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Anne Boleyn ( or ; 1501 or 1507 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of King Henry VIII, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the start of the English Reformation. The daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, Anne was of more noble birth than Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's later wife, but much less than her predecessor, Catherine of Aragon. She was educated in Europe, largely as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France. She returned to England in 1522.In 1525, Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne and began his pursuit of her. Anne resisted the King's attempts to seduce her and refused to become his mistress, as her sister, Mary Boleyn, had done. It soon became the one absorbing object of the King's desires to secure an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne. When it became clear that Pope Clement VII was unlikely to give Henry an annulment, the breaking of the power of the Roman Catholic Church in England began.

Archbishop of York and Cardinal, Thomas Wolsey, was dismissed from his archbishopric, allegedly at Anne Boleyn's instigation, and later the Boleyn family's chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury. The wedding between Henry and Anne took place on 25 January 1533. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine null and void. Five days later Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be good and valid. Soon after, the Pope launched sentences of excommunication against Henry and the Archbishop. As a result of this marriage and these excommunications, the first break between the Church of England and Rome took place and the Church of England was brought under the King's sole control.

Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533. Later that year, on 7 September, she gave birth to the future Elizabeth I of England. To Henry's displeasure, however, she failed to produce a male heir. Henry was not totally discouraged for he said he loved Elizabeth and that a son would surely follow. After 3 more miscarriages Henry was considerably more discouraged. By March 1536, he was paying court to Jane Seymour. In April and May 1536, Henry had Anne investigated for high treason: tried and found guilty, she was beheaded on 19 May. Historians view the charges against her, which included adultery and incest, as unconvincing. Following the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth, as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe. Over the centuries, she has inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works. As a result, she has retained her hold on the popular imagination. Anne has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had," since she provided the occasion for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, and declare his independence from Rome.

Early years (Birth–1522)

Anne was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, later first Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormonde (an earldom re-created for him as the maternal grandson of the 7th earl), and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Boleyn was a respected diplomat with a gift for languages; he was also a favourite of Henry VII, who sent him on many diplomatic missions abroad. A lack of parish records from the period has made it impossible to establish Anne's date of birth. Contemporary evidence is contradictory, with several dates having been put forward by various historians. An Italian, writing in 1600, suggested that she had been born in 1499, while Sir Thomas More's son-in-law, William Roper, suggested a much later date of 1512. However the most likely explanation of her birth was that it was sometime in 1501 or 1507. As with Anne herself, it is not known for certain when her two siblings were born, but it seems clear that her sister Mary was older than Anne. Mary’s children clearly believed their mother had been the elder sister. Most historians now agree that Mary was born in 1499. Mary's grandson claimed the Ormonde title in 1596 on the basis she was the elder daughter, which Elizabeth I accepted. Also, Mary was married first, and by custom, the eldest daughter would always be married off before the younger. Their brother George was born some time around 1504.

The academic debate about Anne's birthdate focuses on two key dates: 1501 and 1507. Eric Ives, a British historian and legal expert, advocates the 1501 date, while Retha Warnicke, an American scholar who has also written a biography of Anne, prefers 1507. The key piece of surviving written evidence is a letter Anne wrote sometime in 1514. She wrote it in French to her father, who was still living in England while Anne was completing her education in the Netherlands. Ives argues that the style of the letter and its mature handwriting prove that Anne must have been about thirteen at the time of its composition, while Warnicke argues that the numerous misspellings and grammar errors show that the letter was written by a child. In Ives' view, this would also be around the minimum age that a girl could be a Maid of Honour, as Anne was to the regent, Margaret of Austria. This is supported by claims by a chronicler from the late 16th century, who wrote that Anne was twenty when she returned from France. These findings are contested by Warnicke in several books and articles, but the evidence does not conclusively support either date.

Anne's great grandparents included a Lord Mayor of London, a Duke, an Earl, two aristocratic ladies and a Knight. One of them, Geoffrey Boleyn, had been a mercer and wool merchant before becoming Lord Mayor. The Boleyn family originally came from Blicklingmarker in Norfolk, fifteen miles north of Norwich. At the time of Anne’s birth, the Boleyn family was considered one of the most respected in the English aristocracy. Among her relatives, she numbered the Howards, one of the pre-eminent families in the land. She was certainly of more noble birth than either Jane Seymour or Catherine Parr, two of Henry VIII's later wives. The spelling of the Boleyn name was variable. Sometimes it was written as Bullen, hence the bulls' heads that formed part of her family arms. At the court of Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands, Anne is listed as Boullan. From there she signed the letter to her father as Anna de Boullan. She is also referred to as "Anna Bolina" (which is Latin); that name is in most portraits of her.

