Anne Boleyn and the Cultural Arts by Sandra Vasoli

September 18, 2015 in Guest Writers, Queens of World History by Beth von Staats

By Sandi Vasoli

__________________________

This sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger is thought by some art historians to be Queen Anne Boelyn.

This sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger is thought by some art historians to be Queen Anne Boleyn.

 __________________________

In 1513, a young girl of about 12 or 13 years of age boarded a ship in Dover, England, to make a crossing into France and the European continent. The journey, to join the court of Margaret of Austria, would provide the young woman with an education that very few English noblewomen were privileged to have. Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary were the daughters of a Sir Thomas Boleyn, a cultured and well-to-do courtier in the service of the magnificent King Henry VIII. Sir Thomas had carefully made arrangements for both Anne and Mary, and expected that the learning and the comportment they would be taught in the European capital of Brabant would equip them to make splendid marriages, and to bring honor to their families once they returned to England.

In Margaret’s court there were children of illustrious nobles from across Europe, and Anne was to become one of Margaret’s filles d’honneur, young ladies who would learn French and manners, and associate with the elite on the Continent.

Palace of Mechelen

Palace of Mechelen

Anne remained in the Palace at Mechelen for between one to several years. During this time, she endeared herself to the Regent, the Archduchess Margaret. Anne was an avid student of French, and quickly became fluent. She learned the subtle skills of conversation and conduct befitting a lady. She also began an unofficial study of such things as architecture, textiles, personal beauty and style, and humanism. She was so adept at French that when Mary Tudor, the sister of the English king became betrothed to King Louis XII of France, it is probable that Anne was sent, along with her sister Mary, from the Low Countries to the French Court to assist Mary Tudor with translation and adjusting to life as the new French Queen.

The Royal Château de Blois

The Royal Château de Blois

Thus began Anne’s stay in France – first serving Mary, then in the service of Queen Claude – for possibly seven years. This formative period in Anne’s life allowed her to become immersed in the highly refined culture of France and the French court. She met and associated with many people who were instrumental in the development of the Renaissance, including Marguerite d’Angoulême – a woman whose brilliance and presence appear to have been extremely influential to Anne – renowned Christian humanists, musicians and painters – even perhaps Leonardo da Vinci, who stayed at the court of François I and Claude for a time.

Anne returned to England some time between December of 1521 and March of 1522, because in March her appearance is notated as a participant in an elegant court masque in Henry’s Palace of Placentia. Whether or not Henry took note of Anne on that evening, we do not know. However, over the next several years, Anne traveled back and forth between her parents’ estate, the manor of Hever in Kent, and whichever palace was being occupied by the King’s court.

By late 1526 or early 1527, however, it is certain that the lovely, graceful, and cultured young Anne Boleyn had become the object of King Henry’s fascination. It’s likely that other men had been entranced by Anne before the King, among them young Lord Henry Percy and the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt; whether or not she returned their affections in kind we just do not know.

Why was she so incredibly attractive to men of taste and power? Clearly, Anne possessed that indefinable something which draws men in pursuit, and women in grudging admiration and then jealousy. Anne was sophisticated, elegant, and poised. She was intelligent and talented. And she understood the psychology of all things beautiful. As Anne established her place by the side of Henry VIII, she was able to exercise her skills in the many arenas of her talents. Truly, she was a prodigiously talented woman, as we look back on her from the vantage point of today. Not only was she an avid sportswoman, hunting, hawking, competing at bowls, archery and other outdoor pursuits (which she did well), but she excelled at the more typical female pastimes.

Anne, like other women, did needlework. Whether or not she enjoyed it we don’t know, but there is a piece of fabric from a suite of bedclothes which remains and is attributed to Anne and her ladies, and the craftsmanship is fine.

Lute, detailed from the portrait "The Ambassadors" by Hands Holbein the Younger

Lute, detailed from the portrait “The Ambassadors” by Hands Holbein the Younger

It is recorded that she played the lute beautifully, and also perhaps the virginals (an early type of keyboard instrument). She sang, and Anne and Henry enjoyed singing together. They also composed music together, which demonstrates a deeper knowledge of music than that required to merely sing prettily. Throughout her adult life, and especially as Queen, Anne acted as a patron to the talented musicians who served Court. Thomas Tallis, one of the most noteworthy of English composers, thrived during Anne’s time. Sadly, it is well known that Anne greatly enjoyed the music of the accomplished young musician Mark Smeaton, and her frequent requests for his music contributed to Smeaton’s being accused as one of her lovers in 1536.

The Ambassadors Hans Holbein the Younger

The Ambassadors
Hans Holbein the Younger

Anne was also a serious patron of fine art. She shared a consistent working relationship with the brilliant Hans Holbein the Younger, who was in residence in the King’s and Queen’s court from the late 1520’s. He served as a court painter, executing primarily portraits, and from Holbein we know what many of the significant members of Court at that time looked like. It is likely that Anne directly commissioned Holbein to create one of his most acknowledged paintings, The Ambassadors. Highly symbolic, it represented the insurgence of the Reformed faith which was sweeping England in 1533. It is so unfortunate that no verified portrait of Anne by Holbein exists today. Surely there was one, probably only to be destroyed after her death.

__________________________

Whitehall

Whitehall

__________________________

One of Anne’s most significant accomplishments as a woman well ahead of her time was the partnership she shared with Henry as they, together, redesigned and reconstructed the former York Place, a residence of Cardinal Wolsey’s, into the magnificent palace they both called home – Whitehall. Henry, proud of his exceptional, beloved Anne, invited her to assist in developing the architectural plans for the refurbishment of the Palace. She did so, reveling in the fact that her rival, Katharine of Aragon, would never set foot over its threshold. Whitehall became a most spectacular royal estate, as did Hampton Court Palace. Anne’s influence was felt there as well.

Not only a woman of style, beauty and a keen intelligence, Anne Boleyn was a cultural icon, and her influence in these areas is felt today.

Meet The Author

Sandi Vasoli

Sandi Vasoli

Sandra Vasoli, author of Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower, earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and biology from Villanova University before embarking on a thirty-five-year career in human resources for a large international company.

Having written essays, stories, and articles all her life, Vasoli was prompted by her overwhelming fascination with the Tudor dynasty to try her hand at writing both historical fiction and non-fiction. While researching what would eventually become her Je Anne Boleyn series, Vasoli was granted unprecedented access to the Papal Library. There she was able to read the original love letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn—an event that contributed greatly to her research and writing.

Sandra Vasoli currently lives in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two greyhounds.

______________________________

Anne Boleyns Letter From The Tower

To Pre-Order Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower, A New Assessment

CLICK THE LINK BELOW!

Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower

______________________________

WIN

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!!!!

MadeGlobal Publishing is graciously offering a complimentary copy of Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower, A New Assessment to one lucky QAB member or browser. If you are interested in being included in a drawing for a chance of winning this wonderful book, send the administrator a message via the website’s contact form. To complete the contact form, click here –> CONTACT US! We will draw a random winner on September 25, 2015. Good Luck!!!

___________________________________

Poisoner Anne Boleyn?, by Susan Breen

August 11, 2015 in Guest Writers, Queens of World History by Beth von Staats

By Susan Breen

____________________________

Queen Anne Boleyn

Queen Anne Boleyn

____________________________

Anne Boleyn had a talent for controversy. (Isn’t that what makes her so fascinating?) She was accused of many things over the course of her lifetime, but one of the accusations that comes up most frequently is that she was a poisoner.

