To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.
Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.
Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.
We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.
The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.
Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.
But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.
This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.
Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.
The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.
But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.
How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.
Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.
Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.
The Most Happy is an alternative history, in short it asks the important question of ‘what if?’ What would have happened if Anne Boleyn had not been executed and she would have had more than one child. All this and more is explored in this book.
While historical fiction seeks to fill in the gaps in the historical records and to make the story more enticing to its target audience, alternative history delves further by rewriting it. And while it may seem as the two have nothing in common, I beg to differ and I suspect you will too once you read the book.
Novelists take this genre seriously, and it wasn’t surprising to find many things from this era come alive in Davis’ book. I remember when I read her other book, that is also alternative history, Cleopatra Unconquered and felt like I was transported to Ancient Egypt. That is the feeling I got when I read ‘The Most Happy’. From start to finish, the intrigues that history buffs are used to reading about the Tudor court, don’t stop. This book perfectly captures the dangerous time period that Anne Boleyn lived in, and how high the stakes were, not just for her, but for her enemies as well.
This was a period of great change. The Renaissance was not all that different from the medieval era, but there were many aspects of it that were still the same, one of it being the violence and fanaticism (now emboldened with the religious wars); throw in a dynasty that is not well-established and a queen whose religious affiliation is not with Rome -and is not recognized by the Vatican as such- and you have almost absolutely chaos. And I say almost because the protagonist doesn’t come off as a victim or a villain, but rather as a strong, intelligent woman who is determined to make things work.
Anne grows in her new role as Queen and mother to England’s future king. She is not afraid to take charge, or shy away from enforcing the rule of law when needed. She’s also proud, and can be vindictive but this behavior can be understood given the circumstances of her situation.
Fans of Tudor History and Historical fiction who are worried with how the iconic Tudor queen is portrayed in the media will love this novel. This is the one that has come the closest to capturing Anne Boleyn’s spirit in the past decade without the author shying away from her flaws or sugar-coating the complexities of this period. If this is your first time trying alternative history, you won’t be disappointed.
It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.
The Forgotten Monarch:
It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.
In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:
“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”
Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.
Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.
“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story. The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self. When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become … As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”
In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.
“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”
In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.
Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot
Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.
Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.
I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.
The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood
In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:
“Pro … defensionewas the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”
David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.
In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.
But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.
Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle
Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this. And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.
Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.
Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.
Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.
Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
“Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
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.
“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;
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.
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.
Life is hard. It will always be hard, so sometimes the best remedy is to dream, knowing that it is a dream and that when you wake up, things will go back to being shitty.
Dreams are what make life tolerable -and sometimes can motivate someone to move forward. Other times, it makes them stagnant and stuck in one place. And this happens very often when people realize that their dreams are just that: dreams. Dreams can give us a little push, but as long as we remain realistic about our goals.
Anne wasn’t a great person, she wasn’t a marvelous person, but neither was she the devil incarnate that Nicholas Sander wrote of.
Yet, the image that we’ve grown up with has been largely due in part to fiction and as weird as this sounds, its help me when I have to deal with angry customers, asshole managers and people who just want to give someone a bad day because their day has gone bad.
I don’t know if Anne was really a victim, and she was forced into that position after she saw that she was gaining nothing by saying ‘no’ to Henry and giving him tons of excuses. She is dead and unless her ghost were to visit me or I’d go back in time, I will never know. I can make inferences based on her actions and the primary sources available but that is it.
What I do know is that the image that I saw in TV and movies, have pushed me forward in ways I couldn’t imagine and didn’t notice until now.
It could be that as much as I didn’t like how some people took fiction seriously, I took comfort in how she was depicted, as this strong and head of her times woman. Even though she wasn’t, the lessons she taught me through her actions in fiction were valuable.
When customers want to give me a rough time and be mean, I smile and keep on smiling. Not a smile of gratitude but a mysterious smile. A smile that looks so genuinely but also so sarcastic. That says I am not going to let anyone bring me down, and even if you want to say speak behind my back (in the case of my co-workers and managers) I will keep on moving forward because that is my nature. And as the historical Anne was once reputed to say “let them grumble, that is how it is going to be”; so I shall say through my smile. My mischievous eyes, secretly glad when something doesn’t go well for them.
“I care nothing for Catherine, I rather see her hung than acknowledge her as my mistress.” -Anne Boleyn in “The Tudors”
In reality, while she did say something along those lines, the wording was a little different. The meaning was all the same. She could lose control at times and that is how I feel at times; when I feel that things are taking too long for me, when I am looked down upon. And for a while I had a poor-me attitude of crying and whining about it, but now I could care less. Because this is how things are, and how things are likely to be until they get better, so I must make the most of it by not giving up, not crumbling down but instead show them how much I enjoy their petty games and they won’t bring me down.
