When we first conceive of an idea, or our heart becomes unwittingly engaged with a sense of purpose that defies our current understanding, we can have little insight into how fate will unravel, just where this calling will lead us. This is a uniquely human experience that has the capacity to both inspire and terrify simultaneously. In following our heart, we sense that our reward will be to taste the sweetest nectar, to know that we are living a life of truth and being the perfect expression of who we really are. But too often we turn away from this destiny, and deny our very self, sensing the many potential calamities ready to consume us and dismantle the comfortable safety of our world. To press on requires enormous courage and resilience.
It seems to me that this is the dilemma, or choice, that Anne Boleyn had to make at some point in her story; to fulfil her destiny as Henry’s queen consort, and be a central catalyst in the English Reformation, (knowing the great dangers that lay therein), or to turn back and find once more the safe shore of ignominy. Anne’s own particular karma placed her in a position where her choices changed the fabric of a nation. Perhaps individually, we might not be destined to fundamentally transform societies or nations, but most of us will face such choices in our lives at some point. I know that the act of writing and publishing my first novel, Le Temps Viendra: a Novel of Anne Boleyn was one such choice for me. I am sure that when Professor Eric Ives set out with a deep sense of purpose to reclaim the truth of Anne’s innocence, he could not foresee how many lives he would touch – and maybe indirectly, transform.
My love for Anne stretches back over many decades, but I for one am very grateful for Professor Ives’s thoroughness and attention to detail in the writing of The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Funnily enough, I remember clearly the day I bought it, soon after its publication in 2004 – and I can’t say that for many books! I was in Blackwells in Oxford, browsing with no specific purpose, when I saw it stacked on a central table, promoted as a new release. I ran my hand over the smooth, shiny, black cover, delighting that I would soon be losing myself once more in Anne’s world. It was one of the best £20 I ever spent. Little did I know that it would one day become one of my key resources in my own, later efforts to speak of Anne’s innocence.
As we approach 19 May, there is understandably great sadness at Anne’s death. However, not long after I began to write Le Temps Veindra in 2010, I became aware of some ground-breaking work being conducted by Professor Steve Taylor at the University of Leeds, on a phenomenon called Suffering Induced Transformational Experiences. As I read the book, it was if fragmented pieces of a dream suddenly slotted into place, and I saw something entirely new and unexpected in Anne’s last few days upon this earth. Some of you may have read this before, as I first published the article via On the Tudor Trail back in 2011. Back then, my fan base on Facebook was small, and the novel unpublished. Much water has flowed under the bridge between me, Anne and Professor Ives since this time. So I have decided to republish it, adding this preface as a note of gratitude to those who have supported me in fulfilling part of my purpose, and as a salute to Professor Ives and all of you who work tirelessly in your writing, and in social media, to keep Anne’s memory burning brightly. May I particularly mention Natalie Grueninger at On the Tudor Trail and Claire Ridgway at The Anne Boleyn Files, who were really the only two social media resources on Anne when I first established my own Anne Boleyn related page. I now know for myself what a commitment this is! Finally, I’d like to thank Beth Von Staats from QueenAnneBoleyn.com for asking me to contribute to this month of celebration.
The following story is one of hope. Perhaps it might prompt us to think of Anne differently in those last hours of her life, and most of all to be inspired by her example and live more fearlessly – for what greater legacy could she leave us?
Long Prepared to Die: The Transformation of Anne Boleyn
There has always been something that has intrigued me about Anne’s final hours in this world – her incredible courage and profound serenity in the face of her imminent oblivion. It is almost impossible to imagine the sheer terror, the desolation and the sense of utter betrayal that she must have felt as the shocking events of May 1536 unfolded to their dramatic climax.
We know from the reports of those around Anne during those final few days that she experienced periods of fluctuating mood, sometimes tending toward hysteria and that, as her execution approached she slept only a little. So one might have imagined that when she finally emerged to make her last walk from the queen’s apartments to the scaffold, she would have looked frail and exhausted; haunted even with the horror of what lay ahead.
Yet surprisingly, what we know from contemporary sources does not suggest that this was the case. I have always been strangely fascinated by the words of a Portuguese witness who afterward wrote an account of the events on that May morning saying that, ‘Never had the queen looked so beautiful’. Another account from De Carles stated that the queen ‘went to her execution with an untroubled countenance’. How is this possible? What was happening here, I wonder? I had always assumed Anne’s state of mind on 19 May 1536 was as a result only of her renowned courage and her deep religious piety. Whilst these two factors were undoubtedly of significance, I have recently come across what I believe may be an even more convincing and comprehensive explanation for Anne’s appearance and behaviour.
In his excellent book, Out of the Darkness, the transpersonal psychologist, Steve Taylor, gives a fascinating insight into a phenomenon which he calls, SITEs – Suffering Induced Transformational Experiences. As the name suggests, these are profound shifts in consciousness which occur usually as a result of an individual experiencing significant trauma or turmoil. Taylor not only describes the phenomenon and the conditions which most often seem to catalyse it, but also the type of person most susceptible to such change.
As I hope to describe in this article, there are some fascinating and tantalising indicators which suggest that at some point during her final hours on Earth – and facing the inevitability of her death – Anne underwent such a transformation and this radically altered her state of mind. It is clear from Taylor’s accounts that individuals who have experienced such ‘high-intensity awakening experiences’ as he calls them, radiate an aura of profound peace. Was it this that the Portuguese witness saw in Anne Boleyn as she made her way to the scaffold?
However, before examining the evidence that Anne experienced such a shift in consciousness, we need to cover some basic psychological concepts in order to that we can make sense of what might have happened to her. We need to understand the psychological concept of the self and how intense trauma paves the way for SITEs to occur.
Taylor describes that the self takes two forms; the ego, which is our conditioned sense of self and a deeper, real self, also known as the soul. The ego is a fragile concept. Through the accumulation of positions and possessions we constantly seek to reinforce our sense of self through our status, wealth, plans and ambitions et cetera; the more we have, the more we feel in control and stronger and more secure our ego becomes. The currency of the ego is fear and when any aspect of our sense of self is threatened, we respond on a scale of anxiety to terror depending upon the extent of the threat which faces us.
Clearly, when an individual faces imminent death, as Anne did, this fear-based response becomes heightened to the extreme. When we face our demise, we are forced to confront the loss of our dreams, hopes, status, family, and friends etc; all of our attachments are ripped away. This can lead to a ‘psychotic breakdown’ (or nervous breakdown) of the type that was recorded in the case of Lady Rochford who went mad in the face of her own pending execution in 1542. Or, perhaps more unusually, a person may experience a ‘break up’ as the ego disintegrates, and a new sense of self emerges to fill the vacuum; a sense of self which is fearless and profoundly peaceful. Facing her demise, Anne’s whole identity would have been swept away, and as Taylor states, ‘at this point of devastation and desolation you are, paradoxically, close to a state of liberation’. In modern parlance, we call this enlightenment.
So what evidence do we have to suggest that such transformation in consciousness had occurred? As I have already mentioned, we do know that at the beginning of her imprisonment Anne seemed to suffer from periods of intensely fluctuating mood which from time to time bordered on near hysteria. Yet by 18 May, when her execution was delayed for a second time, she was noted as saying to Master Kingston, Captain of the Tower of London that it was ‘not that she desired death, but that she thought herself prepared to die’ (De Carles). It seems to me that Anne had reached a deep sense of acceptance and possibly genuine fearlessness which is typical in such cases. Finally, we’ve already touched on the accounts of eyewitnesses who described her peaceful countenance and radiant beauty. In fact one account says that as Anne stepped onto the scaffold she was ‘as gay as if she were not going to die’.
Yet what is also intriguing is the classical type of person that Taylor describes is most likely to experience a SITE:
First and foremost, those most susceptible are individuals who display the qualities of courage and realism. We know that Anne was noted for her courage. As Ambassador Chapuys noted in 1530, she was, ‘braver than a lion’. It is also not hard to see when you read Anne’s story that she was an incredibly pragmatic individual, ready to face the situations that arose head-on and with no sense of squeamishness.
The second quality predisposing to such transformation is the need to be in control. Anne lived in a world controlled by men. Yet, I believe she was, without doubt, an alpha female who took her fate into her own hands and strove with great tenacity to bring about that which she desired, (note the falcon on her badge, adopted after she became queen, which symbolises, ‘one who does not rest until the objective is achieved.’) Furthermore, part of the reason that Henry fell in love with Anne was, of course, her strong personality, a sharp contrast to the submissive English roses predominating at court.
‘Right brainers’; that is people with a strongly creative bent. We certainly know that Anne was an incredibly creative individual. She enjoyed writing poetry, writing music, dancing and singing. Even in her dress she was noted to ‘everyday make some change in the fashion of her garments’ (Wyatt, Papers, v.p.141) Taylor suggests that such individuals have a predominantly intuitive personality and are highly emotional people. This predisposes them to an intense response to trauma, to a point where the ego structure is put under unsustainable pressure. Of course, there is no doubt about Anne’s intemperance and that she was highly strung.
Finally gender also plays a part. The female sex has been shown through research to be more likely to experience SITEs in relationship to bereavement, illness and disability. Of course, Anne was not only facing her own death, but two days prior to this had possibly witnessed the execution of her own brother. In her own death, she also faced everlasting separation from her beloved daughter, Elizabeth. Taylor states that women on the whole have a weaker sense of ego – and therefore, it is more vulnerable to being atomised by severe trauma.
It seems to me that Anne very closely fits the personality type which research has shown is most susceptible to undergoing Suffering Induced Transformational Experiences (SITEs). Of course, this is a theory that can never be proven. However, given these predisposing factors and what we know about eyewitness accounts of Anne’s state of mind in the run up to and immediately before her execution, I think it is worthy of consideration that something profound and amazing happened to Anne Boleyn in those final few days and hours. So that, to use her own words, she was able to say to the Constable of the Tower, Master Kingston, when he came to inform her that the hour of her death was upon her, ‘Acquit yourself of your charge for I have long been prepared’, Whether Anne experienced the highest intensity awakening experience possible or a partial but significant shift in consciousness, I do not know. However, as the anniversary of her execution approaches, I would like to think that Anne walked to her death a more fully liberated woman and at last having found a profound sense of peace.
For a full explanation of the SITE phenomenon see, Out of the Darkness: From Turmoil to Transformation by Steve Taylor. 2011. HayHouse.
(QAB Administrator Note: For more information about Professor Steven Taylor’s research and books, visit his website OUT OF THE DARKNESS.)
Sarah Morris, M.D. was raised in Yorkshire Dales, England. Sarah became an historical fiction writer after two successful careers, first as a physician and then as a leadership coach for business executives. Sarah has exceptionally varied interests, all which she pursues with great energy and passion. Beyond her leadership development career, Sarah is a prolific historical fiction writer and historical re-enactor. Sarah’s debut novel, Le temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, is exceptionally popular with website members and browsers, most of whom also follow Sarah’s re-enactment activities and costuming on twitter and facebook. For more information, visit Sarah’s website at http://www.anneboleynbook.co.uk.