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Anne Boleyn Short Story – The Seamstress’ Tale

Posted By on February 3, 2011

Anne Boleyn Files visitor, Valerie Christie, has written a short story about Anne Boleyn and would like some feedback so do comment and let us know what you think of the story.

The Seamstress’ Tale

by Valerie Christie

Cloth has always been my life. Ever since I was a girl I have been fascinated by the different colours and different textures, and in a way I always knew that my destiny lay in working with it, in some way.

I was five when I first realised that this was what I wanted to do. My mother found me with her best gown one day. I was staring at it, and occasionally putting my hand out to lovingly caress the fabric. It was a rich red velvet.

‘Margaret, what are you doing?’

I started guiltily. ‘I’m sorry Mother, your gown is just so beautiful, I couldn’t help but touch it.’

My mother laughed. ‘Ah, Margaret, I hope that when you grow up and we find a good match for you that you will have many beautiful clothes like this!’

My mother was wrong. I did see many beautiful gowns when I grew up, but this was because I was the one who was making them. When I was fourteen, I finally realised that the life of a wife and mother was not for me. I knew of course, that many girls thought this, but had no choice in the matter. I however, was fortunate enough to have a father who was ahead of his time. He arranged for me to go to Flanders, to stay with a distant cousin of his who lived there. He was aware of my love for cloth of all kinds, and it was his wish that I would become a renowned seamstress at the court of Burgundy.

While I stayed in Flanders I grew to love the Flemish people, and as I learned my trade I grew to love making clothes. While I sewed shirts for the noblemen of Flanders, I made gowns for their wives. I came to know their measurements off by heart, and even though I had never met them, I felt as if I knew them intimately. I wondered sometimes about the clothes I had made for them, where they had worn them to and how wearing their clothes had made them feel.

I stayed in Flanders for ten years. During that time I made many friends, worked hard at my profession as a seamstress and earned the respect of the nobility. ‘The Englishwoman’ as they always called me, made many clothes for them, and as such I was aware of the intimate details of their lives. I knew when their ladies were pregnant, as I was always sent their gowns with instructions to let the bodices out a little. As the pregnancies developed I let the bodices out a little further. I knew when the babies had been born when the gowns were sent to me again with instructions to return the bodice to its original state. Of course, there were some who did not survive childbirth. I made a mental note of each dress I had worked on, and was painfully aware of those who were not returned to me for alteration after the nine months of pregnancy was over.

The time came when I had to return to England. I received a letter from my mother telling me that my father was ill, and had been asking for me. I knew deep down that this day would come eventually, but it was not something that I had been looking forward to. I had heard various things over the years, and knew that England under Henry Tudor was not a pleasant place to live. He was a tyrant, obsessed with carrying on his dynasty, and all known opposition to his family’s claim to the throne had to be wiped out. So poor Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, had been beheaded because Henry believed that he might try to claim the throne. That was something that could not be tolerated. I did not want to return to England, to live under such a ruler, but my family needed me, and as the only daughter I had no choice but to return to my homeland.

When I returned to England, it seemed that my reputation had gone before me, as my services were much in demand. I was soon making and altering dresses for the great and the good of that country. Of course, much of the time I knew nothing of these women, all that was told to me was their title and their measurements. As I became accustomed to my work, I was able to guess that this one was pregnant, or the other one had had her baby, as I had been able to in Flanders.

My reputation grew and soon I received my first order from the King’s household – a kirtle for the Queen. I was told, of course, that this was an extremely important customer. The Queen was extremely small in stature, and plump, or so I gathered from the measurements I was given.

Over the next few years, I made quite a few dresses for her. Then, things began to change.

I received an order from the King to make a night robe. It was to be of black damask, trimmed with fur. But what perturbed me was the fact that the measurements I was given were not the same as before. And it was well known that the King did not order garments to be made for his mistresses. He did not love them well enough for that.

I discussed this with my apprentice. Jane was a good, trustworthy girl, and I knew that the conversation would remain between ourselves.

‘I have heard that the King has a new mistress.’ she said. ‘But they say this one is different. They say that the King loves her, perhaps even more than he loves the Queen.’

‘Surely it will come to nothing.’ I said. ‘His passions never last.’

‘That has been the case up until now,’ said Jane. ‘I think this may be different.’

Jane’s prediction proved correct. The King turned his affection towards this other woman, who

we all now knew was Anne Boleyn, and the Queen had to make do with the garments she already owned. Meanwhile, I made, with Jane’s help, sumptuous gown after sumptuous gown. I was once again mesmerised by the colours and textures of the fabrics, in a way that I had not been since I was a child. I wondered about the woman who wore these clothes that I made. Was she happy? Did she love the King? Did he truly love her more than Queen Katherine? I had no idea of the answers to any of these questions.

I thought about those days almost ten years later, on the 19th May 1536, when I stood among the crowd at the Tower of London. The woman whose measurements had replaced the Queen’s all those years ago was about to die. She was to be executed for adultery and treason. I had always had a kind of a curiosity about her. I had always seen her as someone who had good taste in clothes, who loved to be well dressed and to be seen in the latest fashions. I did not think about whether she was guilty or not, for me this was irrelevant. I knew that I could not see into someone’s soul by knowing what they liked to wear.

I looked at her as she came out, ready to mount the scaffold. She was wearing a dark grey night robe, not unlike the one I had made for her all those years ago. Under the robe was a red kirtle. Red: the colour of martyrdom. I had been fascinated by colours all my life. I had been obsessed with their meaning, and why people chose to wear them at certain times of their life. Often, the colours had no meaning, but sometimes they did, and I wondered if Anne had chosen her clothes with the significance of the colour in mind. I had no way of knowing, but I like to think that perhaps she did.

As she stood on the scaffold and made her final speech, I listened intently. After all these years making her clothes, perhaps I would now find something out about her other than the details I needed to make her dresses.

‘Good Christian people, I am come here to die, according to the law, and I will speak nothing against it. I am come here only to die and thus to yield myself to the will of the King, my Lord. If in my life I did offend the King’s Grace then surely with my death I do now atone. I beseech you all to pray for the life of the King, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, and has always treated me so well, wherefore I now submit to death with a good will, humbly asking pardon of all the world. And if anyone should meddle in my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus, I take my leave of the world and of you, and heartily desire you all to pray for me.’

We, the spectators, all knelt in prayer. As I bowed my head, I thought about her words. I could not claim to know her innermost thoughts, for no one, only God, could know those. I could not judge her harshly, I did not know her soul. Only God knew. As I heard the cannons roar out the news of her death, I knew that her soul was passing into the place where nothing could be hidden. As for the rest of us, we could only hope for a glimpse of the truth.

22 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn Short Story – The Seamstress’ Tale”

  1. Clarebear says:

    This is a really good short story, I throughly enjoyed reading it. I love the way that you came up with the idea to tell the story through the eyes of a seamstress. I enjoy reading about tudor clothes and fashions, so this was just to my tastes. Well done Valerie, will you be doing any more short stories?

  2. Robert Parry says:

    Lovely. What else have you written, Valerie? I can’t imagine this is your first story. It reads like someone who has already written lots. Good and confident.

  3. kara says:

    I loved the story but as much as I got into it thinking it really could be from someone who did actually make these clothing for 2 Queens and then watched the one with great fashion sense die etc. I knew only that it wasn’t real because if the way it was actually written in the modern English way. They used to speak like I ‘Shakespear’ used to make all his plays speak.. (did that make sense?)
    Anyway good story though. My advice would be to study Tudor times language and writings and add that flare and it would be 100% realistic.
    Good job though 😀

    1. Claire says:

      Kara,
      I think it would actually be hard to understand if Valerie had written like that. When I have quoted directly from some of the primary sources, such as the chronicles written by Hall and Wriothesley, people have found it hard to understand them without me ‘translating’ them.

      1. Kara says:

        Oh yeah, you are correct.. I think the story was really good. I thought she was trying to make it as it was written in those days, that’s why I made that comment but I do think it was a great piece if literature and I applaud it:)

  4. Shannon says:

    What a lovely story and point of view, Valerie. As somebody who truly adores fabrics like your character, my only suggestion would be to include some details about the materials she was using: the way light plays off of silk or the heavy texture of damask. Anne had such a different style than Katherine, the making note of that change would be interesting, the switch from Spanish to French fashion and how the court followed suite. The sumptuary laws that outline which ranks could wear what would be a great resource for you as well. Good luck and keep writing!

  5. Jennifer says:

    What a great short story! I loved it! It kept me entranced! I love the imagery and felt like I was right there looking at the things that were going on. I think it was a great idea that you wrote it from the seamstresses view point; gives it a different flair and different thoughts then someone who might be in the Queen’s household for example. I thought the wording was fine and agree that it would have been too hard to read had it been in “Tudor language.” After all, novelists like Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy, or Phillipa Gregory don’t write like that. I think it was brilliant and would love to read more short stories! Great job!!!! 🙂

    1. Mendi says:

      I agree with Jennifer, good story!!

