Anne Boleyn

views updated May 09 2018

Anne Boleyn

Although she was Queen of England for just under three years, Anne Boleyn (ca. 1504-1536), second wife of King Henry VIII, was the center of scandal when she was executed. She was a central reason for the split between England and the Roman Catholic Church. She was also the mother of Elizabeth I, who is considered one of the greatest English rulers.

No accurate record of the birth of Anne Boleyn exists. Various scholarly and academic research has pinpointed her birth between 1499 and 1504, but other sources say as late as between 1507 and 1509. Exact details about her birth and early life are also sketchy. Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, had his daughter educated, something of a rarity in those times.

She was known for her striking beauty-slight build, long slender neck (popular legends state she had an extra cervical vertebra), black silky hair, and dark eyes. In contrast to the fine features, Anne had two deformities: a mole the size of a strawberry on her neck and the start of a sixth finger on her right hand.

Anne Boleyn and her sisters were attendants to various members of royalty, and in 1523 she was placed as a lady in waiting in the court of Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII. At court, she caught the king's eye; however, she also caught the eye of a lesser noble, Harry Percy. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey rebuked the boy, but that didn't work, so Wolsey called for the Earl of Northumberland (Harry Percy's father) to come to court. Soon after the earl's arrival, an announcement of a betrothal was made. Harry Percy risked being disinherited if he did not marry; so he did, and Anne left the court, vowing revenge on Cardinal Wolsey.

A King's Infatuation

Henry's infatuation with Anne grew. He visited her at her father's estate, Hever Castle, though Sir Thomas kept his daughter at bay. She toyed with the emotions of Henry VIII for four years-teasing him, nagging him, refusing to be his mistress as her sister had-and all the time demanding that he be divorced before she would allow him into her bed. Because she wanted to be his queen and not his mistress, she eventually gained that recognition.

Henry VIII tried to earn Anne Boleyn's favor through her father, making him Sir Thomas the Viscount Rochford. He tried to woo her through poetry and songs, writing and performing declarations of his love. Nothing worked. Henry was desperate to have Anne as his Queen and to have a son, as his only living heir was a daughter with Catherine. Henry concocted a mock court which called into question the validity of his marriage to Catherine, as she was his brother's widow. He cited a bible passage as proof that God did not view their marriage favorably (and that was why he had no sons). This led to messages and meetings with the Pope and his ambassadors, all the while Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII were getting more and more impatient.

Waiting to be Married

Public opinion in England, however, was not on the side of Henry and Anne. For the most part, the commoners viewed Catherine as the noble queen and Anne as a not so noble outsider. As Henry's infatuation with Anne grew, so did his impatience with Cardinal Wolsey and the Pope. Henry VIII wanted his marriage annulled so he could marry Anne. He brought her back not only to London but to his court. Although Catherine was officially his wife and queen, Anne acted as if she were.

About this time, Henry VIII replaced Wolsey with Sir Thomas More as Chancellor of England. More was a lawyer not a priest, and this change, or reformation, is often blamed on Anne. This act marked the beginning of the split between the Roman Catholic Church and England.

After years of waiting-waiting for the Pope, waiting for Catherine-Henry VIII finally banished Catherine, but to his dismay (and to the dismay of Anne), royal subjects filled the streets of England as Catherine rode away. In 1532 in an attempt to appease Anne as they awaited news of his annulment, Henry granted her a title that no other female had ever carried-Marquis of Pembroke. Through all of this, Catherine remained graceful and full of dignity, even chiding one of her attendants who cursed Anne with the remark, "Curse her not, rather pity her."

Becoming Queen

In January of 1533 Anne was pregnant with Henry's child, having finally allowed him into her bed. Since, of course, they couldn't be publically married, they married in secret. At this time Henry VIII nominated Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer favored granting Henry's notion that his union with Catherine was really a "non-marriage" and through an Act of Parliament, Cranmer received all spiritual power in England, and Catherine was reduced in name to Dowager Princess of Wales (meaning she was the widow of Henry's brother and not Henry's wife). The marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was then made public.

