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Anne Boleyn. Original portrait is at Hever Castle, Kent, England.

 

 

 

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Anne Boleyn and the Tudors: Miscellaneous Facts

Little is known of Anne's earlier years, and since most of her life was either undocumented, or documented in a hostile manner by her enemies (it was ill-advised - perhaps even treasonous - to speak well of her after her death), it is difficult to know what truly happened in a number of instances. Scholars disagree on nearly every point!

While writing the novel, "Threads", I specifically looked for information about Anne Boleyn and her  contemporaries that would shed some light on the "people" rather than the "historical characters". While this doesn't reveal the motivation behind events that are disputed, it helps to bend conclusions in one direction or another.

Biographies and references sometimes make dry work of Anne, but there were some clues...

~ Nell Gavin

Briefly, Anne Boleyn was the second and most famous wife of Henry VIII, who divorced his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, in order to marry her and produce a male heir.

For years before they married, Anne resisted the King's advances, prompting criticism and accusations that she was playing hard to get in order to manipulate him into marrying her and making her queen. (Another possibility is that she simply didn't want him!). Either way, it wouldn't have mattered to the population of England what Anne's true motives were. The people were furiously loyal toward Katherine of Aragon, and viewed Anne as a "whore" and a home wrecker.  They threw in accusations of witchcraft for good measure.

Anne had a notoriously sharp tongue, and after Henry VIII married her, he got increasingly tired of it, and of her. Furthermore, she kept getting pregnant but only produced one live birth, a "useless girl" who grew up to be Queen Elizabeth I, Britain's greatest monarch. Henry VIII was still determined to have a son through whatever means. In Anne's case, only a son would have saved her after Henry's eyes started to wander to other women.

Using trumped up charges of adultery, the King had her imprisoned at the Tower of London, conducted a trial that found her guilty of treason, and had her beheaded. The day after Anne's execution, Henry was betrothed to her successor, Jane Seymour, whom he had been courting for some time. In fact, if Jane Seymour was not directly involved in the conspiracy to overthrow Anne Boleyn, she was at the very least unperturbed by the fact that Anne was executed in order to make room for her. Ten days after the execution, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour and never once, for the rest of his life, uttered Anne's name aloud again.  

Anne's Early Years:

  • Geoffrey Bullen was the first member of the Bullen family to make a name for himself in English society. He had been apprenticed as a mercer in his youth, then succeeded in establishing an excellent social position. In 1459, he became Lord Mayor of London, was knighted, made a fortune, and bought both Blickling Hall in Norfolk, and Hever Castle in Kent. He passed the castles on to his grandsons. His grandson Thomas was Anne Boleyn's father. 

  • It is not known which one of the castles was Anne Boleyn's Hever Castle, Kent, England. Photo by Nell Gavin. birthplace. Her parents lived at Blickling Hall until 1504, then moved to Hever Castle. She could have been born in either place, depending upon the year of her birth.

    Hever Castle

  • It was Geoffrey's humble beginnings that made Anne Boleyn's social position less than stellar. Her mother Lady Elizabeth Howard's line was above reproach, but her merchant great-grandfather was the excuse Cardinal Wolsey used when he stopped her from marrying Lord Henry Percy, for whom she was not considered "suitable".

  • Anne's bedroom at Hever Castle, her childhood home, has a fireplace, a stone staircase in one corner, and her headboard propped against a wall (the entire bed would have taken up too much room to allow tourists to enter). The first words out of the lips of everyone entering the room are, "But it's so small!" 

    The bedstead, shown in the image, is to your right as you enter the room, and takes up most of the wall. Click to view a larger image. See
    Hever Castle for more photographs of the castle and the grounds.

 

Contributed by Nancy Enright, 
Springfield, Illinois

 

  • There is no proof of the order in which the Boleyn (or "Bullen") siblings were born. Various references each prefer a different birth order, and no two agree. The most supportable and convincing evidence, noted in "Anne Boleyn" by E. W. Ives, favored a birth order of Mary, then Anne, then George. (There were two additional Boleyn infants who died.) 

  • This book also favors a birth year of 1501 (versus 1507), a date that is further supported by an example of Anne Boleyn’s handwriting in 1514 (shown in "The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn" by Retha M. Warnicke). The handwriting sample is unmistakably that of a young adult because it has small, tightly controlled and evenly formed letters. A child of seven, no matter how intelligent, would only have the mechanical ability to write in a large, uneven scrawl.

    Click
    here for a comparison of Anne's handwriting in 1514 to that of a seven year old child.

    Also see
    Anne Boleyn's Birth Year for information and speculation about her year of birth.

