I could not agree more with this piece. Lissa Bryan makes a brilliant point using primary and well-documented secondary sources. It’s very often that we hear the phrase “but he bought her flowers” or “he must have loved her, because look at what he did to get her. He would have gone to the ends of the Earth if he wasn’t so pressured by others to kill her” or the most disturbing yet “he only killed her because the thought of letting her live and seeing her with another man was so unfathomable to him”. I challenged everyone who says these things to go to a women’s shelter or watch a good episode of Law and Order SVU (Special Victims Unit) and then tell me what you think. There was nothing in Henry’s actions towards Anne that say it was romantic. On the contrary, his actions are no different from that of a stalker. There have been many biographies such as Ives, Licence, Fraser, and Bordo’s that touch on the subject of Henry’s courtship to Anne. Anne was not a willing participant as we think her to be. In movies and television she is, and she smirks every time someone else falls or does something wrong. Everything she does is a step forward to the King’s marital bed, but not as his mistress. No! She would never be his mistress, but as his wife. As a consequence, she’s earned the nickname of home-wrecker, bitch and countless others.
Henry wrote her many letters, goes the argument. Okay, so what? Many victims of domestic abuse have said how their husbands or partners write constantly to them, begging them to come back. Their letters are passionate and full of love, but once they come back, they realize their mistake. In Anne’s case though, she could not say no to the King. Not bluntly at least. She wrote to him as well, telling him she was busy or could not return his affections hoping this would make him go away but this made Henry more infatuated with her. Henry was a man who couldn’t stand refusal. When he wanted something, he had to have it. And he was a King, the divine right of Kings was very important back then. Henry considered himself holy divine and this only became worse as he got older. You might think, well why the hell couldn’t Anne just marry somebody to get away from him?
Technically she could have, but then what? Would it really have been that easy? Marrying without royal permission. Henry was her realm’s lord and master. She tried marrying Percy years back without royal permission and that did not go so well. Now that Henry had set his eyes on her, he was not going to let her marry some poor or rich bloke so she could get away from him. She was his and his alone. Henry was not the type of man to share. And no man would dare intrude in the King’s affairs. So Anne was left with little choice. Because of the social conventions of the period, she gave in at last but she set up her own conditions. She was not going to be a mistress, used and discarded like her sister and countless others had been. If he was serious about her, he was going to make her his wife.
Henry promised her as my friend from Tudor Brasil said, the world. He promised her he would make her his undoubted Queen, and to make him happy and make herself safe, she promised him a son. But once she was in that position, she found out the hard truth about Henry. Everything he said was a lie. She was expected to turn a blind eye to his affairs, as others had done before her, and keep her mouth shut. Anne had to deal with Henry’s infidelities. Whether or not she felt something for him, she did feel something for her loved ones. Just as she had taken Katherine of Aragon’s place, another one could easily take hers. It was important that she kept his attentions at all times. So much was at stake. And this was also a highly religious era where people believed that the King was God, and now more than ever that Henry was the head of the new Church of England. Anne was a committed Reformist, she did not agree with all that Luther said and inclined to other Reformers’ line in thinking -the same with her father and brother- but she believed that Reform was needed and if Henry had chosen her as his Queen, she was going to make the most in her position and use her influence to Reform the new church. Out with the old and in with new. And keep with other acceptable social conventions, Anne extended her patronage to poets and other courtiers who believed what she believed. She also gave money to charity and wanted to use the money taken from the dissolution of the monasteries to these charity projects. Cromwell, who was a survivor (but of a different kind) thought differently and this created a rift between them.
And yet, in spite of Anne’s traditional behavior, Henry became disappointed in her. After her last miscarriage, people still bowed to her, Henry still referred to her as his Queen, but things were not the same anymore. And finally when arrests were being made and it was obvious that another who couldn’t refuse this man’s attentions and was forced to say yes like her rival Anne Boleyn, was going to take her place; she realized it was all over.
Anne died on the scaffold, beheaded by a sword. Some consider this romantic because they say that Henry wanted her to die quickly but it is not. Leanda de Lisle has written many articles on this, and you can read more about this in her mammoth biography on the Tudor Dynasty “Tudor: A Family Story” that Henry’s actions were in fact keeping with the tradition of chivalry that he so admired. Henry saw himself as the cavalier and the sword was a symbol of justice. He wasn’t doing Anne any favors, and Anne knew it.
That is the tragic story of Anne Boleyn. Do you still think it’s romantic?
- Tudor: A Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
- Seductress or Scholar: The Real Anne Boleyn by Leanda de Lisle
- The Anne Boleyn Collection volumes 1 and 2 by Claire Ridgway
- Henry and Anne Boleyn: A Love Story? by Lissa Bryan
- The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo.
- The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
- Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser