I slammed the door to my apartment and threw my backpack to the ground. My roommate, Simone, looked up from the television in alarm.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
“Professor Donovan assigned us a ten page paper for Monday. He was upset about the number of people skipping his class and this is how he decided to punish us.” I sank onto the couch next to her. “Ten pages,” I moaned. “I was supposed to be going camping with James this weekend!”
Simone gave a sympathetic nod before cocking her head to the side. “Bree,” she said hesitantly. “You hate camping.”
“That’s not the point!” I snapped. Simone looked wounded at my tone and I immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry,” I continued. “You’re right, I do hate camping. But I hate spending my weekends writing last minute ten page papers more.”
“Fair enough,” she replied, turning back to the television. She was watching a cooking competition involving larger-than-life cakes. As an afterthought she added, “What’s your paper about?”
“The Tudors,” I explained. “Something about Anne Boleyn and the English Reformation. So boring, right?”
Later that night, I sat at my desk, staring at my computer screen. I had exactly two words of my ten page paper written: my name. The cursor blinked at me tauntingly. Four hours had passed since I had stomped home and been forced to cancel my weekend plans and though I had been sitting in front of my laptop for the majority of that time, inspiration evaded me. Sighing dramatically, I flipped through my European History textbook, stopping at an illustration of Anne Boleyn.
“We look alike,” I mused aloud. It was true: chocolate-colored hair, parted down the center, dramatic eyes so dark they were nearly black; it was like looking at a portrait of myself.
“If only that could make me care more,” I sighed, and laid my head down on the textbook.
It was the rustling that woke me up. Simone, I figured. She often came into my room looking for things – cardigans, pencils, midnight snacks – she was so disorganized she could never find her own things. Without opening my eyes, I hissed at her: “Simone, where is the fire? Can you keep it down?”
“What’s that, girl?” snapped a cold, irritated voice in return. Definitely not Simone. I shot up in alarm.
“Who’s there?” I shouted, willing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. “I’m warning you, I have pepper spray in my nightstand!”
“Pepper spray?” The rustling stopped. “What is pepper spray?”
I opened my mouth to toss out another threat when the figure turned around and I froze. The young woman was holding a single candle that illuminated her olive skin. She stared at me with familiar dark eyes framed by thick hair the color of coffee. I gasped in recognition. But how…?
“Anne?” I asked hesitantly. “Anne Boleyn?”
Her black eyes danced in the flickering candlelight. “Yes,” she replied slowly, amused at my apparent stupidity.
“But…you…what are you doing here?” I managed to get out. No wonder she thought I was stupid.
“What am I doing here?” She scoffed. “You have been sent to attend to me, and yet you ask what I am doing here?”
“I’m attending you?” I questioned slowly. Quite the impression I was making on one of the most famous women in history, I thought to myself bitterly. But really, what was going on?
“Yes,” she said, sitting on my bed. “You were sent to meet me here in Dover yesterday to escort me back to London for the Christmas festivities.” She paused briefly before adding quietly, “I am to meet the King.”
“Wow, a meeting with the King,” I responded. “That is incredible.”
She laughed bitterly. “My father and uncle conspire for me to turn the King’s affections away from Queen Catherine,” she explained. “But the King once loved and callously dismissed my sister; who is to say he won’t do the same to me? My reputation will be ruined and yet my father and uncle do not think of that. They think only of advancement at court.”
I remained quiet until I heard her sniffle. She turned her face to mine and I noticed that her dark eyes were filled with tears. Instinctively, I reached for her hand. I hated seeing people cry, and providing some kind of comfort would help me to avoid crying as well.
“That is not all,” she added in a whisper. “I – I am in love with another. He is a member of the French court. We were going to marry before I was summoned back to England.” She grasped my hand tighter. “I must confess to someone: I am not going to London. I am leaving now to return to France.”
I started. “You’re returning to France? Now?”
“Yes. I refuse to live the life of misery that my relatives have chosen for me. I want to be free and happy and with my love in France.”
“But you can’t go!” I burst out. “What about Henry’s annulment? What about Elizabeth? What about the English Reformation?!”
She threw me a puzzled glance as she pulled her hand from mine. “You are the strangest girl I have ever met,” she said.
I shook my head in an effort to stop the thoughts of events she knew nothing about from escaping my mouth. “Sorry. But are you sure you have thought this through? You don’t want to maybe just stay in England and see what happens?”
“No!” she cried out, rising from the bed. “I am leaving. I am taking my one last chance at happiness!”
“What is going to happen when everyone finds out you’ve gone? I don’t imagine your father and uncle will take too kindly to that.”
She sank back down to the bed. “I was hoping you would help me with that,” she explained. “Perhaps you can tell them there was some sort of accident?” She asked hopefully.
“I don’t think that would work,” I replied. I couldn’t tell her that her premature ‘death’ would have ramifications way beyond anything she could have ever imagined. And then it hit me.
“We look similar enough,” I said carefully. I could take your place.” Was I really offering to exchange places with the most controversial woman of her time? A woman who – I swallowed hard at the thought – was unfairly executed when she couldn’t provide her husband with a prince?
Her eyes brightened and she nearly set me on fire with her candle as she threw her arms around me.
“Oh, really? You would do it?”
“Of course,” I assured her, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you!”
Anne kissed my cheek and pressed a white handkerchief embroidered with a black “B” into my hand. She stood to leave, but as she reached the door, I remembered one more thing.
“Wait!” I called and she halted. “Your necklace!”
She nodded and unclasped the pearls from around her neck before tossing it to me. I caught the strands and spent a moment admiring the shiny pearls and the golden “B” that hung from them before placing them around my own neck.
I glanced back at the door. Anne Boleyn flashed me one last conspiratorial smile before vanishing.
Over the course of the next few days, I sat in an ornate carriage en route to London. I kept quiet, terrified that someone would realize that I wasn’t Anne. So much was resting on my shoulders – the future of England, for crying out loud – but I knew that I couldn’t blow it by acting un-Annelike.
My anxiety ramped up as I was being prepared for the King’s Christmas festival. I was preparing to meet Henry and the pressure put on me by the Boleyn family was enormous. And they didn’t even realize the impact this meeting would have on the whole of England for centuries to come! It was a huge moment. My one chance to catch the King’s attention and lure him away from Queen Catherine – and the Catholic Church. I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.
I pulled a blood-red gown over my chemise and Spanish farthingale. The square neckline was lined with a trim the exact same shade of gold as the “B” necklace around my throat. The long, fur-lined sleeves hung loosely around my elbows, revealing tight black bodice sleeves. My thick hair was brushed out and parted down the middle, then covered with a French hood that was delicately adorned with pearls.
I gaped at myself in the mirror. I had never worn such fine garments and to wear them while being presented to the King of England seemed too good to be true.
“Eat your heart out, Henry,” I whispered.
To ensure that I would be seen, the Duke of Norfolk, my – well, Anne’s – uncle had chosen me to present our family Christmas gift to the King.
When my name was announced, I stood before the King and curtsied deeply. I carefully avoided looking at Queen Catherine, knowing well enough that I was going to be breaking her kind heart soon enough.
“Your Majesties,” I said quietly as Henry watched me closely. “To show our love and loyalty to our most gracious King and his beloved Queen, the Boleyn family gives to you this goblet.”
A young boy held the small chest containing the jewel-encrusted goblet. The King glanced at it briefly before returning his gaze to mine.
In fact, the King kept his eye on me throughout the feast. Throughout the dinner – a meal full of meat pies and puddings and fruit cakes and one particularly intense dish consisting of a pigeon inside a partridge inside a chicken inside a goose inside a turkey – I noticed the King studying me.
After the feast, when the dancing commenced and the King beckoned me to him, I knew I had succeeded in getting his attention. I daintily stepped towards the King, allowing me the opportunity to examine him as he had been examining me all evening. While he had not yet ballooned to his famed armor-of-fifty-two-inches size and though you could see glimmers of the handsome Renaissance Prince he once was, King Henry still had a cruel glint in his eye that chilled my very soul. His edgy demeanor was enough to shroud his remaining good looks.
Reaching the King, he offered me his arm. I took it and he led me to the dance floor. We moved across the room and I was amazed at how graceful the impressive Henry moved.
“You are the daughter of Thomas Boleyn?” the King questioned. “Why haven’t I seen you at court before?”
“I have been in France,” I replied. “I have been attending Queen Claude.”
“But you are no longer in her service?” he continued.
“No, Your Majesty, I am not.”
“Then you must attend Queen Catherine,” he declared. He then pulled me close to him and whispered in my ear, “You are too beautiful to be kept out of my sight for long.”
Though my words all night had been an imitation, my flush was genuine. “Your Majesty is too kind,” I managed to get out.
The musicians finished the song and the King bowed to me in thanks while pressing his lips against my outstretched hand.
One glance at the Earl of Norfolk told me I had done my job.
With sufficient coaching by the Boleyn family and from the Earl of Norfolk, I was able to navigate my way around the Tudor court and into Henry VIII’s heart . Once the wheels were in motion for the Reformation, I was able to relax a bit and enjoy the perks of being the object of the King’s affections. And after I was crowned Queen things got even better. Beautiful gowns, radiant jewels, ladies-in-waiting: I had treasures unknown to your average twenty-first century college student. It was easy to get caught up by the royal lifestyle. However, not long after my coronation, things began to deteriorate with Henry. And after Elizabeth, and not the much anticipated Prince, was born, I remembered my final duty as Anne Boleyn.
It happened quickly: my downfall as I could not produce a son and therefore fell out of favor with the King as he set his sights on Jane Seymour and my subsequent arrest for adultery and treason. Six other men were arrested, five of whom were later executed. One of these men, George Boleyn, was my – Anne’s – brother. His arrest and execution were the hardest to deal with as we had grown close over the last decade. He had been kind and helpful to me in my climb to the top of the English hierarchy.
And then came the day of my execution. I was terrified, but I knew it had to be done. I stood in front of a crowd of anxious onlookers and maintained my innocence before kneeling towards the block.
“To Christ I commend my soul!” I whispered and wrenched my eyes shut, waiting for the blow. I felt the cool blade of the sword against my neck –
And then I fell out of my desk chair.
The screen of my laptop glowed eerily in my otherwise dark room. I lay on the floor in stunned silence, rubbing the part of my head that had slammed against the ground.
Simone burst into my room. “Uh, everything okay in here?” She asked, seeing me on the floor in the dark.
“Yeah, I must have fallen asleep,” I said slowly. “I fell out of my chair. I guess I had a nightmare.”
Simone laughed as she flicked on the light. “How’s the paper writing going?”
I pulled myself up off the floor and glanced at my blank computer screen. “Actually, I have a pretty good idea of where it’s going now.”
“Cool,” Simone replied. “So does that mean you are ready for an ice cream break?”
“Sure,” I said, flashing a feeble smile. I stepped towards the door, but Simone stopped me.
“That’s gorgeous, Bree,” she said, pointing at my desk. “Where did you get it?”
I leaned towards where she was pointing to get a better look. Sitting on top of my History textbook was a white handkerchief that had delicately been embroidered with the letter “B”. I snatched it off my desk like hawk hunting its prey. Even though I was holding it in my hands it seemed hard to believe that it was here.
“It was a gift,” I murmured.
“It’s cute. So, ready for ice cream?” Simone asked.
“Yeah,” I responded, and followed her into the kitchen.
Maybe this paper won’t be so terrible after all, I thought to myself as I tucked the handkerchief into my pocket.