  • Sixteenth century Jesuit historian, Nicholas Sanders, wrote that Anne Boleyn was raped by one of her father’s officials at Hever when she was seven. Only Alison Weir even mentions this in passing, but she then dismisses the rumor as untrue and states that Sanders was responsible for "some of the wilder inaccuracies that gained currency about Anne Boleyn," including that one. What is interesting to me is that the rumor was specific as to her age, the location, and the identity of the perpetrator, which makes me question if it may actually have been based on fact. If so, her presence in England at age seven would conclusively eliminate 1507 as a possible birth year because she wrote the above-mentioned letter from the Netherlands in 1514, where she had been since 1513. Even without proof that the rape actually took place, the details of the rumor indicate that the historian presumed or knew that Anne was born earlier than 1507.

    There has never been any hard evidence, even in the midst of rampant speculation and very close scrutiny, that Anne was ever intimate with anyone but her husband. Considering the times, premarital chastity was highly improbable. What is known about Anne is that she a) was not a virgin when she married (only Karen Lindsey suggested she was), b) conceived immediately after commencing relations with Henry, perhaps even with their first encounter and, c) was regularly pregnant thereafter. Her obvious fertility would not have allowed for much illicit premarital sex leaving the child molestation theory still open to explain her lost virginity, particularly for a work of fiction. The two men she was most likely to have been with, Lord Henry Percy and Sir Thomas Wyatt, both survived the accusations and the interrogation prior to her execution for adultery. Whether this is because they were innocent or useful to the Crown  is unknown.

  • Folklore has always given Anne six fingers. There isn’t much evidence to support this legend, or to suggest that she really had a huge "wen" on her neck. All her biographies concluded that she probably did not have either one but there is no solid proof either way. George Wyatt, grandson of Thomas Wyatt and one of Anne's very few friendly biographers, stated she had a "double nail" on one of her fingers, and suggested that she had a large Adam's apple "like a man's". Even with these imperfections - and despite the fact that she was not beautiful in the conventional sense - she was considered one of the most attractive women at court.

  • Anne spent about two years in the Netherlands (the "low countries") as a member of the court of Margaret of Austria, who had developed a friendship with Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn, while he was serving as a diplomat. The finest musicians of the day were centered there, and it is thought that Anne's musical training began here - or at least, her enthusiasm for music did.

  • Anne was said to have been an impressive musician and songwriter, and some sources suggested her melodies may have borrowed characteristics from Spanish music (Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon, was Spanish, and her court probably lent that influence). Anne played several instruments, including the lute, harp and virginals. She probably also played the recorder, which was very popular during her lifetime. She was renowned for her singing voice as well.

  • To the best of anyone's knowledge, none of Anne’s songs survive, except for one, "O Death, Rock Me Asleepe", with music written by her chaplain after her death. However, the source of both the lyrics and the music is in question. It is only known that the poem was found in the Tower immediately after Anne’s death, and that it was later put to music. A CD containing that song can be purchased at www.leonarda.com. You can listen to a short clip of this song at O Death Rock Me Asleepe.

  • After leaving the Netherlands, Anne moved to France where she lived as a member of the French court for several years before returning to England in 1522 when, according to a biography of Henry VIII written by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, she was 20 years old.

Her Romances:

  • Sir Thomas Wyatt, who wrote about his love for Anne Boleyn in several poems (see "Whoso List to Hunt"), is credited with making the sonnet popular in England (someImage of Sir Thomas Wyatt, by Hans Holbein, Royal Collection sources said he "invented" it). He was imprisoned under suspicion of having committed adultery with Anne, witnessed her execution from his prison cell window, and wrote a poem "The Death of Anne Boleyn" about that as well. His family's bribes later freed him.

 Sir Thomas Wyatt *

  • Anne Boleyn fell in love with, and was secretly betrothed to Lord Henry Percy, whose bloodline was superior to hers. The love affair ended when they were forbidden to marry because of Anne's "inferior" lineage (her mother's line was impressive, but her father's family was in trade). Henry VIII did not allow them to say goodbye, in fact, Alison Weir mentions that Anne’s parents locked her in her room to prevent her from trying to contact Percy, as she was frantic to do. 

  • Percy did send a note to Anne begging her to never love anyone else, and history suggests she gamely made the effort, as Henry soon found out. How soon is another matter open to conjecture. Some references suggest that he did not Image of Lord Henry Percy from a medallion in possession of Duke of Northumberland openly pursue Anne for as long as one to four years after her betrothal to Percy was broken. 

    Henry Percy, sixth earl of Northumberland *

Others mention that they had had a courtly flirtation for years, and that it may have grown serious from Henry’s perspective even as he kept Anne’s sister Mary as his mistress years before he openly pursued Anne. However, exact dates are unknown. 

Either way, Henry VIII found Anne Boleyn initially unresponsive to his advances - she was the first woman ever to tell the king "no" - and he pursued her insistently for years before finally winning her. 