Netherlands and France

Late Elizabethan portrait of Anne Boleyn, possibly derived from a lost original of 1533–36.

Anne's father continued his diplomatic career under Henry VIII. In Europe, Thomas Boleyn's charm won many admirers, including Archduchess Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor. During this period, she ruled the Netherlands on her father's behalf and was so impressed with Boleyn that she offered his daughter Anne a place in her household. Ordinarily, a girl had to be twelve years old to have such an honour, but Anne may have been younger, as the Archduchess affectionately referred to her as "la pettite Boulain [sic]". Anne made a good impression in the Netherlands with her manners and studiousness, Margaret reported that she was well spoken and pleasant for her young age ("son josne eaige"). and told Sir Thomas Boleyn that his daughter was "so presentable and so pleasant, considering her youthful age, that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me, than you to me" (E.W. Ives, op.cit.). Anne stayed with Margaret from spring 1513 until her father arranged for her to attend Henry VIII's sister, Mary Tudor, for Mary's marriage to Louis XII of France in October 1514.

In France, Anne was a maid-of-honour to Queen Mary, and then to 15-year-old Queen Claude of France, with whom she stayed nearly seven years. In the Queen's household, she completed her study of French and developed interests in fashion and religious philosophy. She also acquired knowledge of French culture and etiquette. Though all knowledge about Anne's experiences in the French court are conjecture, even Eric Ives, in his latest edition of the definitive biography, conjectures that she was like to have made the acquaintance of King Francis's sister, Marguerite of Angouleme, a patron of humanists and reformers. Marguerite was also an author in her own right, and her works include elements of Christian mysticism and reform that, but for her protection as the French king's beloved sister, verged on heresy. She or her circle may have encouraged Anne's interest in reform, as well as in poetry and literature. Anne's education in France proved itself in later years, inspiring many new trends among the ladies and courtiers of England, and it may have been instrumental in pressing their King toward the culture-shattering contretemps with the Papacy itself. Eric Ives' latest version of his biography hypothesizes that Anne may have had evangelist conviction and a strong spiritual inner life. William Forrest, author of a contemporary poem about Catherine of Aragon, complimented Anne's "passing excellent" skill as a dancer. "Here", he wrote, "was [a] fresh young damsel, that could trip and go."

Anne exerted a powerful charm on those who met her, though opinions differed on her attractiveness. The Venetian diarist Marino Sanuto, who saw Anne when Henry VIII met Francis I of France at Calais in October 1532, described her as "not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised ... eyes, which are black and beautiful". Simon Grynée wrote to Martin Bucer in September 1531 that Anne was "young, good-looking, of a rather dark complexion". Lancelot de Carles called her "beautiful with an elegant figure", and a Venetian in Paris in 1528 also reported that she was said to be beautiful. The most influential description of Anne, but also the least reliable, was written by the Catholic propagandist and polemicist Nicholas Sanders in 1586, half a century after Anne's death: "Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair, and an oval face of a sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand six fingers (which historians now know to be false). There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness she wore a high dress covering her throat ... She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth". Sanders held Anne responsible for Henry VIII's rejection of the Catholic church, and writing fifty years after her death, was keen to demonize her. Sanders' description contributed to what biographer Eric Ives calls the "monster legend" of Anne Boleyn. Though his details were fictitious, they have formed the basis for references to Anne's appearance even in some modern textbooks.

Anne's experience in France made her a devout Christian in the new tradition of Renaissance humanism. While she would later hold the reformist position that the papacy was a corrupting influence on Christianity, her conservative tendencies could be seen in her devotion to the Virgin Mary. Anne's European education ended in 1521, when her father summoned her back to England. She sailed from Calaismarker in January 1522.

