The first was divorced, the second beheaded, the third died, the fourth divorced, the fifth beheaded, and the last survived (Fraser 1). These are the fates of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. All six were women who, by chance or by fate, were at one time married to King Henry VIII of England. Some people think that they know all about these women. In their opinions, Catherine of Aragon was a fanatically devout Catholic, Anne Boleyn was a witch, Jane Seymour was weak and docile, Anne of Cleves was so ugly it was painful to look at her, Catherine Howard was a two-timing temptress, and Catherine Parr was a matronly figure with bad luck in marriage. But they were so much more. These women were so complex and different that it is with heavy heart that this writer must at this time look into only one of the lives of the wives of Henry VIII.
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII. Historically, she is remembered as the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, the cause for England's split from the Catholic Church, and the formation of the Church of England. In legends, she is remembered as a witch who had a mole on her neck and six fingers on one hand, which she always covered up with long sleeves (Most Happy). In American pop culture, she looks remarkably like Natalie Portman and/or Natalie Dormer (Internet Movie Data Base). By all regards she was beheaded on the charges of adultery and witchcraft. But just who was Anne Boleyn, really? Though the most well-known thing about her is her infamous demise, Anne Boleyn was first a person, with a past and a childhood just like any other, even if it was one surrounded by wealth and splendor. She was educated in the most élite of finishing schools, grew up in one of the finest courts in Europe, and lived the ideal early life of an educated young lady in the Europe of the early 1500s.
Anne's life was full of controversy and mystery, and it is therefore fitting that there is controversy over something as simple as her birthday. Many say it was sometime in 1501 or 1502, but some historians argue it was as late as 1507 (Anne Boleyn). Her parents were Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, and Anne had two siblings: Mary and George. The order of their births are generally thought to be unknown, however one biographer says that first came Mary, then Anne, and lastly George (Starkey 258). This does seem to be the most likely of orders, but it is impossible to know for sure. Anne left her home at least a decade after her birth for the home of Archduchess Margaret, the daughter of Empress Maximilian, who ran a finishing school of sorts for the children of the élite in Europe (Starkey, 259). The year she left was around 1512 or 1513, and as biographer Antonia Fraser puts Anne at age twelve or thirteen, the minimum age for a "fille d'honneur", or maid of honor, the title of an unmarried girl sent to live at a court of some kind at the time, this writer is more inclined to believe that Anne's birth date was in 1501 or 1502. In Margaret's court, historians know that she learned French under the instruction of a tutor named Symonnet. Then, in 1514, Sir Thomas sent for his daughter so that she could serve as an attendant to the eighteen-year-old Princess Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and bride-to-be of the fifty-two-year-old King Louis XII of France, on her trip to and stay in France (Starkey 261-262 and Mary Tudor).
However, soon after her arrival in France, Louis XII died and Mary Tudor was left a young widow, though she soon ran off to marry her brother's friend Charles Brandon. Most of Princess Mary's attendants returned to their native England, however Anne and her sister Mary Boleyn were two of the ones that were two of the ones that stayed behind, attending the new French Queen Claude, wife of King Francis I (Mary Tudor). Claude had very little to teach Anne, as they were the same age. Despite this, it appears Anne learned a very valuable life lesson under Claude. One must understand that Francis treated his wife very badly. In 1520 Henry's ambassador in France wrote this to his king: "I assure you your Grace, you would have no little compassion if ye saw the poor creature with the charge she [Claude] beareth." It is viable, and very probable, that Anne witnessed this behavior and decided that she would never allow neither her future husband nor any other man to treat her in the same manner, possibly sparking her later hesitance and resistance to Henry VIII's advances (Starkey 262).
In the winter of 1521-1522 Anne returned to the English court (though it must be said that the French king himself complained to Sir Thomas that Anne should not leave) the ideal French lady; she could sing, dance, play the flute, and knew how to flirt like any native-born French noblewoman. One wrote of her large, dark eyes, "Such was their power, that many men were hers to command" (Starkey 263). Her natural-born status and her rather extensive training in the French court entitled her to a position at Court, and she was made a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, the first wife of Henry VIII, by the dawning of the new year. And she was not only a lady-in-waiting, but she also managed to find herself in a position at the center of the English court, a position she would not leave until her death (Starkey 266).
With her newfound position at Court came her entry into the marriage market. Her first betrothal was to James Butler, as suggested by her uncle Thomas Howard, to end a feud between James' father, Piers Butler, and Anne's own father, Thomas Boleyn, over a land dispute. The situation seemed ideal; however for an unknown reason the marriage contract fell through and Anne was once again on the look-out for a prospective husband (Starkey 267).
Anne's second suitor was one that actually felt attracted to Anne, and she to him. His name was Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, and he was an occupant of Thomas Wolsey's household. (Wolsey was a trusted advisor to Henry VIII.) The young couple entered into a betrothal of sorts, intending to marry at some point, but not having gone through the formal process as of then. Unfortunately for them, though, Percy had already been engaged to the Earl of Shrewsbury's daughter for many years by that point (Starkey 267).
However, Wolsey was quick to break up the relationship, on the orders of the King of England no less. When sharp words and attempts at persuading Percy to end things with Anne did not work, Wolsey called in someone who was a bit more suited for this sort of thing: Percy's father. Anne was single once more (Starkey 277).
By this point it is possible and very likely that Henry VIII was beginning to become attracted to the young Anne Boleyn. His actions certainly reflected those of a jealous man wanting a lady all to himself. But it is extremely unlikely that Henry wanted Anne for his wife. No, Henry would have wanted Anne for his next mistress as his previous mistress, who was actually Anne's sister Mary, had recently given birth to a son, and for Henry that usually signaled it was time to move on (Starkey 274). Do not think that the boy was necessarily Henry's, though. It could just as well have belonged to Mary's husband. To this day historians are not quite sure of the fatherhood of the child (Mary Boleyn). Whatever his intentions, we do know that Henry VIII was certainly starting to notice his former-mistress' sister.
By 1525, history makes it clear that Henry intended to make Anne his newest conquest. History also makes it clear that Anne was not giving in without a fight. And fight she did. For a year he gave gifts, made promises, pleaded, and wrote love letters to her. And she played him like a violin. Her refusal to give in turned his schoolboy crush into a full-out passionate love for her. In the very beginning of 1527, Anne gave Henry half of what he wanted: her heart and her love were his. But her body was her own and, she promised, would be his only if they married (Starkey 283).
May 17, 1527 was the date that the "King's Great Matter" began. The Great Matter became the international codename for Henry's want of a divorce (Starkey 210). The Europeans loved nothing more than a good scandal, and this was turning out to be the scandal of the century, so naturally it was spoken of all the time. But little did Europe know in 1527 that the Great Matter would span six years. And so it did. Six years passed before Henry was finally able to rid himself of Catherine (Katharine of Aragon).
In the end, it was actually Anne's pregnancy with Elizabeth, whom Henry and Anne were convinced was going to be a boy, that caused the split from the Catholic Church. Henry by that point was so desperate for a male heir, that he would stop at nothing to get it, including breaking the age-old tradition of England being a Catholic country. They couldn't very well risk an illegitimate pregnancy, especially if the child turned out to be a boy. So, Henry quickly formed the Church of England, and the couple were married in January of 1533, three months before Henry's marriage to Catherine was properly annulled. Anne was crowned queen in her coronation ceremony on June 1 of the same year, but there were no joyous cries coming from the common people as there had for Catherine's coronation. No, the people felt no love for Anne, and they never would as long as she lived. (Starkey 488)
Looking back we now know that Anne did not carry a male heir, but a girl they named Elizabeth, born on September 7, 1533. And, as she was a girl, in the King's eyes she was not good enough to rule England when he died.. However, as it was an easy birth and Elizabeth was born strong and healthy, Henry was confident that Anne would bear him a male heir to the throne of England (Starkey 508). He even named Elizabeth heir, instead of Anne's seventeen-year-old stepdaughter Mary. It is possible that she had a miscarriage in February of 1534, but historians are not positive. Either way, Anne was most certainly pregnant once more in April of the same year. But, in September, Anne suffered a miscarriage. The fetus was old enough for them to tell it was a boy. In June 1535 she announced she was pregnant once more. Again, she suffered a miscarriage in January of 1536 (Anne Boleyn). Anne's downfall had begun.
From that point on, it was clear that Anne was out of favor with the king, but no one expected him to go to measures as extreme as he did, not even her worst enemies. There were several routes Henry could have taken that would have spared Anne her life, but it would appear he wanted a completely clean slate (Catherine had died several months before) before marrying his third wife Jane Seymour (Anne Boleyn).
Anne was tried and found guilty on the charges of adultery, witchcraft, and incest, with her brother George. Although only one of her alleged suitors actually admitted to having an adulterous relationship, and even that was under torture, it was enough to damn them all to death by beheading. Anne, her brother George, and three more men died to pave the way for Henry's new relationship (Anne Boleyn).
Anne was beheaded on May 19, 1536, marking the end to her brief, but influential, reign as queen of England. Her daughter was two-and-a-half years old, and Henry remarried ten days later (Anne Boleyn).
Anne Boleyn rose from a lower class of noble families through the rankings of nobles until she was the highest ranking female in England. Though her reign was short and controversial, Anne Boleyn was without a doubt influential in England's history. She inspired the formation of the Church of England and bore Queen Elizabeth I, one of England's greatest rulers. She resisted the advances one of the most powerful men in Europe, a feat in itself, and lived to tell the tale, for however short a time. And to think, she did all of that with six fingers on one hand and a large mole on her neck.
Anne Boleyn. English History. 9 March, 2010. http :// englishhistory .net /tudor /monarchs /boleyn. html
Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy. Tudor History. 7 March 2010. http :// www. tudorhistory. org/ boleyn/
Fraser, Antonia. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
Katharine of Aragon. English History. 14 March 2010. http :// englishhistory .net /tudor /monarchs /aragon. html
Mary Boleyn. English History. 14 March 2010 http: // englishhistory .net /tudor /citizens /boleyn. html
Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. Tudor History. http :// tudorhistory .org/ people/ mary2/
The Other Boleyn Girl. Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB). 14 March 2010. http :// www .imdb .com /title /tt04 67200/
Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2003.
The Tudors. Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB). 14 March 2010. http :// www. imdb. com/ title/ tt0758 790/