Review of the “Je Anne Boleyn” series by Sandra Vasoli

October 23, 2016 in News, QAB Book Reviews, The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock

by James Peacock




The story of Anne Boleyn has admittedly been “done to death” when it comes historical fiction. There are a ton of books out of there featuring Anne in some way or another. I must admit that before I read Struck with the Dart of Love: Je Anne Boleyn, Book One, there was a part of me that was apprehensive. Not long after I started reading the novel, however, I learned my apprehensions were needless.

Both Je Anne Boleyn novels are told from the viewpoint of Anne Boleyn. For me, Sandra Vasoli truly “gets” Anne. She understands the different sides of Anne’s personality: her charm, her intelligence, her wit, her courage, her passion, her ambition — even her jealousy and insecurities. Sandy doesn’t fall into the trap that so many fictional authors do by presenting Anne Boleyn as a “perfect saint”, instead crafting Anne’s true humanity.

The plot begins when Henry VIII first notices Anne (Vol I) and ends with her journey to the scaffold (Vol II). Henry is portrayed a lot more sympathetically than I have read in many other accountings, his relationship with Anne one of equal partners. I personally like how Sandy uniquely portrayed Anne and Henry’s relationship, as most authors portray one or the other as ruling the roost. In many ways, the similarities between Henry and Anne can be viewed as both a strength of their relationship, as well as it’s undoing. All too often, the easy (and in my opinion “lazy”) story is that their relationship cooled after Elizabeth’s birth. This is not the case here! Of course, there are occasional rows throughout (as we know there were), but this is presented as them being a typical married couple.

The story touches upon Anne’s education at the court of Margaret of Austria, her service to Queen Claude of France, and her relationship and admiration for one of the finest figures of the French Renaissance and one of the large players in the Reformation, Marguerite of Navarre.

A wonderful side to Anne’s personality is shown, one that those who have studied her life (such as myself) know about, but all too often gets ignored — namely Anne’s compassion and her charity! This is something that gets a strong focus throughout the books. We see Anne’s devotion to religion, as well as her support of William Tyndale, a man considered a heretic for his challenging of the Roman Catholic Church. Anne  is always portrayed in a caring capacity, such as the kindness she displayed towards one of her servants dying of the sweating sickness epidemic (Vol I). We also gain a glimpse of “the family orientated” Anne. Upset at the rumored whispers that surround her sister Mary, Anne enjoyed a sweet relationship with her mother, as well as a close relationship with her brother — a rapport that was ultimately twisted against them.

That doesn’t mean that the difficult relationship between Anne and her stepdaughter Mary is washed over at all, nor her eventual banishment from court of her sister Mary for marrying a man below her rank. Anne’s pleasure in the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey is also highlighted. We also see many times where Anne tries to guard her tongue and control her temper.

Another special point of both novels is the descriptions throughout of the various locations, such as the palaces, castles, abbeys, and manor homes that Anne and Henry visited. This brings the story to life and will make you feel you are in the story visualising these places. The mention of the “Bayne Tower” at Hampton Court Palace and the bath and sophisticated water system Henry had placed there are a real treat for readers and very informative. Sadly these rooms no longer survive, but you can see the outer building which is now a cafe.

Other highlights include the 1532 trip to Calais and subsequent secret wedding, the coronation, the devotion that Anne has towards her daughter (which admittedly we already know), the personal tragedy of 1534, the 1535 Reformation progress, and of course the tragic end, which shows the great courage that Anne Boleyn possessed.

Sandy clearly understands perfectly the trials and tribulations Anne endured, envisioning her views of how Anne must have felt. As I said previously, Sandy Vasoli truly “gets” Anne Boleyn 100%, presenting her – in what is my own opinion – in the best way Anne has ever been presented in any historical drama, whether that be in movies, television, and other fictional books — even my all time favorite Anne of the Thousand Days. I cannot begin to describe how many times I felt myself going “YES” inside my head while I read it, as I believed parts were just so “spot on”.

These books present Anne as she was: intelligent, charismatic, witty, religious, charitable, passionate, while also occasionally temperamental, hot-headed and sharp-tongued. If you love historical fiction, you will love these as they are easy to read and digest, are beautifully written. You will learn many interesting things about Anne Boleyn, as it is incredibly factual as well.

I long for the day when the Je Anne Boleyn books get turned into a television series or movie.



James Peacock

James Peacock

James Peacock is 29 years old and lives in a suburb in Greater London. Originally training and working in Youth and Community, in 2013 he decided to follow in his lifelong passion for history with a particular interest in Anne Boleyn. He currently works at a historical site heavily associated with Anne Boleyn. (See the picture… hint, hint.) In 2014, he set up ‘The Anne Boleyn Society’ which exists to promote and bring awareness to the role that Anne Boleyn contributed to England’s history and her role in the reformation. The Anne Boleyn Society can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@Society_Anne) and Instagram (@society_anne). James also writes articles for Visit his blog here at QAB. CLICK HERE!



QAB Book Review: “The Private Lives of The Tudors” by Tracy Borman

August 26, 2016 in QAB Book Reviews, The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock


by James Peacock

Editor’s Note: James Peacock is the founder of The Anne Boleyn Society. Visit James on facebook at The Anne Boleyn Society.




The Tudor Dynasty ruled over England for approximately one hundred and eighteen years, a relatively short time when compared to the Plantagenets or the Stuarts rule over Scotland. Still, people with little interest in history are drawn to this period, largely thanks to Showtime’s series The Tudors (2007-2010) and countless Hollywood movies set during the era. Also, this period has something for everyone, including drama, battles, romance, politics — the list is endless. People just can’t get enough of the story of Henry VIII and his six wives or Elizabeth I and her endless suitors, not to mention that inspiring Tilbury speech.

In her latest book The Private Lives of the Tudors, Dr. Tracy Borman takes on a new angle in examining these fascinating people by looking at the private lives of the monarchs and their consorts behind the closed doors of their sumptuous Palaces. Many stereotypes labelled on these people, such as Henry VII being a boring old miser, Edward VI being a puppet King, Mary I being a dried up spinster incapable of fun, and many others are debunked with evidence stating the contrary. Readers will come away from this seeing most – if not all – of these people in a new light.

The book is not intended to be a biography, but more a glimpse into life at the Tudor court, everything from the fashion to diet to hobbies and much more is examined. For example, Henry VII spent excessive amounts of money on rich clothing — a revelation to many. Also enlightening is what we still exists today of items belonging to each of the monarchs and what they can tell us about them as people. My personal favourites were the mementos Elizabeth I kept of her mother Anne Boleyn, as well as the documents and letters Edward VI kept that referenced his mother Jane Seymour.

What is so special about this book is it succeeds in bringing to life the Tudors as real people. It is often not easy to read many history books, and I feel that they often come off as one-dimensional. Instead, Dr. Borman succeeds bringing us as close to the real people that lived so long ago as we possibly can. They come life with real emotions and that is all to Tracy Borman’s credit.

It was also interesting to read more about the set up of meals at court, the number of dishes brought out, and how someone’s status would determine how many courses guests would receive. Other interesting topics include the discussion of clothes and how they would determine someone’s status and wealth, as well as the changing of the fashions over the period. Also of particular interest was the topic of the set up of the Private Apartments, how far people of certain status would get, and what the duties for the vast number of staff attending the monarchs and their consorts consisted off.

Prepare to have the way you view these people challenged, as you learn more about the monarchs behind the glittering crowns and jewels, learn of their struggles to hold onto absolute power through portraiture intended to keep the mystique around the monarchy, whilst also having the personal touch. The only downside is you will definitely wish the book went on for longer.

History lovers and those who find most history books quite dry will easily enjoy this unique look at Tudor History thanks to Dr. Tracy Borman’s easy to read and engaging writing. It truly is a book for everyone — a truly informative and thoroughly enjoyable read.


Dr. Tracy Borman

Dr. Tracy Borman

Dr. Tracy Borman Tracey Borman is a historian and author from Scothern, United Kingdom. She is most widely known as the author of Elizabeth’s Women.

Borman was born and brought up in the village of Scothern, England near Lincoln. She was educated at Scothern Primary School (now Ellison Boulters School), William Farr School, Welton, and Yarborough School, Lincoln. She taught history at the University of Hull, where she was awarded a Ph.D in 1997.


To Purchase One of Dr. Tracy Borman’s Outstanding History Books,

Click the Link Below!



ANNE BOLEYN DAY 2016: James Peacock Discusses Anne Boleyn in the Media

May 19, 2016 in 2016: Anne Boleyn Day, The Anne Boleyn Society by Beth von Staats


__________________________________ is sharing with you today the events of ANNE BOLEYN DAY 2016 as they unfold. In this wonderful video, James Peacock, founder of The Anne Boleyn Society, discusses Queen Anne Boleyn’s portrayal in the media.


VIDEO CREDIT: MadeGlobal Publishing



James Peacock

James Peacock

James Peacock is 29 years old and lives in a suburb in Greater London. Originally training and working in Youth and Community, in 2013 he decided to follow in his lifelong passion for history with a particular interest in Anne Boleyn. He currently works at a historical site heavily associated with Anne Boleyn. (See the picture… hint, hint) In 2014, he set up ‘The Anne Boleyn Society’ which exists to promote and bring awareness to the role that Anne Boleyn contributed to England’s history and her role in the reformation. The Anne Boleyn Society can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@Society_Anne) and Instagram (@society_anne). James also writes articles for Visit his blog here at QAB. CLICK HERE!



