Anne Boleyn. Everyone knows her name. Countless books, movies, and documentary films have been written and made about the life of this fascinating woman in history, and her relationship with Henry VIII of England.
But, one of the mysteries surrounding her—which included witchcraft and plotting to kill the King—contributed to the tragic end of this young queen. Her alleged infidelity. Known throughout her life as an incurable flirt, did she betray King Henry by sleeping with other men? And, was she so desperate to give the King a son, that she slept with her own brother in the hopes of getting pregnant?
The actual birthdate of Anne Boleyn is not known. Historians speculate that she was born sometime between 1501 and 1507. Her sister Mary is reported to have been older and her brother George, a few years her junior. Born to Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard, a couple of the highest nobility, Anne received the finest education and training.
In her youth, she lived in the Netherlands where she received the basic academic education of noble children as well as falconry, archery, dancing, and household management. Her parents then sent her to live in France to attend Queen Mary, Henry VIII’s older sister. While in France she continued her education and also became fluent in the art and study of literature, fashion, religion, flirtation, and courtly love.
In 1522, Sir Thomas brought his daughter home to marry her cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not go through. Anne, now a lady of the court, dazzled people with her brilliance, beauty, and charm. She soon became enamored with Henry Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland, and the two became secretly engaged. Henry’s father was not in favor of the match, so broke off the engagement, and Anne went to soothe her wounds at her family’s countryside estate.
After some period of time, she returned to court and entered into the service of Queen Catherine, the Spanish wife of Henry VIII. It didn’t take long for the King to notice the young woman who shined like a diamond in his court. Unlike many women of the court, including her older sister Mary, Anne did not give in to the King’s demands to become his mistress. She kept him enticed for seven years, supposedly not ever consummating the relationship, until their eventual marriage—or shortly before.
The seven years of their courtship proved agonizing for Henry. During that period, he attempted to receive an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on the grounds that their marriage was illegitimate and an affront to God, due to their inability to have a son. Before Henry, Catherine had been married to his older brother Arthur. Shortly after they wed, Arthur died before they could consummate their nuptials. Henry didn’t have a problem with this when he married Catherine, it was only after he fell in love with the tantalizing Anne that he decided his marriage to Catherine was sinful, and that he was being punished by his inability to produce a male heir.
Anne, eager to be Queen, but cunning enough to hold Henry at bay until she had a crown, did all she could to intensify the situation. Henry gave her the power to grant petitions, receive important diplomats to her court, and proved to be instrumental in solidifying an alliance with France. She was Queen, albeit without the title, and Henry placed her above all the courtly peers and noblemen. Her father became the Earl of Wiltshire, and her Irish cousin, the Earl of Ormond. Her sister, Mary, one of Henry’s early conquests and mistresses, now a widow, received a generous pension. Mary’s son, reputed to be Henry’s son, received the finest education.
Finally, when they did not receive permission from Rome to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine annulled, Henry—determined to have Anne—broke with the church and declared himself head of the Church of England. They married in secret and Anne soon became pregnant. Four months later, Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury declared Henry and Catherine’s marriage null and void, and Henry’s marriage to Anne valid.
While popular in the English court when she was attending to Queen Catherine, Anne did not have the same luck with the King’s subjects who remained steadfast in Catherine’s corner. Catherine, stripped of her title and banished from court lived the rest of her days a sad and lonely woman. Although Henry gave Anne a magnificent coronation at Westminster Abbey, the English people showed no love for their new queen, and many referred to her as “the King’s whore.”
But, Anne took comfort in the fact that she carried the King’s child. Both Henry and Anne believed with all of their being that the child would be a boy. When Anne gave birth to a girl, Henry was devastated. He had the celebratory traditional joust and celebration he’d planned for the birth of his child canceled. The couple consoled themselves with the idea that Anne would be pregnant again soon, and this time it would be a boy… (to be continued)