Keep in mind that poisoning in the early 16th century was viewed differently than we view it today. In our time, poisoning is a criminal matter, a type of homicide. But in Anne’s day it was a murkier thing. Poisoning meant sorcery and witchcraft and evil spells. It was a crime associated with outsiders and foreigners and Infidels and witches. A woman such as Anne, who had spent so much time in foreign courts, who had foreign ways, who might have had features, such as moles, that set her apart physically, would be rumored to be a poisoner in almost any circumstances.

So how serious were the charges against Anne Boleyn?

Four specific incidents are at the heart of the controversy:

Saint John Fisher

Saint John Fisher

1. In 1531, Bishop John Fisher, an outspoken supporter of Catherine of Aragon, narrowly avoided being poisoned. He was supposed to sit down to dinner that day, but wasn’t hungry. Instead he invited his servants and guests to dine, and two of them died after eating the soup that had been prepared for him. Richard Roose, a cook, was arrested and confessed to putting a substance in the gruel, but said he hadn’t known it would cause harm. Roose was sentenced to the terrible death of being boiled alive, but there were those who felt that Roose did not act alone. When Sir Thomas More, then chancellor, told Henry that people blamed Anne or her family for the crime, Henry snapped that Anne was blamed for everything, even the weather. Of course Roose, at that point, was in no position to offer a defense.

2. In 1536, Catherine of Aragon died after a long illness. Some believed she worsened after drinking Welsh beer in 1535. In the embalmer’s report that followed her death, he noted her heart “was quite black and hideous to look at.” It is now thought that she died of complications from cancer, but at the time, Anne drew suspicion. She had never hidden her dislike of Catherine, and her reception of the news of her death seemed celebratory.

3. Henry’s daughter with Catherine of Aragon, the Lady Mary, certainly believed her stepmother was trying to kill her. At one point Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys wrote to King Charles of Spain that, “A Gentleman told me yesterday that the earl of Northumberland told him that he knew for certain that [Anne] had determined to poison the Princess.”

Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond

Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond

4. Seventeen-year-old Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, King Henry’s illegitimate son, also believed Anne was trying to poison him. On May 2, 1536, after Anne had been taken to the Tower, FitzRoy went to receive his father’s blessing. The King began to cry, saying that he and his sister [Lady Mary] were “greatly bound to God for having escaped the hands of that accursed whore, who had determined to poison them.” FitzRoy went to Anne’s execution and he and the Duke of Suffolk were among the few people there who didn’t fall to their knees in prayer as she awaited death. Sadly FitzRoy died the following month, of what Alison Weir describes as a “suppurating pulmonary infection.”

In each of these cases, Anne’s name came up because she had motive. But did she do it? Was she a poisoner?

King_Henry_IV_from_NPG_(2)

King Henry IV

It’s worth noting, that whether she poisoned anyone or not, there was a lot of poisoning going on at that time. In his fascinating book, The Crime of Poison in the Middle Ages, Franck Collard estimates that out of the 21 kings who reigned in France from 987 to 1497, three-quarters were thought to be exposed to poison. (Although his book technically cuts off at 1500, he cites examples going into Anne Boleyn’s era.) Among specific cases he mentions are English King Henry IV, who “died suddenly sitting up straight on his saddle, covered with poison.” (That was a fast-acting poison. By contrast, he says it took 23 years for poison to work on Charles V.) The fear of poisoning was so widespread that many wealthy people took precautions at their dinner table. There were knives that sweat in the presence of poison and metal languiers on which people hung snake tongues, believed to be another form of poison detector.

Akonite was one of the Tudor Era's most common poisons.

Akonite was one of the Tudor Era’s most common poisons.

Part of why there was so much poisoning was that there was more of it around. Increasing international trade brought new types of poison into England, as well as new techniques for extracting toxic substances out of minerals. Apothecary shops sold arsenic over the counter. Poisonwas cheap. According to Collard, a small amount of toxic material could cost as little as 4 sous in 1501. He refers to this as the “democratization of poison.” Then there were also traveling sellers of theriaque, who sold special preparations that could be used for medicinal reasons, but, as has always been the case, the difference between medicine and poison is often the dose.