At the court of Henry VIII (1522–1533)

Anne was recalled to marry her Irish cousin, James Butler, a young man several years older than her and living at the English court, in an attempt to settle a dispute over the title and estates of the Earldom of Ormond. The 7th Earl of Ormond died in 1515, leaving his daughters, Margaret Boleyn and Anne St. Leger, as co-heiresses. In Irelandmarker, a remote cousin named Sir Piers Butler contested the will and claimed the Earldom himself. Sir Thomas Boleyn, being the son of the eldest daughter, felt the title belonged to him and protested to his brother-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk, who spoke to King Henry about the matter. Henry, fearful the dispute could be the spark to ignite civil war in Ireland, sought to resolve the matter by arranging an alliance between Piers's son, James, and Anne Boleyn. She would bring her Ormond inheritance as dowry and thus end the dispute. The plan ended in failure, perhaps because Sir Thomas hoped for a grander marriage for his daughter. Whatever the reason, the marriage negotiations came to a complete halt. James Butler later married Lady Joan FitzGerald, daughter of Thomas FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Desmond and Katherine Desmond.

Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's older sister, had earlier been recalled from France in late 1519, ostensibly for her affairs with the French king and his courtiers. She married William Carey, a minor noble, in February 1520, at Greenwich, with Henry VIII in attendance: soon after, Mary Boleyn became the English King's mistress. Historians dispute King Henry VIII's paternity of one or both of Mary Boleyn's children born during this marriage. Henry VIII: The King and His Court, by Alison Weir, questions the paternity of Henry Carey; Dr. G.W. Bernard (The King's Reformation) and Joanna Denny (Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen) argue that Henry VIII was their father. Henry did not acknowledge either child, as he did his son Henry Fitzroy, his illegitimate son by Elizabeth Blount, Lady Talboys.

Anne made her début at the Chateau Vert (Green Castle) pageant in honour of the imperial ambassadors on 4 March 1522, playing "Perseverance". There she took part in an elaborate dance accompanying Henry's younger sister Mary, several other ladies of the court, and her sister. All wore gowns of white satin embroidered with gold thread. She quickly established herself as one of the most stylish and accomplished women at the court, and soon a number of young men were competing for her.

The American historian Retha M. Warnicke writes that 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 musical 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. In short, her energy and vitality made her the center of attention in any social gathering."

During this time, Anne was courted by Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, and entered into a secret betrothal with the young man. Thomas Wolsey's gentleman usher, George Cavendish, maintained the two had not been lovers. It thus seems unlikely that their relationship was sexual. The romance was broken off when Percy's father refused to support their engagement. According to Cavendish, Anne was sent from court to her family’s countryside estates, but it is not known for how long. Upon her return to court, she again entered the service of Catherine of Aragon.

The distinguished courtier-poet Sir Thomas Wyatt grew up at Allington, an estate nearly adjoining the Boleyn family's Hever Castle. Wyatt was estranged from his own wife, and unverifiable romantic legends about Anne and him abound, particularly in the writings of Wyatt's grandson. There is conjecture that some of the most yearning poetry attributed to Wyatt was inspired by their relationship and that it is Anne whom he describes in the sonnet Whoso List to Hunt, as unobtainable, headstrong, and belonging to the King: "noli me tangere for Caesar's I am/And wild for to hold though I seem tame". In 1526, King Henry became enamoured with her and began his pursuit.

Anne resisted the King's attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress, often leaving court for the seclusion of Hever Castle. Within a year, he proposed marriage to her, and she accepted. Both assumed an annulment could be obtained within a matter of months. There is no evidence to suggest that they engaged in a sexual relationship until very shortly before their marriage if at all; in fact, Henry's love letters to Anne seem to prove that their love affair remained unconsummated for much of their seven year courtship. Suggestions that they were sexually active before this time are now largely regarded as part of the defamation campaign orchestrated to destroy Anne's reputation after her death.

Henry's annulment

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It is possible that the idea of annulment (not divorce as commonly assumed) had suggested itself to Henry much earlier than this and was motivated by his desire for an heir. Before Henry's father Henry VII ascended the throne, England was beset by civil warfare over rival claims to the crown and Henry wanted to avoid a similar uncertainty over the succession. He and Catherine had no living sons: all Catherine's children except Mary died in infancy. Catherine of Aragon had first come to England to be bride to Henry's brother Arthur who died soon after their marriage. Spain and England had, at that time, still wanted a union of their kingdoms, and, in 1509, Henry and Catherine were wed. But this marriage could not take place until the Pope had ruled about a controversial passage in one book of the Bible. That book, Leviticus, forbade the marriage of a man to his brother's widow. The Pope ruled, conveniently for the dynasties involved, that Leviticus didn't apply, and that was that. However, now, these many years and a new Pope later, Henry was re-thinking things. Prodded by his desire for an heir, and perhaps Anne herself, Henry decided that no Pope had a right to overrule a Biblical book. This meant that he had been but living in sin with Catherine of Aragon all these years, that his daughter Mary was a bastard, and that the new Pope (Clement VII) must admit the previous Pope's mistake and annul his marriage.

Anne saw an opportunity in Henry's infatuation and the convenient moral quandary. She determined that she would only yield to his embraces as his acknowledged queen. She began to take her place at his side in policy and in state, but not, at least not just yet, in his bed.

Various are the opinions of scholars and historians as to how deep was Anne's commitment to the Reformation, how much was she perhaps only personally ambitious, and how much she had to do with Henry's defiance of Papal power. There is anecdotal evidence that Anne brought to Henry's attention an heretical pamphlet, perhaps Tyndale's "The Obedience of the Christian Man" or one by Simon Fish called "Supplication for Beggars," which cried out to monarchs to rein in the evil excesses of the Catholic Church. If Cavendish is to be believed, Anne's outrage at Wolsey may have personalized whatever philosophical defiance she brought with her from France. Further, the most recent edition of Ives' biography admits that Anne may very well have had a personal spiritual awakening in her youth which spurred her on, not just as catalyst but expediter for Henry's Reformation.

In 1528, sweating sickness broke out with great severity. In London, the mortality rate was great and the court was dispersed. Henry left London, frequently changing his residence; Anne Boleyn retreated to Hever, but contracted the illness; her brother-in-law, William Carey, died. Henry sent his own physician to Hever Castlemarker to care for her, and shortly afterwards, she recovered. It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry's desires to secure an annulment from Catherine. Henry set his hopes upon a direct appeal to the Holy See, acting independently of Cardinal Wolsey, to whom he at first communicated nothing of his plans related to Anne. William Knight, the King's secretary, was sent to Pope Clement VII to sue for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine, on the grounds that the dispensing bull of Pope Julius II was obtained by false pretenses. Henry also petitioned, in the event of his becoming free, a dispensation to contract a new marriage with any woman even in the first degree of affinity, whether the affinity was contracted by lawful or unlawful connection. This clearly referred to Anne.

As the Pope was, at that time, prisoner of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, Knight had some difficulty obtaining access. In the end, he had to return with a conditional dispensation, which Wolsey insisted was technically insufficient. Henry had now no choice but to put his great matter into the hands of Wolsey, who did all he could to secure a decision in Henry's favour. Wolsey went so far as to convene an ecclesiastical court in England, with a special emissary from the Pope himself, to decide the matter. But the Pope never had empowered his deputy to make any decision. The Pope was still a veritable hostage of Charles V, and Charles V was the loyal nephew of Henry's queen, Catherine. The Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome, not in England. Convinced Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, Anne and Wolsey's many enemies ensured his dismissal from public office in 1529, when Henry finally agreed to his arrest on grounds of praemunire. Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, he might have been executed for treason. A year later, Queen Catherine was banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne.

Public support, however, remained with Queen Catherine. One evening in the autumn of 1531, Anne was dining at a manor house on the river Thames and was almost seized by a crowd of angry, hostile women. Anne just managed to escape by boat. Anne Boleyn often acted independently of her husband, able to grant petitions, receive diplomats, preside over patronage appointments and foreign policy. When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died in 1532, the Boleyn family chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, was appointed, with papal approval.

The breaking of the power of Rome in England proceeded little by little. In 1532 Thomas Cromwell brought before Parliament a number of acts including the Supplication against the Ordinaries and Submission of the Clergy, which recognised royal supremacy over the church. Following these acts, Thomas More resigned as Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister.


Anne Boleyn often acted independently of her future husband, able to grant petitions, receive diplomats, preside over patronage appointments and foreign policy. The ambassador from Milan wrote in 1531 that it was essential to have her approval if one wanted to influence the English government, a view corroborated by an earlier French ambassador, in 1529.

During this period, Anne Boleyn did indeed play an important role in England's international position by solidifying an alliance with France. She established an excellent rapport with the French ambassador, Gilles de la Pommeraie. Anne and Henry attended a meeting with the French king at Calais in winter 1532, in which Henry hoped to enlist the support of Francis I of France for his intended marriage. Henry endowed his future wife with an appropriate rank. On 1 September 1532, she was created Marquess of Pembroke, and became the most prestigious non-royal woman in the realm. The Pembroke title was significant for the Tudor family because Henry's great-uncle, Jasper Tudor, had held the title of Earl of Pembroke; and Henry performed the investiture himself.

Anne's family also profited from the relationship. Her father, already Viscount Rochford, was created Earl of Wiltshire. Henry also came to an arrangement with Anne’s Irish cousin and created him Earl of Ormond. At the magnificent banquet to celebrate her father's elevation, Anne took precedence over the Duchesses of Suffolk and Norfolk, seated in the place of honour beside the King which was usually occupied by the Queen. Thanks to Anne's intervention, her widowed sister Mary received an annual pension of £100, and Mary's son, Henry Carey, was educated at a prestigious Cistercian monastery.

The conference at Calais was something of a political triumph, but, although the French government gave implicit support for Henry's re-marriage and Francis I himself held private conference with Anne, the French King maintained alliances with the Pope which he could not explicitly defy. Soon after returning to Dovermarker, Henry and Anne married in a secret ceremony. She soon became pregnant and, as was the custom with royalty, there was a second wedding service, likewise shrouded in secrecy, which took place in London on 25 January 1533. Events now began to move at a quick pace. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer (who had been hastened, with the Pope's assent, into the position of Archbishop of Canterbury recently vacated by the convenient death of Warham) sat in judgment at a special court convened at Dunstable Priorymarker to rule on the validity of the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He thereupon declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine null and void. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be good and valid.

Queen of England (1533–1536)

[[File:Anne Boleyn Arms.svg|thumb|right|upright|Anne Boleyn's arms as queen consort]]

Catherine was formally stripped of her title as Queen and Anne was consequently crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533 in a magnificent ceremony at Westminster Abbeymarker with a sumptuous banquet afterwards. She was the last Queen Consort of England to be crowned separately from her husband. On the previous day, Anne had taken part in an elaborate procession through the streets of London seated in a litter of "white cloth of gold" that rested on two palfreys clothed to the ground in white damask, while the barons of the Cinque Ports held a canopy of cloth of gold over her head. In accordance with tradition, she wore white, and on her head a gold coronet beneath which her long dark hair hung down freely. The public's response to her appearance was lukewarm. Unlike any other queen consort, Anne was crowned with St. Edward's crown, which had previously been used to crown only a reigning monarch. Hunt suggests that this was done because Anne's pregnancy was visible by then and she was carrying the heir who was presumed to be male.

Meanwhile, the House of Commonsmarker had forbidden all appeals to Rome and exacted the penalties of praemunire against all who introduced papal bulls into England. It was only then that Pope Clement at last took the step of announcing a provisional sentence of excommunication against the King and Cranmer. He condemned the marriage to Anne, and in March 1534, he declared the marriage to Catherine legal and again ordered Henry to return to her. Henry now required his subjects to swear the oath attached to the First Succession Act, which effectively rejected papal authority in legal matters and recognised Anne Boleyn as queen. Those who refused, such as Sir Thomas More, who had resigned as Lord Chancellor, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, found themselves in the tower. In late 1534, parliament declared Henry "the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England". The Church of England was now under Henry’s control, not Rome's.

Struggle for a son

After her coronation, Anne settled into a quiet routine at the King's favorite residence, Greenwich Palacemarker, to prepare for the birth of her baby. The child was born slightly premature on 7 September 1533. Between three and four in the afternoon, Anne gave birth to a girl, who was christened Elizabeth, probably in honour of Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York.
Greenwich Palace, after a 17th-century drawing

The infant princess was given a splendid christening, but Anne feared that Catherine's daughter, Mary, now stripped of her title of princess and labelled a bastard, posed a threat to Elizabeth's position. Henry soothed his wife's fears by separating Mary from her many servants and sending her to Hatfield Housemarker, where Princess Elizabeth would be living with her own magnificent staff of servants, and where the country air was thought better for the baby's health. Anne frequently visited her daughter at Hatfield and other residences.

The new queen had a larger staff of servants than Catherine. There were over 250 servants to tend to her personal needs, everyone from priests to stable-boys. There were over 60 maids-of-honour who served her and accompanied her to social events. She also employed several priests who acted as her confessors, chaplains, and religious advisers. One of these was Matthew Parker, who would become one of the chief architects of Anglican thought during the reign of Anne's daughter Elizabeth I.

Strife with the king

The king and his new queen enjoyed a reasonably happy accord, with periods of calm and affection. Anne Boleyn's sharp intelligence, political acumen and forward manners, although desirable in a mistress, were unacceptable in a wife. She was once reported to have spoken to her uncle in words that "shouldn't be used to a dog". After a stillbirth or miscarriage as early as Christmas 1534, Henry was discussing with Cranmer and Cromwell the possibility of leaving Anne without having to return to Catherine. Nothing came of the issue as the royal couple reconciled and spent summer 1535 on progress. By October, she was again pregnant.

Anne Boleyn presided over a magnificent court. She spent lavish amounts of money on gowns, jewels, head-dresses, ostrich-feather fans, riding equipment, furniture and upholstery, maintaining the ostentatious display required by her status. Numerous palaces were renovated to suit her and Henry's extravagant tastes. Anne was blamed for the tyranny of her husband's government and was referred to by some of her subjects as "The king's whore" or a "naughty paike [prostitute]". Public opinion turned further against her following her failure to produce a son. It sank even lower after the executions of her enemies Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. However, with her arrest, trial and execution, public opinion in London and the continent shifted to sympathy, and disapproval of Henry's behaviour.

Downfall and execution (1536)

On 8 January 1536, news of Catherine of Aragon's death reached the King and Anne. Hearing of her death, they were overjoyed. The following day, Henry wore yellow from head to toe, and celebrated Catherine's death with festivities. Anne, for her part, attempted to make peace with Princess Mary.

The Queen, pregnant again, was aware of the dangers if she failed to give birth to a son. With Catherine dead, Henry would be free to marry without any taint of illegality. Mary rebuffed Anne's overtures, perhaps because of rumours circulating that Catherine had been poisoned by Anne and/or Henry. These began after the discovery during her embalming that her heart was blackened. Modern medical experts are in agreement that this was not the result of poisoning, but of cancer of the heart, something which was not understood at the time.

Later that month, the King was unhorsed in a tournament and knocked unconscious for two hours, a worrying incident that Anne believed led to her miscarriage five days later. On the day that Catherine of Aragon was buried at Peterborough Abbeymarker, Anne miscarried a baby which, according to the imperial ambassador Chapuys, she had borne for about three and a half months, and which "seemed to be a male child". For Chapuys, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage.

Given Henry's desperate desire for a son, the sequence of Anne's pregnancies has attracted much interest. Author Mike Ashley speculated that Anne had two stillborn children after Elizabeth's birth and before the birth of the male child she miscarried in 1536. Most sources attest only to the birth of Elizabeth in September 1533, a possible miscarriage in the summer of 1534, and the miscarriage of a male child, of almost four months gestation, in January 1536. As Anne recovered from her miscarriage, Henry declared that he had been seduced into the marriage by means of "sortilege"—a French term indicating either "deception" or "spells". His new mistress, Jane Seymour, was quickly moved into royal quarters. This was followed by Anne's brother being refused a prestigious court honour, the Order of the Garter, given instead to Sir Nicholas Carew.

There is relatively new evidence of a sermon by one of the preachers under Anne's influence which suggests that Anne's opposition to the ruthless tactics of Cromwell and Henry in the dissolution of the monasteries may have been the cause for their joint resolve to end her power. Both David Starkey, and, later, Eric Ives, in the new edition of his definitive biography, tell how the public sermons were often important means of propaganda and declarations of political opinions. Not long before her fall, they suggest, Anne had a sermon read which implied that Cromwell was the evil counselor in the Biblical story of Esther (with Anne implicit as Esther). It is possible that Anne's defiant stand against the plan to dissolve the monasteries for royal gain was what forced Cromwell (with or without Henry) to topple her from power.

Charges of adultery, incest, and treason

According to author and Tudor historian Allison Weir, Thomas Cromwell plotted Anne's downfall while feigning illness and detailing the plot 20 April-21st of 1536. Anne's biographer Eric Ives, among others, believes that her fall and execution were engineered by Thomas Cromwell. The conversations between Chapuys and Cromwell thereafter indicate Cromwell as the instigator of the plot to take Anne down, evidence of this is seen in the Spanish Chronicle and through letters written from Chapuys to Charles V. Anne differed with Cromwell over the redistribution of Church revenues and over foreign policy. She advocated that revenues be distributed to charitable and educational institutions; and she favoured a French alliance. Cromwell insisted on filling the King's depleted coffers, while taking a cut for himself, and preferred an imperial alliance. For these reasons, suggests Ives, "Anne Boleyn had become a major threat to Thomas Cromwell". Cromwell's biographer John Schofield, on the other hand, contends that no power struggle existed between Anne and Cromwell and that "not a trace can be found of a Cromwellian conspiracy against Anne ... Cromwell became involved in the royal marital drama only when Henry ordered him onto the case". Cromwell did not manufacture the accusations of adultery, though he and other officials used them to bolster Henry's case against Anne. Historian Retha Warnicke questions whether Cromwell could have manipulated the king in such a matter. Henry himself issued the crucial instructions: his officials, including Cromwell, carried them out. The result, historians agree, was a legal travesty. In order to do so, the Master Secretary Cromwell would need sufficient evidence that would be convincing enough for her conviction or risked his own offices and perhaps life.

