Get the full story behind the OG royal weddings in Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All. These short excerpts will leave you dying to read more!
At night, there is a great feast, with dancing and merrymaking afterwards. As throngs of courtiers ring the room, I spy Henry across the way. He stands there, surrounded by a doting crowd, and I can practically feel his blue eyes on me. I am having difficulty keeping myself from meeting his wolfish stare. But when I do meet his eyes, a twinge in my belly practically sends me rocking on my feet. It dances up and down the length of me and I can feel my heartbeat quicken. The moments seem to stretch out and out and out, and I am caught in the web of his stare, unable to focus on the chatter around me.
I am practically unaware of having drifted to a quiet corner, where at last I find myself alone. I cannot stop fidgeting, yet force myself to keep my gaze trained on the dancing slippers flitting across the floor in front of me. Then he is beside me. I feel him there, standing a hair’s breadth too close, raising the hair along my arms. My cheeks burning, I look down at the floor, then up at him from beneath my lashes.
Appear chaste and virtuous in all you do, I imagine Cromwell and my father whispering in my ear.
“Your Majesty,” I say softly.
“Mistress Jane,” he replies, his voice husky. “You are enchanting, as ever. You send a thrill straight to my heart.” Henry reaches for my hand and gently raises it to his lips, then drops a feather-light kiss on my fingers. Again my stomach turns slowly and warmth seems to travel from the spot where his lips met my hand straight through the core of me.
I know Henry flirts and I know I am far from the first. Still, I can’t help but think, this is different. Precious and pure. Yet I know I mustn’t let him sway me—I must resist his advances.
“Your Majesty,” I murmur again, then drop my gaze.
“Jane,” he repeats, his voice now a rumble that I feel all through my body. “I am in your thrall.” He backs me deeper into the corner and presses against me.
“Your Majesty, I am so deeply flattered by my lord’s attentions.” I strive to keep my voice even and calm. I remember the men’s instructions, again. “I could only wish for a husband to be so truly enthralled.”
Henry backs away ever so slightly, a new look of admiration in his eye. “Yes, of course, my dearest,” he says. “I should like to go for a stroll with you tomorrow, upon the noon hour. I shall summon you.” He kisses my hand once more. “Let us enjoy the dancing for now. I’m afraid my leg renders me no more than an observer these days.”
“I have always watched,” I say, unsure of where the thought sprang from.
The King looks at me curiously. “Yes, Jane, I dare say I know this about you.” He gives a small, funny smile, as though he is weighing this fact alongside another in his mind.
He takes my hand again and gives it a light squeeze. I lace my fingers through his and press back ever so slightly. It is even more surprising to consider how truly he has seen me, seen who I really am— how he knows me and still feels tenderly towards me. Once again hope fills my heart with joy.
Anna of Cleves
The servants undress us. Give us wine. Put us to bed.
There are carvings on the headboard. Of a man wearing an enormous codpiece, a woman with downcast eyes, plump little cherubs. Our initials, “H” and “A,” are painted in the centre.
I am awkward. Scared. But determined, too. This is how children are made, and I must make some.
“Give the King many sons, Anna,” my sister Sibylle had told me, “and many daughters, too. Sons make wars, and daughters prevent them.”
That is what I’m doing here, isn’t it? In bed with an old man who doesn’t like me? Joining England and Cleves. Preventing France and Spain from attacking my old home, and my new one.
I see Henry’s belly jiggling inside his nightgown as he gets into bed. Veins, raised and gnarled, wind around his calves. I glimpse the dressing on his ulcerated leg, freshly changed but already wet with pus.
He drains his goblet and places it on the bedside table. Then he flops back against the pillows, takes a deep breath, and blows it out again.
“I suppose we should get down to business,” he says, rolling onto his side. “I need a bull calf from my new German cow.”
I try to smile. I don’t understand all his words, but I know “cow” because it sounds like its German counterpart, Kuh.
He unties the strings at the neck of my gown. Will he kiss me? I wonder. Will he say something tender?
Wordlessly, he snakes his hand inside my gown and gropes my breast, hefting it as if it were a ham at a market stall. Then he lifts the hem of my gown and heaves himself on top of me.
I can barely breathe while he makes his attempt, so great is his weight, but not breathing is no bad thing. His breath has not im- proved, and the smell from his festering leg makes my stomach twist. There is a great deal of heaving and grunting, but nothing more.
“Call yourself a woman? Help me, you cold fish,” he mutters, grabbing my hand and placing it on his member. I squeeze it. Perhaps a bit too hard. “Ouch! That hurts!” he yelps. “God’s blood! Are you trying to pull it off?”
Another attempt. His hands are on me again, rougher now. But the bread does not rise. The sausage does not swell. I bite the inside of my cheek so hard that it bleeds.
Henry cannot do what he must. He swears. Rolls onto his back. Groans. “This is your fault,” he says. “Dugs like a sow, and the belly to match.”
Hot, angry tears roll down my cheeks and soak the pillow.
I am not a cow, a sow, a fish, or any such animal, I tell him silently.
I am not my breasts, my belly, my legs, or that which lies between them.
I am my head and my heart. All that I know, all that I love, every- thing I hope for.
I am the blue waters of the Rhine, sparkling in the sun.
I am ripe pears in a basket. Fresh nutmeg. The smell of Christmas. I am swallows soaring over wheat fields.
