In Memory of Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

As any Tudor historian will know, today, 19 May, is an important day – it marks the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn on what many now accept as trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason. If you need a refresher on the fall of Anne Boleyn, you can read my undergraduate dissertation chapter, published on this blog [https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/undergrad-dissertation-chapter-1/]. There is also a very succinct summary on The Anne Boleyn Files [https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/why-did-anne-boleyn-fall/3967/].

Why does Anne Boleyn continue to fascinate us, nearly 500 years after her death? Well, I came across this excellent summary on History Extra:

“The one thing that’s clear is that Anne, with her intelligence and sexiness, played a part in her own destiny. Her choices in life often make her seem more like a modern person than a Tudor woman. That’s why she’ll continue to fascinate us.” [https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/the-six-wives-in-a-different-light/]

Although we shouldn’t look at the 16th century through 21st century eyes, people today still seem to be able to connect with Anne Boleyn because many of her decisions, emotions and feelings we can still sympathise and empathise with today. Many of things that she went through still happen today, though on a much smaller and less deadly scale. The idea that she shaped her own destiny is not one we often associate with Medieval and Early Modern women; the idea still prevails that women were at the mercy of their men folk – their fathers, brothers or husbands. Anne Boleyn demonstrates that not all women fell into that mould, some stepped out and made their own futures. Continue reading “In Memory of Anne Boleyn”

On This Day in History – 19 May – Execution of Anne Boleyn


White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London

Event– Execution of Anne Boleyn

Year– 1536

Location– Tower of London (England)

Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 and sent to the Tower of London, accused of adultery, incest and treason. She was tried and found guilty of all charges against her on 15 May 1536 with the sentence pronounced as burning or beheading at the king’s pleasure.

Anne’s so-called lovers were executed on 17 May – Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, Francis Weston and her brother, George Boleyn. All had been found guilty of adultery with Anne. Richard Page and Thomas Wyatt were arrested but never charged with anything. They were released after the executions.

It is generally accepted that Anne Boleyn wasn’t guilty of the charges against her. Perhaps she had been a little reckless in her speech, and a little too flirtatious, but that doesn’t automatically convert to adultery. From what I have read, the only historian who thinks it possible that Anne was in fact guilty was G.W. Bernard, though I personally don’t buy his arguments.

Anne was beheaded on Tower Green within the Tower of London on 19 May 1536 by the swordsman of Calais, rather than the more cumbersome English axe, and was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower grounds. There is a memorial slab commemorating her place of burial there today.

Further Reading

  • Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)
  • Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)
  • Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)
  • Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)

Documentary Notes – ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’


Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.
Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.

Framed? By whom? What reason?
Weir “Anne burst upon [the English court] with a certain brilliance.”
Gregory “sexiest girl at court.”
Mantel = too detached and intelligent to stake everything on love – did Anne ever love Henry?
Lipscomb “Anne as a usurper.”
Starkey = “Anne changes all the rules” but Henry is a failure without a son.
Mantel = Henry thinks of annulling his second marriage due to lack of consent.
Gregory – malformed foetus. Adultery, incest or witchcraft – Mantel disagrees, sees above as Catholic propaganda.
Mantel – Jane was Anne’s opposite.
Starkey – Jane was plain “she doesn’t really exist.”
Lipscomb – Henry didn’t want to annul his marriage, he saw Jane as a mistress.
Walker = Anne wasn’t like Katherine and was involved in politics – John Skip sermon “wonderful satirical sermon.”
Mantel – Cromwell was Henry’s first minister “clever as a bucket of snakes.” Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’”

The Legacy of Anne Boleyn, died 19th May 1536


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn still fascinates us today, possibly more than she did at the time of her death. But why? She was executed for adultery, incest and treason. Possibly our interest derives from Anne’s own assertion that she was innocent, or even the success of her daughter Elizabeth I in ruling England. For me personally, what is so interesting about Anne Boleyn is that she was almost a modern woman. She did not seem to believe in what many men in the sixteenth century were saying – namely that women were superior and had no place in politics, religion or society, except to have children.

There has been a lot of talk about how popular Anne Boleyn is. Some people have spoken against the interest in her. Judging by the popularity of both fiction and non-fiction works written about her this criticism seems misplaced. The likes of Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel and Jean Plaidy have revolutionised historical fiction as a genre, proving that it can be done well and relatively accurately, allowing for some historical license. Historians like Eric Ives, G.W. Bernard, Alison Weir and David Loades have brought general interest to the Tudors as a period, rather than merely a scholarly interest. This has been magnified by the success of the TV show The Tudors, although of course its accuracy is hotly debated. Continue reading “The Legacy of Anne Boleyn, died 19th May 1536”

Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Portrayals of Anne Boleyn in Portraits and Literature


Portrayals of Anne Boleyn

“I have never had better opinions of woman than I had of her” – Thomas Cranmer

Anne Boleyn was an unpopular Queen. As Eric Ives said, she was ‘perhaps a figure to be more admired than liked’.[i] She has been portrayed in many different ways: through plays, portraits, biographies written through religious eyes and through the eyes of the man who loved her, and killed her.

Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.
Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.

With Anne Boleyn living her life largely in the public spotlight, there was a ‘calculated distance between the public persona and the inner self’.[ii] This in itself poses a problem as Anne did not want to show weakness in the face of her enemies so it is unlikely that the surviving contemporary evidence portrayed who Anne Boleyn really was; it more likely shows the face that she wanted the public to see – the Queen rather than the woman.

Stephen Greenblatt expands on this idea and says that there was a widespread idea in sixteenth century England that the self could be fashioned, but that it was constrained due to family, state and religious implications; these imposed a rigid and disciplined order on society as a whole.[iii] In reference to Anne Boleyn, state implications were particularly important, but also religious implications, as Anne was widely known as having reformist tendencies. Greenblatt’s arguments will be examined in this chapter. Continue reading “Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Portrayals of Anne Boleyn in Portraits and Literature”

Tudor-Related Books


So I’ve put together a list of all of the Tudor and Wars of the Roses related books I want. The ones scored through are the ones I’ve already got or read. Any opinions on any of them, or are any of them better than others? Any opinions would be greatly appreciated as I don’t think it’s sensible to splurge and buy them all at once!

Ackroyd, Peter, ‘Foundation’ (2011)

Ackroyd, Peter, ‘London: the Biography’ (2001)

Ackroyd, Peter, ‘Tudors’ (2012)

'Anne Boleyn: Queen of Controversy' by Lacey Baldwin Smith (2013).
‘Anne Boleyn: Queen of Controversy’ by Lacey Baldwin Smith (2013).

Baldwin Smith, Lacey, ‘Anne Boleyn’ (2013)

Baldwin Smith, Lacey, ‘Catherine Howard’ (2010)

Baldwin Smith, Lacey, ‘Henry VIII’ (2012)

Baldwin Smith, Lacey, ‘Treason in Tudor England: Politics and Paranoia’ (2006)

Bernard, George W., ‘Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions’ (2010)

Bernard, George W., ‘The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church’ (2007) Continue reading “Tudor-Related Books”

Book Review – ‘Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions’ by G.W. Bernard


George Bernard's 'Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions', first published in 2010.
George Bernard’s ‘Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions’, first published in 2010.

Bernard, George W., Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), first published 2010, Paperback, ISBN: 978-0-300-17089-4

George W. Bernard is a scholar of Reformation England, but had written several articles on Anne Boleyn before publishing this, his first book on her. Here, Bernard delves into a lot more detail, looking at things like her religion and role in the break with Rome, and her fall. Bernard controversially argues that, contrary to most opinions, ‘Anne had indeed committed adultery with [Henry] Norris, probably with [Mark] Smeaton … and was then the victim of the most appalling bad luck’ (p. 192). Bernard seems to argue against most accepted arguments about Anne, including her fall and religion, which are the most controversial chapters.

The book is generally in chronological order, going through her early childhood to her relationship with Henry and the divorce, to Anne as Queen, to the evidence for her fall, and possible reasons, taking a break to delve into her religious sympathies. The title of the book is Fatal Attractions, a fiery title, adhering to how the book is aimed at a general readership rather than a scholarly audience. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions’ by G.W. Bernard”

Book Review – ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ by Eric Ives


'The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn' by Eric Ives, first published in 2004.
‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ by Eric Ives, first published in 2004.

Ives, Eric W., The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), first published 2004, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-4051-3463-7

Eric Ives’s book on Anne Boleyn is probably the most famous of the large volume of works on Henry VIII’s second wife. Ives attempts to uncover the truth behind the myth of Anne’s controversial life, making excellent use of contemporary sources and pulling apart the stories surrounding her to reveal that she ‘deserves to be a feminist icon, a woman … who broke through the glass ceiling by sheer character and initiative’ (p. xv). Ives’s argument is that Anne was essentially a modern woman in an early modern world, and that she managed to thrive in a male-dominated arena.

The book’s first twelve chapters’ deal with Anne’s life in largely chronological order, from her birth and childhood spent at the French court, up to her coronation in 1533. This section includes analysis of her romances with Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt, and her role in the fall of Cardinal Wolsey and the King’s ‘Great Matter’, controversial topics which have sparked much debate. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ by Eric Ives”

Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Anne Boleyn’s Romantic Entanglements


Anne Boleyn’s Romantic Entanglements

“The Scandal of Christendom” – Katherine of Aragon

Anne Boleyn’s romantic entanglements were controversial – Henry Percy, the future Earl of Northumberland, the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Henry VIII himself. The earlier two relationships ultimately affected her relationship with her future husband, the King, due to Henry’s suspicious nature. But ‘she touched their lives, as they did hers’ and each left lasting impressions on the other.[i] Essentially Anne’s public image was shaped by her romantic entanglements.

There is little surviving evidence of Anne Boleyn’s relationship with Henry Percy. There is still less from her relationship with Thomas Wyatt and we do not even know just how deeply Anne was involved with either of them. However, we can get a sense of Wyatt’s own feelings for Anne through his poetry, like Circa Regna Tonat and Whoso List to Hunt. Obviously, there is the most surviving evidence for Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII, as she rose to become royalty, though even this is lacking during their early courtship. Historians have interpreted what does survive in many different ways, affecting her public image according to their own bias. Continue reading “Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Anne Boleyn’s Romantic Entanglements”

Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Anne Boleyn’s Fall From Power


Anne Boleyn’s Fall From Power

“And thunder rolls about the throne” – Thomas Wyatt

Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.
Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.

Lacey Baldwin Smith said that ‘the closer the proximity to the crown, the greater the danger’, and this definitely proved true in the case of Anne Boleyn.[i] Anne was executed for adultery, incest and treason, ‘despising her marriage and entertaining malice against the King’.[ii] However, Henry VIII’s motives behind Anne’s execution remain unclear.

The reasons for Anne Boleyn’s fall from power can affect our view of her public image. Was her fall her own fault? Henry’s? Cromwell’s? These questions tend to be the focal point in the secondary literature, which questions, not only whose fault it was, but also the motives for bringing Anne down. Anne failed to give birth to a son and Henry had fallen in love with Jane Seymour. Did Cromwell see Anne as a threat so plotted to bring her down? Or was her fall the result of an accusation of misconduct by one of her ladies? All of these possible reasons will be discussed in this chapter. Continue reading “Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Anne Boleyn’s Fall From Power”

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