By Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Editor’s Note: In a recent discussion in QueenAnneBoleyn.com’s facebook group, Cyndi Williamson posed the following questions: Does anyone think that Anne contributed to her own downfall in any way? And if so, in what ways? An outstanding discussion resulted, within group members posing their views of King Henry VIII’s and Queen Anne Boleyn’s courtship. Was Anne Boleyn pimped by her father? Did Anne Boleyn ensnare King Henry VIII with her charms? Did she actually even welcome his advances and affection? Here Kyra Cornelius Kramer shares her views in an excerpt from her recently released book.
When Henry first began pursuing Anne she did everything she could do to politely tell the king that she was uninterested in a liaison (Lindsey, 1995). She never boldly told him, “Swive off, varlet!” because that would have meant the political and economic destruction of her and her entire family. When her polite rebuffs didn’t seem to be working on her would-be swain, Anne packed her bags and fled to Hever in the summer of 1526 (Starkey, 2009). She refused to return to court, even with her mother there to act as chaperone, no matter how much Henry whinged about it (Ives, 2004).
… Henry complained in one of his missives that Anne didn’t write him back, sulking that “it has not pleased you to remember the promise you made me when I was last with you that it, to hear good news from you, and to have an answer to my last letter; yet it seems to me that it belongs to a true servant (seeing that otherwise he can know nothing) to inquire the health of his mistress, and to acquit myself of the duty of a true servant, I send you this letter, beseeching you to apprise me of your welfare, which I pray to God may continue as long as I desire mine own” (Phillips, 2009:5). Her lack of response to his letter is the early renaissance equivalent to not returning a phone call. It is so blatantly a brush off that it is hard to understand why Henry didn’t see it that way. It is also hard to understand how or why any historian has been able to interpret the lack of response as the ploy of a woman playing hard to get. If she had played any harder to get she would have had to beat Henry over the head with a stick. “The argument that she must have been plotting to entice Henry in order to gain the crown ignores too many facts clearly written in Henry’s own hand.” (Kramer, 2012).
Rather than just accept the fact that Anne did not want to be his lover, Henry wrote to her that if he just knew for certain she didn’t love him then he “do no other than mourn my ill-fortune, and by degrees abate my great folly” (Phillips, 2009:14-15). However, no matter how many times she said no, and no matter how she phrased her rejection, Henry could NOT be certain she was really saying no.
There are historians who are as convinced of the king’s irresistibly as Henry was himself, and just cannot believe Anne was really saying no. Victorian writer Paul Friedmann explained that “Anne kept her royal adorer at an even greater distance than the rest of her admirers. She had good reason to do so, for the position which Henry offered her had nothing very tempting to an ambitions and clever girl … it cannot be considered an act of great virtue that Anne showed no eagerness to become the king’s mistress” .(1884). Alison Weir claims that Anne “often failed to reply to the King’s letters, probably deliberately, for everything she did, or omitted to do, in relation to Henry was calculated to increase his ardour” (2007). David Starkey writes that Anne’s coolness toward Henry was because she had “guessed” she was “beyond Henry’ power to give up” (2009).
What was it, exactly, that was Anne supposed to do in order to prove that she sincerely did not want to be involved with Henry? Apparently just saying no, running away, and refusing to have sex with the king is somehow not convincing.
Henry didn’t give up; he simply changed his plan of attack. It seems that in his mind she was only saying no to the position of mistress. She surely could not have been saying no to him, in all his pulchritudinous majesty. Henry upped the ante by offering Anne marriage and matching crown. It should be noted that, “there is nothing to show that the plan to make Anne his queen had come from Anne” (Bernard, 2010). The king himself appears to be the one who came up with the idea. It was not that when faced with “a seductive would-be mistress who was refusing to submit without the ultimate guarantee of marriage, Henry duly crumbled” (Matusiak, 2013). Nor was it true that “Anne Boleyn’s denial of her sexual favours to the king may have encouraged him finally to unravel the conjugal knot that bound him … [making him] as weak as he was as he was foolish” (Matusiak, 2013).
Henry had already been making plans to divorce Katherina and marry another noblewoman for the political alliance and potential heirs before he began harassing Anne Boleyn. He stopped having sex with Katherina altogether in 1524, and there is evidence he and Wolsey were plotting the dissolution of the marriage in 1525 (Scarisbrick, 1970). The news of Henry’s intent to divorce Katherina didn’t become public until later in 1527, but it had been in the works prior to the first indication of the king’s obsession with Anne. Even in the spring of 1527, Wolsey thought of Henry’s divorce as a way to get the king to marry a French princess (Ripley and Dana, 1883). No one suspected that Henry wanted to make Anne anything but his chatelaine.
What about Anne? What did she want? In the face of such implacable pursuit by the most powerful man in England, what was left for her to do but try to maintain some of her moral integrity as her price for acquiescing to his demands?
When the king started talking marriage it was no doubt clear to Anne that Henry was never going to let her go. No one, no matter how much he loved her, would agree to marry her as long as Henry wanted her. She was either going to wed the king or stay single for the rest of her life. The universal condemnation for an unmarried woman who wasn’t a nun made the choice of spinsterhood a very bitter pill to swallow. If she wanted security and a family and a place in society, she was going to have to marry her stalker.
Anne sent Henry a customary gift on New Year’s Day, probably in 1527, that was of great import. It was a pendant of a ship with a diamond being “tossed about”, and there was a small figure of a woman on board. Henry, no stranger to leaping to conclusions that best suited himself and familiar with romantic symbology, easily understood the gift to mean that Anne was seeking his protection (Ives, 2004). She had finally, after a long chase, given in. To this day her pragmatic bow to the reality of her situation has been taken as a sign she wanted Henry all along.
Editor’s note: Kyra’s biography is provided by her website, Krya Cornelius Kramer and is provided to us in her own words.
Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an author and freelance medical anthropologist. She holds BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She and her beloved husband live in Bloomington, Indiana, USA with their three young daughters.
Kyra is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Kyra is high-functioning, meaning that most of the time Kyra can pass for “quirky” with a dash of “gauche”. As a function of being an “Aspy”, she has a deep and abiding love for facts, which she stuffs into her writings like chestnuts in a Christmas goose. Seriously, you will knee-deep in facts by the time you are three paragraphs into her work. Moreover, she has a sardonic sense of humor that flavors her writings, no matter how academic they are in nature. Her editors appreciate this, but the review board usually makes her take any humor out before publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Kyra hopes that the academic reviewers were at least amused before they crossed the sentence out with heavy red pencil marks. She suspects not.
Editor’s note: For more information about the remarkable accomplishments of Kyra Cornelius Kramer, do visit her website linked above. Queenanneboleyn.com will be publishing a review of Kyra’s newly released book The Jezebel Effect: Why Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters in the coming days.
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