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The Boleyn Inheritance

Jane Boleyn, Blickling Hall, Norfolk,

July 1539

It is hot today, the wind blows over the flat fields and marshes
with the stink of the plague. In weather like this, if my husband
were still with me, we would not be trapped in one place, watching
a leaden dawn and a sunset of dull red; we would be traveling with
the king's court, on progress through the weald and downland of
Hampshire and Sussex, the richest and most beautiful countryside in
all of England, riding high on the hilly roads and looking out for
the first sight of the sea. We would be out hunting every morning,
dining under the thick canopy of the trees at midday and dancing in
the great hall of some country house at night in the yellow light
of flickering torches. We were friends with the greatest families
in the land, we were the favorites of the king, kin to the queen.
We were beloved; we were the Boleyns, the most beautiful,
sophisticated family at the court. Nobody knew George without
desiring him, nobody could resist Anne, everyone courted me as a
passport to their attention. George was dazzling -- dark-haired,
dark-eyed, and handsome -- always mounted on the finest horses,
always at the side of the queen. Anne was at the peak of her beauty
and her wits, as alluring as dark honey. And I went everywhere with

The two of them used to ride together, racing, neck and neck like
lovers, and I could hear their laughter over the thudding of the
hooves as they went flying by. Sometimes, when I saw them together,
so rich, so young, so beautiful, I couldn't tell which of them I
loved more.

All the court was besotted with the two of them, those dark Boleyn
flirtatious looks, their high living: such gamblers, such lovers of
risk; both so fervent for their reform of the church, so quick and
clever in argument, so daring in their reading and thoughts. From
the king to the kitchen maid there was not one person who was not
dazzled by the pair of them. Even now, three years on, I cannot
believe that we will never see them again. Surely, a couple so
young, so radiant with life, cannot simply die? In my mind, in my
heart, they are still riding out together, still young, still
beautiful. And why would I not passionately long for this to be
true? It has been only three years since I last saw them; three
years, two months, and nine days since his careless fingers brushed
against mine, and he smiled and said, "Good day, wife, I must go, I
have everything to do today," and it was a May Day morning and we
were preparing for the tournament. I knew he and his sister were in
trouble, but I did not know how much.

Every day in this new life of mine I walk to the crossroads in the
village, where there is a dirty milestone to the London road.
Picked out in mud and lichen, the carving says "London, 120 miles."
It is such a long way, such a long way away. Every day I bend down
and touch it, like a talisman, and then I turn back again to my
father's house, which is now so small to me, who has lived in the
king's greatest palaces. I live on my brother's charity, on the
goodwill of his wife who cares nothing for me, on a pension from
Thomas Cromwell, the upstart moneylender, who is the king's new
great friend. I am a poor neighbor living in the shadow of the
great house that was once my own, a Boleyn house, one of our many
houses. I live quietly, cheaply, like a widow with no house of my
own whom no man wants.

And this is because I am a widow with no house of my own whom no
man wants. A woman of nearly thirty years old, with a face scored
by disappointment, mother to an absent son, a widow without
prospect of remarriage, the sole survivor of an unlucky family,
heiress to scandal.

My dream is that one day this luck will change. I will see a
messenger in Howard livery riding down this very road, bringing a
letter for me, a letter from the Duke of Norfolk, to summon me back
to court, to tell me that there is work for me to do again: a queen
to serve, secrets to whisper, plots to hatch, the unending
double-dealing life of a courtier, at which he is so expert, and I
am his greatest pupil. My dream is that the world will change
again, swing topsy-turvy until we are uppermost once more, and I am
restored. I saved the duke once, when we were in the worst danger,
and in return he saved me. Our great sorrow was that we could not
save the two of them, the two who now ride and laugh and dance only
in my dreams. I touch the milestone once more, and imagine that
tomorrow the messenger will come. He will hold out a paper, sealed
with the Howard crest deep and shiny in the red wax. "A message for
Jane Boleyn, the Viscountess Rochford?" he will ask, looking at my
plain kirtle and the dust on the hem of my gown, my hand stained
with dirt from the London milestone.

"I will take it," I shall say. "I am her. I have been waiting
forever." And I shall take it in my dirty hand: my

Excerpted from THE BOLEYN INHERITANCE © Copyright 2011 by
Philippa Gregory Limited. Reprinted with permission by Touchstone,
an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Boleyn Inheritance
by by Philippa Gregory

  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone Books
  • ISBN-10: 074327251X
  • ISBN-13: 9780743272513