Anne Boleyn, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, was born in Bilickling Hall in about 1500. Anne was the second of three surviving children. Mary Boleyn was born in 1499 and her brother George Boleyn, in 1504. (1)
Sir Thomas was very ambitious for his two daughters. "Thomas Boleyn... wanted Mary and Anne to learn to move easily and gracefully in the highest circles and to acquire all the social graces, to speak fluent French, to dance and sing and play at least one instrument, to ride and be able to take part in the field sports which were such an all-absorbing passion with the upper classes, and to become familiar with the elaborate code of courtesy which governed every aspect of life at the top." (2)
In 1512 Sir Thomas Boleyn was sent on a diplomatic mission by Henry VIII to Brussels. During his trip he arranged for Mary Boleyn to work in the household of Margaret, Archduchess of Austria. (3) In 1514 Mary was one of the ladies-in-waiting who attended the king's sister Mary to France for her marriage to King Louis XII. She remained to serve Queen Mary and was joined by Anne. They were among the six young girls permitted to remain at the French court by the king after he dismissed all Mary's other English attendants.
After King Louis XII's death, his wife secretly married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, on 3rd March 1515. Mary stayed in France. There is some evidence that she had a sexual relationship with King Francis. He boasted of having "ridden her" and described her as "my hackney". A representative of Pope Leo X described her as "a very great infamous whore". (4) As her biographer, Jonathan Hughes, has pointed out, "she seems to have acquired a decidedly dubious reputation." (5)
Anne Boleyn also remained in France but she seems to have avoided the kind of behaviour indulged in by her sister. Members of the Royal Court observed that she learned "dignity and poise". According to the French poet, Lancelot de Carle, "she became so graceful that you would never have taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born." (6)
The historian, Antonia Fraser, has claimed that Anne was an impressive young woman: "Anne Boleyn demonstrated a particular brightness, sufficient to convince her father that here was a child worth backing - some kind of star, in terms of parental hopes. She was, for example, a very different character from her giddy sister Mary; far more intelligent and far more applied." (7)
At thirteen Anne became one of the Queen's maids of honour. There was great competition to become a maid of honour as it offered the opportunity of meeting members of the nobility. Parents hoped that this would eventually lead to a good marriage. As maid of honour, Anne entertained the Queen by playing musical instruments and singing songs. She was also expected to make polite conversation with important guests at the royal court.
Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon soon after he succeeded to the throne in 1509. After losing her first daughter in childbirth her first son died when he was only a few weeks old. Several more deliveries, including two boys, were to follow before the queen gave birth to a surviving child, a girl named Mary in February 1516. Henry told the Venetian ambassador that he and Catherine were both still young and that "if it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow." (8)
In 1521 Sir Thomas Boleyn arranged for Anne to be brought home because England and France were on the verge of war. Boleyn hoped that Anne would now become a maid of honour to Catherine. However, Anne had to wait until 1526 before being granted the post. Anne was a great success as a maid of honour. She was a good musician and a talented singer. She was also extremely intelligent and her time in the French court provided her with a great deal of interesting conversation.
Anne was according to contemporary sources not a conventional beauty. One member of Henry's court wrote that Anne was "not one of the handsomest women in the world" she had a "swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact had nothing but the king's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect". Her biographer, Eric William Ives, has claimed: "Her complexion was sallow and she was noted only for her magnificent dark hair, her expressive eyes, and her elegant neck.... The reason why she was such a sensation was not looks but personality and education. Having been brought up in the two leading courts in Europe she had a continental polish which was unique in the provincial court of Henry VIII. She could sing, play instruments, and dance and she led female fashion." One member of court claimed that "no one would ever have taken her to be English by her manners, but a native-born Frenchwoman". (9)
On 4th February 1520 Mary Boleyn married William Carey, a gentleman of the privy chamber. Henry VIII attended the wedding and over the next few years gave Carey several royal grants of land and money. (10) David Loades has pointed out: "Whether this was a marriage of convenience, arranged by the King to conceal an existing affair, or whether she only became his mistress after her marriage, is not clear." (11) In 1523 he named a new ship Mary Boleyn. This is believed that Henry did this to acknowledge Mary as his mistress. (12) Mary's father, Thomas Boleyn, was also rewarded by being elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford in 1525. (13) One historian has suggested that these "transactions might seem to turn Mary into the merest prostitute, with her husband and father as her pimps". (14)
In about 1522 Anne Boleyn developed a romantic attachment to Henry Percy, who was being educated in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. (15) George Cavendish also worked for Wolsey. According to Cavendish, Percy took advantage when Wolsey was away: "Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen's maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry." (16)
The problem for Henry Percy was that Anne Boleyn was not a heiress (her brother, George Boleyn, was going to inherit her father's modest wealth). Antonia Fraser points out: "Lord Percy was not the first, nor the last young man to become entangled with a poor young woman in such a situation. The propinquity of the various noble households, the close living conditions of the young people, meant that the education in courtly manners their parents expected them to receive was often accompanied by other kinds of more exciting instruction." (17)
Cavendish claims that it was on the orders of the King who brought their relationship to an end. Henry Percy was sent back home and Anne Boleyn was expelled from court. She was so angry that "she smoked" red-hot with rage. (18) According to Cavendish she vowed her revenge. "If it lay ever in her power she would work the Cardinal as much displeasure" as he had her. (19)
However, Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002), thinks there is another explanation: "A less romantic but more plausible explanation is that the Cardinal had simply acted to prevent two thoughtless young people from upsetting the plans of their elders and betters. Wolsey and the Earl of Northumberland between them had no difficulty in reducing Lord Percy to an apologetic pulp, but Anne showed her furious disappointment so plainly that she was sent home in disgrace. (20)
George Cavendish has argued that Henry VIII was "casting amorous eyes" in Anne Boleyn's direction as early as 1523. The historian, Alison Weir, suggests that this is likely to have been true: "Cavendish's information was probably correct; he he was an eyewitness of the events of the period who was often taken into Wolsey's confidence, and Wolsey, of course, knew nearly all his master's secrets and made it his business to learn about the private intrigues of the court." (21)
Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has suggested: "The Percy episode provides evidence that in her search for a husband Anne was willing to ignore... the accepted procedures for contracting an aristocratic marriage. The issue was not one of sexual improprieties but of improper actions that circumvented the normal channels for arranging a betrothal. By those standards, it was not Anne's choice that was at fault but the process by which he was chosen." (22)
Henry VIII seemed to find her very entertaining and was often seen dancing with her. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn." (23)
For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. (24) Henry wrote Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he told her: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets ... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you." Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: "I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter." (25)
Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? (2010) that refusing to become his mistress was part of Anne's strategy to become Henry's wife: "Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted." (26) Historians have suggested that Anne was trying to persuade Henry to marry her: "Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen... All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts." (27)
Mario Savorgnano, the Venetian ambassador, provides one of the few eyewitness accounts of Anne Boleyn: "Mistress Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world. She is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised and in fact has nothing but the king's great appetite - and her eyes which are black and beautiful." (28)
A more hostile account of Anne Boleyn comes from the Catholic writer, Nicholas Sander: "Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under her upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen (tumour or wart) under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. She was handsome to look at... She was the model and the mirror of those who were at court, for she was always well dressed, and every day made some change in the fashion of her garments." (29)
However, Sander was only about six-years-old when Anne died and his account is based on stories that he had heard. George Wyatt was the grandson of Thomas Wyatt, who was close to Anne. He was her first biographer, who compiled his work at the end of the sixteenth century from the reminiscences of his family and those who had known her, such as her former maid of honour, Anne Gainsford. (30) He dismisses Sander's claim that she had six fingers on her right hand. "There was found, indeed, upon the side of her nail, upon one of her fingers, some little show of a nail, which yet was so small... albeit in beauty she was to many inferior, but for behaviour, manners, attire and tongue she excelled them all... she was indeed a very wilful woman." (31)
The historian, Alison Plowden, after studying all the evidence, has pointed out: "Certainly Anne was not beautiful in any obvious sense. A brunette with a heavy mane of glossy black hair, a sallow skin and a rather flat-chested figure, her best feature seems to have been her large dark eyes.... She dressed well and had become a leader of fashion at Court. She was lively, sophisticated and accomplished - a charming and witty companion, well versed in the arts of pleasing.... It's never been easy to understand just what Henry saw in Anne Boleyn, or to define the secret of her undoubted fascination - probably it lay in that mysterious quality of sexual magnetism which defies an exact definition and has very little to do with physical beauty." (32) This was the view of Cardinal Jean du Bellay, who claimed that Henry VIII was infatuated with her and only God "could abate his madness". (33)
Only a couple of portraits of Anne Boleyn have survived. The most famous portrait of her is that in the National Portrait Gallery, a copy of a lost original, painted between 1533 and 1536. Some portraits said to be of Anne are of doubtful authenticity. This includes a sketch by Hans Holbein. As Alison Weir has pointed out: "The sitter wears an English gable hood of the 1530s, and has dark hair, large eyes, a long nose and full, sensual lips; her face is fuller than shown in authentic portraits, and her chin not so pointed... Yet is this Anne? Because the sitter is shown from a different angle, it is hard to tell." (34)
Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives, has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary (wife of one of the privy chamber staff, William Carey), who had just ceased to be the royal mistress. Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled.... However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife." (35)
Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. During negotiations the Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome. With the encouragement of Anne, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1529 he was dismissed from office. (36) Wolsey blamed Anne for his situation and he called her "the night Crow" who was always in a position to "caw into the king's private ear". (37) Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, Wolsey might have been executed for treason.
Anne Boleyn had strong opinions about religion. It has been suggested that her religious views were formed by her early years in France. According to her Chaplain, William Latymer, "she was very expert in the French tongue, exercising herself continually in the reading of the French Bible and other French books of like effect and conceived great pleasure in the same... she charged her chaplains to be furnished with all kinds of French books that reverently treated of the whole Scriptures." (38) Some of the books that she owned have survived, including her French Bible, translated by Louis de Berquin, who had been executed for heresy in 1529. (39)
Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989), suggests that she discussed these matters with Henry VIII. However, they disagreed about the need for an English translation of the Bible: "Although the king was willing to explore the possibility of translating the scriptures into English, he was reluctant to permit his subjects, even university scholars, to read heretical books". Boleyn appears to have had books by religious reformers, Simon Fish and William Tyndale. (40)
It is believed that Boleyn had read Fish's A Supplication for the Beggars. Fish argued that the clergy should spend their money in the relief of the poor and not amass it for monks to pray for souls. (41) Fish claimed that monks were "ravenous wolves" who had "debauched 100,000 women". He added that the monks were "the great scab" that would not allow the Bible to be published in "your mother tongue". (42) Boleyn is said to have urged Henry to reform the clergy by act of Parliament. (43) It is claimed by her biographer, Eric William Ives, she helped the careers of reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Shaxton and Matthew Parker. (44)
Anne's brother, George Boleyn, was often sent on diplomatic missions. (45) He used his diplomatic bag to smuggle religious books that were banned in France as well as England. "They were small, cheaply produced volumes, and were designed for concealment, not display. But, taking advantage of the immunity conferred by status and family connection, George had two turned into magnificent presentation manuscripts for his sister.... In both books, the texts and readings were in French, while the commentaries emphasize, in clear and vivid language, the need for a living Faith in Christ as opposed to the moribund practices of the orthodox Church." (46) Anne Boleyn's chaplain, William Latymer, also collected religious books for her from Europe. (47)
The religious reformer, William Tyndale, went into exile and in Cologne he translated the New Testament into English and it was printed by Protestant supporters in Worms. Tyndale arranged for these Bibles to be smuggled into England. Tyndale declared that he hoped to make every ploughboy as knowledgeable in Scripture as the most learned priest. The Bibles were often hidden in bales of straw. Most English people could not read or write, but some of them could, and they read it out aloud to their friends at secret Protestant meetings. They discovered that Catholic priests had taught them doctrines which were not in the Bible. During the next few years 18,000 copies of this bible were printed and smuggled into England. (48)
Jasper Ridley has argued that the Tyndale Bible created a revolution in religious belief: "The people who read Tyndale's Bible could discover that although Christ had appointed St Peter to be head of his Church, there was nothing in the Bible which said that the Bishops of Rome were St Peter's successors and that Peter's authority over the Church had passed to the Popes... The Bible stated that God had ordered the people not to worship graven images, the images and pictures of the saints, and the station of the cross, should not be placed in churches and along the highways... Since the days of Pope Gregory VII in the eleventh century the Catholic Church had enforced the rule that priests should not marry but should remain apart from the people as a special celibate caste... The Protestants, finding a text in the Bible that a bishop should be the husband of one wife, believed that all priests should be allowed to marry." (49)
John Foxe tells the story of how Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of London, arranged with Augustine Packingham, an English merchant who secretly supported Tyndale, to buy every copy of the translation's next edition. As a result, 6,000 copies were burnt of the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. (50) Thomas More targeted Tyndale's friends. Richard Bayfield, a monk accused of reading Tyndale's Bible, was one who died a graphically horrible death as described in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. More stamped on his ashes and cursed him." (51) John Frith, who had had helped Tyndale with his translation, was also captured by More and suffered a slow death at Smithfield. (52)
Anne Boleyn was a supporter of Tyndale's Bible and attempted to protect those involved in its distribution. She knew several people involved in this including Thomas Garret and Thomas Forman. Garret was the curate and Forman the rector of All Hallows Church, Honey Lane, London. When they were arrested Anne wrote to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey asking for them to be released. (53)
In 1528 Anne Boleyn read Obedience of a Christian Man. In the book he had argued that kings had authority over the church. According to Anne Gainsford it was taken away by Richard Sampson, the Dean of the Chapel Royal, as it was a banned book. (54) Boleyn claimed it was "the dearest book that ever dean or cardinal took away" and she eventually got it back. (55) She now passed the book to Henry VIII with "certain passages marked by her fingernail for his attention". Henry was impressed and commented that "by the help of the virtuous lady... his eyes were opened the see the truth" and pronounced it a book "for me and all kings to read". (56)
David Loades, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) is not convinced that Anne Boleyn was really a serious religious reformer. "With the benefit of hindsight, later Protestant chroniclers of these events represented Anne as a champion of the reformation... Her patronage of reforming preachers and writers can easily be substantiated, but whether this resulted from conviction or from the logic of her situation is less clear." Loades argues that Boleyn's main motivation for supporting the reformers was to use them to help remove Catherine of Aragon. (57)
Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) has argued: "The truth can never be known for sure. One can only say with certainty that Henry VIII made love to Anne - fully - some time before the end of 1532. All the rest is speculation. As to the act itself, was it a success after so many years? Once again we have no means of knowing... As has been suggested, matters had probably been going in that direction for some years, with Anne the sole focus of the King's lust, by whatever means she satisfied it." (58)
Rumours soon began circulating about Henry's plan to divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. It was reported by Cardinal Jean du Bellay in May 1529 that Catherine had the support of the majority of women living in England at the time. "If the matter were to be decided by women, he (Henry VIII) would lose the battle, for they did not fail to encourage the queen (Catherine of Aragon) at her entrance and departure by their cries, telling her to care for nothing, and other such words." (59)
Lodovico Falier reported to King Charles V on 24th November, 1531, that an attempt had been made to kill Anne Boleyn: "It is said that more than seven weeks ago a mob of from seven to eight thousand women of London went out of the town to seize Boleyn's daughter, the sweetheart of the king of England, who was supping at a villa on a river, the king not being with her; and having received notice of this, she escaped by crossing the river in a boat. The women had intended to kill her; and amongst the mob were many men, disguised as women. Nor has any great demonstration been made about this, because it was a thing done by women." (60)
The following year there was "a great riot and unlawful assembly of women" at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Sir Thomas Audley, a senior figure in Henry VIII's household was asked to investigate. He later reported that the women had apparently rioted to show their opposition to Anne Boleyn. Audley suggested that their protests were downplayed, because it was thought that the riot "could not have been held without the connivance of their husbands." (61)
George Cavendish, who was a member of Cardinal Wolsey's household later wrote that "the world began to be full of wonderful rumours not heard of before in this realm". This mainly concerned "the long hid and secret love between the king and Mistress Anne Boleyn" and this "began to break out into every man's ears". (62) The chronicler, Edward Hall, confirmed this and commented that there was growing hostility towards a "gentlewoman in the court called Anne Boleyn". (63)
During this period Jean du Bellay, the French ambassador, was an important source of information on senior figures in the government such as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. He enjoyed a good relationship with Henry VIII and they often went hunting together. (64) He also became close to Anne Boleyn and she gave him "numerous presents, including hunting clothes, and a hat, a special horn and a greyhound". (65)
According to his biographer, Robert Knecht, Jean du Bellay's main objective was to prevent Henry VIII from breaking with Rome. (66) Henry asked Du Bellay to help him to persuade Pope Clement VII to allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon. "Wolsey and the King appeared to desire very much that I should go over to France to get the opinions of learned men there on the Divorce." (67)
On 25th January, 1529, Jean du Bellay told King François that Cardinal Thomas Wolsey "is in grave difficulty, for the affair has gone so far that, if it do not take effect, the King his master will blame him for it, and terminally". Du Bellay also suggested that Anne Boleyn was plotting against Wolsey who was in dispute with Sir Thomas Cheney. He pointed out that Cheney "had given offence" to Wolsey "within the last few days, and, for that reason, had been expelled from the Court." However, "the young lady (Boleyn) has put Cheney in again." (68)
As David Starkey has pointed out: "Hitherto, whatever Anne may have thought about Wolsey in private, her public dealings with him had been correct, even warm. Now she had broken with him with deliberate, public ostentation. It can only have been because she had decided that his initiatives in Rome were doomed to failure... For the King, formally at least, was giving his full backing to his minister. Who would be proved right: the mistress or the minister? And where would that leave Henry?" (69)
Henry's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn was also causing him problems in Rome. As she was the sister of the woman who he wanted to marry. It was pointed out that "this placed him in exactly the same degree of affinity to Anne as he insisted that Catherine was to him". (70) However, when Henry discovered that Anne was pregnant, he realised he could not afford to wait for the Pope's permission. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead on 25th January, 1533. It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England.
Elizabeth was born on 7th September, 1533. Henry expected a son and selected the names of Edward and Henry. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne. (71) Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has pointed out: "As the king's only legitimate child, Elizabeth was, until the birth of a prince, his heir and was to be treated with all the respect that a female of her rank deserved. Regardless of her child's sex, the queen's safe delivery could still be used to argue that God had blessed the marriage. Everything that was proper was done to herald the infant's arrival." (72) Henry told Mario Savorgnano: "The Queen and I are both young, and if it is a girl this time, by God's grace boys will follow." (73)
Although Anne Boleyn visited her daughter, for most of the time she was cared for by a large staff. Lady Margaret Bryan was Lady Mistress, the governess with day-to-day control of the nursery. Lady Margaret had also cared for Princess Mary, Elizabeth's elder half-sister. Elizabeth's earliest portraits suggest that she resembled her father in the shape of her face and her auburn hair, but had inherited her mother's coal-black eyes. (74)
The 17-year old Mary was declared illegitimate, lost her rank and status as a princess and was exiled from Court. She was placed with Sir John Shelton and his wife, Lady Anne. It has been claimed that "Mary was bullied unmercifully by the Sheltons, humiliated, and was constantly afraid that she would be imprisoned or executed." (75) Alison Plowden has concluded that the treatment Mary received "turned a gentle, affectionate child into a bigoted, neurotic and bitterly unhappy woman." (76)
In March 1534 Pope Clement VII eventually made his decision. He announced that Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed an act that stated that Henry VIII was now the Head of the Church of England.
Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has attempted to explain why Queen Anne was so unpopular. "Although Anne had been crowned queen of England, many of the king's subjects continued to describe her as an adulteress. Numerous individuals, especially women, who felt personally threatened by her marriage to Henry because it was perceived as an assault on traditional family values, denounced the liaison of the royal couple. After they were wed, in fact, the protests seemed to have increased in number, for as long as the ex-queen was still living at least a part of the populace was more willing to accept Anne as the king's mistress than as his consort." (77)
Sharon L. Jansen, the author of Dangerous Talk and Strange Behaviour: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII (1996) argues that people found guilty of spreading these rumours were severely punished. "The possibility of the king's divorce disturbed his subjects deeply, and his choice of a new queen appalled many of them. Displays of royal power and authority could not stop people from saying what they thought. Nor, it seems, could the threat of legal action." (78) On 23rd August, 1532, it was reported that in London two women were beaten "naked from the waist upwards with rods and their ears nailed to the standard" for claiming that Catherine of Aragon "was the true queen of England". (79)
Nicholas Harpsfield, who was a strong opponent of Anne Boleyn, later commented: "Then was there nothing so common and frequent and so tossed in every man's mouth, in all talks and at all tables, in all taverns, alehouses, and barbers' shops, yea, and in pulpits too, as was this matter, some well liking and allowing the divorce, some others highly detesting the same." (80)
Eustace Chapuys reported that Henry VIII took Anne Boleyn on a tour of his kingdom but was forced to return as a result of the reaction of the people on his route. "The king was on his way to the northern counties where he intended to hunt ... when he suddenly changed his purpose and came back to town. The causes of his return are variously explained. Some say that for the last three or four days after he started on his journey, wherever he went accompanied by the lady, the people on the road so earnestly requested him to recall the queen, his wife, and the women especially so insulted the royal mistress, hooting and hissing on her passage, that he was actually obliged to retrace his steps." (81)
Thomas Cromwell suggested the main person responsible for spreading rumours against Anne Boleyn was Elizabeth Barton. According to Barton's biographer, Diane Watt, she had been making predictions about the future for over five years. "In the course of this period of sickness and delirium she began to demonstrate supernatural abilities, predicting the death of a child being nursed in a neighbouring bed. In the following weeks and months the condition from which she suffered, which may have been a form of epilepsy, manifested itself in seizures (both her body and her face became contorted), alternating with periods of paralysis. During her death-like trances she made various pronouncements on matters of religion, such as the seven deadly sins, the ten commandments, and the nature of heaven, hell, and purgatory. She spoke about the importance of the mass, pilgrimage, confession to priests, and prayer to the Virgin and the saints." (82)
One of Barton's followers, Edward Thwaites, pointed out: "Elizabeth Barton advanced, from the condition of a base servant to the estate of a glorious nun." Thwaites claimed a crowd of about 3,000 people attended one of the meetings where she told of her visions. (83) Other sources say it was 2,000 people. Sharon L. Jansen suggests: "In either case there was a sizable gathering at the chapel, indicating something of how quickly and widely reports of her visions had spread." (84)
Elizabeth Barton had meetings with senior figures including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More. She suggested that they should tell Henry VIII to burn English translations of the Bible and to remain loyal to the Pope. Elizabeth then warned the King that if he married Anne Boleyn he would die within a month and that within six months the people would be struck down by a great plague. He was disturbed by her prophesies and ordered that she be kept under observation. Archbishop Cranmer commented later that Henry put off his marriage to Anne because "of her visions". (85) William Tyndale, a leading religious reformer, was less convinced by her predictions and claimed that her visions were either feigned or the work of the devil. (86)
In October 1532 Henry VIII agreed to meet Elizabeth Barton. According to the official record of this meeting: "She (Elizabeth Barton) had knowledge by revelation from God that God was highly displeased with our said Sovereign Lord (Henry VIII)... and in case he desisted not from his proceedings in the said divorce and separation but pursued the same and married again, that then within one month after such marriage he should no longer be king of this realm, and in the reputation of Almighty God should not be king one day nor one hour, and that he should die a villain's death." (87)
During this period Edward Bocking produced a book detailing Barton's revelations. In 1533 a copy of Bocking's manuscript was made by Thomas Laurence of Canterbury, and 700 copies of the book were issued by the printer John Skot, who supplied 500 copies to Bocking. Thomas Cromwell discovered what was happening and ordered that all copies were seized and destroyed. This operation was successful and no copies of the book exists today. (88)
In the summer of 1533 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote to the prioress of St Sepulchre's Nunnery asking her to bring Elizabeth Barton to his manor at Otford. On 11th August she was questioned, but was released without charge. Thomas Cromwell then questioned her and, towards the end of September, Edward Bocking was arrested and his premises were searched. Bocking was accused of writing a book about Barton's predictions and having 500 copies published. (89) Father Hugh Rich was also taken into custody. In early November, following a full scale investigation, Barton was imprisoned in the Tower of London. (90)
Elizabeth Barton was examined by Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Hugh Latimer. During this period she had one final vision "in which God willed her, by his heavenly messenger, that she should say that she never had revelation of God". In December 1533, Cranmer reported "she confessed all, and uttered the very truth, which is this: that she never had visions in all her life, but all that ever she said was feigned of her own imagination, only to satisfy the minds of them the which resorted unto her, and to obtain worldly praise." (91)
Peter Ackroyd, the author of Tudors (2012) has suggested that Barton had been tortured: "It may be that she was put on the rack. In any case it was declared that she had confessed that all her visions and revelations had been impostures... It was then determined that the nun should be taken throughout the kingdom, and that she should in various places confess her fraudulence." (92) Barton secretly sent messages to her adherents that she had retracted only at the command of God, but when she was made to recant publicly, her supporters quickly began to lose faith in her. (93)
Eustace Chapuys, reported to King Charles V on 12th November, 1533, on the trial of Elizabeth Barton: "The king has assembled the principal judges and many prelates and nobles, who have been employed three days, from morning to night, to consult on the crimes and superstitions of the nun and her adherents; and at the end of this long consultation, which the world imagines is for a more important matter, the chancellor, at a public audience, where were people from almost all the counties of this kingdom, made an oration how that all the people of this kingdom were greatly obliged to God, who by His divine goodness had brought to light the damnable abuses and great wickedness of the said nun and of her accomplices, whom for the most part he would not name, who had wickedly conspired against God and religion, and indirectly against the king." (94)
A temporary platform and public seating was erected at St. Paul's Cross and on 23rd November, 1533, Elizabeth Barton made a full confession in front of a crowd of over 2,000 people. "I, Dame Elizabeth Barton, do confess that I, most miserable and wretched person, have been the original of all this mischief, and by my falsehood have grievously deceived all these persons here and many more, whereby I have most grievously offended Almighty God and my most noble sovereign, the King's Grace. Wherefore I humbly, and with heart most sorrowful, desire you to pray to Almighty God for my miserable sins and, ye that may do me good, to make supplication to my most noble sovereign for me for his gracious mercy and pardon." (95)
Over the next few weeks Elizabeth Barton repeated the confession in all the major towns in England. It was reported that Henry VIII did this because he feared that Barton's visions had the potential to cause the public to rebel against his rule: "She... will be taken through all the towns in the kingdom to make a similar representation, in order to efface the general impression of the nun's sanctity, because this people is peculiarly credulous and is easily moved to insurrection by prophecies, and in its present disposition is glad to hear any to the king's disadvantage." (96)
Parliament opened on 15th January 1534. A bill of attainder charging Elizabeth Barton, Edward Bocking, Henry Risby (warden of Greyfriars, Canterbury), Hugh Rich (warden of Richmond Priory), Henry Gold (parson of St Mary Aldermary) and two laymen, Edward Thwaites and Thomas Gold, with high treason, was introduced into the House of Lords on 21st February. It was passed by the House of Commons on 17th March. (97) They were all found guilty and sentenced to be executed on 20th April, 1534. They were "dragged through the streets from the Tower to Tyburn". (98)
On the scaffold Elizabeth Barton told the assembled crowd: "I have not been the cause of my own death, which most justly I have deserved, but also I am the cause of the death of all these persons which at this time here suffer. And yet, to say the truth, I am not so much to be blamed considering it was well known unto these learned men that I was a poor wench without learning - and therefore they might have easily perceived that the things that were done by me could not proceed in no such sort, but their capacities and learning could right well judge from whence they proceeded... But because the things which I feigned was profitable unto them, therefore they much praised me... and that it was the Holy Ghost and not I that did them. And then I, being puffed up with their praises, feel into a certain pride and foolish fantasy with myself." (99)
John Husee witnessed their deaths: "This day the Nun of Kent, with two Friars Observants, two monks, and one secular priest, were drawn from the Tower to Tyburn, and there hanged and headed. God, if it be his pleasure, have mercy on their souls. Also this day the most part of this City are sworn to the King and his legitimate issue by the Queen's Grace now had and hereafter to come, and so shall all the realm over be sworn in like manner." (100) The executions were clearly intended as a warning to those who opposed the king's policies and reforms. Elizabeth Barton's head was impaled on London Bridge, while the heads of her associates were placed on the gates of the city. (101)
In an attempt to gain support for Queen Anne, Henry VIII insisted on Parliament passing the 1534 Treason Act. The Act specified that all those were guilty of high treason who: “do maliciously wish, will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king's most royal person, the queen's or the heirs apparent, or to deprive them of any of their dignity, title or name of their royal estates, or slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown." (102)
Margery Cowpland of Henley-on-Thames was arrested in June, 1535, for describing King Henry as an "extortioner and knave" and Queen Anne as a "strong harlot" and a "strong whore". Richard Heath, warned her that he was the king's servant, to which she had replied, "The king's servant" was "the devil's turd". Cowpland was interviewed by Sir Walter Stoner who later reported to Thomas Cromwell that she was a "drunken woman, and as I perceive her she is somewhat straight out of her wits and her husband is out of his mind and hath been this twelve months and more."
Cowpland was sent to the jail at Wallingford. It is not known what happened to her but it is possible that she was released and not charged with treason. In the postscript in the letter to Cromwell his agent said: "I beseech you that I may know your pleasure for the said Margery Cowpland, for she is very aged and lacking wit, and also there is nobody to tend to her husband, which is mad as all her answers hath testified with her." (103)
In 1536 a proclamation was issued in support of the Treason Act. It attacked "devilish and slanderous persons" who were spreading "slanderous, false, and detestable rumours, tales, and lies". It called on all loyal subjects to "apprehend all and every such person and persons that they can prove to have bruited or set forth any forged false rumours, tales, and lies". The proclamation made it clear that punishment for those found guilty of the offence would be severe: "They shall not only bring upon themselves the vengeance and indignation of God, to the peril and damnation of their souls, but also give us just cause to proceed against such rebels with our most royal power and force, to the utter destruction of them, their wives, and children." (104)
Edward Hall has argued that women were especially responsible for these "slanderous, false, and detestable rumours, tales, and lies". According to Hall it was "the common people" who were "ignorant of the truth". He recorded that it was mainly women who favoured Catherine of Aragon and "spoke largely" against the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn. (105) Eustace Chapuys, reported to King Charles V in January, 1536, that Gertrude Courtenay, Countess of Devon, told him that Anne Boleyn had used witchcraft to "ensnare" the king. (106)
In August 1536 the mayor of York called on the "king's justices of peace" to investigate "diverse misdemeanors lately committed" in the city at night. These people had broken the 1534 Treason Act as they had posted a series of "bills" that encouraged "debate, dissension and variance". These posters criticized the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn. Eventually a woman named Elizabeth Abney was arrested. Her husband, Thomas Abney, confessed that he had been involved in this venture but his wife's "malicious mind devised the several slanders contained in the bills".
Elizabeth and Thomas Abney were both found guilty of publishing material "whereof murder, variance, strife, and debate was very likely to ensue among all the commonalty of the said city". They were treated much more leniently than most people found guilty of this offence. Elizabeth and Thomas were sentenced to sitting backward on a horse, with a paper set on her head and another in her hands that read, "For setting up of slanderous bills and willful perjury, thus to be punished deserved have I." They would be led from the prison and paraded throughout the city and then banished. (107)
A group of people based in Norfolk were convicted on 25th May, 1537, of treason and sentenced to be hanging, drawing, beheading, and quartering. It was claimed that they were active in and around Walsingham. Their crimes included spreading rumours about Anne Boleyn. Over the next few days Nigel Mileham, the sub-prior of Walsingham Priory, John Semble, a mason, Ralph Rogerson, a farmer, William Guisborough, a merchant, George Guisborough, a yeoman peasant, Thomas Howse, a husbandman, Thomas Manne, a carpenter, Andrew Pax, a parish clerk, John Pecock, a friar, John Sellers, a tailor and Richard Henley, a plumber, were executed. (108) Richard Southwell reported to Thomas Cromwell that all the men confessed to the crime. "So lying on the hurdles, both by the way and at the place of execution, they exhorted the people, who by reason of Trinity Fair that day, were very numerous to take example by them." (109)
Southwell continued with his investigation and on 28th May he was given evidence that a woman named Elizabeth Wood of Aylsham, was involved in this conspiracy. John Bettes and Thomas Oakes claimed that "Elizabeth Wood, the wife of Robert Wood of Aylsham" had said "certain traitorous words". They told Southwell that Wood had visited a shop owned by John Dix and had expressed support for the men found guilty of treason in Walsingham. She was, they said, "resting upon the shop windows of John Dix" when she spoke about these matters. Apparently she said "it was a pity that these Walsingham men were discovered, for we shall have never good world till" Henry VIII is removed "for we had never good world since this king reigned". Wood was found guilty of treason on 26th July and executed soon afterwards. (110)
Catherine of Aragon died on 7th January, 1536. Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V: "The King dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot, with the single exception of a white feather in his cap. His bastard daughter Elizabeth was triumphantly taken to church to the sounds of trumpets and with great display. Then, after dinner, the King went to the Hall where the Ladies were dancing, and there made great demonstrations of joy, and at last went to his own apartments, took the little bastard in his arms, and began to show her first to one, then to another, and did the same on the following days." (111)
Unfortunately for Anne Boleyn she fell out with one of her main supporters, Thomas Cromwell. As Eric William Ives has pointed out: "The fundamental reason for this was disagreement over the assets of the monasteries: Anne's support for the redeployment of monastic resources directly contradicted Cromwell's intention to put the proceeds of the dissolution into the king's coffers. The bill dissolving the smaller monasteries had passed both houses of parliament in mid-March, but before the royal assent was given Anne launched her chaplains on a dramatic preaching campaign to modify royal policy.... Cromwell was pilloried before the whole council as an evil and greedy royal adviser from the Old Testament, and specifically identified as the queen's enemy. Nor could the minister shrug off this declaration of war, even though, in spite of Anne's efforts, the dissolution act became law." (112)
Henry VIII continued to try to produce a male heir. Anne Boleyn had two miscarriages and was pregnant again when she discovered Jane Seymour sitting on her husband's lap. Anne "burst into furious denunciation; the rage brought on a premature labour and was delivered of a dead boy" in late January or early February, 1536. (113) What is more, the baby was badly deformed. (114) This was a serious matter because in Tudor times Christians believed that a deformed child was God's way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry feared that people might think that the Pope Clement VII was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Catherine and married Anne.
Henry now approached Thomas Cromwell about how he could get out of his marriage with Anne. Cromwell decided to take this opportunity to remove the influence of Anne and her friends. Cromwell's biographer, Howard Leithead, has pointed out: "Anne Boleyn was well known for conducting herself with her courtiers in an informal and flirtatious manner, and Cromwell calculated that he could twist the language of courtly love to support an accusation of adultery." (115)
Cromwell suggested that one solution to this problem was to claim that he was not the father of this deformed child. On the king's instruction Cromwell was ordered to find out the name of the man who was the true father of the dead child. Philippa Jones has pointed out: "Cromwell was careful that the charge should stipulate that Anne Boleyn had only been unfaithful to the King after the Princess Elizabeth's birth in 1533. Henry wanted Elizabeth to be acknowledged as his daughter, but at the same time he wanted her removed from any future claim to the succession." (116)
In April 1536, a Flemish musician in Anne's service named Mark Smeaton was arrested. He initially denied being the Queen's lover but later confessed, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. (117) Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on 1st May. Sir Francis Weston was taken into custody two days later on the same charge, as was William Brereton, a Groom of the King's Privy Chamber. (118)
Anne was arrested and was taken to the Tower of London on 2nd May, 1536. Thomas Cromwell took this opportunity to destroy her brother, George Boleyn. He had always been close to his sister and in the circumstances it was not difficult to suggest to Henry that an incestuous relationship had existed. George was arrested on 2nd May, 1536, and taken to the Tower of London. David Loades has argued: "Both self control and a sense of proportion seem to have been completely abandoned, and for the time being Henry would believe any evil that he was told, however farfetched." (119)
On 12th May, Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, as High Steward of England, presided over the trial of Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton at Westminster Hall. (120) Except for Smeaton they all pleaded not guilty to all charges. Thomas Cromwell made sure that a reliable jury was empanelled, consisting almost entirely of known enemies of the Boleyns. "These were not difficult to find, and they were all substantial men, with much to gain or lose by their behaviour in such a conspicuous theatre". (121)
Few details survive of the proceedings. Witnesses were called and several spoke of Anne Boleyn's alleged sexual activity. One witness said that there was "never such a whore in the realm". The evidence for the prosecution was very weak, but "Cromwell managed to contrive a case based on Mark Smeaton's questionable confession, a great deal of circumstantial evidence, and some very salacious details about what Anne had allegedly got up to with her brother." (122) At the end of the trial the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the four men were condemned by Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley to be drawn, hanged, castrated and quartered. Eustace Chapuys claimed that Brereton was "condemned on a presumption, not by proof or valid confession, and without any witnesses." (123)
George and Anne Boleyn were tried two days later in the Great Hall of the Tower. In Anne's case the verdict already pronounced against her accomplices made the outcome inevitable. She was charged, not only with a whole list of adulterous relationships going back to the autumn of 1533, but also with poisoning Catherine of Aragon, "afflicting Henry with actual bodily harm, and conspiring his death." (124)
George Boleyn was charged with having sexual relations with his sister at Westminster on 5th November 1535. However, records show she was with Henry on that day in Windsor Castle. George Boleyn was also accused of being the father of the deformed child born in late January or early February, 1536. (125) This was a serious matter because in Tudor times Christians believed that a deformed child was God's way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry VIII feared that people might think that the Pope Clement VII was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Catherine and married Anne. (126)
Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V that Anne Boleyn "was principally charged with... having cohabited with her brother and other accomplices; that there was a promise between her and Norris to marry after the King's death, which it thus appeared they hoped for... and that she had poisoned Catherine and intrigued to do the same to Mary... These things, she totally denied, and gave a plausible answer to each." She admitted to giving presents to Francis Weston but this was not an unusual gesture on her part. (127) It is claimed that Thomas Cranmer told Alexander Ales that he was convinced that Anne Boleyn was innocent of all charges. (128)
George and Anne Boleyn were both found guilty of all charges. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, who presided over the trial left it to the King to decide whether Anne should be beheaded or burned alive. Between sentence and execution, neither admitted guilt. Anne declared herself ready to die because she had unwittingly incurred the King's displeasure, but grieved, as Eustace Chapuys reported, for the innocent men who were also to die on her account." (129)
On 17th May, 1536, George Boleyn and the other four condemned men were executed on Tower Hill, their sentences commuted from being hung, drawn and quartered. Boleyn exercised the condemned man's privilege of addressing the large crowd which always gathered for public executions. "Masters all, I am come hither not to preach and make a sermon but to die, as the law hath found me, and to the law I submit me."
On 18th May, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer sat as judge at Lambeth Palace to try Henry's petition for divorce against Anne Boleyn. Cranmer had the problem of finding a reason for reversing his decision of three years earlier that Henry's marriage to Anne had been valid. There were two possible grounds for invalidating it: the existence of a precontract between Anne and Henry Percy, and the fact that Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn, had been Henry's mistress. Percy denied that there had been a pre-contract. Henry VIII did not want the public to know he had an affair with Mary, so Cranmer tried the case in private and granted the divorce without publicly announcing the reason for his decision. (130) According to the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, the grounds for the annulment included the king's previous relationship with Mary Boleyn. However, this information has never been confirmed. (131)
Anne went to the scaffold at Tower Green on 19th May, 1536. The Lieutenant of the Tower reported her as alternately weeping and laughing. The Lieutenant assured her she would feel no pain, and she accepted his assurance. "I have a little neck," she said, and putting her hand round it, she shrieked with laughter. The "hangman of Calais" had been brought from France at a cost of £24 since he was a expert with a sword. This was a favour to the victim since a sword was usually more efficient than "an axe that could sometimes mean a hideously long-drawn-out affair." (132)
Anne Boleyn's last words were: "Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the King, and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and sovereign Lord.... And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me." (133)
When her mother was executed Elizabeth was only three years old. Patrick Collinson has argued: "Elizabeth can have had few memories of her mother... There is no profit in speculating about the psychological damage which Anne's terrible end might have had on her daughter, although many of Elizabeth's biographers have found significance in the fact that she never in adult life invoked or otherwise referred to her mother." (134)
When it chanced the Lord Cardinal at any time to repair to the Court, the Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen's maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry.
Henry Lord Percy was the heir to great estates and an ancient name: his father was that northern magnate known as "Henry the Magnificent", the 5th Earl of Northumberland. There had been talk of a betrothal when he was about fourteen to Lady Mary Talbot, the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but those negotiations had apparently fallen through. As was often the custom with such young lordings, he was currently being educated in the south, in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. Lord Percy was now about twenty.
His dangerous love affair with Anne Boleyn took place against the background of the Queen's household where he found the "fresh young damsel" in waiting. The danger at this point of course lay in the fact that Lord Percy was one of the most eligible partis in England, who could be expected to make a most profitable match, whereas Anne Boleyn (with a brother to inherit her father's modest wealth) was no kind of heiress. Lord Percy was not the first, nor the last young man to become entangled with a poor young woman in such a situation. The propinquity of the various noble households, the close living conditions of the young people, meant that the education in courtly manners their parents expected them to receive was often accompanied by other kinds of more exciting instruction.
According to Cavendish, Percy began by going to the Queen's chamber "for his recreation" and ended by being deeply enamoured of Anne, an affection which she returned. "There grew such a secret love between them that at length they were ensured together" (that is to say, they were bound together by a promise of marriage or a precontract). Again according to Cavendish, Cardinal Wolsey put an end to the romance - hence Anne Boleyn's subsequent hatred of him - at the request of the King (whose motive was said to be his own predatory intentions in that direction).
Lord Percy put up a spirited defence of his choice, mentioning Anne's "noble parentage" and royal descent, while contending in any case that he was free to make his vows "whereas my fancy served me best". Lastly, he mentioned that "in this matter I have gone so far before many worthy witnesses that I know not how to avoid myself nor to discharge my Conscience". Nevertheless Lord Northumberland was sent for. A secret conclave took place with the Cardinal, at the end of which the Cardinal called for "a cup of wine". Lord Percy received a furious parental lecture, the match with Lady Mary Talbot was resurrected in 1522, and in early 1524 he duly married her.
Anne Boleyn... inadvertently ensnared the unfortunate Henry Percy into a genuine infatuation. Percy, who was the son and heir to the Earl of Northumberland, was living in Wolsey's household at the time (between 1522 and 1524), and was rather a gauche young man. He was also contracted to marry Mary Talbot, the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. The affair caused something of a scandal, and the removal of the unfortunate young man in disgrace.
Henry's reactions to her (Anne Boleyn) are easy to guess. With his penchant for youth, he could not fail to be fascinated by the black-haired, volatile, outspoken girl, with a temper as proud and independent as his own. Her long black eyes beckoned and laughed at him, her wit flashed and tantalized, leaving him, thirty and a King, floundering in pursuit.
Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets ... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you.
I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter.
If only I was in your arms... for I think it is a long time since I kissed you. Written after the killing of a hart... with God's grace tomorrow I might kill another, by the hand which I trust shortly shall be yours.
When she first appeared at court she was about 21 years old, lithe, ivory-skinned, not a conventional beauty but vital and polished, glowing. Her father Thomas Boleyn was an experienced diplomat, and Anne had spent her teenage years at the French court. Even now, Englishwomen envy the way a Frenchwoman presents herself: that chic self-possession that is so hard to define or imitate. Anne had brought home an alluring strangeness: we imagine her as sleek, knowing, self-controlled. There is no evidence of an immediate attraction between Henry and the new arrival. But if, when she danced in that first masque, she raised her eyes to the king, what did she see? Not the obese, diseased figure of later years, but a man 6' 3" in height, trim-waisted, broad-chested, in his athletic prime: pious, learned, the pattern of courtesy, as accomplished a musician as he was a jouster. She saw all this but above all, she saw a married man...
We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life.
But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn. She would not go to bed with him, even though he wrote her love letters in his own effortful hand. He drew a heart and wrote his initials and hers, carving them into the paper like a moody adolescent. In time favours were granted. She allowed him to kiss her breasts. Her "pretty duckies", he called them. She had made the man a fool.
This, at least, was the view of most of Europe. No one dreamed that Henry would put aside a princess of Spain for the daughter of a mere gentleman. Nor could the English aristocracy credit what was happening. Long after the break with Rome, they remained revolted by Boleyn pretensions and loyal to Katherine and the pope. Anne did have the backing of a powerful kinsman, the Duke of Norfolk; her father had been lucky enough to marry into the powerful Howard clan. But for some years, the situation was deadlocked. There were two queens, the official one and the unofficial one: the king was sleeping with neither. Wolsey had been fortune's favourite, but failure to obtain the divorce cost him his career. He was exiled from court; though he died a natural death, it was under the shadow of the axe. Anne moved into his London palace. Still she kept Henry at a distance. She was, and is, credited with serpentine sexual wiles, as well as a vindictive streak that ruined anyone who crossed her. The truth may be more prosaic. Henry had decided at some point that Anne was the woman who would give him a healthy son. He wanted that son to be born in wedlock. It may have been he who insisted on self-control, and Anne who simmered and fretted.
Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen. It is true that the final stages of Katherine's divorce had to be hurried because Anne was already pregnant; but by then the king had gone too far with his divorce proceedings to draw back; and in any case he was not going to throw away the chance of a legitimate male heir. Henry's passion was genuine enough but it was strangely mixed with political calculation and with the qualms of a tormented, if elastic, conscience.
Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted.
As the years passed and the prospect of Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon became more real, Anne began to hint that she might be persuaded to take that "final step" and give Henry the physical relationship that he craved above all else.