Sometimes that is all we can do, and being realistic is not being conformist but rather knowing where your limitations are and working around those limitations to get what you want. And we will make mistakes along the road, that is normal; the trick is not over-thinking them too much, and get over them. Accept that we’ve screwed up and move on. Keep on trying and never fall into the poor-me syndrome because once someone falls there, it is hard to get back up.
Having trouble in the work-place is nothing new, but rather than cry, I look at people in the eye. Give the best effort that I can give, and push myself forward to be courteous even when I don’t have to be, and as the historical Anne said in one of her mottos “let them grumble”, that doesn’t matter. Reality is what reality is. All I can do is not let myself be defeated, not fall into a poor-me attitude and instead raise my head up… high like Anne (Genevive Bujold) taught her daughter in the classic Anne of a Thousand Days from 1969.
The second season of the Tudors had some of Natalie Dormer’s greatest one-liners for Anne, and although she appeared arrogant, she excelled in what she did. Given the position she was in, she knew that the people around her would complain no matter what. If her predecessor did the same mistakes, because she was royal, no one would say a thing. Or maybe they would but not make as much drama. Anne wasn’t the people’s favorite, she wasn’t the court’s favorite and she knew what people said (and thought) behind her back. She was a whore, stupid, she shouldn’t be there but did she let that deter her? No, she smirked, she held her head up high as if saying “F*ck you guys. I will keep on moving forward”. And the actress captured her bravery perfectly during her execution. Her speech was copied straight out of the historical records.
So remember: keep moving forward. Let the idiots grumble. It will be what they will be. You are the makers of your own destiny. Don’t let anyone hold your back, and don’t hold yourself back.
In the spring of 1536, Charles Brandon and other courtiers visited Anne’s chambers to tell her the news that they had arrested her brother and a handful of other guys, and they were going to take her to the Tower of London. Just three years before, she had lodged in the Tower to await her coronation. Henry VIII chose to crown her with St Edward the Confessor’s crown which was reserved for Kings. It was Anne’s greatest triumph, and it would have remain that way if she had given what Henry wanted (and needed) the most: A son.
The Tudor Dynasty was fairly new and England wasn’t used to the idea of women rulers so the thought of leaving the throne to little Princess Elizabeth after Henry had gone through great trouble to divorce his first wife for the same reason, would’ve been ludicrous. Anne was accused of incest and adultery and high treason and she lost her head on May 19th of that year.
In the show, Margaery (who coincidentally played Anne in ‘The Tudors’) is arrested after the High Septon (who’s like the pope in this world) accuses her f perjury, lying under oath which is a great sin since you swear to testify the truth and the whole truth under the gods. The equivalent to today’s ‘you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you God?’
In medieval times this was a great deal. And Game of Thrones is a show that prides itself to take inspiration from the middle ages, specifically from the wars of the roses and the Tudor periods.
Margaery’s arrest therefore must be seen within this religious context. However, Cersei was also responsible for her arrest because she knew how much the HIgh Septon hated Margaery, and her family because her family are traditional followers of the Seven and they hate everything that has to do with religious reformation.
This is a great departure from Anne Boleyn. Though she was described as “more Lutheran than Luther herself”, Anne was not a staunch Reformist, and neither was she a martyr for her cause. She favored a lot of Reformist authors and teachings, but it was her father and her brother who believed more in the cause than she did.
During her short tenure as Queen, she did a lot of good charitable works. One of the reasons why she and Cromwell hated each other was because Cromwell couldn’t afford to say ‘no’ to the king given his position, and also wanted to enrich him, while Anne believed that the money taken from the monasteries and other religious houses should be distributed among the people -to build hospitals, centers of education, and to the new churches that would make people more invested on the new church.
Margaery like so many of Martin’s characters is based on more than one person, and perhaps it is the author’s way of being ironic and sarcastic that he often mixes two or more characters who were rivals in real life to create unique characters..
Margaery’s family is a perfect example of that.
Highgarden is located on the Reach where there are constant border raids from their neighboring Dorne. This should sound family to history buffs, especially Spanish history aficionados who’ve read on the subject.
Spain at the time of Catherine of Aragon’s birth, was divided into three kingdoms, and though the two Catholic crowns were united thanks to her parents’ union, the third crown which represented the Taifa kingdom of Granada, remained separate. Granada was the last of the once great Taifa kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. And there were many border raids between the two peoples. They both believed in God but had different religions, and they borrowed from each other’s cultures (though they were hesitant to admit it).
Secondly, the two neighboring realms hated each other. Isabel never felt bad about lying under oath, and neither did her husband. They pretended to be on Boabdil’s side more than one time, and played both sides against one another, so it made taking their realm an easier enterprise. They finally achieved it on the 2nd of January 1492. She and Fernando stood in front of Boabdil, outside the gates of Granada. The King approached Fernando first and gave them the keys to the city then paid his respects to Isabel.
