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Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn or Nan Bullen (about 1502 - May 19, 1536) was the second wife and queen consort of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Henry's marriage to her was the cause of considerable political and religious upheaval.

Childhood

Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, and Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The year of Anne's birth is uncertain but in the range 1499 to 1507 and probably 1502, with 1507 being the second most likely. Anne's father secured a place with Margaret, Archduchess of Austria and daughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, for Anne to be educated in the Netherlands where she lived from the spring of 1513 to the autumn of 1514. This was followed by some years in France, until 1521, initially in the royal nursery, but the last year probably in the French Court.

The English Court

On her return to England, Anne apparently became an attendant of Mary Tudor, the former queen consort of France and Henry VIII's sister, and Anne probably resided at the English court during Mary's visits.

Probably in the spring of 1523, Anne became betrothed to Lord Henry Percy, the future 6th earl of Northumberland. Lord Henry's father refused to sanction the marriage when he heard of it from Cardinal Wolsey. The next recorded appearance of Anne in the historical record is in 1527, by which time she had become one of Queen Catherine's maids.

Anne's younger sister, Mary, (though it is not absolutely certain who was the elder), had previously been Henry's mistress and may have borne him a child, and many historians believe their mother Elizabeth Howard had been Henry's mistress too, though Henry denied it. Anne, however, was reluctant to remain merely a mistress. When, in 1532, Henry created her Marquess of Pembroke, it was the first time a woman had ever been created a peer in her own right. Having become the King's favourite, Anne was the object of much courtly admiration, including that of Thomas Wyatt. Anne was described by the Venetian Ambassador (who supported Catherine of Aragon and who therefore may have been a little negative) as being of average height and not particularly beautiful, except for her beautiful black eyes.

Marriage to Henry VIII

It is often thought that Henry's infatuation with Anne led him to seek a way to annul his existing marriage. However there is good evidence to suggest that Henry may well have made the decision to set aside his marriage with Catherine of Aragon solely because of her failure to bear him a male heir. He believed this was essential to prevent the collapse of the Tudor dynasty which had only been secured by his father Henry VII of England on winning the Wars of the Roses in 1485.

On January 25, 1533, before announcing the decision that his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was invalid, he secretly wed Anne, either at York Place or at the Palace of Westminster. In any event, the marriage was not made public knowledge for some months, but Anne was already pregnant and gave birth to Elizabeth, future Queen Elizabeth I of England, in September of that year. Henry was reasonably pleased and believed that he and Anne could always have another child, even if the first was a girl.

Unfortunately for her, her next three pregnancies all ended in miscarriage or stillbirth. The last of these pregnancies resulted in a stillborn male child in January 1536.

Anne's Demise

In May, 1536, Anne was accused having used witchcraft to trap Henry into marriage and to entice five men to enter into adulterous affairs with her; of creating competition and jealousy between the five; of afflicting the king with bodily harm (believed to have been impotence); and of conspiring to effect his death - treason. The men alleged to have been involved in adultery were a groom of the Privy Chamber - Mark Smeaton; Anne's own brother - Lord George Rochford, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton). Anne's brother was effectively held to have been the father of the stillborn child. It's now generally accepted that none of the charges was valid.

There are several theories about the events leading up to these accusations:

The first is that Henry had been disenchanted with Anne for some time, but was reluctant to divorce her while his first wife Catherine was alive, because there was a large faction in England that believed (although they dared not say so in public) that in the eyes of God he was still married to her. But in January 1536 Catherine died, reducing the potential public opinion backlash. However several people who had met Henry and Anne in October 1535 reported them to have been getting on well, and Henry awarded Anne the keepership of the park in Colyweston in November. There seems to be no evidence to support this theory.

The second is that Thomas Cromwell used Anne's miscarriage as a lever to pursuade Henry to remove her, taking the opportunity to plot to remove five of his own political enemies in the process.

More recently David Starkey has suggested that Henry had recently fallen in love with Jane Seymour and so moved quickly to fabricate charges to remove Anne so he could remarry again.

The final theory, argued by Retha Warnicke, is that Anne's stillborn child had been deformed, though the evidence is circumstantial. It was widely believed at the time that deformities resulted from illicit sexual acts by the parents - and obviously Henry could not be seen to be responsible. By alleging Anne's adultery, and with a planted rumour circulating that Henry had scarcely spoken to Anne in several months, his paternity of the deformed stillborn child could largely be disproved, should news of the deformity leak out. Henry's impotence would also fit with this theory. Exceptionally, Anne's January 1536 stillbirth was made public, together with its gender and age, though not until after a number of rumours had been started by Henry's aides about the adultery and witchcraft allegations.

It is suggested that those executed for adultery were chosen because they were known libertines, and that under questioning Anne's maids had identified them as having visited Anne during the period from October 1533 and December 1535.

Anne was arrested on May 2 1536, and taken to the Tower of London. On the evidence of Smeaton's false confessions, possibly obtained by torture, and on the evidence of the members of Anne's court, Anne was convicted at her trial on May 15. On May 17 her marriage to Henry was annulled, though the arguments used aren't known since the records were later destroyed. On May 19, 1536 Anne was beheaded with one blow at the Tower of London. At her special request, a sword brought from France was used for the execution. The five men accused with her were beheaded on May 17.

Henry married Jane Seymour on May 30.

In 1876 when the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula -- in the Tower of London, where Anne was interred (External link to Chapel webpage) -- was extensively restored, one of the bodies exhumed, examined, and re-interred was identified as probably hers, although there was no evidence it really was.

On Film

Numerous works of fiction, books and films have been produced on the subject of Anne Boleyn's life. She is the title character in the 1969 film Anne of the Thousand Days which stars Genevieve Bujold (Anne), Richard Burton (Henry VIII), and Anthony Quayle (Wolsey). It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won the award for best costumes.

Reference

For a historical analysis of Anne's life, see Retha M Warnicke's book "The Rise And Fall of Anne Boleyn", Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-37000-0.

Unfounded allegations

Nicholas Sander, an opponent of the English church and of Elizabeth, was born after Anne's execution and made a number of claims about Anne, which were reworked and published after his death (De origine et progressu schismatis Anglicani, 1585). He was the first to claim in print that Anne was deformed, giving her the features of a witch. Allegations included that Anne was a nymphomaniac with in excess of a thousand lovers; that she had three breasts (the third "nipple" was a large mole on her neck); that she had a projecting tooth; and that she had eleven fingers. All these are features traditionally associated with witches, and there is no contemporary evidence to support such allegations, despite their popularity and inclusion in many textbooks. Indeed it is unthinkable that Henry would have accepted such deformities at a time when they were considered bad omens.

See also

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Catherine of Aragon
Wives of Henry VIIINext:
Jane Seymour
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