How I Remember Anne Boleyn
by Wendy Dunn
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 historical fiction author Wendy J. Dunn!
How do I remember Anne Boleyn?
For me, there is really only one answer to this question: the inspiration of her life.
I thank God for Anne Boleyn– because her life gave me mine. I mean this seriously. Achieving an authentic life is indeed the hero’s journey for all of us. I was lucky. Anne Boleyn and her daughter blazed bright a light of inspiration to me as a child and sent me on the road I have walked every day since. It has not been an easy road – but the road I needed to walk to ‘know myself’ and become the person I am today.
So why is Anne an inspiration to me? I was hooked for life by her story as a child because I saw a strong woman who was not afraid to speak and stand up to the men in her life. Yes – her story does not end well, but even the tragedy of her death inspires me. Anne was not afraid to live, and – at the very end, when she stood on a scaffold with a French executioner waiting to earn his fee – she was not afraid to die.
Anne Boleyn’s story has inspired me and continues to inspire me. Anne lived in times when women lives were controlled and depowered by their patriarchal world (Ward 2013). The patriarchal society of the Tudors told women silence was a virtue, and the only form of eloquence appropriate to women (Hannay 1985; Jordan 1990). Tudor women were not brought up to see themselves as equal to men (Sim 1996, p. 33) and educated about their inferiority and sinful natures (Fantazzi & Vives 2000).
From high to low, women who tried to make their voices heard put themselves into the dangerous position of nonconformity. They risked physical punishment, if not their lives (Jordan 1990). Women, as what happened to Anne Boleyn, could even be accused of witchcraft if they refused silence. Indeed, there are English pubs that once served to remind women about what could happen if they forgot to bridle their tongues. Named as Quiet Woman or Silent Woman, the pubs often brandish a couplet, a couplet that seems related to Anne Boleyn:
Here is a woman who has lost her head,
She’s quiet now—you see she’s dead (Rothwell 2006, p. 54).
With silence a matter of life or death, it is not surprising the Tudor period left women historically voiceless. The lives of women were also left as little more than a footnote to, if not just only filtered, through the lives of men (Kon-yu 2010).
Despite so much against her, Anne empowered her life and more than simply ‘the possibility of a voice’ (Heale 1995, p. 305). For years, Anne managed to break free of the control of her times and became an extremely powerful woman.
Anne also risked her life by refusing silence. Burstein (2007) reminds us there has always been prejudice against the woman who refuses silence. This is a reality even in our modern age. But history shows this prejudice in action in Anne’s life – with the added complication she lived in a time which equated a woman’s virtue with silence (Hannay 1985). Her rejection of silence combatted not only her gender, but also underlined her failure to bear her husband his son. Unfortunately for Anne Boleyn, her female gender stripped her of real power to dictate her own destiny.
In the months leading up to her execution, there is no question in my mind that Anne, an intelligent woman, would have been well aware of her weakened influence with her husband. But that did not silence her. She continued in her efforts to keep Cromwell contained and do right by England as its Queen. I believe one of her most difficult life lessons was realizing her success as queen equated to her success in the birthing chamber. When she began to fear for her life, she did what she could to protect her infant daughter.
My two Anne Boleyn novels (Dear Heart, How Like You This? and The Light in the Labyrinth) attempt to illuminate how Tudor women’s lives were determined and controlled by their gender. Researching and constructing her story in fiction has brought me to a place where I see Anne Boleyn more than ever as a woman who was determined to claim her identity – a woman who refused to give up the voice given to her by the years of waiting for her marriage to Henry VIII to take place.
I also now see Anne as the harbinger of her daughter, Elizabeth. Anne, too, was a politician – a woman with a vision for England. She was also England’s Queen. Ives, Anne Boleyn’s best biographer, saw Anne as a woman ‘who broke through the glass ceiling of male dominated society by sheer character and initiative’ (Ives 2004, p, XV). I see this too. Yes – Anne was not perfect, but I believe history provide the evidence for us to see Anne Boleyn as an intelligent, self-made woman who understood the image of majesty almost as well as her daughter, a woman also responsible for encouraging the early years of the English reformation. Anne Boleyn will always be an inspiration to me.
Hannay, M 1985, Silent but for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, Kent State University, Kent State.
Heale, E 1995 ‘Women and the courtly love lyric: the Devonshire MS (BL additional 17492)’, Modern Language Review, vol. 90, no. 2.
Ives, EW 2004, The life and death of Anne Boleyn: ‘the most happy’, Malden, MA, Blackwell Pub.
Jordan, C 1990, Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
Kon-yu, N 2010, ‘Letting go of the truth: researching and writing the other side of silence in women’s lives’, TEXT Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, viewed 2 July 2011, <>.
Rothwell, D 2006, Dictionary of Pub Names, Wordsworth Edition, Hertfordshire.
Sim, A 1996, The Tudor Housewife, Sutton Publishing Ltd, Gloucestershire
Vives, J & Fantazzi, C 2000, The Education of a Christian Woman: a Sixteenth Manual, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Ward, AE 2013, Women and Tudor Tragedy: Feminizing Counsel and Representing Gender, Fairleigh Dickinson Press, Madison, New Jersey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner-up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.
While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder (Tom told the story of Anne Boleyn in Dear Heart, How Like You This?), serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.
After successfully completing her MA (Writing) at Swinburne University Wendy became a tutor for the same course. She gained her Ph.D. (Human Society) in 2014. For more information, visit Wendy’s website at WENDY J DUNN.