I am the hymns the choristers sing. The rise and fall of an old German lullaby.
“Ich bin all diese Dinge. Diese Dinge und so viele mehr,” I say. I am these things. All these things and so many more.
Henry can’t understand me. I don’t even know if he hears me. He’s half asleep.
He rolls over. Farts loudly. And starts to snore.
The great hall is lit by what must be a thousand candles to celebrate His Majesty’s wedding to Anna of Cleves. Everywhere I look, I see silks and jewels, furs and pearls, silver and gold. Goblets of wine, trays of sweets, tapestries and draperies, banners and tassels: It’s impossible to see everything at once, but that doesn’t stop me trying.
On a dais at one end of the hall, His Majesty and the new Queen are sitting on chairs of velvet and gold. Snipes and snails, isn’t he big! I’ve heard talk that he’s grown stout; now I see for myself that he’s very broad indeed. But he’s a tall man, and his clothes fit him beautifully, and he is King, after all—it wouldn’t seem right if he were thin and feeble.
The new Queen is tall, too, and strong-boned. If I stood beside her, I’m sure I would barely reach her chin. She’s wearing a gown draped with chains, in the German style. In truth, she isn’t very pretty—all the ladies have said so—but there’s something about her, a kind of grace. Maybe it’s the way she holds her head. I try to do the same, my neck straight but my chin down so I won’t seem haughty. . . .
In my lovely green dress, I am every bit the maid of honour: Who would ever guess that I was once barely more than a foundling?
I thought on this before my arrival here at the hall. I thought that if I keep my head lowered and skulk around like a beaten dog, people are more likely to notice, not less. The trick is to get them to notice something else—and I know how.
Dancing! I love it so! I think it must be because of the music, which seems to enter my ears and go straight to my blood, and makes it impossible for me to stay still. The worst part about learning to become a proper lady is having to sit and wait for what seems like days at a time, embroidering or folding linen the best part of the day—fah!
But dancing is much in fashion at court, and I’ve loved it since I was a child. I love learning even the most complicated patterns—I practise them on my own if no one else will practise with me. One- two, step and turn, one-two, dip or bow . . . Counting steps, turning crisply, keeping time with the music, dancing is a delight for both my mind and my body. What fun during a pavane or galliard to glance up at a gentleman’s face and then away, and know that he’s admiring me, all without missing a step or losing the beat. The Dowager told me that the Duke himself once remarked on the charm of my dancing. Imagine!
“Ladies, will you dance?”
Three courtiers stand before us. I glance quickly at Lady Dorothy and Lady Margaret, then nod demurely.
We curtsey and are led onto the floor. The music begins: a lively galliard, my favourite dance, and I simply can’t help laughing in de- light.
One-two-three-four, hop! One-two-three-four, hop!
The sweeps and slide-steps take me past the dais. I’m breathless and laughing when, in the middle of a turn, I see His Majesty looking at me.
No, surely not at me. I glance over my shoulder, but I don’t see anyone in particular, and then I look back again and this time there’s no doubt—it is me he’s looking at, his eyes bright, and a smile on his fat royal face!
Should I smile back at him, is that too bold? But if I don’t smile, will he think I’m rude? I don’t know what to do—and he’s still looking at me—one-two-don’t forget the hop—and it’s so awkward to pretend I don’t notice, I can’t ignore him, I have to do something.
I open my eyes wide and nod at His Majesty, a tiny nod, with my mouth in a not-quite smile.
The dance finishes. I curtsey to my partner. I don’t look at His Majesty again, yet I’m sure to remember this all my life—the night my dancing pleased the King!
The very next day, I’m surprised when the Dowager comes to visit. She wants to walk with me, so we take a turn around the maids’ chambers.
“Catherine,” she says, her voice low in my ear, “the Duke has news. The King has ordered that the Privy Council find a way to annul the union.”
“What union?” I ask.
“Ssst,” the Dowager hisses. “The Cleves woman, of course.” “But what can you mean; they’ve only just married!”
She pinches my arm as we walk. “Would that you were not as witless as you are young,” she scolds. “Listen, and hark: The King is markedly displeased with the new Queen, he likes her not a farthing. He has ordered Cromwell and the rest of the Council to find a way out of the marriage. The Duke says that the King intends to take him another wife, and that he asked about you.”
I stop and stare at her. “Asked—asked . . . ,” I stammer, “who—
“Yes, yes. He spied you dancing last night, and thought you charming.”
“But—but how can you know this?”
“At court, everyone knows someone,” she says. “It was all overheard by one of my own men in attendance to the Duke for the celebrations. Now the Duke thinks to put you in the way of the King.”
I feel faint; my knees wobble. The Dowager leads me to a bench, where I gulp air like a dying fish.
“Madam,” I say weakly, “I have only just arrived here. I—I don’t mean—might it be that the good Duke is mistaken? The Queen’s attendants are mostly new to court; perhaps His Majesty is asking after all of us.”
The Dowager looks at me thoughtfully. “There is sense in that,” she says, “and it would not do to act the fool and throw yourself at him. Continue as you have, then, until we know if the marriage will sunder or not. But you must be ready to receive the King’s favour should it fall to you.”
The King’s favour . . .
Everything is happening too fast. It’s madness enough that I’ve gotten my first real dresses—and am now at court—and got to at- tend His Majesty’s wedding—but this—oh, this!