Tag Archives: Anne Boleyn

14 October Anniversaries

14 October is a bit of a hotspot for historical anniversaries, many of which are connected to an infamous (or otherwise interesting) lady.

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. William’s wife Matilda of Flanders is the subject of Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror, a new book by Tracy Borman. (In fact, Matilda is not really infamous at all but was rather pious and good, however her granddaughter was the Empress Matilda who was the first woman to claim the English throne and ended up fighting a bitter twenty year civil war with her cousin Stephen over it.)

Death of King Harold, Bayeux Tapestry

The Battle of Hastings, which took place between the Norman and English armies, took place on Seniac Hill, around six miles away from the Hastings town of Battle. If you are fascinated by history and enjoy learning about infamous women throughout history, why not make yourself drink, sit at your computer and play games like Party Poker while you read through the important historic events which took place on 14 October. Did you known that Empress Matilda was betrothed to Henry V Holy Roman Emperor at the age of seven? One year later she was crowned Queen of Romans and in 1114, at the age of 12, she married the 28 year old Emperor at Mainz.

Other important 14 October events include:

In 1322, Robert the Bruce’s Scots forces routed Edward II’s English army at the Battle of Old Byland. Isabella of France, Edward’s wife, would later lead an invasion of England and depose him in favour of their son.

In 1499, Claude of France was born. I wrote a bit about her here.

In 1586, the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots began.

In 1793, the trial of Marie Antoinette before the Revolutionary Tribunal began.

Trial of Marie Antoinette

Mary Tudor, the French Queen

On 9 October 1514, the 18-year-old English princess Mary married the 52-year-old king of France, Louis XII, at Abbeville in great pomp and ceremony.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Louis had been married twice before. First, to the pious Joan (later canonised by the Catholic church) and secondly to Anne of Brittany who had also been queen to Charles VIII of France. Anne had died in early 1514 leaving only two daughters after no less than 14 pregnancies. Neither of his daughters could inherit the French throne and so Louis sought a third wife to provide him with a male heir.

Mary Tudor was a renowned beauty and her youth made her an attractive marriage prospect for the European nobility. Prior to her marriage to Louis she had been betrothed to Charles of Ghent (later the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) but it was later repudiated. We know nothing of Mary’s feelings about her betrothal to the king of France. There are stories that she made a deal with her brother, Henry VIII, agreeing to marry Louis without complaint if, after his death, she could marry whomsoever she chose. However, there is no evidence of this bargain.

Mary Tudor and Louis XII

Mary’s tenure as queen of France was short lived. Rumour suggested that in his enthusiasm to sire an heir, Louis wore himself out with his new bride. He died on 1 January 1515 leaving Mary a widow at 18.

It was soon clear that Mary was not pregnant with Louis’s child and so several suggestions of a new husband were forthcoming, including the dukes of Savoy and Lorraine. Henry VIII had other ideas and wanted Mary back in England where he could make plans to marry her off to his own advantage. He sent his close friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, to accompany her back to England.

Mary had her own plans though. Concerned that she would be forced into another unsavoury political marriage or that her reputation would be tarnished by the attentions of the new French king, François I, a notorious womaniser, she decided to take her future into her own hands.

Charles Brandon was a good looking man, an accomplished soldier and prominent courtier. The couple had earlier asked Henry’s permission to marry but were fobbed off with assurances that the king would consider it after an appropriate time had passed since Louis’s death. Doubting her brother’s promises, Mary decided that she would marry Brandon then and there. Brandon was, not unduly, fearful of her brother’s reaction but the beautiful young widow soon prevailed upon him and the two married in France in mid-February. Later, Mary would take the blame for the secret marriage and Brandon apologised to the king, claiming that he had been helpless as he ‘newar sawe woman soo wyepe.’

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon


The couple returned apprehensively to England in mid-April and met Henry on 3 May. By that time, the king had calmed down and was, if not pleased, accepting of the marriage. He even attended their public wedding in England on 13 May. Henry’s acceptance of their marriage, Mary was always known at court as “the French Queen” and never as the Duchess of Suffolk (her title as Brandon’s wife).

The couple went on to have four children (Henry, died in childhood; Frances, mother of Lady Jane Grey; Eleanor, who had one surviving child; another Henry who also died in childhood). Despite their reconciliation, Mary and her brother fell out once again, this time on the matter of his marriage. Mary strongly opposed his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. She did little to hide her dislike for his new mistress, Anne Boleyn, who had waited on Mary in France. Mary avoided attending Anne’s coronation feast due to ill health. She died shortly after on 25 June 1533 at the age of 37.

Mary’s actions in determining her own second marriage, in defiance of the king, give a glimpse of a defiant spirit and the desire for self-determination that relatively few women of the period were able to show. I can’t help but imagine that she would have been formidable in old age, and wonder what side she would have taken had she been alive to see her granddaughter, Jane Grey, claim the throne of her niece and Henry’s daughter, Mary I.

Mary Tudor (detail)

More courses

Painted reputed to be of Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia

It’s that time again already. The University of Edinburgh’s Open Studies programme for 2011-12 is available and recruitig.

This year I am teaching Harlots, Harpies and Harridans, my course on infamous women. We’ll look at various women with bad reputations, such as Isabella of France and Marie Antoinette and consider why they have the reputations they do. This is always proved to be a fun class with lots of discussion and ideas, and a few laughs along the way.

In January, I’m teaching The Tudors. The course covers the end of the Wars of the Roses and goes right through to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. The Tudor monarchs and their intimates are always fascinating and they are particularly popular at the moment. The course will show my students that the truth is far more interesting than the Tudor fictions which abound at the moment.

Henry Fitzroy: The Boy Who Would Be King

On 15 June 1519, Henry VIII’s son was born. Unfortunately for the king, the boy’s mother, Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount, was his mistress and not his wife. The child was illegitimate and therefore barred from the succession to the English throne.

Henry’s wife at the time was the redoubtable Catherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Most Catholic Kings of Spain. Catherine’s royal pedigree was beyond reproach and she was popular in England. After numerous pregnancies since their marriage in 1507, the only child which had survived was a daughter, Mary, then 16 months old.

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Lucas Horen, 1534

Henry’s joy in his new born son was obvious, not least because it demonstrated once and for all that he could produce a boy, even if his wife couldn’t. The boy was named Henry Fitzroy (“son of the king”). It was a bitter blow to Catherine and it would not be the last. In 1525, Henry made his six year old son Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Richmond and Somerset and sparked rumours that he meant to make his son, rather than Princess Mary, his heir.

Fitzroy was raised in Yorkshire and bestowed with various other titles over the years (including Admiral of England, Ireland and Normandy; Warden of the Cinque Ports; Lieutenant of Ireland). The king took great interest in his son, and in 1533 arranged a good marriage for him. It was rumoured around this time that Fitzroy should marry Mary, his half-sister, in order to ensure the succession! Henry VIII was an adulterer, a serial philanderer and a bigamist but even he drew the line at forcing his children into an incestuous marriage. Fitzroy was instead married to Mary Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and Anne Boleyn’s cousin.

Mary Howard, Duchess Of Richmond and Somerset, sketch by Holbein

Fitzroy witnessed Anne Boleyn’s execution at the Tower of London on 19 Mary 1536. By that time, he was ill himself and within weeks he had succumbed to consumption, dying on 23 July at Richmond Palace.

At the time of his death, his father was putting a bill through Parliament which, if passed, would disinherit his daughter with Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth (Mary had already been disinherited) and permit him to designate a successor of his choice. It is not certain that Fitzroy would have been the designate, but it is very likely that he would have been the king’s first choice in want of a legitimate heir. Fitzroy’s premature death means that we can only guess at what the repercussions of such a move would have been. As it was, Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to the longed for, legitimate son fifteen months after Fitzroy’s death.

Some Early Female Influences on Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn is often portrayed as uniquely ambitious and self-determined in a time when women were expected to be obedient and dutiful. However, she had some interesting role models in her youth, both women to emulate, and those whose lives were object lessons.

Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands.

Margaret offered prestigious positions in her court to young gentlemen and ladies, scions of Europe’s noble families. Thomas Boleyn had impressed Margaret while on diplomatic missions to her court and she offered one of his daughters a maid of honour position at her court in Mechelen, in what is now Belgium.

Margaret of Austria

Thomas and his wife Elizabeth Howard had two surviving daughters. The dates and even order of birth of the Boleyn children are uncertain but it seems likely that Mary was the elder. If this is the case, Thomas must have seen more promise in Anne than Mary as custom would otherwise have dictated that the older girl took up the opportunity in the Netherlands.

In her earliest letters home, Anne showed a good grasp of French, which was to become fluent. She was a quick learner though and her language skills improved. She thrived at Margaret’s court where she witnessed real power wielded by a charismatic, intelligent woman. Margaret was interested in humanism and was very well educated. She was a successful ruler who held the regency of the Netherlands intermittently throughout her life. The influence of Anne’s early exposure to a powerful, political woman can hardly be overestimated. Margaret defied the expectations of Early Modern womanhood. With three marriages over by the age of twenty four and no surviving children, Margaret had retired from the royal marriage market in defiance of her father, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, who had seen no reason that his daughter’s marital career should not continue apace.

Margaret held the respectable position of a widow which traditionally allowed women a degree of freedom their never-married contemporaries did not have. She was entrusted by her father with the regency of the Netherlands for her nephew who would eventually succeed her father as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. She proved to be an able and successful ruler, bringing prosperity to the Netherlands through commercial treaties with England which were favourable to her country’s cloth merchants.

Margaret of Austria

The bright, impressionable young Englishwoman at Margaret’s court could not have failed to be inspired by what she saw there.

Queen Claude of France

In 1514, however, Henry VIII’s sister Mary was betrothed to the king of France, Louis XII, and Anne was sent to Paris to wait on her. Thomas Boleyn had also secured a place in the new queen’s retinue for his elder daughter, Mary too. Louis died only three months after the marriage, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber. Anne and her sister remained in France as ladies-in-waiting to the new queen of France, Claude.

The contrast between Margaret of Austria and Queen Claude could not have been more striking. Louis had no surviving sons and so Claude, as the eldest surviving child, was his heir. However, in France the Salic Law prevented a woman from inheriting her father’s land and so Claude could not become queen in her own right. She was duly married to her cousin, François, the heir presumptive with a view to her becoming queen consort.

François was one of the great figures of Early Modern Europe and totally eclipsed his diminutive wife. Claude and François were married for ten years during which time Claude was almost continually pregnant, producing no less than seven children. She dutifully followed her husband’s relentless wandering round France and died at the age of twenty-five, exhausted. Claude, though, fulfilled the contemporary ideal of womanhood and queenship: she produced five children who survived, including three sons; she lived chastely (although it would seem unlikely that she had the time or the energy to be unfaithful) and she turned a blind eye to her husband’s constant philandering.

She is remembered with a plum which was named after her (a greengage is une reine claude or une bonne reine in France).

Claude of France

As much as Margaret of Austria was an inspiration, Claude was a warning to Anne. Claude was a perfect illustration of the potential fate of a dutiful wife. During his wife’s perpetual pregnancies, François was neglectful and preferred to spend his time in the embraces of other women. In fact, the king surrounded himself with attractive, witty young women, preferring female company to that of his male courtiers. It would seem likely that King François would have found his wife’s young English attendant as fascinating as her compatriots did on her later return to England. Anne, however, would not have risked her marriage prospects in England with a dalliance with the notoriously philandering king of France had he shown interest in her.

Marguerite of Navarre

As well as Queen Claude, Anne seems to have come under the influence of François’s sister, Marguerite of Navarre. As much as the king neglected his dutiful wife, he lavished attention on his brilliant elder sister. He even turned a blind eye to her increasing sympathies with the ideas of religious reform sweeping the kingdom. John Calvin had fled his native France and remained in exile in Switzerland. His ideas on reform of the Church were widely, if secretly, imported into France and fed the growing population of Huguenots, the colloquial name given to French Protestants, which troubled the king. France’s relationship with the Holy See had been unique and frequently strained for centuries and while François was a great pragmatist in religious matters, he would not countenance a full schism and therefore took measures to restrict Huguenot religious freedom. His legacy of religious ambivalence was one which Catherine de’ Medici would have to tackle some thirty years later.

Marguerite of Navarre

The indulgence of her brother was a safeguard for Marguerite who was not only a patron of humanists in France and her small Pyrenean kingdom of Navarre, but also a writer herself. Her mystical, devotional work, Miroir de l’âme pécheresse (Mirror of the Sinful Soul), was a popular, radical work in her day. Indeed, in years to come Anne’s daughter, the princess Elizabeth, would translate it as a New Year’s gift for her last stepmother, Catherine Parr. Elizabeth may even have worked from Marguerite’s original manuscript which she reputedly gave to Anne. Anne, although no author, would similarly come to rely on Henry’s protection with her choice of radical books.

Anne Boleyn portrait

We have little in the way of contemporary portraits of Anne Boleyn although there are some descriptions of her looks in letters from ambassadors at the English court.

Late sixteenth century copy of an earlier work

Anne Boleyn

This famous portrait of her, a late sixteenth century copy of an earlier work, in the National Portrait Gallery in London is in need of urgent conservation. The NPG has launched an appeal for donations to help ensure this important work is undertaken and the painting is preserved for future generations. Information is here. Please help if you can.

I’m visiting London next month so will definitely be visiting the NPG for a look at their Tudor, and other, works. I’m also teaching a class on Anne and her step-daughter Mary tomorrow night as part of the Infamous Women course.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of AragonOn 7th January 1536, Catherine of Aragon died in Kimbolton Castle, near Peterborough (where she would be buried). She was 51 years old. Married first to Arthur Tudor and then his younger brother, Henry VIII, she was cast aside when Henry decided to marry Anne Boleyn. Although he had banished her from court, forbidden her from seeing their daughter and even from writing to him, she remained steadfast in her resolve never to acknowledge the dissolution of their marriage nor his new marriage to Anne.

Her last letter was to him, forgiving him everything.

My most dear lord, king and husband,

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for.

Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

Katharine the Quene

Off to London to see (some dead) queens

Tomorrow I am off to London. My partner’s work have sent him down there for a course so I am taking advantage of his plush hotel and joining him. We’ll be staying in Kensington, just along the road from the Natural History Museum and the V&A and just round the corner from the French bookshops I love. I haven’t spent much time in the V&A so I am hoping to remedy this.

Aside from that, I am planning another trip to the Tower. I will sit through the Yeoman Warden’s iffy history once again in order to do my little pilgrimage to the graves of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. I wish you could spend a little time there alone but sadly not.

I am also planning a trip to the National Gallery to see the Delaroche exhibition which centres on his spectacular Execution of Lady Jane Grey.

Since I will be in the vicinity, I might pay a visit to Kensington Palace as I have never been before and the Enchanted Palace exhibition looks fun.

Then, when I get back to Edinburgh, Stranger Than Fiction, our new non-fiction writers’ group has its first meeting on the 474th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. I am hoping this proves to be a good omen! Art for the site and posters is by my co-organiser Sharon- more of her work at her blog, The Sapient Pig.

In other news- big website revamp is being planned.

More Reading

Well, the end of Classical Greece is only a few pages away (more of that in another post soon). However, a good two weeks ahead of schedule, Amazon have sent me this.Anne Boleyn - Fatal Attractions I’ve had this on pre-order since January.

There have been numerous new books published in the last few years about the Tudors, Anne Boleyn in particular. With the popularity of the US t.v. show, a lot of authors seem to have leapt on the bandwagon and churned out a biography, few saying anything that hasn’t been said before (and better). Many of them have dug out old myths, discredited for years by more able historians, and regurgitated them for audiences who don’t know the field well enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some make grand, if misleading, promises to break new ground on the subject (for example, Alison Weir’s recent The Lady In The Tower may well be the first book focused solely on Anne Boleyn’s downfall; it is not, however, the first book to tackle it, or by far the best).

Bernard’s book is different. For one thing, the man’s actually studied history (which puts him in a minority for historical biographers, your history graduate author grumbles). For another, he’s genuinely got something controversial to say.

Bernard is unique among Anne’s recent biographers (the good and the less so) because not only does he claim that it was Henry, not Anne, who insisted on their long celibacy, but that the charges of adultery she faced in 1536 were not a vicious fabrication, the result of court faction, but were, at least in part, true.

He has written about this in the past, though in less detail. Part of his theory, as I understand it, relies on his interpretation of remarks in Henry’s love letters to Anne. Bernard believes that a line in which Henry tells his love that he hopes to soon be her lover physically as well as emotionally (I paraphrase) indicates that it is he who has decreed that there will be no premarital sex between the two of them and that this line is intended to pacify (the insatiable?) Anne with a promise that his injunction will soon be lifted.

To me this reads more as a frustrated lover trying to wheedle and persuade his mistress that their marriage is all but a done deal so what harm could there be to granting him those final favours?

Bernard suggests that Henry’s uncharacteristic moderation is due to his determination that his children with Anne will be of definite legitimacy and so refuses to sleep with her in order to avoid any inconvenient illegitimate pregnancies wrecking his plans. I’d almost buy this if Henry hadn’t made some provisions for their illegitimate children when he promoted Anne to Marquess of Pemboke: in the letters patent, it is stated that Anne’s children will inherit the lands and title but the clause “lawfully begotten” is notable by its absence. By 1532 he is considering the possibility that he may not have “lawfully begotten,” that is legitimate, children with her.

I haven’t delved into Bernard’s new book yet so have summarised his arguments in his book The King’s Reformation. He will have to come up with some pretty good evidence to convince me of his claims as Eric Ives has done a thorough job of demonstrating the improbability of Anne’s guilt. I will certainly be posting about this when I can get stuck into this book. It’s the first Anne Boleyn book I’ve looked forward to for a long time.

Anne Boleyn on the anniversary of her execution

Anne Boleyn, late sixteenth century copy of an earlier work

Anne Boleyn

500 years on, Anne Boleyn is still causing controversy.

While most historians accept that her execution was the result of one of history’s most notorious fit up jobs, academics are still engaged in debate about the facts of her life. Not too long ago, the late Eric Ives and Retha Warnicke conducted a fierce argument about the year of Anne’s birth through the pages of History journal. Several articles were produced on both sides: Ives maintaining 1501 as the likely date and Warnicke countering with 1507 as her preferred year. With such basic information as the year the future queen was born still in debate, what hope is there to establish the more gauzy aspects of Anne’s life?

Perhaps more than might be thought. Warnicke’s argument for 1507 as Anne’s birth year is unconvincing and crumbles in the face of Ives’s academic rigour, as do Warnicke’s other revisionist theories which were adopted (and further adulterated) by Philippa Gregory in The Other Boleyn Girl, her bestselling novel which was in turn made into a film, the plot of which deviated so far from the truth as to be almost unrecognisable.

Anne Boleyn in Fiction

There are, in fact, countless novels about Anne Boleyn. In recent years, the market for historical fiction seems to have exploded with new novels published and older ones, by Jean Plaidy, for example, repackaged with fashionable covers. Anne has been a popular subject and, I suspect, has made more appearances in these books than any other queen of England.

There is something fascinating about this woman. It cannot simply be the tragedy of her death for if that were the case, her cousin Catherine Howard would be equally popular. No, there is something fascinating about Anne that her contemporaries discovered and her husband failed to destroy even when he destroyed her.

Anne's uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, by Holbein

Anne’s uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, by Holbein

Life and Untimely Death

Anne was the youngest daughter of Thomas Boleyn, a diplomat in the service of Henry VII and later Henry VIII, and his wife, Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of the first Duke of Norfolk. Her enemies liked to trivialise Anne’s ancestry as being ignominiously low but she was, in fact, of perfectly noble stock. She was related not only to the powerful Dukes of Norfolk, but to other noble families like the Butlers and Ormondes. Anne also benefited from a particularly good education and spend some years at the court of Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands and then at the sophisticated court of France. When she returned to England in her early twenties, Anne Boleyn was not the merchant’s daughter her detractors would have us believe. Rather, a witness described her as “a right fine French lady.” In fact, Anne caused quite a stir with her arrival at Henry VIII’s court.

Anne Boleyn seems to have returned to England because her father had entered into negotiations with their Irish relatives to marry her to James Butler, who would become the Earl of Ormonde. For reasons now unknown, the negotiations floundered and Anne remained at court, unmarried, as a lady in waiting to the queen, Catherine of Aragon. It wasn’t long before the striking young woman had won the attentions of Henry Percy, heir to the dukedom of Northumberland- one of the most powerful and richest peerages in England. Anne and Percy intended to marry and Percy went so far as to publicly announce their engagement, which could be as legally binding as if they had been married. The King’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, and Percy’s father the Duke of Northumberland were furious on discovering the young couple’s intentions and soon broke the engagement.

Percy was not the only man at court to be fascinated by Anne Boleyn. Thomas Wyatt, poet and relation of the Boleyns, paid a great deal of attention to Anne. It is difficult to tell if Wyatt’s feelings for Anne were more serious than the game of courtly love but Anne herself seems never to have taken them too seriously. His most famous poem, Whoso List to Hunt, is about her.

Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

The King’s Great Matter

By the mid 1520s, however, the King had noticed Anne. Henry initially planned to simply install her as a mistress. He had previously had an affair with her sister and assumed Anne would be just as compliant as Mary. Henry was wrong. Anne refused his advances, declined to be his mistress, telling him that her virtue was more important to her. Henry, not used to being refused anything, was fascinated and redoubled his attempts to woo her.

Anne maintained that she would not become his mistress. She removed herself from court until he demanded that she return. She told him that she would consent only to being his wife. Was this a calculated move on Anne’s part? Was she aware of the breakdown of the king’s marriage and hoping to replace Catherine? Or was she simply trying to end Henry’s attentions? While Henry pursued her, she had no hope of making a marriage with anyone else. Who would be foolish enough to cross the king? It may have been that in demanding marriage, Anne hoped Henry would give up his pursuit. If that is what she hoped, Anne was to be disappointed.

At the end of 1526, Anne finally relented and agreed to become Henry’s mistress with the proviso that she would not sleep with him until they were married. Henry, who had previously  toyed with the idea of divorcing Catherine, with whom he had failed to have sons. With Anne’s promise secured, he returned to the plan with gusto.

Petition sent to Clenment VII from the English Parliament urging him to grant Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Petition sent to Clenment VII from the English Parliament urging him to grant Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Henry expected that the divorce, although unpopular, could be secured quickly. The Pope had the authority to dissolve marriages and in cases such as this, where the king sought to divorce a wife who had failed to give him male heirs and marry a new bride, the Pope often agreed. Unfortunately, the army of the Emperor Charles V sacked Rome before Pope Clement VII passed judgement. Charles was Catherine’s nephew and bitterly opposed Henry’s plan which would humiliate his aunt. The result was to draw out what had been expected to be a process of a few weeks into a bitter, seven year long struggle. In order to secure his divorce and marry Anne, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church, alienated many of his closest friends and his own daughter.

Marriage

After years of struggle, Anne and Henry were married in secret at the end of 1532. Anne was crowned on the 1st of July 1533, five months pregnant with the child everyone expected to be Henry’s longed-for son. On the 7th September, Anne gave birth to a daughter. She was named Elizabeth, after Henry’s mother. The disappointment at Elizabeth’s gender has often been overstated. While it was a blow, it was not a serious one. The baby was health and the couple had high hopes that sons would follow.

Anne was pregnant again soon after Elizabeth’s birth and Henry was sure that this time it would be a son. However she miscarried at the beginning of July 1534. In October 1535, she was pregnant again but in late January, on the day of Catherine of Aragon’s funeral, she miscarried. It was reported that the foetus was identifiable as male. The imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, reported that “She has miscarried of her saviour.”

Downfall

In April 1536, Thomas Cromwell set about removing the queen in order to replace her with one who suited his designs better. He planned Anne’s downfall methodically, looking for any pretext on which she could be accused. He worked quickly and the first arrest was made on 30th April.

Thomas Cromwell, Holbein

Thomas Cromwell, Holbein

Mark Smeaton was a musician at court. He was arrested and taken to Cromwell’s house where is was interrogated and threatened with torture. Smeaton was accused of adultery with the queen. He was then taken to the Tower where he was most likely tortured into confessing. Anne did not know of Cromwell’s machinations and attended the May Day jousts unsuspecting. Henry left the jousts abruptly and Anne was never to see him again.

On the journey back to London, the king questioned one of his men, Henry Norris, about his involvement with Anne. Norris admitted no wrong doing. Henry even promised him pardon if he would admit his guilt. Norris refused and was sent to the Tower the following day. The same day Anne herself was taken to the Tower and interrogated by her uncle and others. She also denied any wrong doing. At the same time, her brother, Francis Weston and Francis Brereton were arrested for adultery with the queen. On the 8th May, Francis Bryan and Thomas Wyatt were sent to the Tower.

Four of the men accused with Anne were tried on 12th May. Smeaton, Weston, Brereton and Norris were all found guilty. Only Smeaton ever admitted guilt, more likely the consequence of torture and the threat of more, than a genuine confession. The other men, as nobles, were not tortured. The queen’s trial was held on 14th May 1536. Despite putting up a convincing defence, Anne was nonetheless found guilty of adultery and treason. Her brother George’s trial was held afterwards although he too was a convincing defendant, he was convicted.

The men were executed on Tower Hill on 17th May. The king, as a last mercy to the woman he had turned his country upside down to have, ordered the executioner of Calais to behead Anne with a sword rather than the traditional axe. The sword was both quicker and more dignified as the condemned knelt upright rather than lay prostrate on the block. It was also less likely than an axe to miss its mark.

On the 19th May 1536, at 7am, Anne Boleyn mounted the scaffold and made a short speech. The executioner was as good as had been promised and her head was severed in a single stroke. Her ladies were left to bundle her body into an arrow chest. It was then hastily buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula. Anne entered the Tower on 2nd May 1536 and never left, even in death.

On the 20th May, the king announced his betrothal to one of Anne’s maids, a mouse of a woman and stark contrast to her former mistress.