Anne Boleyn and the Death of Catherine of Aragon

January 13, 2016 in The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock

by James Peacock

anne boleyn yellow gown 3


Today (the day I wrote this) is the 7th January. It is the four hundred and eightieth anniversary of Catherine of Aragon’s death. Tomorrow will be the 480th anniversary of the news of her death reaching court. The subsequent reactions of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn have caused endless amounts of debate since. Usually, it is Anne Boleyn who gets the criticism. Yet was Anne completely heartless? Let us look at the evidence…


Contemporary Reports

Eustace Chapuys

In his report to his sovereign (and Catherine’s nephew) Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Chapuys reports:

“No words can describe the joy and delight which this King and the promoters of his concubinate have felt at the demise of the good Queen, especially the earl of Vulcher (Wiltshire), and his son, who must have said to themselves, what a pity it was that the Princess had not kept her mother company. The King himself on Saturday, when he received the news, was heard to exclaim, ‘Thank God, we are now free from any fear of war.’ On the following day, which was Sunday, the King dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot, with the single exception of a white feather in his cap. His bastard daughter (Elizabeth) was triumphantly taken to church to the sound of trumpets and with great display. Then, after dinner, the King went to the hall, where the ladies were dancing, and there made great demonstration of joy, and at last went into his own apartments, took the little bastard, carried her in his arms, and began to show her first to one, then to another, and did the same on the following days. Since then his joy has somewhat subsided; he has no longer made such demonstrations, but to make up for it, as it were, has been tilting and running lances at Grinduys (Greenwich).

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in THE TUDORS

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in THE TUDORS

Interestingly, Chapuys makes no mention of Anne. As we know Chapuys detested Anne entirely and could not even bring himself to mention her by name. He reported any piece of information that made her look bad, yet here Chapuys seems to mention everyone else but Anne. He does go on however later say that he had heard that Anne had “frequently wept, fearing that they might do with her as with Catherine.” Chapuys was sceptical of this information.


Chronicler Edward Hall

In his Chronicle, Edward Hall writes that “Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mourning”, yet he does not mention what Henry wore. Some have said that yellow was the colour for mourning in Spain, yet this has been proven not been the case. As Claire Ridgway points out in “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown” the colour yellow in early Christian plays symbolised renewal, hope, light and purity. Claire wonders whether Henry and/or Anne were hoping for a new start. Catherine was gone, War with Spain had been averted — and Anne was pregnant.


Nicholas Sander

Nicholas Sander provided probably the only account to paint Henry in a more redeemable light. Sander states: “The king could not refrain from tears when he read the letter [Catherine’s last letter to him], but Anne Boleyn, instead of putting on mourning on the day of Catherine’s funeral, put on a yellow dress.”  Sander was a Catholic recusant, writing years after the event. He had gone into self-imposed exile upon Elizabeth I’s accession. He wrote this account years after the event took place, and as he would have been about six years old at the time events took place. It is doubtful that Sander really had first hand witness to the account.


Would Anne have been happy at Catherine’s death?

I always remember about three years ago at a talk at the Tower of London by Alison Weir, a guest commented on how we always hear so much about how Anne supposedly celebrating Catherine’s death. He countered that very rarely do we ever hear about Henry celebrating her death, yet he celebrated just as much as Anne did. This completely struck me, as the facts show this to be true. Always it is stated how wicked Anne was celebrating Catherine’s passing. In the TV series “The Tudors”, we see Anne parading in yellow, holding her beloved daughter Elizabeth whilst Henry collapses, weeping over Catherine’s last letter. In actual fact, besides Sander writing many years later, there are no contemporary sources mentioning Henry’s grief. As David Starkey points out, her funeral was his chance to drive home two points that Catherine “had never been his wife, nor Queen of England; and to get his hands on what was left of her property”. Perhaps the writers/producers of  “The Tudors” felt they needed to make Henry look more human to make viewers feel sorry for him, as he was pretty much unsympathetic the rest of the time.

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in WOLF HALL

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn in WOLF HALL

So would Anne have been happy at Catherine’s death? Most likely yes. Just as Catherine had believed herself Queen of England and Henry’s rightful wife until the end, so did Anne believe in her own marriage and position. Catherine had been the obstacle in her marriage to Henry, “the elephant in the room” as it were, for the last nine years since the annulment proceedings began. With Catherine gone, Anne most definitely believed that nothing could stand in her way. After all, she was pregnant. If she were to give birth to a son, her position would be secure forever.

So does this make Anne cruel? No, I do not believe it does. Undoubtedly Catherine herself would have felt the same way had Anne, “the scandal of Christendom” and obstacle to her marriage and position died during her lifetime. Perhaps as a couple of reports state, Anne genuinely was sorry for Catherine. She would have been a fool, however, not to have seen that this was now her chance to be the only woman recognised Queen of England. Repeatedly Anne attempted to mend bridges with her stepdaughter Mary, and was rebuffed. So perhaps Anne wasn’t completely heartless after all.



Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII

Edward Hall’s Chronicles

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives

Six Wives: The Queen’s of Henry VIII by David Starkey

The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism by Nicholas Sander

The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway

The Tudors, Showtime series 2007-2010

My Top Five Books of 2015, by James Peacock

January 3, 2016 in News, QAB Book Reviews, The Anne Boleyn Society, The Tudor Thomases by James Peacock

by James Peacock, Founder of The Anne Boleyn Society


quill birds (252x300)I love a good book, and as those who know me well can vouch, I am rarely seen without a book either with me or near me. In 2015, I read many fantastic books, so in this article I thought I would share my “top five”. I would like to emphasise that it was certainly hard to narrow it down to just five, so I will give some honourable mentions at the end.

Here are my top five books of 2015!


Elizabeth & Mary

1)  Elizabeth and Mary, Cousins Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn

Many books have been written about Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, but Jane Dunn looks at both queens from a new perspective focusing on their relationship with one another. Elizabeth and Mary not only had the difficulty of living in a man’s world, they also ruled in one. What’s more, they ruled in neighbouring kingdoms. Both were disappointments upon birth to their fathers due to their gender, and both found themselves judged, every action scrutinised.

Dunn takes on a refreshing and impartial look at the two Queens, highlighting their merits and their faults. First, she points out that their early lives had a great shaping in how they would rule as monarchs. What is more interesting in my opinion is Dunn also highlights how each Queen won and lost in her battle for prominence. Mary succeeded in her goal of making herself a martyr upon her death. Mary’s death, however, also was also the prelude to Elizabeth’s finest hour —  emerging as ‘Gloriana’ upon her sound defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Was Mary the winner between the Queens in the end? Her son James succeeded to the throne of England upon Elizabeth’s death in 1603- and her descendants have continued to rule since. Still, it was a Protestant England James Stuart inherited, an Anglican faith that flourished through the influence of Elizabeth through the ages.

The book itself is packed with information, sources and notes, giving people an impartial look at both Queens.


Elizabeth and leicester

2) Elizabeth & Leicester by Sarah Gristwood 

Like Elizabeth & Mary, this book focuses entirely on the relationship between Elizabeth I and her favourite ‘bonnie sweet Robin’ and ‘my eyes’ – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The relationship between these two continues to fascinate in the centuries after their deaths, with numerous TV portrayals and novels. In this book of over 500 pages, Sarah Gristwood examines the close bond between the Virgin Queen and her Master of Horse. It was a relationship in which unusually a woman held all the power, a relationship that was also “the scandal of Europe”, many lurid tales being told in the Catholic courts.

Gristwood starts by examining the early lives of Elizabeth and Dudley, highlighting how their similar childhood experiences helped form their strong bond. Both lost a parent to execution. Both were imprisoned in the Tower during the reign of Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary I. Both experienced favour at court- and then banishment. Thus, it is understandable that they understood each other like no one else could.

Gristwood also gives a more favourable view of Robert Dudley than many historians. Tainted by the reputations of his father and grandfather, Gristwood further examines Dudley’s military accomplishments, as well as his passion for the Protestant faith. She also presents a theory of the mysterious death of Dudley’s first wife, Amy Robsart that few other historians have considered! Additionally, there are chapters on Dudley’s illegitimate son, also called Robert Dudley, as well as Arthur Dudley, who claimed to be the son of Elizabeth and Leicester.

The pages are not packed with sources and notes, but Gristwood does examine every source written about Elizabeth and Leicester. She accomplished this before presenting her own theories and does so in such an incredible way that readers will not feel patronised or bogged down with sources. Instead readers are able to come to their own conclusions.

Alison Weir herself says of this book, “It is quite simply one of the most enthralling history books I’ve ever read”. I agree.


George Boleyn Tudor Poet, Courtier Diplomat

3) George Boleyn, Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry 

George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, younger brother to both Mary Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, is a someone whose story is often told as a side character to his sisters in historical accounts, novels, plays and television.

Most commonly depicted as close ally and beloved brother to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII of England, and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, very little beyond his devotion to his sister and perceived hatred of his wife is generally highlighted. When so, it is typically in relation to stories highlighting his less famous, but certainly infamous, sister, Mary Boleyn Carey Stafford.

In this biography however, Claire Ridgway, creator of the successful The Anne Boleyn Files site, and her friend, Clare Cherry, a solicitor who has been researching about the life of George Boleyn for many years, set out to uncover just who this enigmatic man was. For the first time, George Boleyn steps right out of the shadows of his sisters and into the limelight himself.

Usually I must admit, I am a tremendously slow reader, taking weeks to finish a book. However with this book, I finished it in less then two weeks, finding the pace of writing, dialogue and style in which the book has been laid out incredibly absorbing to read.

The authors make no excuses for George’s less than remarkable qualities, but they do point out – with strong evidence to back it up – how George’s rise was not only down to his sisters position, but also his own intelligence and charm. George, in many ways, was a calming influence over his more hot-tempered sister Anne. Thus, many of the Boleyn enemies – Cavendish, Chapuys and others – grudgingly acknowledged George’s more remarkable attributes.

The book charts the background of the Boleyns, possibilities about George’s upbringing, and his rise and fall from power. Additionally, it dispels the myths around his marriage to Jane Parker. It also looks at the possible descendants of George Boleyn in Ireland, and whether George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield, in the reign of George’s niece Elizabeth I, was an illegitimate son of George.

This biography has succeeds in taking George Boleyn right of the shadows of his sisters, and shows him for the intelligent and charismatic man that he is. It does not set out to make him a saint, but it does show how George Boleyn was an important figure in his own right in English history.


Anne Boleyns Letter From The Tower

4) Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower: A New Assessment by Sandra Vasoli

“To the King from the Lady in the Tower” — the famous letter has caused debate – and not to mention has puzzled historians – ever since it was first discovered. The letter is dated 6th May 1536, yet did Anne write it? And if so, why call herself ‘The Lady in the Tower’? And if it wasn’t written by Anne, then who wrote it?

Sandi delves into the subject straight away. In fact, as the book is only just over 60 pages long, she wastes no time in getting to the point. Sandi examines the letter paragraph by paragraph, its tone and style of writing. Sandi points out that the grammar and and style of speech is familiar to early-mid 1500’s. She goes on to trace how the original letter could have been passed from Cromwell to Ralph Sadler, then to William Cecil, then to William Camden, before finally ending up with Robert Cotton.

The original letter was badly damaged by a house fire in 1730s. Copies of the letter survive, however. Perhaps Cromwell kept it from the King so he would not change his mind over Anne’s fate. Sandi also gives a possible timeline for the famous letter. Without wanting to give too much away and spoil it for those that haven’t read it, you will come away from reading this convinced that the letter is genuine. Quite a few recent historians believe the letter to be a forgery. Some don’t even mention it in their work. But Sandi’s new and convincing assessment and incredible detective work shines a new light on this letter and will convince many of its authenticity.

During her research for this book and her second novel, the follow-up to her recent Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love, Sandi uncovered some fascinating new evidence of King Henry VIII’s deathbed regret over the fate of Anne Boleyn. “The King acknowledges with great grief at his death the injuries he had done to the Lady Anne Boleyn and her daughter” is written on a sheet of disconnected recordings about Anne’s death, followed by several lines written in French. Sandi discovered this startling new evidence, originally written by André Thevet, a former Franciscan monk who was “in no way partial” to predetermined views on Anne.

André  Thevet visited, and most likely lived in the Greenwich Franciscan Friar, a friary located in the building adjoining Greenwich Palace. It is interesting that Thevet, an opponent of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, records Henry’s grief and remorse for what happened to Anne. Even more astonishingly, Thevet does not record Henry’s grief over others that he ordered to be put to death. An interesting discovery, this certainly adds an interesting dimension to the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

I recommend, urge, even beg, anyone with even a slight interest in history, to read this book. It is not at all long (just over 60 pages), packed with notes and sources, excellently researched — and is more like sitting down to a cup of tea (or something stronger if that is your preference), enjoying a chat with Sandi.


Thomas Cranmer by Beth von Staats

5) Thomas Cranmer: In a Nutshell by Beth von Staats

Now I know what some of you may be thinking…  I am only adding this because Beth is the administrator of this website. Well I can tell you that is certainly not the case, and anyone that has read Beth’s excellent mini-biography on Archbishop Thomas Cranmer will agree with me that it is an excellent book.  Having read articles by Beth von Staats before on various subjects, I knew I was in for a good read. I was right.

This short book on Cranmer is so absorbing I very much doubt anyone will be able to put it down until they have finished it. There is the only problem.  You won’t want it to end. I’ve learnt so much about England’s first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury through this book, my respect for the Archbishop Cranmer has gone up – and it was already high to begin with. In this short biography, Beth manages to get the key points across very well. You really get to know Cranmer the man, as much as you learn about Cranmer the Archbishop and politician. I found Beth’s writing of Cranmer’s final years very moving. Cranmer is known a great Protestant martyr  – a title I believe he completely deserves after reading this book.


My honourable mentions go to: Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell by Sarah Bryson; The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII” by Suzannah Lipscomb; “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway; Katherine The Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter; Sisters to the King: The Tulmultuous Lives of Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France by Maria Perry; Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne; Tudor Wales by Nathen Amin; Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood, The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femme Fatales who changed History by Elizabeth Norton, and The Anne Boleyn Papers by Elizabeth Norton.


“My Dear Paradise in the Highlands”: Balmoral Castle: The haven retreat for the British Royal Family

September 10, 2015 in 2015 Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, The Anne Boleyn Society by Beth von Staats

by James Peacock


Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle


If you ask someone to name a residence of the British Royal Family, understandably they tend to say Buckingham Palace.

That iconic Palace is indeed one of the most recognisable buildings in the United Kingdom- if not the world. It’s located in the heart of the City of Westminster, in bustling London. There, every day, thousands of people pass by. Some have their picture taken at the gates,others watch the changing of the guard, or visit the Royal Mews and the state rooms. Some are even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Royal Family during Trooping the Colour or the State Opening of Parliament. In this very location some of the most dramatic moments of current Royal history have taken place, from the famous wedding day kiss of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, to the more recent royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. It is where we are most likely to see all the members of the Royal Family gathered together, often on the balcony. But Buckingham Palace is not considered the ‘home’ of the royals, instead it is considered as the ‘office’. It is where The Queen meets with her Prime Ministers, with foreign heads of state, and where the formal functions of the day are held. The actual home of the Royal Family- or one of them at least- is considered to be Balmoral Castle, in the highlands of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. There, the weather may be unpredictable, but the scenery is completely romantic, almost like a dream, far far away from the hectic commotion of central London.

Balmoral and its History

Balmoral Castle is located in Royal Deeside (River Dee), near the villages of Crathie, Ballater, and Braemer. Its link to the Royal Family began in the late 1840’s with Queen Victoria, (although King Robert II of Scotland had a hunting lodge on that very site in the 14th century).

In 1662 the existing estate passed to Charles Farquharson of Inverey, brother of John Farquharson, known as the “Black Colonel”. Ironically, the Farquharsons were Jacobite sympathisers, and James Farquharson of Balmoral was involved in both the 1715 and 1745 rebellions. He was wounded at the Battle of Falkirk in 1746. The Farquharsons’ estates were forfeit, and passed to the Farquharsons of Auchendryne. In 1798, James Duff, 2nd Earl Fife, acquired Balmoral and leased the house. Sir Robert Gordon, younger brother of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, acquired the lease in 1830.

The acquisition of Balmoral by Victoria and Albert

In 1837, the young Queen Victoria came to the throne. Over the preceding two hundred years, the Monarchs hadn’t cared much to visit Scotland- let alone the Highlands- but little did anyone realise that this young, sheltered Queen was about to assume her own, new direction. Having read the books of Sir Walter Scott as a child, Victoria fell in love with Scotland- declaring her pride in being descended from the Stuart dynasty.

Victoria and Albert visited Scotland three times between 1842 and 1847. It was during the third visit that they came, by chance, across Balmoral. During their trip they encountered rain-soaked weather, which led Sir James Clark, the queen’s physician, to recommend Deeside as a potential home instead for its healthier climate. Balmoral’s owner Sir Robert Gordon died that same year, and Victoria and Albert, having fallen so much in love with the location, acquired the remaining part of the lease on Balmoral (without having even seen the estate first) from Lord Aberdeen- who had inherited it on the death of Sir Robert.


Victoria and Albert arrive in Aberdeen. 1848


Victoria and Albert create their Scottish home

On the 8th September 1848, the royal couple arrived with their young family to pay their first visit to the estate. They instantly fell in love with it – Victoria recording in her diary that “All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils”. To Albert, it reminded him of his homeland. The sale of the estate was finally completed in June 1852; the neighbouring estate of Birkhall was bought at the same time, and the lease on Abergeldie Castle secured as well. It was immediately found that the existing house was too small, and a new one would have to be built. Construction for the new house began in the summer of 1853, with Prince Albert paying close attention to every detail- particularly turrets and windows- and amending designs. On the 28th September 1853, during their annual autumn visit, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the new house.

Balmoral Castle, painted by Queen Victoria in 1854, during its construction.

The new house was fully completed in 1856- although the Royal Family had been able to start living in it in 1855- and the old house was subsequently pulled down. The new house had been built on a site some 100 yards (91 m) northwest of the original building that was considered to have a better vista. A plaque on the front lawn marks the spot where the entrance to the old house stood. Balmoral Castle is built from granite quarried at Invergelder on the estate. It consists of two main blocks, each arranged around a courtyard. The southwestern block contains the main rooms, while the northeastern contains the service wings. At the southeast is an 80-foot (24 m) tall clock tower topped with turrets.

Living like ordinary folk

Balmoral gave Victoria and Albert a chance to promote their version of Monarchy- a ‘family orientated Monarchy’. In the words of one historian, no longer was the British Monarchy appealing to a select few of the aristocracy. With a clear image of the Royal Family at home in the country, it began to appeal to the entire nation. Victoria and Albert had done what few Monarchs over the previous two hundred years had wanted to do- not only visit Scotland – particularly the Highlands- but they purchased property there. Now they could live as close to an ordinary life as their status allowed. Within days of their arrival, Victoria climbed the mountain of Lochnager- though she was thoroughly unimpressed by the weather. Courtier Charles Greville wrote of how Victoria loved to visit the ordinary folk, sit down at their tables and talk to the women. Tartan, which had been banned by Victoria’s great-great-grandfather King George II in 1745 after the Jacobite uprising, adorned not only the carpets at Balmoral, but also the royal attire.

New plantings and exotic conifers were established on the grounds during the 1850’s. Prince Albert continued to have a significant involvement in these designs. In 1861 (the year of his death), he developed a model dairy farm (which Queen Victoria completed after his death). Albert and Victoria wanted their children to know how to grow their own vegetables, and on another of their private estates, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, each of their children had their own allotments. It was at Balmoral that Prince Frederick of Prussia asked for the hand of their eldest child, Princess Victoria. Not everyone enjoyed visiting Balmoral, many of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting were left shivering when Victoria-always a lover of cold weather- would throw open the windows of the estate, even on the days when it was absolutely freezing. Lord Clarendon even claimed he had frost bite in his feet from the cold! Many ministers, particularly in the early days whilst work was still going on, complained that their rooms were so small they had to write their dispatches on beds, because there were no desks in the rooms.

Queen Victoria, with her

After Albert

Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria largely withdrew from public life for much of the 1860’s. Yet she traveled to Balmoral (as well as Osborne and Windsor), where she sought sanctuary. There are many memorial tributes to Albert throughout Balmoral, including cairns and statues. It was after Albert’s death that Victoria became dependant on her servant John Brown, a local ghillie from Crathie, who became one of her closest companions during her long mourning, earning her the nickname ‘Mrs Brown’. Only a few changes were made on the estate in the years following Albert’s death; those alterations being to mountain paths, the erection of various cairns and monuments, and the addition of some cottages (Karim Cottage and Baile na Coille) built for senior staff.

In 1887, Balmoral Castle was the birthplace of Victoria Eugenie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She was born to Princess Beatrice, the fifth daughter of Victoria and Albert. Victoria Eugenie would become the queen of Spain. In November 1900, Queen Victoria left Balmoral for the last time, with the parting words “keep well until I come back”. Sadly, she never did, for less than three months later, Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, another of the peaceful retreats she enjoyed with her beloved Albert. She was greatly mourned throughout Deeside, and the entire United Kingdom.

Queen Elizabeth II and her cousin Margaret Rhodes, relaxing on the Balmoral estate.

After Victoria

After Victoria’s death in 1901, the Royal Family continued to stay at Balmoral. Her grandson, King George V, made substantial improvements during the 1910s and 1920s, which notably included formal gardens to the south of the Castle. Balmoral was not visited during the war. Today, though, it is very much a favourite of the Royal Family of the United Kingdom.  The current Monarch Queen Elizabeth II, Victoria’s and Albert’s great-great-granddaughter, continues to use Balmoral as her beloved summer residence, enjoying long walks, and horse riding into the surrounding mountains.

Whilst she is in residence at Balmoral, on the 9th September 2015, she will overtake Queen Victoria to become the longest reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom. She will be surrounded by memories of her great-great-grandparents, whom she holds dear and in high regard. Elizabeth, like Victoria before her, will pass this symbolic milestone in the place which Victoria famously referred to as “My Dear Paradise in the Highlands”.

Additional information

Balmoral will open again to the public on the 25th February 2016. This will include the gardens, exhibitions, ballroom in the Castle, gift shop and coffee shop. It will close at the end of July, when the Royal Family will again take up residence for the summer. However, winter tours of the gardens are being run on selective dates this year. Do check out the Balmoral website for more information, including renting out holiday cottages on the estate.


My Dear Paradise in the Highlands    documentary presented by Roy Stewart.

Becoming Queen    by Kate Williams

Balmoral Castle Guidebook

Balmoral: The Royal Family    documentary 2010

ANNE BOLEYN: Beautiful Saint or Scheming Bitch?

July 27, 2015 in News, Queens of World History, The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock

by James Peacock



When promoting her 2011 film W.E., which tells the story of two women — the fictional Wally Winthrop in 1998, and the American divorcée Wallis Simpson in 1938 — co-author and director Madonna recalled from life experience, that whenever she brought up King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson at a dinner party or social gathering, it was like “throwing a Molotov cocktail into the room.” She went on to describe how everyone would “erupt into an argument about who they were,” admitting that “they were very controversial- and continue to be.”

In many ways it is the same with Anne Boleyn. Nearly 500 years after her death, the second wife to King Henry VIII and mother to Queen Elizabeth I of England, continues to draw strong passion from people – even on many occasions leading to arguments! People are often divided into two camps: “Bitch Anne” vs. “Saint Anne”.

Camp “Bitch Anne” sees her as a cold-hearted, husband-stealing bitch, who, from the moment she arrived at the English court, had her eyes firmly set on the crown, stopping at nothing to get it. Camp “Saint Anne” sees her as an innocent victim, manipulated by her overly ambitious father, Thomas Boleyn, and uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. This Anne is often seen as being ahead of her time, leading the way for the feminist revolution.

So is the bitch or the saint the real Anne Boleyn? Well, that we will never really know for sure, as she lived over four hundred years ago in a world so alien to our own. We will never know for certain what Anne Boleyn looked like. We can guess what she thought in her mind of certain things, events and people, but we will never be 100% certain. We can, however, take a look at certain traits which give us an inkling into the real Anne Boleyn.


Ben Miles and Linda Leanard (WOLF HALL/BRING UP THE BODIES, Royal Shakespeare Company) Photo Credit: Donald Cooper

Ben Miles and Linda Leanard (WOLF HALL/BRING UP THE BODIES, Royal Shakespeare Company) Photo Credit: Donald Cooper


Hot-Tempered and Rash Tongue:

It is reported that on New Years Day 1531, Anne, full of confidence and brave as a lion, declared that she “wished all Spaniards were at the bottom of the sea” and that “she cared not for the Queen (Catherine of Aragon) or her family, and would rather see her hanged than have to confess that she was her queen and mistress.” Some may think this was sheer folly to speak openly in such a way of Catherine, who was well liked by many of her subjects. As we know Anne cared nothing for popularity. After all, she had briefly had “Aisi sera groigne qui groigne”, which translates to “Let them grumble; that is how it is going to be” as her motto in 1530. Anne even boldly commanded the motto be embroidered on the livery coats of her servants. Though removed in time, it was clear sign of her response to the critics of the King’s great matter.

Other reports of Anne’s hot temper and rash tongue stem from her stormy relationship with stepdaughter Mary. Ordering her aunt Lady Shelton to “box” Mary’s ears “as the cursed bastard she was”, further commanding her to take every opportunity to reinforce the girl’s inferiority. When reading this, it is easy to see Anne as some vicious monster. Did her actions stem from insecurity of the position of herself and her daughter Elizabeth? This we can only guess. On yet another occasion of Anne’s loose tongue, she told Sir Henry Norris during a conversation that he “looked for dead men’s shoes” for if anything became of the king, he would look to have her. Such a rash comment would haunt Anne even as she was in the Tower awaiting her execution.


Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII Credit: The Tudors, Showtime

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII
Credit: The Tudors, Showtime


Charity and Patronage:

We see a very different Anne from the hot-tempered woman when we look at surviving accounts of her charity work and patronage. Although some like Reformer and Matyrologist, John Foxe may exaggerate the amount of her donations to the poor, there are surviving accounts from those that knew Anne personally. William Latymer, her chaplain, writes of her being “generous to the poor”, and “Upon a certain Maundy Thursday”, in which performed the usual ceremonies of washing and kissed the feet of simple poor women, she “commanded to be put pivily into every poor woman’s purse one george noble, the which was 6 shillings 8 pence over and besides the almes that wanted to be given”.

In fact, the amount in the royal Maundy purses increased when Anne was Queen. The court expenses for 1536, show the “cost of the Queen’s Maundy” were 31 pounds, 3 shillings and 9 and a half pence. On royal progresses she would “give in special commandment to her officers to buy a great quantity of canvas to be made into shirts and smocks and sheets to those of the poor.” Anne Boleyn also ordered her ladies to make shirts, smocks and sheets for the poor, ordering “flannell” to be made into “pettycotes for poore men, wemen and children,” which were then distributed “to every of whom was distributed by her graces commaundemente a shurte, smok, or petticote, and 12 pence in money, and to some more, according as her grace understod of their nede and necessitie.”

On one occasion, a ‘Mrs Jaskyne’s’, who attended the queen, husband fell “grevioslye sick” and had called for his wife. Anne “not only graunted her licence to depart…, but also most bountyfullye commaunded to be prepared for her sufficiente furniture of horse and other necessarys for journey, and tenne pounds in monye towarde the charge of her travaill.” One particular story that deserves attention is of a Mr. Ive at Kingston, who lost most of his cattle “almost to his utter undoing”. Anne gave his wife a purse of gold with xxIi in it (£20) and said to tell her if they needed further help.

Anne Boleyn gave aid to refugees and reformers from both home and abroad. Many reformists gained their positions due to his Anne’s help and patronage — men such as Thomas Cranmer, Edward Fox, Hugh Latimer, Matthew Parker, William Barlow, Nicholas Shaxton, Edward Crome, Thomas Garrett and William Betts. People in prison for possessing heretical books often successfully petitioned her for help.

Anne also helped members of her family during difficult times, such as her sister Mary, who following the death of her first husband was serious financial difficulty and was forced to write to the king for help. Henry duly stepped in and secured financial help for her from her father, and granted Anne the wardship of Mary’s son Henry. This has often been twisted into an act of vicious malice, thanks to a certain fiction book. It was in fact an act of kindness. Anne, in an obvious position to help, provided her nephew with a good education. Wardships were not uncommon in the Tudor time s- take for example, Lady Jane Grey being the ward of Thomas Seymour and Catherine Willoughby being the ward of Charles Brandon.

Anne Boleyn also helped members of her family gain positions at court. For example, Anne helped secure her uncle Lord Edmund Howard (father of Catherine Howard) the position of controller of Calais in 1531. Anne further secured her uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, the wardship of the King’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy and subsequent marriage of Fitzroy to her cousin Mary Howard. Her aunts Lady Shelton and Anne Clere were secured the positions of running the household of her daughter Princess Elizabeth.


Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn

Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn



Anne Boleyn is not someone who followed convention, that much is certain. As historian Eric Ives points out, “she appears inconsistent-religious yet aggressive, calculating yet emotional”. Anne was prone to loosing her temper and speaking rashly, but also of great acts of kindness to those in need. Anne cared nothing for popularity, believing firmly in her cause.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of great wit- even in the face of death- with her comment, “I heard say the executioner is very good, and I have a little neck”, to which she put her hands around her throat and laughed. On another occasion whilst awaiting death she joked with her ladies that the people would soon find a name for her- they would call her “Queen Anne Lackhead”. During her trial Anne “made so wise and discreet aunsweres to all thinges layde against her, excusing herselfe with her wordes so clearlie”, defending herself admirably, addressing the court boldly and fearlessly.

Anne Boleyn never wished to make herself a martyr, nor did she try to gain sympathy during her final days. Instead, what we see is a woman who stood up to her accusers and laughed in the face of death. Anne was far from perfect, but I truly believe that is the reason why so many are drawn to her and admire her. Anne had flaws- like any human being- she was not a 100% saint like some characters from that period appear to be. It is one of the reasons why I myself admire her so much. Anne Boleyn was not 100% “nice as pie”, like some wish to be. She showed her flaws and made herself appear human to us in the 21st century. She took charge of her own destiny, her own style, and was as much as she could be in those days, her own person.

