Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and therefore a queen of England. In order to marry Anne, the English king broke away from Rome and formed the Church of England. Henry had hoped that Anne would provide him with a male heir. When this failed, however, Henry lost interest in her and began having affairs with other women. Eventually, Anne was tried for adultery, incest, and high treason, found guilty, and executed.
When Was Anne Boleyn Born?
Anne Boleyn was born between 1501 and 1507. The Boleyn family is recorded to have had humble origins in the Norfolk village of Salle. Her great grandfather was Geoffrey Boleyn, who was a hatter in London during the 1430s.
In 1457, Geoffrey was appointed the Mayor of London , and by the time of his death, had become part of the gentry. Anne’s father was Sir Thomas Boleyn, a courtier and diplomat, while her mother was Elizabeth, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk .
Anne spent her childhood and adolescence in Europe. Part of her childhood was spent at the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria, the regent of the Netherlands. After that, she was sent to France, where she served in the household of Mary, the sister of Henry VIII and the wife of the French King, Louis XII. After the death of the king, Anne remained in France for six or seven years more serving the new queen, Claude.
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Anne Boleyn – A Lady-in-Waiting
In 1522, Anne returned to England and was appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon , the wife of Henry VIII. At court, she soon became popular among the young men. Anne was not considered to have been an exceptionally beautiful woman. She is said to have had a large mole on the side of her neck and an extra finger on her left hand.
Nevertheless, it was her sharp wit and charm that earned her admiration. By 1523 Anne was betrothed to Henry Percy the son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland. The match, however, was refused by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and the couple never got married.
Anne’s sister, Mary, was also at the English court and the king had already had an affair with her. As a result of this, the Boleyn family was showered with gifts and titles. Sir Thomas Boleyn, for instance, was made Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, Anne and Mary’s brother George Boleyn was appointed to the Royal Privy Chamber. At some point in time, Henry VIII was enamored with Anne and began to pursue her.
King Henry and Anne Boleyn deer hunting in Windsor Forest. ( bridgeman / Public Domain )
King Henry VIII Favors Anne
Although Henry VIII had intended to make Anne his mistress, she would have none of that. Anne avoided the king and would only give in to his advances if she were made his queen. The major obstacle to this was the king’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, and Henry VIII initiated secret proceedings to obtain an annulment from her.
The king had grown tired of Catherine, whose failure to produce a male heir further worked against her favor. Nevertheless, Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and one of the most powerful men in Europe. Unwilling to offend the emperor, the pope Clement VII was unwilling to annul the marriage.
In 1533, Henry VIII took matters into his own hands, married Anne in a secret ceremony in January and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Anne was crowned queen in June of the same year and in September gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I . In the following year, the Act of Supremacy was passed, making Henry VIII the supreme head of the Church of England.
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, Wife of Henry VIII, Mother of Elizabeth I. (Lisby / Public Domain )
Henry VIII Loses Interest
If Henry VIII’s defiance of Rome signified his love for Anne, this passion was not to last. In 1534, Anne had a miscarriage and in 1536 the queen gave birth to a still-born male child. By this time, the king had lost interest in Anne and was already having affairs with other women, most notably Jane Seymour, one of the queen’s maids-of-honor. To make matters worse, due to Anne’s arrogant behavior she had made enemies at court and these were now plotting her downfall.
On May 2, 1536, Anne was arrested at Greenwich and taken to the Tower of London . She was charged with adultery, incest, and plotting to murder the king and was conveniently found guilty during the trial held on May 15. She was sentenced to be beheaded and an expert swordsman from Calais had been summoned to be her executioner. The sharp sword was supposed to deliver a cleaner cut compared to the traditional axe used for such executions.
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Anne Boleyn in the Tower. (Musée Rolin / Public Domain )
How Did Anne Die?
On the morning of May 19, Anne was taken to Tower Green where she was beheaded. Her remains were buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, the parish church of the Tower of London. When the chapel was renovated during the reign of Queen Victoria, Anne’s remains were identified and her final resting place is now marked in the marble floor.
Queen Anne before Decapitation - 16th century. ( Erica Guilane-Nachez / Adobe)
Anne Boleyn (about 1504–1536) was the second queen consort of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I.
Fast Facts: Anne Boleyn
- Known for: Her marriage to King Henry VIII of England led to the separation of the English church from Rome. She was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Anne Boleyn was beheaded for treason in 1536.
- Occupation: Queen consort of Henry VIII
- Dates: Probably about 1504 (sources give dates between 1499 and 1509)–May 19, 1536
- Also known as: Anne Bullen, Anna de Boullan (her own signature when she wrote from the Netherlands), Anna Bolina (Latin), Marquis of Pembroke, Queen Anne
- Education: Privately educated at her father's direction
- Religion: Roman Catholic, with humanist and Protestant leanings
A king at her feet
Born in 1501, Anne Boleyn had excellent training, serving as a lady-in-waiting to a French queen. In addition to courtly savoir faire and cultural refinement, she gained worldy sophistication at the courts of France. In 1533 Francis, the French king, told the Duke of Norfolk, in confidence, “how little virtuously Anne had always lived.” Henry VIII himself confessed to the Spanish ambassador, in 1536, that his wife had been “corrupted” in France and that he hadn’t discovered this until after they were married.
Anne quickly caught Henry’s eye when she returned to England in the early 1520s. She caused quite a stir: Beautiful and intelligent, she spoke French fluently and knew some Latin she wore the latest continental fashions, and used her flair for dancing to show them off. Henry declared his love for her in 1526, but she refused to be his concubine: She knew “how quickly the king tired of those who had served him as his beloveds.” Anne had greater ambitions: A marriage that would make her queen. She flirted with the monarch to stoke his passion while refusing to consummate their relationship. The letters the king wrote to her between 1527 and 1529 testify to the ardor she aroused in him. (This medieval woman outwitted and outlasted her rivals in France and England.)
For of necessity I must ensure me of this answer, having now been above one whole year struck with the dart of love, not being assured either of failure or of finding place in your heart and grounded affection. … But if it shall please you to … to give yourself up, heart, body and soul to me, who will be, and have been, your very loyal servant, I promise you that … I will take you for my only mistress, rejecting from thought and affection all others save yourself, to serve you only.
Boleyn replied: "Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of mine own unworthiness, and also because you have a queen already. Your mistress I will not be."
Undaunted, King Henry continued to pursue her, and their relationship, while still unconsumated, elevated Anne's status in the English court. Anne’s rise meant that Catherine of Aragon was increasingly marginalized but that wasn’t enough for Anne. On one occasion, after Henry had dined with Queen Catherine, Anne angrily and openly complained about the agonizing delays in annulling or dissolving the royal marriage. Anne even insinuated that she would leave Henry and declared that she was wasting her youth “to no purpose,” but the king’s annulment was a complex matter of state which bitterly polarized political and religious opinion. (This antique bought online may be Henry VIII's marriage bed.)
Her Time in the English Courts
It was during her time in the monarch’s court that Anne Boleyn started receiving admiration from court officials and high-ranking members of the society. At one point in time, the 6th Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, took interest in the Anne Boleyn. But for Henry VIII’s opposition, Percy and Anne Boleyn would have tied the knot. It is believed that the king opposed their marriage because he too had taken an interest in Anne and desired to marry her.
By the early 1520s, Henry VIII was heavily corresponding with Anne Boleyn, his wife’s maid of honor. But the king’s advances were met with point-blank rejection because Anne Boleyn desired only to be married.
Anne Boleyn’s response to Henry VIII’s initial advances
The rejection only added more fire to Henry’s desire to have Anne. He also reasoned that by marrying Anne he would be able to finally get the male heir that he so desperately wanted.
Besides, Henry’s wife, Queen Catherine, was bedeviled with miscarriages after miscarriages. In close to 26 years of marriage, the only child Catherine bore was a daughter – Princess Mary, born in 1516 (later Queen Mary I, “Bloody Mary”).
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For Kate, her destiny is tied to her past life as Anne. By writing her account of what happened, she will heal herself, and give valuable insights into the mind of one of history’s more intriguing characters (not to mention that of her ruthless husband, Henry).
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In profile: Anne Boleyn
Life: Anne Boleyn was educated in Brussels and Paris, before returning to England in 1522 to serve Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
She caused a stir at court, captivating both the heir to the earldom of Northumberland and the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, who called her ‘Fair Brunet’. By 1526 the king was also interested in the dark-haired young woman.
Anne had no intention of becoming the king’s mistress. Undeterred, Henry VIII bombarded her with letters, professing himself “stricken with the dart of love”. In May 1527 he began his long attempt to secure a papal annulment of his marriage to Catherine.
Anne was soon queen in all but name. She was now a political figure, instrumental in the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529. On 1 September 1532 she was created Lady Marquis of Pembroke, giving her sufficient status to accompany Henry on a visit to France the following month.
She fell pregnant shortly afterwards, with the couple marrying in secret on 25 January 1533. But although finally married, Henry still needed to disentangle himself from Catherine of Aragon.
Anne, understandably, was anti-papal. She brought Simon Fish’s anti-clerical The Supplication of Beggars to Henry’s attention. He put increasing pressure on the clergy, forcing them to accept him as ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’ in 1531.
In early 1533 Thomas Cranmer, a Boleyn family chaplain and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, repudiated his allegiance to the pope, before annulling Henry’s first marriage and crowning Anne.
On 7 September 1533 Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth.
Within months of their wedding Henry was unfaithful, informing Anne that “she must shut her eyes, and endure as well as more worthy persons, and that she ought to know that it was in his power to humble her again in a moment more than he had exalted her”.
When Anne miscarried a son shortly after Catherine of Aragon’s death in January 1536, he declared ominously that “he would have no more boys by her”. He had already fallen in love with Jane Seymour, and was soon looking to end his marriage.
On 30 April 1536, under torture, a musician named Mark Smeaton confessed to a sexual relationship with Anne. Two days later the queen was arrested for adultery and incest, and taken to the Tower of London.
Anne, her brother, Smeaton and three other men were convicted on trumped-up charges, with the men executed on 17 May. That same day, the royal marriage was annulled.
On 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn walked to a scaffold on Tower Green. After making a short speech, she knelt as a French swordsman – sent for as a small act of mercy by the king – stepped up behind her and severed her head with one blow.
The death of Anne Boleyn shocked her contemporaries. As well as her involvement in religious reform, her greatest legacy is her daughter, Elizabeth I, who became one of England’s greatest monarchs.
The Life and Legacy of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn, second wife to King Henry VIII, and mother to future queen of England, Elizabeth I, is one of the most famous and controversial women in Tudor England. Her life and legacy has sparked hundreds of books, as well as numerous TV shows and movies. Most paint her as an evil, jealous woman who simply wanted to be Queen, but the real woman was far more relatable and contemporary than you may think.
The oldest daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard, Anne was brought up in a life of privilege. Since her father was an important diplomat, she had the opportunity to live in the royal court of Austria as a young girl before living at the court of France. There, she received a broad education in religion as well as languages which would make a lasting impact on her life.
In 1521, Anne returned to England, and entered the service of Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Ironically enough, it was her sister, Mary, who first caught the eye of King Henry. Mary was Henry’s mistress for many years, despite the fact that she was married, and it is possible that her two children were fathered by him, though he never publically recognized either of them. During this time, Anne herself was busy being courted by Henry Percy, the son of a noble. It is said that the two even had a secret engagement, but since neither family were accepting of this, Anne was sent away to her family’s country home, while Henry Percy married another woman.
When she finally returned to court and to the service of the Queen, she finally caught Henry’s attention in 1526. She was smart and witty, and he quickly became enamored with her, even going so far as to offer her the title of Maîtresse-en-titre, his “official mistress.” Such a title would have given her privileges such as servants and her own housing, but she refused him, possibly because of how Henry had put her sister aside when she had been his mistress. Indeed the couple did not consummate their relationship for seven years, and Anne was very set in her ways she would become his wife, but not his mistress.
During their seven year courtship, Henry worked furiously to get an annulment from his first marriage so that he might marry Anne, a process which would be widely known as “The King’s Great Matter.” The thing Henry desired most was a son, and that was something that Katherine had not given him, nor was she able to since she was much older than him. Both Henry and Anne figured that since Anne herself was younger, a son was something that could happen quite easily. The problems started when the Pope refused to grant Henry and annulment, so in 1532, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church permanently, creating the Church of England, and sparking the Protestant Reformation, a movement which Anne was greatly involved in. In doing so, he was able to annul his marriage, and he and Anne were married in 1533.
At the time of her marriage, Anne was heavily pregnant, but it would not the boy everyone so longed for. Instead it was a girl, which she named Elizabeth. Henry saw this as a personal attack against him, and soon Anne was beginning to fear for her own life, as Henry was becoming more cruel and unkind to her. Two miscarriages followed, and by this time, Henry was convinced that Anne had bewitched him into doing everything he’d done. In 1535, various men in Anne’s service were arrested and questioned about the Queen. In 1536, Anne and her brother, George, were also arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was charged with adultery and incest, though there was very little truth despite the “evidence” that the court had, and she was sentenced to death by beheading. Henry made no effort to defend her or to even save her.
Everyone had assumed that she would be granted mercy, as no English queen had ever been executed before. In one final act of compassion, Henry ordered for a French swordsman to deliver the blow instead of the usual man with an axe. On May 19 th , Anne stepped out onto the Tower Green, and was executed with one swift strike of the swordsman. She was buried at the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, her bones remaining there to this day.
The memorial plaque of Anne Boleyn at the church of St. Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London)
Seen as a truly evil woman by many people in Henry’s court, and even many people today, I disagree. She was ambitious and cunning, traits which no good English woman was allowed to have and maintain a good reputation. Indeed, she was a woman centuries ahead of her time. She dared to dream of a better life for herself, and was not afraid to step on anyone’s toes in order to achieve her own ends. She was also a firm believer of the Protestant Reformation, and was one of the key players in starting it, though she is not usually given such credit. She was living in a man’s world a world that just wasn’t ready for Anne Boleyn.
The Pregnancies of Anne Boleyn
On the 29 th January 1536, according to the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, Anne Boleyn miscarried a male child of around three and a half months in gestation. Anne’s miscarriage was a huge blow for both Anne and her husband, Henry VIII, particularly as it was a boy, but it is not clear how much impact this miscarriage had on the couple’s relationship and whether it was the beginning of the end for Anne Boleyn. Historian J.E. Neale writes that Anne had “miscarried of her saviour” and Retha Warnicke writes that “her fall was almost certainly triggered by the nature of the miscarriage she was to suffer in late January, for there is no evidence that she had been in any personal or political danger.” However, Eric Ives disagrees:-
“The miscarriage of 29 January was neither Anne’s last chance nor the point at which Jane Seymour replaced Anne in Henry’s priorities. It did, nevertheless, make her vulnerable again.”
Vulnerable, but not the beginning of the end.
To get some idea of whether this miscarriage did have anything to do with Anne Boleyn’s fall just over three months later, we need to look at Anne’s obstetric history, after all, if Anne had had a series of miscarriages then Henry may well have been at his wit’s end in January 1536 and could have thought that his second marriage was cursed just like his first. The trouble is, we don’t have any medical records for Anne Boleyn and historians all seem to have different ideas regarding the number of miscarriages Anne suffered. Historian G. R. Elton writes of a “dreary tale of miscarriages”, Mary Louise Bruce writes that “during the first six months of 1534 she appears to have had one miscarriage after another” and Hester Chapman writes of three miscarriages in 1534, whereas F. Chamberlin writes of just two miscarriages, one in 1534 and another in 1535. So, what’s the truth of the matter? Let’s look at what the primary sources say.
- 1533 – On the 7 th September 1533, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a little girl, the future Elizabeth I of England. Anne had become pregnant shortly after she and Henry had started co-habiting on their return from France in November 1532.
- 1534 – A dispatch from Chapuys to Charles V, dated 28 th January, mentions Anne being pregnant and this is backed up by a letter from George Taylor to Lady Lisle, dated 7 th April, in which Taylor writes “The Queen hath a goodly belly, praying our Lord to send us a prince.” Also, in July of that year, George, Lord Rochford, was sent to France to ask for a postponement of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I due to Anne “being so far gone with child she could not cross the sea with the King.” There is yet another mention of Anne’s pregnancy in a letter from Chapuys dated the 27 th July. Also, Eric Ives writes of how there is evidence that Henry VIII ordered a silver cradle, decorated with precious stones and Tudor roses, from Cornelius Hayes, his goldsmith, in April 1534 and he would not have spent money on such a cradle if he was not sure that Anne was pregnant.
But what happened to this pregnancy? We just do not know. We have no reports of a stillbirth or miscarriage so perhaps it was a false pregnancy caused by stress and longing. Chapuys suggests that it may have been a false pregnancy in a letter dated 27 th September 1534: “Since the King began to doubt whether his lady was enceinte or not, he has renewed and increased the love he formerly had for a beautiful damsel of the court.” However, Ives does not believe in the false pregnancy theory as he points out that Anne was not under any undue pressure at this time, having just given the King a baby girl and having every hope that she would conceive easily again. He believes that she miscarried as there is no record of Anne having taken to her chamber, so that rules out a stillbirth.
- 1535 – In a letter dated 24 th June 1535, Sir William Kingston writes to Lord Lisle saying ” Her Grace has as fair a belly as I have ever seen” but we have no corroborating evidence and Sir John Dewhurst, who examines the obstetric histories of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon in his article “The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn”, wonders if the date of this letter should actually be 1533 or 1534 as it also refers to a man who died in October 1534. This could simply be more corroborating evidence for the 1534 pregnancy.
- 1536 – As I said earlier, we have evidence from a letter dated 10 th February 1536, from Chapuys to Charles V, that Anne Boleyn miscarried on the day of Catherine of Aragon’s funeral, the 29 th January 1536.
So, we only have real corroborated evidence for three pregnancies: one resulting in a healthy baby girl and two resulting in miscarriages. The 1534 one may even have been a false pregnancy, rather than a miscarriage. Whatever the truth, it’s not exactly a “dreary tale of miscarriages” is it and surely not something that Henry would be unduly worried about? Anne had shown that she could conceive – three pregnancies in three years shows that – so there was every hope for another successful pregnancy and the birth of a son and heir. Henry could be forgiven for worrying about the future and wondering if history would repeat itself, but I cannot see that Anne Boleyn’s January 1536 miscarriage was the last straw.
Capricious Life of Anne Boleyn, The Woman Behind the Church of England - History
Like Francis I before him, Henry VIII was having an affair with Mary Boleyn. While he had had several extra-marital affairs during his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount had been the only mistress of great importance. King Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn’s affair was mostly conducted at Penshurst, a hunting lodge conveniently located near the Boleyn’s primary residence, Hever castle. Penshurst had formally belonging to the Duke of Buckingham, whom Henry VIII had recently executed on trumped up charges. The hunting lodge hand been managed by Thomas Boleyn since May 1521.
|Hever Castle and its surrounding Tudor cottages. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|The funerary brass of Elizabeth Blount-Tailboys, Lady Clinton. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait of Henry VIII by an unknown artist from the 1520's. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait miniature of Queen Catherine of Aragon with her pet monkey from 1525-26. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
King Henry wrote Anne many amorous love letters, 17 of which survive. Henry sometimes enclosed Anne’s initials in a heart next to his name, much like a modern-day, love-struck schoolboy. He signed his letters informally, as H RX. To everyone else he signed his name regally, as ‘Henry R’ (Denny, 59). Unfortunately, all of Anne’s responses to these letters have been destroyed by her enemies. We do have letters which Anne wrote to others during this period that have survived the smear-campaign against her, and even a letter written jointly by Anne and Henry to Cardinal Wolsey, with Anne beginning it and Henry finishing it, and both signing at the bottom as equals.
|A letter from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Vatican Papers. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait by Holbein of Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait miniature of an aging Queen Catherine of Aragon, by Horenbout. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, from the Christ Church Picture Gallery. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A portrait of Dr. William Butt's by Holbein. Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, Boston. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Anne recovered, as did George and Thomas. Mary Boleyn was not to be so lucky, as she lost her husband to the sickness on June 23 rd . Regardless of whether one or both were the King’s bastards, Mary was now left with two small children: Catherine, age 4, and Henry, age 2. Though Anne and Mary were as different as sisters could possibly be, and had never enjoyed a close relationship, (see Weir, Mistress of King’s) Anne was very sympathetic to the children’s plight. Anne championed their cause to Henry on Mary’s behalf. Henry had the nerve to scold his former mistress’s “poor reputation”, clearly ignoring his role in developing her reputation. After much procrastination and choice words, Henry granted Anne the wardship of little Henry Boleyn (Denny, 123).
Anne took her nephew’s care very seriously, taking great interest in his education and his clothing, but she unfortunately failed to see that if Henry could treat a former lover and perhaps his own child so carelessly, he could easily do the same to Anne and any children from their union. Anne would also come to secure her widowed sister a 100 pound a year annuity from the crown (Denny, 123).
|King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Go Hunting in Windsor Forest, by William Powell Frith, 1903. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Anne would be granted two manors and an extraordinary amount of clothes and jewels by the king, including the jewels that had once belonged to his wife, Catherine. If anyone at court was still doubting Anne’s ability to hold the King’s interest, these accolades confirmed that she was being positioned as a queen-in-waiting.
Anne’s eligibility for the marriage market, with the king or otherwise, would continue to dwindle, year after year as she waited for Henry and Catherine’s marriage to be declared invalid. Anne filled her time in waiting with philanthropic efforts. As early as 1528, Anne began using her influence over the King for good.
|The personal divorce plea of King Henry VIII. Paul Fraser Collectibles. Image public domain.|
|A sketch by Holbein of Nicholas Bourbon. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
While Wolsey was under house arrest, Sir Thomas More was promoted. While he had previously demonstrated himself as a fervent Catholic who was loyal to the King, More, like all men at court, was a survivalist. He knew he had to appeal to Henry’s whims, so he dutifully delivered the 44 charges against Wolsey in Parliament (Denny, 150).
|A sketch by Holbein of Sir Thomas More from 1527. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|The wedding portrait of Princess Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. In the Collection of the Earl of Yarborough. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
To further complicate matters, Queen Catherine was still living at court (Ives, 146). The Queen and her supporters saw this as a good sign maybe Henry was not as convinced that his marriage was an abomination to God, as he led others to believe. Catherine, usually an obedient wife who was able to ignore indiscretions and forgive her husband’s faults, now knew that she would have to fight to save her marriage, protect her daughter, and preserve her crown. Because of her desperate situation, the Queen resorted to lies, outbursts, and even bordered on treason writing to her connections abroad, imploring them for their help. The papal nuncio in England and groups of clergy in Rome were always awaiting her next letter, and her next instruction (Tremlett, 316). Catherine especially called on her beloved nephew, the much put-upon Emperor Charles, for support. The Queen and her ally, Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, perpetuated lies abroad concerning her treatment, her living conditions, and her safety. On October 10 th , 1535, Catherine wrote to Charles and the Pope, telling him that they must work together to assist her, her daughter, and the faithful Catholic’s in England. Catherine claimed that if this help was delayed, “they will do with me and my daughter what they have done with many holy martyrs.” She concluded her plea dramatically, declaring, “I write to your holiness frankly to discharge my conscience as one who expects death along with my daughter.” (quoted in Tremlett, 358).
Despite the sheer sensationalism of Catherine’s claims about her and Mary’s safety, who of us could blame her for doing anything and everything in her power to preserve her family unit? Catherine’s situation was unprecedented in England, and she and her daughter Mary were certainly facing a very uncertain future.
|A composite image of Catherine of Aragon in her prime, in a portrait by Michel Sittow, and her daughter, Queen Mary I of England. Picture acquired through Flickr. Image shared for public use by Inor19.|
Anne, in conjunction with Thomas Cranmer, would provide the solution to the annulment. Cranmer was a Cambridge man and a reformer who argued that, rather than appeal to the Pope’s verdict, Henry should amass a team of university theologians who could prove that his marriage to Catherine was unlawful according to scripture. Cranmer’s proposition collaborated nicely with what Anne had been telling Henry all along. Anne had given Henry a treatise that supported his own beliefs about government. The book was William Tyndale’s “The Obedience of the Christian Man and How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern”, first published in 1528. Tyndale had also translated the scriptures into English.
|A sketch by Holbein thought to be of Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Cranmer would take up residence with the Boleyn’s at Durham House, where the king had granted them lodging. Cranmer would become the Boleyn family chaplain “…and he remained Anne’s pastor until her death and a friend to her memory thereafter.” (Denny, 151)
|A detail from a portrait of Thomas Cranmer. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Alarmingly, for all of Anne’s efforts, Henry began to question a break with Rome. It was difficult for Henry to distance himself from what he had been taught about religion, and his convictions caused him to fear that he was potentially jeopardizing his soul. In a move that must have been very worrisome to Anne, Henry ordered copies of the very books that she had lent him publicly burned, and outlawed all evangelical texts from the land (Denny, 160). This was an early example for Anne of the mood swings her future husband was prone to.
|A portrait miniature of a woman, thought to be Katherine Howard based on the identification of the jewels worn by the sitter, which match descriptions of jewels that belonged to Katherine Howard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|A 16th century portrait of Thomas Cromwell. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
While Cromwell would later construct the court case against Anne, her brother, and other innocent men, that would send them to their death, for now he was to prove an invaluable ally. Cromwell and his men drafted and submitted the ‘supplication against the ordinaries’ to Henry on March 18 th . Things were finally moving forward. Cranmer and Cromwell worked night and day to move toward a solution of ‘the king’s great matter’. The court was now catching on that their King was closer to achieving his goal than ever. Those who had once opposed Anne now rushed to befriend her. Anne knew well enough the fickleness of court life, but she welcomed any form of support, no matter how trivial.
As Marquess of Pembroke, Anne Boleyn was now very powerful and independently wealthy Henry had made her as close to a Queen as he possibly could at this time. Yet he would never again raise up his other English wives as he did Anne.
|A composite image of the six wives of King Henry VIII. Picture acquired through Flickr. Image shared for public use by Inor19.|
The current Queen and the Queen-apparent were to be two different types of wives. Catherine had never wanted to help govern. She saw her primary roles as loving wife and mother, benefactress of the Church, and thus a spiritual example for England. She did, however, rise to the occasion of ruling in her husband’s stead in 1513, as ‘Regent and Governess of England’ indeed, Catherine was a capable and diligent regent (Tremlett, 166-174). Anne had demonstrated throughout Henry’s courtship of her that she intended to be an active consort: she spoke her mind, for better or worse, and she had used her power to influence the direction of court politics (Ives) and rescue reformers from persecution (Denny). It was very clear that Anne intended to be a champion of Church reform in England, and depending on a person’s personal religious convictions, Anne was either the manifestation of hope, or of destruction.
|A portrait of Eleanor of Austria, Queen of France, by Joos van Cleve, circa 1530. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Also in attendance was a mysterious ‘Lady Mary’, and Ives makes a compelling argument that this was, in fact, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, Mary Tudor. Also in the English entourage was Bessie Blount’s son, Henry Fitzroy, who would leave from Calais to go to Paris to study (Denny, 184).
|A portrait miniature of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, by Horenbout. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Whether they were married or not, Henry and Anne’s relationship took a big step abroad after 7 long, exhausting years, the King of England and Anne finally sexually consummated their relationship. I would argue that in order for Anne to have entered Henry’s bed after holding out for so long, some simple marriage ceremony must have been completed, or perhaps a pledging of their troth in the presence of a witness. We know that Anne was being referred to as “the king’s wife” by foreigners in attendance in Calais, and that Henry and Anne’s apartments were connected by only one door.
|'H&A" intertwined initial pendant. The necklace is a detail from the Loseley Hall Portrait. Picture acquired through Flickr. Image shared for public use by That Boleyn Girl.|
A more official ceremony was performed upon their return to England, at Wolsey’s former home, York Place, on January 25 th . The very next day Parliament reassembled, focusing all their efforts to expedite Henry’s divorce. It was on February 3 rd that Anne could breathe a sigh of relief, when Parliament approved the Act of Appeals, which formally separated England from Rome’s authority. This meant that Henry’s divorce could now be handled under English law, without approval from the Pope.
|A portrait miniature of Anne Boleyn by Hoskins. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Besides preparing for the arrival of her child, Anne spent this period directly before her coronation demonstrating that she would be a patron of the evangelical movement as queen, forming a close inner circle of reformers around her, both male and female, and liberating more accused heretics from prison.
Joyous news came for Anne on May 23 rd it was declared by Archbishop Cranmer that King Henry’s marriage had been illegal on the grounds that Catherine had previously been married to his elder brother Arthur, and that the marriage was consummated (although she denied it). Henry’s marriage to his brother’s widow was an ‘unclean thing’ and their union had been childless (without male issue) because of it (see Leviticus 20:21) .
Anne began her joyful procession into London for her coronation. Contrary to the lies that the Marian regime would later perpetuate, Anne was welcomed with open arms by the many of the English city dwellers. Of course, “Anne’s popularity owed something to the fact that many in the city were staunch believers in reform.” (Denny 193) Reformers saw her as the champion of Christian truths, and many academics saw her as a shining example of the new, educated woman. And there were subjects that either hoped or believed that Anne would be the mother of England’s long-awaited prince. However, many of the rural country folk, especially in the North, would remain staunchly Catholic and pro-Catherine, and did not recognize Anne as Queen.
|A design by Holbein for Apollo and the Muses on Parnassus, a tableau that was staged for Anne Boleyn along her coronation procession route. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Anne arrived by barge at the Tower of London, and was greeted by her husband with a public kiss. Anne waved and smiled at the cheering crowd she could not have known that just three years from now she would be back at the Tower for a very different reason. The happy couple spent the next two nights at the Tower apartments together, as was tradition (Fraser, 191).
|A clock given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, which includes her heraldic falcon badge etched onto its side. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy That Boleyn Girl.|
On May 31 st , Anne was processed through the street to her coronation with her dark auburn hair hanging loose down her back, and flowers in her hand. She was wearing a crimson brocade dress, covered in diamonds and pearls. Covering her shoulders was a purple velvet cape trimmed with ermine (Fraser, 192). There were pageants staged for Anne to stop and view in the London streets, and the songs composed and sung for her were elaborate and beautiful.
London celebrated for days on end. There was feasting and jousting, and spirits were consumed on every street corner. Queen Anne adopted her now famous motto, ‘The Moost Happi’, having it stamped on her coronation medal. In her first year as queen, Anne donated 40 pounds to both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. She also gifted money to various men pursuing their studies.
|Anne Boleyn's coronation banquet seating plan. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl. Image public domain.|
|A sketch by Holbein of Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Queen Anne’s ladies were expected to discuss theology with the queen, and attend church once a day. Anne encouraged the new evangelical faith, often gifting texts to her waiting woman (Denny, 210). Anne kept evangelical chaplains in her service. One, Matthew Parker, would later become her daughter’s Archbishop of Canterbury. Parker and Anne would create new academic opportunities for the less fortunate, founding grammar schools that granted scholarships. Those students who showed promise could be sent to Cambridge for a six-year course of study (Denny, 215). Anne’s daughter Elizabeth would later share her mother’s interest in education, becoming a benefactress of both Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and chartering more grammar schools than her predecessors this afford more educational opportunities to the middle class, and many of these grammar schools are still in operation today.
|A late 16th century copy of an original portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
|The birth announcement of Princess Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I of England. Picture acquired through Tumblr courtesy of Let Them Grumble.|
The child was named Elizabeth, likely for her two grandmothers. Henry was very disappointed, but he still had hope that he and Anne would have sons, telling her,“You and I are both young, and by God’s grace, boys will follow.” Anne may not have entirely believed, like her husband, that the child would absolutely be a boy but she no doubt was worried about what the repercussions would be. On September 10 th , Elizabeth was christened in grand finery at Greenwich, and though neither parent was in attendance, this was common practice, and was not an indication of displeasure with the child’s gender. Cranmer was created Elizabeth’s godfather, and was in charge of her spiritual well-being (Denny, 202). After Anne’s death, Cranmer would continue to look out for the little princess, ensuring that she was brought up in the faith of her mother.
|A composite image of the parent's of Queen Elizabeth I: King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Mary finally gave way, despite her mother writing her and telling her not to comply. Interestingly, it was the ambassador Chapuy’s, Catherine’s ever-loyal friend, that convinced Mary to pledge her allegiance to the new regime, in order to spare her of the cruelty Henry was inflicting on her. Catherine would continue to insist on being called Queen, and her loyal ladies would oblige her. Now that Anne was officially Queen, Henry would no longer tolerate Catherine’s affronts, and he now began to downsize her retinue. Catherine’s letters to Mary, instructing her in various ways how to thwart the King, made Henry so angry that he would eventually punish both mother and daughter, forbidding them to have any contact with one another. This was a cruel injustice that Anne had no part in.
|Henry VIII kneeling in prayer, from the Black Book of the Garter, circa 1534-41. In the collection of the Dean and Canons of Windsor. Image public domain.|
The trusted Lady Margaret Bryan was put in charge of Princess Elizabeth’s household, but Anne would remain very much involved in her child’s life. Despite the tradition that women of the nobility would have their children fed by a wet nurse, Anne declared that she would breastfeed her daughter herself (Denny, 204). Henry was not pleased with his wife’s decision, and he put a stop to it. Breastfeeding would take Anne away from his side, and it might also (as was the belief) delay her conceiving again.
|A monument depicting Blanche Parry kneeling beside her mistress of 57 years, Queen Elizabeth I. St. Faith's, Bacton, Hereford. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Being the Renaissance woman that she was, Anne did not just support evangelical men. In addition to her ladies in waiting, Anne employed various women to smuggle illegal books into the country, (Denny, 212) and wrote to release women imprisoned for their faith, like a ‘Mrs. Marye’ (213). Anne’s letter to Cromwell lobbying for Mrs. Marye’s release survives. Many reformers who had fled Thomas More’s persecution were now returning from abroad because they knew that the Queen would protect them.
|The 16th century Loseley Hall Portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn, by an unknown artist of the English School. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.|
Unfortunately, Anne’s sister Mary, now 34, would further complicate her life when she secretly married beneath her, to the soldier William Stafford. Weir poses the theory that it is possible that Mary first met Stafford when she visited Calais, where he happened to be stationed in the service of Arthur Plantagenet, 1 st Viscount Lisle. Even though romantics today might think it fitting that Mary would finally be afforded some personal happiness, in 1533 this was an unacceptable arrangement. Mary had dishonored the entire Boleyn family, and most of all her sister, the Queen, by marrying below her station. Also, as the Queen’s sister Mary was required by law to ask for permission before marriage. Queen Anne, who had so graciously cared for Mary and her children in her widowhood, was outraged.
Mary Tudor, now merely Lady Mary, (a demotion her baby sister would also suffer after her mother’s death) was ordered to serve in Princess Elizabeth’s household, in an effort to make her obedient. Mary was put under the supervision of Sir John and Lady Shelton Lady Shelton, also named Anne, was the fifty-year-old sister of Sir Thomas Boleyn (Weir, 33). At this time, Anne was still trying to pursue a friendship with Mary. While visiting her daughter at Hatfield in 1534, “Anne offered to welcome Mary if she would reach reconciliation with the King and acknowledge their marriage.” (Denny, 217-218) This, of course, was something that the Lady Mary’s conscience would not allow her to do. Mary’s continued refusal to acknowledge Elizabeth as the King’s heir aggravated Anne, so she ordered her aunt to force her stepdaughter to acknowledge Elizabeth’s position, by force, if necessary (Weir, 34-35).
|A sketch by Holbein of Princess Mary Tudor, circa 1536. The Royal Library, Windsor. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
A significant cause for concern soon arrived on Henry and Anne’s doorstep from Rome. The Pope, silent for so long, now issued a decree that Catherine of Aragon and Henry’s marriage “always hath and still doth stand firm and canonical, and the issue proceeding standeth lawful and legitimate.” According to the papacy, Henry and Catherine were still married, and Mary was legitimate Anne was a mere concubine, and Elizabeth a bastard. Henry had to react to this news quickly, and on March 23 rd he passed the Act of Succession, (which would later be revised several times before his death) declaring that only Henry and Anne’s children stood to inherit the crown he also had included that, were he to die, Anne would be made regent until their heir(s) came of age. Also, ‘slander or derogation of the lawful matrimony (with) his most dear and entirely beloved wife Queen Anne’ would be treason (Denny, 220-221).
|The only surviving contemporary likeness we have have of Queen Anne Boleyn is this defaced medal from 1534. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.|
Despite being “entirely beloved” Henry bedded other women during Anne’s pregnancies. This was a common practice, since it was believed that sexual intercourse during pregnancy endangered the baby Henry was not taking any chances where a potential male heir was concerned. Anne had a miscarriage in 1534 (Fraser, 218). She was seven months pregnant when she went into premature labor, and much to her detriment, the fetus was examined and found to be a boy (Weir, 28). before the tragedy she and had been looking forward to a reunion with King Francis and her old friend, Margaret of Angloume, now Queen of Navarre (Denny, 226). Instead of Henry rushing to his wife’s side, he distanced himself from her, going on progress by himself, with Anne joining him only after she had recovered (Denny, 227). Henry VIII believed that Anne had failed him, yet again, in the one aspect that she needed to succeed: providing him with a male heir. The theory put forth by Retha Warnicke in 1989 that “the sole reason” for Anne’s fall was that this fetus was deformed has been disproven. The deformed fetus story was created by the Jesuit priest Nicholas Sander, who in 1585 wrote and produced a tract of outright lies about Anne, including that Anne was Henry VIII’s own daughter, in order to cast doubt on her daughter Elizabeth’s right to rule (Weir 28, 159).
|A sketch by Holbein thought to be of Madge Shelton, Lady Heveningham. Picture acquired courtesy of Tudor Place. Image public domain.|
There is much discussion over Henry’s impotence, or that his various chronic diseases affected the health of his offspring in-utero. There is some contemporary evidence Henry VIII was impotent at times, but as Weir points out, there is an equal amount of evidence that he was still sexually healthy. We will never know for sure exactly what caused Anne’s failed pregnancies, and what prevented some of Henry’s other wives from conceiving.
|A 16th century portrait of Anne Stanhope-Seymour, Duchess of Somerset. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
While Jane Seymour was currently one of Anne’s ladies, and would become Henry’s next wife, we have no evidence of anything scandalous happening yet. Henry and Anne had reconnected away from the stress of court life, and many recorded how happy they looked in the country. Anne became pregnant for a fourth time. Indeed, until her final months, it was commonly stated that the King was never angry at Anne for long their tendency to reconcile, and Anne’s influence over the King were the principal reasons why Master Secretary Cromwell constructed such a rapid and shocking case against her (Weir, 86, 122).
What caused the miscarriage is a matter of debate. Many still identify the cause of Anne’s distress, and thus her eventual miscarriage, to Henry’s accident the St. Paul’s Eve Joust on January 24h. By now, King Henry was nearly 45 years old and rather overweight. His armor from that year shows that his waistline was a substantial 54 inches! (Denny, 242). Henry was no longer in his prime, but he was not yet the bloated monster that school children conjure up today when they hear the name “King Henry VIII”. Henry, ever the sportsman, chose to participate in the rigorous, dangerous joust he had loved since he was a youth.
|Armor for King Henry VIII, on display in the Tower of London. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
According to just two accounts written down in the following two months by the Papal Nuncio in France, and the Emperor’s ambassador in Rome, Henry VIII was knocked from his horse and struck unconscious. The Papal Nuncio, the Bishop of Faenza, wrote that he “was thought to be dead for two hours,” where Ambassador Dr. Pedro Ortiz recorded that “the French King said that the King of England had fallen from his horse and had been two hours without speaking.” Yet Eustace Chapuys, who was actually at the court at the time of the joust, merely said that the King, “fell so heavily that everyone thought it a miracle he was not killed,”but that he had “sustained no injury.” Weir summarizes that the claims of Henry’s coma were merely European gossip, otherwise Chapuys and the others actually present at the joust would have noted the calamity (Weir, 19).
It is said that after the accident, Queen Anne’s uncle Norfolk came to break the news to her about her husband’s condition, supposedly in a very callous way, with little regard for her current state. Anne was so distraught that she went into premature labor. After the birth of the dead male child, Anne was then told the correct information: that her husband would recover. Yet Chapuys reported that the Duke of Norfolk broke the news of Henry’s fall as gently as possible, and any that stories to the contrary were untrue (Weir, 20). However, we must consider that, since Chapuys was no friend of Anne, he could have told his version of the story so that the blame would have been laid entirely at Anne’s feet.
|The Nidd Hall Portrait of Anne Boleyn is a copy done in Queen Elizabeth's reign of a now-lost original. This is the "thin old woman" Anne had become by the end of her marriage to King Henry VIII. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Weir guesses what really caused Anne’s miscarriage was not her Uncle’s tone, but “her dawning realization that the King could have been killed forcibly” which thus “brought home to her the fearful prospect of a future without him there to protect her from her many enemies in a hostile world.” (Weir, 19) Anne apparently “took such a fright withal that it caused her to fall in travail, and so was delivered afore her full time” five days later (Wriothesley, quoted in Weir, 19). The story grew and grew, and soon everyone at court and abroad was circulating that the Queen had miscarried upon hearing the news that her husband had fallen (Weir, 19-20).
Henry made no secret of his interest in Jane, giving her presents and praise. Anne grew wildly jealous. If Chapuys’s reports are accurate, Anne was enraged upon learning of her husband’s lavish gift-giving to “that Seymour wench.” Apparently, she took to slapping Jane, as it was her legal right to do in the 16 th century, mistresses were permitted to slap their servants if they gave offence. According to Thomas Fuller, in his History of the Worthies of England (1662), Queen Anne came upon Jane wearing an expensive-looking jeweled pendant about her neck. When the Queen asked to see it, Jane refused. Anne, furious at the affront, grabbed the pendant from about her neck and ripped it off with such force “that she hurt her hand with her own violence but it grieved her heart more when she perceived in it (saw inside it) the King’s picture.” (Fuller, quoted in Weir, 46-47).
|Anne Boleyn Receiving Proof of Henry VIII's Passion for Jane Seymour, a 19th century engraving. Windsor Castle. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.|
As Weir explains, Fuller’s story could have been true, if he gleaned it from sources now lost to us, but it could also be a complete fabrication. I would agree with Weir that the story sounds credible, especially when we evaluate it against what we know of this period in Anne’s life, and of her relationship with Jane. There is also a story that Anne happened her husband in her own apartments, with Jane sitting boldly in his lap, although this story cannot be proven.
Depressed, Anne reportedly took to her bed on occasion, (Wyatt, referenced in Weir, 15). Though Anne must have known that the end was near for her time as Queen, there was no way that she could have conceived just how steep a price she would actually have to pay.
|Anne Boleyn Says a Final Farewell to Her Daughter, Princess Elizabeth by Gustaf Wappers, 1838. We can only hope that Anne was able to say some form of goodbye to her daughter before she was arrested. Picture acquired through Tumblr courtesy of auroravong.|
-Cromwell began arresting various men who had had perceived closeness with the queen. Weir and Wilkinson discuss the possibility that all of the men accused were alleged homosexuals, or were known to have dabbled in taboo sexual practices. Mark Smeaton, a low-born musician in the Queen’s service, was the first to be arrested. ‘Mark’, as he was simply called in trial records, was tortured. He is the only man among the accused to have admitted to having sexual relations with Anne, and his claim is not to be believed, given that it was extracted under torture. Also, given that he had no working knowledge of the law, Smeaton may have also believed or been made to believe that, if he admitted to the crime, then the method of his execution would be far less cruel (before the King commuted the sentence, the men were all to be hung, drawn and quartered).
Along with Mark Smeaton, George Boleyn, Henry Norris, William Brereton and Francis Weston, other unfortunate and innocent men were arrested, including Boleyn family friend Thomas Wyatt. Wyatt, who was a known friend of Cromwell, may have been arrested merely as a ruse, to give the impression that Cromwell’s case was impartial, rather than fabricated. Cromwell even wrote to Wyatt to assure him that no harm would come to him. Indeed, much to his family’s relief, Thomas was released (Weir, 170-172). When Wyatt was set free, he wrote a poem to commemorate the dark days that had befallen Anne Boleyn, and to provide a sort of epitaph for her and each of the men accused of adultery with her.
|A sketch by Holbein of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Anne was arrested and brought to the Tower of London by boat, probably entering through the Courtiers Gate. Later, her daughter Elizabeth would have the same horrible experience of being imprisoned in the Tower thankfully her imprisonment would have a very different outcome. According to the Queen’s jailor, Master Kingston, who took copious notes on what Anne said for Cromwell, the Queen declared, “My God, bear witness there is no truth in these charges. I am as clear from the company of man as from sin.” Indeed, all the men accused, save for Smeaton, denied any affair and regularly professed to their inquisitors Queen Anne’s impeccable virtue.
|The location of the demolished Queen's Apartments, where Anne Boleyn was likely imprisoned, are super-imposed over the current layout of the Tower of London. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.|
The English people were in shock-while they had always know their king was capable of great cruelty, they were stunned that he had turned on his wife so quickly, and that he had arrested 4 noblemen, as well as Mark Smeaton. Queen Anne was accused of adultery with Sir Henry Norris, the king’s good friend and her cousins intended, William Brereton, a hot-headed evangelical who had given her her beloved greyhound, Urian, and Sir Francis Weston. Most shocking of all, Queen Anne was charged with sleeping with her own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. A large number of the dates provided in the deposition, detailing when the alleged infidelities took place, were impossible under close scrutiny, we can determine that thirteen out of the twenty -one supposed occasions when one of Anne’s alleged lovers joined her in her bed, the lover was not even present at court at the time (Weir, 195). And, “In no fewer than twelve instances, either Anne or the alleged accomplice can be shown not to have been in the specified location.” For example, Anne “was accused of committing adultery with Brereton on December 8, 1533, at Hampton Court, but the court was at Greenwich on that date.” Therefore, “because it can be shown that quite a few of the dated offenses could not have been committed in the palaces specified, then the rest of the charges are also undermined.” (Weir, 195) And, for the sake of argument, if any of these alleged trysts had occurred, Anne never would have been able to carry on such an elaborate extramarital affair at court without getting caught much, much sooner.
Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton were tried first, and found guilty and condemned to die. Initially they were to be hung, drawn and quartered, but the King mercifully granted them a less grisly ending: beheading. Queen Anne and her brother George, Lord Rochford, would be tried separately by their peers at King’s Bench, due to their station. Yet with the other accused receiving guilty verdicts, there could be no question as to what their verdict would be.
|Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London by Edouard Cibot, 1835. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
Rochford had to be accused of a crime as heinous as incest with his sister if he had not been, he would have undoubtedly put up a fight to free his sister. Of course, “Quadruple adultery plus incest(committed by Anne) invites disbelief” (Ives, quoted in Weir) yet George was already known to be lascivious, so this was perhaps an easy crime for his peers to believe (Weir, 102-3).
|A sketch by Holbein thought to be of Jane Parker, Lady Rochford. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain|
While Julia Foxe has recently tried to restore Jane Parker’s reputation, this is a herculean task, if not impossible. We still do not know for sure Jane’s motives some historians have claimed that Jane was disgruntled because her husband was gay, a theory perpetuated by the Showtime series The Tudors. But George Boleyn had at least one illegitimate son, so he may have been bisexual, if not entirely straight. What we do know is that there is evidence that Jane had recently switched her alliance to the Catherine of Aragon/Lady Mary faction through the influence of her father, Henry Parker, Lord Morley (Weir, 116-117). Ironically, Jane Parker would later be executed for allegedly aiding Anne’s cousin and Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, to have secret meetings with Thomas Culpepper.
|A cameo detail from a sketch by Holbein thought to be of Katherine Howard, circa 1540. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain|
The Boleyn family friend, Archbishop Cranmer, hurried back to London, and wrote a very long and letter on Anne’s behalf to the king, saying “I am in such perplexity, that my mind is clearly amazed for I never had better opinion in woman, than I had in her which maketh me to think, that she not be culpable…” Still, Cranmer knew he needed to protect his position for the inevitable regime change, so he did not defend the Queen outright. Henry would order Cranmer to visit Anne in the Tower, to try to get her to agree to annulment. Cranmer was to be forever inextricably tied to Anne Boleyn, the Boleyn family, and reform, and later, in the reign of Queen Mary, he was burned at the stake.
|A woodcut of the Marian burning of Archbishop Cranmer, from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain|
Feeling that the end was near, Anne may have written one last letter to the Henry, to appeal for the mercy of the men that were taking the fall with her, and also for to plead her own case. The letter’s authenticity is still the subject of intense debate. The letter is dated at having been written on May 6 th , yet it never reached the King. It was found hidden away in Cromwell’s papers, years later. The letter, labeled from ‘The Lady in the Tower’, is reproduced it its entirety and discussed at length in The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Weir, 178-183). The letter is in the Cotton manuscripts in the British Library.
|A copy of the letter to King Henry the VIII from 'The Lady in the Tower.' The authenticity of this letter is still a subject of great debate. In the Cotton manuscript collection in the British Library. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.|
Of the men that had been appointed to pass judgment, first on Norris, Brereton, Weston and Smeaton, and now on Queen Anne and Lord Rochford, all were either hostile to Anne and the Boleyn faction, or had something to prove to the King, and therefore wanted to please him by passing a guilty verdict (Weir, 204-205, 215-219). In the official record of the trial, Thomas Boleyn, Lord Wiltshire’s name “is not included among those who sat in judgment of at the trials of his daughter and son, but the list is incomplete.” Indeed, many of the documents pertaining to the investigation and trial are missing. “The Henrician government took unwonted care to preserve some of the official documentation of these proceedings. Nevertheless, crucial papers are missing: actual trial record, details of the evidence produced in court, statements known to have been made by Smeaton and Norris, depositions of all the witnesses who had been supposedly questioned, and transcripts of the interrogations of Smeaton, Norriss, and the Queen.” (Weir, 219)
Yet, concerning Thomas Boleyn’s involvement in passing sentence on two of his three children, many contemporary sources assert that he was among the peers there. Weir suggests that Wiltshire was the twenty-seventh peer that the Duke of Norfolk had summoned. Weir, who has exposed Thomas Boleyn’s shortcomings in multiple books, believes that, “it is time to revise the long-held assumption that he was not among the lords who gathered to try his daughter and his son. Even if he had not been, in serving on the jury that condemned the others, (Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton) he effectively colluded in the destruction of his children.” (Weir, 218)
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was one of the peers to pass sentence on the woman he had once loved. Percy had grown to dislike Anne after she had offended the Duke of Norfolk, and in 1534 he was overheard saying to a friend that it was Anne who had tried to poison Lady Mary (Weir, 217). Clearly, Percy did not, as it has been asserted, love Anne until his death. Still, passing judgment on the woman he had once hoped to marry must have been emotional for him none the less. Queen Anne was indeed sentenced to death, by burning or beheading, at the King’s pleasure. Anne maintained her composure.
|Anne Boleyn is Condemned to Death, a 19th century painting by Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret. This is a sensationalized portrayal of Anne's sentencing in reality, she remained calm and composed. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.|
The story of the Earl of Northumberland fainting in the courtroom directly after he heard the verdict is probably apocryphal but he did fall seriously ill within days. The Earl died a year later, almost bankrupt and leaving behind no children, and making the King his heir.
Archbishop Cranmer made one final visit to his Queen in the Tower. Denny claims that the “the suggestion that he had come to hear her last confession and grant her absolution is an error made by Catholic writers, for evangelicals…do not believe in this ritual. As a believer, Anne would have made her own peace with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit." (Denny, 302)
Religion at this time is convoluted, and different historians have argued one way or another that Anne died a Catholic, or a Lutheran. In death, as in life, Anne was a reformer of the Catholic Church in England, not a Lutheran, and though she held some Lutheran beliefs, she appears to have died in the Catholic faith.
Anne made a short speech, careful never to criticize the king, for “ This was no time to protest her innocence, she knew it was far too late for recriminations which could only endanger her daughter Elizabeth. In her last moments Anne’s sole concern was to depart this life with grace and forgiveness for those who had wronged her…” (Denny, 315). According to tradition, Anne handed her Book of Hours to one of her only remaining friends, Margaret Wyatt, before placing her neck on the block.
The Wyatt family has backed this story since the 18 th century. In the cover, Anne had written, “Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day”. Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee was the wife of Sir Anthony Lee and the sister of Sir Thomas Wyatt. She probably was friendly with Anne, but we do not know for sure whether she was in Anne’s service. Her portrait by Holbein was painted around 1540, when she was about 34, too old, Weir thinks, to have been referred to as a young lady or a maid in the Queen’s service. There were four ladies who attended Anne before her death and accompanied her to the scaffold, but their identities are contested.
|A portrait by Holbein of Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, circa 1540. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
There is also a tradition that Anne kept a small trinket of great significance on her person until her final moments. The trinket was a small gold pendant in the shape of a pistol the barrel held a miniature whistle and a toothpick. Anne reportedly it to a Captain Gwyn, who helped her along to the scaffold, telling him that it had been “the first token the King had given her,” adding “that a serpent formed part of the device, and a serpent the giver had proved to her.” Captain Gwyn did, in fact, exist, and held extensive property in Swansea during the reign of Henry VIII. Though the trinket, made around 1520 and currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is contemporary, there is no way to prove the story (Weir, 279-80).
|The trinket said to be Henry VIII's first love token to Anne Boleyn, which she gave to Captain Gwyn before mounting the scaffold. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.|
After Anne commended her spirit to God, the axe fell on her head and she was gone. There were no cheers at the conclusion of this bloodbath, but there were cannons that announced to King Henry, far away and in the company of Jane Seymour, that he was free to wed, yet again. He would do so quickly he had to, in order to beget an heir, since he had made all of his living children bastards.
|A floral tribute to Queen Anne Boleyn the red roses are in the shape of her initials, 'AB'. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.|
Anne was gone, but never forgotten. Immediately after her death, poems and ballads were written and circulated to honor the fallen Queen. There were also treasonous pamphlets criticizing the King’s behavior being printed, in England and abroad. People talked openly of the conspiracy that brought down the Queen, yet no one had been willing to risk their own lives to defend the Queen and the 5 accused men in their hour of need. Abroad, Nicholas Bourbon (whom Anne had helped rescue), Margaret of Hungary and Entienne Dolet remarked on the tragedy, among many other notable figures of the day.
King Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon is troubled as she has not produced a living male heir to the throne, having only one surviving child, Mary. Mary Boleyn marries William Carey. After the festivities, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and his brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn plot to install Thomas' eldest daughter, Anne, as the king's mistress, with the hope that Anne will bear him a son and improve the family's wealth and status, much to the disgust of Anne's mother, Lady Elizabeth. Despite knowing that being a mistress will damage her chances of a high ranking marriage, a reluctant Anne agrees to please her father and uncle.
While visiting the Boleyn estate, Henry is injured in a hunting accident indirectly caused by Anne. Urged by her scheming uncle, Mary nurses Henry. Henry becomes smitten with Mary and invites her to court, to which Mary and her husband reluctantly agree, aware that the king has invited her because he desires her. Mary and Anne become ladies-in-waiting to Queen Catherine and Henry sends William Carey abroad on an assignment. Separated from her husband, Mary begins an affair with the king and finds herself falling in love with him. Anne secretly marries the nobleman Henry Percy, although he is already betrothed to Lady Mary Talbot. Anne confides in her brother, George Boleyn, about the marriage. Overjoyed, George proceeds to tell Mary. Fearing Anne will ruin their family by marrying such a prominent earl without the king's consent, Mary alerts her father and uncle. They confront Anne, forcibly annul the marriage and exile her to France.
Mary eventually becomes pregnant with Henry's child. Her family receives new grants and estates, their debts are paid and Henry arranges George's marriage to Jane Parker. When Mary nearly suffers a miscarriage, she is confined to bed until the child is born. Norfolk recalls Anne to England and is tasked to keep Henry's attention from wandering to another rival while Mary is confined. Believing that Mary betrayed her solely to increase her own status, a revenge driven Anne starts seducing Henry herself. When Mary gives birth to a son, Henry Carey, Thomas and Norfolk are overjoyed, but the celebration is short lived as Anne tells the king that the baby is still a bastard who can never inherit the throne. She also states that for her to accept his advances, he must stop talking to Mary. This infuriates Norfolk, as Henry refuses to acknowledge the child as his heir. At Anne's request, Henry has Mary exiled to the countryside, leaving her heartbroken. Her grief only grows when her husband dies of the sweating sickness, leaving her a widow.
Anne further manipulates Henry into breaking from the Catholic Church when the Pope refuses to annul his marriage. A smitten Henry succumbs to her demands, declares himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, gets Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to annul the marriage and Queen Catherine is banished from court. Having fulfilled her requests, Henry comes to Anne's chambers, but she still refuses to have sex with him until they are married (not wanting to give birth to a son out of wedlock). Overcome with both rage and lust, Henry brutally rapes her. While deeply traumatized by the assault, a now pregnant Anne marries Henry to please her family and becomes the new Queen of England. Mary is recalled to court to serve Anne and the sisters form a tense truce for the sake of their family. Later on, Mary meets William Stafford, a financially modest, but kind soldier and a romance eventually blossoms between the two.
Despite the birth of a healthy daughter, Elizabeth, Henry blames Anne for not immediately producing a son. As queen, she is greatly hated by the public who denounce her as a witch while as a wife, Henry starts to despise her and begins courting Jane Seymour in secret. As her marriage falls apart, Anne becomes increasingly depressed and paranoid.
After she miscarries a son, a hysterical Anne begs George to have sex with her to replace the child she lost, out of fear of being burned at the stake for witchcraft. At first, George reluctantly agrees, seeing it not only as Anne's, but their family's chance for survival. However, the siblings do not go through with the act. Unbeknownst to the pair though, George's neglected wife, Jane, (under orders from Norfolk to spy on Anne) witnesses enough of the encounter to become suspicious. She reports her findings and the two are arrested. Anne and George are immediately found guilty by a biased jury and sentenced to death for treason, adultery and incest. A devastated Lady Elizabeth disowns both her husband and brother, vowing never to forgive them for the pain and destruction they brought upon all of her children in their quest for power.
Leaving her children with William, Mary rushes back to court, but arrives too late to save George, who is beheaded in front of his horrified father. Henry agrees to meet with her and she pleads with him to spare Anne's life, stating that her sister is the other half of her. Due to him saying he would never harm any part of her, Mary believes Anne has been spared and leaves to see her right before the scheduled execution. The two sisters reconcile and Anne asks Mary to look after Elizabeth if anything should happen to her.
As the execution begins, Mary watches from the crowd as Anne makes her final speech, waiting for the cancellation. A messenger then delivers a letter from the king to her, revealing his decision to have Anne executed after all and warning her to never return to his court again. Mary can only watch in horror as her sister is beheaded. She fulfills her final promise to Anne and immediately leaves court with the toddler Elizabeth.
On-screen text reveals that Thomas Boleyn died in disgrace two years after Anne and George's executions. Norfolk would eventually be imprisoned and the next three generations of his family are executed for treason in their turn. Lady Elizabeth also died three years after her children and true to her word, she never saw or spoke to either husband or brother again. Henry's decision to break from Rome and the Catholic Church changed the course of English history forever. Mary later marries William and lived the rest of her life happily away from court with him and their children.
- as Anne Boleyn. Portman was attracted to the role because it was a character that she "hadn’t played before", and describes Anne as "strong, yet she can be vulnerable and she's ambitious and calculating and will step on people but also feels remorse for it". One month before filming began, Portman started taking daily classes to master the English accent under dialect coach Jill McCulloch, who also stayed on set throughout the filming.  This was her second film to use her English accent after V for Vendetta. Natalie Portman wore hair extensions for the long hair because her hair was short at the time after shaving her head for V for Vendetta. as Mary Boleyn. as Henry VIII of England. Bana commented that he was surprised upon being offered the role, and describes the character of Henry as "a man who was somewhat juvenile and driven by passion and greed", and that he interpreted the character as "this man who was involved in an incredibly intricate, complicated situation, largely through his own doing".  In preparation for the role, Bana relied mostly on the script to come up with his own version of the character, and he "deliberately stayed away" from other portrayals of Henry in films because he found it "too confusing and restricting".  as George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford. Though the three siblings are all very tight-knit, George and Anne are closest. George supports and loves Anne for her rebellious and unconventional attitude. He is forced to marry Jane Parker. George is often viewed as the most vulnerable and probably the kindest of the siblings. as Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire and Ormond as Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk as William Carey as Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland as Catherine of Aragon as William Stafford as Jane Parker
- Iain Mitchell as Thomas Cromwell
- Corinne Galloway as Jane Seymour
- Constance Stride as young Mary Tudor as young Elizabeth Tudor as the King's Messenger as Francis Weston
Much of the filming took place in Kent, England, though Hever Castle was not used, despite being the original household of Thomas Boleyn and family from 1505 to 1539. The Baron's Hall at Penshurst Place featured, as did Dover Castle, which stood in for the Tower of London in the film, and Knole House in Sevenoaks was used in several scenes.   The home of the Boleyns was represented by Great Chalfield Manor in Wiltshire, and other scenes were filmed at locations in Derbyshire, including Cave Dale, Haddon Hall, Dovedale and North Lees Hall near Hathersage. 
Dover Castle was transformed into the Tower of London for the execution scenes of George and Anne Boleyn. Knole House was the setting for many of the film's London night scenes and the inner courtyard doubles for the entrance of Whitehall Palace where the grand arrivals and departures were staged. The Tudor Gardens and Baron's Hall at Penshurst Place were transformed into the interiors of Whitehall Palace, including the scenes of Henry's extravagant feast. 
Historian Alex von Tunzelmann criticised The Other Boleyn Girl for its portrayal of the Boleyn family and Henry VIII, citing factual errors. She stated, "In real life, by the time Mary Boleyn started her affair with Henry, she had already enjoyed a passionate liaison with his great rival, King François I of France. Rather ungallantly, François called her 'my hackney', explaining that she was fun to ride. Chucked out of France by his irritated wife, Mary sashayed back to England and casually notched up her second kingly conquest. The film's portrayal of this Boleyn girl as a shy, blushing damsel could hardly be further from the truth."  She further criticised the depiction of Anne as a "manipulative vixen" and Henry as "nothing more than a gullible sex addict in wacky shoulder pads".  The film presents other historical inaccuracies, such as the statement by a character that, through marrying Henry Percy, Anne Boleyn would become Duchess of Northumberland, a title that was only created in the reign of Henry's son, Edward VI. Also, it places Anne's time in the French court after her involvement with Percy, something that occurred before the affair. On top of that, Anne was portrayed inaccurately as the older sister in the movie, in real life she was Mary's younger sister. In the film, Thomas Boleyn stated Anne was in France for a couple months. In real life Anne was in France for 7 years.
The film was first released in theatres on February 29, 2008, though its world premiere was held at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival held on February 7–17, 2008.   The film earned $9,442,224 in the United Kingdom,  and $26,814,957 in the United States and Canada. The combined worldwide gross of the film was $75,598,644,  more than double the film's $35 million budget.
Home media Edit
The film was released in Blu-ray and DVD formats on June 10, 2008. Extras on both editions include an audio commentary with director Justin Chadwick, deleted and extended scenes, character profiles, and featurettes. The Blu-ray version includes BD-Live capability and an additional picture-in-picture track with character descriptions, notes on the original story, and passages from the original book.
The film received mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 43%, based on 148 reviews, with a weighted average of 5.30/10. The site's general consensus is: "Though it features some extravagant and entertaining moments, The Other Boleyn Girl feels more like a soap opera than historical drama."  Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 50 out of 100, based on 34 reviews. 
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film "more slog than romp" and an "oddly plotted and frantically paced pastiche." She added, "The film is both underwritten and overedited. Many of the scenes seem to have been whittled down to the nub, which at times turns it into a succession of wordless gestures and poses. Given the generally risible dialogue, this isn’t a bad thing." 
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "This in an enjoyable movie with an entertaining angle on a hard-to-resist period of history . Portman's performance, which shows a range and depth unlike anything she's done before, is the No. 1 element that tips The Other Boleyn Girl in the direction of a recommendation . [She] won't get the credit she deserves for this, simply because the movie isn't substantial enough to warrant proper attention." 
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone stated, "The film moves in frustrating herks and jerks. What works is the combustible teaming of Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, who give the Boleyn hotties a tough core of intelligence and wit, swinging the film's sixteenth-century protofeminist issues handily into this one." 
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film three out of five stars, describing it as a "flashy, silly, undeniably entertaining Tudor romp" and adding, "It is absurd yet enjoyable, and playing fast and loose with English history is a refreshing alternative to slow and tight solemnity the effect is genial, even mildly subversive . It is ridiculous, but imagined with humour and gusto: a very diverting gallop through the heritage landscape." 
Sukhdev Sandhu of The Telegraph said, "This is a film for people who prefer their costume dramas to gallop along at a merry old pace rather than get bogged down in historical detail . Mining relatively familiar material here, and dramatising highly dubious scenarios, [Peter Morgan] is unable to make the set-pieces seem revelatory or tart . In the end, The Other Boleyn Girl is more anodyne than it has any right to be. It can't decide whether to be serious or comic. It promises an erotic charge that it never carries off, inducing dismissive laughs from the audience for its soft-focus love scenes soundtracked by swooning violins. It is tasteful, but unappetising."