Towards the end of April, a Flemish musician in Anne's service named Mark Smeaton was arrested, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. He initially denied being the Queen’s lover but later confessed. Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on May Day, but since he was an aristocrat, he could not be tortured. Sir Norris was treated on May Day prior to his arrest kindly by the King who offered him his own horse to use in the festivities. It was during the festivities that the King was notified of most likely Smeaton's confession and it was shortly thereafter the alleged conspirators were arrested upon order of the King. Norris was arrested at the festival. Norris denied his guilt and swore that Queen Anne was innocent. One of the most damaging pieces of evidence against Norris was his overheard conversation with Anne at the end of April, where she accused him of coming so often to her chambers not to pay court to her lady-in-waiting Madge Shelton but for herself. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days later on the same charge. William Brereton, a groom of the King's privy chamber, was also apprehended on grounds of adultery. The final accused was Queen Anne's own brother, arrested on charges of incest and treason, accused of having a sexual relationship with his sister. George Boleyn was accused of two incidents of incest: November, 1535 at Whitehall and the following month at Eltham.

On 2 May 1536, Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of Londonmarker. In the Tower, she collapsed, demanding to know the location of her father and "swete broder", as well as the charges against her. Four of the men were tried in Westminstermarker on 12 May 1536. Weston, Brereton, and Norris publicly maintained their innocence and only the tortured Smeaton supported the Crown by pleading guilty. Three days later, Anne and George Boleyn were tried separately in the Tower of London. She was accused of adultery, incest, and high treason. Adultery on the part of a queen was not a treasonable, civil offence necessitating execution: the accusations were designed to impugn her moral character. The treason was plotting, with her "lovers", the king's death, to ostensibly marry one of them afterwards—Henry Norris.

None of the dates of Anne's alleged encounters coincide with her whereabouts, and some were alleged to have occurred when she was heavily pregnant.

Final hours

Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death by their peers, who were under pressure to do so from the king himself. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536. Lord Kingston, the keeper of the Tower, reported Anne seemed very happy and ready to be done with life. The King commuted Anne's sentence from burning to beheading and employed a swordsman from St Omermarker for the execution, rather than having a queen beheaded with the common axe. They came for Anne on the morning of 19 May to take her to the Tower Greenmarker. Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, wrote:

Shortly before dawn, she called Kingston to hear mass with her, and swore in his presence, on the eternal damnation of her soul, upon the Holy Sacraments, that she had never been unfaithful to the king. She ritually repeated this oath both immediately before and after receiving the body and blood of Christ.

On the morning of Friday 19 May, Anne Boleyn was executed, not upon Tower Green, but rather, a scaffold erected on the north side of the White Tower, in front of what is now the Waterloo Barracks She wore a red petticoat under a loose, dark grey gown of damask trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine. Accompanied by two female attendants, Anne made her final walk from the Queen's House to Tower Green and she looked "as gay as if she was not going to die". Anne climbed the scaffold and made a short speech to the crowd:

This is one version of her speech, written by Lancelot de Carles in Paris, a few weeks following her death; he had been in London, but did not witness either trial or execution. All the accounts are similar, and undoubtedly correct to varying degrees. It is thought that she avoided explicitly criticizing the king to save her daughter and family from further repercussions, but even under such pressure did not confess guilt, rather implying her innocence, in her appeal to historians who "will meddle of my cause".

Death and burial

She then knelt upright, in the French style of executions. Her final prayer consisted of her repeating, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul." Her ladies removed her headdress and necklaces, and then tied a blindfold over her eyes. According to Eric W. Ives, her executioner was so taken by Anne that he was shaken, and found it difficult to proceed with the execution. In order to distract her, he shouted, "Where is my sword?" just before killing her so that Anne could die thinking she had a few seconds more to live.

The execution was swift and consisted of a single stroke. Cranmer, who was at Lambeth Palacemarker, was reported to have broken down in tears after telling Alexander Ales: "She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen in heaven." When the charges were first brought against Anne, Cranmer had expressed his astonishment to Henry and his belief that "she should not be culpable." Still, Cranmer felt vulnerable because of his closeness to the queen. On the night before the execution, he had declared Henry's marriage to Anne to have been void, like Catherine's before her. He made no serious attempt to save Anne's life, although some sources record that he had prepared her for death by hearing her last private confession of sins, in which she had stated her innocence before God. However, on the day of her death a Scottish friend found Cranmer weeping uncontrollably in his London gardens, saying that he was sure that Anne had now gone to Heaven.

Despite the effort put into Anne's execution, Henry failed to have organised any kind of funeral or even provide a proper coffin for her. Her body lay on the scaffold for sometime before a man (believed to be working inside the tower) found an empty arrow chest and placed her head and body inside. She was then buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vinculamarker. Her skeleton was identified during renovations of the chapel in the reign of Queen Victoria and Anne's resting place is now marked in the marble floor.

Recognition and legacy

After her death a number of myths sprang up about Anne. Many of these stories had their roots in anti-Anglican works written by Roman Catholics. Nicholas Sander, a Roman Catholic recusant born c. 1530, was committed to deposing Elizabeth I and re-establishing Roman Catholicism in England. In his De Origine ac Progressu schismatis Anglicani (The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism), published in 1585, he was the first to write that Anne had six fingers on her right hand. Since physical deformities were generally interpreted as a sign of evil, it is unlikely that Anne Boleyn would have gained Henry's romantic attention had she had any. Anne Boleyn was described by contemporaries as intelligent and gifted in musical arts and scholarly pursuits. She was also strong-willed and proud, and dared to quarrel with Henry. Biographer Eric Ives evaluates the apparent contradictions in Anne's persona:

A romanticised portrait of Anne Boleyn, painted in the century after her death

Upon exhumation in 1876, no abnormalities were discovered: her frame was described as delicate, approximately 5'3", with finely formed, tapering fingers. Elizabeth I certainly inherited her mother's frame, height, facial structure and hands. No contemporary portraits of Anne Boleyn have survived: the only likeness is a medal struck in 1534 to commemorate her second pregnancy; it is, however, severely damaged.

Following the coronation of her daughter as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe, who argued that Anne had saved England from the evils of Roman Catholicism and that God had provided proof of her innocence and virtue by making sure her daughter, Elizabeth I, later became Queen regnant. Over the centuries, Anne has inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works. As a result, she has remained in the popular memory and Anne has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had."

Myths and legends of Anne Boleyn

Many myths and legends about Anne Boleyn have survived over the centuries. One is that she was secretly buried in Salle Church in Norfolk under a black slab near the tombs of her Boleyn ancestors. Her body was said to have rested in an Essex church on its journey to Norfolk. Another is that her heart, at her request, was buried in Erwartonmarker (Arwarton) Church, Suffolk by her uncle Sir Philip Parker.

Anne's ghost has reportedly been sighted at Hever Castle, Blickling Hall, Salle Church and Marwell Hall. The most famous account of her reputed haunting has been documented in paranormal researcher Hans Holzer's book Ghosts I've Met. In 1864, one Major General J.D. Dundas of the 60th Rifles regiment was quartered in the Tower of London. As he was looking out the window of his quarters, he noticed a guard below in the courtyard, in front of the lodgings where Anne had been imprisoned, behaving strangely. He appeared to challenge something, which to the General, looked like a whitish, female figure sliding towards the soldier. The guard charged through the form with his bayonet, then fainted. Only the General's testimony and corroboration at the court-martial saved the guard from a lengthy prison sentence for having fainted while on duty. In 1960, Canon W. S. Pakenham-Walsh, vicar of Sulgravemarker, Northamptonshiremarker, published Tudor Story (ISBN 978-0-227-67678-3).


See also


127. MademoiselleBoleyn [6603]128. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn. Author: Allison Weir. ISBN 978-0-224-06319-7


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Further reading

  • Anne Boleyn, a Music Book, and the Northern Renaissance Courts: Music Manuscript 1070 of the Royal College of Music, London" Ph.D., Musicology, University of Maryland, 1997 ISBN 0-591-46653-8
  • The Politics of Marriage by David Loades (1994)

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