Anne Boleyn RIP

“To us she appears inconsistent–religious yet aggressive, calculating yet emotional, with the light touch of the courtier yet the strong grip of a politician–but is this what she was, or merely what we strain to see through the opacity of the evidence? What does come to us across the centuries is the impression of a person who is strangely appealing to the early 21st century. A woman in her own right–taken on her own terms in a man’s world; a woman who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex; of only moderate good looks, but taking a court and a king by storm. Perhaps in the end it is Thomas Cromwell’s assessment that comes nearest: intelligence, spirit, and courage.” –Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Today, May 19, marks the 473rd grim anniversary of the death of Anne Boleyn (1501 or ’07–1536). History geeks like me tend to have a list of “historical heroes and heroines,” people we would like to invite to our dream dinner parties, sit them down, serve them some drinks, and ask “So–what were you thinking there anyway?” Anne Boleyn is definitely one of mine. I’ve been fascinated by her since I was a kid and watched Anne of the Thousand Days on the TV at my grandmother’s house. I read everything I could find about her, and yet she still seems elusive. As Ives says, a woman of her own time but also so strangely modern, a woman of intelligence and ambition, pride and immense courage. Ives also calls her “the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had.”

I could write a post days long about her life and activities, but I’ll concentrate here on the end. After a crazed pursuit of 7 long years, Anne agreed to marry Henry on January 25, 1533–even though the Church and the Pope stubbornly persisted in insisting he was married to his wife of 20+ years Katherine of Aragon (who stubbornly insisted the same! For a man so set on his own way, Henry did marry so many proud and strong women…). On May 23, Thomas Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury (who was once the Boleyn family chaplain, the Boleyns being staunch Protestants) declared the marriage of Henry and Katherine void and the marriage of Henry and Anne valid. They were all thereafter excommunicated. But Anne was crowned queen in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey on June 1, and gave birth to a princess, Elizabeth, on September 7. Elizabeth, of course, was destined to be her mother’s daughter in every way, even though she never knew her.

But the good times weren’t to last long. After many miscarriages, Henry got tired of her outspoken stubbornness, and in April and May of 1536 brought her to trial for high treason, via adultery and incest (and rumors of witchcraft). It was an utter travesty of a trial on charges everyone knew were trumped up, but Anne and her accused lovers (including her brother George) were declared guilty and sentenced to death. George was executed on Tower Green on May 17, as Anne waited for her fate in the confines of the Tower, where only 3 years before she had come in glory to wait for her coronation.

Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, wrote “This morning she sent for me…and at my coming she said ‘Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain.’ I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,’ and then she put her hands about it laughing. I have seen many men and also women executed, and they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death.”

Around noon on May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn died on a scaffold erected on the north side of the White Tower, in front of what is now called Waterloo Barracks. She wore a red petticoat under a black damask gown trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine. With her ladies-in-waiting, she walked from the Queen’s House (which is still there), climbed the steps, and made a short speech to the gathered crowd as the French headsman waited.

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you. And if any person will meddle in my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord Have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

She then knelt upright in the French style of executions, said once more, “To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul.” Her ladies took away her headdress and jewelry, tied a blindfold over her eyes–and it was over in one sword-stroke. Cranmer said “She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen in heaven.” Anne was buried under the floor of the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula behind the scaffold site, near her brother, where her grave can be seen today, and a few days later Henry married Jane Seymour. Following the ascension of her daughter as Queen Elizabeth, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the Protestant Reformation, and she’s an object of fascination (and movies and novels!) to this day.

There are lots of great sources on Anne Boleyn and her tumultuous times, but a few I like are: Antonia Fraser’s The Wives of Henry VIII; Eric Ives’s The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn; Joanna Denny’s Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen; Retha Warnicke’s The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn–Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII; and Karen Lindsey’s Divorced Beheaded Survived–A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII.

