married, Anne?”
“Father hasn’t said who.”
“I think you’re to go to Ormonde,” George said.
“A countess,” Anne said with a triumphant smile to me.
“Only Irish,” I rejoined at once.
My husband stepped back from the queen’s chair, caught sight of us, and then raised an eyebrow at Anne’s intense provocative stare. The king took his seat beside the queen and looked around the room.
“My dear Mary Carey’s sister has come to join our company,” the queen said. “This is Anne Boleyn.”
“George’s sister?” the king asked.
My brother bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
The king smiled at Anne. She dropped him a curtsy straight down, like a bucket in a well, head up, and a small challenging smile on her lips. The king was not taken, he liked easy women, he liked smiling women. He did not like women who fixed him with a dark challenging gaze.
“And are you happy to be with your sister again?” he asked me.
I dipped a low curtsy and came up a little flushed. “Of course, Your Majesty,” I said sweetly. “What girl would not long for the company of a sister like Anne?”
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes