Nicholas Udall honors Henry VIII’s new Queen, Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn crowned henry viii and his six wives bbc

Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England on the 1st of June 1533. It was a joyous occasion for her and Henry VIII, who had arranged for her to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward (a crown reserved for Kings; queens were crowned with the smaller crown of St. Edith) so there would be no question about the legitimacy of their unborn heir.

Many poems were done that celebrated this event. Among the most prominent was Nichollas Udall’s which celebrated her lineage and exalted her insignia of the white falcon crowned.

Anne Boleyn white falcon

“This White Falcon, rare and geason,
This bird shineth so bright;
Of all that are,
Of this bird can write.
No man earthly enough truly
can praise this Falcon White.
Who will express great gentleness
to be in any wight [man];
He will not miss,
But can call him this
The gentle Falcon White.
This gentle bird as white as curd
Shineth both day and night;
Nor far nor near is nay peer
Unto this Falcon White,
Of body small, of power regal
She is, and sharp of sight;
Of courage hault
No manner fault is in this Falcon White,
In chastity excelleth she,
Most like a virgin bright:
And worthy is to live in bliss
Always this Falcon White.
But now to take
And use her make
Is time, as troth is plight;
That she may bring fruit according
For such a Falcon White.
And where by wrong,
She hath fleen long,
Uncertain where to light;
Herself repose
Upon the Rose,
Now many this Falcon White.
Whereon to rest,
And build her nest;
GOD grant her, most of might!
That England may rejoice as always
In this same Falcon White.”

Nicholas Udall was an English poet who like Anne and several others at the time, was part of a group of people who were sympathetic towards the Protestant Reformation and as time went by, he became one of the strongest supporters of the Anglican church, being widely favored during Edward VI’s reign.

His poem celebrating Anne Boleyn’s coronation were one of many honoring other like-minded figures. But like the subject of his epic poem, Nicholas Udall’s life was also paved with controversy. That same year, he was accused of mistreating his students and charged with buggery. If found guilty, he would have been sentenced to die by hanging. Luckily for him, he had friends in Thomas Cromwell’s circle (whose star was on the rise) and they helped him by lessening his sentence to less than a year.

Sources:

  • Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Blackwell. 2005.
  • Norton, Elizabeth. The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femme Fatales Who Changed English History. Amberly. 2013.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Murder. Manipulation. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
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Behind the Scenes: The Christening of Princess Elizabeth

Anne Boleyn & her daughter

Princess Elizabeth Tudor was christened on the tenth of September 1533, three days after her birth. Her mother was Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second spouse. And although some sources reported that it was with “great regret” that they welcomed their daughter into the world, the couple tried to remain positive with Henry VIII stating that he and his wife “are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” It was the best they could do of a bad situation.

In her book, Antonia Fraser, states that it would have been much better for Anne and her stepdaughter, if she had given birth to a son. With a son in the Tudor cradle the pope and the rest of Catholic Europe, would have been forced to recognize the marriage. And it is highly likely, given that Spain was constantly looking to England as an ally against their ancestral enemy, France; he would have found a form of reconciling with his former uncle. As for the Lady Mary; with a brother in the cradle and the rest of Europe recognizing him as her father’s true heir, she would no longer be seen as a threat anymore and it’s very possible that she would have been married to a loyal noble or an impoverished royal or second son in due time.

Of course, this is all speculation, but given how urgent it was for Henry and Anne to have a son, these outcomes seem highly likely.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII

Following his daughter’s birth, Henry cancelled the joust and the letters announcing her birth had to be added an extra ‘s’ for Princess. What made up for their disappointment was the princess’ health. This was a good sign for some, and proof that Anne could sire healthy children.

Prior to her christening, the rivalry between Anne and Katherine intensified when she demanded that she hand over the christening cloth she’d used for her firstborn son [Henry, Duke of Cornwall]. Naturally, Katherine refused. That cloth had been brought by Spain, it was hers and it also held a sentimental value. She was not about to give it up declaring that the mere suggestion of it was “horrible and abominable”.

Anne must have been angered, but in the end it didn’t matter because as Queen, she could have anything she wanted, so a new cloth was made.

The ceremony started very early.

“The heralds carried their tabards. Attendants and serving men bore unlighted torches. Lords and ladies carried the equipment needed for the ceremony: a gold cellar of salt, for the exorcism of the child; great silver gilt basins in which the godparents could wash off traces of the holy oil with which the child was anointed; a chrisom-cloth, to be bound over the crown of the baby’s head after she had been anointed with chrisom; and a taper, to be lit after the baptism was completed.” (Starkey)

Elizabeth was carried into the church by one of her godparents, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Her other godparents, Thomas Cranmer [Archbishop of Canterbury] and the Marchioness of Exeter were close by. The Bishop of London officiated the ceremony, christening the little Princess Elizabeth; and when it was over, she was returned to her mother who received her “joyfully lying on her great French bed with the King by her side.”

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

There was a lot of talk regarding her birth, and what Henry felt. Chapuys was no stranger to gossip and was the one who wrote that the couple felt very disappointed with their daughter’s gender. It would be very naïve to think that they weren’t, but as time went on, Anne showed that she was very committed to her child as her rival had been of hers; and just as Katherine, her faith become a major part of her life –taking refuge in it.

Ironically, Henry’s quest for an ‘ideal’ marriage and a son to make his dynasty be remembered, wouldn’t be accomplished by a son or another marriage, but rather by a daughter; and her refusal to wed.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

It’s a girl! Gloriana is born

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth
On the 7th of September 1533, Queen Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter she named Elizabeth, at Greenwich, the Palace of Placentia.
Anne had gone to her confinement a month earlier, confident that she was going to give birth to a son. An astrologer had made this prediction and no one had any reasons to doubt it. However, Anne would suffer many pains before her labor began.
Months prior to Elizabeth’s birth, Anne had been jealous and complained to Henry about courting other ladies, to which Henry replied that she would have to ‘endure as other worthy persons’ had done before her. In this, he meant his first wife Katherine of Aragon, and possibly his grandmother Elizabeth Woodville who had never raised her voice against her second husband, the first Yorkist King Edward IV’s indiscretions.
There had been many speculations as to what devices Anne used to bring herself comfort, if she believed as those before her had believed, in trinkets and talismans. Given her Evangelical faith, some have said that seems very unlikely, but given this was only 1533 and the Reformation was fairly new and it would be very difficult for its earliest members to disassociate themselves from the practices they’d grown into, it is more likely that she did. Her bedroom was hung with tapestries depicting St. Ursula and her army of virgins and other religious figures that had adorned the chambers of many other queens before her. Starkey and Licence are of the mind she did use medallion to invoke the power of saints to aid her in her difficult labor. She had an army of midwives and ladies ready to attend her, the former would dip their hands in animal fat and other natural oils to smooth the passage of the baby from its mother womb to her legs. The labor turned out to be less difficult and a daughter, contrary to what was predicted -and hoped for-, was born on the seventh of September at 3 o’ clock.
The girl was named after both her grandmothers, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and the first Tudor Queen.
Although Chapuys reported that the couple were disappointed of their child’s sex, when Henry entered her chambers he showed no such emotion, and said to his wife: “You and I are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” An ‘s’ had to be added to the pamphlets advertising her birth (originally they had contained the word ‘Prince’). Te Deums were sung in churches and preparations were being made for her Christening at the Church of the Observant Friars (where her sister had also been Christened).

Elizabeth Tudor would face the same fate as her older sister. She would be bastardized, her mother beheaded and for many years, nobody would think of her as a threat, or anything more than a nuisance. However this ‘bastard’ girl would become one of the smartest and most cunning women in the realm; and she would have as a role model another great woman: Katherine Parr.

“In observing Katherine Parr as regent and queen consort, Elizabeth learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern. She greatly admired her stepmother’s literary output and clearly discussed religious ideas with her when they met, which was not nearly often enough for Elizabeth’s liking.“ (Porter)

Besides that, Elizabeth would face many other obstacles which would toughen her resolve to survive and to step up to the plate that she was born to, as Queen of England. To this day, Elizabeth continues to divide historians. Was she as good as they say? Or was it all lies, part of her propaganda machine? The answer isn’t clear. Elizabeth was as cunning, conniving and as ruthless as any other monarch in her time, but she was also a pragmatist who continued with some of her sister’s monetary policies, while opting for a middle ground. Instead of being wholly Protestant, she chose a grayer path. Not many were happy with her policies whoever, and like those before her, she had to face many rebellions. Yet, her reign became one of the most successful of the Tudor period, and the age she lived in even carries her name “Elizabethan” and the myth of the “Golden Age” continues to this day.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth the Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

Anne Boleyn “Took to her Chamber”

Anne Boleyn Hever reconstruction

On August 26th, 1533, Anne Boleyn took to her chamber. The expression was used when women were prepared to enter confiment. Keeping with medieval traditions, there was a great ceremony for this tradition. A special mass, procession, and meal was prepared to celebrate the Queen’s advanced pregnancy. After the ceremony, prayers were said and she and her ladies retired to her birthing chamber where she would receive no male company until her churching (a period of forty days following the birth of her child). It had been predicted that she would have a boy and Henry had moved heaven and earth to marry her. Everything depended on her success or failure to bring a healthy male heir. The ceremony would have been assisted by members of her family and other courtiers, no males were allowed into her chamber and when Bess was born she was assisted by an army of midwives. In modern shows like “Wolf Hall” she suffers a miscarriage -which we assume is the one around 1534-1535- and she is shown alone with a dramatic music in the background to make the audience more horrified. In reality, it is highly unlike that she would have ever been alone. Queens were not allowed to have their private time, when they did it was for a short time and a pregnant Queen was certainly not alone. She would have been accompanied by her ladies and other female servants who would be tending to her.

Anne’s pregnancy insured her the crown of St Edward, a crown that was used strictly for Kings. Yet, Anne was crowned with it so that the child she carried would not have his legitimacy questioned, and as a greater point that Henry’s marriage was true before the eyes of law and God. As we all know things didn’t turn out as they’d planned. When Elizabeth was born Henry reputedly said that “if we can have a healthy daughter, we can have a healthy son.” Just what Anne must have felt when she heard that? Did she know that those were the same words that had been spoken to Katherine when she gave birth to Mary. Furthermore, what did she feel while she waited for the child to be born? People were highly superstitious in the renaissance, just because Humanism was around the corner did not mean that people did not believe in angels, devils and hot goblins. Some of the rural country side still had customs that were supposedly preventive against such evils, and Anne would have believed the astrologer when he pronounced that the baby was a boy.

We can only speculate, but it is safe to assume that during the months leading to her coronation and September, Anne felt joyful, perhaps even hopeful that things would come out alright.

Sources:

  • Anne Boleyn A Life by Eric Ives
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
  • Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives, the Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence

Queen Anne Boleyn: The White Falcon is Crowned

Anne Boleyn white falcon

On Whitsunde, the first of June 1533, Anne Boleyn was carried in a litter from Westminster Hall to the Abbey where she prostrated herself before the altar in a cross position to be crowned Queen of England. After she rose she was anointed with the holy oils on the breast and head as was tradition. Then the archbishop placed the crown of St. Edward on her head. This was something new. Queens were originally crowned with the crown of St. Edith but Henry wanted to validate his marriage before the English people, and also, the legitimacy of their unborn child. The ceremonies had begun on the May the twenty ninth when Anne rode from the Greenwich in a barge followed by many others to the Tower of London. The following day, her husband created eighteen new knights of the Bath. The day before her coronation, she rode from the Tower of London to Westminster Hall where she was greeted by a children’s choir and many more pageants that hailed her as the new Queen of England. But June was the day that she truly became Queen of England. Many commoners watched with expectation as Henry’s new wife emerged from Westminster Hall, carried in a white and gold litter, followed by the newly created knight of the Bath, as she made her way to the Abbey. She wore a surcoat of white and gold with a cloth of purple velvet and jeweled circlet with gold crosses and fleurs-de-lys that had originally been worn by her rival on her joint coronation with Henry VIII on 1509.

This was a significant event, one which the Imperial and Spanish Ambassadors, Chapuys and de Guaras did not report on favorably. According to them, the people were not to see this woman occupy the position of Queen Katherine.
There is no doubt where de de Guaras and Chapuys’ loyalties lay. However there is no evidence that the people felt this way about their queen-to-be. The people were more worried about the security of the kingdom. They needed a Prince of Wales to secure the Tudor dynasty to avoid civil war. England had just come out of a civil war, and the last time England had been this close to having a Queen Regnant, the country had descended into anarchy. No one wished to see those two terrible events repeat themselves. It was crucial that the King had a son, not just for his dynasty’s security, but for their security as well.

“The lavish display, the huge turnout of peers and dignitaries, the thousands of Londoners lining the route, even the prompt publication of the proceedings in the form of a tract entitled ‘The noble triyumphaunt coronacyon of queen Anne’, all indicate a shrewd political mind, and a keen eye for detail.” (Loades)

After the Mass, Anne made a small offering to the shrine of St. Edward then was escorted by her father to the great banquet that awaited her in Whitehall (which was reputedly Anne’s favorite residence). Upon her arrival, the heralds cried:

Anne Boleyn crown spoiled b

“Now the noble Anna bears the sacred diadem.”

Many other poems, commemorating her coronation were made, one of the most memorable is by Nicholas Udalls which celebrated the white falcon, the animal on her badge, and her noble ancestry. But the most epic is perhaps by Whittington. Although short, it compared Anne to all the classical figures of the ancient word, extolling on her virtues and greatness.

“Hail Anna! Jewel shining outstandingly gracefully
This year will be joyful and favorable for you.
You will see years, months, and days as happy as
those which Livia, the consort of Caesar saw…”

Furthermore, religious imagery was added. St. Anne who was being used for Anne as St. Catherine had been used for Katherine. In being compared these religious saints, Anne’s role as a religious matron and a paradigm of wifely virtue, was heightened.

Anne Boleyn bictudors

Truly, this was one of Anne’s best moments. Her victory was nearly complete. All she needed was to give birth to a son and her place and her offspring’s place would be secured. But it would not be a son who would make Anne immortal but a series of mismanagements and tragic outcomes of the Tudor period, that led her daughter to become one of the most famous monarchs in English history.

Sources:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
  • The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Anne Boleyn: A Life by Eric Ives
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

May 29th 1533: The Coronation Ceremonies Begin

Anne Boleyn.  National Trust, Petworth House.
Anne Boleyn. National Trust, Petworth House.

On May the 29th of 1533, Anne Boleyn’s coronation began. The procession began at 1 o’clock. The Lord Mayor Sir Stephen Peacock and the Aldermen assembled at St. Mary-at-hill with the Common Councilors to board the City barge at New Stairs to lead the river pageant. On these barges was Anne Boleyn, in her own private barge. The river pageant was one which had not been seen since her mother-in-law’s coronation, Elizabeth of York. Henry wanted to make it clear to everyone through excessive pageantry that Anne Boleyn was his one and true wife, and the child resting in her womb, the future King. Henry did not disappoint in his efforts. The people were mesmerized. Even the Imperial Ambassador admitted it was a spectacular affair. Mechanical dragons greeted the royal barges as they made their way to the Tower of London. After which, Anne Boleyn clad in a cloth of gold, disembarked from hers, and greeted Henry who was eagerly waiting for her. Despite being forty and showing early signs of obesity, he was still considered handsome. A Venetian observer said he had a “face like an angel, so fair it shone like Caesar’s”.

“Anne’s face, we can imagine, was even more cheerful. For everything she had hoped for since 1527-the King, the throne, the very kingdom itself- was now hers.”

Indeed this was the near culmination of her ambitions. However, Anne and Henry would later miscalculate when the unexpected happened, and nature had its last say. For Henry it was of the utmost importance that he validate his marriage. He had moved heaven and earth to marry Anne, and more than that to begat a legitimate male heir. Henry Fitzroy is recorded with being his worldly jewel, but a bastard could not inherit his dominions and no English peer believed Mary could rule on her own. Her maternal grandmother was an oddity, one of the few they ignored, but this was England and England’s memory of ruling Queens was not very generous. Isabella “the she wolf of France” (a nickname originally given to Marguerite of Anjou), and Empress Matilda. The woman who would have made Queen. These were just two of many examples that the English used to justify their fear of having a female King. And England had just come out of an infamous dynastic war that had split the country into many factions. England desperately wanted to be at peace. Even those that loved Queen Katherine and still considered her their true Queen of Hearts, attended the ceremonies of Anne’s coronation. Probably they were eagerly awaiting the result of her pregnancy. If she gave to a boy, the Tudor dynasty could be preserved and the people could be spared from another civil war.

Anne Boleyn and Henry; Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)
Anne Boleyn and Henry; Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

After the festivities concluded, Anne and Henry dined at the Tower where they held a splendid reception. The ceremonies would resumed the following day and the day after that. And finally on the fourth day, on the 1st of June, Anne would become Queen of England. The first Queen to be crowned with the crown of the Confessor.

