When her father is assigned the task of spying on the French Court, the charming and sweetly innocent Anne Boleyn is delighted by the thought of a new adventure. And she is not to be disappointed, for her beautiful sister, Mary, has been handed a mission: to let herself be seduced by the King of France in order to uncover his secrets.
Mesmerized by the thrilling passion, intrigue, and betrayal that unfolds, Anne discovers the power of being a woman who catches the eye of a powerful king. And, as she grows into a beautiful young woman, she undergoes her own sexual awakening, each daring exploit taking her one step closer to the life that is her destiny.
The Sisters Boleyn
On a stormy October dawn, all of us were gathered on the sand— royals, nobles, clergy— waiting, watching for the blustery weather to clear for the passage. King Henry's sister, Princess Mary, was crossing the Channel to marry the French king. I and my own sister, Mary Boleyn— three years my senior—were most privileged girls to be part of the wedding entourage.
"Ow!" That was my sister Mary, hand to her face, squeezing back tears threatening to fall. My father had just pinched her cheek, viciously, from the sound of the cry.
"Thomas, please. . ." My mother's tone was one—if dogs could speak—of a beast begging its master not to kick it.
"Her cheeks need pinking," he growled. "She's pale as a walking corpse."
"She is afraid," said my mother. Suddenly I thought her brave, for by her persistence she risked Father's wrath. "Look at the weather, husband. The ships bob as though they'll be torn from their moorings. Mary's never been to sea."
"That is not the sea, Elizabeth," he said as if to a stupid child. "`Tis merely the English Channel. And if our cowardly daughter cannot face the thought of four hours on a boat, then perhaps we shall leave her in France. . .permanently."
At that, a sob erupted from Mary's throat, despite her attempts to stifle it.
As my father uttered a curse on all women and turned away in disgust, his eyes fell briefly on me, but they made no contact with my own. Indeed, he did not even see me, insignificant nine year old that I was then. Dark. Gawky. And far too skinny for his taste, or fashion for that matter.
Beauty of the day demanded translucent skin of peaches and cream. Cherubic faces. Dimples, if possible. High, voluptuous bosoms. That was a perfect description of Mary Boleyn. Still, `twas not enough for our father.
My appearance, in any case, was of no account as I was already betrothed. The Butlers—a family in Ireland on my mother's side—all of our high family connections were on my mother's side—had been fighting for years over a great inheritance of property. My marriage to a son of that feuding clan—one James Butler—would, it was believed, have settled the matter once and for all. The fortune would be directed where it properly belonged—in my father, Thomas Boleyn's cold, greedy hands.
Did I like my cousin James, my future husband? Did it matter? Had I a say in whom I should wed?
No. No. No.
I rarely thought on my future. Girls were routinely ripped from their families when they married, sometimes—if distances were great—never to see them again. Letters might be written. Gifts sent. But couriers were waylaid by bandits along the road. Ships sunk. Hoped-for heirs were born dead, or worse, born girls. Over time,family ties with daughters unraveled like a thick rope whose cords, one-by-one, were severed, till hanging together by a single strand, finally snapped under the weight of years and disinterest. Even memories faded.
The women might never have lived at all.
As for that October journey to France, I stood waiting on the windswept beach unafraid. Mayhaps that is too self-possessed a description of myself. But I was experienced. A veteran, not only of the Channel crossing, but of life in a foreign court. The reason was that my father had the previous year sent me—at a most tender age—to live in the "Low Countries." My dark eyes too large for my face, a skinny reed of a thing, I had taken up residence in the Hapsburg city of Malines, in the Netherlands.
I do admit to being scared the morning I was deposited in the red brick palace, very much alone and at the mercy of my mistress, the Archduchess Margaret of Burgundy. She was daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian. He was the patriarch of the Hapsburg family—highest royalty in our world. Feared. Respected. Learned. Intermarried with every dynasty on earth.
And inconceivably rich.
Maximilian had astounded Europe's heads of state when he'd named a woman "Regent" of the Netherlands. But Margaret shocked them further when she became the most powerful female on the continent. The court she presided over was the most exquisite ever. Father must have known that everyone who was anyone sent their children to this court for training. The greatest poets, scholars, architects, painters, sculptors and musicians of the day gathered round Margaret like a honey-soaked queen of the hive. My first sight of her, though, was a bit of a shock, as she was an ugly creature by anyone's standards, even attired in the richest gown and adorned with diamonds and rubies at throat, wrist and finger. But I was clean amazed by her first act—kneeling down and embracing me. She'd said something in French that, at the time, I could not understand, but I did remember the words.
Once I'd learnt the language I discovered that they meant, "Look at you. You are gorgeous. A tiny, dark jewel."
The Palace of Malines, three stories with many windows and pretty stone arches, was furnished in the grandest manner. As I was led up the stairs and into the nursery the paintings and tapestries that adorned every wall, the music that filled every chamber, dazzled my country senses.
But for all the palace's grandeur, the true heart of the court were the rooms that housed the royal offspring, as Margaret had a strange affinity for children, of which she had none of her own. She instead doted wholly on her dead brother's litter, whom she brought up with all the love and tenderness of a mother.
The females—Eleanor, Mary and Isabella—being mere girls—were of course less highly valued than the one male, Charles. He was fourteen to my eight, perhaps a bit haughty despite a dangerously jutting lower jaw and a flabby bottom lip.
In those first weeks I admit I missed my family—my mother most of all—my dogs second, brother George third. And finally Mary, as she always had a way of making me feel small and stupid. I tried not to dwell on what I was missing but soon realized it was easy.
There was so much at the Burgundian court to do and see and learn.
I was very fortunate, for Archduchess Margaret, for no apparent reason, had taken an especial liking to me. True, I watched all the honorable ladies at court and imitated them to perfection. Midget that I was, I danced with the most spirit, if not grace, and accompanied myself on the lute and clavichord with the sweetest, tremblingest voice.
And I offered, as my mother had instructed me to do, to help at every turn. Small things counted. Picking up a dropped handkerchief. Lifting a skirt trailing unnoticed in the mud. I soon noticed that Margaret was insisting on having me near her all the time, Not long after my arrival she wrote to my father saying she found me so bright and pleasant that she was more beholden to him for sending me, than he should be to her for having me.
In the Malines schoolroom French was drilled into me, so that in the shortest time possible I'd become fluent. My penmanship and spelling, on the other hand, so appalled my tutor that I was frequently slapped. History, politics and immense Hapsburg land holdings— great swaths of Europe—ruled by the childrens' grandfather Maximilian, were of prime interest to Charles. But whilst his sisters' eyes glazed over at lectures of monarchs and kingdoms, their ever-shifting borders, enemies and allies, I sat quiet at a cat and listened.
Charles, for whom this intelligence meant everything, would catch me out the corner of his eye as I concentrated on the tutor's sometimes unfathomable lessons, then looked at his sisters who were scribbling silly notes to each other. I could not tell if his appraisal of me was approving or harsh, for at first he did not deign to speak to me.
One morning after the girls had skipped out of the classroom I'd paused to examine a map of Europe that the tutor had left behind on the table. I was looking for England, and whilst I could see London clearly marked, there was no sign of Edenbridge, the village where I'd grown up. I did not notice that Charles had also lingered behind. I looked up to find him eyeing me suspiciously.
"I've never met an English child before," he finally said. "Are they all like you?"
His question was mystifying, but I did my best to answer.
"No," I said, "some of them are boys."
He laughed sharply, and I learnt in that moment how enjoyable it was to entertain one of my betters.
"Why are you talking to me?" I ventured. "You never talk to your sisters."
"Why would I want to talk to them? They're boring as boulders."
This time I giggled.
He grew serious all of a sudden and very puffed-up. "I'm going to be the Holy Roman Emperor one day," he announced.
I gave him an impish grin. "And I'm going to be the Queen of England."
"You're outrageous!" he cried.
I shrugged my shoulders, not at all sure if his words were a compliment or an insult. But after that we became friends.
Whenever he could, Charles would sneak me away from the schoolroom and take me touring through his little world—the Palace of Malines—and I was game for almost anything.
His favorite place in which to show off was le Premier Chambre. It was a large hall with almost no furniture, but boasting a most astonishing collection of tapestries and painting.
A few were religious. There was one that shocked me7mdash;a naked man with a dog. But the bulk of them were portraits.
Being a boy, Charles cared very little for the tapestries, but the gallery of royal ancestors and political allies set him afire with storytelling. He delighted in regaling me with the highpoints of Burgundian history, the most lurid details of his family, and the tallest of tales. Sometimes they were one-in-the-same.
"My father, the Archduke Phiip, died when I was little," Charles told me as he stood proudly before a portrait of a young and very dashing nobleman. "He was a beautiful man, don't you think?"
I nodded vigorously.
"His name said so. `Philip the Handsome,' he was called. I hardly remember him."
Charles's face twisted with something that was meant, I'm sure, to be grief, but that pugnacious chin and lip of his perverted it to something almost comical in my eyes. I stifled myself and was relieved when we moved on to a portrait just next to his father's. It was a woman in the garb of a Spanish infanta. What he said then was anything but humorous.
"My mother Joanna was so in love with my father and beside herself with misery when he died, that she wouldn't be parted with his body." Charles grew thoughtful. "Some say the Spanish are prone to morbidity, but hers was so severe she wandered around Europe for two years, carting his moldering corpse with her."
I was so young that even though I understood the word "corpse" I was yet unclear about the "moldering" part, but the jist of it was horribly understandable.
"She is still alive, my mother. And altogether mad. She's been kept locked away for her own safety ever since." He brightened then. "But their marriage was a good thing all-in-all. It allied the Hapsburgs with Spain— my mother's parents were Ferdinand and Isabella. It means our empire now surrounds our most hated enemy, Louis of France." Charles came to his full height and suddenly looked very imposing to me. "When all the male elders in my family are dead I shall rule a vast territory."
"That is. . .very good," I managed to stammer.
"You know," Charles said, strolling along to another group of portraits, these hung strangely from the ceiling, each by two chains. "Your Tudor monarchs have been our family's friends and trading partners for decades."
"I didn't know," I said, beginning to blush at my ignorance. "I've never been to court in England."
"Then you probably do not know him," he said, pointing up at one of the chain-hung portraits, "though you would have heard of him. He died before you were born."
There stood a gaunt, severe looking man. At least I recognized the English garb, and I could see he was a king by his crown.
"It is your king's father, Henry the Seventh. When his wife died he tried to marry my aunt Margaret, but she wouldn't have him."
"Why not?" I said, finding my voice and a question that did not sound completely stupid.
"She'd had two husbands already and did not want a third."
"But she could have been Queen of England!" I cried, suddenly confused. Why on earth would anyone refuse to be the Queen of England? I wondered.
Charles looked offended, and I suddenly realized I'd blundered. To his credit he dismissed the idiocy of an eight-year-old naÔf and moved along to the next portrait—a young noblewoman. To my amazement Charles swiveled the wooden panel round on its chains. I could see painted on its back a coat of arms, a Tudor rose, and some writing, in English.
He read the motto written there. "`Faithful and Obedient.' This is King Henry the Eighth's sister, Princess Mary." Charles suddenly became the one doing the blushing.
"She is my betrothed."
"You're going to marry an English princess!" This news somehow delighted me. He let the panel swing back so we could view the sitter. She had pale, luminescent skin and delicate features, but only the smallest hint of fair hair was visible under her headdress.
"She's prettier in person than she is in her portrait," I said, surprising myself. Surprising, for it was a lie. One I was about to get caught in.
"I thought you'd never been to court," said Charles, eyes narrowing like a lord of the Spanish Inquisition. "So how would you know?"
