To say the King fancied me is an understatement. To say he loved or adored me is misleading as well. In truth, King Henry the Eighth was obsessed with me. Obsessed in a way most would consider quite unnatural. This of course was no fault of his own. He was but human. Yet his obsession would lead to the transformation of an entire empire.
It is true I was beheaded. But my kind never dies. We dwell in the weft and weave of all we once were. I am in the creaks of staircases, the plaster of palace walls, the jewels of the crown. My tale, albeit tragic, is one of pride and power.
My influence remains, even to this day. But I will start at the beginning.
Everything about King Henry was exciting. He was a man of risk and bold adventure. His palace was magnificent; floors of dark oak, velvet draperies and crystal chandeliers. He wore robes of sable, chains of gold, ruby rings. I was no stranger to luxury, having lived a good deal of my life in the French court where I served as a handmaiden to the Queen Mary and Princess Claude. When I came to Henry’s palace I determined I’d have the finery of a queen, for nothing else would do.
In my French education I had learned courtly ways, the manners and expectations of the high born. I knew, only too well, the fate of girls who gave favors to a king. Once bedded, never wedded. I liked to say that as a joke though it was not really funny. Such had been the fate of my sister Mary, a concubine, once mistress to the King, but later tossed aside with a bastard in her womb. Mary Boleyn is remembered as nothing more than a whore. I vowed such would never happen to me!
And so it was, when King Henry took a liking to me, I determined I would have no intimacy with him until he’d wed me in a proper church. In his lust Henry pursued me and I teased him. Oh how I teased him! For I knew the truth; a woman’s tease is the most powerful thing in all of this world.
One small problem was, of course, that Henry was already married. His first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, refused to grant him a divorce. Indeed, the Pope himself refused to grant Henry a divorce! And so Henry, after much distress and mounting desire for me, decided to finally break from the Church of Rome.
“Damn the Pope, damn them all,” he declared. “I will have you, Anne Boleyn! I will have you, even if I must create my own church in order to do so!”
And that was exactly what Henry did; he created his own religion, declared himself divorced from Catherine and became the sole ruler of both church and state. All this was, of course, the result of my masterful seduction.
We were wed far away from the palace at the white cliffs of Dover. After that, and only after that, did I agree to share Henry’s bed. It was then also that he noticed my sixth finger, the tiny web of flesh that grew from my hand.
I was an expert at hiding it, wearing long sleeves that slipped far past my wrists. It was an unsightly thing but it was my branding. It spoke of my true identity. Times being what they were, executions rampant, we witches lived in the shadows.
King Henry, however, was infatuated and made no matter of my finger. To him it was a mere peculiarity, a fetish. He invented ways to incorporate it in our sex play and I daresay it pleased him immensely.
Soon, much to Henry’s delight, I fell pregnant.
More than anything in the world, Henry wanted a son. A legitimate male child could be the only proper heir to the throne of England. So said the law. In his hope and anxiety Henry convinced himself that our child was a boy. And so, when my daughter, the red haired Elizabeth arrived in this world, wailing with a voice as big as the sea, Henry was mortified.
“The next child shall be male,” he said crisply. This even before he first held Elizabeth in his arms.
The next child. Ha! Little did my husband know, there would be no next child! I’d make sure of it. What followed were a series of miscarriages and stillbirths. With each one Henry despised me more.
A son. Oh, I could very well have given Henry a son! It took no more than a poultice of rooster’s blood placed under a man’s pillow for seven nights in a row. (After which he must be fed snake meat, precisely seven hours before the act of intercourse. Any proper witch knew this!) It was a simple spell. My own mother had used it to conceive my brother George. It worked without fail.
Why did I not use it, you ask? Why not indeed? I had the future of England in my very hands! But you see, that was precisely my reason; the future of England.
Three years passed and I bore no more children. It was then that Henry decided he’d need a new wife. He set his sights upon the Lady Jane Seymour. She was a mousy little thing, hardly a comparison to the likes of me. But my fate was already cast and I knew Jane would be Henry’s next wife.
There were many in the palace who turned against me. Many who spread lies and rumors. By then all knew of my sixth finger. They accused me of witchcraft, saying I had charmed the King into our very marriage.