Sources:

  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.

Who was the real Anne Boleyn? The True White Falcon

Anne Boleyn as played in TV, Film and Documentary.
Anne Boleyn as played in TV, Film and Documentary.

Anne Boleyn has been immortalized by historians, film and TV producers alike as this woman who gave birth to the savior of England (if not the world, according to many), Elizabeth I. While I do not wish to discredit Anne, I think she can stand well on her own without being given importance (uniquely) on the basis of her motherhood. Certainly Elizabeth I ushered in a golden age and is one of the most famous Queens in history, however to say she and her mother were the women who changed the course of global history and ushered in a new era of exploration, and technological advancements and broke the glass ceiling for women is something akin to saying that Sarah Palin is a feminist.

White Falcon Crowned. Anne Boleyn's royal insignia.
White Falcon Crowned. Anne Boleyn’s royal insignia.

Yes, probably I am going to get a lot of slamming from crazy die-hard fans who have never picked more than two Tudor history books. But let us speak history here, not fiction, but history. Was Anne Boleyn a great woman who stood out from all the rest? Yes and No. Yes, because she captured the attention of many notable men, courtiers and the King alike, because of her charm and intellect. And no, because Anne wasn’t the only intellectual courtier or Queen at the time. There were far many more women that were just as astounding that preceded her. In fact, two generations before her was Katherine of Aragon, her mother Isabella I of Castile and her grandmother-in-law, the late Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Although not a Queen, Margaret Beaufort was known as ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’.
She helped co-found and fund many colleges –some of which still carry her statue and her family’s symbol, the Beaufort porticullis; and she was considered one of the most learned women of her day. She translated many books and her chaplain who was later executed by her grandson Henry VIII, spoke very highly of her. Katherine of Aragon went even further, encouraging women’s education as her mother had done in her native Castile by becoming the patron of many humanist and scholars, most notably Juan Luis Vives whose books on the education of royals, opened up with a dedication for her. Katherine was no doubt influenced by her mother, the indomitable Isabella of Castile who sponsored many women scholars and who had one of them tutor her children. Beatriz de Galindo is the best known of these women scholars and Katherine would have seen her often in her mother’s court, lecturing her older siblings, and translating classical texts into Latin and Spanish. Her mother’s library was one of the most impressive in Western Europe and Isabella wanted her children to take advantage of it, to read as much they could and be given the educational tools that she was not given when she was growing up. Katherine and her sisters received an education similar to princes; and besides classical and religious texts, they also learned canon and civic law. When Katherine became Henry’s Queen, she took advantage of her position to further education, and her influence no doubt reached her ladies. Among them was Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard who briefly served her.

Anne Boleyn learned mostly from experience. Like her predecessor she was highly cultivated her, and unlike her, she got to visit more places and learn from different cultures. Katherine of Aragon was knowledgeable in history, but Anne got to see firsthand these customs she’d been told about or read about. When she came to England, having served one time when she was between 13-14 in the court of Mechelen of Archduchess Margaret of Austira, and another in France (first as maid of honor to Princess Mary Tudor, her future husband’s youngest sister, and then to the new French Queen, Claude Valois) she came back as a highly cultivated young woman who knew what she wanted and was determined to get it.

Anne Boleyn played by Genevive Bujold in "Anne of a Thousand Days" (1969).
Anne Boleyn played by Genevive Bujold in “Anne of a Thousand Days” (1969).

However, and this is where we get to dangerous territory, it is highly improbable that she wanted to be Henry’s Queen from the get go. In most movies, even the ones that are really good, about her, she is shown to be highly ambitious –a woman whose sole purpose was to take revenge on Wolsey for breaking up her engagement to Percy, and take on everyone that stood in her path to become Queen. In “The Tudors” this is the idea, and much as I did like the show, I had to laugh so many times because Anne is shown behaving anything less than what the real Anne behaved in that situation. Her mother is nowhere to be seen, so it must be assumed she is gone or the producers just felt lazy and didn’t want to waste any money paying an actress to take on her role. Her father is cold, calculating, disgusting and her uncle is no better. Thomas Boleyn was none of these things, any more than Anne was a monstrous figure plotting the death of everyone like one of those cartoonish villains you see on a Disney movie. Films and TV shows are done for one purpose and one purpose only: To Entertain. They are not there to educate. I love these TV shows but I take it as something of an alternate universe, or a fantasy, where you have all these characters and situations based on real life people and events, but nothing more.

Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in "Wolf Hall" (2015)
Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in “Wolf Hall” (2015)

We have to be very careful taking these shows to heart. In Wolf Hall, there is another interpretation to Anne, that is not that different. She is shown as a completely horrible person who has no other interest but to get herself rich and with male child so she can keep her crown. We do not see as we did see in other period pieces –even the Tudors- her interest in religion, or the commons, or her squabble with Cromwell over the misuse of the money gotten from the dissolution of the monasteries. Money which Anne wanted to go to charity, and be used for educational purposes as her predecessor had done. Cromwell on the other hand was eager to please the King and he knew that displeasing him would cost him his life, so he said no to her demands which in turn made her angry. This was an age where the King could not be directly blamed for his actions. If he was doing things that people did not agree on, then they would blame someone else for his actions. Cromwell got to be the target. Anne, being a religious woman, believed that it was time to start investing money on education to advance religious reform. From her point of view it was not Henry who was her enemy, but Cromwell who was misleading him and needed to be scared or done away with. She told her almoner John Skip to give a sermon preaching on Haman, the biblical arch-enemy of the glorious and devoted Queen Consort Esther who like Anne was just looking out for her people. When everyone heard the sermon, Cromwell did not miss the meaning of her message. He was next if she did not do his bidding.

Anne Boleyn played by Charlotte Rampling in "Henry VIII and his Six Wives" (1972).
Anne Boleyn played by Charlotte Rampling in “Henry VIII and his Six Wives” (1972).

Anne was ambitious, of this, there was no doubt. But she probably did not intend to be Queen in the first place. At the time it was known that Henry was probably thinking of divorcing his wife of many years because she had been unable to give him the son he wanted to secure the Tudor dynasty. But nobody would have thought he would end up with Anne. Her sister had been his mistress and Anne learned a lot from that experience, as well as being lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon. She heard and saw many dalliances and the consequences suffered because of them. There were many behavioral manuals (for women) at the time that spoke against women being led astray by men or their emotions. Anne was an avid reader, given her religious convictions, it is highly possible she had some of these manuals with her. Besides that, Anne like so many young women at the time, was looking for an advantageous marriage. Marriage was the key goal after all and the higher you married, the higher you and your family prospered. She wished to marry Henry Percy and that union never came to be because Wolsey broke it. And with good reason. At the time, he and the King were discussing with Thomas Boleyn to use Anne as a bargaining tool. To marry her to the Butler heir so she would secure the Ireland’s loyalty. That union never came to be and once again, Anne was in a political limbo like her predecessor had been; waiting in vain to be married.

Henry VIII (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevive Bujold) in "Anne of a Thousand Days".
Henry VIII (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevive Bujold) in “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

When Henry noticed her, she was probably looking for the next man who could become her next husband. Henry’s attentions changed everything. He wanted her to be his next mistress and Anne refused outright. She was not going to have her reputation in shambles because of this. But Henry was persistent. And you could not say no to the King. His letters do not speak of love any more than Christian Grey from fifty shades of Grey. Henry VIII was a king who was used to getting his own way, when he didn’t, he would lose his temper and for the first time here was a woman who was saying ‘no’ to him, who was writing to him saying she was not worthy and that he should not continue to write her. Instead of doing the mature thing and let her be, Henry continued to pursue her. Sending her more letters which some of them included little hearts drawn at the end of his signature so she could take his ‘love’ for her seriously. It got to a point where Anne finally realized that this was not going to go away. Henry was going to get what he wanted and if she continued to refuse him, then he would get angry and the angrier he got, the less prospects she would get. After all, who would be dumb enough to marry the woman the King was after? Eh … no one! And then there was her family. Her family would be cast out from court, and her father’s honors would be taken away.

It’s a cruel way to look at things. But it is the way things were back then, and with these limited options, Anne opted for the better of two evils. As the King’s wife she reasoned, she would have honors bestowed on her family; her niece and nephew could marry into great family, not to mention that her offspring could be the next King of England. It was a glorious prospect except for one thing … Katherine.

Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII's first Consort. He sought to annul his marriage to her under the pretext that her first marriage to his brother Prince Arthur of Wales was consummated (though she maintained it never was).
Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII’s first Consort. He sought to annul his marriage to her under the pretext that her first marriage to his brother Prince Arthur of Wales was consummated (though she maintained it never was).

