“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.
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”
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”
“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”
“And thunder rolls about the throne” – Thomas Wyatt
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”