Most Tudor women that are well-known have been defined in relation to the infamous Henry VIII. Inspired by the hit musical SIX, I want this blog to help rewrite history as her-story, and show there are so much more to these Tudor women than Henry VIII and his decisions about their lives. This is their story.
“No English queen has had more impact on the history of the nation than Anne Boleyn”
– (Joanna Denny’s “Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen”)
While I’m not sure Anne Boleyn necessarily deserves this accolade, it certainly gives you an indication of how popular Anne Boleyn is. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is one of the most divisive characters in English history. Anne Boleyn inspired and still inspires passionate feelings, whether it is hate or love. Whether you are part of the Anne Boleyn fan club, or hate her for being a royal home-wrecker, you can’t help but be a little bit inspired by her badassery.
Anne Boleyn was born in the early years of 1500 (who needs to record the date of the birth of a girl anyway, am I right?). She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country. Anne spent her childhood at Hever Castle, Kent, and her adolescence at the French court, originally as a companion to Henry VIII’s sister Mary who was married to Louis XII of France. She returned to England in 1522, where she was admired by many men because of her French fashions and ‘exotic charms’ (people didn’t get out much in the 16th century, so France was exotic to the British back then). Henry VIII became increasingly infatuated with Anne upon her return to court – and Anne encouraged this. By the mid-1520s, Henry was becoming increasingly desperate for a legitimate son and when Anne refused to become his mistress, Henry decided to make her his wife. But alas Henry could not just divorce his first wife – even though he was king – but eventually after a long legal battle, his divorce was granted (although not before breaking England from the Roman Catholic Church, kind of a big deal). Henry married Anne Boleyn in 1533 and she was crowned Queen later that year.
Anne’s reign was short and not altogether sweet: she too failed to give Henry a male heir to the throne and because of her fiery temper, assertive and headstrong ways, she often clashed with Henry and other members of his council. She did maintain a lot of influence while she was queen though and lots of people did not like that. It is unclear exactly why Anne lost favour but it was likely to be a mixture of her fiery personality, inability to produce a son and more conservative members of Henry’s council disliking her ideas. In the middle of 1536, she was accused of adultery and members of the court were arrested, including her own brother. She was executed on 19th May 1536. Henry VIII married Jane Seymour, a much more docile creature, 11 days after Anne’s execution.
So why is this queen of three years so beguiling to the public almost 500 years after her death? Most of that is based on her crown-snatching and execution. But here I will show you why you should be interested in Anne – she was quick-witted, smart, ambitious, charming and frankly courageous:
- Anne had watched what happened to other women who had agreed to be Henry’s mistress – once Henry got bored, they were tossed aside for someone else. Anne valued herself and realised she should aim for something much better instead: queen. By holding out on her virtue, she forced Henry’s hand and he wanted her so much he divorced his wife and broke with the Catholic Church. In the brilliant words of Six the Musical ‘yeah I broke England from the church – yeah I’m that sexy’. So she changed the entire course of English history just by refusing to sleep with a spoilt king who had never heard no before – I think that’s pretty cool.
- When Anne was crowned queen – yeah she made sure that one happened – she wore a man’s crown! No woman had ever worn that crown as it was only used to crown kings’ but Anne did not care and insisted on it.
- Anne was no naïve miss and she realised that Henry might not stay interested in her for too long so she smartly enlisted her own spies. She got women she trusted to become Henry’s mistresses so he wouldn’t favour one of her enemies who might try and turn Henry against her. One of those people was her own cousin!
- Anne was powerful and not afraid to take down her enemies. She had a BIG grudge against Cardinal Wolsey because once upon a time he had stopped her marriage to a rich noble (although not as rich as Henry so who can really complain). So Anne took him down by convincing Henry he was deliberately not getting him an annulment. Wolsey was stripped of all his titles and sent to Yorkshire. Yikes. Then she got him accused of treason the next year but he died on his way to trial.
- Anne was also a pretty classy chick: when she knew she was going to be executed she even went around saying that her execution would be easy because she had such a little neck. The Constable of the Tower said that she laughed heartily over that joke.
- When she and Henry were married, she chose her own ladies and ran her household strictly, encouraging them to read the bible and to avoid engaging in lewd behavior.
- Anne was not afraid to speak her mind (even when perhaps she should have been!) She challenged and convinced Henry to agree with her opinions.
- Anne helped to influence the English Reformation: she influenced Henry to appoint reforming bishops and kept a copy of a bible for her ladies that Henry had banned because the prologues were Lutheran. Anne also helped to restore Richard Herman, who had been exiled, and gave aid to others who had fallen out of society because of their religious beliefs. She read about and embraced certain parts of reform when she could have easily been executed for heresy. Henry listened to what Anne had to say, her ideas and views. Anne would speak to Henry of banned books and encourage him to also read them, most likely lending him her own books. This led him to find the passage in the Bible from Leviticus that gave him the basis for his divorce from Catherine — without Anne, it is possible that England would still be a Catholic country today.
- Before Henry married Anne he created her Marquess of Pembroke. This title she held in her own right as a woman and was the first hereditary peerage title granted to a woman.
- Anne broke barriers. She was ‘forward’ and refused to bend to the will of men around her. In her last speech she does not admit to the crime of adultery but instead of not staying in her place as a woman. Anne was ultimately a spirited, ambitious, clever woman who met an unfortunate end. She changed the course of history and made her mark in many ways. While many will remember her as the wife of Henry VIII or the mother of Elizabeth I, I hope those who read this blog will remember her as she was; a woman with forward thinking views, who refused to be afraid of men, even the most powerful in England. Anne was “a woman in her own right—taken on her own terms in a man’s world; a woman who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex”.
Girl Museum Inc.