What Do We Remember About Anne Boleyn?
by Sandy Vasoli
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 historical fiction and non-fiction author Sandy Vasoli. Her Anne Boleyn themed novels and history books are truly timeless.
WHAT DO WE REMEMBER MOST ABOUT ANNE BOLEYN?
by Sandy Vasoli
In this month of May, we recall events which took place in London 483 years ago. It seems that the tale of a Queen’s destruction – Anne Boleyn’s – consists of events so spectacularly unexpected and so memorable that we remain gripped by them today. And, the world over, people reflect on why Anne’s story holds us captive.
It is a remarkable story: one of glamor and intrigue, inflamed passion and extreme jealousy, accompanied by the political and theological machinations which reshaped history. And when we consider all the truly fascinating characters who populated the English Tudor court of the early 1500’s, it would be difficult to pinpoint one more charismatic than Anne. Especially when paired with a man who was, by all accounts, larger than life itself. They might easily have been figures in Greek mythology.
The tragedy of Anne and Henry: no play can compete, truthfully. As we observe what we know about Anne, from her earliest appearance on the world stage, to her demise – and beyond, in the body and spirit of her daughter Elizabeth – we can clearly read her progression from a high-spirited young girl to a woman of substance. Her early years were unique and wonderful, marked as they were by her unusually excellent education, eager intelligence, and overall sense of style and beauty, it is her final days which provide us with the lasting imprint of her exceptional life; although brief, one well-lived.
If you believe – as I most certainly do – that Anne’s true match was her husband, Henry, and that she loved him deeply until her death, you will find that the words she left for us in those final weeks are extremely revealing.
The brutally swift nature of her arrest, imprisonment, trial and execution would have been enough to prompt a mental breakdown in almost anyone. Somehow, though, Anne retained a composure which allowed her to express herself in the most vulnerable, poignant way. And of course, no one knew, more than Anne did herself, of the blunders she had made by blurting out comments which could easily be misconstrued in that treacherous environment.
Even so, nothing we read or have heard, based upon witnesses’ accounts of her final year, months, and days with the King point to a betrayal of her husband. In fact, there are numerous reports which tell us that Anne and Henry maintained a certain unity – even until the very end of April. Undoubtedly there was strife: squabbles, jealous outbursts, and vexations which threatened the relationship and shook it to its core. There can be no denying that those upheavals were carefully augmented by people who wished to see Anne removed as Henry’s greatest influencer. They did their job craftily, insidiously, and without remorse. And they were successful: Henry became convinced he’d been betrayed and made the object of ridicule by someone he’d loved and trusted – a personal affront he couldn’t bear.
So, what of Anne? She was shocked by her husband’s brusque, silent retreat from the 1536 May Day joust over which they had both presided. Little did she know that the glimpse of his coattails as he left the grandstand that afternoon was the last she would ever have of him. On the following day, she must have fought back a rising wave of panic at her summons to appear before the King’s privy councilors. Once there, her ability to maintain a demeanor of innocence as she stood before her uncle – her professed enemy – and was accused of treason, is a study in fortitude.
We read that, in the days which followed, Anne sometimes lost the tight grip she attempted to hold on her fragile state of mind. She cried, she laughed, and she was desperate to talk with Henry. Such an allowance was not to be made. We can only wonder what might have happened had they met privately in those lonely days. Anne, not wanting to relinquish her chance of communicating with him, stated that she would wish to write to him.
Sir William Kingston advised her she could tell by word of mouth what she wished to say to the King, and he would convey it to the King by way of Master Cromwell. So, I believe Anne did just that. She dictated her thoughts to someone who wrote out the letter for her, and it was whisked away to Cromwell, who hid it and made sure it never reached the King. Anne’s words – the final ones to the man who had loved her, and whom she had loved – are both poignant and noble. In this letter, we perceive her true character.
Dated the 6th of May from her ‘doleful prison in the Tower’, she expresses surprise and confusion over his displeasure with her. She states that she has offered nothing but the truth when questioned. She conveys that she has only been loyal in her true affection and duty to him as his wife. She admits that her queenship was based on his love for her, and not by birthright, and she asks for a fair trial – adding that she knows – and he knows that she knows – of his wandering affection elsewhere. She worries for his immortal soul because she has been falsely accused and she knows her conscience is clear, but his will not be so.
And finally, she asks that if he had ever loved her – and she knows he did- he honor that love by releasing the ‘poor Gentlemen’ who are accused and imprisoned with her. In fact, she begs for their release and not her own and promises if he does this she will trouble him no further and he can have his freedom. She ends the letter by calling herself his most loyal and ever faithful wife.
It is a stunning composition – heartfelt, personal, and honorable. The character reflected by the choice of word and sentiment is echoed in her behavior and comportment as recorded at her trial. On the 15th of May, 1536, before more than thirty men, Anne conducted herself with a quiet grace. Raising her right hand she swore before her judge, jury, and before God that she was not guilty – not guilty of any of the charges brought against her. In a profound expression of honesty and humanity, though, we are told that she admitted to at times displaying pride and jealousy toward the king, whom, she states ‘always showed her kindness and great honour and respect.’ Again, though, she swears she had never done him any other wrong.
Sadly, her actions and expressions of love and innocence were to no avail. We know, then, that on the morning of the 19th of May, 1536, Anne was led to the scaffold to face death. Considering the fact that she may have still, even as of that very morning, hoped Henry would change his mind and release her – perhaps to a convent – her serenity and courage were remarked upon by those who recorded the events of that day. She calmly stood before those who had congregated to watch her die, faced them, and according to the chronicler Edward Hall, recited these words, or words very similar:
‘Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.’
Anne’s last words included what I believe to be a true assessment of her feelings for the man who had made her Queen, given her a beloved daughter, and who had captured her heart and soul. In her final minutes she spoke of others, and not in defense of herself. She conducted herself as few would do in the certain face of a terrible outcome. Anne proved herself to be worthy of both honor and respect.
The final and lasting image we have of Queen Anne Boleyn is one of a woman of dignity.
That is, and always will be, Anne’s remembrance.
Queenanneboleyn.com’s Tribute to Sandy Vasoli’s “Je Anne Boleyn” Novels
Video Credit: Mercy Rivera piratesse4 (YouTube)
Sandra Vasoli is a historical fiction writer from Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, USA. A graduate with a dual degree in English and Biology from Villanova University, Sandy enjoyed a long term career in leadership and organization development before turning her attention to her passions of writing and Tudor Era history. Sandy has written all her life: essays, stories, and articles, but Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love is her first work of published fiction. Volume Two of the Je Anne Boleyn series soon followed. Sandy’s career, working for several of the largest companies in the world, allowed her the study of people, especially those in leadership positions. Thus, she is keenly interested in the bold and insightful qualities possessed by Anne Boleyn. For more information, visit her website at SANDRA VASOLI.