It was true, of course, that I was a witch. That much I could not help, being born into the line of Howard on my mother’s side. Every female of the Howard line inherited some measure of the witch blood. I had been graced with plenty. My daughter Elizabeth had even more! For this reason I knew she must be queen. She would command the winds and the seas. With her psychic powers and gift of sight she would become the best spy in all the world. Elizabeth would use her power for goodness and treachery alike, for all is fair in love and war.
Once I had birthed Elizabeth nothing else mattered. In fact, I would have been quite content to age gracefully, take my place as consort, outlive my husband and watch my daughter rule gallantly.
But no. Henry would not have it.
He needed a reason to execute me and having nothing better to accuse me of, he chose adultery. For my part, I had always been faithful. And yet, Mark Smeaton, my court musician was accused of bedding me. This was quite outrageous! Master Smeaton was a lover of men, he cared only for men, that was plain as the day is long. He had not an inkling of interest in my flesh nor that of any woman. Despite this he was my good friend, keen to serenade me, frequently relaying the gossip of the palace. Such brought his downfall.
Another accused was my brother George. My own brother! Although I had lived at French court and I will admit to many peculiar tastes in the bed chamber — incest was certainly not among them! George was horrified.
Under the King’s law Mark and George were tortured, and torture back then was quite gruesome. The rack, thumbscrews, the iron maiden and strappado. The twisting and popping of fingers, pricking of blades, arms dislodged from sockets. Stretching of flesh till torsos were disfigured beyond recognition. Blood poured and wails of pain resounded until finally Mark and George confessed to vile acts they had never committed.
And me? My fate was to be the executioner’s block.
My husband, in his grudging mercy, had been kind enough to bring a skilled executioner from France; one so swift with a sword that my head would be gone before I realized he had sliced me. My death, however, would not be a true death. I knew this and made a joke of it till the very end.
Years later, when my daughter Elizabeth finally took her rightful place on the throne, she employed a magi by the name of Master John Dee.
This was much to my delight, for Master Dee, being skilled in all manner of conjuring and summoning, was one of the rare beings who could contact my spirit and allow my return to the earthly plane. And so it was I reunited with my Elizabeth! I appeared to her in the flesh, for the crossing of dimensions is quite easy if one has a proper conjurer. (The afterlife is not so very different from this life as humans know it; although it is a good deal easier and far more fun. )
Elizabeth had also employed a privy council, a collection of old gentleman, gray haired and sensible. From these she ostensibly took direction. Yet it was I who truly advised her.
It was I who told Elizabeth never to marry. A husband, I cautioned, would take all her power. And most likely her head as well! (You see I am quite the jester. Perhaps I missed my calling in life.) But in seriousness, Elizabeth would have no man to command her! And if any questioned this decision, she would merely claim she was ‘wed to England’. That silenced their criticisms.
It was I who advised Elizabeth on war and peace, economics and all matters of state. My daughter served a reign of over forty five years. During that time she brought England to glory, winning wars, sustaining a solvent treasury and establishing the strongest navy in all the world.
My only regret was that Elizabeth had birthed no legitimate heir. There had been babies born to her, oh yes! Boys and girls alike, delivered in secret, hidden by midwives. My daughter was a woman of passion. No virgin she, despite what historians claim. The Howard line was kept alive by Elizabeth! But upon her death the crown had no recognized successor. Elizabeth’s council decided upon James of Scotland. For my part I had no say in it.
Alas, James was a poor ruler, no friend of the people, certainly no diplomat. To make matters worse, James had put more witches to death than any other monarch in the history of Great Britain!
His line obviously could not be permitted to last! And so it was I cast a spell, and James’ sons were usurped from the throne. England was thrown into civil war. All this could have easily been avoided if only they had left a witch in charge! Foolish men.
Yet our power would be restored.
In the twentieth century, another great female would come to power. This woman would be descended through the line of Howard. (Leave the blood work and DNA to a genealogist. It is complicated! Suffice it to say, this is true and none should challenge me on this fact! )
This new queen would also serve a term of over forty five years. By the end of her reign England would once again be restored to peace and prosperity.
This new monarch would be called Elizabeth.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Obsessed