Isabel was a ruthless politician -not unlike the Queen of Thorns- and always dressed lavishly, while giving a lot of money to the church and keeping her clerics under a tight leash, raised her children well. Her husband was a skilled warrior who helped her maintain stability in her kingdom, and fight off her niece whom she always maintained wasn’t her brother’s real daughter; and he was also a cunning politician.
Catherine learned well from their example and from a young age she learned everything from the great literary works of the ancient world, to civic and canon law, dance, art, poetry, and most of all, her future role, not only as future Queen of England, but as a politician.
Catherine’s years after Prince Arthur died were anything but easy and her father was embroiled in a battle to control Castile and wrestle it from her sister and her husband. David Loades tells us how he wanted to send her money but couldn’t so instead he made her his ambassador. She was the first female ambassador to England and this increased her status but not as much as she hoped for, so she continued fighting and did what she could to get the next in line to the throne, Prince Henry Tudor of Wales’ attention.
When Henry VII died, his son did something unexpected (but not unprecedented) and chose to follow his heart instead of listening to the council. Fancying himself a knight in shining armor, he married his sweet sister in law and the two were crowned on the same day in June 24th 1509.
The books, including the World of Ice and Fire, make it clear just how traditional Margaery’s family is. And there have been a lot of inaccurate and crazy blogs that say that Catherine’s equivalent in the show is likely someone like Selyse or another religious fanatic. But let’s stop and think for a second: If we consider Anne super religious while also being a fashion icon, why can’t we think the same for Catherine? Or are we just too lazy to do research and prefer to believe what someone else tells us or what has become the norm after centuries of story-telling that have become the new history?
England and Castile and Aragon were highly religious yet they enjoyed many past-times. Castile was one of the richest courts in Western Europe, and Isabel loved everything that had to do with fashion, music and art, and she was passionate about her children learning about the latest educational trends such as Humanism and reading classical books.
She was referred by some as sweet, and by others said that she could also be cross.
Catherine had an idyllic childhood, much like the actress Natalie Dormer has said of her character in Game of Thrones.
The two also introduced fashions in their adoptive countries or realms. They loved gossip (Catherine’s mother especially) and they had fierce maternal relatives who never held their tongue. Isabel made sure her children dressed the best, were more educated tha other European princes. There was always music and dancing wherever they went. They also loved to watch plays while they celebrated, and they always surrounded themselves by bright colors. Not just in their clothing but in paintings that Isabel had commissioned for her family where they vibrantly appeared as saints or being blessed by God and the Holy Mother. And they were not afraid to speak against their religious leaders.
Catherine of Aragon wrote a strong letter in December 1531, subtly urging the pope to rule in her favor. And I say subtly because Catherine of Aragon was good at making threats that didn’t seem like threats but more like passive-aggressive rhetoric, the kind you get from a skilled politicians. Margaery does the same thing. When she is smiling, she isn’t really smiling. She is surviving by playing the game of thrones better than her opponents, bearing the same perseverance that Catherine did for seven years.
It should come as no surprise that Catherine’s first motto was ‘Not for my Crown’ and that her second ‘Humble and Loyal’ (which resembled her late mother in law’s) reflected her great understanding of politics. She could appear docile and sweet on the outside, but was a strong and skillful politician like her parents.
On the manner of Margaery’s arrest though, the Anne Boleyn persona takes over, especially when you take into account what happens in the book. In the book, Cersei firmly believes that her daughter in law is cheating, and that while her second marriage to her eldest son (Joffrey) wasn’t consummated, the first might have been. Like Catherine, it is a question that will likely haunt Margaery for ages (or less given than everyone dies far sooner in GOT). But instead of annulling her marriage, she wants to humiliate her and her family since she believes Margaery is the young, beautiful queen from the prophecy who will take everything from her.By book 5, is pretty clear that Cersei doesn’t really believe in all the charges, but she is so consumed by rage (after she too has been imprisoned) that she doesn’t care anymore. Margaery is accused of sleeping with her servants and her brother. Like Anne, she isn’t given the benefit of the doubt by the highest authority, which is her mother-in-law, and she seems doomed.
Like both Queens, Margaery’s mistake is not in being of one side or the other, but being politically active, and better at the game than her rival, and not giving the crown what it needs: an heir and complete obedience. The Baratheon dynasty is new and nobody really believes that Cersei’s bastard children are Robert’s, but they are in power and most of their enemies have died, so that doesn’t matter. Nonetheless, they need a male heir to continue the line. Margaery hasn’t delivered because she is way older than Tommen in the books who’s just a kid, and in the show although the two have consummated their marriage, there is no sign of her getting pregnant. And she isn’t one to bow down to Cersei. She is good at playing docile, but she is even better at convincing others to take her side and subtly get rid of Cersei -something the Queen Mother couldn’t forgive and now Margaery is paying the consequences
We will have to see what awaits her. And what awaits Highgarden. If Margaery and Loras die, they will have Willas to take over when their father dies as well, but in the show, it looks as if Highgarden’s golden age is about to end. Could it be a parallel to Spain or to the Trastamara dynasty? After the Catholic Kings lost their precious jewel, Don Juan, Prince of Asturias, they had no other choice but name their daughter Princess of Asturias and after she and her baby died, their second daughter, Dona Juana, Duchess of Burgundy whose strong temperament made them nervous, and whose reckless husband, made things worse.
Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
World of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson
The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives
Under these Restless Skies takes places in Tudor England, specifically an England ruled by Henry VIII when he’s seeking a divorce from his first spouse, Katherine of Aragon to marry the alluring Anne Boleyn. I’m often very critical of historical fiction (and historical fantasy even more) because the characters tend to be one-dimensional and you have to suspend belief to really get into the story but with this book, not really because the characters were very close to their historical counterparts and the author really did her homework and was very accurate when it came to describing the rituals that men and women had to go through such as confinement, churching, coronation, and she included author’s notes at the end of her tale with a glossary and terminology.
Emma started a bit of a Mary Sue at first but after Anne’s glorious moment, she starts acting more human, exploring the darkest aspects of our species and becoming more human herself. As with every good book, you suffer from book withdrawal at the end or what I like to call book blues. There is a lot of good moments where the author describes the customs and beliefs of the period through dialogue and by doing this she keeps the story moving and interesting.
The only thing I disagreed were some instances regarding Anne Boleyn. I like Anne Boleyn for being an outspoken and intelligent woman, she was also flawed and she was known for her temperament. You could say some contemporary accounts were bias and she wasn’t entirely responsible for what her family did or said to Mary, or said about her mother -Anne’s predecessor and enemy, Katherine of Aragon- but she wasn’t entirely blameless either. Anne did not order her death -Katherine died of natural causes which were accelerated by her living conditions- but she did encourage her female relatives to be mean to Mary so she could accept her father’s new marriage and her condition as the king’s bastard. While I do not like some of Anne’s attitude, a great deal of it was brought about by the situation she was in. She was playing a highly political game and the stakes were *really* high. As she tells the original character (Emma) before her coronation, she must be recognizes as Henry’s true and only wife and one word, one rumor could be the difference between life and death. (Which is exactly what happened when Henry looked to replace her. She was tried for treason and executed. The evidence used against her was ridiculous. Even Chapuys who was one of her biggest critics, wrote he couldn’t believe that they were trying her on scant evidence and that it was amazing how anyone could believe any of it). It was a good portrayal nonetheless where Anne is seen as a strong yet also vulnerable woman through the eyes of the immortal Emma Sommers. It is hard to write about Henry VIII, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the man as there are about Anne Boleyn, that often authors lend credibility to them. The author nailed down Henry VIII showing him at his best and his worst.
Finally, there is the fantasy part of the selkies or the sea creatures that the author wrote about. I said it before, but I will say it again. I felt like this was a good twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s the little mermaid. A fish out of water who comes face to face with a terrestrial and she falls in love with him, and is willing to let a piece of her be taken so the two can be together. But instead of a handsome prince, her one true love is Will Sommers, a man with a bad back but a heart of gold, and instead of love being one-sided, Will Sommers shows her that he loves her as well.
The author has a blog where she has written extensively about the Tudors, and dispels many myths about them, primarily Anne Boleyn whose figure continues (and probably will for many years to come) to be at the center of many heated debates.
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.
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.”
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.
Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
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.
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
On September 1st 1532 Henry VIII created Anne Boleyn Marquis of Pembroke to give her social standing among the other noble and royal houses in Europe and so she would be fit to marry him. Pembroke had once belonged to his grand-uncle, Jasper Tudor, albeit he was created an earl by his half brother Henry VI shortly before the start of the wars of the roses along with his brother Edmund Tudor who was created Earl of Richmond (Edmund, was Henry VIII’s grandfather).
Anne wore her hair loose, dressed in ermine, wearing pearls and jewels and was accompanied by her cousin Mary Howard, the Countess of Derby and Rutland to the presence chamber in Windsor Palace where she knelt before the King, Charles Brandon and her uncle Thomas Howard and listened to Stephen Gardiner read the letters patent that confirmed her new title. After he finished, the King put a golden coronet on her head and placed a crimson velvet on her back. Less than a year after her elevation, the two married. Some historians place their marriage on January of the following year with one of her former chaplains or another priest performing the ceremony. Five months later she was crowned Queen of England and like her elevation, it was a grand ceremony, one of opulence and excessive glamour where the crown of Kings was placed on her head so no one would question the legitimacy of her marriage or the child she was carrying.