Anne Boleyn, Queen of England

Born: c. 1500

Blickling, Norfolk, England

Died: May 19, 1536

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age c. 36)

Anne in History

There can be no doubt that the early prospects of Anne Boleyn were promising. Her father, Thomas Boleyn, was a fairly well-known courtier and diplomat, and the Boleyn family did possess an earldom, that of Ormond in Ireland, giving them noble status. No one, however, would have guessed that Anne would rise so high as to be Queen of England. Anne's rise to notoriety began when she was a young teenager and was sent to Austria under the care of Margaret, the archduchess. Later that year (1513), Anne was moved to France where she was to serve Queen Mary (wife of King Louis XII of France and younger sister to King Henry VIII of England). By 1515, Louis XII had died, and Mary was forced to return to England after she secretly married the Duke of Suffolk. Anne, however, stayed behind and lived in the household of the new Queen Claude, wife of King Francis I.

Until 1521, Anne would remain at the French court, learning the language and taking in the culture, before returning home to England. By this point, Anne had several marriage proposals to consider: to Henry Percy, future Earl of Northumberland and to Thomas Wyatt, a poet. Neither of the matches ever came to anything, and it is obvious that Anne's prospects were to skyrocket after she first met Henry VIII, most likely sometime in 1526. By this point, the king was eager to attain an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, based on the fact that she had not been able to give him a son and was past her childbearing years (he claimed that the reason was because the marriage was incestuous because Catherine had first been married to his late elder brother Arthur). Upon meeting Anne, Henry immediately became entranced - despite the fact that he had just recently dismissed Anne's own sister Mary as his mistress. Since Anne would not sleep with him or accept his advances until he was free to marry her, the king made it his duty to attain the divorce he already wanted anyway.

The king sent his top adviser, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, to attain the annulment from the pope, but since the pope, Clement VII, was under the firm hand of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew, the annulment was nearly impossible to come by. Catherine refused to go along with the proceedings and claimed she was the true queen until the end, further frustrating Henry. This did not stop the king, however, from showering gifts upon Anne and her family: Thomas Boleyn was created Earl of Wiltshire and Lord Privy Seal; Anne's brother George was created Lord Rochford; and Anne herself was made Marchioness of Pembroke, with all the extensive lands and incomes included. The divorce proceedings, however, continued to drag on, ruining Cardinal Wolsey (whom Anne blamed for not getting the job done), causing his removal from office (1529) and his eventual death shortly before his trial for treason (1530).

Luckily, Henry VIII and the Boleyns had two reformist allies who were committed to breaking off from Rome and forming a separate Church of England so that the king could attain his annulment and marry Anne. These men were Thomas Cromwell (a former pupil of Wolsey's) and Thomas Cranmer (who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532). By late 1532, Anne had finally given in to the king's advances and become pregnant. In order to prevent any offspring from being declared illegitimate, Henry and Anne were secretly married in early 1533 (in the king's eyes, and those of Cromwell and Cranmer, England had broken off from Rome and the divorce was official). A daughter, Elizabeth, was born in September 1533. Though the king did not receive the son he so desperately wanted, he was confident that more children were on the way.

During the next three years, the Boleyn family was at the apex of its power. Although Anne was extremely unpopular amongst the people in comparison to the highly popular former Queen Catherine and her daughter Mary, Anne would never have to worry if she had the support of the king and top reformists such as Cromwell and Cranmer. To help strengthen her place on the throne, the Act of Succession was drawn up, stating that Anne was the legitimate queen and that all children produced in her marriage with the king would have precedence in the succession over any others (namely Mary). Cromwell then changed the treason laws, stating that any one who failed to accept the act would be labeled a traitor and put to death. This resulted in the executions of highly respected men such as Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas, as well as many others, all of whom refused to sign the oath. Anne, meanwhile, miscarried two children, the latter of which was proven to be a boy, making the king extremely anxious. Henry was not happy with this scenario, but it does not seem to be what finally sealed Anne's fate. In 1536, Cromwell had been assigned to close a great number of abbeys and monasteries within England, liquidate their assets and insert them into the royal coffers. Anne, who did display traditional Catholic beliefs despite her lean towards reform, felt the money should be going to charitable foundations, causing a rift between the queen and her one time ally.

Henry was not pleased with his wife's interference in politics, and the fact that it might cost him money, which he sorely needed. This, combined with the fact that any hope of peace with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V would be compromised if the king were still married to the woman who had deposed his aunt, made it clear that Anne's reign was coming to an end. Additionally, the king was already showing interest in his future wife, Jane Seymour. Cromwell composed charges of adultery (all completely false of course) against the queen with no less then five men, including court musician Mark Smeaton (who supposedly confessed to the crime, though under duress); Cromwell's enemy Henry Norris; and Anne's own brother George. In the end, all were found guilty of high treason. All of the men were executed, followed shortly thereafter by Anne herself. Henry's last good deed to is former love was sending in a professional executioner, who used a sharp sword instead of an axe, to make sure that death was quick and painless. With Anne's death, the Boleyn faction at court was shattered. Her father was banned from court and replaced by Cromwell as Lord Privy Seal. Most contemporaries and many historians will portray Anne in a highly negative light, as the whore who seduced the king away from his beloved and legitimate wife. However, it must be considered that Anne was not a whore, but a highly educated and cultured woman who was, in many ways, used as a tool for her family to advance in the king's favor. Finally, one must find it ironic that it was Anne's child, not those of Catherine or Jane, that became one of England's greatest leaders, despite all the criticism of Anne herself.

Anne in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VIII

Anne Boleyn first meets the king within Henry VIII at Wolsey's palace, where he is disguised. Henry immediately becomes infatuated with Anne, much to the chagrin of men such as Bishop Gardiner and Cardinal Wolsey (the latter of whom is brought down in part by his objections to the marriage). Anne, however, is generally portrayed in a positive light within the play. She is extremely modest, claiming that she is not worthy enough to be queen, and is highly flattered when she finds that the king has created her Marchioness of Pembroke. Once the king attains his "divorce" from Catherine, he and Anne marry and, by the play's end, Princess Elizabeth is born, whom Henry greatly praises. The time line within the play is a bit off. For example, in the play, Catherine dies before Elizabeth is born. Historically, she dies three years after the princess's birth only months before Anne's own death. Plus, Cranmer's trial, which historically occurs in 1543, is also placed before the princess's birth. In reality, the trial took place ten years after the birth of Elizabeth and seven years after Anne's execution.


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