British Royalty: Anne Boleyn (1505?-1536)


Figure 1.--.

Anne Boleyn is one of those historical figures that is known by almost everyone. Anne was queen for only 3 years, but he is among the most famous of all English queens. Her fames of course rests primarily for the fact that she was beheaded at the order of her husband, King Henry VIII. But her real importance rests on two less publicized matter. First Anne was a very determined young woman who fended off the king's advances, insisting on marriage. The result of course was the Protestant Reformation in England. Second she gave birth to Elizabeth, one of the most important moinarchs in English history. Anne was of nobel birth. She was the daughter of an ambitious knight and niece of the duke of Norfolk. Born in England, Anne spent her teen years in France. Returning to England her time in France made her stand out among other young women with her style. She was also reportedly witty and charming and although of low rank admired by young men. Anne entered the service of Queen Catherine, Henry VIII's wife. There is considerable historical debate as to when the king first noticed her, but finally he asked her to be his mistress. She rejectd him. She knew the king all to well. Anne's sister, Mary, had accepted the king's advances and been the his mistress. She profited little from the relationship and had been hurt by the ensuing scandal. While we do not know who first raised the issue of marriage, we do know that Anne evetually demanded marriage. It was only then that Henry began the struggle to have his marriage with Catherine annuled. Anne had to wait almost 7 years as Henry and his ministers wages a diplomatic ofensive to obtain a papal ruling annuling his marraige. He never succeeded and in the end Henry broke ith the Roman Church, launching theProtestant Reformation in Englnd. Anne and Henry wed secretly (1533). Unfortunately for Anne, she gave him a daughter, Elizabeth, rather than a son. Henry had her executed falsified charges of witchcraft, incest and adultery (1536). The Princess Elizabeth was to be her lasting legacy.

Importance

Anne Boleyn is one of those historical figures that is known by almost everyone. Anne was queen for only 3 years, but he is among the most famous of all English queens. Her fames of course rests primarily for the fact that she was beheaded at the order of her husband, King Henry VIII. But her real importance rests on two less publicized matter. First Anne fended off the king's advances, insisting on marriage. This suggests an extrodinarily determined character for a young girl in Tudor England. The result of course was the Protestant Reformation in England. Second she gave birth to Elizabeth, one of the most important monarchs in English history.

Parents

Anne was of nobel birth, but not from a family of high rank. The Bolynes were, however, a prosperous up and coming family. Anne was the daughter of an ambitious knight and niece of the duke of Norfolk. Her father was Sir Thomas Boleyn (1477- ), Earl of Wiltshire. His parents were Sir William Boleyn and Margaret Butler (1465- ). Her mothr was Elizabeth Howard. Her parents were Thomas Howard (1443- ), 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Elizabeth Tilney.

Siblings

There were three children, Mary, Anne, and George. Mary was the older sister. She was assigned to accompany Mary Tudor, Henry's sister, to France for her marriage with the French king. Anne accompanied her sister. Mary was to have an affair with Henry VIII, but was little rewarded fir it. Mary did not insist on marriage. George was the only boy and was to die with his sister. As a boy George served as a chaperon for his sister and the King. As a young man, his indescretions cost him his life.

Childhood

Anne was born in England, probably at Blickling Hall. Surprising for one of the most well known person in history, almost nothing his known about her childhood. She was a personal of so little regard that no one seems to have recorded her birth. There is considerable historical debate as to just when Anne was born. Many historians believe she was born about 1500-01, but others estimate her bithdate as later, perhaps 1507-09. One historian believes that 1505 is the most likely, in part because that Henry would have been unlikely to have been attracted by a young girl with many child bearing years in front of her. [Lofts, p. 10.]

Education

While we know virtully nothing about Anne's childhood, we do have information on her education. Anne's father believed in education and believed in educating his daughters as well as his son. Anne had a French governess, Simonette. Thus as a young girl se learned to speak French fluently. [Lofts, p. 11.]

