A Cromwell Adventure: Part 13 – Who wrote Thomas Cromwell’s Poor Law Draft?

Yesterday, I received a message asking about Thomas Cromwell. I was waiting to collect my sons from college, and my phone buzzed. A Tom Crumel chat? Of course! But instead, the messenger was asking about a link she had just seen, claiming that Anne Boleyn wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536, and because of this, Cromwell concocted lies to destroy her.

Readers, I laughed out loud when I read this. I probably looked crazy with my windows down on a hot summery afternoon, laughing to myself. Then I remembered why my messenger was confused, because this assertion comes from a recently released book. It has been a long week, and I have been frantic to get stock into my bookstores for Christmas, and the publishers are sending books by the thousands (the book in question is not one of them). I did not watch the video that came with this claim, but I did read the link, discussing the need to promote women in government. (It is a worthy claim, for Britain’s current political state is grotesque. I live in a country run by a woman, and we are better for it.) I know the book in question which makes these claims, and I have checked the book’s sources, and these claims do not match up with what I have read about Thomas Cromwell creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. That is not unusual in itself, for this story is interesting and is based on difficult evidence. The trouble is, the suggestion that new evidence has surfaced does not ring true, only that evidence has been interpreted… differently.

So, who wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536?

Tudor Poor Law is not a fun read. Essentially, it was believed the poor were idle, lazy beggars and vagabonds who were poor due to their own behaviour.[1] Many in (conservative) government tend to think the same way today, but in 1535, thoughts on better ways to deal with the poor were coming to life in England. Cromwell had been in parliament when the law last changed – the Vagabonds Act of 1531 (22 Henry VIII c.12). The law was a harsh one; rather than helping the poor, they were to continue to be punished. But this law change, the first in almost 150 years, saw the chance for beggars to become licensed by their local Justice of the Peace. Licensed beggars could to appeal to the JPs of their district for relief. However, punishments for vagrancy stayed in place.[2]

The Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 (27 Hen VIII c. 25) is unique for a number of reasons. Cromwell passed the law in the House of Commons that stated that “sturdy vagabonds” had to be put to work.[3] The constables, mayors, JPs, sheriffs and anyone in control of a district/parish had to look after their own poor. The poor were not simply punished for being poor, and the men in power would be punished if they did not aid beggars. Taxes were not levied to cover these costs, as taxes were always unpopular, and a number other important changes in England were already causing disharmony. Collections were organised through a common box, to pay for people to be put to work, for the sick to be helped so they could recover and find work, and those who could not work were not left to beg. The poor were to stay within their own district/parish, and in return, they could receive help. There were still harsh punishments in place for those who refused to abide by these rules, but this was the birth of real aid for the poor.

But this is not the real point of the claim that Anne Boleyn actually wrote up this law. What passed through parliament was Cromwell’s work. But, what Cromwell initially presented to parliament in February 1536 was far from what the law became.[4] Cromwell presented a far more ambitious plan, a law that would tackle poverty right to the root. This plan suggested that the poor were not idle, instead, they had come to their circumstances by more than simply bad choices. Sadly, precious little of Cromwell’s work survived his attainder, so what was specifically said in parliament is not known. What is known is that Cromwell strongly believed in the law he presented to parliament; he made certain King Henry attended the Commons when he put forth the law to the House, as a way of displaying the support he had from the king for this legislation.[5] Parliament’s nine-week session had been delayed by almost six months, so when Cromwell presented this law change, it was already underway in terms of firm planning. But the Act that passed in the House of Commons was a watered-down, rewritten version of the initial plan.[6] Even Henry’s appearance could not get the law to pass, as the Act was so costly. Cromwell essentially pushed for what he could get from the House of Commons. King Henry and Cromwell were not simply tyrants doing their own bidding; the government had the right to push back on law changes and did so at their discretion.

It is the original plan, just a draft, which causes the question of who wrote this revolutionary plan.

The draft, BL MS Royal 18 CVI (which took me forever to view on this side of the planet),[7] is a curiosity forgotten by time. As a draft, it is not listed in the official Letters of Papers of the Royal Manuscripts in the British Library, but it does exist. It was first uncovered by German Georg Schanz and mentioned in his book Englische Handelspolitik (English Trade Policy) in 1881.[8] Draft 18CVI is a 66-page document, written in basic handwriting, double-sided. The handwriting does not look like the fine handwriting of a clerk of the period, and the draft suggests it was written by one individual, but not in a formal setting.[9] Whoever wrote 18CVI had an intimate knowledge of the needs of the people, the needs of the country, the possibilities for job creation, the numbers of staff required, the costs, everything. It was not a plan of forming a utopian suggestion – this was a draft written up by someone who understood the needs of the poor and how to help them. Bringing a draft like this to Cromwell was a wise move, for he had grown up in a common home (though not the poor blacksmith’s son that fiction gives us),[10] had been to prison very young, and fell upon the hardest of times when he left the French army in Italy in the early 1500s.[11] Cromwell was a man who had been to the bottom and now sat at the top.

Draft 18CVI goes into fine detail – those who could, had to report for work starting Easter 1537, though to Michelmas 1540, the first period that Cromwell set out for works to begin.[12] Those who could work had jobs planned out, works Cromwell knew needed to be done in England, as seen in his list of remembrances that still survive. Jobs would be created, such as making roads, digging sewers, repairing ports, jobs whose results would benefit the population. The workers would be paid a fair wage, along with meat and drink, and a clothing allowance they would earn. Salaries were already set out for those overseeing the projects. The costs of this new welfare state were set out as well; six forms of tax would cover the costs; ecclesiastical dignitaries would be taxed, then the temporal lords and laymen, taxed on different rates depending on their land values and moveables.[13] Doctors would be arranged for the sick and injured; medicine, beds, food and warm fires would be provided for those who needed them. Children between 5 -14 could be taken and apprenticed in jobs, but only those over 12 would be whipped for failure to work. All people had the chance to reform, with a three-strike system in place for those who failed to live up to expectations. One punishment for failure to work was to burn the ball of a man’s right hand in public.[14] Others included whipping and jail time for those unable to provide a good reason for not working.

Draft 18CVI broke down the costs involved, the men needed, the dates, the figures, the projects, everything for such an enormous plan. Whoever wrote 18CVI had a huge amount of official paperwork at their disposal. My general opinion is that someone working for Cromwell wrote this, as they would have access to his paperwork in his royal apartments as Secretary of State, the king’s chief minister, Vicegerent of Spirituals (head of the church under the king), along with his papers in his capacity as Master of the Rolls (keeper of England’s records). Cromwell believed in the reform of the Poor Law, could see how it would work, and how much it would cost.[15] The problem was that this parliamentary session, finally free of the King’s Great Matter, had much work to do. The immense Dissolution of the Monasteries was underway, and 10 years of experience with sporadic dissolutions gave Cromwell an insight into what was going to happen; many more people were about to become homeless, jobless, begging to survive when their monastic house closed. Also, the dissolutions meant that land previously unavailable would suddenly belong to the king, which was about to upset the feudal system in which land was still owned, bought and sold. Tensions were already high among the rich and noble men passing laws in parliament.[16] It was the right policy put to the wrong session. The 1536 parliament oversaw the new Act of Succession, the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act, the See of Rome Act and the Tithe Act (which was only repealed in 2018). An enormous change such as creating genuine care for the poor of England was a costly plan. This plan did not benefit the men voting for the Act and it was put to the vote at a time where nothing was certain, while the upheaval of religion affected everyone.

But who wrote draft 18CVI?

Enter William Marshall as the lead suspect. One of Cromwell’s agents, Marshall was an extreme reformist with an interest in the regulation of the monasteries. Marshall was a translator with a licence to print. He is not a well-known man, but his works between 1533 – 1537 leave a detailed story. In April 1534, Marshall sent Cromwell books on destroying Rome’s authority, and begging for money, as he often had none to live on or to print his books. Cromwell must have paid him, for Marshall printed three books in 1534. But in 1535, Marshall printed a book entitled The Forme and maner of subuention of helpyng of pore people, deuysed and practyced in the cytie of Hypres in Flaunders, whiche forme is autorised by the Emperour, and approued by the facultie of diuinite in Paris.[17] The book is dedicated to Anne Boleyn, and it is suggested that Marshall had met with Anne, probably through Cromwell. The book is a translation of work in Ypres, of the systems planned and being implemented in the Low Countries in the late 1520s. Many of the initial ideas which appear in draft 18CVI also appear in this translation. Cromwell must have been fond of Marshall’s work, as he then paid £34, the highest sum of the time for printing, for Marshall to translate and print The Defense of Peace, and scholars have argued Bishop Fisher himself had a copy for several days before burning it prior to his execution.[18] Marshall also printed several translations of Erasmus, Joye, Luther, and a book on idolatry and destroying relics, a book which caused much alarm in 1535, just as draft 18CVI was being created. The Images of a verye Chrysten bysshop, and of a counterfayte bysshop shocked many, including Thomas Audley, the country’s new Lord Chancellor and dear ally to Cromwell. Cromwell allowed the book to be published and did not seek to have Marshall punished for it, despite the book’s extreme Lutheran views.[19]

It is possible that Marshall wrote 18CVI, for he made the translation of the Flanders plan for Poor Laws. It is possible that Cromwell had Marshall write out the draft based on the Marshall’s translation work, and had another agent provide the relevant figures. It is unlikely that Cromwell wrote the draft himself; Cromwell had largely given up writing in a neat style by 1534, as he didn’t have the time. It is possible that a group of Cromwell agents got together to discuss and create 18CVI. Anyone of Cromwell’s army of clerks could have written the repetitive draft for his master, or for another man on their master’s behalf.

Back to one detail – Marshall’s translation of Poor Laws was dedicated to Anne Boleyn. It was common to dedicate a book to the monarchs reigning at the date of printing. Had Anne talked with Marshall about his translations? Maybe. Had Anne read these translations about Poor Laws or idolatry? Maybe. Anne had access to anything she wanted, and with several dozen of Marshall’s books in existence in London, maybe Anne Boleyn discussed these issues with Marshall.

What is known is that Cromwell and Anne loathed one another. They had an equal enthusiasm for the Reformation, which kept their mutual distaste peaceful until 1535.[20] Anne is known to have expressed her dislike of the dissolutions to Cromwell, both to his face and behind his back, and it is recorded that Anne mentioned helping the poor with proceeds of dissolutions.[21] I suppose it was easier to yell at the “commoner” than the king about such issues. There is no doubt Anne was well educated on the issues she discussed. There is no doubt that Anne mounted a challenge in April 1536, to wrestle power over the Reformation away from Cromwell and his allies. Anne did have her chaplain preach at the king and Cromwell, denouncing their behaviour before the entire congregation.[22] Anne’s champions Latimer and Alenius both told Elizabeth I of how her mother was angry the dissolutions of the monasteries.[23] Anne was said to have harassed men who came to see her, men who ran monastic houses, to make them pay for education. After Anne’s death, there was an increase in monks with university degrees.[24] Thomas Cranmer was away from court at the time of Anne’s power play after the parliament session, and wrote to Cromwell, asking what was going on, as Anne had seemed to jump into action in early 1536. Anne certainly did have powerful allies, a comfortable position that allowed her to advance her opinions, and access to information to help her make her case.

What is also known was that Marshall did not need anyone to give him ideas of Poor Laws. Marshall had read extensively, had travelled and met many Lutherans. Cromwell had unique access to all the fine details held in draft 18CVI, and personal knowledge of the realities of being poor. After Cromwell had Valor Ecclesiasticus completed in January 1535 (though some papers didn’t arrive until as late as September), Cromwell knew exactly the state of England’s people, he knew his population and how many were suffering.[25] Cromwell had already been planning Valor Ecclesiasticus and what might be done about England’s people for a year before the papers were finished by his inspectors. The Marshall translations came to Cromwell at the same time as Valor Ecclesiasticus, and draft 18CVI appears to have been ready to go through parliament by October 1535, only to suffer the parliamentary delay. William Marshall certainly didn’t do the math required to get the Act into parliament, and he had no access to the figures needed without Cromwell’s express permission. Marshall had no place in parliament, couldn’t present anything, and nor did he play any role in what eventually came into law, which was the creation of votes and debates in the House of Commons. In fact, there is nothing but suggestions made by Georg Schanz in 1881 that William Marshall was a strong candidate as the author, followed by a more cautious suggestion by Geoffrey Elton in The Economic History Review in 1953.[26]

So to suggest Anne wrote draft 18CVI, and either tried to present it or have Marshall present her work to Cromwell or parliament on her behalf, has no basis.  Also, Anne creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 as a result of her ideas doesn’t have any basis. The law that was pushed through was a compromise made by the all-male parliament (God, progress on that score has been very slow indeed).

What is a certainty is that Cromwell didn’t make up lies and kill Anne as a result of this legislation. In truth, Cromwell had seemed to run out of patience with Anne a year earlier. Anne’s marriage to King Henry had taken a huge toll on England, and the work levels Cromwell faced were so vast, he slept very rarely and worked himself into a life-threatening illness by 1534. Crucially, by the time that draft 18CVI was completed in autumn of 1535, Cromwell was already receiving letters from Stephen Gardiner in France, talking about rumours that Anne was an adulterer.[27] Lutheran and pro-Anne supporter Alexander Alenius heard of these rumours and letters, and was in London as a guest of Cromwell and Cranmer when the rumours started to circle the English court. Cromwell, claims Alenius, had told the king of these French rumours before Christmas 1535,[28] and the barrage of rumours and slander soon began behind Anne’s back. By February 1536, Chapuys was already writing to Lady Mary, assuring her that her position would soon improve.[29] Jane Seymour had been slid in place, now under the advisement of Sir Nicholas Carew, and Anne’s ladies-in-waiting were waiting and listening.[30] Anne had argued with many men at court over their greed and their cash-grab of the dissolution of the monasteries. By the time Cromwell and Anne were openly arguing,[31] her downfall was already months in the planning. While Anne’s downfall can appear swift, the gossipers and the cowardly underminers of the court seemed to have already pounced on Anne’s position after her miscarriage in January 1536.[32] While the tales of the what/where/when/how/why of Anne’s downfall timeline can vary between reports, Cromwell’s dislike of Anne began long before the Parliament sitting in 1536. (If you want solid information about Anne Boleyn’s life, read anything by Claire Ridgway).

Thomas Cromwell almost certainly engineered Anne Boleyn’s downfall. Whether Henry knew her adultery charges were false remains largely unknown, and there is little to suggest he cared too much about the truth when it came to trials. While Anne Boleyn sat on the throne, Cromwell had been working hard to justify her as the queen, and to make her daughter a legitimate royal heir. Cromwell became the chief minister to the king, had much control in parliament and he was the Vicegerent, controlling the church in its entirety. But Cromwell was still a commoner; not even Sir Thomas Cromwell for all his work.[33] Anne arguing over the monastery funds (which Henry wanted, not Cromwell) needed to stop so Cromwell could continue the cause. An important fact to note is the monastery dissolutions were not required for a country following the Reformation.[34] That was Henry’s grab for power.

Cromwell was no saint, and even I, as an ardent Cromwell lover, will say what he did to Anne was wrong. But I definitely don’t see any evidence that Cromwell killed Anne because she wrote the legislation of the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. While Anne was doing all she could with weakened power in 1536, this law was not one of hers. No time period in history has been kind to women, and the 1530s wasn’t kind of anyone at all. As it was, the 1536 Act didn’t work,[35] it fell over swiftly, and no aid was rolled out, with the country split into the Pilgrimage of Grace by October 1536. It was not until the late 1590s that any real Poor Laws came into effect, and they too were weak.

I would gladly be corrected to say Anne Boleyn wrote draft 18CVI if the evidence proved it. It would be wonderful to see women’s plans and ideas being implemented in powerful ways. The time period was not filled with stupid women; women had plans of their own, but men weren’t listening (they still aren’t). I would support the idea that Anne was trying to push parliamentary reform if there was any proof of this, but I haven’t seen it. What has been offered in the book that inspired this whole question did not offer me a new source to check. I would gladly update this if that changed, and I could read primary sources showing the truth. Anne had power, but not in parliament, and by the time the Poor Laws went through parliament, Anne was already losing favour. Anne Boleyn did not die because she tried to push Poor Laws through the government. Anne was killed for a lot of unjustified reasons; she died unfairly, needlessly, callously, but it wasn’t because she wrote 18CVI.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PS – I have no desire to argue, denigrate other work, or have a point to prove. I am always happy to accept corrections, as I only care about facts, because it makes fiction writing far more interesting. I also didn’t write this to promote my own books, as I have a firm character in my books who writes Cromwell’s drafts for him. This article pushes no agenda on my behalf.

[1] Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1948

[2] Parliamentary Records 1536 22 Henry VIII c.12

[3] Parliamentary Records 1536 27 Hen VIII c. 25

[4] Parliamentary Records 1536 27 Hen VIII c. 25

[5] Parliamentary Records 1536 (28 Hen. 8)

[6] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[7] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[8] G. Schanz, Englische Handelspolitik gegen Ende des Miittelalters (Leipzig, 1881)

[9] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[10] State Papers 60/6 f.6, LP 8 no.11

[11] The novels of Matteo Bandello Bishop of Agen now first done into English prose and verse. J. Payne 1890

[12] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[13] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[14] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[15] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[16] Ives, Genesis of the Statue of Uses

[17] STC 26119

[18] LP 523 vol.9

[19] LP vol. 9, letter 358, 13 September 1535

[20] Calendar of State Papers Spain June 1535 no. 170

[21] Calendar of State Papers Spain June 1535 no. 170

[22] Ives, Anne Boleyn, 2005, p309

[23] Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth I 1558-1559, no. 1303, 527, 532

[24] Dowling, William Latymer’s Chronickille of Anne Bulleyne

[25] Robinson, The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 as Evidence of Agrarian Output

[26] Elton, The Economic History Review, 1953, p65

[27] Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth I 1558-1559, no. 1303, 527, 532

[28] Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth I 1558-1559, no. 1303, 527, 532

[29] Spanish Calendar 24 Feb 1536, 5 ii no.55 at 123

[30] Ives, Anne Boleyn, 2005, p332

[31] Spanish Calendar, 6 June 1536, 5 no.61

[32] LP x 284

[33] MacCulloch, Cromwell, p317

[34] Lutherus, Martinus (1521). On Monastic Vows – De votis monasticis

[35] Slack, The English Poor Law 1531-1782 p59

Celebrate the release of Thomas Cromwell Part three with two free Kindle books this week only

NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE is officially available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle/Kindle app on all devices. To celebrate release day, the first two installments of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS and SHAKING THE THRONE are free to download on Amazon from October 28 to November 1, inclusive.* No need to have a Kindle or be a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, as long as you download the free Kindle app, you can read for free on any device you like.

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS covers the story of Thomas Cromwell and Nicòla Frescobaldi through the early Reformation and the King’s Great Matter between 1529 – 1533.

Click here to read more about FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS

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SHAKING THE THRONE covers the bloody change in fortunes for Anne Boleyn as Thomas Cromwell and Nicòla Frescobaldi plot a queen’s downfall, killing many in the process from 1533 – 1536.

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NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE covers the final years of Thomas Cromwell’s reign in England as he and Nicòletta Frescobaldi try to find a new wife for King Henry between 1537 – 1540. Follow Cromwell, Frescobaldi, Cranmer, Wyatt, the Seymour brother, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Bishop Gardiner,  Sadler, Wriothesley, Rich and more as they race to either end, or save, Cromwell’s life.

Check out links to major characters on this site, and more Cromwell Adventure posts will be popping up here in the coming days.

*all links are for Amazon US, but promo is running on all Amazon sites worldwide. Sale runs 00:01 October 28 until 23:59 November 1, PST.

Celebrate Thomas Cromwell’s fictional birthday with half-price novels

While Thomas Cromwell’s birthdate is unknown, we do know he was born in circa. 1485. So, for the purposes of writing Cromwell fiction, I placed his birthday in November. Which means, for November, you can buy Queenmaker Book One, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, and Queenmaker Book Two, SHAKING THE THRONE, for half price on Kindle all month! Here is all you need to know –

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.

Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.

Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the king on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, while Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

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‘SHAKING THE THRONE’ Author Q+A: Part 5 – PUBLICATION DAY! READ THE FIRST CHAPTER HERE FOR FREE

SHAKING THE THRONE is available today! Today is part five of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.

Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533,  SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.

Up first, the synopsis –

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 of the FAQ’s here, otherwise here we go with chapter one –

Chapter 1 – November 1533

timeth turns our lyes into trouths

Austin Friars, London

‘Catholic, Protestant, all makes no matter; for I shall die a sinner for the justice I administer.’

Nicòla’s rose-gold eyelashes fluttered, such was the strength in which she held her green eyes closed. Tears perched upon her lashes, waiting to ripple down her dark olive cheeks.

‘God gives us the power of His spirit, and the sword of His word. True contrition shall deliver souls to heaven.’

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, knelt opposite to Nicòla, his purple robes flowing around the carpets beneath their knees. His hands closed over Nicòla’s clasped in prayer. Behind the altar was Nicòla’s bedroom, or more precisely, the bedroom of Thomas Cromwell, her master. Before them; William Tyndale’s English Bible, handwritten by the man himself. Also, Martin Luther’s German translation, and, for Nicòla’s comfort, a Catholic Latin bible. Cromwell may have yearned for Protestant reform, yet Nicòla’s soul, away from the ears of her master, struggled with reformation.

Cranmer and Nicòla were firm friends, yet in times of prayer, in times of struggle, Cranmer also proved himself a man of true piety, patient with Nicòla’s fear for her soul.

‘Can contrition and repentance truly come to me?’ Nicòla whispered, one tear making its defiant roll down her cheek.

‘At the heart of the Christian faith, contrition shows that a soul is ready for repentance. The old religion and the new; it makes no matter, my child. Absolution will come through the regret you now feel.’

‘Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I know you came yesterday for my need to confess and repent, but again I feel burdened with my deeds.’

‘Tell me.’

Nicòla felt Cranmer’s hands move against hers, a gentle gesture. She opened her eyes a little to see him before her, his eyes closed, his dark hair over his face a touch. While Cranmer preached to king and country about the virtue of reformation in England, in private, Cranmer allowed Nicòla her need to adapt from Catholic idolatry and into the light of God.

‘Oh, Thomas,’ she whispered as she closed her eyes again, forgetting to address him formally. ‘I walked into the Tower of London, my stride strong, my will determined. I walked into the cell of Elizabeth Barton and I struck her across the face. Not a word.  I watched as others hurt her, beat her, kicked her. I watched as others tortured her accomplices. I interrogated them; I screamed in their faces. The power I feel, disguised as a man, the favourite man of Thomas Cromwella, the most powerful man in this realm, makes me a monster. I watched as men were put to the rack, I heard their screams and yet I did nothing. How can God want me to do this?’

‘Elizabeth Barton is a heretic, a traitor. She is a traitor to her faith. Those men who stand accused beside her represent all the corruption and abuse of the Church itself.’

Cranmer’s hands shook over Nicòla’s, and she opened her eyes again. Cranmer stared back at her. ‘God gave Barton and her men the chance to repent, Nicòla. She claims to speak with God, to hear His words. Barton claims Mary Magdalene writes letters to her. She claims God tells her the future. Barton sins so deeply that there can be no salvation for her soul. They have forced you to torture Barton. Someone must do God’s will.’

‘What if Barton is like me?’ Nicòla asked. ‘I am a fantastical creature. The mind of a man trapped in a woman’s body. That is how I am explained. But I am a woman! You know well the frailty of my affairs. What if Barton is the same? A woman, confused by her calling in life, used by that heretical Friar Bocking and the others in Canterbury?’

‘Whatever the cause, Barton speaks. She spoke to the King himself, prophesying his death. That is treason on its own. She taints the minds of influential men. Perchance she is ill in the mind; perchance we shall never know. But what Elizabeth Barton has done is use God’s word against the King, against many of us. That is treason. That is heresy. She calls for us to be Catholic and to stop religious reform. She wants to keep England in the darkness.’

‘And for that, I must sin, abuse bodies, harm others, alongside Cromwella, alongside Ralph Sadler, Thomas Wriothesley, Richard Rich. We cloak ourselves under Cromwella’s name and commit sins.’

‘Let us pray. Mighty Lord, you have fashioned the universe, and brought order out of chaos. We thank you for bringing order to our lives. Help us respect the authorities you have established, for the sake of the world and for the Church. Guide us by your Spirit to serve Your will, and give us the courage needed by early reformers, so that in our time we may confess our faith in your Son Jesus Christ, in whose gracious name we pray. Amen.’

‘Amen.’ Nicòla made to cross herself, but stopped; for that was a Catholic gesture, not Protestant. But after years by Cromwell’s side, it remained a habit.

The pair wandered away from the corner of the enormous bedroom, past the bed where she and Cromwell slept in sin many nights, to the fire burning in silence beside two plush chairs and a table for wine. Nicòla leaned on the back of one chair and sighed.

‘Thank you, Thomas,’ she said, her Italian accent rolling the letters of his name. ‘I fear the truth of my sex makes me weak.’

‘Even the strongest man can be averse to torture,’ Cranmer replied, folding his hands together. ‘There is no need to feel ashamed after committing violence. We broke a country away from the Catholic faith. Violence happens all over Europe for this reason.’

‘King Henry looks to you as archbishop, to Cromwella as chief minister, to bring these changes.’

‘It is Cromwell who broke the Catholic Church in England. All must bow to Henry now. I owe my position in this country solely to Cromwell. I owe my life to Cromwell.’

Poor Thomas Cranmer. The Lutheran faith of the German States stated clergy did not need to be celibate, so he married Margarete in Nuremberg and shipped her to England in a crate. Now they had a son, also named Thomas, and both mother and son still lived in fear for their safety, hidden from the King until Henry decided if English priests could marry. Margarete moved often, so no one knew much of her. She lived in the Austin Friars nursery with her son at present, along with Jane, Nicòla’s daughter by Cromwell, already three years old. But Margarete could tarry nowhere long, lest be arrested, the archbishop likewise.

‘As long as we have the favour of Master Cromwella, we are safe,’ Nicòla replied. ‘Have you been at the King’s side recently?’

‘Yes, just yesterday,’ Cranmer said and invited himself to sit down in Cromwell’s private room. Few got into Cromwell’s huge bedroom; even the maids scurried with fear. ‘There is an anger in Henry, I must confess. His new daughter vexes him with anger, but also much confusion. His marriage to Queen Anne is sound, in both God’s eyes and the law. We defeated the Pope. Yet God gave Henry and Anne a daughter, not a son for the throne.’

‘Henry believes that God has given him the Princess Elizabeth to punish him for his sins against the former Queen Katherine.’

Cranmer nodded as he watched the fire. ‘Queen Anne has been out of confinement after the birth for a month now, yet the King barely goes to her. She wishes to make a son as fast as God can deliver another pregnancy.’

‘Surely Henry loves his new daughter. One of the ugliest babies I have laid my eyes on, God forgive me, but still Henry’s child.’

Cranmer stifled a laugh. ‘You have visited with Her Majesty?’

‘I have, a few days past. Cromwella suggests I call on the Queen often now she is back in London instead of Greenwich. Anne delights in her daughter; they even keep the child in Anne’s rooms, not the royal nursery! What the child lacks in looks she makes up for in her mother’s love. Cromwell spends much time in private with Henry, while Henry urges for further legislation, to make the Act of Supremacy legal and binding. Soon we shall all have to swear an oath that the King rules the Church, not the Pope.’

‘And we shall be better for it.’

‘We need no more of the Pope.’ Nicòla remembered Pope Clement in the Apostolic Palace in Rome. Gone was the handsome man of his youth who inspired her lust. He had forsaken her now, thought her a heretic. The Pope’s bastard son, Nicòla’s husband, had also ceased in demanding her to return home to Florence. At age three and thirty years, Nicòla had more than destroyed her Catholic soul. It was almost twenty years since her love affair with Pope Clement, then only Cardinal Giulio de’Medici, and even four years since she married his depraved Moorish son. Without God giving Nicòla a home, Cromwell allowed her to live safe in England.

‘How is Thomas?’ Cranmer asked after Cromwell. ‘For I have barely seen him.’

‘We are much busy at court. Master Cromwella is working on the Act of Succession, so Princess Elizabeth can be heir to the throne, and the Act of Supremacy, recognising Henry’s religious authority. Not only is Cromwella the King’s Chief Minister, set above all others, he runs the Exchequer, the Jewel House, the Hanaper, he sits in Parliament, and now Henry has made him the Steward at Westminster Abbey, now also Surveyor of the King’s Woods! One man can only do so much. We have only so many clerks, messengers, attendants…’

‘And spies.’ Cranmer smiled. Everyone knew of Cromwell’s creatures. Nicòla, “the Waif” was the chief creature of the English court.

‘There are rumours of rumblings in Ireland. The Dublin councillors are not happy with the Catholic Church’s destruction. Many northern lords are also complaining. Cromwella must see to quelling both factions. He seeks the head of Elizabeth Barton on a spike. Cromwella seeks the heads of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. He seeks to push Bishop Gardiner from court for good. Cromwella is the King’s Chief Minister and Secretary of State. And every nobleman at court hates him for it.’

‘I am the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church in England, under His Majesty, of course. There are bishops, archdeacons, priests, all who wish to defy me. I know what it is to be a common man raised so high all hate him. I lack Cromwell’s political knowledge, his deftness in his choices and movements, his ability to take on so many tasks at once. You and he have that art of memory skill. You speak Greek do you not, Nicòla?’

‘Yes, Master Cromwella taught me Greek last month while we were away from court.’

‘The whole language, in one month?’

‘That is Ioci, Archbishop. It is the powerful skill of remembering all. That is how Master Cromwella can recite the New Testament from memory alone.’

Cranmer shook his head. No one in England studied Ioci, the ancient Greek method of remembering everything. ‘You know of the Greek expression, “polymath.” It means to have the ability in many subjects, having the complex knowledge to solve many complicated issues, using many bodies of work all learned by one man.’

‘You believe Master Cromwella is a polymath?’

‘With no doubt. Cromwell can think of parliamentary legislation and religious reform, but be…’

‘Torturing heretics in the Tower, despite being a man of almost fifty years,’ Nicòla finished the sentence.

‘I have passed forty years and I could not sustain such a life. There are no exciting soldier-of-fortune stories in my history,’ Cranmer smiled inwardly. ‘I worry for Cromwell, Nicòla,’ he continued. ‘He rises so high; he works so often.’

‘Master Cromwella believes his reforms to England are a legal matter, using religion as a cover to change a country. He leaves the religious needs of the realm in your good hands. His soul seems at ease, despite all he handles.’

‘Yet, he hides you in his life. A woman, dressed as a man, works in the royal court as Cromwell’s master secretary. A woman married to another man. You violate this country’s social conduct laws, Nicòla. They should remove you to your husband in Florence. You, by right, should be Duchess of Florence, yet are a lowborn man’s attendant.’

‘You, sir, are Archbishop of Canterbury yet your wife serves in my daughter’s nursery, along with your son. King Henry could topple you with one word. I could be toppled also, but while Cromwella does whatever Henry wishes, then I feel safe. I know, every morning when I wake, that they could throw me back in the Tower where I was years ago. This is the world we have created, Archbishop Cranmer; a dangerous world, even for ourselves. As Machiavelli once wrote, “there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second.” But we must pay a hefty price for owning such power.’

‘Now I have annulled Henry’s marriage to Katherine and the Boleyns have their queen…’

‘Anne is the Cromwella queen, not the Boleyn queen. They may think they have power with Anne on the throne, her father as the Lord Privy Seal, but we know Master Cromwella holds the power.’

‘Well indeed. Now that marriage is real in law and before God, what of your marriage? Will there be an inquiry into that?’

‘And risk telling the world I am hidden as a man?’ Nicòla brushed her newly trimmed rose-gold hair behind her ears. She wore her all-black Cromwell livery, even a black overgown lined with black fur to stay warm in the brisk late autumn. Her brighter clothes, which gave away hints of her feminine nature, had disappeared away again at Cromwell’s instance.

‘I can, as Archbishop of Canterbury, rule that Thomas Cromwell may take a foreign wife, one in need of an annulment. As the new marriage would be in England, with an English man, I can rule on the wife’s annulment. What the Pope of Rome says matters none.’

‘I married in the eyes of God, in the Apostolic Palace, before the Pope himself. I said the words before God.’

‘Did you not swear before God to marry Cromwell too, before King Henry and his Anne?’

‘I did.’

‘And you consummated your marriage to Alessandro de’Medici?’

‘No. Alessandro is living in Florence happily with his head mistress, and the other girls. To gain an annulment, Alessandro would be the one to ask. A wife cannot petition for an annulment from a marriage.’

‘If your husband were to ask for an annulment, then your marriage would fall short and be ended.’

‘But Alessandro needs to apply to the Pope. The Pope will not grant his son an annulment.’

‘I can try to help you, Nicòla,’ Cranmer continued. ‘We can canvas the scholars of Europe… as we did for Henry and Anne.’

‘Henry is a king. I am a whore.’

‘Cromwell wants your marriage annulled, or at least ruled invalid.’

‘I had carnal relations with the Pope, my father-in-law, when Alessandro was still in the nursery. Surely that rules the marriage invalid.’

‘Yes, but it would also be spoken of, in front of the Convocation of Canterbury, before I could rule the marriage invalid.’

‘And we cannot see the King’s Chief Minister in the company of the Pope’s whore,’ Nicòla sighed.

‘I do not think I can help you without revealing your nature to the world, Nicòla, no matter how much Cromwell wants it done. We could try a secret ruling of the Convocation…’

‘But there are no secrets in the English court, parliament or convocation,’ Nicòla scoffed. ‘There are so many spies, so it would never work.’

‘If Cromwell’s Act of Supremacy laws are in effect, perchance all we shall need is the King’s consent. He knows of your fantastical nature and could rule in your favour.’

‘Mayhap once we have a legitimate son in the cradle we can ask,’ Nicòla suggested.

The sound of a distant tolling bell echoed through the private chambers. Master Cromwell had returned to Austin Friars; a rare event at present.

‘I shall retire to my private rooms,’ Cranmer said and eased himself from the warm chair. ‘Please, thank Cromwell again for letting me tarry at Austin Friars to visit my wife. If they found Margarete and baby Thomas, we would all be in grave danger.’

