Anne Boleyn, the Second of King Henry VIII’s Wives
From 1533-36, Anne Boleyn was the Queen of England. She was the second of Henry VIII’s six wives. On May 19, 1536, she was executed in the Tower of London. She was the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry VIII had been disappointed by this, as he had wanted a son. Anne had three miscarriages, and by the end of it, Henry had already begun courting Jane Seymour. So, to marry Jane, Henry had Anne investigated for high treason and later arrested and sent to the Tower of London.
It is uncertain when Anne was born, but it is said to have been between 1501-07. Her father was Thomas Boleyn, and later on Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond. Lady Elizabeth Howard, his wife, was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Boleyn was one King henry VII’s favorites. The Boleyn siblings were born in Norfolk at their home in Blickling, but they grew up in Kent at Hever Castle. The reason her birthdate is unknown is due to lack of parish records. Many different historians have suggested different dates. It is also unknown as to when her siblings were born, but it is widely accepted and clear that Mary was older than Anne, historians having agreed she was probably born in 1499.
One key piece of evidence to her having been born around 1501 is a letter she wrote to her father in French in 1514. At the time, Anne was in Mechelen, the Burgundian Netherlands (now Belgium), to complete her educated. Historian Eric Ives argues that the letter was written in mature handwriting and that Anne was probably thirteen at the time. Retha Warnicke, however, argues that due to many spelling and grammar mistakes, the letter was written by a child.
Anne was invited to join Margaret of Austria’s schoolroom in 1513. She was taught arithmetic, grammar, history, reading, writing, and spelling along with her family’s genealogy. Anne was also taught more domestic skills like how to manage a household, dancing, embroidery, needlework, music, singing, and manners. Not only did she learn all of those things, but she also learned how to play cards, chess, and dice and archery, falconry, hunting, and horseback riding. Her early education was typical for a woman of her rank during her time.
Thomas Boleyn continued his diplomatic career under Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, as well. His charm won over many admirers. Margaret of Austria was so impressed by him, she offered Anne a place in her household. At the time, girls would have to be twelve to do this, but evidence suggests she may have been younger. Her manners and studiousness left a good impression in the Netherlands. Margaret said that the young Anne was well spoken and pleasant. She even wrote to Thomas Boleyn that Anne was such a pleasant and presentable young girl. Up until the spring of 1513, Anne stayed with Margaret. Her father had arranged for her to attend Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, as she prepared to marry Louis XII of France in late 1514.
So, Anne travelled to France to become a maid of honour to Queen Mary. She later on served Queen Claude, Mary’s fifteen year old stepdaughter. Anne stayed with Claude for almost seven years. There, she finished her French studies but also became interested in art, fashion, literature, music, poetry, illuminated manuscripts, and religious philosophy. Being in the French court, Anne also acquired knowledge and experience when it came to dance, etiquette, and flirtation and was familiarized with French culture.
It is said that Anne also met Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of King Francis I. She, in her own right, was an author of many works about elements of Christian mysticism and reform. Her works were even on the verge of hersey. But as the beloved sister of the king, her status was protected. Anne’s interest in reform may have came from Marguerite and her inner circle.
In 1521, Anne’s time in France came to an end when she was summoned back to England by her father. In January of 1522, she sailed from Calais, France to England.
Upon her return home, Anne was supposed to marry James Butler, her Irish cousin. butler was many years her senior and was living at the English court at the time. The marriage was an attempt to settle the title and estates of the Earldom of Ormond that was being caused by a dispute. But when The 7th Earl of Ormond died, Thomas boleyn believed that the title was his. King Henry feared this would lead to a civil war in Ireland, so he tried to resolve the dispute by arranging for James Butler to marry Anne Boleyn. in the end, the plan failed. Part of this reason is perhaps because Thomas hoped for a grander marriage. James Butler ended up marrying Lady Joan Fitzgerald.
Earlier, Anne’s sister Mary had married a minor noble, William Carey, in February of 1520. However, Mary became Henry VIII’s mistress not long after. Historians have argued over the father of Mary’s children, suggesting either one or both of her children were actually fathered by the king.
On March 4, 1522, Anne made her debut at the Château Vert (Green Castle) pageant plating “Perseverance”. Anne participated in an elaborate dance with Henry’s sister Mary, Anne’s sister Mary, and many other court ladies. All of them were dressed in white satin gowns with gold thread embroidery. Anne was quickly able to establish herself in court as one of the most stylish and accompanied women. It did not take long for many young men to compete for her hand in marriage. According to historian Retha Warnicke, Anne was “the perfect woman courtier… her carriage was graceful and her French clothes were pleasing and stylish; she danced with ease, had a pleasant singing voice, played the lute and several other instruments well, and spoke French fluently... A remarkable, intelligent, quick-witted young noblewoman… that first drew people into conversation with her and then amused and entertained them…”
Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland’s son, was courting Anne at the time. The two entered into a secret betrothal. But their betrothal was broken off because Henry Percy’s father refused to support them. Anne was apparently sent to her family’s estates in the countryside for a period of time. When she returned, she entered Catherine of Aragon’s service. Meanwhile, Percy had married Lady Mary Talbot.
Anne was also a friend of Sir Thomas Wyatt, a great Tudor poet. He married Elizabeth Cobham in 1520, but charged her with adultery in 1525 and broke off the marriage. Historians believe that Wyatt’s interest in Anne increased around this time.
King Henry first became enamoured with Anne in 1526. She was perhaps able to catch Henry’s eye with her skill of plating the courtly game of love. According to some, Anne tried to resist the king’s attempts on her and would not become his mistress. Not even a year later, Henry proposed to her, and she accepted. The two of them figured that within only a few months, Henry could obtain an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.Their courtship lasted for seven years, and there is no evidence that they had a sexual relationship until shortly before they were married.
Henry left court in 1528 when sweating sickness broke out in London and Anne returned to Hever Castle. She did, however, come in contact with the illness. It did not take her long to recover though, due to Henry sending his physician to care for her. Henry became even more infatuated with obtaining an annulment from Catherine. In 1521, Catherine was banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne. The public still supported Catherine though. Anne narrowly escaped when a group of angry women tried to seize her in autumn of 1531.
Anne played an important role in England’s international position shortly before her marriage to Henry. She was able to establish a relationship with Gilles de la Pommeraie, the French ambassador. In the winter of 1532, Anne and Henry met with the French king in Calais. There, Henry hoped to receive King Francis’s support for his marriage to Anne. Anne became even more wealthy when Henry granted her suo jure the Marquessate of Pembroke.
But Anne was not the only one who profited from the relationship with Henry, her family did too. Her father was Viscount Rochford at the time, but was made Earl of Wiltshire. James Butler was also made Earl of Ormond. Her sister, who had been recently widowed, also received an annual pension.
King Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony on November 14, 1532. Not long after, she was pregnant. The marriage was considered unlawful though, so they held a second wedding on January 25, 1533 to legalize the first one. Henry’s marriage to Catherine was declared null and void on May 23, 1533. Five days later, the marriage between him and Anne was declared valid.
On June 1, 1533, Anne was crowned queen consort of England at Westminster Abbey with a banquet to follow. Anne would be the last queen consort of England who was not crowned beside her husband. She, also unlike any other, was crowded with St. Edward’s Crown, used only to crown a monarch. Alice Hunt, a historian, suggests this was because Anne was already visibly pregnant at the time and they presumed the unborn child was the future male heir.
Anne settled into Greenwich Palace, her husband’s favorite residence, shortly after the coronation so she could prepare for the birth of her child. On September 7, 1533 in the late afternoon, Anne’s child was born slightly prematurely. The baby was a girl christened Elizabeth. The name most likely came from Anne’s mother Elizabeth Howard or Henry’s mother Elizabeth of York. Both parents had been expecting a son though. All of the royal physicians and astrologers had predicted a son, save for one.
Even though the birth of a daughter was a disappointment for them, their daughter was given an extravagant christening. Anne had begun to fear that her daughter’s position was threatened by Mary, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, who had been labeled a bastard and was stripped of her title. Henry tried to soothe his wife’s fears and separated Mary, sending her to Hatfield House. Elizabeth would live there as well, as the country air was believed to be better for the health of the baby. Anne was constantly visiting her daughter.
Anne also had a much larger staff than Catherine. Over 250 servants attended to her personal needs alone, including priests, stable boys, and more than 60 maids of honour. She presided over a large, extravagant court and spent lavish amounts on gowns, jewels, head-dresses, fans, riding equipment, furniture and more to display her status.
The couple were reasonably happy together. Her sharp intelligence along with political acumen and forward manners were, though desirable in a mistress, found unacceptable in a wife. Anne went through either a stillbirth or miscarriage around Christmas of 1534 and Henry began discussing possibly divorcing her. But the couple reconciled in the summer of 1535 and by that October, she was pregnant again.
As she failed to produce an heir, the public began to dislike her even less.
The King and Queen were overjoyed when the news of Catherine’s death reached them in January of 1536. They wore yellow, which was the symbol of joy and celebration in England, the next day. Catherine’s death was celebrated with many festivities. However, yellow was a color of mourning in Spain, Catherine’s home country, so it is thought they may have worn yellow in morning. Anne also tried to make peace with Catherine’s daughter, Mary. There had been many rumours going around that Catherine’s death could have been because either Anne or Henry poisoned her, so Mary was very much against a relationship with her. Catherine’s heart had been found blackened, and at the time, many believed this was due to poison. Modern medical experts have suggested that it was most likely cancer of the heart, which was, at the time, not understood.
Anne was also pregnant at the time. But she was worried that she would not give birth to a son. If she did not, she knew that there was a possibility that Henry would marry again after Catherine’s death. Henry had also began to court Jane Seymour, his next wife. He had given her a locket that held a portrait of himself and of Jane. Whenever in the presence of Anne, Jane was known to open and shut the locket, eventually leading to Anne forcefully ripping off the locket.
King Henry was later knocked unconscious for a few hours that month when he was unhorsed in a tournament. Anne believed that her worry over this led to her miscarriage, which occurred five days later. The miscarriage may also have been due to walking into a room one day and seeing Jane sitting on Henry’s lap. Anne had been so furious, she threw a fit of rage. The exact cause is unknown, but Anne did miscarry a baby on the same day Catherine of Aragon was buried.
There is speculation about Anne’s pregnancies. She may have had two stillborn children after Elizabeth was born and before the miscarriage of what was thought to be a son. But most sources say she only ever gave birth to Elizabeth and that she had a few miscarries later.
After Anne’s miscarriage, Henry declared that Anne had seduced him into a marriage by “sortilege”, which was a French term for “deception” or “spells”. Jane Seymour, his mistress, was quickly moved into royal quarters.
At the end of April, Mark Smeaton, a musician in Anne’s service, was arrested. Though he originally denied being Anne’s lover, he eventually confessed most likely due to torture or they promised him freedom. Henry Norris was arrested in May, though die to his position as an aristocrat, he could not be tortured. After many events, he denied his guilt for conspiracy. But what damaged him most was a conversation between him and Anne that had been overheard. Anne had accused him of coming to her chambers to pay court to her and not her lady-in-waiting. Sir Francis Weston, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and William Brenton were all arrested soon after on the same charges. Wyatt was released though. It was believed he was released because his family was friends with Cromwell. Sir Richard Page was also accused of having sexual relations with Anne, but there was no evidence to this, so he was acquitted. George Boleyn, Anne’s brother, was the last to be arrested for incest and treason.
Anne was taken to the Tower of London on May 2, 1536. She collapsed in the tower and demanded to know where her father and “swete broder” were. she also demanded to be told the charges against her.
Both Anne and George Boleyn were separately tried on May 15, 1836. Anne was accused of adultery, high treason, and incest. Adultery on the queen’s part was considered treason with the penalty being hanging and burning alive. Anne was also accused of treason for plotting the king’s death along with her “lovers”. The jury unanimously found Anne guilt. And on May 14, Anne’s marriage to Henry was declared null and void.
On May 17, 1536, George Boleyn, along with the other men who had been sentenced to death, were executed. According to the Constable of the Tower, William Kingston, Anne had been very happy and was ready for her life to end. Though her sentence was originally burning, Henry changed it to beheading. He had an expert swordsman from France come in to perform the execution instead of having her beheaded with a common axe.
Anne Boleyn was executed in the morning of May 19, 1536, a Friday. According to Eric Ives, historian and her biographer, Anne was executed on a scaffold that had been erected on the north side of the White Tower. Two female attendants accompanied her as she made her final walk to the scaffold from the Queen’s House. She was described as showing a “devilish spirit”, looking “as gay as if she was not going to die.” Before her execution, she made a small speech to the crowd. And with a single stroke, she was beheaded.
Anne was buried at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in an unmarked grave. During the nineteenth century while Queen Victoria ruled over England, Anne’s skeleton was found and identified around 1876.