In that moment, trapped by my own perversity, I was determined not to be humiliated, even if it meant another sin of deceit.
"My father is a very important man at court," I said. That was true enough. "Sometimes the royal family visits our home in Edenbridge." Another lie. I'd never met a one of them. "King Henry has a farmhouse near ours—`Haxted.' Thankfully a fact.
Charles screwed up his face again. "I think you're lying to me."
It was the first "moment of truth" in my short life. "Well, you will never know if I am. . ." I said, putting on my prettiest little girl's smile and batting my eyelashes the way I'd seen the court ladies do, ". . .will you?"
Rather than angering Charles, this obvious fibbery seemed to delight him. He laughed.
"You're a very strange child," he said and turning, strode across le Premier Chambre towards the door. "Would you like to see the library?"
"Which breast are you meant to cut off?"
"I believe it is the right," Margaret answered.
I was taken aback by Charles's question, as well as his aunt's imperturbable response.
"Of course it must be the right," he said. "A flat chest on that side would have made it more easy to pull back the arrow."
Margaret and her charges— I was now included in everything— had gathered in her beautifully appointed bedroom, la Seconde Chambre, a place where none but the duchess and her intimates were allowed. The costumes we were to wear for the latest of the archduchess's frequent entertainments were laid out on one side of her large bed.
The theme of this one, "Queen of the Amazons," had been Charles's idea. In studying his Greek, his imagination had been captured by the story of the Amazon women, a warrior tribe who lived without men and fought brilliantly with bows and arrows on horseback. They had, each of them, sacrificed a breast to make their archery skills more precise. Margaret had adored the idea for a masque, and immediately set her seamstresses to work on the performers' attire.
The archduchess, of course, would play the Amazon queen, and we girls her warriors. Charles would be king of the unlucky invaders of their land.
I really should not have been surprised at this adult exchange between Charles and Margaret. In the short time I'd lived in the Netherlands I'd observed that he was treated like a full-grown man by his aunt, and she so adored him that she spoiled and indulged him excessively.
"How will you achieve the look?" he demanded of Margaret.
"Binding the breast, I suppose. Over the shoulder. On the diagonal."
Together they stood looking down at her costume, a fabulous bejeweled creation woven so thickly with silver threads that its "breastplate" appeared metallic. A real silver helmet topped by long, puffy white feathers looked as though it could have been worn on the battlefield.
"The bodice will have to be re-fashioned so the bandaged shoulder will be hidden, don't you think?" Charles said. "And the material over the right chest should be pulled tighter and flatter, so the missing bosom is more dramatic."
Margaret smiled and gave Charles a kiss on the cheek. "You are so clever. I'll send it back to Regine today. Now," she said, "what about these Amazon women?" Margaret turned to Charles's sisters and me.
The three of them had been paying no attention whatsoever to the conversation and were sitting on the other side of the great bed looking bored with the whole affair. I, on the other hand, had been quietly oogling the costumes trying to reckon which was mine, and hanging on Charles's and Margaret's every word. I flushed red with embarrassment at being caught.
But they were far from displeased.
"I think we've found your sword-bearer," Charles said to his aunt. "Our little English adventuress looks ready to wade into battle this instant."
Now Margaret's smile fell on me. As she knelt down, Charles handed her one of the smaller outfits. She held it to my shoulders and scrutinized it carefully. Up close Margaret was uglier than ever—puffy, misshapen cheeks. Lips fat and eyes bulging.
I looked up to see Charles holding out a sword.
"It's heavy. Bend your arm when you take it," he said. "But if you're going to be the queen's sword-bearer. . ."
Suddenly his sisters were aware of the foreign interloper being singled out for some honor by their brother and their aunt. One by one they hopped off the bed and came to stand round us.
I had never been confronted by jealousy before, but now it was all too apparent.
