Remembering Queen Anne Boleyn
Editor’s Note: 19 May marks the anniversary of the tragic execution of Queen Anne Boleyn. Beheaded at the Tower of London on 19 May 1535, Anne’s legacy ranges from “whore of King Henry VIII” to “World History’s first feminist change agent”. Neither characterization true, 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, asking numerous historians and historical fiction authors what Anne Boleyn should be best remembered for. What follows are fascinating looks from some of the experts in English History we reach out to highlighting the varied attributes of Anne Boleyn for which she should be most be remembered.
Tracy Borman – Historian, Historical Fiction Author, Television/Radio Documentarian
Anne Boleyn was remarkable in so many ways that it is little wonder she became a king’s obsession and continues to captivate and enthrall five centuries after her death. For me, one of her most admirable characteristics – and the one she should be remembered for – was her courage. For almost seven years, she withstood intense pressure from Henry to become his mistress. In an age when women were very much subservient to men, it would have taken considerable courage and resolve to deny any man, let alone a king. As queen, she refused to ‘shut her eyes’ to her husband’s infidelities and fought hard to protect her daughter Elizabeth’s position.
But nothing demonstrates her courage more poignantly than the way in which she faced her death. Having defended herself bravely and eloquently, she did not rail against the unjust verdict but focused on protecting her daughter. She undoubtedly had Elizabeth in mind as she gave her final speech from the scaffold, hoping that by flattering her estranged husband she would persuade him to look kindly upon their young daughter. She went to her death with such dignity that even her enemies admired her. She was ‘braver than a lion’, according to the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who had formerly despised her as the ‘Concubine’. Anne’s courage in a world dominated by men was one of the greatest legacies she passed to her daughter.
Editor’s Note: Does Tracy look familiar??? Well, though a renowned historian of several books who recently released her first novel, Tracy often appears on television and radio. She also is a regular contributor to history magazines, notably BBC History. Do meet Tracy when you have a chance, as she often gives talks on her books across the United Kingdom. Click here for her latest programme of events.
Beth von Staats, blogger of The Tudor Thomases here at the website, highly recommends Tracy’s history book Henry VIII and the Men who Made Him, where “Tudor Thomases”, both the well known and lesser known, abound.
Video Credit: Hodder Books (YouTube)
Adrienne Dillard – Historical Fiction Author
Anne Boleyn is one of those historical figures people love to slap labels on. She’s been called a homewrecker and a diva, a concubine, and a whore; a feminist icon and a reformer, a victim and a martyr. To be sure, all those descriptions can feel perfectly appropriate, depending upon which point of view you see her from. Yet, none of them adequately convey who she truly was: a woman, a daughter and sister, a wife and mother, a ruler and a friend.
Most importantly, she was a human. And she encompassed all that label entails. She was capable of love and hate. She could show unending generosity and compassion but could also inflict the cruelest unkindness. Her words could soothe and encourage, yet they could also wound and mock. She was brilliantly clever and sharply intelligent, yet she made incredible miscalculations and stupid mistakes. She was invincible yet vulnerable; everything yet nothing at the same time. Just as we all are.
Anne may have lived 500 years before us, but we have more in common with her than we realize…and that’s what I think she should be most remembered for. Her humanity. The spark of life that burns in all of us flickered in her as well. Whatever else she did, whatever else she said, whatever any of her contemporaries thought of her…she deserves our compassion. Because she isn’t just some name in a book or a portrait on the wall. She was a person. And she died because her king grew tired of all the things that made her human. On the anniversary of her tragic execution, let’s celebrate those things. Let’s celebrate life.
Editor’s Note: Adrienne is a frequent contributor to Queenanneboleyn.com. Her guest post The Black Legend of Lady Rochford has drawn more unique visitors to QAB than any other individual guest article so far published.
Charlie Fenton – University History Student/ University of Kent, Book Reviewer
The thing that I think Anne Boleyn should be most remembered for is one that I often think it overlooked, and that is her charity work. All of Henry VIII’s wives took part in the usual distributing of alms and washing the feet of the poor, but it was commented on by both William Latimer and John Foxe that the amount of money in the purses for Maundy Thursday in 1536 had increased by a significant amount. We also know that she argued with Thomas Cromwell over what to do with the money from the dissolution of the monasteries, with Anne favouring it going towards charitable causes. So, instead of the Reformation and the birth of Elizabeth, as much as those are important, I think she should be remembered for her charity and kindness to the disadvantaged.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Charlie’s book reviews in Tudor Life Magazine!
Blogger, Facebook Group Host
For me there are several things, which mark her out as a historical figure of note. To begin with, she was what every well brought up aristocrat’s daughter would wish to be. From an early age, her father’s European diplomatic connections afforded her the opportunity to be educated abroad at a royal court. Receiving your education surrounded by royal children brought benefits that most could only dream of, and as she matured it shaped her as a woman apart from her peers.