Much of the poison was plant-based, such as the herbs aconite and hellebore. There were also mineral-based poisons that required equipment and special manipulations and these became more popular in the 16th century. There were also poisons that came from animal materials, such as one horrifying recipe that called for a substance from the mouth of a red-haired man killed by a poisonous bite and hanged by his feet. The upshot is that anyone who wanted access to poison could probably have found it. So Anne had access and motive. Does that mean she did it?

Catherine di Medici

Catherine de Medici

As I think about it, I find myself drawn to an event that never happened, but which I find interesting nonetheless. (I’m a novelist and so naturally drawn to making up stories.) In 1533, which was a year after Anne went to Calais with Henry to meet with King Francis, the French King’s second son married Catherine de Medici. She was only 14 at the time and she was related to Pope Clement, also a de Medici. He was the Pope so instrumental in holding off the marriage between Henry and Anne. The de Medici family was infamous for its knowledge of poisons and Catherine went on to become known as “The Sinister Queen” (though her reputation may have owed a lot to the fact that she was a strong woman in a foreign country). Like Anne Boleyn, Catherine de Medici was a woman who did not always do what she was supposed to do, or fit in where she should. What might these two have talked about had Anne’s visit to Calais happened one year later? What advice might each have given the other?

But getting back to what actually happened, there’s still the question about Anne Boleyn.

So I went back to a book I like to use when writing mysteries, titled Criminal Poisoning. The author, forensic expert John Trestrail, makes the point that poisoners have a unique personality. They’re different than regular killers. For one thing, the very act of poisoning implies a unique relationship with the victim. The poisoner has to get close, which suggest that she lives near the victim or is in contact, or prepares meals. (This is why there’s a preconception that most poisoners are women, though Trestrail says that’s wrong.) There’s something stealthy and invisible about poisoning. It allows a killer to attack a physically or mentally stronger person by invading that person’s defense zone.

So, what sort of person becomes a poisoner?

Realgar is a source of arsenic.

Realgar is a source of arsenic.

This is what Trestrail has to say: “Poisoners are for the most part cunning, avaricious, cowardly (physically or mentally nonconfrontational), childlike in their fantasy, and somewhat artistic…” They tend to have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a belief that they are special and unique, a sense of entitlement, feelings of envy, a lack of empathy and a requirement for excessive admiration.

Hmmm.

Something I think we could all agree on is that Anne Boleyn was neither cowardly nor nonconfrontational. She was unafraid to speak up. When she should have been silent, she was incapable of it. She was a woman who confronted her enemies head-on, and on the basis of that, I would vote no. Anne Boleyn was not a poisoner.

What do you think?

Sources:
Bilyeau, Nancy, “The Death of the Bishop’s Poisoner,” English Historical Fiction Authors
Bordo, Susan, The Creation of Anne Boleyn
Collard, Franck, The Crime of Poison in the Middle Ages
Ridgway, Claire, “The Death of Catherine of Aragon,” theanneboleynfiles.com
Ridgway, Claire, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown
Somervill, Barbara A., Catherine de Medici, The Power Behind the French Throne
Trestrail, John Harris III, Criminal Poisoning: Investigational Guide for Law Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys
Weir, Alison, The Lady in the Tower

____________________________

Susan Breen

Susan Breen

Susan Breen is the author of the novel, The Fiction Class, which was published by Plume/Penguin. Her stories and articles have appeared in places such as Best American Nonrequired Reading, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and www.composejournal.com. She teaches novel writing for Gotham Writers in NYC and lives in Irvington, NY with her husband and two cockapoos (dogs). She has three fabulous children who are all off in the world, doing remarkable things. She’s at work on a mystery in which Anne Boleyn is a character (although not a poisoner).

____________________________

The Fiction Class

To Purchase The Fiction Class,

CLICK THE LINK BELOW!

The Fiction Class

______________________________

Skip to toolbar