It was precisely this independent, outspoken, willful spirit that both attracted him in the beginning, and was an affront to him after they married.

  • According to Karen Lindsey, only one person suggested that the betrothal of Percy and Anne Boleyn was broken at Henry’s command rather than Cardinal Wolsey’s (he was the one who officially opposed their marriage). However, that one person was George Cavendish, a close and trusted servant of Wolsey, and a reliable source. Lindsey states it would have been in keeping with Henry’s personality to take measures to shift the blame to Wolsey in order to deflect Anne’s resulting anger. See The Romance Between Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy for the Cavendish recount. 

  • After his betrothal to Anne was broken, Lord Percy was immediately forced to marry a woman who had been betrothed to him in childhood. The marriage was a disaster. Percy left no children, suffered from stomach problems, and died only months after Anne's execution.

Her philosophy and personality:

  • Anne was notoriously supportive of religious upstarts, read - and defended - censored writings, and was considered to be the "patron saint" of Protestants, who were being persecuted at the time. Henry VIII broke with Rome and formed the Church of England in order to legitimize their marriage when the Pope would not grant him an annulment from Katherine of Aragon. Ironically, Anne still apparently worshipped as a Catholic until her death.

  • She convinced Henry that the Bible should be translated into English and made available to common people instead of just the clergy.

  • According to Alison Weir, no religious heretics were burned at the stake during the period of time that Anne was queen. However, Henry VIII had heretics burnt both before and after her tenure. We can only speculate on how many lives Anne saved.

  • Anne distributed a fortune in charity among the English people. George Wyatt (grandson of Thomas Wyatt) estimated that she distributed more than £1500 per year to the poor alone. I don't have figures for living wages during the reign of Henry VIII. However, by the reign of Elizabeth I, a family's acceptable wage was two pounds ten shillings per year. Acceptable wages were less than this during Anne's lifetime because, from Anne's reign to the Elizabethan period, food prices rose by 120%. £1500 per year went quite far in 1532 to 1536.

    So based on this, we can estimate that thousands and thousands of people received assistance of some sort from Anne throughout her reign. She also sewed clothing with her own hands for distribution to the poor, and was known on at least one occasion to have personally tended to the ill on her travels. Few of her biographies mention her charitable acts at any length, and these were also not much publicized during her own lifetime. 

  • Anne was considered by most of her contemporaries to be extremely intelligent, witty and charming. In addition, it appears that she had a rather droll, sometimes twisted, dark sense of humor. A sense of humor like that can be easily misinterpreted, and in Anne’s case, probably was. An example of this might be Anne's reaction to the protests against King Henry's choosing her as his queen. For a short time she took as her motto, and had emblazoned on her livery, a Latin phrase, "Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne," which translated into "Grumble all you like, this is how it’s going to be." A few weeks later, the phrase was removed. Most biographies interpreted that act as "defiant" and "arrogant". However, my interpretation and reaction to it was completely different. Each time I saw it mentioned, I laughed out loud. I viewed it as an irreverent and cheeky means of using humor to express exasperation and to make a very valid point about all the talk and complaints. After she made that point by use of her servants, who were essentially all walking sandwich boards advertising her opinion on their livery coats - and without having harmed anyone - she removed the motto. Based on other information about her, that kind of humor would seem to be in keeping with her personality.

  • Her most famous quote was spoken prior to her execution when she was amiably chatting to someone about her executioner. Reassuring the friend (and probably herself) that all would go well, she said, "I hear he’s quite good. And I have a very small neck!" Then she touched her neck and laughed "greatly". She also referred to herself in the tower as "Queen Lackhead". She was said to always enjoy a good laugh even, it would seem, at her own tragic end.

The health of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn:

  • There are some theories about the health of Henry VIII. One was that he had scurvy because of his notoriously meat-heavy diet. Another is that he, his siblings and his offspring, suffered from diabetes. Still another was that he suffered from syphilis. His body was last exhumed in 1812 before any conclusive tests were available. However, there was an epidemic of syphilis in Europe during the 1500’s, and the symptoms of syphilis listed by The New Complete Medical and Health Encyclopedia (published by Lexicon) somewhat match the health ailments Henry VIII experienced in his lifetime. In particular, the changes in his personality and mental state from the start to the end of his reign make syphilis possible. Katherine of Aragon, his first wife, was known to have suffered from a "mysterious female ailment" that might possibly have been related to infection. In addition, infants born to infected mothers can be stillborn, die shortly after birth, or suffer health ailments that can lead to death years later. Henry VIII admittedly had some trouble fathering viable infants, and produced children with all of the aforementioned results. Syphilis is one possible cause. However, there is nothing more substantial than speculation to support this theory at the present time. 

  • Other arguments make a very convincing case for diabetes and strokes. 

  • While the diagnosis of diabetes and its symptoms appears to me personally to be the most likely overall, there is nothing to prevent a person from suffering from two or more of these ailments at once. 

In addition, a novelist has the power to do with her characters whatever she wishes.

For Henry VIII, I choose syphilis .

  • The "sweating sickness" referred to in Threads is not bubonic plague, as was suggested on some Internet sites. Karen Lindsey noted that it was a "bizarre illness" sometimes called "the English disease" because only the English seemed to have developed no immunity toward it when it spread across Europe. Eric W. Ives wrote that it was highly contagious, frequently fatal, and may have been related to the Spanish influenza that killed millions in 1918.

Even the experts are not certain what the sweating sickness was - or is. Scientists are examining the remains of Arthur Tudor, older brother to Henry VIII, in hopes of further identifying the illness, which they suspect was the cause of his death. 

Also see http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Documents/sweating_sickness.htm for additional information, including symptoms and speculation of its cause.

Anne contracted this illness during the sweating sickness epidemic of 1528, and her sister's husband died from it. Henry was distraught while Anne was ill, but could not see her himself since he had to stay at a distance from infection. Instead, he sent his second best surgeon to attend to her (he kept his best surgeon for himself).  By the time the surgeon arrived, Anne, who was always very healthy, was already on the mend.

Her Trial and Execution:

  • According to Eric W. Ives, Anne said to Henry in 1530, "It is foretold in ancient prophesies that at this time a queen shall be burnt. But even if I were to suffer a thousand deaths, my love for you would not abate one jot." Henry almost had her burnt at the stake, then changed his mind and allowed her to be executed instead. He even allowed her to be executed with a sword rather than an axe, and gave her a choice in who would perform the deed. Anne chose a French executioner who was said to be very skilled.

  • Henry VIII forced Anne's former lover, Henry Percy, to sit on the jury that found Anne guilty of adultery. Since Percy was one of those accused of having committed adultery with Anne, he had to also submit to interrogation. When the verdict was announced, Percy collapsed and had to be carried from the courtroom.

  • The king dismissed Anne's servants and disbanded her household before her trial leaving no serious question as to his intentions. While one or two sources suggested that the trial was "fair", common sense leads you to wonder how Henry could know Anne would no longer need her household unless he was certain of the outcome of the trial before it was even conducted.

  • Shortly before the execution, he also annulled their marriage. Common sense also makes you wonder how Anne could have committed adultery when she was never married to Henry in the first place.

  • According to Eric W. Ives, her executioner was so taken by Anne that he was shaken, and found it difficult to proceed with the execution. In order to distract her, he shouted, "Where is my sword?" just before killing her so that Anne could die thinking she had a few seconds more to live.

After her death:

  • Henry VIII lived another 11 years after Anne Boleyn died, and married four more times. Jane Seymour died after giving birth to Prince Edward (who outlived his father, but not for long). Henry then was betrothed to Anne of Cleves on the basis of a flattering portrait, but upon seeing the woman herself, was appalled and repelled by her unattractiveness and quickly arranged for a divorce without ever consummating the marriage. Next was a young girl (reports of her age vary between 15 and 21), Katherine Howard, who had a very poorly-hidden, ill-advised affair with her young lover, and was subsequently beheaded. Last was Katherine Parr, who gathered up all of Henry’s children, brought them to live with their father, and acted as a kindly mother toward all of them. She also acted in the unenviable capacity as nurse to Henry who, toward the end of his life was enormously obese and covered with oozing sores that emitted a foul odor. A tour guide at Hampton Court Palace noted that you could smell Henry before you saw him. 

  • Within one or two years after Anne died, both her parents died as well, so Hever Castle became the property of the Crown. Henry VIII gave it as a divorce gift to Anne of Cleves, who lived in it thereafter. It then passed through other hands, and was in a state of abandoned disrepair until the early 1900’s when William Waldorf Astor purchased it, renovated it, and essentially saved it. It now has an Italian garden, two mazes, and a little village of Tudor-style cottages. It is open to the public and a visit is enthusiastically recommended.

See Hever Castle for photographs of the castle and the grounds.

  • Hever Castle has Anne’s prayer book encased in glass and opened to a page where Anne wrote, "Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day." Her handwriting was even, graceful and without many flourishes. When signing her name to the passage, she wrote: "anne boleyn", and did not capitalize the "A" or the "B".

  • In another prayer book, she cryptically wrote, "The time will come" in French. The page with this notation displays a picture of the Resurrection of the Dead, illustrating corpses preparing to climb out of their graves.

In Threads, the Anne Boleyn I offer to you is the one I kept seeing in each of her biographies, whatever facts they presented or how those facts colored her, the Anne who was always described as an "enigma". I think that term applies to anyone who has a difficult personality, but whose character is essentially good.   

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