It's never been easy to understand just what Henry saw in Anne Boleyn, or to define the secret of her undoubted fascination - probably it lay in that mysterious quality of sexual magnetism which defies an exact definition and has very little to do with physical beauty. Certainly Anne was not beautiful in any obvious sense. A brunette with a heavy mane of glossy black hair, a sallow skin and a rather flat-chested figure, her best feature seems to have been her large dark eyes which, according to one observer, "invited to conversation". But she knew how to make the best of herself. She dressed well and had become a leader of fashion at Court. She was lively, sophisticated and accomplished - a charming and witty companion, well versed in the arts of pleasing. She was also intelligent and courageous, aware of her own potential and restlessly seeking fulfilment in a world which offered few opportunities to ambitious, energetic and dissatisfied young women. Less attractive traits were her vindictive, sometimes vicious temper, her bitter tongue and her long memory for a grudge.
The most complete extant description of Anne's appearance that has survived from her lifetime is in a hostile report of a Venetian ambassador, who described her when she was on a visit to Calais in 1532. Sympathetic to Catherine of Aragon, he said disparagingly about the king's love: "Madame Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the English king's great appetite and her eyes, which are black and beautiful."
In contrast, Nicholas Sander, who probably never saw Anne, claimed in his Latin history, which was published almost fifty years after her death, that she was very tall and physically disfigured. An enemy of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, Sander attempted to ridicule the English Reformation by clothing Anne with the outer appearance that he thought best reflected her inner nature, as he perceived it. Believing that by her enchanting and sensuous ways she had manipulated a king besotted with passion for her into destroying both his marriage and the English Church, Sander gave her the invented monstrous features of a witch...
Some biographers have tried to reconcile the scurrilous remarks of Sander, the first writer to portray Anne publicly as deformed... Had there been even a hint of a deformity in Anne's appearance, the Venetian, as well as the Imperial ambassadors, some of whom knew her father quite well because of his diplomatic experience, would have eagerly revealed this intriguing fact to their respective governments.
Pierre de Bourdeille Brantôme remembered Anne Boleyn in his later years as "the fairest and most bewitching of all the lovely dames of the French court". according to Lancelot de Carles, her most attractive feature was "her eyes, which she well knew how to use. In truth, such was their power that many a man paid his allegiance." She used her eyes, he tells us, to invite conversation, and to convey the promise of hidden passion. It was a trick that enslaved several men...
Anne's charm lay not so much in her physical appearance as in her vivacious personality, her gracefulness, her quick wit and other accomplishments. She was petite in stature, and had an appealing fragility about her. Her eyes were black and her hair dark brown and of great length; often, she would wear it interlaced with jewels, loose down her back. But she was not pretty, nor did her looks conform to the fashionable ideals of her time. She had small breasts when it was fashionable to have a voluptuous figure, and in a period when pale complxions were much admired, she was sallow, even swarthy, with small moles on her body....
Anne did have a small deformity, which her enemies sometimes delighted in describing as a devil's teat. Thomas Wyatt tells us she had a second nail "upon the side of her nail upon one of her fingers", about which she was rather self-conscious, for she took pains to hide it with long hanging oversleeves, another of her fashionable innovations. Nicholas Sander described it as a sixth finger, as did Margaret Roper, the daughter of Sir Thomas More.
Anne's influence was especially evident in religion. While abroad she had encountered early evangelical reform at the French royal court... Anne embraced this reformist spirit for herself, possibly even experiencing some kind of spiritual crisis.... The Bible text Anne used was a French translation by Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples. She sent out collectors to bring back French evangelical texts for her, a number of which survive in the royal library. Some copies were specially commissioned. In at least two cases her brother produced for Anne hybrid versions of reformist works, having the Bible text in French (as was legal) but translating the far more subversive commentary into English; one of these was again by Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples. Anne was not backward in promoting the vernacular English Bible. A lectern Bible was available for her household to use, and she herself owned a specially illuminated copy of Tyndale's illegal translation of the New Testament. Both before and after becoming queen, Anne protected the importers of illegal English scriptures, and George Joye knew enough of this to send her a sample sheet of the book of Genesis translated into English.
Anne used her position to advance evangelically minded clergy within the church. Not only was this so where she had the presentation - for example, she secured the rich London living of St Mary Aldermary for Edward Crome - but she was also influential in helping to place reformers in the episcopal hierarchy. As well as Cranmer, Anne patronized Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Shaxton, Edward Fox, Thomas Goodrich, and William Barlow.... Her links were particularly strong with Cambridge scholars such as William Bill of St John's and Matthew Parker of Corpus Christi. Parker in particular acknowledged his enormous debt to her and believed that she had passed on to him a sacred responsibility for the care of her daughter. Through men such as Parker, Bill, and Barlow, Anne's influence fed into the Elizabethan church settlement.
On the fourteenth of November, 1532... the king married Lady Anne Boleyn... the marriage was kept so secret that very few knew it till Easter when it was discovered that she was with child.
Anne Boleyn was well known for conducting herself with her courtiers in an informal and flirtatious manner, and Cromwell calculated that he could twist the language of courtly love to support an accusation of adultery. When Anne had a very public argument with Henry Norris, Cromwell's leading rival at court, he saw his opportunity. On 30 April Cromwell arrested Mark Smeaton, one of Anne's musicians. After rigorous interrogation Smeaton confessed to an illicit affair with her, and over the next few days the queen and several of her closest courtiers (including Norris and Anne's own brother, Viscount Rochford) were rounded up and sent to the Tower. The charge of adultery was almost certainly without substance, but it was extremely effective. Nicholas Carew (head of the religious conservatives) would have left Anne alive to pour scorn on her successor as Katherine of Aragon had done. By charging Anne with a treasonous offence not only was Cromwell able to remove her permanently, he could also get rid of her closest supporters. The queen and her brother stood trial on Monday 15 May, while the four commoners accused with them were condemned the Friday beforehand. The evidence for the prosecution was embarrassingly weak, but Cromwell managed to contrive a case based on Mark Smeaton's questionable confession, a great deal of circumstantial evidence, and some very salacious details about what Anne had allegedly got up to with her brother. The men were all executed on 17 May. On the same day Cranmer declared the marriage invalid, a completely illogical ruling but one which secured the bastardization of Princess Elizabeth. Two days later Anne suffered herself, a mere three weeks from the date of Smeaton's arrest. Henry married Jane on 30 May and was now free to continue the arduous process of trying to father a son.
Henry had fallen seriously in love with Viscount Rochford's younger daughter Anne Boleyn, before the summer of 1527. Anne, like her sister Mary, had been brought up at the French court, but had returned to England just before the outbreak of war in 1522, when she was aged twenty, and came to Henry's court...
None of the people who knew Anne seem to have regarded her as being an outstanding beauty; but she was obviously very attractive to men, and if there is any truth in the story told by some of the contemporary Catholic writers, that she had six fingers on one hand, this did not detract from her sexual charms. It was probably in about 1526, when she was twenty-four, that Henry fell in love with her. Unlike her sister Mary, she refused to become Henry's mistress, and this increased his admiration for her.