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”

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