“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to the law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King, my lord. And if, in my life, I did ever offend the King’s Grace, surely with my death I do now atone. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught I say in my defence doth not appertain to you. I pray and beseech you all, good friends, to pray for the life of the King, my sovereign lord and yours, who is one of the best princes on the face of the earth, who has always treated me so well that better could not be, wherefore I submit to death with good will, humbly asking pardon of all the world. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take my leave of the world, and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh Lord, have mercy on me! To God I commend my soul.” (Weir 2009, pg. 266 – 267)
Anne Boleyn was the second of Henry’s six wives. She was Queen of England from 1533 until 1536. She was one of the first non-royal women to become a Queen of England, which caused quite a stir in those times. She was also the mother of Elizabeth I, one of the greatest monarchs in the history of England and of the world itself.
Anne Boleyn was in her early to mid-twenties when she attracted King Henry’s attention, in about the year 1525. Her exact age at the time cannot be pinpointed, as the historical records vary as to Anne’s date of birth. It could have been as early as 1500, or as late as 1506. At the time he noticed Anne, Henry had been married to Catherine of Aragon for 16 years.
Anne was a glamorous, exotic young woman of the minor nobility. She had beautiful dark eyes, long black hair, and a slender figure. She was known for her intelligence, lively personality, and keen wit. She was a skilled musician and dancer, and attracted the attention of many men at Court.
Anne’s particular brand of glamour and appeal was different from that of the prevailing standard of female beauty of the times. Light hair, fair and rosy skin, and a womanly figure were among the feminine ideals held in high esteem in Tudor England. The young Catherine of Aragon would have fit this mold perfectly. By contrast, Anne Boleyn was dark, slender and ivory-skinned. She created her own special style by adopting French fashions and customs that she had learned as a lady-in-waiting to Henry’s sister Mary, when Mary was (briefly) the Queen of France.
Henry fell passionately in love with Anne Boleyn, and expected her to become his mistress. Anne refused, which started a chain of events which ended in England’s break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Throughout history, people have wondered how and why Anne held out for so many years before surrendering to Henry. It must have been a challenge, as Henry was King of England, and a very persuasive suitor. Other women had succumbed to his charm and physical attraction. What made Anne behave so differently?
There are several possible explanations. One involves Anne’s love for Henry Percy, a young man she met right around the time King Henry noticed her. Henry Percy was the son of the powerful Duke of Northumberland. Young Percy returned Anne’s affections, and the two planned to marry, provided they could obtain their parents’ permission. Henry Percy was a member of Cardinal Wolsey’s staff, and saw Anne as often as possible when they were both at Court.
When Cardinal Wolsey found out about Anne and Henry Percy’s plans, he refused to let them marry. Lord Northumberland, Percy’s father, also forbade the match, claiming that he had planned to marry his son to the daughter of another high-ranking family. Both Cardinal Wolsey and Lord Northumberland felt that the Boleyns were not prestigious enough to be joined to the Percy family in marriage. It is not certain whether King Henry was behind this, or whether Cardinal Wolsey acted on his own. In any event, the marriage request was denied.
Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy were devastated when they heard the news. Percy was called back home and forced to marry the woman chosen by his family. Anne became bitter and angry, possibly for all her life, that she was denied her true love in marriage. It is not unlikely that she resented King Henry for his role in this, and held it against him for many years.
Another factor in Anne’s refusal to become Henry’s mistress was her sister Mary’s involvement with the King. Anne Boleyn’s older sister Mary had been King Henry’s mistress. Henry ended the affair when Mary became pregnant. Henry arranged for Mary to marry a member of the lesser nobility, and did not acknowledge the child. All in all, Mary did not benefit noticeably from her relationship with Henry VIII. This undoubtedly was a factor in Anne’s decision to withhold her favors from the King.
Henry was determined to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. Catherine refused to give him a divorce, and the Catholic Church would not support Henry’s position. Several frustrating years passed, with Anne clamoring to be Queen, and Henry trying to make it happen.
In 1532, Anne decided she had best become pregnant as soon as possible before Henry lost interest. She was soon was with child, and Henry secretly married her in January of 1533. Shortly thereafter, with the help of Parliament and various advisors, Henry severed ties with the Pope, and declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. He then divorced Catherine, and forced her to live in exile from Court.
In May of 1533, Anne was crowned Queen of England in a grand, elaborate coronation ceremony. It was supposed to be a festive occasion, but Anne was unpopular with the English people, and their sullenness dampened the event. Many resented Anne for displacing Queen Catherine, who was dearly loved by her subjects. Still in all, Anne’s dream of becoming Queen had come true. She was now the most powerful woman in England.
After achieving their goals, Henry and Anne expected to be happy. Unfortunately, this did not happen. They were both tired and edgy from the stresses of the past several years. In addition, Henry started losing interest in Anne shortly after he fully attained her favors. Henry also finally realized how much his marriage to Anne had cost him. A number of good people, including friends and associates of Henry’s, had lost their lives due to loyalty and treason issues stemming from the English church’s break from Rome.
There was still a son for Henry to look forward to. Henry fully expected Anne to deliver a Prince as she had always promised. In the fall of 1533, Anne’s long-awaited child was born. To Henry’s disappointment, it was a girl. No one knew then that the Princess Elizabeth would turn out to be one of the greatest English monarchs of all time.
Anne had several more miscarriages after Elizabeth’s birth. She and Henry quarreled more, and Anne’s sharp temper took hold, especially when Henry became interested in other woman. After less than three years of marriage to Anne, Henry fell in love with a young gentlewoman named Jane Seymour. Jane Seymour was very different from Anne Boleyn. Unlike the dazzling, dramatic Anne, Jane was gentle, placid, quiet, and very pale. Henry saw her as a source of peace and comfort, and a refuge from life with the turbulent Anne.
After a final unsuccessful pregnancy, Henry decided he had had enough of Anne. He decided to replace her with Jane Seymour. Because Henry would lose face if he divorced Anne after all he went through to marry her, his advisors conspired some false adultery charges against her. To make the charges look outrageous, Anne was accused of adultery with five different men, including her own brother George. George’s wife, the Lady Rochford, testified that her husband had been in intimate contact with Anne. George and Jane’s marriage had been arranged, and was not a happy union. Jane Rochford hated both her husband and her sister-in-law, and envied their family closeness. Lady Rochford’s words, although lies, carried a lot of weight.
Although Anne was truly innocent of all charges, she was found guilty of treason by a court of English statesmen who feared the King. Her own father and uncle voted to condemn her. Because treason was a capital crime, Anne was sentenced to death, and executed in May of 1536. Many were outraged at this miscarriage of justice, even those who had disliked Anne Boleyn in the beginning. As usual, Henry’s advisors were blamed, and Henry kept his popularity among his English subjects. A few weeks after Anne’s death, Henry married Jane Seymour in a quiet ceremony.
Anne Boleyn is remembered for her brilliance, glamour, elegance, and for the incredible hold she held on King Henry for such a long time. Many do not realize that Anne Boleyn was the mother of Elizabeth I, who inherited Anne’s facial features and various facets of her personality. Anne would have been very proud of her daughter. ( Alison Weir)
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