On International Women’s Day I thought I would give the lowdown on some of my favourite Tudor ladies – Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Jane Grey and Elizabeth I. All were queen in one way or another, and were strong successful women in their own ways. Here I look at some of the highlights of their lives, and why I enjoy studying them so much.
Anne Boleyn seems to be a popular choice for people’s favourite wife of Henry VIII or favourite Tudor queen in general. But why? She is controversial, inspired great devotion alive and dead, and was (it is widely accepted) innocent of the crimes for which she was executed. However, Katherine Howard was also executed, and it isn’t sure that she was entirely guilty of that which she was accused of, but she doesn’t get the same kind of following or academic interest.
For me, what makes Anne Boleyn so interesting is that she was a woman, not quite out of her time, but looking to the future. She realised that women were capable of so much more than had been believed, and she had seen women take power and rule – namely Margaret of Austria – and women who enjoyed learning and bettered themselves – Marguerite of Navarre.
Anne has taught me to be myself and not to be afraid to show my intelligence as she did.
Anne of Cleves
In contrast to Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves seems to be overlooked. After all, she was only Queen of England for 6 months before Henry VIII divorced her, earning her the epithet the “Flander’s Mare”. Some of Henry VIII’s alleged comments about her persist to this day – that she smelled horrible and had very few accomplishments. However, once Anne grew accustomed to England she began to learn music and dancing from all accounts, and to adapt to the English court.
What draws me to Anne of Cleves is that she was an outsider who didn’t fit in with the glamorous English court, and that is very like me, being a misfit. I think in a lot of ways she just wanted to be loved. She came to understand the peril of refusing Henry VIII’s wishes and came out of the marriage with wealth, a title as the king’s sister, and places to live, as well as still being received at court.
Anne has taught me to always look for the positives in a situation.
Elizabeth I is most often seen in the guise of Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, and that was very much a part of who she was, but what draws me to her is her vulnerability and, of course, her links with Anne Boleyn. She was aware from a very young age that her mother was not spoken about, although we don’t know when she discovered the truth about her mother’s disgrace and death. She used her mother’s example to strengthen herself and put barriers up.
The creation of Elizabeth’s image is also very interesting, as it can’t be everything that Elizabeth was in reality. She had been suspected of having an affair with her step-father, Thomas Seymour, and falling pregnant by him and she had then been imprisoned in the Tower of London by her half-sister, Mary I, and no doubt feared for her life. She had to have been incredibly strong.
Elizabeth has taught me to learn from my mistakes.
Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey is known as the Nine Days Queen, but she was technically queen for 13 days, from the day that Edward VI died, although she didn’t know it. She was a committed protestant and so fervent about her cause that she died for it. Religion seemed to enthuse a lot of people in the sixteenth century, on both sides of the argument, but not everyone was willing to die for it, especially not one so young, who had the rest of her life ahead of her.
I am a decade older than Jane was when she went to her death and I cannot imagine having the courage and strength of convictions to face my death like she did, largely because of who her parents and grandparents were, leaving her a claim to the throne which others decided to try and take advantage of. Whether Jane was quite so reluctant to take the throne is unknown.
Jane has taught me to find something you’re passionate about and don’t give up on it.
Who are your favourite Tudor women? Sound off in the comments, I’d love to know who you all love!