Thank you to author Judith Arnopp for joining us today on the Anne Boleyn Files with this wonderful guest post. Judith is one of the authors of the new collaborative book Sexuality and its Impact on History which is published by Pen & Sword. Over to Judith…
I’ve been interested in history all my life, cutting my teeth on the Tudors while still at school in the ’70s. Like many girls I was drawn to Anne Boleyn’s story. In those days information wasn’t as readily available as it is now but I read all the novels I could lay hands on, visited the library and took home huge piles of books on Tudor history. It wasn’t until many years later when I began to write professionally that I undertook any really in-depth study. The Kiss of the Concubine was my fifth novel, my second set in the Tudor era, and during the research period I was intrigued at the hints of a relationship between Anne and Thomas Wyatt.
Wyatt’s poetry, as well as being beautifully fine examples of 16th century verse does indeed hint of a possible relationship. Of course, even had they been deeply in love it would have been hopeless for Wyatt was already married, but then as well as now, that does not necessarily preclude an affair. In my novel I play with the idea of an unrequited love, an attraction deeper on Thomas Wyatt’s side than on Anne’s.
At the top of the rise I pause beneath a stand of trees and scan the horizon with a hand to my ribs to ease the pain in my side. I am slightly out of breath, the winter has robbed me of my usual vigour. The wind is blowing my hair over my face. I must look like a Gorgon. I put up a hand to trap it, sweep it back.
“I knew you’d come!” A man leaps suddenly from a branch above my head, making me squeal.
“Thomas! What are you doing here? You scared me half to death. Why aren’t you at court?”
“The king took pity and sent me home to nurse the megrim I’ve been suffering.”
I cast an eye over his robust frame, his rosy cheeks and fair windswept locks. He is the picture of health.
“You look very well to me.”
His eyes are as blue as the king’s. They bore into mine, a hint of laughter disguising something deeper.
“Now I have gained the thing I lacked, I am fully restored.”
Disconcerted, I turn away and begin to walk along the ridge where the grass is shorter beneath the trees. He follows, a little behind. “I’ve written a verse.” He fumbles beneath his doublet and draws out a parchment. The wind takes it, threatens to whip it from his fingers.
“Another one? I hope it’s better than the last.”
“You are a cruel mistress.” He clears his throat. “It isn’t quite right yet, but I have the gist of it. Are you going to listen?”
I slow my pace and, spying a fallen bough, I move toward it, perching on the rough bark while he praises me with gentle speech.
“The flaming sighs that boil within my breast,
Sometime break forth, and they can well declare
The heart’s unrest, and how that it doth fare,
The pain thereof, the grief, and all the rest ….”
Poor Tom, he is nothing if not faithful. How can I not be touched by such lines? His face as he reads betrays his sincerity.
At court it is fashionable to love in vain. All the young men strut about the palace with their hearts on their sleeves, weeping and wailing over some married woman or another. But Tom, I fear, is different. He has made the mistake of loving sincerely … albeit in vain.
His voice trails off and he folds his verse, tucks it back inside his doublet. “Of course, it still needs something. I may rework it ….”
“It’s lovely, Tom, but you are your own worst fool. You are not free to love …” I get up and begin to walk away, but he grabs my wrist.
“Anne … one kiss and I will be silent. You used to let me kiss you, when we were children.”
I look at my feet, smile ruefully. “You never kissed me, Tom. That was Mary.”
“Well, it was you I wanted to kiss. I’ve never wanted anything so much …”
“Try telling that to your wife.”
I have known Thomas Wyatt since childhood. His family seat is but a little way from Hever and they were regular callers in the summer season. He is part of my childhood, part of me, but I cannot love him. Kissing him would be like kissing George. He is too familiar, too close; almost kin.
He is very near now, my forehead level with his jaw. He puts a finger beneath my chin, forces me to look at him. “You are so fair,” he whispers, and I open my eyes wide.
“No, I am not. No one has ever called me fair. You are mistaking me again for Mary.”
“Well, Mary may be fairer but what you have, Anne, shadows her like the sun outshines a torch. The king can keep Mary; it is you that I want.”
It is not easy to rebuff the poetry of his words, but I have to for both our sakes. He has a wife and I, well, I have my virtue and intend to keep it. Since the disaster of loving Harry Percy, I am done with men.
“Just one, Anne, please? Call it payment for the verse.”
I consider for a while. I like Tom and hate to be the cause of such hurt. His pursuit of me has been long and as yet, unrewarded.
“Just one little one, then. On the cheek.”
I close my eyes and tilt my face. After a moment I sense him coming closer, his head shadowing the glare of the sun. I am swamped with the scent of apples and summertime.
His lips are warm on my skin, he leaves a gossamer touch on my mouth, a kiss so gentle that I relax, enjoying the chaste sensation of his salute. Perhaps I am wrong, it is pleasant to be kissed by Tom after all. Then suddenly, he pulls me closer, driving the breath from my lungs, our bodies tight, his mouth swamping mine as he injects all his passion into me as if he fears it will be his one and only chance.
When he finally lets me go, I stagger, almost fall, and while I gasp for breath and equilibrium, he spins away from me and goes leaping and bounding down the hill toward the house, like a thief who has successfully made off with the crown jewels.
“God bless you, Anne Boleyn,” he calls over his shoulder, his jubilance dissipating in the wind. Inwardly I am laughing, refusing to acknowledge the sudden passion that sent the blood surging through my veins as it hasn’t done since I was sent down from court.
“You are a rogue and a devil, Thomas Wyatt,” I call after him.
That was as far as I took the idea in the novel so, several years later, when I was approached to be part of a collaborative project with authors: Annie Whitehead, Jessica Cale, Hunter S Jones, Gayle Hulme, Dr Beth Lynne and Emma Haddon-Wright, I jumped at the chance to take a second, much deeper look at the subject. The anthology, Sexuality and its impact on British History, is a collection of essays examining sex and relationships through time. Each author tackles a different era, from Anglo Saxon, through medieval and Tudor to Victorian times. The result is quite eye-opening and our project has been met with enthusiasm.
In my chapter, These Bloody Days, I examine both the background history and Wyatt’s poetry, and weigh up the historiography of the subject, which was a lot more complex than I’d anticipated. One day I’d hold one view, the next I felt differently but the more I researched, the more I became immersed in the desperate sorrows of that time. My personal life took a back seat and I fell behind with my novel The King’s Mother – Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles, the life of Margaret Beaufort. I distinctly remember one afternoon sitting on the floor surrounded by books and documents and realising that I just had to stop researching and get something on paper or I was going to miss the deadline. Once I began writing, it was fine.
Wyatt’s presence in Anne’s social circle and the fact of his arrest at the same time as Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, Rochford and Weston, is often overlooked. It is only Wyatt’s surviving poems that give us pause, make us stop and consider if perhaps he was a little too close to the queen for comfort.
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
There is no doubt Wyatt was severely affected by the events of May 1536. He and Anne were friends, they moved in the same circles for most of their lives. The queen’s close companions were also his. They drank together, laughed together, sported and hunted together and later, in May 1536, he watched from his prison in the Bell Tower as they went to their deaths.
Due to Thomas Cromwell’s fondness for Wyatt, his life was spared, an act that possibly represents one of the few things we have to thank Cromwell for. Wyatt may or may not have deserved to die with them but the experience and his brush with death coloured his life, and his poetry ever afterwards.
The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.
After a small hiccup with the printer which resulted in the first publication day being missed, Sexuality and its Impact on History was released by Pen & Sword in the UK on the 11th April 2018. A kindle edition will soon be available. The US paperback is due for release on 3rd July.
It can be ordered via the following links:
- Amazon UK – It is showing as temporarily out of stock but can still be ordered.
- Direct from the publisher Pen & Sword – It is in stock.
- Amazon.com – For pre-order for its July release date.
Judith Arnopp’s life-long passion for history eventually led her to the University of Wales where she gained a BA in English and Creative Writing, and a Masters in Medieval History.
Her first novel, Peaceweaver was published in 2009, quickly followed by The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd but she remained largely unknown as an author until her first best-selling Tudor novel, The Winchester Goose. Since then she has continued to write in the Tudor era, producing five further novels covering the lives of Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr and Elizabeth of York.
The Beaufort Chronicles comprises of three volumes: The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman and The King’s Mother tracing the fascinating life of Margaret Beaufort. She is currently engaged in researching the Dissolution of the monasteries for her eleventh novel, Sisters of Arden.
Judith’s non-fiction work has also been published in various historical anthologies, the latest being Sexuality and Its Impact on History which will be published in March 2018 by Pen and Sword Books. You will also find her work on many on-line magazines and blogs. Judith is easily accessible on her webpage and blog or you can follow her on social media.
The Beaufort Chronicles (three volumes)
A Song of Sixpence
The Kiss of the Concubine
The Winchester Goose
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers