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Anne Boleyn Controversies
Historical Controversies about Anne Boleyn
Anne has been called
“the most influential and important
queen consort this country has ever had”
" Our biggest enemy is terrorism," says Charles Beem, (aka tudorhistorian on the wiki)
a historian at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. "Theirs was the Reformation.
You can't overestimate how traumatic the changes in the church would have been.
You might get close if you imagined that Monica Lewinsky had been a radical Islamist and Bill Clinton married her and made everyone convert. "
- Time Magazine - Mar. 22, 2007 "When Royals Become Rock Stars" By Rebecca Winters Keegan
| Birth date Controversy:|
Historians do not agree when Anne Boleyn was born. The debate may never be fully solved since parish records chronicling precise dates of birth were not kept until the time of Elizabeth I. An Italian historian, writing in 1600, suggested that she had been born in 1499; whilst Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law suggested a much later date of 1512. All other guesses fall within this period of 1499 - 1512. Hostile contemporary Catholic sources tended to support a later date.
Nowadays, the academic debate centres around two key dates: 1501 and 1507. Two authorities on the period, historian Eric Ives and Retha Warnicke disagree. Ives, a British historian and legal expert, promotes the 1501 date, whilst American scholar Warnicke prefers 1507. It should be remembered, however, Dr. Warnicke did not set out to write a biography per se, and instead, present speculative theories regarding Anne Boleyn's fall from power. Biographers such as Paul Friedmann (1880s), Norah Lofts and Hester W. Chapman (1970s) suggest that a birthdate between 1501 and 1507. Dr. Warnicke's evidence is, however, less than compelling: she indicates Anne was described by witnesses as "young" when at the court of Margaret of Austria, which cannot be construed as definitive evidence of a 1507 birthdate. Dr. Warnicke states that Anne Brandon also appeared at Margaret's court at approximately age eight; however, no birth date for Anne Brandon is known, and evidence supports her being born before her parents married. Margaret of Austria was quite strict regarding the age of her 'demoiselle d'honneur', and even refused a request from her father on behalf of a Spanish noblewoman under the age of twelve.
Of note, too, is Eustace Chapuys' comment of "that thin old woman" in describing Anne Boleyn before her execution. However, this is a hostile source.
The key point in the argument is a letter written by Anne in about 1514. It was written to her father, who was still living in England, whilst Anne was completing her education in the Netherlands. Professor Ives insists that the style of the letter proved Anne must have been about thirteen at the time of its composition. Warnicke argues the spelling is too juvenile and phonetic for a mature teenager and is therefore clearly the work of a child. However, the handwriting is not that of a six year old, and is entirely in keeping with her style as an adult. As well, Anne was not yet fluent in French, and freely admits the "orthography is all [her] own." Dr. Warnicke also unfortunately fails to recognize French, like English, had not yet become fully standardized. A full examination of the letter is still required, as both sides currently claim it as supporting evidence. Both sides of the argument continue to hold their ground. The entry on Anne (written by Professor Ives) in the new Dictionary of National Biography opts for 1500 and entirely dismisses the claims of 1507. In several articles in the English Historical Review, Warnicke has dismissed the 1501 date as implausible.
| Appearance and personality:|
Anne Boleyn was not conventionally beautiful for her time because she was too thin and her colouring was considered by some to be too dark. However, many observers were impressed by her expressive dark brown/black eyes and long dark hair, so long she could "sit" in it during her coronation. One can conclude she had a long oval face, high and prominent cheekbones, a rather long nose, and strong chin. Certainly Elizabeth resembled her mother in terms of body and facial structure, although she inherited Henry VIII's colouring and Henry VII's deep set eyes.
One Italian who met Anne in 1532 wrote that she was "not one of the handsomest women in the world", but others thought she was "competement belle" ("quite beautiful") and "young and good-looking. " One historian has compiled all the descriptions and concludes thus: “She was never described as a great beauty, but even those who loathed her admitted that she had a dramatic allure. Her dark complexion and black hair gave her an exotic aura in a culture that saw milk-white paleness as essential to beauty. Her eyes were especially striking: “black and beautiful” wrote one contemporary, while another averred they were “always most attractive,” and that she “well knew how to use them with effect.”
People seemed primarily attracted by Anne's charisma. She made a good impression with her fashion sense, inspiring many new trends amongst the court ladies. As queen, she understood the importance of ostentatious display, as befitting a Renaissance monarch; a notion emphasized even more by her daughter Elizabeth I. William Forrest, author of a contemporary poem about Katherine of Aragon, complimented Anne's "passing excellent" skill as a dancer. "Here," he wrote, "was [a] fresh young damsel, that could trip and go." “Anne’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… she shone at singing, making music, dancing and conversation… Not surprisingly, the young men of the court swarmed around her.”
She was a devout Christian in the new tradition of Renaissance Humanism, determined to reform the Catholic Church and purge it of superstition and abuse. She also gave generously to charity and sewed shirts for the poor. In her youth she was "sweet and cheerful" and enjoyed gambling, drinking wine, and gossiping. She was also fearless, determined, charming, ambitious, politically astute, highly intelligent and intellectually driven. However, under stressful circumstances, Anne could be sharp tempered, verbally aggressive and sharp tongued. Her daughter certainly exhibited a distinctly similar temperament.
“To us she appears inconsistent – religious yet aggressive, calculating yet emotional, with the light touch of the courtier yet the strong grip of the politician … A woman in her own right – taken on her own terms in a man’s world; a woman who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex; of only moderate good looks, but taking a court and a king by storm. Perhaps, in the end, it is Thomas Cromwell’s assessment that comes nearest: intelligence, spirit and courage.” [E. Ives]
|Was Anne Boleyn Sexually Harassed by Henry VIII?|
In her recent book, "Divorced, Beheaded, Survived; a Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII", Karen Lindsey puts forward the following hypothesis:
"By 1525, when Henry was no longer having sex with Catherine, the idea of finding a way out of the marriage must have been with him for a while. Probably the thought of an annulment and the captivation with his wife's intriguing lady grew side by side for several months before they coalesced. And it's likely that his initial visions of a second wife were the same as Wolsey's -- she should be another European princess probably a French one. That was the way kings married. Kings also had mistresses -- women honored, in their way, given privileges and even titles. Surely Anne Boleyn would come to understand that, and to accept his advances.
But she didn't; that much is clear from a series of seventeen letters (unfortunately, they're undated). Henry wrote to his would-be mistress. From references within the letters it is certain that there were others that are no longer extant. Henry hated writing letters. having Wolsey compose most of his correspondence, so the fact that he wrote so many bespeaks of an immense infatuation. But since we don't know the dates, we can't be sure of the sequence of the letters and the events they mention... [however] Cavendish's explanation for the breakup with Percy, along with historians' assumption that Anne willingly received Henry's advances, is significant. Most scholars have thought that the letters began in 1524. But they may have started earlier than that. Scarisbrick's offhand observation about the "light dalliance" of the early 1520's is important, as is Ives' more recent interpretation of the sequence of the letters. The first three, Ives says, "belong to the period when the conventions of courtly romance began to change into something more serious". In other words, Anne had been flirting with Henry in the belief that such flirtation was safe -- that it didn't imply an actual sexual relationship was expected. But Henry started wanting more. With what is apparently the first letter that survives, he sent Anne a gift -- a buck he had hunted and killed -- and complained that she was not answering his letters.
Why does a woman not answer a suitor's letters -- especially a powerful suitor? Probably to accomplish that most delicate task: to convey that she doesn't return his interest without openly rejecting him. In the second letter, Henry complained again. In the role of courtly love he had decoded to play, the suitor is the servant of the lady. Yet Anne had insisted that she was his servant, since he was king and she his subject. "Although it does not appertain to a gentleman to take his lady in place of a servant", he grumbled, "nevertheless in compliance with your desires, I willingly grant it to you...". He willingly granted it, but he refused to accept its meaning. She didn't want to be his lady, but simply his subject -- she didn't want a sexual relationship.
In spite of his promise to let her stay 'in the place by you chosen" -- the place of loyal subject only -- Henry kept up the pressure. Today, Henry's approach to Anne would be instantly identifiable as sexual harassment. Anne however, had no social or legal recourse against a the man who ruled the country. She continued, as so many women before and since have done, to dodge her pursuer's advances while sparing his feelings. It didn't work.
Henry's next letter demanded that she explain her position once and for all. He had been "above one whole year struck with the dart of love" and still didn't know how she felt. It was the deliberate ignorance of the absolute narcissist, for surely she had given clear enough signals. He persisted. He wanted her to love him " in a way that is beyond common affection" Still she tried to hold him off.
After more than a year of this, Anne must have been growing pretty desperate. Henry was by now offering to make her his official mistress mimicking the practice of other European courts, one that had never before existed in England. She did not want this. She wanted, in all likelihood, the kind of marriage she had been raised to want -- a good, respectable marriage with a suitable nobleman. Perhaps she still wanted Henry Percy. What is clear is that she did not want Henry Tudor.
But Henry Tudor wasn't letting go. She stayed away from court refusing to return even if chaperoned by her mother. He assured her that if he "knew for certain that you wished it of your own will" he would cease importuning her and " put from me little by little my mad infatuation".
It was a hellish position. Could she really tell the king to his face that she had no interest in him? She could reiterate her desire to keep her chastity and her honor, but clearly he didn't respect that. She could ignore his letters and stay away from court, but he refused to take the hint. To offer him the outright insult he asked for would be to risk not only her own but her father's and brother's careers at court. She undoubtedly kept hoping he would tire of the chase and transfer his attentions to some newer lady-in-waiting.
But he didn't and she was trapped: there was no chance of her making a good marriage when every eligible nobleman knew the king wanted her. She began to realize she would have to give in. [as Wyatt wrote in his poem 'Whoso list to hunt'] 'Nole me tangere, for Caesar's I am".
Virtually every account of Anne's story cites the poem, yet its central image is ignored. Anne was a creature being hunted, and hunted by the king -- like the buck he had killed and so proudly sent to her. There could be no refuge from the royal assault; no one would risk protecting her from Henry's chase. She could run, hide, dodge for a time, but the royal hunter would eventually track down his prey. And he would destroy her. The hunt was not an archaic metaphor in sixteenth century life, it was a vivid integral part of that life and everyone knew what happened to the wild creature at the end.
But perhaps there was, after all one escape, an ingenious and daring one. If she could not flee her hunter, she could survive by being captured on her own terms. Henry was talking of annulling his marriage; Wolsey was scheming for a french princess to supplant Catherine of Aragon. But why should the new queen not be Anne herself? Historians hostile to Anne assume that she had no feelings for either Henry or Catherine, but only raw ambition; those more sympathetic suggest that she was in love with the king. But maybe neither were true. She may have been sympathetic to the queen, but she knew that Catherine's marriage was doomed. She could turn Henry's cruelty to her own advantage..... Elizabeth Woodville the beautiful noblewoman who had chastely resisted the advances of Edward IV and become his queen....and borne two sons. ....Anne too would have sons. Then her position as Henry's wife would be safe; her position in his heart would have served a purpose."
|Footnote : |
Regarding Henry Percy (Duke of Northumberland) at the time of his liaison with Anne Boleyn. Anne and Percy had themselves intended to be married~ however, under the premise of rank (Percy was considered too high standing to marry Anne, the daughter of a soldier), their plans were thwarted. Though there had been no formal decree of engagement between Anne and Henry as far as their families were concerned, the two were believed to be sincerely in love with one another. Speculation persists that Wolsey's intervening & resulting thwarting of their plans was the handiwork of Henry VIII having taken a fancy to Anne- though there is no documentation supporting this.
After their affair was put to a stop, Percy's parents quickly bundled him off and into a marriage with Mary Talbot. Some sources incorrectly state that Anne became immediately involved with Henry after this, hence the rumours it was Henry's hand in the break up, but Anne went back to Hever after and remained there for quite some time before returning to court, and for some time after that before Henry demonstrated any interest in her. It has also been incorrectly blamed on Henry VII, Henry VIII's father~ this is highly unlikely, given that Anne's age would have been tremendously young in order for Henry VII to have been alive during her affair with Percy, and even more unlikely when one considers Anne would likely have been at the French Court during such an age.
Many believe Anne's deep-rooted dislike of Wolsey stemmed from this early incident in her life~ as for Henry Percy, his relationship with his own wife was notoriously unhappy, and eventually his wife sought an annulment on the grounds that he had a precontract with Anne.
Ironically, Henry Percy was one of the men who convicted her, by passing a guilty vote in her trial. He passed away 2 years later, after a life of stomach ailments, depression & unhappy marital relations.
Some would speculate his unhappiness could not possibly have been related to his one time loss of Anne, since he did pass a guilty vote~ but in Tudor times, and particularly in the wasp nest of the courts, people had little free will. Take for example, the speech given by a person on their way to execution: rarely would one declare their innocence, even if it had been vehemently declared prior to that long walk to the block. Doing so would have been considered not only a poor death, but detrimental to their families- those were the ones who would suffer the consequences of such an outburst. So we can defer that if Henry Percy had indeed retained some semblance of love for Anne, he would have been putting his own life, as well as his family's, at risk by voting innocent. His prior relationship with her was common knowledge by then as well, and having borne such a close proximity to Anne, he would have been balancing on a precarious slope already.
| Inability to Provide a Male Heir:|
Anne Boleyn bore only one child to her husband Henry VIII - a princess who grew up to become one of the greatest monarchs in English memory, Elizabeth I. Yet one princess and two miscarriages were not enough to secure Anne's position as Henry's queen consort. Like her predecessor Katherine of Aragon, Anne was unable to deliver a living male heir. Theories have developed over the centuries to explain Anne's predicament was more than just a case of bad luck.
LINK :Blood of Henry - article
| Theories about Anne Boleyn's Downfall :|
Historians still debate over why these extraordinary events took place. There are four main theories about Anne Boleyn’s demise, which the Oxford historian Steven J. Gunn described as historical “trench warfare”.
Most historians are now divided between Ives’s political theory and Warnicke’s deformed foetus concept. However both have serious drawbacks. The ‘deformed foetus’ theory’s principal failing is the total absence of prima facie evidence; a theory without any supporting documentation. The drawback of the political theory is principally that neither Cromwell nor anyone else would have dared attack Anne without the King’s consent. However, it is the most likely theory, and substantiated by a great deal of compelling circumstantial evidence.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation would indeed be some form of blend of all of the above. Certainly Anne was innocent of adultery and incest (the dates presented at her trial did not coincide with her and the locations of her accused paramours); nevertheless, her powerful, polarizing personality and behaviour alienated many. Also, it had become politically advantageous to see Anne fall from favour; Henry, disillusioned with her inability to bear a living son, now expressed interest in Jane Seymour and curious indifference to his wife's demise. Indeed, London's sympathy extended to Anne at this point, thoroughly disapproving of Henry's behaviour. If all these political and personal reasons collided at this time, no doubt Anne’s fate was sealed.
| Anne's subsequent reputation:|
Henry VIII' s conduct immediately following Boleyn’s death was so openly joyful that it shocked even the Spanish Ambassador, Chapuys, who commented that the king seemed to wear his “cuckold's horns very readily.”
Opinions on Anne Boleyn’s character were published as fact beginning shortly after her death, and continuing after her daughter’s death. The Catholic portrayal of Anne as an evil and manipulative witch is the most penetrating and well-known legend of her existence. The Protestant legend of Anne is that of a martyred saint. These two sides directly contradict one another. Modern historians must draw their conclusions about her true personality from the heavily biased opinions of these two groups of writers.
Nicholas Sanders, an English Catholic priest who was opposed to the Church of England and advocated the deposing of Elizabeth, made a number of claims about Boleyn, which were reworked and published after his death in De origine et progressu schismatis Anglicani (The origin and progress of the English Schism), 1585. It must be noted that Sanders never knew or saw Anne at any point during her life. Sanders was the first to claim in print that Boleyn was deformed, giving her the features of a witch. His allegations included the claims that she was a nymphomaniac with an excess of lovers; and that she had a projecting tooth; tall (tall women were thought to be licentious) and that she had six fingers (hexadactyly) on one hand. All these features were traditionally associated with witches. There is no contemporary evidence to support such allegations, despite their popularity and inclusion in many modern textbooks.
Anne's skeletal remains were exhumed and examined in 1876: no abnormalities of her body were detected. Her fingers were described as long and perfectly formed; her height as medium for the time - between five foot three and five foot four; her frame delicate.
Meanwhile, the Protestant writer John Foxe proclaimed that she had been a saint. He repeatedly stated that the Church of England owed its existence to Queen Anne, who was the most beautiful of all in character, learning and piety. William Shakespeare began the tradition of presenting her as a romantic lady in his 1613 play Henry VIII. The play focuses on the king's divorce from Katherine of Aragon and, although Boleyn's part is small, she still speaks some of the most memorable lines in the play. She is also eulogised in her coronation scene, when one of the spectators refers to her as being a woman of exceptional beauty and piety. In order to avoid demonising Henry VIII at her expense, the play ended with the christening of their daughter, thus avoiding the controversial issue of Boleyn’s execution.
| Pardon for Anne?|
On April 1, 2005 Retired Wing Commander George Melville-Jackson approached British Home Secretary Charles Clarke in a bid to formally pardon Anne Boleyn. Although she was long-dead, he asserted that she never deserved to be branded as a criminal; in the event that a declaration that she was not guilty of her alleged crimes was not possible, he would have settled for a pardon. He also sought the removal of her remains from her resting place at the Tower of London to Westminister Abbey, where her esteemed daughter Queen Elizabeth I was buried. [source www.telegraph.co.uk ]
The request was later rejected, since the antiquity of the case meant that so much of the original evidence had been destroyed, and so the British government was incapable of proving her innocence.
For more on Anne Boleyn - click links below
- Anne Boleyn's main profile page
- Historical Profile
Historical Profile - page 2
- Season 1 Photo GallerySeason 2 - Photo Gallery
- Season 2 Photo Gallery downfall & execution
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