History : Apr-May 2015
PROFILES 6 APRIL/MAY 2015 Anne Boleyn: From Queen of England to the Scaffold As ambitious as she was attractive, Anne Boleyn won the heart of Henry VIII. The king began a new religion to marry her, but failure to provide a male heir proved her undoing. HENRY VIII ON A GOLD COIN FROM 1520 After Anne’s execution Henry VIII would say that his wife had been “corrupted” in France. A s Anne Boleyn knelt before the king, he put a crimson velvet cloak around her and a gold crown on her head; he also gave her a thousand pounds a year“for the maintenance of her dignity.” On that September 1, 1532, Henry VIII had taken an unprecedented step: He had elevated a woman into England’s he- reditary nobility. It was both a gift of love and compensation for enduring years of frustration while Henry tried to put an end to his marriage to Catherine of Ara- gon. Still with no divorce in sight the“vir- tuous”Anne had surrendered herself and finally agreed to be Henry’s lover. The couple spent Christmas together at Greenwich Palace. Here they enjoyed such a splendid banquet that temporary kitchens had to be set up in the gardens. Not long after, Anne realized she was pregnant, tipped off in part by food crav- ings. Since they didn’t want the child to be born out of wedlock, and even though Henry was still married to Catherine, a chaplain wed them secretly in January of 1533. Who was this woman who had so captivated the despotic and learned Renaissance king? Born in 1501, Anne Boleyn had ex- cellent training, serving as a lady-in-waiting to a French queen. In addition to court- ly savoir faire and cultural refinement, she may have learned other, more dubi- ous skills in the promiscuous courts of France. In 1533 Francis, the French king, told the Duke of Norfolk in confidence “how little virtuously Anne had always lived.” Henry VIII himself confessed to the Spanish ambassador, in 1536, that his wife had been “corrupted” in France and that he hadn’t discovered this until after they were married. A King at her Feet What we do know for certain is that Anne quickly caught Henry’s eye when she re- turned to England in the early 1520s. She caused quite a stir: Beautiful and intelli- gent, she spoke French fluently and knew some Latin; she wore the latest continen- tal fashions, and used her flair for danc- ing to show them off. Henry declared his love for her in 1526, but she refused to be his concubine: She knew “how quickly the king tired of those who had served him as his beloveds.” Anne had greater ambitions: A marriage that would make her queen. And so she flirt- ed with the monarch, playing hard to get and keeping his passion ablaze while refusing to consummate their relation- ship. The letters the king wrote to her BRIDGEMAN/INDEX Lover, Wife, and Traitor 1501 Anne Boleyn is born in Norfolk, the third child of Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, and Lady Elizabeth Howard. The exact date of her birth is unclear. 1526 After spending a few years in the court of Francis I of France, Anne Boleyn returns to England. Soon after she begins a relationship with King Henry VIII. 1533 Anne secretly marries Henry in January. The union is made official in May and a lavish coronation follows. In September Anne gives birth to a girl, the future Queen Elizabeth I. 1536 Accused of adultery, incest, and high treason, she is condemned to death. On May 19 she is beheaded at the Tower of London. Henry VIII remarries just eleven days later.