See, I told you I could write about Anne Boleyn for days!!! When I visited the Tower last year, I actually started crying while standing at the scaffold site and reading the words engraved on the new memorial fountain there (at least it was early and not crowded yet! No one to see the crazy lady crying over stuff that happened 473 years ago). Who are some of your heroes? Have you visited sites that had significance for them? What did you think? Who are your “fantasy dinner party” guests??

(Oh, and 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII to the throne! For info on some of the planned events check out this article. I really wish I could be there, especially for the Tudor water pageant on the Thames and the Christmas celebration at Hampton Court…)

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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Deb Marlowe
13 years ago

Oh my gosh, Amanda–I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one to be moved by certain historic sites!

I’ve had a fondness for Anne since the 9th grade when I did a massive report on her life.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I have a few heroes. I would dearly love to meet Llewellyn Farr as well as his Llewellyn, who was known as Lleo. Lleo was beheaded by Edward the Bastard’s men. I believe history calls him Edward I. I read Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Trilogy and would like to meet all the Welsh people who’s lives the books were based on.

But that’s my long ago hero. Of course I would love to meet Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and her sister Harriet. Perhaps even Lady Caroline Lamb, Georgiana’s niece. I’d also love to meet Jane Austen in her original form, not the form she has taken in the blog world (i.e. me).

But most of all I would LOVE to meet Richard Feynman, a physicist and teacher who died in 1988 when I was eight years old. He is best known for his work at Los Alamos on the atomic bomb, winning the Nobel Prize for creating QED theory, and discovering why the Challenger exploded. I have a picture of Feynman on my desk at work. It is framed like he is a member of my family. Also I gave a eulogy of Feynman in my honors speech class during undergrad. I pretended to be his third wife and pulled it off with flying colors. In fact, if you attend my alma mater you have to watch my speech on Feynman as an example of a perfect eulogy.

I’m sure there are many more I would love to meet. Perhaps good old TJ or Thomas Jefferson….he writes and he plays the violin. And Dolly Madison. I wish I could be as cool as Dolly Madison.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“And Dolly Madison. I wish I could be as cool as Dolly Madison.”

LOL! Me, too. I’ve loved her ever since I was a kid and started wondering if the pastries were named after a real person, so I looked her up. A dinner party with all those “Founding” types would probably be a blast–Dolley, TJ, the Adamses, etc. Throw in the Devonshire set, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, and it’s a PARTY. πŸ™‚

Nicola Cornick
13 years ago

Fascinating post, Amanda. Like you I am intrigued by Anne Boleyn. She would certainly be on my dream dinner party list. In particular I would love to know why her downfall was comparatively swift after so many years of holding Henry’s love. At the same dinner party would be King Richard III – I have to know the truth about the Princes in the Tower! – and a number of other historical figures. Its’ so difficult to choose!

I’m also with you and Deb on the power of some historic sites to move you. I was in tears at Bosworth Battlefield and I get quite a frisson from some ancient houses and other sites.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I’d also say if it were the art lover in me I’d like to meet Peter Paul Rubens, Vermeer, Cezanne, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Fyt and Hopper. I’d also like Alfred Hitchcock to be in on that dinner. (I wrote a paper once about Alfred Hitchcock’s use of 20th century art in his films.)

The king or queen of England that I’m interested in is Lady Jane Grey and I can rarely find any information about her. She fascinates me.

And of course Dorothy Parker….I’d love to see her match wits against good old Jane Austen. Who would prevail?

Suddenly my dinner party is going to need a larger room. I hope Windsor Castle is available!

Has anyone ever read the book The Immortal Dinner? I think it’d be a gas to be there.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

Amanda:

Should we also invite Beau Brummel and Prinny to watch them make snarky faces and comments about each other all night?

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
13 years ago

I’ve always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn, and think she’s been given a bum rap for centuries as some kind of almond-eyed seducer with six fingers on one hand and three breasts. I think what went on with her and Henry was incredibly complicated. You see very little emphasis on the fact that she was serious Protestant.

I would also love to meet Eleanor of Aquitaine another favorite of mine ever since I saw the Lion in Winter. There was a TV show that Steve Allen did for PBS in the late 70’s and early 80’s, where he had famous figures sit down and chat. I forget the name of it but it was fascinating to read the scripts when they were published in book form.

Mari
13 years ago

I really liked your post.
I have visited Oscar Wilde’s grave. He is another person who lived way ahead of his times. I am fascinated by his life.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“Suddenly my dinner party is going to need a larger room.”

LOL! I have an idea–we can rent the Brighton Pavilion. Have all our Tudors and Georgians, Impressionist artists, 1920s poets, Austen and the Brontes (though Emily probably wouldn’t come), Marie Antoinette and her entourage, the Byron/Shelley set, American colonials, just crowd into the vast dining room and let the wine flow!!!

Sigh–I wonder if heaven is like that? πŸ™‚

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“You see very little emphasis on the fact that she was serious Protestant.”

Tee hee! It’s probably because the sex seems more interesting to most people, but I love it that she was an intellectual and a devotee of the Reformed Religion (and was always reading banned books smuggled in from the Continent). Katherine Parr was very similar in that regard, and I like her very much, too.

“I would love to know why her downfall was comparatively swift after so many years of holding Henry’s love.”

Nicola, that is one the main things I would ask her at our dinner party! πŸ™‚ What exactly went down there???

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Fascinating stuff, Amanda. I think I first became intrigued by Anne Boleyn when I saw Anne of the Thousand Days as well. The last scene with the little red-haired toddler in the gardens always gives me chills – that this woman so abused in life and death was the mother of one of the greatest queens of all time.

I would love to have Anne and her daughter at a dinner party along with Jane Austen.

I would love to meet Byron and Mary and Percy Shelley as well.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Mari, have you seen the movie “Paris, Je t’aime”? The segment with Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell at Wilde’s grave in Pere Lachaise is my favorite part!

Cyranetta
13 years ago

“There was a TV show that Steve Allen did for PBS in the late 70’s and early 80’s, where he had famous figures sit down and chat.”

Meeting of Minds (or possibly Meeting of The Minds)

That is one show that I wish would be revived on Bravo or Sundance or PBS, so you could see fantastic dinner parties across the ages with today’s actors (although one could never replace host/writer Steve Allen.)

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“The king or queen of England that I’m interested in is Lady Jane Grey and I can rarely find any information about her.”

I have a great bio called “The Nine Days Queen”–when I get home this evening I’ll check on the author! (when I was in England last year, they had a newfound portrait of Jane Gray at the National Portrait Gallery, and a fascinating little exhibit on its discovery and authentication)

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

What a fabulous post, and places move me to tears often. They don’t have to be where tragedy and injustice was enacted. Beauty has that effect on me, too. It’s too much to contain inside, kwim?

Perhaps you can do a series of weekly posts on different aspects of Anne Boleyn.

500th anniversary of Henry…No wonder there are reissues of previous Tudor works being printed this year, including the trilogy by Susan Wiggs.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

When I was in Munchen, Germany my friends and I went to view Dachau, a concentration camp. They made you walk through the gas chambers as part of the tour and as I was standing in the doorway this horrible feeling just came over me and you knew terrible things had happened there. Dachau never used its gas chambers, but there was an awful vibe throughout the entire camp. I’m glad I went, but I would never go to one again. I was also shocked at people taking pictures and posing in front of buildings. I just thought it was horrible. There was a movie at the end of the tour and it ends with emaciated bodies of concentration camp victims being piled into pits. When it ended this man stood up and with a loud voice and a deep southern accent he said “Well time to get some lunch!” And I thought “No wonder the world calls us Ugly Americans.” My camera stayed in my bag and lunch was the last thing on my mind. When it was over I made my friends go to the Teddy Bear Museum.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

It was a pity Anne wasn’t smart enough to save her head. Now, that would have been the best revenge.

And I’m a bit confused about all the gilding of Henry VIII recently, surely one of the most unpleasant kings ever, despite Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s eternal poutiness.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

As a girl, I loved Dolly Madison–I even named my dolls after her. I thought she was brave.

I’d love to sit between Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen at a big dinner party, one where the three of us could talk about everyone else there.

Ann Boleyn was fascinating indeed.

Myretta
13 years ago

In 2002, during the first Republic of Pemberley trip to England, I was able to lay a wreath on Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral. Here’s a picture: http://tinyurl.com/oydvjg

I sobbed so during the short ceremony, that I ended up being hugged by the lovely Canon Charles Stuart (what a great name) who you can see in the picture and contined to sob intermittently during the Evensong service we attended after the wreath-laying. I was only mildly embarrassed as I was surrounded by so many kindred spirits at the time.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

Diane,

I can just see Oscar saying “If you don’t have something nice to say come sit next to me”

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Jane, what moving story of your visit to Dachau. I know I could never handle visiting someplace like that–I probably couldn’t even make it through the Holocaust Museum in DC.

Keira, I definitely agree that lovely, happy places can have the same effect! On that same trip, when I visited the Petit Trianon I wanted to dance through the grass and laugh like a fool! πŸ™‚ I guess places hold imprints of strong emotions either way…

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Janet, I definitely don’t romanticize an insane, nasty (and probably smelly) tyrant like Henry VIII! (and he probably never looked in the least bit like JRM or Eric Bana, even in his younger days!). He is one of my least favorite people in history, the way he destroyed not only wives but children, advisers, and friends is despicable. It would have taken more than brains for Anne Boleyn to escape (though Anne of Cleves, a much less clever woman, managed it).

I do love the Tudor era, though. It’s full of such raw energy and emotion (and gorgeous clothes)!

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

Wow! I’ve always been fascinated by Anne B. also, and wondered at Henry choosing these strong women and then thinking he could change them. Idiot.

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

And Myretta, OF COURSE you cried (this, from the woman who teared up while reading Loretta Chase at a workshop. Sap.)

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I actually think it’s poetic justice that Henry VIII was so hellbent to get a son to rule his empire and instead he had Elizabeth I who is arguably one of the best kings/queens that England or other countries with royal families has ever seen.

Helen
13 years ago

What a wonderful post she really was a wonderful Lady.

Have Fun
Helen

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Jane Austen, wouldn’t we have a great time with Oscar!

I’m appalled at your experience at Dachau. I could hardly bear the Holocaust Museum in DC. I can’t imagine how it would feel to stand on the same ground as Concentration Camp victims.

Myretta, I can so relate!! I remember lapsing into a grieved silence at Westminster Abbey. And at Stratfield Saye I stood in the coachhouse in tears listening to a recorded recitation of all the honors Wellington achieved, that were recited during his funeral procession.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“wondered at Henry choosing these strong women and then thinking he could change them.”

The irony, of course, is that he was surrounded by headstrong women, including his daughters and sisters (Mary especially–I love the story of how she sneakily ended up married to Charles Brandon behind her brother’s back!)

Jane, the author of “Nine Days Queen” about Jane Grey is Mary Luke–it’s a very interesting read!

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“Perhaps you can do a series of weekly posts on different aspects of Anne Boleyn.”

Keira, maybe what I will do is start a series on Tudor women on my own blog (for Heroine of the Weekend) in honor of the anniversary festivities πŸ™‚

The Anne Boleyn Files
13 years ago

Great post! I know exactly what you mean about being able to write for days about Anne Boleyn! I too have always been fascinated by Anne and my mission with my own blog is to spread the message about the REAL Anne Boleyn, not the Anne of fiction but the Anne of reality. Doesn’t it make you angry that people have still got such stereotyped ideas about her?!

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“Doesn’t it make you angry that people have still got such stereotyped ideas about her?!”

It definitely does!! (and stuff like “The Tudors” doesn’t help). I sometimes think I should tackle writing a new AB bio, if there wasn’t that pesky thing time to worry about.

Thanks for posting here! I must check out your blog…