I stared at the jeweled-studded sword, a magnificent artifact. I looked at Charles. At Margaret. And then at the three furious little duchesses. I thought mayhaps I should insist on giving the honor to one of the girls. They were royal kin. Certainly more deserving than me of the exalted role of sword-bearer.
Then suddenly it struck me. It wasn't my fault they weren't paying attention. With my fiercest Amazon warrior's expression, I bent my elbow, tightened my shoulder and wrist, and received the sword hilt from Charles.
Though merely a prop, the weight of the weapon nearly took my arm down, but I was determined not to fail in my first royal posting. I held firm, every muscle trembling and straining. Finally, with a terrible grunt, I raised it aloft, right over my head.
Margaret gasped. "Good girl!"
"That's the way!" Charles was laughing with pleasure.
I was insanely pleased with myself. Even that triangle of female jealousy directed like daggers at my neck, could not diminish it.
Even if you were a girl, I was quickly learning, it behooved you to keep your eyes and ears open.
I vowed to myself that I always would."Robin Maxwell offers a fascinating glimpse at the ambitious girl who will grow into the infamous queen. An unforgettable blend full of scandal, intrigue, and history that will keep readers spellbound as Anne's inevitable destiny unfolds."
-Susan Holloway Scott, author of Duchess
"Absolutely superb! Mademoiselle Boleyn is one of the most lush and beautiful historical novels I have ever read, I seriously could not put it down."
-Diane Haeger, author of The Perfect Royal Mistress
"Reading Maxwell's brilliant new novel, it's easy to see why Anne is the "Boleyn girl" who changed the course of history, and why she is the source of never ending fascination. We are finally able to catch a glimpse of Anne Boleyn before her enemies vilified her, while she was still just a young woman looking for true love. I couldn't put it down."
-Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti
"Anne Boleyn fans will cry huzzah! when they learn that novelist Robin Maxwell has returned to her Tudor roots. In this saucy romp, a prequel to her Secret Diary, Maxwell writes in the remembered voice of a child -- a tricky feat indeed. Readers will find much to delight in, from finely drawn secondary characters like Leonardo da Vinci to scintillating descriptions of the French glitterati and the royal court. Frothy and French as its main setting, Maxwell's work nevertheless conveys a gravitas that foretells Mademoiselle Boleyn's eventual fate, especially in the novel's exploration of the motives of Henry Percy, Anne's first love and her ultimate betrayer."
-Vicki Leon, author of Working IX to V
"Historically plausible account of Anne Boleyn's adolescence in France as a courtier of King Francois. Maxwell's prequel to her first novel (The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, 1997) explores Anne's upbringing far from England...Lavishly imagined detail-regarding entertainment, dress and habits of the time-adds depth to this work...accomplished rehabilitation of much-maligned Anne as an empowered woman."
"The author of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and The Queen's Bastard returns with a look at the future queen of England before Henry VIII comes into her life...The budding romance between Anne and her paramour Percy is feelingly described, and all the more poignant when one knows the outcome. Maxwell delivers a ripping piece of historical romance."
Anne Boleyn is one of the most denigrated characters in English history and on the pages of recent works of historical fiction. Why did you choose to write not one, but two novels about her, and why did you perceive her in such a sympathetic light?
I'm always suspect when a figure in history is consistently portrayed either too scathingly or too well, which makes me want to do deep research and learn the other side of the story. Once I became aware of Anne Boleyn, I found her utterly fascinating, but so much of what was written about her was downright hostile. Even the best biographies had a faintly disapproving edge to them, and almost all of them described her as shrill, ambitious and scheming.
But I persisted, reading every word I could lay my hands on, and then trying to read between the lines. When studying history, you must always consider the sources, as virtually all of them are biased, especially the ones alive during the period written about. You have to understand what benefit or trouble they would derive from speaking well or ill or a certain person. Who they worked for. Who was paying their salary. In those days, "getting axed" from your job had far graver implications than it does today.
During the early years of her relationship with King Henry in England, and around the subject of Anne Boleyn's much-requited love for Henry Percy, the only contemporary source who spoke of them was a person named George Cavendish. He was extremely disdainful about both Anne and Percy, and didn't think much of Henry's passion for "that foolish girl yonder in the court." It didn't take much digging to discover that Cavendish was a loyal manservant to the monstrously powerful Cardinal Wolsey, who had every reason to oppose that young love affair. Neither he nor Cavendish could ever have imagined that "that foolish girl" would, less than ten years later, bring about the Cardinal's downfall.
So it was necessary for me, when reading the words of this source, to go inside Cavendish's head and look for his motives for saying them. And many times I would decide that if he said "black," I would be well-served to think "white." That he was almost certainly saying what he knew his master would want him to say. It was a kind of "job security" we still see in politics and business today.
Then there were the small passages and anecdotes about Anne within the histories that were seemingly innocuous, but spoke volumes to me about a woman who was always characterized as a cold and unfeeling woman and a rotten mother to Princess Elizabeth as well. Elizabeth had, after all, refused even to utter Anne's name for the first twenty-five years of her life. One day during my reading I came upon a passage in a very respectable biography saying that when Elizabeth was a tiny infant, Queen Anne insisted upon keeping her on a silken pillow by her side whenever possible. That was the first eye-opener for me. I thought, Are those the actions of a cold, unfeeling mother?
I read on, and there was an account from the same period, on the occasion of Henry deciding to send the tiny princess far away from court to her own household. Anne, who had already fallen far out of favor with King Henry and was in deep trouble for not giving him male children, argued passionately with the king about sending the baby away. There were even quotes from Henry who was furious with Anne, he shouting that the decisions about sending his children to distant palaces was ". . .the prerogative of kings, the prerogative of kings!" And still Anne persisted. Again I thought, Why would Anne further antagonize Henry and jeopardize her already dangerous position in order to keep Elizabeth near her, if she were such a heartless mother?
But there were more clues about Anne's true character that I turned up while doing research for my first novel, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and, in fact, gave me the premise for that book. I learned that in the first year of Elizabeth Tudor's reign, something turned her mind around about her mother. Completely around. Whereas Elizabeth originally believed all the horrible rumors about Anne—her infidelities, the charges of incest with her brother George, her deadly ambition— suddenly she was viewed by Elizabeth, who was as hard-headed a woman as ever lived, with extreme favor.
Indeed, Elizabeth began wearing a silver locket with Anne's miniature inside it. Within a couple of years she had heaped honors, titles and fortunes on the few and badly-thought-of Boleyn relatives at court that Henry had left alive. Here was proof from her own daughter that Anne was a person deserving respect, and not scorn.
These were all excellent lessons for me to learn early in my career as an author of historical fiction.
As for the claims that Anne was wildly ambitious and would stop at nothing to attain her goals, I always kept in mind that she began as an innocent, if highly intelligent girl, a romantic idealist who had the backbone to defy her father, her king, and Cardinal Wolsey, in order to pursue a marriage for love with Henry Percy. It was not until after she'd had that love taken away and been virtually forced into a relationship with Henry that she seized her destiny and began watching out for her own interests, pushing her own agendas.
It is true that she was audacious and had the temerity to refuse being taken advantage of. Almost unbelievably, she held out as a virgin with Henry for six years, so that any child she had with him would be born legitimate. For these qualities I do not judge her harshly. I admire and applaud her.
One learns much about a person by studying their friends and their enemies. In her youth, during the years at Margaret of Burgundy's and Francois' courts, she had only admirers, and they were individuals of distinction. It wasn't until she returned to England and, as a woman, dared to assert herself in a world of domineering men, that she gained a host of powerful enemies. These were among the cruelest and most grasping men and women at the English court.
I've always believed it was her steady hold over Henry's affections for so many years, and her insistence on treating him like an equal and not her better while everyone else groveled at his feet, that caused her so much trouble. They were jealous of Anne Boleyn. The jealousy engendered hatred. And the hatred inspired the conspiracy that led to her downfall and execution.
There have been novels about Anne and her sister Mary Boleyn that have not only kept the slanderous rumors and unsavory reputation alive, but have gone several steps further in character assassination. One book actually claimed that a male child born to Mary, fathered by Henry while she was his mistress, was stolen by Anne and brought up by her at court as her own.
That Anne brought up her sister's son at court, claiming it as Henry's and hers is, as far as I know, entirely fictitious. There would surely have been a great deal said about it in history books, as the king was desperate for his lawful wife, Anne, to give him a male heir. Too, if that had been the case, Anne's many enemies would have had a heyday with such information. There is not a whisper of it anywhere.
What was Anne's importance in the sweep of sixteenth century history?
Of course her having given birth to Elizabeth I is significant. But what I most respect is that Anne Boleyn was a pivotal player in the Protestant Reformation. It's true that it was Henry VIII who moved heaven, earth and the Catholic church to divorce his very Catholic first wife, Katherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne. But it was Anne, having inherited her Protestant learning from Duchess Marguerite of Alencon, who first brought the Protestant (and ultra heretical) books and pamphlets to Henry's attention. Anne who urged him to take heed of those writings, as they would help him in attaining his desired goals. And Anne who, despite England's deadly attitudes against reformers, continued to practice and push the "New Religion."
An even more closely guarded fact about Anne—one that is made mention of in only one history book (Anthony Martienssen's Queen Katherine Parr)—is that Henry actually appointed Anne to spearhead a small coterie of the most powerful figures at court who met weekly at Durham House in London, and whose sole purpose was freeing England from Rome's influence in order to land Henry his divorce. The still publicly Catholic king ("Defender of the Faith") could not allow himself to be seen engaging in such dangerous activities. Clearly, he trusted Anne's intelligence and judgment enough for the job. The image of this woman, still in her twenties, as the leader of men in what was, without question, the greatest religious and political battle of the sixteenth century—a battle that was won by Henry and Anne against the pope, creating the "schism"—is mindboggling
Yet hardly a soul knows about the Durham House gatherings. It takes up less than half a page in a scholarly, but rather obscure history book. No mention of it is made in any of the biographies of Anne Boleyn. She simply remains to most one of the "bimbos of history," the second wife of Henry VIII who had her head whacked off for behaving badly.
I think it's finally is time to rehabilitate Anne's reputation and elevate her to the place of respect among historical figures that she justly deserves.
Describe your method of story development.
As in all my book, I have had to piece the characters, places and events together in what sometimes feels like a linear jigsaw puzzle. I use the tools of "deep reading," extrapolation and expansion from history, a good bit of psychoanalyzing, speculating, and imagining. I stay as close to the facts as possible, never veering from those that are well-documented, but taking joyful liberties in the filling of many gaping voids in the historical record with what is "probable" and "possible."
The most magical moments in my writing life happen when I come across a tiny fact in a book, or online, that has been written nowhere else, that perfectly closes one of the holes in my story, explains a mystery or a character's motivation. One of the most exciting of these moments was the discovery that during the time Anne was an insider at Francois' court at Amboise, Leonardo Da Vinci came to live there, and became the French king's dearest friend. When I went back to my many biographies of Anne, there Leonardo was! Every book asserted that the two were at court together and that she had to have at least met him.
That Leonardo became Anne's friend and mentor is my invention though, I must admit, one of my very favorites. This is a perfect literary amalgam of a period that is chock-full of holes, an extrapolation of known facts, and a leap of imagination. I reasoned that the friendship could have happened, and there is no evidence that it did not.
Another wonderful historical "tidbit" became the foundation of two chapters in Mademoiselle Boleyn. While I knew that the Loire chateaux of Amboise and Cloux stood close to each other along the river's bank, I discovered on a website that in the early sixteenth century there was a secret, underground passage from one residence to the other, and that Francois, who visited Leonardo nearly every day in the manor house he'd gifted him, would often use the tunnel for their meetings.
My thinking went like this: A secret underground passage! Francoise often visiting his dear friend using the tunnel to get to Cloux. . . Francois, a playful prankster of a young man who enjoyed entertaining his inner circle at court. . . There had to be a "first time" he introduced his friends to the maestro. . . Could there be any more dramatic and magical a way to make that introduction than through a dark, moldering tunnel lit only by the flickering torches of the king's delightfully terrified courtiers and ladies?
There was another subject in Mademoiselle Boleyn that the history books mention only in passing that I fleshed-out into several important chapters, indeed, one of the major threads of the novel's narrative. I think it's an important aspect of what I consider the "job" of authors of historical fiction.
All histories and biographies of the period will tell you that while the Boleyn sisters were living in Francois I's court, the more beautiful of the two girls, Mary, became Francois' mistress, and was later "passed around" to so many of the king's courtiers that she came known as the "English mare," as so many men had ridden her. Later on, Francois really did publicly refer to her as an "infamous prostitute."
Yet you will never find more than those bare facts about why Mary ended up living a promiscuous life at the French court. If she chose it, or if it were chosen for her. If she was content with her reputation, or humiliated by it. If she enjoyed sex, or hated it.
And there is always "the morning after" a girl loses her virginity. I thought it would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall of Mary's private bedchamber when Anne confronted her that fateful morning. I wanted to know what Anne thought about Mary's situation, and if it had any effect or influence on the younger girl's life. That became one of my favorite chapters because we learned so much, not just about Mary's character and feelings, but about Anne's.
How do you do your research?
When I began writing historical fiction a dozen years ago, aside from material collected on several trips to England and Ireland, and a handful of purchased books, the major source of my research was the public library system. In most of the libraries at that time they still had "card catalogs." I'd have to stand poring over small, typed-out cards, trying to guess at the best way to cross-reference an historical figure, place or event, then search through the stacks for what sounded like just the perfect book, many times to discover that it was checked out, or stolen.
I was always lucky enough to find a couple of books that became my "bibles," like Marie Louis Bruce's Anne Boleyn. I was able to check it out for three weeks and renew it for another three, but then I was forced by library rules to return the book and leave it overnight before checking it out again. I'd find myself praying on those nights that no one else would check it out. I'd rush back the next morning and take greedy possession for another six weeks. For those first novel, the strange "library dance" would go on for the whole time I was researching and writing, as long as a year and a half. It was frustrating and difficult and, of course, I could never mark up the library books, forcing me to do extensive note-taking and massive paper file creation. I'm not the neatest person in the world, and during those periods my house looked like a war zone.
Then came the advent of online bookstores, such as Amazon, Powell's and Alibris. Suddenly I was able to find both in-print, and fabulous older and out-of-print used books, as well as collector's editions. I started buying all the book I needed. Today, with seven books researched, my fifteenth and sixteenth century history collection overflows two large bookcases. An added benefit of buying books is being able to mark up the texts any way I please, making my work easier.
On the last three books I've written I've used the internet more and more extensively for research. In order to get a feel for locations I've never visited, I can call up dozens of photographs and descriptions of the place. I can cross-reference subjects and characters using popular as well as scholarly links. For Mademoiselle Boleyn I found some wonderful sites on Charles the Holy Roman Emperor, Margaret of Burgundy, and Marguerite the Duchess of Alencon, much of which I could not find in any book. While I was able to order several volumes on sixteenth century playing cards from online bookstores, the web provided invaluable material about the rules of specific card games of the period, and even the language used while playing them.
All in all, the modern world is a much happier place for me to do historical research.
If you could ask Anne Boleyn any question, what would it be?
I'd love to know what it was about Henry Percy that caused Anne to fall so madly in love with him. So in love that she managed to bring the entire male establishment of England down on her their heads. I'd also ask her if she ever was in love with Henry VIII, or whether, after she was torn away from Percy and pursued by the king, she was ever able to open her heart again.
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