George Boleyn’s Farewell

George Boleyn (played by Padriac Delany in
George Boleyn (played by Padriac Delany in “The Tudors”).

On the 17th of May 1536, George Boleyn and the other four men accused of adultery with the former Queen, Anne Boleyn, were beheaded. George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, and Sir Francis Weston were brought together to Tower Hill, to be executed.

“Henry had been so convinced that the public spectators would be gratified by the deaths of these traitors that he had ordered the scaffold to be built especially high so as to give everyone in the crowd a good view.” –Ridgway & Cherry.

Henry and the officials who were to be disappointed. In spite of Anne’s unpopularity, the people were not happy with the outcome of the trial. Many sensed something was amiss; not to mention that Lord Rochford and Norris were respected courtiers, and their charisma was well thought of when they saw them kneel down, putting their heads on the block, to meet their ends (especially George whose career as it has previously been discussed on this site, was remarkable –barely missing any council meetings and parliamentary sessions, and taking his job as an ambassador very seriously, not to mention that like his sister, he was a natural charmer).

Unlike Anne Boleyn who would die two days later, they died by the axe. Little is known about George’s speech but some of the people who knew him best wrote about it later, and accounts by those who remembered his speech recorded it decades later. Thomas Wyatt, one of men arrested with George Boleyn, got out free and years after his friend’s execution wrote a beautiful poem commemorating his death.

“Christian men, I was born under the law,
and I die under the law
for as much as it is the law which has condemned me.
Masters all, I have not come here to preach but to die
for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives,
more shamefully that can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.
I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly,  it were no pleasure to you to hear them,
nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all.
Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me,
and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among,
take heed by me and beware of such a fall,
and I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
three persons and one God,
that my death may be an example unto you all.
And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world,
and especially in the flattering of the court.
And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness of God.
And if I have offended any man that is here now,
either in thought, word or deed,  and if ye hear any such,
I pray you heartily in my behalf,
pray them to forgive me for God’s sake.
And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you:
Men do moon and say that I have been a setter forth of the Word of God, and one that have favored
the Gospel of Christ;
and because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me,
I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word
in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power,
I had not come to this.
If I had, I had been a living man among you.
Therefore I pray you, masters all,
for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it,
for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.” –George Boleyn’s execution speech according to the Chronicle of Calais.

Eustsace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador has him saying that he had been “contaminated” and had been “contaminating others with the new sects”. We don’t know if what Chapuys said was true because he wasn’t there but unlike what has been written about him, he was one of the most reliable foreign sources, and he did respect George on a level that he seldom had for any other English courtier, and his dispatches to the Emperor days later after Anne Boleyn’s execution demonstrates how he was capable of showing deep admiration for his enemies.

There is a reason why his speech was so impassioned and it was because as so many other men condemned to death, conscious that they were guilty or not guilty, they had to make their last moments on earth remarkable, worthy to be remembered. This was a highly religious era, and Henry had done something unprecedented, he had declared himself Head of the Church, his own church which made him in many of his people’s eyes, the representative of God on Earth. Which also made him infallible and those who opposed him were no longer committing acts of treason, but sins against God. It sounds far out but that is how it would have been viewed back then, especially by Henry (who being a deeply religious man, was convinced what his conscience and God’s will were one and the same).
In the view of Henry’s new Church –which the Boleyns had helped build when Anne encouraged Henry to read ‘forbidden’ books that gave him an alternative to waiting for a papal decision on his desired divorce with Katherine- George had not only committed treason against his sovereign, but against God as well. Therefore, before he put his head on the block, he addressed the crowds one more time and begged them to pray for him, to pray for his comrades, and although he didn’t ask for their forgiveness (perhaps a silent act of rebellion, knowing in his heart of hearts that he was innocent of the charges laid against him, and George being a highly religious man himself, could not admit to something he had not done, but the sins he spoke of –if Chapuys is to believed- could have been something else such as adultery with somebody else which might have hurt his wife, Jane Parker, or an arrogance that he had often been accused by his contemporary and later detractors) he went on to emphasize his religious and kingly devotion, ending his speech with “God Save the King.” The rest as they say is history.

“These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, y youth did them depart, And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.
The Bell Tower showed me such a sight
That in my head sticks day and night. There I did learn out of a greater,
For all fair, glory, or might,
That yet, circa Regna tonat.”

Thomas Wyatt wrote this poem during his time in prison never forgetting this event and the people behind it.

Sources:

  • George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
  • Inside the Tudor Court of Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writing of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

14th-15th May: The Beginning of the End

Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary
Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” and Showtime’s “The Tudors”.

On the 14th of May 1536, Henry declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn null and void which meant that she could no longer be accused of adultery since she had never been Henry’s wife. But this was Henry VIII. He wanted Anne gone, and it didn’t matter what legal mumbo-jumbo his muscle team had to conjure to get it done. There was also another reason why he wanted Anne done away with. He didn’t want another repeat of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine of Aragon as everyone knows was the wife he couldn’t divorce and annul his marriage to, from the Catholic Church’s perspective. And through that perspective, he was never legally married to Anne because Katherine was still alive, making his union with Anne invalid and their daughter a bastard. If he was to get a son from Jane Seymour, he had to make sure that there was no dispute (whatsoever) of his legitimacy. Therefore, the easiest solution as the priest tells you at the altar, “until death do us part”, was to kill Anne. But Henry was no murdered, he was a gallant chevalier who took after King Arthur. In his view, as Leanda de Lisle has argued, he was a man who was the purveyor of justice and the perfect embodiment of chivalry. Anne Boleyn as well as her alleged lovers’ executions had to come through legal means, and her execution (by a sword) was yet another representation of his chivalric ideals.

The day after her marriage was declared null and void, the trial against her and brother began.

“Her brother defied the charges and daringly read out the note he had been requested to keep secret, that Anne and Jane Parker had allegedly discussed the King’s inability in the bedroom, claiming he lacked ‘vertu’ and ‘puissance’, or ability and power.” –Licence

Although he never said that he agreed with what was written or that he believed the note was genuinely theirs, the simple fact that he had defied the order not to read it, was considered treasonous and a mockery against the King.

Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie
Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

According to the Tudor chronicler Wriothesley, Anne composed herself during the trial and made “answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been fault of the same”. As for George, he also knew that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive. He had shadowed his father and uncle for many years, impressed the Imperial Ambassador for his brilliance and courteous behavior towards him; he had seen much of the two of the greatest courts in Europe, and with his sister being Queen, he had been a witness to many key events. He was realistic, pragmatic. And from the moment he had been arrested, he was aware that no one was going to get out of this alive or without their reputations dragged through the mud. Wriothesley added that he spoke “so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, and never would confess to anything but made himself as clear as though he had never offended.” Others were of the same opinion, including the Imperial Ambassador who wrote back to his master, telling him that the charges were so ridiculous that he was astonished that they were being taken seriously.

“No proof of George’s guilt was produced except that of his having once passed many hours in her company, and other little follies.” –Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador

As for Anne, once again ignoring the legal obvious that she could not be charged with something, since she had never been legally married to the King, according to the King himself; she was charged with twenty acts of adultery, three which were incest with her brother George and she was found guilty. The verdict was read aloud by none other than her first romantic interest, Henry Percy, who collapsed afterwards and had to be dragged out from the room for fear that he would get worse.

AnneBoleynInTheTower-278x300

Anne’s fate was officially sealed. Anne would die four days later on May 19th, the other men -including her brother- two days before that.

Sources

  • Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • George Boleyn, Poet, Courtier, Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Claire Cherry.

George Boleyn

An engrossing biography about the life of Anne Boleyn’s only brother, George Boleyn. A consummate courtier who was witty, bold and hardworking. The two Claires set the record clear on George as well as on his family, tracing back the origins of the Boleyn family and enlightening readers to the truth about his father (ambassador and courtier as George would become whose ideals influenced him and Anne) and his marriage. There’s a lot that we are yet to know of this period despite what pop history tells us, a lot of what we think we know of George comes from later centuries and negative propaganda started by his enemies and Catholic rebels during the Elizabethan regime. Others have come from much later like with Victorian historian Agnes Strickland. George Boleyn started his career early, and like his father he was not afraid to speak his mind (like with the king of France). But there is a difference between him and his sister who was also outspoken. He and Anne were good friends but were polar opposites when it came to their way of doing things. Anne was more hot tempered and wasn’t afraid to speak hard truths, while George was more diplomatic and like his father, a pragmatist and approached every situation with caution and -albeit false- courtesy. Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador had a good opinion of him and his father when he met them on his arrival to England. Even some of the Boleyn enemies, also remarked on how hardworking George Boleyn was.

On his missions abroad, his skill showed and the King trusted him for a reason: “Whether smugly self-satisfied with the result of the French mission or not, in reality, the small success George had achieved in France had no practical effect. Despite attempts to use Francis as a means of intimidation, the Pope remained unwavering. Irrespective of the Pope’s continuing refusal to relent, due to Anne’s pregnancy, and also to the intervention of Cranmer, matters that had taken six years to get to this point now started to move quickly. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine void, and five days later he declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid, thereby stripping Catherine of her title as Queen. By having his marriage with Catherine declared void, Henry was in effect declaring his own daughter Mary a bastard, with no concern for her feelings or the feelings of her mother. As we have seen, it was also in May that Cranmer instigated the break with Rome, thereby making Henry head of the Church of England. The break would be completed by the Act of Supremacy in 1534. This was the beginning of the English Reformation, and the end of England as a Catholic country. Matters were now put in hand to have Anne crowned queen, and the date for her coronation was set for 1 June. 17 Unfortunately, having devoted much of his career to bringing it about, her brother was not able to attend his sister’s moment of glory. Less than two months after returning from France, George was sent back. In May 1533, accompanied his uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and a large contingency of courtiers so that they could both be present at the meeting scheduled between Francis and the Pope. 18 Henry had chosen a contingency of men who would be acceptable to Francis, and clearly George Boleyn was considered to be one of them, having spent considerable time with the French king on previous missions.

He never failed to attend one council meeting he was summoned to and was what we would call today a ‘workaholic’.

“In 1534, during the fifth session of Parliament, George’s attendance rate was prodigious, particularly bearing in mind the fact that he was on a diplomatic mission abroad for a total of two months, and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from June onwards. Despite these other onerous duties, he attended more sessions in Parliament than many other Lords Temporal. Out of the Lords Temporal attending Parliament, only the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Wiltshire, George’s father, attended more frequently than George: on 45, 44, and 42 occasions respectively, with George appearing 41 times. The average attendance was just 22 out of 46. George’s high attendance demonstrates hi commitment to his own career, as well to Reform and to his sister’s cause.”
“In 1534, during the fifth session of Parliament, George’s attendance rate was prodigious, particularly bearing in mind the fact that he was on a diplomatic mission abroad for a total of two months, and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from June onwards. Despite these other onerous duties, he attended more sessions in Parliament than many other Lords Temporal. Out of the Lords Temporal attending Parliament, only the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Wiltshire, George’s father, attended more frequently than George: on 45, 44, and 42 occasions respectively, with George appearing 41 times. The average attendance was just 22 out of 46. George’s high attendance demonstrates hi commitment to his own career, as well to Reform and to his sister’s cause.”

His relationship with his wife was one of the hardest to tackle for these authors but they did so in such a way that they didn’t put words in either of the subjects’ mouths like so many old historians have done. There is no evidence as the two point out that proves Jane hated George or vice-verce. Arranged marriages were nothing new and despite the Parker family’s sympathy for Mary Tudor and her mother, they knew that a union with the Boleyns was good for them. If George’s family prospered so would they. That’s how things were done back then and both lived and dealt in a world where this was the norm, neither of them as the authors point out, questioned this. The woman in question who denounced George and gave false evidence in his and his sister’s trial was never referred to as his wife, but merely a ‘lady’. It has recently pointed out this ‘lady’ was lady Worcester and she could’ve done it out of spite or under psychological duress like so many were put on during the interrogation.

In fiction she has been portrayed as a vicious, amoral woman but there is no evidence she and George hated each other or that she testified against him. Both her and George as they point out below, were products of their times: "George Boleyn mainly benefited from the offices and positions of trust and responsibility to which he was appointed and his wife's social position increased vicariously. She revolved in circles that would never have been open to her without the advantage of her marriage to a highly successful courtier. In addition to this, through that marriage, she was about to become sister-in-law to the King of England. Whether she was happy with this last honour is debatable. Jane Boleyn's court career blossomed following her husband's execution. She was prepared to continue in her role of lady-in-waiting to Henry's next wife, Jane Seymour, and she seems to have had a good relationship with the Princess Mary. Her ability to separate herself emotionally from her husband's death, and more importantly from the circumstances of her husband's death, may suggest that by 1536 the couple were not particularly close; or it could simply be Jane's survival instinct. Just as Thomas Boleyn climbed his way back into the King's favour after the executions of his children, Jane knew she had to dust herself off and move on. Jane's family were staunch Catholics, and supporters of Catherine of Aragon and the Princess Mary. There were many staunch Catholics in the country, and at court, who had been appalled at the religious changes being wrought on the country due to the King's infatuation with Anne Boleyn. Jane would have been doubly mortified due to her own husband's heavy involvement in the changes sweeping the country. She may have forgiven him for any infidelities; she may have forgiven him for his long absences; perhaps, however, she found his commitment to religious reform too much and it soured the marriage. However, there is no irrefutable evidence to confirm that it was the troubled marriage of fiction. *George and Jane were not twenty-first century sentimentalists; they were people of their time.*"
In fiction she has been portrayed as a vicious, amoral woman but there is no evidence she and George hated each other or that she testified against him. Both her and George as they point out below, were products of their times:
“George Boleyn mainly benefited from the offices and positions of trust and responsibility to which he was appointed and his wife’s social position increased vicariously. She revolved in circles that would never have been open to her without the advantage of her marriage to a highly successful courtier. In addition to this, through that marriage, she was about to become sister-in-law to the King of England. Whether she was happy with this last honour is debatable. Jane Boleyn’s court career blossomed following her husband’s execution. She was prepared to continue in her role of lady-in-waiting to Henry’s next wife, Jane Seymour, and she seems to have had a good relationship with the Princess Mary. Her ability to separate herself emotionally from her husband’s death, and more importantly from the circumstances of her husband’s death, may suggest that by 1536 the couple were not particularly close; or it could simply be Jane’s survival instinct. Just as Thomas Boleyn climbed his way back into the King’s favour after the executions of his children, Jane knew she had to dust herself off and move on. Jane’s family were staunch Catholics, and supporters of Catherine of Aragon and the Princess Mary. There were many staunch Catholics in the country, and at court, who had been appalled at the religious changes being wrought on the country due to the King’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn. Jane would have been doubly mortified due to her own husband’s heavy involvement in the changes sweeping the country. She may have forgiven him for any infidelities; she may have forgiven him for his long absences; perhaps, however, she found his commitment to religious reform too much and it soured the marriage. However, there is no irrefutable evidence to confirm that it was the troubled marriage of fiction. *George and Jane were not twenty-first century sentimentalists; they were people of their time.*”

Nor is there any evidence that he was a homosexual.

Mark Smeaton and George Boleyn were portrayed as lovers in the hit drama "the Tudors". The Tudors went with popular myth and with historian Warnicke. But reality is different.  "The ridiculous notion that she [Jane Parker] believed the allegations against her husband because she was aware that he was homosexual and that he also subjected her to "sexual practices that outraged her" 14 does not have a single scrap of evidence to support it. This idea relies on Cavendish's poetry, Metrical Visions, and George's own scaffold speech. Metrical Visions has George talk of his "unlawful lechery" and his "living bestial", and go on to say that "shame restrains me the plains to confess, / Least the abomination would all the world infect." 15 To suggest that George is talking about homosexuality here is to take these phrases totally out of context. When the whole verse is read, Cavendish is clearly speaking of the incest charge: "For which by the law, condemned am I doubtless". Cavendish's verses on Henry VIII talk of Henry's "unlawful lechery" and his verses on Thomas Culpeper, Catherine Howard's alleged lover, have Culpeper warning his fellow courtiers of their "bestiality". It is clear that Cavendish is talking not about homosexuality but about adultery. In his scaffold speech, George refers to himself as "a wretched sinner" and "a perverse sinner", but he is simply following the usual scaffold etiquette, accepting that he is a sinner deserving of death. It was considered honourable for the convicted man to accept death as he deserved."
Mark Smeaton and George Boleyn were portrayed as lovers in the hit drama “the Tudors”. The Tudors went with popular myth and with historian Warnicke. But reality is different.
“The ridiculous notion that she [Jane Parker] believed the allegations against her husband because she was aware that he was homosexual and that he also subjected her to “sexual practices that outraged her” 14 does not have a single scrap of evidence to support it. This idea relies on Cavendish’s poetry, Metrical Visions, and George’s own scaffold speech. Metrical Visions has George talk of his “unlawful lechery” and his “living bestial”, and go on to say that “shame restrains me the plains to confess, / Least the abomination would all the world infect.” 15 To suggest that George is talking about homosexuality here is to take these phrases totally out of context. When the whole verse is read, Cavendish is clearly speaking of the incest charge: “For which by the law, condemned am I doubtless”. Cavendish’s verses on Henry VIII talk of Henry’s “unlawful lechery” and his verses on Thomas Culpeper, Catherine Howard’s alleged lover, have Culpeper warning his fellow courtiers of their “bestiality”. It is clear that Cavendish is talking not about homosexuality but about adultery. In his scaffold speech, George refers to himself as “a wretched sinner” and “a perverse sinner”, but he is simply following the usual scaffold etiquette, accepting that he is a sinner deserving of death. It was considered honourable for the convicted man to accept death as he deserved.”
Finally, George’s last words and his image immortalized by his friend Thomas Wyatt is one that brings the reader to tears.

“There are a number of different versions of George’s speech, but they all agree on the basic content. Only Chapuys has George confessing that he deserved death for “having so contaminated and so contaminating others with the new sects”, and praying everyone to abandon such heresies. That is clearly not what he said, and is more a matter of wishful thinking by Chapuys. 2 After stepping on to the scaffold, George addressed the crowd: I was born under the law, and I die under the law, for as much as it is the law which has condemned me. According to two eyewitnesses, he said this three times, almost as if he were collecting his thoughts before continuing. But there was another reason. To say he died “under the law”, rather than admitting his guilt, was the closest he dared go to declaring his innocence. Therefore, he ensured the point was reiterated to the vast crowd of spectators, many of whom knew him personally. He went on to say that he was not there to preach a sermon but to die. He told the vast crowd that he deserved death because he was a wretched sinner who had grievously and often offended. He did not relate his sins, telling the crowd that they would derive no pleasure from hearing them, and that he would derive no pleasure from stating them. He merely said that God knew them all. He warned everyone present to use him as an example, especially his fellow courtiers. He warned them “not to trust in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flatterings of the Court, and the favour and treacheries of Fortune”, which he said raised men up only to “dash them again upon the ground”. He blamed fortune for his current pitiful condition – or rather, he blamed himself, saying he had leaned too heavily on fortune, “who hath proved herself fickle and false unto me”. He said he prayed for the mercy of God, and that he forgave all men. He begged forgiveness of God and of anyone he might have offended. He begged those present to ask anyone not there to forgive him if he had offended them, and he told them that “having lived the life of a sinner, I would fain die a Christian man.””

The Golden Lion & the White Falcon

The Tudor Rose with the White Falcon (Anne Boleyn's adopted badge after her Butler ancestry) and the two best known portrayals of her by Genevive Bujold in "Anne of a Thousand Days", her Hever Portrait, and Natalie Dormer as her in "The Tudors".
The Tudor Rose with the White Falcon (Anne Boleyn’s adopted badge after her Butler ancestry) and the two best known portrayals of her by Genevive Bujold in “Anne of a Thousand Days”, her Hever Portrait, and Natalie Dormer as her in “The Tudors”.

Katherine was a pretty girl, with a pleasing face and long reddish-gold hair that she had inherited from her English ancestors (Starkey, 2003:57). The people of England were enchanted with her and decorated London to welcome their future Queen in a grand style. Katherine further endeared herself to both the court and the populace by trying very hard to be friendly and to embrace the customs of her adopted country … Without a doubt, Katherine was utterly dedicated to Henry, whom she loved with an unceasing passion. He could not have asked for a more doting and loving Queen … Anne Boleyn was the “It” girl of the Tudor court. What she lacked in idealized beauty she more than made up for sex appeal … Often the only currency and power that most women could truly call their own was the ability to attract and influence powerful men. Her reputation as a Tudor Jezebel is also decidedly unwarranted since there is no evidence she ever had premarital or extramarital sex.”

This is Kyra Kramer’s commentary on Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s first and second Consorts and most notorious Queens. Regarding the latter, Anne Boleyn has been seen as a temptress, a mean girl and among many other things as an obnoxious and pretentious woman. In The Other Boleyn Girl by Philipa Gregory, she is out to get to Henry simply to get back at her sister and for her own frustrations for not being allowed to be with her “true love” Henry Percy. While Licence, Kramer (as above stated), Ives, Ridgway, Fraser, Starkey, Loades, among others, have done their best to dispel these malicious rumors; people continue to be divided on where to stand with Anne. Is she a temptress, the owner of her sexuality unlike the other dull and repressed women who should be admire because of that, or condemned? Or is the victim of her family’s manipulations -a merciless father and equally, if not more, merciless uncle?

It is easy to see our historical favorites in terms of good and evil but every one of us have good and evil, it is only a matter of how we project ourselves to others, or how others view us. As a believer in humans, rather than heroes and villains and made-believe constructs; I am interested finding the truth, and learning about the real Tudors. The real Anne Boleyn will continue to elude us -as her contemporaries- simply because there is not a lot on her as we would like. The information we have allows us to piece together some of her puzzle. Anne Boleyn, educated at a young age (possibly thirteen if the 1501 birthdate is correct) at the castle of Mechelen in the Archduchess Margaret’s court, and later in France; she was a cosmopolitan woman who caught the attention of courtiers and intellectuals alike.

Henry VIII’s court was the epitome of a renaissance court. Sir Thomas More, his former tutor and one-time friend, praised the young king when he ascended to the throne. Erasmus also wrote favorably of him. The king was an athletic, handsome young man, and when he started to pursue Anne, he was still good looking and excelling at every sport (which included tennis and jousting). While Anne was not beautiful in the traditional sense, it is likely that what appealed to Henry was her charm, etiquette and her knowledge. The king always had a thing for pretty and intelligent women. His current wife was his equal in every way but given the strain she had been put in, she had lost her figure and she was no longer the young, buxom bride Henry had married. Henry still paid homage to her and treated her with respect. Nevertheless, as the King started to court Anne, his need for a son became greater.

It is not clear when Anne began to entertain the idea of becoming Queen of England. If he proposed it first, or she insinuated it to him. Whoever did, once the idea entered their minds, Henry pressed Wolsey for a divorce. Wolsey, who became the scapegoat of the nobles who were beginning to side with the king and Anne over the other faction that remained loyal to Katherine; could do little. As cunning as he was, he still responded to the pope and his inability to do as the King wished, became his undoing.

Anne Boleyn's Coronation from "Wolf Hall" (2015)
Anne Boleyn’s Coronation from “Wolf Hall” (2015)

When Anne was crowned Queen, she was crowned in a ceremony that rivaled her predecessor. And in many ways it was more spectacular since Anne was the first Queen in many years who was crowned with the Crown of St. Edward the Confessor. After the ceremony she donned the crown of the Confessor for a smaller one and went to Whitehall to celebrate with the King. As was customary, the King was not present for his wife’s coronation. Anne was heavily pregnant with their first child. Everyone hoped it would be a boy. Antonia Fraser writes that if it had been a boy, the pope who was yet indecisive, would have declared in their favor or at the very least recognized this boy as the King’s heir above Mary and things would have been better for Katherine of Aragon’s daughter. Alas! It was not to be. Anne and Henry’s first and only child turned out to be a girl, and Henry as courteous as he had always been, replied to Anne after he visited her, the same reply he had given her predecessor when she had presented him with a girl. “We are young still … If we can have a healthy daughter, then we can have a healthy son.”

But as it turned out to be when he said it to Katherine, a false prophecy. Anne had two, possibly three miscarriages. Her last miscarriage was days after she and Henry had celebrated the Queen or as they called her now “Princess Dowager” death. It was a great blow to them, but they remained together.

Up until this point, Henry was becoming desperate and annoyed with Anne’s intervention into his private life. She knew that just as he had raised her, he could make her fall, and she was possibly afraid (and not without good reason) that another lady in waiting would do the same thing she did. Henry however told her that she should behave as those before her had done and take it. Anne was not going to take it. She did not want to tolerate Henry’s affairs as Katherine was forced to put up with them; yet she was forced to.

After Henry’s fall from his joust, many say that his humor began to change and he became cruel. But he had already turned cruel since last year after the executions of Fisher and More. Could it be as Kramer said, that just as he was a Kell Positive Blood Type, this could have led to him developing McLeod Syndrome? If this is true, then it does explain for many things. The condition as she explains develops when the person is in his forties . Henry was more than forty when this condition developed; it meant a drastic change of his personality and this is when the image of the tyrant comes to play, taking over his previous, illustrious image of the accomplish, handsome, young and erutide prince who was so widely praised by his people and foreigners alike.

Regardless of what caused it, I am sure there will be much more research done about this. Personally, I think that Henry was a Kell Positive Blood Type -and this accounted for several of his wives’ miscarriages- and that this made him develop McLeod Syndrome, and that at the same time as he became corrupted with power, this made him worse. Henry was a combination of medical misfortunes and also of his own policies and power. As for Anne, there is no doubt that she was an accomplished and cosmopolitan woman, and one who had acquired a lot from the experience in the royal courts where she served great illustrious and pious mistresses. She introduced Henry to new books and the new faith, and while he did use it for his own advantage, in Anne and her brother’s mind who was another reformer, this was a great step forward for their religion nonetheless. As Ridgway and Cherry state in their biography on George Boleyn, Anne knew the risks, but she also did her best in her position, encouraging scholars who were like-minded as her, and her brother worked harder than any noble or any other member in Henry’s government, going to every meeting and overseeing everything.

“In 1534, during the fifth session of Parliament, George’s attendance rate was prodigious, particularly bearing in mind the fact that he was on a diplomatic mission abroad for a total of two months, and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from June onwards. Despite these other onerous duties, he attended more sessions in Parliament than many other Lords Temporal. Out of the Lords Temporal attending Parliament, only the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Wiltshire, George’s father, attended more frequently than George: on 45, 44, and 42 occasions respectively, with George appearing 41 times. The average attendance was just 22 out of 46. George’s high attendance demonstrates hi commitment to his own career, as well to Reform and to his sister’s cause.” (Cherry & Ridgway)

Their father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde  more conservative and moderate than his youngest children, introduced them to new ideas but as the product of Catholic rearing, he had a more pragmatic and gray approach and he entered into conflict with Anne regarding her own with members of the new faith. As a noblewoman she was taught that her maidenhead was everything. Without it she would be scorned and shunned. Vives, a scholar that Katherine of Aragon sponsored encouraged women to be wary of men and Anne’s book suggest that not only she read authors who agreed with him, but took his advice far more seriously than her sister and other ladies at the English court.

Charlotte Rampling and Keith Michell as the iconic couple in "Henry VIII and his Six Wives" (1972)
Charlotte Rampling and Keith Michell as the iconic couple in “Henry VIII and his Six Wives” (1972)

As usual we tend to get lost in the dramatic portrayals of these two figures, preferring these for the real ones but personally, I prefer the real ones because they were far more interesting and as stated above, they were complex individuals who were learned, passionate about their faith, and equally ambitious.

Sources:

  • George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Blood Will Tell by Kyra C. Kramer
  • Anne Boleyn Collection Vol. 1 and 2 by Claire Ridgway
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey