How I Remember Anne Boleyn?
by Catherine Brooks
Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the anniversary of Queen Anne Boleyn’s tragic execution on 19 May, James Peacock, founder of The Anne Boleyn Society, and Beth von Staats, blogger of The Tudor Thomases and owner/administrator of Queenanneboleyn.com, went on a fact-finding mission by asking several historians, historical fiction writers, and history lovers “What should Queen Anne Boleyn be most remembered for?” The response was overwhelming. Today we welcome the delightful Catherine Brooks, “the woman behind the scenes” at The Tudor Society.
Tensions between Queen Anne Boleyn and her husband, King Henry VIII had been apparent to many in April 1536. But when Henry left speedily and unannounced at the May Joust, without even a word to his Queen, it came as a surprise to everyone.
We all know Anne’s fate.
In the 1969 film ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’, the Anne exquisitely played by Geneviève Bujold gets a visit from her husband in the Tower, whilst awaiting the (foregone) conclusion of her trial. Here, Henry is at points almost begging Anne for the truth, needing to convince himself of her guilt, desperate to justify what he is planning to do. In reality, Anne was never to see Henry again, but whilst we know this, time and again, we derive such immense satisfaction from watching Anne tear Henry down. Anne was a woman who knew what was to become of her. It was not in her nature to beg, whine or simper. And as such, we can almost hear
Anne ourselves, as she spits at Henry:
‘But Elizabeth is yours. Watch her as she grows; she’s yours. She’s a Tudor! Get yourself a son off of that sweet, pale girl if you can – and hope that he will live! But Elizabeth shall reign after you! Yes, Elizabeth – child of Anne the Whore and Henry the Blood-Stained Lecher – shall be Queen! And remember this: Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours! She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built! Yes – MY Elizabeth SHALL BE QUEEN! And my blood will have been well spent!’
People remember Anne for so many things, good and bad. Some people find her an enigma. Others believe she was a harlot. Some pity the cruel and unjust end she (and others) met, whilst some say she deserved it. She had an allure that her contemporaries could not describe. Her intelligence punctuated every conversation she had. She played her part in the advancement of the Reformed religion. And she had the maternal instinct of a 1,000 powerful and defensive mothers.
I can remember Anne for so many things, and then so many more. But the Anne I ultimately come back to is the Anne Genevieve portrays tearing Henry down in the Tower. Because this Anne, I believe, was the real one, although bound to hold her tongue in reality to protect her beautiful daughter, and denied the chance to meet with her husband as he would not want to be confronted with what she had to say. Anne knew from the start she would not receive justice. She had seen how Henry abandoned Catherine of Aragon when he felt she no longer served his needs and in fact, how he had done the same with so many others too during the course of his ‘Great Matter’.
A small number of people in Henry’s life as king came close to taking too much power. Perhaps at times they did (although they paid the price in the end). But all had the sense to at least create to Henry the illusion that every ounce of good they achieved was laid ultimately at his feet. They kowtowed and kissed his ignoble behind. Charles Brandon probably pushed his luck a few times, particularly when he married Mary, the king’s sister! But he too knew when to hold his tongue. Anne stands out because she was the only one who ever really told Henry what she thought, and what she needed him to hear. She didn’t take his egotistical rubbish over and over again. She loved and hated him with passion that she didn’t choose to restrain as she didn’t see why she should have to after all the waiting, sacrifices and broken promises. Anne was the only person who ever stood up to Henry, and whilst this almost certainly contributed to her demise, it gave her a power over him that took away his control. Unwittingly at first, Anne exposed to the world the cracks in Henry’s personality, from which started to ooze his arrogance and reveal the fragility of his ego. At the end, Anne played the game with her set piece speech on the scaffold, but a sharp and forward-thinking mind like hers would have known that even those who plotted and desired her fall knew that the king was now either the sort of person ready to accept such unconvincing deviance as the truth for his convenience, or was too weak minded to seek the truth for himself, or was simply a downright liar.
So I believe we should remember Anne for many things. But I hold her in my mind as a woman more powerful than her husband, and although he took her down, she brought a good part of him along with her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine grew up in Kent, the ‘Garden of England’, but moved to Leicestershire were she gained first her BSc Hons in Sociology and then her PostGraduate Diploma in Psychology. Her career in Forensic Psychiatry took a turn towards health and fitness when she began to work with patients on their physical health, and she now still works in part as a Pilates Instructor.
Her proximity to the Bosworth Battlefield gives it a special place in her heart and led to her representing the Tudor Society during the reinterment of Richard III in 2015. She continues to work for the Tudor Society, being a regular contributor to their monthly publication,
‘Tudor Life’. Alongside this, she works for the history publisher, MadeGlobal.
Catherine lives with her partner and two young sons, and her family is her main priority. She spends her time working to improve her knowledge of royal history, visiting sites of historical interest, and keeping up-to-date on British Politics.