Anne Boleyn, Queen Consort of England, was raised high among her betters, from the lowest reaches of the aristocracy, to the very top. She was made Queen and second wife to the infamous Henry VIII of England. She was also the woman behind the religious reformation in England and the split from the Church of Rome. More notable than Black
Nan’s (her nickname given to her by her enemies) rise to power, was her fall.
Anne Boleyn was the daughter of minor nobility, especially on her father’s side. Sir Thomas Boleyn came to notice during the reign of Henry VII and was a diplomat of the king. Anne Boleyn’s mother, Lady Elizabeth Howard, was far more prestigious, as she was the daughter of Lord Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Regardless, Anne grew up in a pretty modest household considering. Even her education was pretty basic, probably because she was girl and her main use was to marry as great as she possibly could in order to bring more wealth to her family seat. All women of Anne’s social standing had such ambitions, Anne would probably have been no different. Despite a basic education though, Anne, was known to be rather intelligent, well read, and witty. This would be her most attractive feature, as Anne was not considered the ideal beauty of the time. Anne was rather thin, with dark hair and eyes, when the era tended to favor fair (as in golden or red haired) and voluptuous ladies.
Despite her unconventional looks, Anne managed to attract some very prestigious suitors. She was even in hit in the French court when she and her sister, Mary Boleyn, were sent there to wait upon the French queen. Unlike her sister, Anne remained flirtatious, but virtuous. Her sister began to earn a questionable reputation, so she was recalled from France and forced to marry before she could do too much damage, not only to herself, but to her sister as well. We only know that it wasn’t until about 1522 that Anne was also recalled back to England, as a match was found for her in James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond.
By the time Anne arrived in England, her sister Mary was the mistress of Henry VIII. It’s not known for certain but marriage plans with Butler were abandoned and Anne began to be courted by someone even better. Henry Percy, son and heir to the Earl of Northumberland. Probably because of Anne’s low birth, the couple courted in secret and were secretly betrothed. Henry Percy was head over heels for Anne. So much so that he risked the anger of his father and king. Earls of Northumberland were very important and it was the king’s prerogative to marry such important peerages as he saw fit. It is suspected that either the King or Cardinal Wolsey (the King’s Lord Chancellor) got wind of what was going on and put an end to the engagement. It was even assumed that the King, already done with Mary Boleyn, took notice of Anne and was furious about the betrothal- and not just for political reasons (though those certainly did exist).
For a time, Anne’s father sent her from court, maybe so the King’s temper could cool. It was probably around this time that she struck up a questionable friendship with the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt. Thomas did not hide the fact that most of his love poems were written about Anne Boleyn. It was common knowledge and gossip around the court. Whether there was anything to this flirtation is not known, as when Anne discovered the King’s romantic interest in her, she tried to cut all ties with Wyatt. This led him to write heart broken/longing poetry about the unattainable love he had for Mistress Anne Boleyn.
Anne was summoned back to court to attend Queen Catherine as one of her ladies in waiting. It would not be long before the queen and the whole court would learn that the king was trying to woo the Lady Anne. At first the Queen ignored the affair, like she always did. Henry VIII had many mistresses in the past and bored rather quickly of them all, including Lady Anne’s sister. The king even had an acknowledged bastard son with one of his previous mistresses. It was beneath the dignity of a Queen to trifle over such things.
However, time went on and the king was still not bored with Lady Anne. It was even said that the Lady Anne was nothing like previous mistresses. She refused to fornicate with the king. She honored her virtue and said she would only be intimate with her husband, whomever he may be in her future. Anne was playing a game and she was determined to win. When the Queen went into menopause all of the good cards to play were in Anne’s hands. Anne seduced and enchanted the king with promises that her youth could bring. The promise of sons. If he could annul his marriage with the queen and marry her, she could give him many legitimate sons. The king was caught in her web and determined to marry her.
The King was not getting the annulment he desired and needed since the Pope was a political prisoner of the Queen’s nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. This is when the English Church broke with the Church of Rome, thus becoming the Church of England. Catherine was tossed aside and their daughter was declared illegitimate. Queen Catherine had once been married to King Henry’s brother. It considered incestuous to marry the widow of one’s brother, and an earlier papal dispensation that was granted should have never been. At least according to Henry who was now Head of the Church in England. This was to the disapproval of most of Henry’s subjects who loved Queen Catherine and Princess Mary. Henry married Anne Boleyn and crowned her his new Queen consort. Even most of the nobility was shocked. Anne had caught the greatest prize of all.
Anne was seen as a Protestant Lutheran sympathizer, and Catherine was seen as a pious Catholic. Battle lines were being drawn, and people were taking sides. Although Henry split from the Church of Rome, he still condemned the teachings of Martin Luther. In fact, the Church of England remained almost exactly like the Catholic church, only minus papal authority. The king was the only master in England. It was still very dangerous to be a Lutheran, but in the closet Lutheran’s saw Anne as their champion. The devout Catholics saw Anne are their enemy. Anne probably just wanted what she wanted. Perhaps she was intrigued by Luther’s teachings and whispered some things into the kings ear, but Anne was anything but stupid. She knew that to be seen as a Lutheran sympathizer would be the end.
Being the king’s object of desire and passion as his unrelenting mistress was one thing, being his wife and queen was another. Anne Boleyn, from humble beginnings, had no idea what she had got herself into. She did not have the education, the bearing, or the preparation that Catherine had. Anne was expected to deliver on her promises. She became pregnant immediately, but she too gave birth to a princess, Elizabeth Tudor. Anne was probably horrified, as she had been boasting and gloating that the baby would surely be a son. Despite this disappointment, Anne’s pregnancy went smoothly and Elizabeth was born healthy and strong. The King was assured that their next child would be a son.
It could be that Anne was too confident in the power she thought she had over the king (probably another fault of her low birth and upbringing). Whatever it was, Anne was beginning to be a shrew of a wife. She, unlike Catherine, voiced her outrage over the kings mistresses… publicly. She demeaned and verbally abuse the king in front of his subjects. She especially flew into a rage when the king began to court her lady in waiting, Lady Jane Seymour. She also had two miscarriages (both of them sons). In fact, the last one was even deformed.
The king finally had enough and gathered his men about him and told them to find a way to free him of his wife, and this time do a quick and thorough job of it. He wanted to marry Jane Seymour and did not want any delays or issues later on. Divorce was not an option. Thomas Cromwell, the kings new chief minister and former ally of Anne, was forced to “get rid of that woman.”
Anne was doomed and she had no idea until she was arrested. An investigation was launched and some of her attendants were questioned. George Boleyn (her brother), Mark Smeaton (her personal musician), Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Bereton (all courtiers), and even the poet Thomas Wyatt were all arrested. Thomas Wyatt was later released, but the others were charged with carnal knowledge of the Queen. The Queen was also charged with witchcraft. Adultery of a Queen was considered treason, as an illegitimate child (or suspected one) would destabilize the throne and cause unrest and succession wars. A queen had to be very careful and always remain above reproach. Anne’s flirtatious manner, even though innocent and once part of her charm was her undoing in the end. The punishment for this kind of charge was execution for the Queen and all of those involved. A charge of witchcraft was usually punished by burning at the stake. Historians firmly believe that all peoples charged in this case were innocent.
It was said that Anne watched the execution of her own brother from the tower window, where she was being detained. Even her own uncle and father threw her and her brother to the wolves in order to save themselves. There were accounts that Anne was delirious at times awaiting her execution, that she joked saying that she would soon be known as Anne Lack-Head, and then made comments that at least she had a little neck. The king maybe feeling a little guilty and merciful (or whatever), sent for a French swordsman executioner so Anne would be beheaded swiftly and cleanly. There was a delay in his arrival which caused Anne to fret and suffer bouts of mad laughter and make other dark sinister jokes about her impending death. Her lady attendants and her jailer, who initially were not fans of hers even began to pity her. It was obvious to many people what was really going on. The king wanted to remarry and Anne was being wrongfully accused and murdered. People who despised Anne before, now sympathized with her and saw her as victim.
It was written that Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, went to her death as regally, gracefully as a true Queen. In the end, she had the bearing and dignity she seemed to lack before hand. In her final words she chose not to say one word against the king and as promised she was quickly beheaded. Some people even cried for her. Some were displeased by the way her body was handled, just thrown unceremoniously in a wooden box.
Anne Boleyn gave birth to England’s greatest reigning queen, Elizabeth I. One daughter was all she needed for a legacy so impressive.
Anne Boleyn final words:
“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”
All the poems written about her by Sir Thomas Wyatt, and all the love letter written to her by Henry VIII still survive and can be read. They are worth looking into.