How difficult it must have been. With Henry VIII so clearly besotted what other man of ambition within the King’s circle would even contemplate courting Anne? In my opinion, none! With marriage to another ruled out, she had three other choices, succumb to the King’s pleading and become his mistress, remain a spinster for the rest of her days or take the veil. Although not her intention when she withdrew from court, I believe her removal was the catalyst that finally moved the King to take action on what he seen as his doomed and childless marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Anne had found herself in an unexpected position when Henry offered her marriage and a crown. I believe this is where we see the remarkable intellect and strategy of a woman far ahead of her time. She wasn’t content just be kept up to date with the King’s ‘Great Matter’ she was beside him investigating, developing strategies and supporting her future husband with her fibre of her intellect. Once the crown was on offer it was marriage or bust…
Although it was her return to England that really brought her into the orbit of the Tudor Court and eventually to the adoring eyes of the man at its heart. She was aesthetically the opposite of what was perceived as beautiful at that time. Her slender frame, dark skin, piercing black eyes and the lustre of her long hair set her apart from the other ladies. All of these attributes coupled with her sense of style, her carriage, her wit, and charm drew her closer to the sharp edge that would eventually strike her down: Henry VIII.
Of course there are many other memorable and laudable qualities that can be attributed to Anne. She was a woman of faith, charity and her devotion to her child was usual for queens in the 16th century, but I think having the strength of character to hold on to yourself under extreme pressure from a man like Henry gives a glimpse into the metal of the woman whose life has captivated myself and others for centuries.
I believe that she did resist his advances. However, I disagree that she did this with any cunning or calculated plan to further stoke his ardour. He was a married man and she was his wife’s Maid of Honour. Even though being the King’s mistress was seen by some as a mark of honour Anne seems to have had a better conceit of herself and desired something more befitting her sense of herself.
Editor’s Note: Are you on Facebook? Be sure to join Gayle’s fun and informative Facebook group British Sovereigns & Royals.
Sarah Morris – Historical Fiction Author, Historical Non-fiction Author, Re-enactor
You asked me ‘What Anne Boleyn should be most remembered for?’ Of course, I could say being the mother of the greatest monarch that ever ruled England, or her pivotal part in the English Reformation, or her incredible powers of attraction that were devastating enough to unseat an anointed queen, but ‘remembering’ suggests to me that she is gone, and for me, (and I think so many others), there is something of Anne’s spirit which is alive and well.
Her enduring power is the ability to speak to us still, so clearly across time. Personally, Anne is a role model, someone from whom I continuously draw strength. However, there is one thing in Anne character, in particular, that inspires me more than anything else in my everyday life – and that was her courage; ‘braver than a lion’ Chapuys said.
As someone who continually has to challenge myself to step out of my ‘I am not good enough’ story, you can imagine how utterly inspiring I find Anne’s apparent fearlessness. While I don’t doubt that being human, she was often afraid, she remained true to herself and overcame her fears to tread a path that was all hers, despite those who hated her. So, what should we ‘remember’ Anne for: her fierce courage and determination to be true to herself, no matter what.
Editor’s Note: Can anyone channel Queen Anne Boleyn through re-enactment so brilliantly as Sarah Morris? I think not. Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of Anne Boleyn might be like? If so, do enjoy Sarah’s very popular QAB guest article A Day in the Life of Anne Boleyn – When the Ordinary Feels Extraordinary.
Ashlee Payne – History Researcher and Blogger
Strong women in history have always intrigued the masses. Anne Boleyn’s story is one that introduces the strength of the female spirit. It is through her opinions and beliefs that she shaped history and England as we know it.
I believe Anne should be most remembered for her persistence. Anne didn’t have a dowry like most princesses coming from a different country to marry a King. On the contrary, she was a woman with a noble yet modest background. Her travels to the French court gifted her a cultural flair that was rarely received by a woman in her time. Her thirst for knowledge only assured a more promising future for the marriage to a king. Although women in her generation were kindly touted as pious, meek, & subservient to their husbands, Anne wasn’t labeled any of those words. Her beliefs were her life and she stood proudly in the face of adversity many times defending her inward convictions. Her charm, charisma, and potential in bearing Henry a strong male heir, were all traits that paved the way for her marriage to the King.
Anne’s persistence to keep the King at arm’s length and guard her womanly virtue until he got a divorce was unheard of then and now. The painful truth that she could have been displaced by another woman vying for the king’s attention during the 7-year interlude of their courtship to the King really shows a testament to her persistence and bravery. Her resistance to be a mistress of the king solidified her position. It was through changing church and law that the fiery couple bonded during their first year of marriage. Her persistence at the end of her days is one of the most admirable qualities she contributed to history. Just as quickly as she made it into the history books she went out. But on both accounts, she did so defending her honor.
One of the most wonderful qualities of Anne was that she had an opinion. She held true to her beliefs. Anne believed in personal power. We do not know much about Anne, but by all subjective accounts, she stood true to herself. She didn’t put up a facade. As strong and outspoken in the history book as we know her to be, is undoubtedly how everyone at court during that time saw her too. Through Anne, history has been changed in many ways. While our primary sources lack the information to confirm details of her daily life, researchers piece together a viewpoint of a steadfast and determined woman, who I believe should be respected and remembered for her persistence. All that it took was one woman, standing firm in her beliefs to change the future!
Editor’s Note: James Peacock of The Anne Boleyn Society high recommends all Facebook people join Ashlee’s Facebook group Books of Monarchs Throughout History, as well as her Facebook page of the same name.
Mercy Rivera – Introspection Fiction Writer, Historical Themed Videos
Anne Boleyn should be remembered for many, many reasons. She was a woman ahead of her times, she was bright, strong, independent in many ways. She had a special charm that was not based only in physical beauty. She was capable to capture the attention of an entire court only with a simple conversation, she was full of knowledge, charisma and was cheerful, an attribute that was not common in many courts. She was a woman willing to learn and apply what she learned, with a mixture of her own ideas and feelings, something I think made her unique, since the rest of the ladies at court were used to do and say only what they were told. She was not weak nor submissive, to the grade of challenge the King himself when she felt hurt by him. She was kind, religious, good sister, good mother, good daughter, she was also determined and protective. But of course, she had weaknesses too, her temper, which it was in my eyes something to admire considering her times, caused a lot of damage to her, Henry the VIII had an explosive temper too, combined, caused to her a lot of harm. Her fears and insecurities in her last days as Queen of England created impulses in her mind that provoke huge mistakes on her part. And that magnificent charm that conquest the King at first, ironically helped him to lead her with cruelty towards and undeserved death.
To me, Anne Boleyn was a woman to be remembered not only as the wife of Henry the VIII, or the Queen who lost her head. She was a woman of many talents, she plays a dangerous game and ended victorious, sadly, it lasted only for one thousand days, but in that time, she was the one who guided a King to change the course of England in Religion and many other matters, she created a legend of a fairy tale love, that was capable of challenge Empires, she gave birth to a precious princess, who became England’s greatest ruler. She loved, she suffered, she fought her battles fiercely and lost in the end with the dignity of a Graceful Queen. Henry the VIII tries to erase her memory from the world, but he failed, I think he was not able to forget her either, since there are records that he kept some of her possessions, special ones, besides, she was there, in the eyes and smile of Elizabeth, and in the mind of those who really loved her and knew she was innocent of all the charges against her. She is remembered now and will be remembered forever, in her glory and her death.
Video Credit: Mercy Rivera at Piratess4 (YouTube)
Editor’s Note: To enjoy Mercy’s introspective fiction, historically themed videos, and Spanish language articles, do visit Hall of Crowns here at Queenanneboleyn.com!
Historical Fiction Author, Historian
Anne Boleyn is remembered for so many substantial achievements and none at all. Depending on who one raises the topic with, you might be treated to a serious Anne, a kind of Margaret Thatcher of the 1530s, in which every major avenue of her life was shaped and paved by political considerations. There’s a deviation on that trope which ends up rendering her a little bit like a Protestant Joan of Arc, who was prepared to do anything to advance the Protestant evangelicalism to which she was allegedly so intensely devoted. Anyone who has seen Anne’s Book of Hours, her prayer book now housed at Hever Castle, with its images of Christ as the Man of Sorrows or the triumphant Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, there to be crowned its Queen, will tell you that the image of Anne Boleyn as a Protestant is vastly overstated. Similar conclusions can be reached by those who have read some of the sermons she ordered to be preached by her chaplains, all of which indicate a much more conservative, even Catholic, theological leaning in her personal faith. Anti-papalism and a strong commitment to a better-educated clergy, along with her spirited – heroic – defence of condemned philosophers does not necessarily equate with a Protestant convert, at least not in the way which we might now understand it.
On the flip side from this ferocious ideologue, there is the Anne of inconsequence and spite. This is the Anne who was driven by tacky ambition, a figure who mattered to history despite her instincts, not because of them. An Anne who, even if she did not commit incest and adultery, was “really a rather horrible woman”, to quote one historian, with “a chunk of ice where her heart should be and a tongue that tore like a meat cleaver,” to quote another. This Anne is beloved of historical fiction, a delinquent goddess who glamorously corrupted everything with which she came in contact.
Editor’s Note: Do you have an interest in the history of the luxury liner, Titanic? Do check out Gareth’s phenomenal new release The Darksome Bounds of a Failing World: The Sinking of the “Titanic” and the End of the Edwardian Era.
Historian, Public Speaker, Biographer, and Historical Fiction Novelist
Video Credit: charlib197 (YouTube)
(This is one of four clips from an interview with Alison Weir back in April 2012. The interview was for an MA final project film, details of which can be found at The Boleyn Project. Alison was interviewed by Charli Burden and filmed by Becca Attfield. What a fantastic MA final project!!!)
Editor’s Note: Alison Weir’s highly anticipated fourth novel of her Six Tudor Queens Series, Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets, released in the United Kingdom on 2 May 2019. Do check out Queenanneboleyn’s review of Alison’s fourth edition in her Six Tudor Queens novel series HERE.