How I Remember Anne Boleyn
by Natalie Grueninger
A blinding shaft of light rained down on me. I could only make out her form from the knees down, as the rest of her body, including her face, was veiled by the light emanating from her. Even so, I knew who it was, or who she’d once been, the moment I laid eyes on her. I was surprised by how much I’d missed her. By how I longed to brush her cascade of raven hair and hear her silky voice and faint French lilt. Overwhelmed, I dropped to my knees and bathed in her warmth and grace. I reverently lifted the hem of her gown off the floor and kissed it over and over, only pausing to gaze up at the halo of light. There was little doubt in my mind, I would do anything for her. A desperation set in when I realized that she couldn’t stay, that we’d be parted again. My fears only soothed by her immense serenity. I looked up at her one last time, before the light disappeared and darkness fell.
I’ve devoted much of the last decade of my life to researching and writing about Anne Boleyn’s extraordinary life and the world in which she lived. You might be surprised then to hear that I’ve only dreamt of her once, many years ago, as recounted above. It was so vivid and powerful that I can still recall the feel of her gown on my lips.
When the wonderful Beth von Staats and James Peacock invited me to participate in today’s feature, alongside feeling excited and humbled to be included in such esteemed company, I felt a tinge of anxiety. Let me explain. I was asked to share what I believe Anne Boleyn should be most remembered for. You’d imagine this to be easy for a person who’s spent the amount of time that I have immersed in Anne’s life and sixteenth-century England, right? However, my concern is always the same when faced with tasks like this. Will my response do Anne justice?
I could, of course, just say that she should be remembered for her fierce intelligence, steadfast determination, for her numerous shining talents, her political astuteness, her wit, spirit, charisma and her immense courage, even in the face of the most brutal betrayal. Because this is all true. I could highlight her patronage of artists, charitable endeavors and championing of education, and her unwavering loyalty to friends and family, especially her devotion to her fiery-haired daughter, Elizabeth – all qualities and acts worthy of our remembrance. Let us not forget Anne’s contribution to the English Reformation and the fact that when she was made marquis of Pembroke on 1 September 1532, she became the first woman to receive a hereditary peerage in her own right.
Perhaps more significantly, on 1 June 1533, Anne became the first queen consort to be crowned with the crown of St Edward, usually reserved for reigning monarchs. I could give numerous examples of Anne’s willingness to question gender roles and patriarchal values, to embrace new ideas and stretch her mind beyond traditional thinking. Again, all things worthy of our remembrance, but I think there’s something else that makes her stand out.
I think she should be most remembered for her ability to transcend time and to be just as appealing and inspiring today, (and polarizing too), as she was in her lifetime. The sixteenth century turned its back on Anne Boleyn, but the twenty-first century embraces her. In fact, her global popularity only continues to grow, especially among women. She’s an endless source of inspiration to individuals from all walks of life, ages and cultural backgrounds. She connects and unites people from all over the world, and many communities —hubs of learning, conversation and discussion—form in her name.
Her influence remains far reaching and for a number of often very personal reasons, many people forge a strong and enduring emotional connection with Anne, more so perhaps than with some of the other remarkable women whose lives also unfolded against the backdrop of Tudor England. I’m one of those people.
Today I write to you from my study in a leafy suburb of southern Sydney on a chilly and rainy autumn day, where I’ve been reflecting on the life of a woman who died 483 years ago in a city 17,000 kilometers away from where I live. I’m surrounded by countless books about Anne and other Anne/Tudor memorabilia. Among the items found on my desk are several scented candles, history books, an enamel box engraved with a quote from Shakespeare’s XVIII sonnet and one of my favourite portraits of Anne Boleyn; an image I look upon each day. To me Anne is not a two-dimensional distant figure in a dusty old book, she’s much more present and nuanced than that. Anne feels like one of those beloved old friends who you might not see for months but when you do, it’s as comfortable and enjoyable as ever. I think about her most days and when faced with challenging situations in my own life, I draw courage from hers. As I typed that last line, a golden ray of sunlight peeked through the otherwise grey sky and illuminated the portrait of Anne on my desk. It reminded me of how she frequently lights the way ahead for me.
Anne was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but who among us can claim to be? There’s no doubt that her story makes for tantalizing reading, but let us never forget that she was a living, breathing, sentient human being, not a character in a fictional tale. If we hope to better understand Anne, her decisions and choices, we must set hindsight aside. She navigated the situations she found herself in as best as she could and that’s all any one of us can ever do. Despite the great chasm of time that separates us, she has managed to reach out across the centuries and bring us together. Anne etched herself onto our hearts along the way, and for this I hope she’ll be remembered for centuries to come.
Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the anniversary of Queen Anne Boleyn’s tragic execution today, 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. We welcome history writer, tour guide author, and blogger Natalie Grueninger, founder of On the Tudor Trail — Retracing the Steps of Anne Boleyn!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer, and educator, who lives in Australia with her husband and two children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the Tudor monarchs and daily life in sixteenth-century England.
Natalie is fascinated by all aspects of life in Tudor England and has spent many years researching the period. Her first non-fiction book, co-authored with Sarah Morris, ‘In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn’, was published by Amberley Publishing in the UK in September 2013. Book number two in the series, ‘In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII’, was released in the UK in March 2016.
In 2017, Natalie collaborated with illustrator Kathryn Holeman to create ‘Colouring History: The Tudors’, a unique and beautifully illustrated colouring book for grown-ups that features images and scenes inspired by the ever-fascinating Tudor dynasty. The second book in the series, ‘Colouring History: Tudor Queens and Consorts’, was released in May 2018.