One of the benefits of being in a writers’ group is that you get advance notice of upcoming releases. As I consider myself a reader before anything else, I have had the distinct pleasure of finding one of my new favorite authors. Judith Arnopp’s The Forest Dwellers was one of my favorite recent reads (click to read the review here) and now with the release of her latest novel, The Kiss of the Concubine, available for purchase now on Amazon US & UK, I have one more book to add to my ever growing TBR! A hearty thanks to Judith for her beautiful books, and for taking the time to grace my blog with her words. Let’s hear what she has to say.
ANNE BOLEYN’S BOOK OF HOURS
by Judith Arnopp
The British Library is home to many wonderful items but, for me, one of the most poignant is a small Book of Hours that once belonged to Anne Boleyn. Books of Hours were small prayer books that assisted lay people with their daily devotions. They were luxury objects intended only for the most affluent. Anne’s Book was made toward the end of the 15th – beginning of the 16th century, possibly in Bruges. Designed to be portable, it is not a large book and would sit quite happily on any bookshelf. It contains approximately fifty illustrations, most of which are lavishly adorned with gold and lapis lazuli, and its condition is remarkable when you consider the book’s journey through reformation, war and natural disaster. Its survival alone is extraordinary enough, but even its significance as an art object pales against the historic impact of just two pages.
Imagine, if you will, the following scene. A chapel illuminated by early morning sun, incense burning, perhaps a magnificat is being sung as the king and court gather for mass. The intonation of the priest, the shuffling feet of the lay people, their hungry bellies grumbling for want of breakfast. There is Henry, the king, with the woman he desires close by. The king begins to sweat as the frantic nature of his love for her rises up to interfere even with his devotions.
Henry has in his possession Anne’s book of hours; perhaps he has stolen it for the excuse to return it later, perhaps she has given it to him as love token. To Henry it is an amulet to Anne, he grips it tightly, his need for her obliterating everything he holds dear; his wife of twenty-four years, his allegiance to the pope, his very soul and, aware of this, Henry grows more desperate.
Turning to a page with an illustration of the flayed Christ, sometimes known as Man in Torment, Henry inscribes a plea in the margin, scrawling the words in French, his passion flowing like blood from his veins.
‘If you remember me according to my love in our prayers I shall scarcely be forgotten since I am your Henry Rex forever.’
When he passes it, perhaps via the hands of others, to Anne, and she opens it, a soft smile lightening her cheeks as she recognises the hunger in his words. She takes her own pen, perhaps considering what to write before leafing back through the pages to an illustration of the annunciation, where, beneath the eye of God, the angel Gabriel promises Mary that she shall have a son. Anne writes in English.
‘Be daly prove you shall me fynde
To be to you bothe lovynge and kynde.’ (By daily proof you shall me find, to be to you both loving and kind.)
Games of courtly love were common at the Tudor court and there are many examples of the exchange of gallant poems, declarations of undying love but this exchange is different. This is the King of England declaring himself ‘flayed’ by the unrequited love of a commoner, while the object of his desire promises that, if he is patient, she will give him the son he needs, but only once their union has been blessed by God. It was no small thing to bid a king be patient.
With the benefit of hindsight, of course, we know that having won her, Henry quickly became disillusioned when they were not immediately rewarded with an heir but, at the moment of writing, I believe Henry was consumed with love for Anne.
Anne’s response seems more careful, more considered and there are those that see her as calculating, holding out for marriage and using the lure of the promised son to bind him to her. But Anne had to be careful. She was devout, reluctant to be considered in the same light as her sister, Mary who, some sources say, had been mistress to both the French and the English King. Almost until the moment they were married Anne guarded her reputation, keeping Henry’s considerable passion at bay, which with a man like the king, cannot have been easy. In all his correspondence to Anne Henry is passionate, almost desperate in his need.
‘In turning over in my mind the contents of your last letters, I have put myself into great agony, not knowing how to interpret them, whether to my disadvantage, as you show in some places, or to my advantage, as I understand them in some others, beseeching you earnestly to let me know expressly your whole mind as to the love between us two.’
‘The approach of the time for which I have so long waited rejoices me so much, that it seems almost to have come already. However, the entire accomplishment cannot be till the two persons meet, which meeting is more desired by me than anything in this world; for what joy can be greater upon earth than to have the company of her who is dearest to me, knowing likewise that she does the same on her part, the thought of which gives me the greatest pleasure.’
There is little doubt that at the time of writing Henry was determined to possess her but, since Anne’s letters have not survived, we can only glean an idea of Anne’s likely replies. I can see no reason why they shouldn’t have been equally as loving.
In my novel The Kiss of the Concubine I have considered the question of Anne and Henry’s love. Whose love was the greatest? What happened to cause the final rift? What might Anne have thought when Henry’s love and support was so suddenly ripped away?
Written in the first person Anne’s narrative strips away the defensive armour with which she girded herself, and gives some insight on what it might have meant to be loved by a man like Henry, a man whom, even if you wanted to, it was impossible to refuse.
Purchase The Kiss of the Concubine: Amazon US & UK
You can read more about my work and novels on my webpage: www.juditharnopp.com
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Judith Arnopp-Historical Novelist
Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours is viewable online at the British Library.
Images: Flayed man and Enunciation pages identified by the The British Library, as free of known copyright restrictions
Other images from Wikimediacommons