Spotlight: Anne Boleyn’s Purple Gown / Anne Boleyn’s Cravings / Anne Boleyn’s Coronation

Anne Boleyn’s Purple Gown

The first time Henry left a purple bruise,
I sent a message to the velvet merchant.
His hands, the king’s, had touched me tenderly
at the start, although his fingers were always rough.
The calluses from riding brushed across
my cheek, my wrists, the hollow of my throat.
He stroked my fingers, called me sweetheart, tugged
my kirtle’s laces, begged to pull them loose
that he might kiss my pair of pretty doves.
I played the maiden, pushed him away with no,
it is a sin, my lord, till we are wed.
I said this between gasps, as my own hands
clutched like hooks at Henry’s doublet and sleeves.
Those early years were full yes and no.

Then Henry grew furious with no.
Impatient with Wolsey, the Pope, and woman’s virtue,
he seized whatever must belong to him,
and his fingers, heavy with jeweled rings, left marks
like violet half-moons on my olive skin.
I studied these new constellations, saw
the shape of Millie Blount in treason’s flames,
and ordered a velvet gown of Tyrian purple.
So expensive was the cloth—dyed
from tiny Byzantine snails, crushed
by thousands to color a foresleeve’s silken trim—
that it was said to be the shade of kings.
And queens. Katherine still lived, and I
was thirty and not yet crowned, but I wore the gown
with bell-shaped sleeves embroidered in golden thread.
Let them grumble. The court and King would learn
to value true purple, its mortal cost.

Anne Boleyn’s Cravings

When Wolsey wanted needling, I sighed
and said how pleasant it would be
to have, at Lent, some fresh carp
or trout from the Cardinal’s famous ponds
at York Place. A fortnight later,
I dined on fishes stuffed with parsley.

Later, when Wolsey was fallen and dead
and I was married to the king,
I cupped my belly and bragged to the court
that I had a terrible craving for apples.

In Whitehall Palace, that once was York Place,
I sat in Henry’s lap and begged
for cherries, grapes, roasted boar
to help our quickening sons grow strong.
I was a hungry woman then.
The world knew my appetites.

Anne Boleyn’s Coronation

Hideous and beautiful, the dragon
reared its copper head above the Thames,
like St. George’s foe breaching the lake
to gobble up the sacrificial maid.
The serpent’s golden scales shone like oil.
Children cried for their mothers, who lay fainting
at its horrid belching flames, its wings that beat
the brimstone-reeking smoke, its ruby eyes
that glittered like the very coals of hell.

Or so they told me. I did not see the dragon,
leading the water procession on its wherry.
My royal barge, that once was Katherine’s,
floated at the rear, behind the engines
and costumed wild men, behind the mayor
and fireworks, slow as dripping honey.
A wind raised gooseflesh on my pale chest,
though it was May, and nearly provoked tears
from blowing smoke. Finally, at the Tower,
the king, swollen with pride, escorted me
to our private rooms. From those lush apartments
he’d watched the pageant, which he described to me
as rich beyond compare, the cheering crowds
overjoyed to welcome their new queen.
There we briefly rested, briefly kissed
before another gout of ceremony—
banquets, dances, dubbing a herd of knights,
more tableaux vivant of gods and muses,
the Virgin Mary cradling her son.
On Whit Sunday, my belly big before me,
I strode barefoot into Westminster.
St. Edward’s crown, overburdened with jewels,
weighed nearly seven pounds upon my head.
Those lovely Tower rooms, done up so well
in tapestries and freshly shining paint,
I occupied again not three years later.
I wept to see again those velvet cushions,
the colored glass, the feather bed that seemed
it had awaited my return, knowing
I would sleep there just a little longer.
I hated each expensive mockery
my eyes fell upon, until I closed them.
And yet, a golden dragon in the Thames.
That miracle, I wish I could have seen.