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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
for more photographs of the castle and the grounds.
by Nancy Enright,
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
This book also favors a birth year of 1501 (versus
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.
for a comparison of
Anne's handwriting in 1514 to that of a seven year old child.
Anne Boleyn's Birth Year
information and speculation about her year of birth.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Anne played several instruments, including the lute, harp and
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
can listen to a short clip of this song at
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.
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 (some
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.
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
openly pursue Anne for as long as one to four years after her
betrothal to Percy was broken.
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
Romance Between Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy
for the Cavendish
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
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
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
"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
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.
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.
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.
addition, a novelist has the power
to do with her characters whatever she wishes.
For Henry VIII, I choose syphilis
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.
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.
for additional information, including symptoms and speculation of its
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
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
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.
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
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
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.