Why Should Anne Boleyn Still Be Remembered?
by Estelle Paranque
Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the anniversary of Queen Anne Boleyn’s tragic execution tomorrow, 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 renowned historian Dr. Estelle Paranque. Do visit her website at Dr. Estelle Paranque, Historian in Royal and Diplomatic Studies.
Why Should Anne Boleyn Still Be Remembered
The Mother to One of the Greatest Monarchs Ever.
Dr, Estelle Paranque
‘Motherless and worse than fatherless, the Court was therefore no place for her.
— Joseph Stevenson
At five o’clock in the afternoon on the 2nd of May 1536, Anne Boleyn was escorted to the Tower of London. It was the last sunrise that Anne would ever see. William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London remembered that ‘when she came to the court gate, entering in, she fell down on her knees before the said lords, beseeching God to help her as she was not guilty’ of the charges against her. But there was nothing that anyone could do for her. The court had passed judgement against her. She had been found guilty of high treason against Henry VIII on account of adultery and her incestuous relationship with her own brother. In her last moments, she was shaking as she was stepping to the scaffold.
Twenty-three years later, in 1559, Alexander Ales, a Scottish theologian who had moved to the German-controlled countries and had become a supporter of Luther, wrote to Elizabeth months after her accession. He needed to tell the story he thought to be true regarding Anne Boleyn’s death. For him, the reason for Anne Boleyn’s execution was due to the fact ‘that she persuaded the king to send an embassy into Germany to the princes who had embraced the Gospel’. She had been framed because of the political power she wielded beyond the English court.
On Ales’s account, soon after Edward Foxe, bishop of Hereford had been sent on embassay to the Lutheran princes in Germany, along with Nicholas Heath, the wily Stephen Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester and ambassador at the court of Francis I, ‘wrote to those friends whom he had in the court of the king of England, conspirators like himself, to the effect that certain reports were being circulated in the court of the king of France, and certain letters had been discovered, according to which the queen was accused of adultery’. These letters were shown to Thomas Cromwell ‘the king’s ear and mind’, then inevitably ‘became known to the king himself’. Henry demanded that the facts should be ferreted out.
Night and day, spies dogged the doomed queen. They offered substantial bribes to her servants; ‘there is nothing they do not promise the ladies of her bedchamber’, it was said. They reported to the king that Anne had been dancing with other men and they saw her with their own eyes kissing her brother. It didn’t take long before ‘it was decided and concluded that the queen was an adulteress, and deserved to be burnt alive’.
On the 30th of April 1536, the council was summoned to meet the king at his palace in Greenwich. Shortly after this, Anne was sent to the Tower where her execution would take place. Ales wrote that he remembered ‘the most serene queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a little baby, in her arms and entreating the most serene king, your father, in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard, when she brought you to him.’ Ales also remembered the king’s anger at Anne. There had been no hope for her. The court’s verdict was a foregone conclusion.
On the day itself, 19th of May 1536, at sunrise Anne kneeled and asked to pray one more time. Her request was granted and piously she begged God to have mercy on her. She arranged her hair, to make sure it was out of the way of the axe, covered her eyes, ‘and commanded the executioner to strike’. Thus ‘she who has been the queen of England upon earth’ that day became ‘a queen in heaven’.
Ales reported that Anne was remembered for ‘her constancy, patience and faith towards God that all the spectators, even her enemies, and those persons who previously had rejoiced at her misfortune out of their hatred to the doctrine of the religion which she had introduced into England, testified and proclaimed her innocence and chastity’.
Elizabeth was not even three years old when she was made motherless and declared illegitimate by her father. She was removed from court. Lady Margaret Brian, who was entrusted by the king to care for the child, drew a tragic picture of Elizabeth’s condition and wrote to Cromwell that ‘she hath neither gown nor kirtle, nor petticoat, nor no manner of linen for smocks, nor kerchiefs, nor sleeves, nor rails, nor body-stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor mufflers, nor biggins. All these her Grace must take. I have driven off as long as I can, but by my troth, I can drive it no longer’.
The little girl was at this point of no significance at the English court. Lady Brian wrote again about ‘the great pain which my lady hath with her great teeth’ but evidently no one had much for time for Elizabeth’s dental problems. She barely saw her father, who preferred to joust or hunt rather than seeing his daughter. She was raised far away from the drama of the English court though she was ‘not permitted to neglect such small household duties as she could perform’. As early as six years old, Elizabeth offered her little brother, Prince Edward, ‘a shirt of cambric as a New Year’s gift’ which she had made herself.
One might well wonder what thoughts came into Elizabeth’s mind when she opened the letter describing her mother’s death. A death that led to great hardship and sorrow. Ales must have been lobbying her to stick to what he, and other of her Protestant subjects, regarded as the true path, the only safe way for her to assert her authority. During her reign, many Protestants may have had cause to be disappointed by Elizabeth’s apparent doubts about a ruthless pursuit of the Gospel. But one thing is sure, Elizabeth never forgot her mother or the lessons that her death brought to her.
Through the pain of losing her mother and being cast off from court, Elizabeth learnt that her life would always be in danger and that she had to learn how to navigate in troubled waters if she wanted to survive. Fate decided that she would rule in her own right. Henry VIII wanted a son to rule over England. Anne also wanted a son to secure her position as queen of England. Yet, their daughter ended up being one of the greatest monarchs, still remembered and praised to this day, that England has ever had. Elizabeth is without a doubt Anne’s greatest achievement.
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Video Credit: New College of the Humanities (YouTube)
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