“Anne Boleyn: A Woman In Love”, by Sandra Vasoli

HENRY VIII and ANNE BOLEYN Deer Hunting in Windsor Forest
Artist: William Powell Firth

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Anne Boleyn: A Woman In Love

Sandra Vasoli

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In June of 2016 I wrote an article for queenanneboleyn.com. It was entitled “Henry VIII’s Letters to Anne Boleyn”.  The article chronicled my visit to the Vatican Archives in September 2016, at which time I was greatly privileged to gain rare permission to study the original letters written by the king to his beloved Anne.

With deep appreciation to Beth von Staats for the invitation, I am delighted to provide a follow up to that article, about something I have wanted to express for quite a while.  This is the perfect opportunity.

I visited the Vatican Library as part of research underway while writing Struck With the Dart of Love: Je Anne Boleyn – a novel about the relationship between Anne and Henry VIII. Prior to my visit, I had already completed a great deal of study, both of primary source documents and the writings of notable historians. I knew Anne Boleyn to have been a highly intelligent, well-educated, sophisticated young woman – one who expected and hoped to make a good marriage. But before a marriage could be successfully contracted and approved for Mistress Boleyn, the King took notice of her and quickly developed a keen fascination. How did Anne react to the attentions of her Sovereign?  With regard to her true feelings for King Henry in the early days of their connection, there is little worthy documentation, so we must speculate on how quickly they became closely acquainted. It was not very long, however, before Anne’s name appeared in the chronicles of the time as the object of Henry’s courtly love interest. When did their interaction change from a game of courtly gallantry to a romantic liaison? At the outset of my research, I believed what I had often read – that Anne spent over six years shrewdly holding the besotted king at bay, finally capitulating, only when it was certain he would marry her and make her queen. I often wondered, though, how a woman would be able to keep such a man at arm’s length for so long.

So, one of my most shockingly distinct and momentous revelations came when I was at last within inches of the highly personal and decidedly intimate letters that Henry wrote to his Anne. I saw with certainty that indeed, she loved him back.

I recall leaving the Library building that day, walking through St Peter’s Square and reflecting upon what I had observed; simply knowing that it had been a two-way, reciprocated, love affair.

Why and how did I come to this conclusion? I will share some of my thinking with you… and I will also show you some snippets of the letters – samples never before seen on the web or elsewhere – to try and illustrate my points.

It must first be said that the examination of handwritten letters and documents – closely viewed, and inspected with a magnifying glass – provides surprising reams of information which are otherwise entirely missed simply by reading transcribed text. Though the words may be powerful, they pale in comparison to beholding the essence of a page in its entirety. It can be startling to realize how much that page, its message painstakingly scratched by hand with a quill and ink so long ago, has to say.

It was just such discoveries which informed me about the nature of Anne and Henry’s relationship.

The first clue which begs to be examined is how the letters came to be delivered to Pope Clement VII at the Vatican in Rome, probably in 1529 or 1530 – in a collection numbering seventeen. We know they must have been delivered together because it is obvious they were all pasted into a bound book at the same time and in the exact same way. Following the letters, an addendum is comprised of pages of transcriptions as well as editorial comments, in Italian script of the early 16th c. It is presumed that the letters were translated for the Pope for ease of reading.

So, why is this significant? Because we can then deduce that Anne kept the letters together. Most likely she kept them hidden as a group, amongst her private belongings. Someone – a spy who had access to her suite – knew where they were and had probably been well paid to purloin them and deliver them to an adversary who sent them to Rome for the Pope’s inspection. As any woman knows, love letters which are treasured are kept together. Anne cherished these letters which were written over a period of several years and preserved them until they were stolen from her. It’s an initial, and very strong, indicator of her love for Henry.

Although a number of the books published with transcriptions of the letters offer theories of the missives’ order, I feel that many of the suggestions are incorrect.  The letters are not dated, but much can be actually told by the formality or lack thereof of Henry’s handwriting – as well as by his terms of endearment for Anne.  When paging through the letters, it is quite clear which were the early ones: his writing was small and precise; there were few scratched out words, and his message was polite and proper. See photo number 1, a sample of a very early letter in which Henry sends a buck killed by his own hand to Hever for Anne’s enjoyment – and tells Anne he very often wishes for her instead of her brother!

“…who often wishes for you instead of your brother” (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

The famous ‘above a whole year stricken with the dart of love’ letter is also very formally written. The writing is careful; this letter is one of the few in which Henry’s lines of writing did not slide up the page to the right. He does, in this note, beseech her to let him know “vostre intention entire tochant l’amoure entre nous deux”…  ‘to let me know expressly your whole mind as to the love between us two.’   In my interpretation, this statement indicates she was signaling that there was something significant developing between them.

As time passed his writing became more familiar both in look and tone. One letter describes their absence from each other in this way: “…Tant plus longues que les iuors sont, tant plus elonie est le solelle et nonobstant plus farvent. Ainsi fait il de nostre amours…”   ‘…the longer the days are, the more distant is the sun, and nevertheless the hotter; so it is with our love…’

“…the love between us two” (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

It soon appears evident that Anne, who had not yet given Henry her official agreement to wed, returned his feelings of love. There isn’t a chance that a man like Henry – handsome and powerful, charming and magnetic – would relentlessly pursue someone who offered him no true warmth or passion in return to his overtures.

We then observe the beautifully composed, and tenderly written letter of adoration which Henry sent to Anne in reply to her gift of a jeweled ship: the gift she sent to indicate she would be his, after all. The text of the letter is very sweet, and Henry states that the demonstrations of Anne’s affection are so beautiful, and her “mottoes” so warmly expressed, that he commits to her fully. She obviously included with the jewel a love letter of her own, now lost to history.

Henry’s letter of love and adoration (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

Following this, the letters become more relaxed in their look and inscriptions. It can be seen that, by then, Henry felt much more confident in the relationship. He regularly called her ‘sweetheart’, and ‘Mine Own Darlyng’.

“Darlyng” (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

The great exception to such lighthearted familiarity was the night upon which Henry wrote he had been informed that Anne was deathly ill, at Hever, with the sweating sickness. The heartbreaking page is full of smears, scratches, corrections, and had been written in a panic. His pain is evident, almost 490 years later. He feared that he was about to lose his love – a woman with whom he shared a strong and growing bond. And there was little he could do, at a distance, to prevent it. His desperate state of mind is splashed across the parchment page.

… panicking because Anne has the sweating sickness… (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

As for physical affection? For those who have believed Anne literally held Henry at arm’s length, giving him little if any sensual love… well, that can be readily disproven by the romantic letter which begins “Myne Awne swethhart, thes shall be to advertes yow off the gret elendgenes that I fynde her syns your departing.” They very certainly had enjoyed a close, warm, and affectionate encounter prior to her departure from him. Henry continues in the short note, telling her he has spent the evening working on their Great Matter, and now has a headache. But he doesn’t close the letter until he tells her “wyschyng myself (specially and evening) in my swethart harmys, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to cusse. Wryttyn wth the hand off hym that was, is and shal be yours by hys wyll – Henry Rex.“  It certainly seems as if he had kissed those pretty dukkys before!

… oh,those “pretty dukkys”… (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

Ultimately, Henry’s letters became so warm, familiar, funny and touching that in studying them and reading the text, one is struck by how close the couple had become, long prior to their marriage. His handwriting evolved from a well-crafted (that is, for a man who notoriously disliked the act of writing), formal display on the page to a light, familiar scribble – just the progression we would experience from early communications with objects of our own romantic interests to the notes we might send to significant others after we felt very comfortable with them, and were assured of their returned love and affection.

Perhaps my favorite letter is a rather obscure one, written late in the group of seventeen. It was composed during a time of stress at the lack of progress attaining the Pope’s approval of a divorce between Henry and his then-wife, Katherine of Aragon. Both Anne and Henry must have, at varying times, been frustrated to distraction – and each would find ways to comfort and soothe the other in order to resume efforts to achieve their goal. At the time of this letter’s writing, Anne must have been harrowed by Campeggio’s tactics of delay. Henry sought to calm her, and writes “To informe yow what joy it is to me to understand off your conformabylnes to reson…”

Then he explains why the letter may have been delayed…”The cause why thys bearer taryth so long is the bysynes that I have hadde to dres upp ger for yow, Wyche I trust or long to se yow occupy. And then I trust to occupy yours, whyche shal be recompence in owght to me for all my pains and labors…”      Henry has had a beautiful ensemble made for Anne (‘dres upp ger’), and he looks forward to seeing her in it. But then, he says, he also looks forward to seeing her out of it! And that, he reports, will be worth everything to him!

… “dres upp ger” for Lady Anne… (Photo Credit: “Die Liebesbriefe Henrichs VIII” by Theo Stemmler; Belser Verlag Zurich, Publisher)

Undoubtedly there will always be people who believe Anne was conniving enough, manipulative enough, and cunning enough to feign her love and passion for Henry in order to achieve one goal: the Crown.  I state definitively, though, that this is not the woman I see reflected in the letters composed and written by a man who would not have been so easily fooled. I firmly believe that Henry and Anne were a love match – a formidable pair – whose mutual devotion at its epitome was the stuff legends are made of.

Perhaps reading and seeing some segments from Henry’s love letters to Anne has convinced you, as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR!

Sandy Vasoli

Sandra Vasoli is a historical fiction writer from Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, USA. A graduate with a dual degree in English and Biology from Villanova University, Sandy enjoyed a long term career in leadership and organization development before turning her attention to her passions of writing and Tudor Era history.  Sandy has written all her life: essays, stories, and articles, but Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love is her first work of published fiction. Volume Two of the Je Anne Boleyn series soon followed. Sandy’s  career, working for several of the largest companies in the world, allowed her the study of people, especially those in leadership positions.  Thus, she is keenly interested in the bold and insightful qualities possessed by Anne Boleyn. For more information, visit her website at SANDRA VASOLI.

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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