Besides public opinion in England being against the marriage, in July the Pope declared the union of Henry and Anne as null and void and threatened Henry with excommunication if Catherine wasn't taken back as Queen by September. Henry VIII was in a bind at this time. Not only was he in a political battle with the Roman Catholic Church, Anne was expecting a child, his heir to the throne, and he also had a new mistress.

On September 7, 1533, Elizabeth was born. Henry VIII was disappointed that she wasn't a male heir, and didn't attend her christening. He was however at least encouraged that Anne had given birth to a healthy child, as Catherine had suffered six miscarriages. Not willing to back down from the Pope, in the next year Henry had Parliament pass the Act of Supremacy, effectively naming the monarch as leader of the Church of England, thus finalizing the split between England and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Beginning of the End

Anne was pregnant again the next year, but suffered a miscarriage. Scholars suggest that, because of the sores on the legs of Henry VIII and the fact that his wives suffered so many miscarriages, he suffered from syphilis. Early in 1536, Catherine died, and Anne thought she had no more problems as to who was truly considered the Queen of England. However a few weeks later, after learning that Henry had been seriously injured during a jousting match, Anne gave birth to a stillborn boy. Her fate was sealed, as Henry VIII had no desire to remain with her. He now had a fancy for one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. About this time, talk that Anne was really a witch and ascended to the throne via witchcraft circulated throughout England. Henry wanted Anne gone, and Thomas Cromwell conspired with Henry VIII to get rid of her.

Cromwell decided he needed to prove that Anne had committed adultery. For the Queen to commit such an offense was treason, and she'd be put to death. Cromwell and his cronies tortured court musician Mark Smeaton into confessing an affair, and in his confession, he named four other men-Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Lord Rochford (Anne's brother). The insinuation of incest was as bad as the accusation of adultery.

Anne and the others accused all denied the charges, but all were held in the Tower of London until tried. Sir Henry Norris defended Anne Boleyn's reputation to his own death, and the others also protested. All were executed. The trumped-up charges also changed public opinion about Anne, who was now pitied.

Although there wasn't any evidence, Anne was found guilty and sentenced to death. Until the end, though, she continued to cause problems for Henry VIII. If Anne died, Elizabeth could still potentially be an heir to the throne (if he didn't get a male heir from Jane Seymour).

Thomas Cranmer met with Anne Boleyn privately before her death. Although the specifics of their conversation will never be known, Anne did receive a more merciful death sentence (beheading rather than burning at the stake). Also, Cranmer declared the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn invalid. This, ironically, should have spared Anne's life-only the Queen's adultery could be considered treasonable, but Henry wasn't taking any chances, and nobody spoke up for her.

Henry did show a bit of mercy at the end, as he called for a skilled headsman from France, who used a sword (a quick form of decapitation when compared to an axe) to execute Anne on May 19, 1536. Eleven days later Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. Although she didn't live to see the day, Anne's daughter Elizabeth did eventually ascend to the throne, ruling England for forty-five years.

Further Reading

Bruce, Marie Louise, Anne Boleyn: A Biography, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1972.

Erickson, Carolly, Mistress Anne, Summit Books, 1984.

Fraser, Antonia, The Wives of Henry VIII, Knopf, 1993.

Ives, Eric W., Anne Boleyn, Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Lofts, Norah, Anne Boleyn, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1979.

Anne Boleyn-The Six Wives of Henry VIII, (videocassette series) BBC TV, New York: Time-Life Media, 1976.

Boleyn, Anne (ca. 1501–1536)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Boleyn, Anne (ca. 15011536)

Queen of England and second wife to King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn was born to the wealthy Sir Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wilshire. When still a young girl, she traveled and studied in the Netherlands and in Paris, where she served the French royal court as an interpreter and as a lady-in-waiting to the queen. When she returned to England, she entered the service of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

As a young woman Anne became a headstrong and charismatic figure at court, and soon attracted the king's eye. Henry offered Anne her own staff of servants and showered her with attention, presents, and proposals of marriage. Worried over the succession and the survival of the Tudor dynasty, Henry was eager to have sons, which Catherine of Aragon had failed to provide. However, Pope Clement VII refused to grant Henry the divorce he sought from Catherine of Aragon. In 1531, Henry banished Catherine of Aragon, an action that elevated Anne to a powerful position at court as an adviser to the king. Under her influence, Henry broke with the Catholic Church and, with Anne's encouragement, established the Church of England, an institution free of the pope's authority. Henry and Anne were married in secret, and in 1533 Anne Boleyn was formally crowned as the new queen of England. Her rise to power and Henry's actions in disavowing the pope greatly encouraged Protestant reformers in Europe such as Martin Luther.

In September of that year the new queen gave birth to a girl, the future Queen Elizabeth I, who would maintain the primacy of the Church of England. Henry's many mistresses sparked bitter marital conflict, however, and Anne's failure to have a son also worsened his view of her. Henry turned his attentions to another court lady, Jane Seymour, while Anne quickly fell out of favor. In 1536 she was arrested and charged with adultery and treason. She was convicted and the marriage to Henry was officially annulled. A few days later she was beheaded in the Tower of London.

Anne Boleyn

views updated May 23 2018

Anne Boleyn (c.1507–36), 2nd queen of Henry VIII. The entanglement of personal motives with great political issues, which makes history both difficult and fascinating, is rarely more apparent than in Anne Boleyn's three years as queen to Henry VIII. She has been accused of bringing about the Reformation single-handedly. Sir Thomas Boleyn, descended from London merchants, was a courtier and became gentleman of the bedchamber to Henry VIII. Anne spent several years at the court of France. Returning in 1522 she was given a post in the household of Catherine of Aragon. The king's interest at this time was in her sister Mary, who became his mistress. Anne was dark-haired, with large eyes, composed and cultivated, with a mole on her neck and a malformed finger. By 1527 Henry was initiating annulment proceedings against Catherine, but not until 1532, it seems, did he and Anne become lovers—suggesting some steadiness of purpose on her part. Meanwhile her father had been given the Garter in 1523, created Viscount Rochford in 1525, and advanced to be earl of Wiltshire in 1529: her brother George was created Baron Rochford c.1530. Anne herself was made marchioness of Pembroke in September 1532. Henry's suit to the papacy had stalled. But early in January 1533 Anne knew she was pregnant and was married privately to Henry on the 24th. The birth of a princess, Elizabeth, on 7 September 1533 was a disappointment, but more ominous was a miscarriage in September 1534. The king was already beginning to look elsewhere: perhaps the excitement of the protracted chase had made the joys of possession rather brief. Publicly, Anne's position was strong—the Princess Mary had been declared illegitimate, and Anne's marriage was protected by a new Treason Law. But in January 1536 Catherine of Aragon died—ironically a mishap for Anne, since it opened up the possibility of another marriage free from any dubiety. Anne was once more pregnant but at the end of the month, alarmed by news of Henry's heavy fall at a joust, she gave premature birth to a dead son. Henry was now paying marked attention to Jane Seymour, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting. At the end of April 1536, Anne was accused of adultery with several men and incest with her brother George. On 2 May she was taken to the Tower, and just over a fortnight later, after a trial presided over by her uncle Norfolk, she was executed. The charges against her were preposterous and she denied them with dignity, but she had never been popular and they served their turn. Her daughter Elizabeth was deprived of her rank, but succeeded to the throne 22 years later.

J. A. Cannon

Boleyn, Anne

views updated May 09 2018

Boleyn, Anne (1507–1536) Second wife of Henry VIII of England, mother of Elizabeth I. She married Henry in 1533, when his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been annulled. Henry was desperate for an heir and following the birth of a stillborn boy, Anne was accused of adultery and executed for treason. It is thought that her Protestant sympathies, as well as Henry's need for a divorce, pushed the king towards the break with Rome that unleashed the English Reformation.

Anne Boleyn

views updated Jun 08 2018

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