Understanding Anne Boleyn
I’ve read several books on the subject of Anne Boleyn – each are very similar with slightly varying take of her, and each I have read with an open mind. It is important for me to understand who she was as a person, whether or not she loved Henry or power, and what is her legacy.
Understanding Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard – the fact that her mother came from the very noble Howard family was impressive, but the fact that it was her mother and not her father diminished her total nobility slightly since the Boleyn name did not carry as much clout.
As a teenager, Anne was sent to the household of Margaret of Austria where she was educated. Not only was she taught French while in the regent’s household but she became familiar with the power that a woman could yield near the throne. Margaret was very open-minded when it came to women’s rights which must have been refreshing for Anne since early 16th century England was not friendly to women yielding power.
When Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor was sent to France to marry King Louis XII, both Anne and her sister were to serve the new French queen. At both courts Anne would learn the importance of her behavior with others and interactions, or flirtations with men. She became aware of how to get what she wanted in a discreet way. This would become useful to her in the future.
My instinct tells me that Anne was like any other girl, or woman of her time – she understood her duty as a daughter but she also wished to find love, marry and have children. Her early years, those before Mechelen, would not have had her wishing to be queen of England. The Anne I have discovered is one who wanted a “normal” life, at an early age. It was after she was sent to Mechelen and France that her ideal future began to change.
Upon her homecoming to English court around 1522, Anne returned to a country that she had left nearly a decade earlier. She was in her early twenties and ripe for marriage to a family who would increase the standing of the Boleyn family.
While serving Katherine of Aragon she met Henry Percy, who was a servant of Cardinal Wolsey. It was common practice that Percy would visit the queen’s chambers and visit with her ladies, just as other young men would. This was normal for the time. Court was a great place to make a noble marriage. Over time, Anne and Henry Percy grew affection for one another. It is said that they fell in love and formally, in front of witnesses, became betrothed. Anne Boleyn had found true love and would get the happy ending she had wished for as a young girl.
All of Anne and Percy’s joy came to an end when Wolsey discovered the betrothal – he was quick to tear the couple apart. Wolsey declared that Percy was already betrothed to Mary Talbot and had been for years, but some believe there was never a proposal and Wolsey fabricated the entire thing just to tear the couple apart. Was it Henry VIII that pushed Wolsey to tear apart the couple? It’s possible. It was in 1522 that Henry first had first set his eyes on Anne when she played Perseverance at Chateau de Vert.
Regardless of who was responsible for breaking apart the couple, it happened, and Anne must have been crushed. Anne would have been left heart-broken and filled with angst against the man, or men responsible for her misery. We don’t know for certain whether it was solely Wolsey or if the king who had ordered it so he could have Anne to himself. What I feel confident in is that Anne definitely blamed Wolsey and that she would make sure that he eventually paid for destroying her great love with Henry Percy.
When Henry VIII eventually began to pursue Anne she had no choice but to let it happen, but did she do it willingly? After everything that I’ve read I believe that she decided to use any power that would be gained from Henry and use it to her advantage. If she was unable to have the glorious love story that she had wished for then she would make sure that she got something out of her new arrangement.
Anne did not love Henry. That is my opinion. Anne got what she wanted by making promises to a man who was unhappy in his marriage and looking for a way out. She was willing to make her bed and lie in it. When she gave birth to a daughter she was devastated – this jeopardized her whole operation. Anne knew that if she fell out of favor with the king that she would end up in the same situation as her predecessor. Like Katherine of Aragon, she held a power over Henry that he was unaware of – a power of manipulation with words and actions. At the beginning of their courtship, Henry was infatuated with Anne and would do anything to have her – she learned how to play on his emotions to get exactly what she wanted, and it worked. It worked for nearly a decade.
Thomas Cromwell was the was the man who changed everything for Anne. His new-found favor with the king was thanks to Anne and her family, unfortunately, that influence would eventually grow greater than that of Anne’s with the king. And that, my friends, is when Anne fell from Henry’s good graces.
Anne wasn’t a bad person. She was a woman who cared about her country and the subjects of her king. She wanted the best for them all. That is the truth. Anne was smart. Anne was brave. Anne was the mother of the greatest monarch in English history – Gloriana.
Ives, Eric; The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
Weir, Alison; Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession
Dunn, Wendy J.; The Light in the Labyrinth
Richards, Natalia; Falcon’s Rise – The Early Years of Anne Boleyn
Gristwood, Sarah; Game of Queens - The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe
Anne Boleyn History anne boleyn Cardinal Wolsey Henry Percy Henry VIII Margaret of Austria Thomas Cromwell
One can only wonder how one can fall so deeply in love and then completely out of it so that one hates the other. Yes, I think also murder is the correct term – just as though she was an unwanted chicken. Though it happened a long time ago, it was still very cruel. How did he sleep at night or justify his actions, I wonder. Oh well, he was the King wasn’t he. Maybe one of his power and position did not consider that mere mortals were human at all.
You should be reading primary sources; Anne’s letters and surviving documents from people who knew her. No historical interpretation can hold credibility without proper research and 5 secondary sources is not proper research.
If you would check my more recent work you would see that I do use primary and contemporary sources.
To be fair, how about reading some books on Cromwell? You may find that his rise in Henry’s favour was not solely due to the Boleyn influence. At any rate I’m interested to read your article and really appreciate the reference list. Do try GW Bernard’s book on Anne Boleyn.
Hi Sue Ellen,
One of the reasons why I wrote a second novel (The Light in the Labyrinth)l about Anne Boleyn was because my first novel, Dear Heart, How Like You This?, left me also wondering why a man who loved a woman so much he turned his kingdom upside down to marry her then ended up murdering her…yes, I see her unjust execution as murder.
For me, writing fiction has been always a way for me to push through the dark into the light – of making sense of things I want to understand more. Writing (and researching) The Light in the Labyrinth helped me to develop a few strong theories as to why Henry executed his second wife….
Wendy, I’ll be sure to get your book, ‘The Light in the Labyrinth.’ I’ve been fascinated by Anne since reading ‘The Concubine’ by Norah Lofts years ago. Historical fiction is my favorite genre.
That is what I struggle to comprehend, the lengths that he went through to make her his wife and Queen. Her downfall so rapid and cruel. If this were fiction we would all be thinking “ too far fetched” but this is truth.
Thank you, Rebecca, for this lovely article – and thank you for including The Light in the Labyrinth in your reference list! xxx
Oh! Mine is the first and only comment so far.
I also thought it was a conundrum that Anne was devastated to give birth to a girl and Henry deeply disappointed to have done so much to get Anne, who promised a boy, and get ‘only’ a girl from her. Elizabeth, who would come to be known as ‘the Great’ was that disappointing child. Possibly one of the greatest rulers of England, eclipsing even him, but how could Henry know? Girls were only good for arranging alliances with their hands in marriage, NOT ruling. And Henry needed an heir to rule after him.
Finally (I promise!) why did Henry so far lose his love for Anne that he had her unjustly accused of adulterous treason and beheaded
What did Anne do or say? Did she comment on his increasing unattractiveness or possibly waning potency? She had played her cards so well before the wedding and being crowned queen. What tensions were rising in her that caused her to fumble so badly and lose the King’s love? Or lust?
So much to wonder about, including what did the young woman think about that last night before she faced the sword (Henry’s mercy) on a May morning? She who had risen so far and fallen so low. She who had kept possibly the most powerful king in the world dangling, twisting in the wind, heady stuff for a young woman of not exceptionally high birth and family background. So much to wonder…
Trying to see comments on this interesting article. I’ve always been fascinated, wondering what it was about Anne that so attracted Henry he was willing to do anything to get her. I haven’t read a lot of descriptions of her, but think she was not so much pretty~a lot of girls were simply pretty~as charming and fascinating.