‘Margarete is welcome hither until after Christmas, then we shall move her out to Cromwell’s new house in Dewhurst for a few months. We shall keep your new family safe.’

Cranmer allowed Nicòla to kiss his ring and he shuffled along the darkened hallway, his purple robes smooth on the bare floor.

Nicòla knew Cromwell would go to his library and offices, where Ralph, who ran Austin Friars, would probably still be working. Ralph had been in Cromwell’s care since the age of seven and now had a baby with his new wife Ellen. Both Ralph and Cranmer had sons named Thomas. Had Nicòla’s last baby not been stillborn, there would have been three babies named Thomas in the nursery with baby Jane.

Nicòla sat before the fire and waited; they would flood Cromwell with papers from the lawyers and clerks still working in the offices on the ground floor. But it was not long before someone rushed into the private rooms with wine and cheese on a silver tray. Rather than a maid, it was Ellen, Ralph’s wife. She was one of the rare few who knew of Nicòla’s truth and thus allowed in the private bedroom.

‘Master Frescobaldi.’ Ellen bobbed in a curtsy as she placed the tray on the small table before Nicòla. Despite knowing of her sex, and after time to get used to the notion, Ellen still choked a little when calling Nicòla “Master.”

‘Mrs. Sadler,’ Nicòla said with a smile. ‘Cromwella and Ralph are in the library, I assume?’

‘Yes, Master Cromwell and Mr. Sadler appear to be in much cheer. I thought to bring this tray, as Master Cromwell will retire shortly. I shall tell him you are hither.’

‘Tell them to take their time,’ Nicòla smiled. ‘Archbishop Cranmer has retired for the night.’

Ellen curtsied again and rushed from the room. Nicòla sipped the sweet red wine and closed her eyes. The image of kicking Elizabeth Barton in the face flashed before her and she quickly opened her eyes.

The door to the chambers opened and Cromwell appeared in the bedroom moments later. He tossed his black bag and hat on the Turkish carpets and dashed over to Nicòla, and he pulled her into his embrace the moment she stood up to him. Only when he finally ended their kiss, could she see how tired he appeared. ‘Tomassito…’ she began.

‘I know, they forced you to interrogate Barton and her heretic bastards without me today, and I thank you for your pains. Ralph has already told me Barton gave away no news?’

‘No, she maintains she speaks with God,’ Nicòla replied, still in his embrace.

‘I could not leave the King today. He greatly needs every detail about his son’s wedding.’

‘Bastard son.’

‘Well indeed, but I shall not be the one to remind the King of his son’s illegitimacy,’ Cromwell said, and guided his love back to her seat. He sat down across from her and grabbed the wine. ‘Henry loves that boy, named for him,’ Cromwell sighed. ‘A young son, just fourteen years and now marrying a noble girl. If only we could make him legitimate.’

‘If any person can, you can,’ Nicòla replied.

Cromwell raised his eyebrows in agreement as he gulped the wine, most unlike him. The silver streaks in his dark curls caught the light of the fire. ‘I have thought to make a law, designed so they need no heir of the English throne to be born legitimate, and then Henry could choose his successor.’

‘That could spark civil war!’

‘And I know it, Nicò. Still, I must keep all options open. The wedding at Westminster shall be grand indeed. Lady Mary Howard may not wish to marry Henry Fitzroy, but it pleases her father, old Norfolk. It pleases Lady Mary’s brother, for he and Fitzroy are close friends. Fitzroy may be a bastard son, but he is the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. Henry loves his son. Even the King of Scotland speaks highly of Fitzroy. Naturally, our new queen hates the wedding plans. Fitzroy, and Katherine’s daughter, the former Princess Mary, are equally hated by Anne.’

‘But we draft laws so baby Princess Elizabeth can rule over Henry’s other children,’ Nicòla argued.

‘That does not stop Anne from complaining,’ Cromwell said and gulped his wine again. ‘She has been queen but six months and already finds fault in the role, and in her own world. I do loathe that woman.’

‘Pray to God we get a legitimate son in the royal cradle and all will not matter,’ Nicòla replied.

‘But what of you, my love. What of Jane?’

‘Our daughter is well. It has only been a week since I last saw you, Tomassito.’

‘I hate when we must work apart. A week is too long to be apart from my most wonderful and adored wife.’

‘I am glad you are so assured in our marriage.’ Nicòla swore to marry Cromwell before God and the King, but that did not overrule her lawful marriage in Italy.

‘And I also am assured in the abilities of you, my master secretary. After the Fitzroy-Howard wedding, we shall travel to Greenwich Palace to prepare for the royal Christmas.’

‘We prepare The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London banquet on your behalf. All have replied they will attend, except the governor.’

‘John Hutton is most ill. Stephen Vaughan shall take his place as governor of the Company when Hutton is dead. Tis a shame Vaughan shall not return to England this year.’

‘I know he is your closest friend, but Vaughan is safe in Antwerp. He need not get burned as a heretic for his Protestant views.’

‘England is my country now. They shall burn no more Protestants. Those days are gone.’

‘Now we shall burn Catholics,’ Nicòla replied, unable make eye contact with Cromwell.

‘No, I shall burn no one. I shall take the heads of heretics and traitors though.’

Now Nicòla raised her gaze to meet the double-minded man’s golden eyes. Cromwell softened in his position in the chair and took her hand. ‘I received word from Gregory today.’

‘Is he well?’ Nicòla thought often of Cromwell’s only son; a boy of female favour and not as intelligent as his father.

‘Very well, and happy to move to Dewhurst after Christmas. He shall enjoy being tutored there, and Cranmer’s wife and son shall be there for months. Gregory shall be fourteen in a few months. I shall soon need to find him a wife.’

‘Must you, Tomassito?’

‘A pre-contract only. Do you wish to hear scandalous talk?’

Nicòla noticed a twinkle in Cromwell’s beautiful golden gaze. ‘What have the creatures heard?’

‘An affair at Wulf Hall, one of the Seymour households. Catherine, wife of the eldest son Edward, has been sleeping with her father-in-law, old Sir John Seymour. Such disgrace! Two of the Seymour girls, Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth, have been called home from Anne’s court. Now Edward’s two sons may not be his heirs, but perchance his own half-brothers!’

‘Idle talk, surely.’

‘It harms Edward’s chances of rising at court, with Sir John out of royal favour. A decent man, by all accounts. But no longer.’

‘As if King Henry cares for men being faithful,’ Nicòla scoffed.

‘We need Queen Anne pregnant before Henry finds himself a mistress. That is all we need to worry about for now.’

‘Such is the glory of ruling England,’ Nicòla replied.

Cromwell took Nicòla’s hand again, and she looked at his reddened knuckles, a sign of interrogating people in the Tower. ‘We shall rule together, you shall see.’


SHAKING THE THRONE, the second edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is now available in paperback and Kindle

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FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, the first edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle now.

GET BOOK ONE 50% OFF ON KINDLE ALL THROUGH OCTOBER

Purchase Frailty of Human Affairs in paperback here and on Kindle here

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire’ by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn’s unconventional beauty inspired poets ‒ and she so entranced Henry VIII with her wit, allure and style that he was prepared to set aside his wife of over twenty years and risk his immortal soul. Her sister had already been the king’s mistress, but the other Boleyn girl followed a different path. For years the lovers waited; did they really remain chaste? Did Anne love Henry, or was she a calculating femme fatale?

Eventually replacing the long-suffering Catherine of Aragon, Anne enjoyed a magnificent coronation and gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, but her triumph was short-lived. Why did she go from beloved consort to adulteress and traitor within a matter of weeks? What role did Thomas Cromwell and Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall play in Anne’s demise? Was her fall one of the biggest sex scandals of her era, or the result of a political coup?

With her usual eye for the telling detail, Amy Licence explores the nuances of this explosive and ultimately deadly relationship to answer an often neglected question: what choice did Anne really have? When she writes to Henry during their protracted courtship, is she addressing a suitor, or her divinely ordained king? This book follows Anne from cradle to grave and beyond. Anne is vividly brought to life amid the colour, drama and unforgiving politics of the Tudor court.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Are you thinking, oh God, another biography of Anne Boleyn? Is there anything else to know? I can tell you that, yes, there is more to know and you should be thrilled to get this one. Amy Licence has practically handed a perfect account of Anne’s life to readers on a silver plate. Come bask in its glory.

Regardless whether you think Anne stole the throne, was a home-wrecking schemer, or she was the king’s love, this book covers all angles, all details and all possibilities. Licence starts with Anne’s family and background, to see how a woman could be so loathed for her background compared to more noble beginnings, despite the fact Anne had a wonderful education abroad, enough for any noble man. The time period of Anne’s life was one where, as a young girl, the royal family of England was relatively stable; Henry married to Katherine, the odd mistress thrown in for good times (his at least). But when Katherine hit menopause and religious opinion was suddenly flexible, Anne’s life could never be the same.

The realities of the time are not romanticised by the author – being a woman was not all gowns and chilling with your lady friends. These people, with their lives dictated by custom, ceremony and family loyalties, were still real people. They loved, they loathed, they hurt like anyone else. The Boleyn family, while not as noble as others (only Anne’s mother was noble born), had their own plans in this world.

Anne served the archduchess of Austria, and Henry’s sister Mary when she was Queen of France. She also then served mighty Katherine, Queen of England. Anne was no fool, no commoner, yet not quite ever noble enough. Her family wanted better, and could you blame them? But the portrayal as the Boleyns as scheming, as pushing daughters forward as whores under the king’s nose has done Anne no favours, and this book can make Anne lovers feel safe she is not portrayed as some witch.

Women routinely became mistresses, as the social order gave this is an avenue, yet was frowned upon (um, who was sleeping with these girls, gentlemen?), and a route Anne’s sister Mary took with Henry, and we shall never know for sure if Mary really wanted the job. But Anne knew, regardless, that she would not do the same thing. She loved Henry Percy, and wanted to have a real marriage, real love, only to have it dashed away thanks to that same social order.

The book delves into Anne’s rise to power as Henry’s paramour, and discusses whether she played him as part of a strategy or whether she was forced into a ridiculous game with no option but to play along. No woman can say so no to a King; Anne had to be his love, his mistress-without-benefits (or did they share a bed? The book discusses), and Henry’s selfish nature sent him down a path Anne couldn’t have imagined. She wanted to be a man’s wife, not whore. Henry, in turn, got Thomas Cromwell to destroy the social order and religious boundaries. Even the most scheming woman couldn’t have predicted that.

Licence uses excellent sources for her biography, and as a person hungry for minor details on certain periods of Anne’s life, I fell upon these pages with great excitement. Anne was smart, she had morals, she had a temper and a strong will, so much so that king chased her long enough to create divorce from the Catholic Church and make her a queen. No one does that for any mistress.

Anne married Henry, and received a coronation with the crown only meant for ordained kings, and gave Henry the Princess Elizabeth. Anne should have had full control of her life by then, only to find she was more helpless than ever. Having given up her virginity but given Henry no son, she fell from favour, and when Henry asked Cromwell to remove Anne to make way for another virgin with a womb, poor Anne was destroyed in a way everyone knows, never learning what a glorious queen her daughter would become. What people didn’t know was the truth over the whole debacle that brought Anne to the executioner’s sword.

As a woman, a spurned one at that, Anne’s history became sullied with lies and cruelty – that she was a femme-fatale who turned into a whore and witch, that she gave birth to a monster child, that she had disfigurements. History was not ready to tell the truth about a smart, powerful woman. Thank God we live in a time where historians like Amy Licence are able to guide readers through Anne’s real history without forcing conclusions on readers.