Anne Boleyn was certainly no saint – no person living or dead is – but she was certainly no cold-hearted scheming bitch either.


Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn  "Anne of the Thousand Days"

Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn
“Anne of the Thousand Days”



The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives

The Anne Boleyn Collection Vol II by Claire Ridgway

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne by William Latymer

Actes and Monuments by John Foxe

Six Wives, The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey


The Tragic Life Story of Princess Charlotte

May 7, 2015 in The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock

by James Peacock


Princess Charlotte of Wales

Princess Charlotte of Wales


Less than a week ago, on the Saturday the 2nd May, Britain celebrated the birth of the second child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Her name, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge, was confirmed two days later. We can certainly guess the inspiration behind the names Elizabeth and Diana. Charlotte, female version of the name ‘Charles’, was named for her grandfather. It is also the Duchess’ sister, Pippa Middleton’s, middle name. The name Charlotte has a strong royal connection, as well. Not only was it the name of King George III’s queen consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but is also the name of their eldest son, King George IV’s, daughter. Imagine how different history would have been if Princess Charlotte had become Queen upon her father’s death in 1830; yet tragically, she was to die in childbirth at age 21. In this article, I discuss the brief, tragic, and turbulent life of Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Charlotte’s entry into the world was to be as turbulent as her life. Her parents, George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick, had a disastrous marriage. On their first meeting, the Prince took one look at his bride before retreating to a distant part of the room, demanding his valet to bring him “a glass of brandy”, whilst Caroline declared, “I find him very fat, and nothing as handsome as his portrait”. Nevertheless, the marriage went ahead, with the Prince so drunk he had to be held up by his ducal groomsmen. Their wedding night was no better. The Prince spent the night passed out in the grate. George was later to declare that he only had sex with the Princess three times — luckily for them Caroline conceived.

On the 7th January 1796, at twenty minutes past nine in the morning, Caroline gave birth to a baby girl, Charlotte Augusta, at Carlton House in London. Writing to his mother Queen Charlotte, George told her,

“The Princess, after a terrible hard labour for above twelve hours, is this instant brought to bed of an immense girl, and I assure you notwithstanding we might have wish’d for a boy, I receive her with all the affection possible, and bow with due deference and resignation to the decrees of Providence.”

The Prince burst into tears when his daughter was born. The King, wrote Princess Mary, “is so delighted it is a daughter, as you know he loves little girls best”. The country rejoiced in the birth, the new Princess representing a new age. The Royal Family were not riding high in terms of popularity. Philandering and gambling princes, countless illegitimate children, and unmarried princesses made the people of Britain largely resentful- especially with the heir to the throne in vast amounts of debts, and an illegal marriage with the Catholic Maria Fitzherbet had not helped matters. The country itself was not in a great state, being deep in recession. War with France had strained the country’s finances, and the gentry lived in fear of an English mob setting of a revolution like what had taken place a few years earlier in France.

Princess Charlotte of Wales

Princess Charlotte of Wales

Charlotte’s early years were dominated by her warring parents. Despite Caroline’s demands for better treatment now that she had given birth to the second-in-line to the throne, George restricted her contact with the child, forbidding her to see their daughter except in the presence of a nurse and governess. Caroline was allowed the usual daily visit which upper class parents paid to their young offspring at this time, but she was not allowed any say in the decisions made about Charlotte’s care. Sympathetic household staff disobeyed the Prince and allowed Caroline to be alone with her daughter. George was unaware of this, having little contact with Charlotte himself. Caroline was even bold enough to ride through the streets of London in a carriage with her daughter to the applause of the crowds. At the age of eight, Charlotte was moved into Montague House, adjacent to Carlton House, after her father decided that he wanted Carlton House to himself. He also dismissed the sub-governess, Miss Hayman, for being too friendly with Caroline- although Caroline simply hired her instead.

Charlotte grew into an exuberant tomboy, often rebelling against the etiquette expected of a princess. On one occasion, according to the Honourable George Keppel, whose grandmother Lady Clifford was Charlotte’s governess, he remembered them once seeing a crowd gathered outside the Keppel house at Earl’s Court, who were hoping to see the young princess. The two children went outside and joined the crowd unrecognised. Charlotte also rebelled against her grandfather’s instructions for her education with the Bishop of Exeter to instruct her in the faith that King George believed one day Charlotte, as queen, would defend. The King hoped that these teachers would “render her an honour and comfort to her relations, and a blessing to the dominions over which she may hereafter preside”. Charlotte however, chose only what she wanted to learn – although she did become an accomplished pianist under the guidance of Jane Mary Guest.

Charlotte was not above scandal, however. Her unconventional behaviour led to accusations of sexual relations with other men. She was only eleven at the time. As Charlotte entered her teenage years, members of the court considered her behaviour undignified. Lady de Clifford complained about Charlotte allowing her ankle-length underdrawers to show. Lady Charlotte Bury, a lady-in-waiting to Caroline and a diarist whose writings survive, described the princess as a ‘fine piece of flesh and blood’ who had a candid manner and rarely chose to ‘put on dignity’. Charlotte’s father was proud of her horsemanship. Charlotte was also fond of Mozart and Haydn, and she identified with the character of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. In 1808, Charlotte Jones was appointed as Charlotte’s own official miniature portrait painter.

In late 1810, King George III began his final descent into madness. Charlotte and the King were very fond of each other, and the young princess was greatly saddened by his illness. On 6 February 1811, Charlotte’s father was sworn in as Prince Regent before the Privy Council. Charlotte rode back and forth in the gardens outside Carlton House, trying to catch glimpses of the ceremony through the ground-floor windows. Charlotte was an enthusiastic Whig, as her father had been. However, now that he was exercising the powers of the monarchy, he did not recall the Whigs to office as many had expected him to do. Charlotte was outraged by what she saw as her father’s treason, and, at the opera, demonstrated her support by blowing kisses in the direction of the Whig leader, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey.

With the Prince Regent busy with affairs of state, Charlotte was required to spend most of her time at Windsor with her maiden aunts. Bored, she soon became infatuated with her first cousin, George FitzClarence, illegitimate son of the Duke of Clarence. FitzClarence was shortly thereafter called to Brighton to join his regiment, and Charlotte’s gaze fell on Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the Light Dragoons, reputedly the illegitimate son of Charlotte’s uncle, Frederick, Duke of York. Hesse and Charlotte had a number of clandestine meetings. Lady de Clifford feared the Prince Regent’s rage should they be found out, but Princess Caroline was delighted by her daughter’s passion. She did everything that she could to encourage the relationship, even allowing them time alone in a room in her apartments. These meetings ended when Hesse left to join the British forces in Spain. Most of the Royal Family, except the Prince Regent, were aware of these meetings, but did nothing to interfere, disapproving of the way George was treating his daughter.

As Charlotte reached the age of seventeen, her father began to consider the subject of Charlotte’s marriage. The Prince Regent and his advisers settled on William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, son and heir-apparent of Prince William VI of Orange. Such a marriage would increase British influence in Northwest Europe. William made a poor impression on Charlotte when she first saw him at George’s birthday party on 12 August. There he became intoxicated, as did the Prince Regent himself and many of the guests. Although no one in authority had spoken to Charlotte about the proposed marriage, she was quite familiar with the plan through palace whispers. Charlotte was reluctant to the match, feeling that a future Queen of Britain should not marry a foreigner.

Believing that his daughter intended to marry William, Duke of Gloucester, the Prince Regent saw his daughter and verbally abused both her and Gloucester. According to Charlotte, “He spoke as if he had the most improper ideas of my inclinations. I see that he is compleatly  poisoned against me, and that he will never come round.” Soon the story leaked to the press, which wondered whether Charlotte would marry “the Orange or the Cheese'”(a reference to Gloucester cheese), “Slender Billy” (of Orange) or “Silly Billy”.  The Prince Regent now attempted a gentler approach, but failed to convince Charlotte, who wrote, “I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less” and that if they wed, the Prince of Orange would have to “visit his frogs solo”. However, on 12 December, the Prince Regent arranged a meeting between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange at a dinner party and asked Charlotte for her decision. She stated that she liked what she had seen so far, which George took as an acceptance, and quickly called in the Prince of Orange to inform him.

Negotiations over the marriage contract took several months, with Charlotte insisting that she not be required to leave Britain. The diplomats had no desire to see the two thrones united, and so the agreement stated that Britain would go to the couple’s oldest son, while the second son would inherit the Netherlands. If there was only one son, the Netherlands would pass to the German branch of the House of Orange. On 10 June 1814, Charlotte signed the marriage contract.

At a party at the Pulteney Hotel in London, Charlotte met a Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The Princess invited Leopold to call on her, an invitation he took up, remaining for three quarters of an hour, and writing a letter to the Prince Regent apologising for any indiscretion. This letter impressed George very much, although he did not consider the impoverished Leopold as a possible suitor for his daughter’s hand.

The Princess of Wales opposed the match between her daughter and the Prince of Orange and had great public support. When Charlotte went out in public, crowds would urged her not to abandon her mother by marrying the Prince of Orange. Charlotte informed the Prince of Orange that if they wed, her mother would have to be welcome in their home —a condition sure to be unacceptable to the Prince Regent. When the Prince of Orange would not agree, Charlotte broke off the engagement. Her father’s response was to order that Charlotte remain at her residence at Warwick House (adjacent to Carlton House) until she could be conveyed to Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor, where she would be allowed to see no one except the Queen. When told of this, Charlotte raced out into the street. A man, seeing her distress from a window, helped the inexperienced princess find a hackney cab, in which she was conveyed to her mother’s house- undoubtedly one of the few times a member of the Royal Family has used public transport by choice. She soon returned to her father’s house.

By early 1815, Charlotte had decided upon Prince Leopold as her spouse. He had not been her first choice. That had been a Prussian Prince, which historians disagree on. The Prince Regent refused to accept this – still eager for Charlotte to marry the Prince of Orange. Charlotte refused, saying, “No arguments, no threats, shall ever bend me to marry this detested Dutchman.” Faced with opposition in the Royal Family, George finally gave up on the idea of the marriage with the Prince of Orange. Charlotte contacted Leopold through intermediaries and found him receptive, but with Napoleon renewing the conflict on the Continent, Leopold was with his regiment fighting. In July, shortly before returning to Weymouth, Charlotte formally requested her father’s permission to marry Leopold. The Prince Regent replied that with the unsettled political situation on the Continent, he could not consider such a request. To Charlotte’s frustration, Leopold did not come to Britain after the restoration of peace, even though he was stationed in Paris, which she deemed to be only a short journey from Weymouth or London. Eventually George summoned Leopold to Britain, who went to the Royal Pavillion at Brighton to be interviewed by the Prince Regent. Charlotte was invited, as well. After having dinner with both her father and Leopold she wrote,

“I find him charming, and go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life … I am certainly a very fortunate creature, & have to bless God. A Princess never, I believe, set out in life (or married) with such prospects of happiness, real domestic ones like other people.”

George was satisfied with Leopold, telling Charlotte Leopold “had every qualification to make a woman happy”.  On March 14th 1816, to great acclaim, an announcement was made in the House of Commons that Charlotte and Leopold were to be married. Parliament agreed to grant Leopold £50,000 per year and purchased Claremont House for the couple, even granting them a generous single payment to set up house.

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg

On the 2nd May, huge crowds lined the streets of London. So large were the crowds that the participants of the wedding had great difficulty in travelling to get there. The couple were married at nine o’clock in the evening in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House. The only mishap was during the ceremony, when Charlotte was heard to giggle when the impoverished Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods. After honeymooning at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, the couple returned to London.

When the couple attended the theatre, they were invariably treated to wild applause from the audience. When Charlotte was taken ill at the Opera, there was great public concern about her condition. It was announced that she had suffered a miscarriage. On 24 August 1816, they took up residence for the first time at Claremont. Leopold’s physician-in-ordinary, Christian Stockmar (later, as Baron Stockmar, advisor to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) wrote that in the first six months of the marriage, he had never seen Charlotte wear anything that was not simple and in good taste. He also noted that she was much more calm and in control of herself than she used to be, and attributed this to Leopold’s influence. Leopold wrote later, “Except when I went out to shoot, we were together always, and we could be together, we did not tire.” When Charlotte became too excited, Leopold would say only, “Doucement, cherie” (Gently, my love). Charlotte both accepted the correction and began calling her husband “Doucement”.

The Coburgs, as they came to be called, spent the Christmas holidays at the Brighton Pavilion with various other royals. On 7 January, the Prince Regent gave a huge ball there to celebrate Charlotte’s 21st birthday, but the Coburgs did not attend, having returned to Claremont and preferring to remain there quietly. At the end of April 1817, Leopold informed the Prince Regent that Charlotte was again pregnant and that there was every prospect of the Princess carrying the baby to term. Charlotte’s pregnancy was the subject of the most intense public interest. Like today, betting shops quickly set up book on what sex the child would be. Economists calculated that the birth of a princess would raise the stock market by 2.5%; the birth of a prince would raise it 6%. Charlotte spent her time quietly, spending much time sitting for a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence. She ate heavily and got little exercise. When her medical team began prenatal care in August 1817, they put her on a strict diet, hoping to reduce the size of the child at birth. The diet, and occasional bleeding, seemed to weaken Charlotte. Stockmar was amazed at a treatment he saw as outdated and declined to join the medical team, believing that, as a foreigner, he would be blamed if anything went wrong.

Much of Charlotte’s day to day care was undertaken by Sir Richard Croft. Croft was not a physician, but an accoucheur, or male midwife, much in fashion among the well-to-do. Charlotte was believed to be due to deliver on 19 October, but as October ended, she had shown no signs of giving birth. She drove out as usual with Leopold on Sunday 2 November. On the evening of 3 November, her contractions began. Sir Richard encouraged her to exercise, but would not let her eat. Late that evening, he sent for the officials who were to witness and attest to the royal birth. As the fourth of November became the fifth, it became clear that Charlotte might be unable to expel the child. Croft and Charlotte’s personal physician, Matthew Baillie, decided to send for obstetrician John Sims. However, Croft did not allow Sims to see the patient, and forceps were not used. At nine o’clock in the evening of 5 November, Charlotte finally gave birth to a large stillborn boy. Efforts to resuscitate him were in vain. The noble observers confirmed that it was a handsome boy, resembling the Royal Family.

All were assured that the mother was doing well and took their leave. An exhausted Charlotte heard the news calmly, stating it was the will of God. She took some nourishment after her lengthy fast and seemed to be recovering. Leopold, who had remained with his wife throughout, apparently took an opiate and collapsed into bed. Soon after midnight, Charlotte began vomiting violently and complaining of pains in her stomach. Sir Richard was called and was alarmed to find his patient cold to the touch, breathing with difficulty and bleeding. He placed hot compresses on her, the accepted treatment at the time for postpartum bleeding, but the blood did not stop. He called in Stockmar and urged him to bring Leopold. Stockmar found Leopold difficult to rouse, and went to see the Princess, who grabbed his hand and told him, “They have made me tipsy.” Stockmar left the room, planning to try again to rouse the Prince, but was called back by Charlotte’s voice, “Stocky! Stocky!” He entered the room to find her dead.

Britain was plunged into mourning for the Princess. Linen-draperies ran out of black cloth. Even the poor and homeless tied armbands of black to their clothes. The shops closed for two weeks, as did the Royal Exchange, the Law Courts, and the docks. Even gambling dens shut down on the day of her funeral as a mark of respect. Henry Brougham wrote; “It really was as though every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.” Mourning was so great that the makers of ribbons and other fancy goods (which could not be worn during the period of mourning) petitioned the government to shorten the period, fearing they would otherwise go bankrupt. The Prince Regent was prostrated with grief and was unable to attend his child’s funeral. Princess Caroline heard the news from a passing courier and fainted in shock. On recovering, she stated, “England, that great country, has lost everything in losing my ever beloved daughter.” Even the Prince of Orange burst into tears at hearing the news, and his wife ordered the ladies of her court into mourning. Leopold, stricken with grief, wrote to Sir Thomas Lawrence:

“Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the Prince Regent. My Charlotte is gone from the country—it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was my delight!”

The Princess was buried, her son at her feet, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 19 November 1817. A monument was erected by public subscription at her tomb.  It was not long before the public began to pin blame for the tragedy. The Queen and the Prince Regent were blamed for not being present at the birth, though Charlotte had specifically requested that they stay away. Although the postmortem was inconclusive, many blamed Croft for his care of the Princess. The Prince Regent refused to blame Croft. Nevertheless, three months after Charlotte’s death and while attending another young woman, Croft snatched up a gun and fatally shot himself. The “triple obstetric tragedy” — death of child, mother, and practitioner—led to significant changes in obstetric practice, with obstetricians who favoured intervention in protracted labour, including in particular more liberal use of forceps gaining ground over those who did not.

Monument Honouring Princess Charlotte of Wales

Monument Honouring Princess Charlotte of Wales

Whilst Charlotte’s death was a terrible tragedy, it was also represented a constitutional crisis. After her father and her bachelor uncles, there was no legitimate heir to the throne. Immediately the race was on to secure the succession. One of Charlotte’s uncles, Prince Edward Duke of Kent and Strathearn, upon receiving a newspaper article which urged the King’s unmarried sons to marry, promptly dismissed his mistress and proposed to Leopold’s sister, Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leiningen. Their only child, a girl, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, would eventually become Queen of the United Kingdom, and is, to this date, the longest reigning monarch. Leopold, by then King of the Belgians, served as long-distance adviser to his niece and was able to secure her marriage to his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Leopold married again in 1832 to Louise-Marie of Orleans, daughter of Louis Philippe I, King of the French. In 1831, he became King of the Belgians. He never forgot his first wife, nor did he ever really get over her death. With Louise he had four children. The youngest, a girl, was named Charlotte in honour of his first wife. It is said that his last words were ‘Charlotte Charlotte’. 

In many ways, Victoria and Albert fulfilled what Charlotte and Leopold had promised. They steered the monarchy forward, making it more accessible to the people.



Kate Williams, ‘Becoming Queen’

James Chambers, ‘Charlotte and Leopold’

John Van Der Kiste, ‘Georgian Princesses’

Arthur Aspinall, ‘Letters of the Princess Charlotte’

Hauntings a’plenty: The Many Ghosts of Anne Boleyn, by James Peacock

April 19, 2015 in 2015 Tribute to Queen Anne Boelyn, Guest Writers, The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock


Video Credit: Mercy Alicea Rivera


“When the merry wag doth hush his voice and cover… Then shall ye know, that ghosts do walk within this ancient Tower, fact or fantasy, truth or tale, as shadows shorten and the skies grow pale, can ye with certainty stand claim, that voices called… But no man came?”
– Shelagh Abbott, Ghosts of the Tower of London –_____________________________________

In my last article “Behind the Black and Beautiful Eyes: Why is Anne Boleyn Fascinating?”, I talked of Anne’s popularity, of how extensively she was portrayed, whether through fiction, biographies, television, film, or theatre. In this article I want to focus on the many reported “ghostly sightings” of Anne that have been around from at least the eighteenth century. There are recorded sightings at Blickling Hall, where many believe Anne Boleyn was born; Hever Castle, her family home; and the Tower of London, where she spent her last tragic days. There are also other places where Anne Boleyn has reportedly been seen: Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace — and even locations where the buildings Anne would visited no longer stand.

Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall is the quintessential stately home where Anne Boleyn was most likely born at the beginning of the 16th century. Sadly, the estate was rebuilt in the 1620’s with a further remodeling in the 1760’s. Still, there are many tales of Anne’s ghost being seen – and also apparitions of her father, Thomas Boleyn, and her brother, George Boleyn. One tale, most probably established in the late 18th century, tells of a spectre seen on many occasions of her father seated in a coach drawn by headless horses and driven by a headless coachmen. The coach races along the country lanes to the door of the hall, followed by a blue light. Another tale speaks of screaming devils and a headless male corpse said to be that of George Boleyn, which is itself sometimes also seen be dragged across hedges and ditches by four headless horses.

According to some Victorian versions of the story, it is Anne Boleyn who instead occupies the coach. She is reportedly dressed in white, bathed in a red glow. She sits in the coach decapitated, with her bleeding head on her lap. Some versions say that as soon as the spectral visions reaches the door of the hall, it vanishes. Others assert that Anne alights and walks through every room of the house. Over generations of storytelling, the tradition grew to claim that every year this spectral appears on the anniversary of her execution, May 19th.

By the mid 1800’s, superstitious country folk claimed that Thomas Boleyn was condemned to drive his coach and horses once a year for a thousand years from his death in 1539 over the twelve (or forty in some versions) bridges that lie between Wroxham and Blickling, including those at Belaugh, Coltishall, Hautbois, Aylsham and Burgh, as punishment for having connived at his daughter’s fall. He was said to carry his head, its tangled hair matted with blood, under his arm, flames shooting from his mouth whilst performing this annual ritual. This is extremely odd, because Thomas Boleyn died in his bed at Hever. In 1985, asked whether he believed in this apparition, an old local man replied that it was ‘a load of old squit’.

Anne’s ghost is said to have been seen in the drawing room, walking the corridors dressed in grey, reading a book in the long gallery. Around 1979, an apparition was seen by a steward, but vanished almost immediately. Left behind was a book of Hans Holbein’s paintings open to the portrait thought to be Anne Boleyn.

In 1985, Steve Ingram, a former administrator at Blickling Hall, was asleep one night in a flat there when he was awakened by the sound of ‘light female footsteps’ advancing along the corridor and into his bedroom. At first he thought it was his wife, but he then realised she was asleep beside him. Mr. Ingram then turned on the light expecting to see someone at the end of his bed, but no one was there. It could almost be dismissed as a dream, but his colleagues pointed out the date of the previous day, May 19th.

A former custodian of Blickling, Dennis Mead, told author Joan Forman that during World War II a butler named Hancock had seen a woman wearing a long grey gown with a white lace collar and white mobcap walking across the lawn to the lake. Hancock reportedly went and asked her if she was looking for someone, to which she mysteriously replied “that for which I search has long since gone”. Hancock glanced up at the house for a moment. When he turned back the woman had disappeared. The clothing the ghost wore, however, was of a later date then Anne’s time.

Rochford Hall, Essex

Rochford Hall, Essex

In the 1920’s, it was erroneously believed that Anne Boleyn was born at Rochford Hall. Her ghost was said to appear in a large room called ‘Anne Boleyn’s Nursery’, but the building dates from Henry VIII’s reign, making that impossible. Mary Boleyn, Anne’s elder sister, lived at Rochford Hall with her second husband William Stafford. Since she died there in 1543, perhaps it is her ghost instead that people claimed to have seen.

Wickford, Essex

At the turn of the year Anne is said to travel in a phantom coach in the area where Runwell Hall, a house belonging to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, once stood.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

In the late 19th century, a tale was shared that told that Anne was seen drifting along a corridor, looking sad and wearing a blue gown. It is said the queen wore the gown in the painting, only no such portrait survived or is even recorded.

In 1945, Lady Baden-Powell, who lived in a grace and favour apartment just off the Great Hall (now the buttery room, and also part of the Tudor Kitchens), recorded in her diary that a visitor, a ‘Mrs Hunt’, sensed the presence of ‘Queen Anne Boleyn.’ She further reported that Anne Boleyn ‘used my little turret room at the end of my bedroom as her secret praying room’. Beyond this, Mrs. Hunt ‘sees the Queen, who is beautiful, in the room’. How Mrs Hunt was able to identify Anne we do not know. We do know, however, that the apartments built for Anne at Hampton Court were not at this end of the Great Hall.

Hever Castle

Hever Castle

Unsurprisingly, there is story that Anne Boleyn’s ghost has also been reported at her family home of Hever Castle. On Christmas Eve, Anne’s ghost has reportedly been seen crossing a bridge over the River Eden on her way to Hever Castle.

Windsor Castle

At Windsor Anne’s ghost has apparently appeared looking through a window in the Dean’s Cloister. Another sighting is of Anne’s ghost walking along the eastern parapet.

Salle Church

Salle Church

It is said that Anne Boleyn’s ghost walks on the anniversary of her death at Salle Church in Norfolk. Here some of her Boleyn ancestors, including her grandparents, are buried.

River Thames, London

A ghostly vision of a barge manned by shadowy grey oarsmen has been seen taking Anne Boleyn to the Tower. Evidently, she was glimpsed passing the Water Tower of Lambeth Palace. In real history, however, she was not conveyed so far upriver.

Lambeth Palace, London

There are sad and eerie tales that Anne Boleyn’s voice – moaning, crying and pleading for her life — echoes in the dark and ancient undercroft of Lambeth Palace. These tales are likely based on the untrue but often repeated assertion that Anne appeared before Archbishop Cranmer’s ecclesiastical court in the undercroft on the 17th May 1536, the day her marriage was dissolved. They may also be based on the myth that Anne was tried at Lambeth, and after being condemned, was taken down the steps of the Water Tower to the barge that would convey her back to the Tower.

Durham House, London

Anne Boleyn’s ghost is said to have appeared in a basement that is all that remains of the once episcopal palace. Anne lived at Durham House before her marriage to King Henry VIII.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Naturally it comes as no surprise that there are several tales of Anne Boleyn’s spirit appearing at the ancient fortress of the Tower of London, the place where she both stayed before her Coronation and later her imprisonment.

The figure of a headless woman in a Tudor gown has been seen several times near the Queen’s House, formerly the Lieutenant’s Lodging. Anne was once thought to have been confined there before her execution. Since Anne never actually stayed there, is it possible for her to be the ‘Grey Lady’ in Tudor dress whose ghost haunts the building- but can only be seen females?
The room next to the one where Anne is supposed to have spent her last days is unaccountably spooked far worse than the other rooms in the house. Even today, the room has an evil reputation because of its chill, forbidding atmosphere, and strange perfumed odour. Also, people have awoken in the room with a dreadful feeling of being suffocated. Consequently, no child is permitted to sleep there.

One night in 1864, while standing on duty, a guardsmen of the Sixties Rifles saw a white figure emerge from the dimness of a doorway of the Queen’s House. As the ghost moved towards him, he challenged it. As the apparition emerged from the shadows, he saw to his horror that it was headless. The guardsman raised his bayonet, only for the figure to wall straight through it and himself. At that, the guardsman fainted with terror. He was found by his angry commanding officer. As a result of the evening’s unusual events, the guardsman was court-marshaled for drunkenness and dereliction of his duty. Fortunately, two other people revealed that they too saw the figure at that spot. In addition, two other guardsmen swore that they had watched from a window of the Bloody Tower as it approached the sentry and had heard his scream of terror as he collapsed. With this evidence, the court acquitted him.

Later in the 19th century, a yeoman warder testified under oath to seeing a bluish form drifting across the area towards the Queen’s House. Yet another soldier saw a woman in white coming out of the house soon after midnight. He could hear her heels tapping on the ground. The soldier watched her walk towards Tower Green, but when she moved into a moonlit area, he was shocked to see that she had no head. Fleeing from his post, this soldier also escaped punishment after explaining what he witnessed.

Similarly in 1933, yet another soldier witnessed the distinct white form of a headless woman near the Bloody Tower. He claimed that she rose out of the ground and then floated towards him. Terrified, he thrust his bayonet at the ghost, only to see it vanish. As there are at least five different people to see this apparition at different times, perhaps we should give some substance to these accounts. The connection with the Queen’s House again preludes any connection with Anne. Obviously, there are many other people who suffered unfortunate fates at the Tower.

In 1972, a nine-year-old girl from the North of England visiting London for the first time with her parents was standing by the scaffold site in the Tower, listening to a guide reciting the names of all the people who had been executed by the axe there. The girl, who had no prior knowledge of Anne Boleyn, said to her mother that Anne had not been executed by the axe but by the sword, and afterwards described in detail the Queen’s last moments, even asserting that the executioner had removed his shoes so as to come up behind her unawares and behead her.

In the late 19th century, an officer, peering through the windows of St. Peter ad Vincula after seeing an unauthorised light inside at night, claimed to observe the elegant figure of Anne Boleyn at the head of a line of knights and ladies in Tudor clothes processing up the aisle towards the altar. He watched astounded for a few moments until the procession and the light vanished.

Other appearances are reported in the dark corner of the upper room in the Martin Tower. Although Anne Boleyn but was never held prisoner there, it is thought that her brother George Boleyn likely was.  Also, a young soldier in 1967 saw an eerie light in one of the upper windows of the White Tower. The next day, a warder told him he had probably seen the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Although she is said to haunt the White Tower and the Bloody Tower, Anne was never held in either building.

I make no comments as to the veracity of these reported sightings. I have simply written this article for those interested in the supernatural.


Abbott, Shelagh, Ghosts of the Tower of London

Jones, Richard, Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland

Weir, Alison, The Lady in the Tower: Fall of Anne Boleyn


Behind the Black and Beautiful Eyes: Why is Anne Boleyn Fascinating?

March 7, 2015 in Anne Boleyn Fact Articles, featured, News, Queens of World History, The Anne Boleyn Society by James Peacock

By James Peacock


Queen Anne Boleyn

Queen Anne Boleyn


It has been more than 478 years since the Calais swordsman severed Anne Boleyn’s head from her body on that morning of 19th May 1536. Already carpenters, stone-masons and seamstresses had descended on the royal palaces to remove any trace of the fallen queen — her “H and A” symbols, her falcon emblem, and her mottoes. In fact, they had begun this work before the swordsman completed his task! Once the executioner’s job was done, Anne’s husband King Henry VIII married his new wife Jane Seymour just a few days later!

