Wednesday, February 3

That Boleyn Girl

Anne Boleyn is an interesting figure in history though honestly, she isn't a favorite of mine. I'm more of a Abigail Adams kind of girl and Anne Boleyn was definitely no Abigail. She slept around, she started Henry on idea of reform (which ultimately led to his leaving the Catholic Church) and is arguably history's most famous homewrecker. But, since her life story reads like a soap opera and she met a really horrible end, I'll tell you about her.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn
Artist Unknown, Date Unknown

Anne was born in England in 1500 but spent her youth in France with her father Thomas Boleyn, an English diplomat. As a teenager, she soaked up the french language and culture as a lady in waiting for the Queen of France. She eventually moved back to England, became engaged to a English nobleman and joined the court of Henry VIII as a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. It was during this time that her sister Mary was taken as King Henry's mistress. That relationship didn't last long.

Henry VIIi introducing Anne Boleyn at Court
By British Painter William Hogarth, 18th century

Henry and Anne began their relationship in 1528, when Anne was 27 years old. (1) Anne aspired to be Queen and encouraged Henry to secure his divorce from Catherine by defying the Papacy. She is credited for persuading Henry to learn more about the reformation that was happening in Northern Europe. In the five years she was Henry's mistress, she proved to be quite ambitious and politically outspoken, which was unusual for women back then. As a result, she didn't make many friends at court. That would come back to haunt her.

Natalie Dormer as Anne Bolyen in The Tutors.
Another historical inaccuracy...Apparently the
real Anne wasn't exactly known for her good looks.

Henry did eventually get his divorce (he was king after all, he didn't need to listen to the Pope!) and he married Anne in 1533. She was 33 and he was 42. Anne gave birth the their daughter Elizabeth that same year. Though Henry did love her at first (original love letters from Henry to Anne are held at the Vatican Museum in Rome), he quickly grew tired of her. (2) She had a series of miscarriages and failed to produce a male heir and Henry had taken up with one of her ladies in waiting, Jane Seymour. (3) Jane eventually become Henry's 3rd wife.

In 1536, Anne was accused of adultery and she and four men, including her brother, were condemned to death. In the days leading up to her execution, Henry divorced her and declared Elizabeth a bastard.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower
By French painter Edouard Cibot c.1835
Musee Rolin, Autun, France

Anne was beheaded at the Tower of London by a French executioner rather than an English one (this was an act of mercy-- the French were much better at beheading people.) First hand written accounts say she accepted her fate with dignity, calmly addressing the crowd and praying aloud to God. You can read her speech, translated to modern english, here. She was buried in an unmarked grave. (4)

For more information about Anne, the Anne Boleyn Files is an excellent place to start. English writer Claire Ridgway's vast research on Bolyen's life is fantastic. And as I mentioned in my last post, Tudor History is also an amazing resource. Texas based writer Lara Eakins' passion for cataloging Tudor history online is nothing short of remarkable.

(1), Anne Boleyn Bio
(2) Ibid
(3) The Anne Boleyn Files, Miscarriages

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the background. So sad, though that she was buried in an unmarked grave especially since her daughter went on to be the queen.