Henry VIII, the Reign would not be Henry VIII, the Reign if there were not some mention of 19 May, the date of Anne Boleyn’s execution.
Anne Boleyn, Bullen to some, the Concubine to others or my own preference, de Boulogne. She, the much-vaunted short-lived, Queen of England.
To many, she is a saintly figure, revered, worshipped and a victim. A victim of being Henry VIII’s lover, unconsummated for nearly a decade. She was smitten with Henry VIII and he with her, they held on to love against all the odds. The ‘happy couple’, (he 40+ and obese) after years of waiting were eventually married (a shotgun wedding). They loved, hunted and made merry together (she ridiculed his impotence), then ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’, was suddenly jilted for another damsel, then falsely accused of a whole list of heinous crimes, tried by a jury of bent nobles and outrageously found guilty. She died a martyr, fearless, dignified and resolute on the scaffold, a saintly victim indeed.
To others, she was just a dirty stop out, a Jezebel, the same as cousin Catherine.
The reality is that Anne Boleyn was a politician and a pretty good one at that. The daughter of a diplomat, she was schooled, at first in Mechelen at the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria, the aunt of Charles, future Holy Roman Emperor. A few years later she moved to France and became protégé of Marguerite d'Angoulême, the sister of King Francis I of France. Anne, by the time Wolsey recruited her for Henry VIII, had been trained to woo the royal courts. She was an ‘accomplished intelligent, vivacious, clever, arrogant and ruthlessly ambitious’ woman who lived from the cradle to the grave at the heart of the body politic.
She played politics at the highest level, she knew all about the rewards of winning, and the harsh penalties of losing – after all, she took down Great Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York and Papal Legate. Wolsey at that time was the biggest beast in Christendom, and the girl made good from Edenbridge, slew him.She manipulated Henry VIII as a puppeteer controls his marionette.
With Wolsey’s fall, England began its exit from papal authority.
Anne, arrogant and principled, however, strove for a soft Engxit from the papacy, which included retaining the monastic buildings. Thomas Cromwell and Edward Seymour, arrogant and principled, with their party, sought a full hard Engxit which included the obliteration of all things papal and they wrested the puppet strings from her. It was the politics of Cromwell and Seymour and their new party that brought her down. There was never a love affair, that is the stuff of Mills and Boon, and Henry’s marriage to plain Jane from Burbage was the sovereign's contractual union with the incoming regime.
It is lamentable however that Anne is not more frequently remembered as the mother of Elizabeth I, the consummate monarchical politician who kept order with some of the biggest hitters in the history of England, the Cecils, Walsingham, Dudley, Drake, Raleigh and the rest of that crew.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII, but there is nothing of Henry VIII in any of his children.
Edward VI, a mere lad, of course, followed in the ways of his mother’s family and adopted a Protestant direction. Mary I then did a complete about-face and followed her mother’s Catholic doctrine, spilling blood where ere she went. When Elizabeth I succeeded her she steadied the ship and adopted the via media, the soft Engxit, of her mother. Not to everyone’s liking of course, and there were still religious conflicts to come, but during the reign of ANNE BOLEYN’S DAUGHTER (sired by Henry VIII) the foundations of the Church of England were laid, the arts flourished, and the kingdom entered the ‘Elizabethan Golden Age’.
It was from her mother that Elizabeth inherited the qualities for which she is remembered – certainly not her star-crossed father.
The preeminent biographer of Anne Boleyn was the late Eric Ives and in his book, The Life and death of Anne Boleyn, Professor Ives, concluded chapter eighteen titled The Advent of Reform with this question;
“Or was there a real possibility that had Anne survived to hold Henry to a course of moderate reform, she could have been a formative influence on the religious shape of Europe, just as her daughter would be?’
Chapter eighteen, somewhat fortuitously, finishes half way down the page, and some years ago I wrote in the white space underneath his question– in pencil to save ruining the book – in large letters;
I have never had an inclination to rub it out.
Henry VIII, the Reign.
Henry VIII, the Reign.