For the rest of his life, King Henry VIII never openly mentioned Anne Boleyn’s name in public (though he did make one brief reference to her). The woman he moved heaven and earth to marry and torn his country away from the Church of Rome was to be eliminated from history like she had never existed. Anne Boleyn’s portraits were destroyed so even today we do not know exactly what she looked like. He most likely even destroyed her letters that she had written to him, for they have never been discovered since. But Henry would never get his wish, for Anne Boleyn would not go away easily. In fact, nearly four hundred and seventy nine years later, Anne’s memory is still very much alive.

Queen Anne Boleyn Artist: Kirsten Marie Christensen

Queen Anne Boleyn
Artist: Kirsten Marie Christensen

These days endless visitors stroll through the gates of Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London and Hever Castle fascinated by Anne Boleyn – wanting to walk in her footsteps, hoping to see the rooms where she slept. (In the case of Hampton Court Palace and the Tower, they are sometimes devastated to discover they no longer exist). People are in awe of the execution site- some even being moved to tears, also keen to see the “H and A” entwined symbol and the falcon emblem in the Great Hall at Hampton Court, often hoping to get a bit closer to the woman who lived over four hundred years ago.

Even people with very little knowledge or interest in history know of Anne Boleyn. She has become an enigma, someone who endless historians, authors and TV/film producers can’t leave alone. There are dozens of biographies, novelisations and studies in just the last few years — and that’s without considering electronic editions, reprints of Henry’s love letters, and Tudor books where Anne is a central, though not a main focus. Several Internet sites are devoted to her.

In the gift shops of the various sites associated with Henry’s reign, there are countless thimbles, chocolates, soaps, tea towels, mugs, etc. commemorating all of Henry’s wives in order, giving them equal billing. Yet ask any general member of the public to name one of his wives, and the answer is  Anne Boleyn. Why? Why does this woman who lived over four hundred years ago inspire such passion and devotion? Why is she more well remembered than about 90% of all monarchs, not just in the UK, but elsewhere?

The question, I feel, is not an easy one to answer. Perhaps it is mostly due to Anne’s life story- the girl of noble birth, sent to be educated at the “premier finishing school of Europe” (as one renowned historian puts it), then onto serving as lady-in-waiting to the Queen of France before returning to England, where she captures the eye of the king. Henry VIII, rather than simply desiring her as a mistress, decided to take her as his wife. He ventured on a seven year-long battle to divorce Katherine of Aragon, which eventually caused a split with the Church of Rome. Establishing himself as Supreme Head of the Church of England, he married the woman he had long desired and crowned her Queen of England.

Queen Anne Boleyn Artist: Arafel3873 (Tumblr)

Queen Anne Boleyn
Artist: Arafel3873 (Tumblr)

Within three years, Anne Boleyn was not just discarded, but executed. Perhaps it is the story of her downfall that intrigues us. Whether Henry VIII was desperate for a male heir or perhaps it was politics – the story of Anne Boleyn’s swift fall itself has left historians and people alike scratching their heads ever since. Perhaps the story lies in her character, which in itself, has been created by those historians, novelists and film/TV producers for many years. After all, there is often more than one Anne – the evil and the good.

The Two Annes

Anne Boleyn has often been portrayed in two different ways. We have the “evil” Anne, portrayed by Catholic propagandists such as Nicholas Sander, who described her as “jaundiced looking, with a projecting upper tooth, with six fingers on one hand”. He further proclaims she slept with her father’s butler, this being the apparent reason why she was sent to France. Sander further claims Anne Boleyn slept with her Chaplains, her own brother and half the French court. Then we have “good” Anne. Protestant propagandists describe her as the unsung heroine of the English Reformation. Yet can either be the real Anne? Was she either a saint or sinner?

The Real Anne Boleyn

Anne was certainly no saint, but she was also no sinner. One of the reasons I personally admire Anne so much is that I feel she appears quite human at times – prone to rash outbursts of temper. In one incident, during the long difficult process of Henry securing the divorce, she famously declared angrily in a moment of frustration,“I wish Spaniards where at the bottom of the sea”. Another angry outburst happened after her marriage to Henry and the birth of their daughter Elizabeth. After Henry’s eldest daughter Mary was declared illegitimate, the Lady Mary refused to accept it or accept Anne as her father’s rightful wife and true queen. Anne would rant about threatening to “curb her proud Spanish blood”, one time allegedly ordering Lady Shelton to box Mary’s ears for the “accursed bastard she was”. That is, of course, if we are to believe Eustace Chapuys’ version.

Anne Boleyn  Doll Craftsman: Gill Leaf

Anne Boleyn
Doll Craftsman: Gill Leaf

We also have accounts of Anne’s kindness. For example, she took on her nephew Henry Carey as her ward, making sure he received an excellent education, after her sister Mary was left penniless and widowed. Her chaplain William Latymer wrote of how on one Maundy service, “she commanded to be put pivily into every poor woman’s purse one george noble, the which was 6 shillings 8 pence over and besides the alms that wanted to be given.” In fact, the amount in the royal Maundy purses increased when Anne was queen. Whilst on royal progress, Anne would also “give in special commandment to her offices to her officers to buy a great quantity of canvas to be made into shirts and smocks and sheets to those of the poor”.

Another time, when a Mrs. Jaskyne’s (who attended Anne) husband was “greviouslye sick” Anne “not only granted her leave, but commanded sufficiente furniture of horse and other necessary’s for her journey, and tenne pounds towards her travel”. When Mr. Ive at Kingston lost most of his cattle, Anne gave his wife a purse of gold, asking her to let her know if they needed further help.

Humanist scholars, who believed society could be rescued by education and scholarship, dedicated their work to Anne. Men like Edward Fox, Hugh Latimer, Matthew Parker, William Barlow, Nicholas Shaxton, Edward Crome, Thomas Garrett and William Betts were just some of the reformers who gained positions due to Anne’s help and patronage. People in prison for possessing heretical books petitioned her for help, and she was the prime mover in rescuing Nicholas Bourbon from trouble in France and employing him as tutor to her ward and nephew, Henry Carey.

Anne Boleyn was an affectionate mother, who lavished love and affection upon her daughter Elizabeth. Courtiers looked on in astonishment and embarrassment as Anne carefully set Elizabeth down on a velvet cushion next to her throne under the canopy of state. She often ordered countless amounts of fine clothes for her daughter, furniture for her bedding and satin caps. In addition, Elizabeth’s household consisted of many of her mother’s relatives, Anne writing regularly to her daughter’s governess Lady Bryan for updates as to her well being.

Anne Boleyn Pendant Craftsman: Ilana Leah

Anne Boleyn Pendant
Craftsman: Ilana Leah

Anne was also known for her great wit and humour, even when facing death. When her execution was postponed she told Master Kingston, the constable of the Tower, “Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain “. When Master Kingston said there would be no pain, it was so little, Anne replied, “I heard say the executioner was very good”, then famously adding, “and I have a little neck”. She then put her hands about her neck and laughed. She also joked with her ladies that she would go down in history as “la Royne Anne Sans Tete” or “Queen Anne Lackhead.”

Anne did not care for those that did not like her. She was not interested in gaining popularity and sympathy. As far as she was concerned, she was the rightful Queen of England, and the King was only answerable to God and not the Pope. “Ainsi sera, groigne qui groinge”, in English “Let them grumble, that is how it is going to be..” was her motto.


Anne was her own person with her own beliefs — and she stood by them. She fought for her daughter’s rights, believing her the true heir of Henry VIII, just like Catherine of Aragon did with her daughter Mary. Anne was not an evil scheming women, just as she wasn’t a saint either. Who is a saint I ask? Instead, Anne Boleyn was a sixteenth century lady surviving in a sixteenth century court in a sixteenth century world.

Anne Boleyn, like many human beings, could be rash, hot tempered and volatile. Complex, she was also kind, compassionate and loving. It is for these reasons why I myself admire Anne so greatly. I can be rash and hot tempered, just like Anne, but I like to think I can also be kind and compassionate just as Anne was.

Of course, I can not speak for all the Anne admirers around the world as to why they admire her, and no doubt some will disagree with why I admire her so much. Her life story is remarkable: a King besotted with her, then sending her to her death, trying to obliterate all traces of her. Perhaps he would have succeeded if his son by Anne’s successor Jane had lived into adulthood. But of course, it did not turn out the way Henry wished. Instead his most successful heir was his and Anne’s daughter Elizabeth, who in her remarkable reign gave Anne something of a posthumous triumph, a sort of resurrection as it were.  It has been that way ever since, for no doubt to Henry’s great chargrin. Anne in the end had the last laugh.


Eric Ives, eminent historian of Queen Anne Boleyn

Eric Ives, eminent historian of Queen Anne Boleyn


I would like to end this article with a quote from “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by historian Eric Ives, which I feel sums up Anne perfectly.

“She was a remarkable women. She would remain a remarkable woman even in a century which produced many of great note. There were few others who rose from such beginnings to a crown, and none contributed to a revolution as far-reaching as the English Reformation. To use a description no longer in fashion, Anne Boleyn was one of the ‘makers of history’. Yet historians see through a glass darkly; they know for part and they pronounce in part. What Anne really was, as distinct from what Anne did, comes over very much less clearly. To us she appears inconsistent- religous yet aggressive, calculating yet emotional, with the light touch of the courtier yet the strong grip of the politician- but is this what she was, or merely what we strain to see through the opacity of the evidence? As for her inner life, short of a miraculous cache of new material, we shall never really know. Yet what does come to us across the centuries is the impression of a person who is strangely appealing to the early twenty-first century. A women in her own right- taken on her own terms in a man’s world; a women who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex; of only moderate good looks, but taking a court and a king by storm. Perhaps, in the end, it is Thomas Cromwell’s assessment that comes nearest; intelligence, spirit and courage”.


The following books were most helpful and are sources for this article:

*’The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ by Eric Ives
* ‘The Creation of Anne Boleyn’ by Susan Bordo


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