Katherine was still his Queen. Anne counted on the pope giving him his divorce since Henry had been in high favor with the church since he wrote against Martin Luther which earned him the title “Defender of the Faith”. But Katherine’s nephew just happened to be the most powerful man in Europe and his soldiers ransacked the Vatican and took the pope prisoner. Charles, being the good politician that he was, claimed he had nothing to do with what his rogue soldiers did, but nonetheless took advantage of the situation by keeping the pope under house arrest under the guise that it was for his own ‘safety’. Because of this Anne had to wait over six years to become Queen of England. It is no surprise that during the course of this time, she grew frustrated. She directed her anger towards Katherine whom she spoke of with malice and scorn. When she heard her name, she claimed she felt nothing for her and that she would love to see her hanged rather than acknowledge her as her mistress.

She would regret her words years later when she would be the one in the same position as her late rival, and not only that, but facing a worse fate that her.

But when Anne realized it was time to show Henry what she really believed in, knowing this would benefit them both, she got her long wish and married him in January 1533. She was pregnant at the time and believing she was carrying the next King of England, made sure her joy was known. Henry wasted no time to crown her five months later in June. But to disappointment of many, when her child was born it turned out to be a girl. Henry showed no regret, but said in that same tone of voice he said to his predecessor that if they had a healthy girl, they will have a healthy son.

Anne Boleyn in the BBC documentary "The Last Days of Anne Boleyn".
Anne Boleyn in the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn”.

For almost three years, Anne struggled in her position. Getting to the top was harder, staying there was even harder. The people did not like her, the Catholic fiction considered her a whore and though she was nothing more than an opportunist. And it didn’t help that her stepdaughter did not wish to acknowledge her as her father’s wife. Anne said to her aunt that she should box the Lady Mary’s ears if she continued rebelling against her, and refusing to acknowledge her bastard status and that she (Anne) was the true Queen of England. Anne did not get her wish. Doing this, would have made her more hated amongst the Catholics. Executions abounded during this period and the dissolution of the monasteries was just beginning. And yet, despite all this scorn we hear from Anne, we also hear some positive attitudes. As a deeply religious person, who took refuge in the faith she helped create, she encouraged her servants, including her ladies in waiting, to read from the English bible she kept on her chambers. And she gave alms to the poor and continued to push Cromwell to see that the money begotten from the dissolution of the monasteries be used for education and charity. The latter didn’t happen and when Henry grew tired of her, and she was unable to give him another son (her last miscarriage was in January 1536); he told Cromwell to get rid of her by any means necessary. No time was wasted. People were interrogated, threatened and it has been suspected that some were even tortured, to give them the kind of information they were looking for to condemn her.

The charges against her though, adultery, treason and incest, were so bogus that even the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys; scoffed at them. He told his master, Charles V, that it was ridiculous that she, her brother and the other four men accused of adultery, could be convicted under such bogus charges.

Anne was enraged at the charges, but she kept her dignity. She and her brother defended themselves well and walked to the scaffold to meet their fates, with little fear. Her brother, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, and Francis Weston were the first ones two go. Two days later on the nineteenth of May, 1536, it was Anne’s turn. Her speech was one which moved entire crowds to their knees and as she asked them to pray for her when it was her turn to kneel; they did. In one stroke, it was all over.

Twenty two years later her daughter, rises to the throne becoming one of the icons of her century. Since then the two have been immortalized, romanticized, but just who were they really? Are they who we want them to be because we are so desperate for heroines in today’s bleak world where we see so many problems in our society that we look back at the past with melancholy, wishing that it was like those times? Or is it because we don’t want to accept the truth, that the past was more brutal than today’s world, and that it was an alien world with morals, prejudices, and other attitudes which are so appalling to us now that if we accept that these existed, they will shatter the illusion we have over these women, especially the great icon, Anne Boleyn?

Is it not possible though, that we come to maintain our love for Anne Boleyn by accepting that she was a person of her time with the same prejudices as everyone else, and one who was determined, ambitious, religious and at times compassionate, and someone who can stand out on her own by all her other merits that have already been mentioned, without resorting to exaggeration?

Hever Portrait.

I leave that answer to you.

Sources:

  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Henry VIII by Derek Wilson
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence