'Henry Tudor, Left You Lifeless...'
The above quote is from a song by Alt J called 'Deadcrush.' After recently performing ALOT of research into medieval and tudor England, the infamous and highly wronged Anne Boleyn has become yet another point of intrigue for this module...
Having always had a love for the story of Anne Boleyn, and her tragic execution on the 19th of May, 1536, I couldn't help but look into her life and experiences, as I delved into the lives of people from medieval and Tudor England. A political powerhouse, with the use of her intelligence and sexuality alone, she turned the english court upside down, and in turn, turned the world around her completely, as none other than King Henry the 8th fought to make her his bride. Cunning, clever and dangerously seductive, she was a fascinating anomaly during a time of extreme patriarchal standards, and to this day, I harbour for her a level of respect for just what she achieved, in what seems like a matter of seconds.
Coming to England during the early 1530s, she had spent the majority of her childhood in France, serving Queen Margaret of Austria as one of her ladies in waiting. Surrounded by a vastly fascinating culture of revolutionary artists and writers, from the beginning Anne was given opportunities to explore subjects which back home in England, would never have been considered suitable for a young lady to learn. Participating in dances, pagents, card games and debates, she enjoyed a level of freedom within France which gave her a boldness that later would become one of her many attractions to a young and bored King of England. As she revelled in her life away from England, back home, the Boleyn family was struggling- having had their fortunes made by Anne's sister becoming mistress to King Henry the 8th, it was during the time Anne returned to England that her sister became pregnant, falling out of the Kings favour as she no longer could serve him in her state. Having cast Mary Boleyn aside, Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn was desperate to get back into the Kings favour- without it he could loose many positions in court which had formerly afforded him so many pleasures. With Anne selected as his next playing piece, he sent her to Hampton Court in the hopes of another daughter re-catching Henry's eyes- little did he know what a dangerous move this would be in later years.
Coinciding with Annes arrival to Hampton Court, was the break down of King Henry the 8ths first marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. A spanish princess, she had been a majorly popular monarch amongst the public, especially when she ruled as successful regent of England when Henry had to leave for war. As clever as she was devout, though she loved the King, and he had in return loved her for the first years of their union, as time went on, the couple began to draw apart, as Henry's desperation for an heir became more and more prominent. Suffering numerous miscarriages, and also the death of one baby boy, Catherine was reaching the age where bearing children would no longer be possible- Henry ,meanwhile, was only in his early twenties- he could still have children, but as long as he remained with Catherine, any heirs he may sire would be bastards, and therefore, had no right to rule. In short, he needed his marriage to finish, and finish soon, but as divorce was considered a sin by the Roman Catholic church that he was part of, there would be little hope of this coming to be. Until ,that is, a young woman arrived at court, with the scent of France at her side and a glint of trouble in her eye- this woman was none other than Anne Boleyn.
Fascinated by her almost exotic qualities and taste in clothing, to Thomas Boleyn's relief Henry immediately pressed his suit, and asked Anne to be his mistress. In a surprising turn of events ,however, she refused point blank to become anything other than a close friend to the King- having seen how her sister had been used and cast aside by Henry, Anne it seemed was not going to make the same mistakes- the only way she would ever give the king what he wanted was with a ring and a crown- otherwise he could take himself elsewhere. Shockingly this only encouraged the king further- Anne's passionate refusal and fearless temper made him want her even more- after a lifetime of women all falling at his feet, finally he had found a woman who said NO. And whilst this should've been enough to show where Anne's heart lay, it only made him fight harder to win her favour. Sending hundreds of love letters, poems, ballads, sonnets and even music he had written for her, it was the seduction of the century- no one had ever witnessed a King beg so much for the approval of one woman- a woman who wasn't even of great family or fortune. The court was left in utter disbelief, and for Catherine, it was a final blow. She had lost the Kings eye for good now, and no amount of pleading would bring it back- she knew her time was running out, and all she could do was prepare for when the worst happened.
Anne ,meanwhile, was living within the lap of luxury. In Henry's eyes she was his true Queen and wife- she was the woman he had meant always to be with. Showering gift after gift upon her, their romance had dangerous consequences- Catherine was forced out of her home at Hampton Court and was never allowed to see her daughter, Princess Mary, again- the kings once favoured advisor Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favour after his failure to gain rights to a divorce from Rome- he died soon after his removal from Court, perhaps in shock at how a King who he had once loved and revered could cast him aside so quickly. Finally, England itself suffered- creating the church of England so that he could possess the right to annul his own marriage, Henry's turning of the church from Catholicism to protestantism led to the destruction of countless churches, abbies and cathedrals- nuns, novices and monks were left without shelter, and the people who had relied on the benefits of the church lost their one access to food and shelter during particularly difficult times. Anne's game had dangerous reparations, which would later leave her without support when the King turned on her as he had turned on Catherine- no one would help her, or support her claim to innocence- she was the unwanted monarch, the whore who had upturned the rightful Queen of England, the witch who had cast a spell over their King. No amount of silver was going to convince the public otherwise.
Upon her coronation in June 1533, Anne was pregnant- though the world around her may despise what she had done to Catherine, Anne had succeeded in an area where the old queen had failed- bearing a child long enough for it to reach full term. With the sound of coronation bells still ringing in her ears, as Anne laboured to bring forth her child, the court waited with baited breath- if it were a son, then the Boleyns would be secure in their position at court, and there would be no removal of them- if it were a girl ,however, rumours could be started about Anne perhaps not being able enough to bear an heir to the throne. Sadly for the Boleyns, it was a girl- Princess Elizabeth. Coming as a major disappointment to both Henry and Anne, it was then that things began to break down. As pressure rose to birth a son, Anne and Henry's marriage became even more turbulent- fighting constantly then celebrating ardent reunions, they flipped between love and hate like we would switch a light on and off- the court was left in a spin at their wild romance. Trying constantly to conceive an heir, miscarriage after miscarriage soon followed Elizabeth's successful birth. The pressure of bearing a son ,it seemed, had got to Anne- constantly monitored, constantly treated like a birth machine, Henry's constant demand that an heir be born only worsened her stress and terror- she couldn't meet his expectations anymore- what had made her so alluring now made her toxic- the temper, the boldness, the intelligence- all of it was worth no hold over the King if she could not perform her basic duty as Queen of England.
In 1536 ,after three years on the throne, Anne would bear her last child- another miscarriage. Henry's patience had finally run out. Having already selected a new wife in Jane Seymour, Anne's time in the sun was over- as the court around her moved like crows over carrion, rumours began to fly of Anne's licentious behaviour- sleeping with courtiers including her own brother ,George Boleyn, Hampton court burnt with intrigue, as the takedown of the Boleyn family began. With Thomas Cromwell fanning the sparks, by May the game was up- Anne was arrested on charges of adultery, incest and witchcraft- all of which amounted to treason against her own husband. Taken to the tower, Anne would never live to see her daughter , Elizabeth become one of the greatest queens to rule England- indeed she would never get to see her daughter again. As the doors of the tower shut behind her, Anne would never have guessed that within the week, she would become the first Queen ever to be executed on English soil.
The charges against Anne are now considered by many historians as false- the majority of dates when she is said to have slept with men including Mark Smeaton, George Boleyn and Henry Norris can be disproved by either Anne or the man in question not being in the same palace or castle at that time- in short, the rumours at court had turned into 'evidence' which would be used to ensure the Queen's destruction- the likelihood of there ever being any real adultery is very small. As for the charges of incest and witchcraft, its believed these were put down to Anne's last miscarriage- the foetus she birthed was reported to be seriously deformed- and during this age of little to no scientific understanding, a child born with issues including polydactyly, Scoliosis etc. was explained as being tainted by the devil, because of its mother performing evil acts, which could include sorcery. Incest also could explain its issues- though medical understanding was backwards to say the least, people were aware during this time that sleeping with family led to children with numerous health complications- though they didn't know why, it was considered a major sin in gods eyes, so this is why the children were born like that. Finally, Henry also said that Anne had placed a powerful love spell over him, which is why he had caused so much destruction and pain to have her- he wasn't in control of his own mind, but was the puppet of a supposedly villainous whore of a woman. With this pack of charges upon her back there was no getting out of this one- finally, Annes intelligence failed her- the court wanted her gone, and her voice no longer held its former potency. Found guilty on all charges, she was sentenced to death- at first it was suggested she die a traitors death by burning at the stake- Henry ,however, afforded one last act of kindness to a woman he had once so passionately cared for- he allowed instead that she be executed by sword- a quick, clean beheading that would at least save Anne dignity from the horror of being scorched alive, or hacked to death by an often unskilled executioner. Left alone with a selection of new handmaids, Annes last days were filled with dread and darkness- it was only on the day of her execution any of that former fire burned through.
Dressed in silk and ermine, Anne went to death as the Queen she knew she was- she did not speak ill of the king, nor did she take her small chance to talk upon the scaffold as an opportunity to impress upon the people her innocence- she didn't apologise either for her actions. She died as she had lived- a brave, bold and beautiful young woman, whose only crime was failure to bear a son. As she knelt down, the world did not realise what they were losing- one of the first women ever to decide her own fate, and control her own choices- a woman, independent of the patriarchal system.
My love for Anne's bravery, is why I wrote such a long post today- although I do not condone how she and Henry treated Catherine and Princess Mary, I cannot help but feel sorry- she was clearly innocent- indeed on her last confession she professed her innocence before god- as she was about to die she would NEVER lie before she was about to meet her literal maker. Finally, her last admittance always pulls a sting in my heart- her only crime ,she said, was being jealous of her husband, and the freedom he possessed in being able to execute power as he desired, and live also as he wanted with no retribution. Surely this is enough to know how wrongly she was accused? Anne will remain always a conundrum- but for me, she will always be a symbol of female power.