  6. Chrystina says:

    I really enjoyed this! You should seriously consider taking this short story to the next level, it would be very fascinating to read a novel about a seamstress for the Tudor court and learning about the various garments. Or just a novel of short stories about the background people of the Tudor court and what they’ve witnessed like this seamstress. The imagery you have portrayed is amazing as well, please do consider writing more.

  7. Valerie says:

    Thanks everyone for your kind and constructive comments. I am glad that everyone so far has enjoyed the story and I do appreciate the ideas on how to make it better. I think Kara’s idea about the language is really interesting and may be something for a future project (possibly a poem?) In answer to your question, Robert, I have been writing stories for a few years now, I’ve been to a few writing classes and had mostly written stories and poems for that. In November I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I ended up writing a 60 page (very) short novel about a girl who goes time travelling and ends up in Tudor times! I plan to keep writing and am really grateful to Claire for putting this story up here so that people I don’t know can see it, as friends and family aren’t always objective and it’s great to get an honest opinion!

    1. Kara says:

      I think it was a beautiful story and thank you for not taking what I said in a mean way because that was not my intent at all!! I was merely suggesting but then I wasn’t thinking that people probably wouldn’t understand it lol..
      Again, great literature I loved it and look forward to more! I love the time traveling idea and can’t wait to read it. Good luck with all future endeavors. You are very talented. 😀

  8. Shoshana says:

    While I greatly enjoyed the story, I wished there had been more details about the times, fabrics, and people. As a seamtress to nobility, I am sure she would have been privy to a great many rumors and witnessed events as they occurred – such as the execution. I would have loved to read more eye witness accounts. I don’t undertand why she did not meet with her clients though; as a talented seamtress, would not she have been required to fit the garments herself for those of high rank? I can’t imagine Anne Boelyn settling for a “secondary” seamtress to fit her gowns when the “designer” was available to do so in person. Face to face meetings would have been very interesting – what would have been overheard as the seamtress fitted the gown quietly and the Queen and her court talked around her, probably not even realizing she was intently listening?

    1. Kara says:

      Also I heard that Anne had played a big hand into latest fashion with her daughter Elizabeth as well, so if anything maybe the tailor could fit Elizabeth if anything due to her constant growth..?
      It was a great story regardless.

      1. Shoshana says:

        I can visualize a scene with Anne instructing the seamtress as to what she wants her to make for Elizabeth as the tiny girl plays with the fabirc scraps on the floor – then the King storms in, angry, ready to do battle with Anne over some imagined insult to him. Elizabeth starts crying and the seamtress picks her up, only to have Anne snatch her away, running after Henry and into the famous confrontation that was reported to have taken place between the two of them just days before her arrest. Could work.

        1. Kara says:

          Nice!!! And it leads up so perfect, this story Valerie wrote really could become a great novel. 😀

  9. lisaannejane says:

    I loved it. Great short story, I could almost feel the fabric in my hands,

  10. Anne Barnhill says:

    I enjoyed reading the story and really like the idea of telling a tale via a seamstress. I think the story is strongest when the narrator is talking about the fabrics and what she likes. More could be done with this–also, the difference betweeh Cath and Anne’s clothing could be expanded. I would try to think in terms of scene and narration. I am most fully engaged when there is a scene, with shorter episodes of narration. Just to think about. Keep going–I agree that this could be a novel if you had any desire for that!

  11. Eliza says:

    That was a lovely story, well done!! I enjoyed it very much and I hope to read more of your work!

  12. deirdre says:

    I really enjoyed the short story Valerie and I felt that the use of the imagery engaged the reader, from the beginning i.e. how the texture of the cloth inspires the young seamstress. A most enjoyable read, I feel that sometimes many authors place too much emphasis on surroundings, and unneccessary descriptions and can lose the interest of the reader, but your story captures the reader and maintains their interest until the end. Well done and I look forward to many more of your stories because you really have a talent.

  13. Ingrid says:

    I loved! I agrre with who said that you can , I don’t Know, maybe writte a book! You can improve it describing somethings. But in my opinion that was a great idea. Talk about someone that was close, but not close enough !

    Congrats!

  14. mervice says:

    I loved it , very visual piece .

  15. Kim says:

    What a lovely idea!

    The way I understood it, is that seamstress is just making clothes that Henry orders as a surprise.

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