France

Anne spent her teen years in France. It is here that Anne's name first appeared in the public record. Anne nd her sister Mary, accompany Mary Tudor to France for the marriage with Loui XII (1514). Their father not only aranged this, but found a place for their brother at Henry VIII's court as well. She was at the court of the Archduchess Margaret. She would probably have been at least 12-13 years at the time as this seems to have been the minimum age for a 'fille d'honneur'. Some historians, however, believe that she could hve been younger because of her heigth and ability to speak French. Later she went to household of Mary, Henry VIII's sister, who married King Louis XII of France in 1514. Anne's sister Mary was already attending Queen Mary (Tudor) when Anne arrived. After Louis died, Mary Boleyn returned to England along with Mary Tudor. Anne remained in France, however, to attend Claude, the new French queen. No details are available on why Anne was chosen. There certainly would have been any number of nobel French girls that would have liked to have their daugters place in the queen's court. There must have been something very special about Anne for, an English girl and a very young one to have been chose. The queen is said to have run her court like a nunnry. Ann also attended the quuen's more lively sister Marguerite--the Duchess of Alenšon. [Lofts, p. 19.] Anne remained in France for the an additional 6 or 7 years. Some believe that she attending the queen would have been at the famous meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of Cloth of Gold meeting. There is no evidence of this or any indication that Henry noticed her in the large retinue. It was during her time in the sophistcated French courts that anne learned to speak French fluently and developed sophisticated taste in clothing and hairstyles. She also became acomplished in both poetry and music.

Appearance and Personality

Returning to England her time in France made her stand out among other young women with her style. She was also reportedly witty and charming and was much admired. There are many varied despritions of Anne. Many describe her as moderately pretty. The Venetian Ambassador said she was 'not one of the handsomest women in the world...'. While accounts varied, clearly King Henry VIII found her extrodinarily attractive. Some writers claim that she had an extra finger on one hand. She olive-colored skin and thick black hair. Her brown eyes sometimes appeared black and are often mentioned in contemporary accounts. She was also noted for her temper, although this is usually noted after the affair with Henry VII began and she emerged as a poweful figure at court.

Return to England

Anne appears to have returned to England some time around 1522 or perhaps 1523 when war broke out between England and France. Her father was interested in a marriage to strengthen his clains to the English and irish Butler estates. But the negotiations were unsuccessful and the marriage with the Butler heir did not materialize. Anne father did manage to find Anne a place at cport. England was still rather backward in many ways and thus Anne's time at French courts made her stand out despite her relatively humble family. It was at this time that she began attending Queen Catherine. At Cout she appears to have had an affair with the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, although some believe it be only an enfatuation. Anne had a much more serious affair with Henry Percy.

Queen Catherine (Catherine of Aragon)

Catherine was older than Henry when the two married. From all accounts it was a successful marriage. Henry had no difficulties with Catherine and some tenderness developed between the two. There were several pregnancies. Catherine prided herself in being an obedient wife. She tolerated his infidelidies, not unusual for men at the time. Only the failure to produce a male heir disturbed him. Almost certainly there would have been no questio of divorce if there hadbeen a male heir. Anne entered the service of Queen Catherine, Henry VIII's wife. The first record of her at Court was at a masque on March 1, 1522, although some historians believe it may have been 1523. Caterine was extrmely religious and very pious. She did not, however, run her Court as a nunnery. Catherine ennjoyed card games, gambling for small stakes. She liked gaity and surrounded herself with lively, accomplished young women. Anne with her sophistication and fashionable style is the type of young women that would have appealed to her. These women of course attracted the attention of theyoung men in the King's household, and not infrequently the attentions of the King himself. [Lofts, p. 29.]

Henry Percy

When plans for her marriage did not work out, Anne became involved with Henry Percy, another rich heir. Percy asked her to marry him, but the engagemet was kept secret. Cardinal Wolsey ended the affair, although it is not known definitely why. It is known that Anne depised Wolsey, this may be part of the reason. Some speculate that Henry noticed the developing rlationship and wanted Percy out of the way. Some believe tht this wasunlikely. Wolsey ended the relationship (1522) several years before he King began to take a serious interest in Anne (1526). Much about Anne is not known with any certainty, in part because there is no consensus over many of the dates. One biographer is certain that it was the King ho was behind Wolsey ending the affair. [Lofts, p. 30.] Whatever Wolsey's motivation, surely Anne's hatred of him began at this point. Percy appears to have been the love of her life. Anne had to leave Court. She returned home heart broken and enraged. Her father must have been disappointed that his younger daughter. as did his older daughter Mary, returned home in disgrace from Court. [Lofts, p. 32.] He had no idea at the time, nor did Anne, that she had caught the King's eye.

Hever Castle

It was with some surprise that Thomas Boleyn, Anne's father, learned that the King was coming to visit him at his home--Herver Castle. The King visiting such a humble family home wasunusual. If there had been business between the two, the King would have normally simply summoned Sir Thomas. He reportedly ordered Anne to her bed chambers. [Lofts, p. 34.] It was soon clear why Henry came. It was Anne who had first rejected his antentions. Henry persisted and there were numerous trips to Hever.

Henry VIII

No one knows with any certainty just when and where Henry VIII first noticed Anne. ome believe that it was as early as 1523. [Lofts, p.9.] It appears that the king wanted Anne to quietly become his mistrss as her sister Mary had been several years earlier. Anne rejected him. She knew the king all to well. Anne's sister, Mary, had accepted the king's advances and been the his mistress. She profited little from the relationship and had been hurt by the ensuing scandal.

Attraction

One of the interesting questions about Anne was what so attracted Henry. She was attractive, but not a ravishing beauty. She ws stylish and witty. Yet there wee many other such young women at court. Some of them more beautiful than Ann and more compliant. One historian believes that it was Anne's determintion that attracted Henry. Since becoming king, Henry was catered to by Wolsey, his court, and Catherine. He was not accustomed to being denied anything. Anne rejection and then determintion to to relent without marriage may have just acted to cause Henry to desire Anne more than any other woman in his life. [Lofts, pp. 34-35.] Henry was later to claim that he had been bewitched--a serious though in an age where many still believed in witches and burned them at the stake.

Divorce

It is not known who first raised the question of marriage, but eventually it Anne insisted that she would not be a mistress and demanded marriage. She had a example to harken back to. Henry's grandmother, the commoner Elkizabeth Woodville had insisted on marriage with Edward IV--but Edward was unmarried. Marriage with Anne would mean that he would first have to divorce Catherine. The budding relationship was no secret. Henry had a steady string of mistresses and court gossip assumed that Anne was only the latest. The King's decission was not divorce, buth rther to have his marriage wuth Catherine annulled--as it have never taken place. Many were shocked when the king began to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine which would leave him free to marry again (1527). As far as we can tell, Henry was more passionate about Anne than in any other woman in his life. The king did not like writing and few of his letters have survived. There are, however 17 letters to anne that have been preserved in the Vatican library. Anne had to wait almost 7 years as Henry and his ministers wages a diplomatic ofensive to obtain a papal ruling annuling his marraige.

Anne Returns to Court

Gradually Henry droped an pretense of discretion and Anne began to emerge as a force of court (1528). Anne was not just a pretty face as we would say today. In particular she appears to have been interested in issues of religious reform. Henry himself appears to have had more orthodox views on religion. The Protestant Reformation had begun in Germany (1517) and Anne may have discussed some of these new ideas with Henry. There was no doubt about Anne's relationship with the king. Henbry held court at Greenwich for Christmas and Anne was given choice nice apartments near the kings's apartments. Neither Henry nor Anne had anticipated the problems associated with obtaining a papal dispensation. The legal debates and proceedings. Anne was frustrated. There were even sharp words between her and the king in public. The king created Anne Marquess of Pembroke (1532). She was given a prominent position when Henry and the French King met at Calais.

Popularity

Anne was never a popular figure in England. The King was smitten by her, but not the rest of the court. Many considered an outsider. Some did not like her French ways. Others disliked her religious. But most of all here influence over the King were resented. Queen Catherine was respected and Anne's insistance on marriage was seen as outrageous. At court Anne was given precedence over ladies of highr rank, even the king's on sister Mary. Of course while she was in favor, such opinins could not be opemly voiced. Anne was not humble about her new status. he had been hurt by her low status at in Catherine's court and her dismissal because of Percy. Thus she appears to have flounted her new status over ladies of higher rank. She seemed tothink that with the King's favor she was invulnerable. This all made her a very unpopular figure.

Marriage

Anne bgan to fear that Henry might reconsile with Catherine as it became increasingly clear that the pope would not annul the marriage. She apparently decided that she should what she could to make an advantageous marriage. Anne finally gave way to Henry's entraties (late 1532). Anne's pregnacy forced Henry's hand. Hoping that the child might be a boy, Henry did not want any questions of the child's legitimacy. The only possibility was thus marriage. About St. Paul's Day (January 25, 1533), Anne and Henry secretly married. At the time Henry was still married to Catherine. Henry's attitude was that his marriage to Catherine was invalid and thus never existed thus he had every right to marry.

Protestant Reformation

Archbishop Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine invalid invalid (1533). Henry having failed to gain a dispensation from the pope, saw that the only recourse was to break with the Roman Church. This in effect launched the Protestant Reformation in England. Here the legal issues were less important than the fact that Emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew, with his military power was suchba threat, that the pope did not dare grant the dispensaion that Henry sought.

Corronation

The next step was Anne's coronation. Anne was brought by barge on the Thames from Greenwich to the Tower of London to prepare for the coronation. She was outfitted in gold cloth. There were barges stretching four miles down the river. She traveled in a procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey (June 1, 1533). There she was crowned and anointed Queen. Archbishop Cranmer presided over te ceremony.

Children

Henry was extremely excited as Anne's pregnacy progressed. He an Anne wee even choosing names, boys' names of course. Edward and Henry were the leading candidates. The child was born and to Henry's dissappointment was a girl (August 26, 1533). The christening service for the Princess Elizabeth was less elaborate than had been planned, but will still an impressive affair. Anne knew very well that her future was dependant on producung a son for Henry. She was soon pregnant but the baby was either miscarried or stillborn (January and June 1534). Another pregnany resulted in a miscarrige of a boy (1535). She must have known that the failure was a threat to her life, because she was aware that the king was beginning to turn his attention to one of her adies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.

Thomas Cromwell

As the Henry's infatuation began to wain, Anne's enemies at court could now be more bold. They saw that the way to undo Anne was to encourage the king's relationship with Seymour. Cromwell in particular moved against Anne. He persuaded the Henry to apprive an investigation. Mark Smeaton, a mild-mannered musician and friend of Anne was arrested. Under torture he made shocking 'revelations' (April 30, 1536). Cromwell aggressively persued the investigation. He had Sir Henry Norris and the Queen's brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford arrested.

Arrests

Finall the king approved the arrest of the Queen herself at Greenwich (May 2, 1536). The charges agins her included: adultery, incest and plotting to murder the King. She was confided in the Tower. Other arrests followed, Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton were both charged with commiting adultery with the Queen--meaning treason. Sir Thomas Wyatt was arrested, but eventually released. Norris, Smeaton, Weston, and Brereton were tried at Westminster Hall (May 12, 1536). As the charge was treason, the accused were not permitted to defend themselves. They were judged guilty and the senctence was hanging and then before they died to be disemboweled and quartered.

Trial

Finally the Queen's turn came. She and her brother were tried at the Great Hall of the Tower of London (May 15, 1536). As many as 2,000 people may have attnded. Anne calmly denyed all the charges. Her brother's trial followed. Cromwell arranged for his wife to testifying against him. (She was later involved in the Kathryn Howard) scandal. Both were found guilty on flimsy eviudence, much of it coersed. Cromwell even arranged for their uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk to read the sentence. They were sentenced to be burnt at the stake (which was the punishment for incest) or beheaded, at the king's discretion.

Executions

The first execution was George Boleyn was ws beheaded on Tower Hill (May 17). The other four men who had been condemned with the Queen had their sentences commuted to a simple beheading, siple that is compared to being drawn and quartered. They were beheaded along with Lord Rochford. Anne turned hysterical. She learned that an expert swordsman from Calais would carry out the execution.At this time she made the oft repeated comment about her 'little neck'. Tthe Queen's marriage to the King was dissolved and declared to have been invalid. Legally thus charges of adultry were moot, but the law was necver the central issue. Anne's execution was done in private on Tower Green (May 19). The Queen had recovered her composure by this time. She was dressed in a red petticoat under a loose, grey damask fur trimmed gown. Covering this was an ermine mantle. Her long hair was done in a white linen coif. She was allowed a short speech. Then executioner severed her head with one stroke. Most at the time thought that few wouth remember the Queen. In fact she is one of the most famous quuens in English history and the Princess Elizabeth was to be her lasting legacy.

Sources

Lofts, Norah. Anne Boleyn (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan: New York, 1979), 192p.






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Created: September 29, 2003
Last updated: September 30, 2003