Continuing with my interest in Tudor history, this is my imagining of a final conversation between Anne and Cromwell. I also wanted Anne to have the last word. Hope you enjoy.
Cards on the table...
A final conversation between Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell
Anne’s first words to her visitor, delivered in a level tone and with a steady breath. Looking at her, no one would guess that she was due to die in less than twenty-four hours. Cromwell finds himself admiring her poise and composure. ‘I was not sure you would.’ Anne continues, her hands smoothing the skirt of her heavy damask dress. Richly made and looking out of place against the faded and mean tower tapestries.
Sighing deeply, Cromwell stares unwaveringly at her. The silence between them stretches and tautens as each think back over their past encounters. They had been allies once, when had that started to change, wonders Cromwell.
Anne is at peace, she knows and accepts that she is going to die. The only questions now are, how well and why? In answer to the first only time will tell, the answer to the second stands attentively before her. This is the reason behind her requesting a final interview with Cromwell, so she can fill in the final pieces of the puzzle.
She arranges her face, her dress, her whole body as Thomas Cromwell stands before her, his face impassive. That this man has been instrumental in bringing her so low, amazes her. The same man, who had tirelessly and determinedly facilitated her marriage to Henry, only to then outmanoeuvre and conquer her once Henry had grown tired. Why did she not see him coming? This silent, clever assassin, who hid behind his books, his clerks and his evidence, only to emerge right at the end?
Cromwell on the other hand, had been careful to arrange his face before entering the room. There is no hint in his demeanour or the way he holds his body that suggests victory. He is not here to gloat.
‘I thought you were owed the courtesy.’ he replies, ‘I take no pleasure in this, this is not personal.’
‘Of course, it’s personal,’ snaps Anne. ‘Can you imagine where you’d be if I had given the King a son?’
‘Why am I here?’, interrupts Cromwell cutting across the question and flying straight as an arrow to the point. He is a busy man and there is only so much courtesy that is owed Anne.
Why indeed? Wonders Anne, what possible difference can this final conversation make, now? None, absolutely, none and yet she wants her answers, still. Besides she has one last piece of business for Cromwell.
So, to business first. ‘My daughter Elizabeth’, she murmurs, ‘will you do what you can for her?’
Cromwell regards the tiny woman before him, diminished by her circumstances as he considers his response. His feelings towards both Henry’s daughters are practical, pragmatic. Should anything happen to Mary, Elizabeth would doubtless be called upon in the absence of a son. Anne is a spent force, an irrelevance, but one never knows with the children. Best to keep Elizabeth safely tucked away, in case she is ever needed. So, yes for State and country he will do what he can for Elizabeth.
‘You must do your part.’ he answers, ‘No last-minute heroics or foolish declarations. Show yourself penitent and humble, so the King’s last thought of you is peaceful.’
Cromwell struggles, he feels his words might choke him as they leave his mouth, but he knows his King and knows that the Henry has already moved on. The best that can be hoped for with Elizabeth is that she is kept out of sight, out of court. Henry will need no reminders of Anne.
Anne simply bows her head in acquiescence. If she notices Cromwell’s struggle she chooses to ignore it. Now the business is concluded, she wants to talk about something else. ‘Mark Smeaton, my brother, gentle Norris, William Brereton. You spun quite a web around me Cremuel.’
Cromwell smiles at the old affectation and decides he will meet her part way. ‘I needed to be certain and I needed you to be caught fast.’
A tactical question, Cromwell notes, interesting.
‘It took some weeks, months. We moved carefully, cautiously.’ He does not share, that care was needed in case the King changed his mind. He also doesn’t share that the King was fearful of her. What good, he wonders, would that do her, now?
‘It was not our intention to alert you’
‘Our?’ queries Anne.
‘My people, my clerks, my associates, trusted colleagues’
‘So, why am I dying?’ Now, it’s Anne’s turn to fly straight as an arrow to the point. This is the knowledge she wants to take with her.
Cromwell finds he cannot face her. He pauses and looks away as he considers this question and weighs each response. Which one will he offer to Anne? The king wished it? You would never have been content to live quietly in a convent? The king fears you, believes you to be an enchantress? The king did not want another Katherine, he did not want to be tied to another troublesome and unwanted queen? He needs peace and quiet? I don’t know? He decides after a few moments that it is kinder to give Anne an explanation that she can die with.
‘Wolsey. Thomas Wolsey, my patron, my mentor. You are dying because it is the price you will pay for my old master’s death. You are dying because had you been left to your own devices you would have destroyed me and my family.’
As he offers up this explanation, something shifts within Cromwell, letting free a coldness that creeps through him. A dispassion that takes him by surprise, he thought he would have felt a little more. But this has been business, he knows with quiet certainty that had their positions been reversed, he would have been the one losing his head and not by a French swordsman either. There was no realistic scenario, that allowed them both to live. One was always going to kill the other. Henry, the King was merely the means.
Straightening her back, Anne absorbs his words and responds with, ‘Revenge, Cromwell?’
Still not seeing the whole picture, thinks Cromwell, noticing the switch in his name to English.
‘Not revenge Anne, never revenge. Justice and self-preservation’
‘Tell me then Cromwell, did you believe the charges against me?’
What can Cromwell say to this? At this late stage, perhaps he can afford to be magnanimous and acknowledge the ridiculous nature of the charges against her. Would he dare? He decides not. ‘Does it matter now, Anne?’ His tone resigned, regretful. ‘In the end, the king believed them and that is all that matters. Is there anything I can do for you now?’ He enquires as he starts to take his leave and contemplates the body before him. He has, he feels, extended his courtesies and it is time to get back to the living. For that is what Anne is to him now, a breathing body and he finds that he has no more words to say. But as he turns to take his leave, Anne has one last thing to say.
‘Be careful Cremuel, you may be next.’
Word Count: 1182