On the up and coming anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death, the internet is flooded with tributes to Queen Anne; bouquets sent to St. Peter ad Vincula, where Boleyn lovers often flock on the 19th May to stand over her grave, sometimes in floods of tears to mourn her betrayal and execution. In my opinion, the fascination with Anne and remembering her demise each year, stems from the fact that Anne was not of royal blood and neither a princess, before becoming Queen of England. We all admire the fact that Anne was a diplomat’s daughter and rose through the ranks of the Tudor court to become the most important female in the mid sixteenth century. No other woman had ever done what Anne had accomplished — usurping a real queen of royal blood, removing her out of the way, to sit on Katherine’s throne and take her place beside the King of England.
Whilst I admire Anne Boleyn for her charitable works, her support of religious reform and her critical stance when saying ‘no’ to Henry as none of his other wives’ ever did, I am alarmed at the adoration and equally the maligning of her name, nearly five hundred years after her death. There are few historians, let alone history enthusiasts of the period, who view Anne through an objective lens, to keep a balanced argument of who they believe Anne to have been. I remember speaking to a warder at the Tower, and he said that often visitors to Anne’s grave become very emotional, and some have made claims that they are a reincarnation of Anne herself, which the warden said he found very disturbing.
With the recent re-interment of Richard III, admirers and campaigners were whipped up into an emotional frenzy by their own research and work to do with his bones, found in a Leicestershire carpark; some researchers, historians and novelists all joined in the debates about Richard on television. The rediscovery of Richard’s bones and the re-interment was an incredible scientific and historical act of great significance. I salute all those involved, but at times, the coverage wanted to almost suggest a re-writing of history, when further evidence of Richard’s life and character have yet to be added to what we already know of him.
And so, it is the same with Queen Anne; the historians opinions swing back and forth about Anne like a pendulum between usurper, whore and home-wrecker to reformer, saint and feminist. Anne was not a feminist, but a product of her time. Anne chose to make the best of the situation and times she was born in to. She made a valid decision that she would not be a mistress of a King, but his wife only. This decision sparked the break with Rome, the setting up of Henry VIII as the Head of the Church in England and the debate of her character in her lifetime, as well as after her death. Credit should be given to Anne, for standing by her man, for so many years against so much opposition, including the opposition of her family. Her Uncle Norfolk and her father Thomas Boleyn were actually against the match with their relative and the king.
We must remember that without Anne, England would never have had one of its greatest ever monarchs on the throne, her daughter Elizabeth I. If Elizabeth had been of the male gender then Anne’s position as queen would have been unassailable, and her influence on her daughter would have probably had an even deeper impact upon her. Anne’s inability to carry a male heir to term may well have been passed on from Henry through illness and the fact that so little was known about how to deal with complications of pregnancy and early births, was not Anne’s fault and not the beginning of the end for Anne.
Anne was in the way of diplomatic relations between Spain and England in the way of Mary being restored to the succession. Anne was a strong woman, with forthright opinions; opinions not expected of the wife of a king. Henry did not want a royal advisor in his bed. Anne wanted to be the only advisor to her husband and more important in court than her nemesis, Cromwell. Cromwell realised Anne’s star was still firmly ascending, despite her miscarriages; Henry always championed his wife, almost to the end. Cromwell knew it was either his head or Anne’s. So he initiated a plan to get Anne out of the way, once Sir Antony Browne and Lady Worcester came to him with the first allegations against Anne. With Anne’s quick wit, flirtatious manner and sharp-tongue, it was easy for Cromwell to devise such venomous and shocking allegations, that Henry would not be able to ignore them. We all know the rest.
We all draw our own conclusions, but we need to do this by reviewing the evidence, deciding why such evidence exists, who it is written by and for whom and what bias could the author have of such evidence. It is not until we weigh the evidence up like true historians, that we will ever get to any truth of whom Anne was. For myself, I like to think that Anne was a strong woman, who had an incredible faith, who wanted the best for Henry the whole time she knew him. In her eyes, that meant being close to the king, advising him and questioning him, not to be ill-tempered against him, but in order to support him. Henry’s close advisors could not understand this in an age when women were meant to be mere decorations and baby making machines. Anne was human; she did things wrong; she said things wrong. People read her wrong during her lifetime and still continue to do so, hundreds of years after her death.
Like Richard III, I hope new evidence comes-to-light in relation to Anne Boleyn, and that some old trunk in an attic will give up its secrets and shed some light on this much maligned queen, so that we can reassess her character and life with new sources. This will enable historians and enthusiasts of Tudor history to have a more balanced view of her so that we can remember Anne on the anniversary of her execution with dignity and respect.
Phillipa Vincent-Connolly, an independent author and historian, graduated from The Open University with a BA and is now a qualified teacher of history and fashion. She is a single mum of two, living on the south coast in Broadstone, near Wimborne Dorset. In a previous life, Phillipa was a nail technician with her own nail salon & educator for Entity Beauty. Phillipa, well known fondly to many in the “Tudor Community” is currently writing a novel about Anne Boleyn entitled Timeless Falcon. Her debut novel, Miracle, tells the heroic story of Orianna Stewart, a talented teenager coping with unique challenges.
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