“Katherine was a pretty girl, with a pleasing face and long reddish-gold hair that she had inherited from her English ancestors (Starkey, 2003:57). The people of England were enchanted with her and decorated London to welcome their future Queen in a grand style. Katherine further endeared herself t…o both the court and the populace by trying very hard to be friendly and to embrace the customs of her adopted country … Without a doubt, Katherine was utterly dedicated to Henry, whom she loved with an unceasing passion. He could not have asked for a more doting and loving Queen … Anne Boleyn was the “It” girl of the Tudor court. What she lacked in idealized beauty she more than made up for sex appeal … Often the only currency and power that most women could truly call their own was the ability to attract and influence powerful men. Her reputation as a Tudor Jezebel is also decidedly unwarranted since there is no evidence she ever had premarital or extramarital sex.”
This is Kyra Kramer’s commentary on Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s first and second Consorts and most notorious Queens. Regarding the latter, Anne Boleyn has been seen as a temptress, a mean girl and among many other things as an obnoxious and pretentious woman. In The Other Boleyn Girl by Philipa Gregory, she is out to get to Henry simply to get back at her sister and for her own frustrations for not being allowed to be with her “true love” Henry Percy. While Licence, Kramer (as above stated), Ives, Ridgway, Fraser, Starkey, Loades, among others, have done their best to dispel these malicious rumors; people continue to be divided on where to stand with Anne. Is she a temptress, the owner of her sexuality unlike the other dull and repressed women who should be admire because of that, or condemned? Or is the victim of her family’s manipulations -a merciless father and equally, if not more, merciless uncle?
It is easy to see our historical favorites in terms of good and evil but every one of us have good and evil, it is only a matter of how we project ourselves to others, or how others view us. As a believer in humans, rather than heroes and villains and made-believe constructs; I am interested finding the truth, and learning about the real Tudors. The real Anne Boleyn will continue to elude us -as her contemporaries- simply because there is not a lot on her as we would like. The information we have allows us to piece together some of her puzzle. Anne Boleyn, educated at a young age (possibly thirteen if the 1501 birthdate is correct) at the castle of Mechelen in the Archduchess Margaret’s court, and later in France; she was a cosmopolitan woman who caught the attention of courtiers and intellectuals alike.
Henry VIII’s court was the epitome of a renaissance court. Sir Thomas More, his former tutor and one-time friend, praised the young king when he ascended to the throne. Erasmus also wrote favorably of him. The king was an athletic, handsome young man, and when he started to pursue Anne, he was still good looking and excelling at every sport (which included tennis and jousting). While Anne was not beautiful in the traditional sense, it is likely that what appealed to Henry was her charm, etiquette and her knowledge. The king always had a thing for pretty and intelligent women. His current wife was his equal in every way but given the strain she had been put in, she had lost her figure and she was no longer the young, buxom bride Henry had married. Henry still paid homage to her and treated her with respect. Nevertheless, as the King started to court Anne, his need for a son became greater.
It is not clear when Anne began to entertain the idea of becoming Queen of England. If he proposed it first, or she insinuated it to him. Whoever did, once the idea entered their minds, Henry pressed Wolsey for a divorce. Wolsey, who became the scapegoat of the nobles who were beginning to side with the king and Anne over the other faction that remained loyal to Katherine; could do little. As cunning as he was, he still responded to the pope and his inability to do as the King wished, became his undoing.
When Anne was crowned Queen, she was crowned in a ceremony that rivaled her predecessor. And in many ways it was more spectacular since Anne was the first Queen in many years who was crowned with the Crown of St. Edward the Confessor. After the ceremony she donned the crown of the Confessor for a smaller one and went to Whitehall to celebrate with the King. As was customary, the King was not present for his wife’s coronation. Anne was heavily pregnant with their first child. Everyone hoped it would be a boy. Antonia Fraser writes that if it had been a boy, the pope who was yet indecisive, would have declared in their favor or at the very least recognized this boy as the King’s heir above Mary and things would have been better for Katherine of Aragon’s daughter. Alas! It was not to be. Anne and Henry’s first and only child turned out to be a girl, and Henry as courteous as he had always been, replied to Anne after he visited her, the same reply he had given her predecessor when she had presented him with a girl. “We are young still … If we can have a healthy daughter, then we can have a healthy son.”
But as it turned out to be when he said it to Katherine, a false prophecy. Anne had two, possibly three miscarriages. Her last miscarriage was days after she and Henry had celebrated the Queen or as they called her now “Princess Dowager” death. It was a great blow to them, but they remained together.
Up until this point, Henry was becoming desperate and annoyed with Anne’s intervention into his private life. She knew that just as he had raised her, he could make her fall, and she was possibly afraid (and not without good reason) that another lady in waiting would do the same thing she did. Henry however told her that she should behave as those before her had done and take it. Anne was not going to take it. She did not want to tolerate Henry’s affairs as Katherine was forced to put up with them; yet she was forced to.
After Henry’s fall from his joust, many say that his humor began to change and he became cruel. But he had already turned cruel since last year after the executions of Fisher and More. Could it be as Kramer said, that just as he was a Kell Positive Blood Type, this could have led to him developing McLeod Syndrome? If this is true, then it does explain for many things. The condition as she explains develops when the person is in his forties . Henry was more than forty when this condition developed; it meant a drastic change of his personality and this is when the image of the tyrant comes to play, taking over his previous, illustrious image of the accomplish, handsome, young and erutide prince who was so widely praised by his people and foreigners alike.
Regardless of what caused it, I am sure there will be much more research done about this. Personally, I think that Henry was a Kell Positive Blood Type -and this accounted for several of his wives’ miscarriages- and that this made him develop McLeod Syndrome, and that at the same time as he became corrupted with power, this made him worse. Henry was a combination of medical misfortunes and also of his own policies and power. As for Anne, there is no doubt that she was an accomplished and cosmopolitan woman, and one who had acquired a lot from the experience in the royal courts where she served great illustrious and pious mistresses. She introduced Henry to new books and the new faith, and while he did use it for his own advantage, in Anne and her brother’s mind who was another reformer, this was a great step forward for their religion nonetheless. As Ridgway and Cherry state in their biography on George Boleyn, Anne knew the risks, but she also did her best in her position, encouraging scholars who were like-minded as her, and her brother worked harder than any noble or any other member in Henry’s government, going to every meeting and overseeing everything.
“In 1534, during the fifth session of Parliament, George’s attendance rate was prodigious, particularly bearing in mind the fact that he was on a diplomatic mission abroad for a total of two months, and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from June onwards. Despite these other onerous duties, he attended more sessions in Parliament than many other Lords Temporal. Out of the Lords Temporal attending Parliament, only the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Wiltshire, George’s father, attended more frequently than George: on 45, 44, and 42 occasions respectively, with George appearing 41 times. The average attendance was just 22 out of 46. George’s high attendance demonstrates hi commitment to his own career, as well to Reform and to his sister’s cause.” (Cherry & Ridgway)
Their father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde more conservative and moderate than his youngest children, introduced them to new ideas but as the product of Catholic rearing, he had a more pragmatic and gray approach and he entered into conflict with Anne regarding her own with members of the new faith. As a noblewoman she was taught that her maidenhead was everything. Without it she would be scorned and shunned. Vives, a scholar that Katherine of Aragon sponsored encouraged women to be wary of men and Anne’s book suggest that not only she read authors who agreed with him, but took his advice far more seriously than her sister and other ladies at the English court.
As usual we tend to get lost in the dramatic portrayals of these two figures, preferring these for the real ones but personally, I prefer the real ones because they were far more interesting and as stated above, they were complex individuals who were learned, passionate about their faith, and equally ambitious.
- George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
- Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
- Blood Will Tell by Kyra C. Kramer
- Anne Boleyn Collection Vol. 1 and 2 by Claire Ridgway
- Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
- Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey