Anne Boleyn's involvement with King Henry VIII of England helped to change the course of history. Such a remarkable role would not have been foreseen at her birth. Historians can only conjecture that she was born between 1501 and 1509, with a likely date of 1507. Her father, Thomas Boleyn, was a member of the Privy Council and an important diplomat who served his king. It was Thomas' travels to France that earned Anne, and her older sister Mary, a place at French court. Both of them spent time as lady's maids to royal members of the French court.
Upon her return to England, her father had arranged for her to marry James Butler. This would have been politically advantageous to her father as well as King Henry VIII. The wedding never took place, however, due to Anne's attraction to Lord James Percy. Anne was sent back to her father's native country of Ireland, only to be summoned back in 1522 to the English court as a lady in waiting to Henry's first wife, Queen Catherine.
While serving Catherine in about 1526, Anne caught the eye of King Henry, who had already had an affair with her older sister Mary. Anne long resisted Henry's pressure to become his mistress, preferring marriage. His desire for Anne increased his efforts to secure an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. During their eighteen-year marriage, Catherine had failed to give Henry a male heir to the throne of England, only producing a daughter, Mary. Henry wanted a male heir to prevent a civil war, like the Wars of the Roses which his father, Henry VII had won to become king. So in 1527 Henry asked the pope for an annulment of his marriage, similar to other annulments the pope had granted kings and princes. Catherine on the other hand had many sympathizers and supporters, including her nephew, Emperor Charles V, whose armies threatened the pope in Rome. After theologians argued that the pope lacked freedom to make a decision on the matter, in January 1533, Henry secretly wed Anne who was already pregnant with the couple's first child Elizabeth.
Three months before Henry and Catherine's marriage was officially declared invalid by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anne was only twenty-six years old and Henry was forty-two. Still, Anne was an educated and independent woman. Many have compared her and the recently deceased Diana, Princess of Wales (see below). While many Roman Catholics despised her, many Protestant Reformers hailed Anne and praised her. Anne's protection helped the Protestants further their cause. Henry crowned her queen on June 1, 1533.
As a result of his marriage problems, Henry and his Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which proclaimed the king as head of the Church of England. Although Henry VIII himself was a religious conservative, England slowly began to create the branch of Christianity known as Anglicanism, which often considers itself to have taken a middle road between Luther's and Calvin's Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It also closely involved Parliament in the key decisions, including the Act of Succession, allowing representatives of the people a vital role in choosing the next dynastic monarch.
This change did not help Anne, though, since after three years of marriage she had not provided a male heir (after two stillbirths). Henry began to be disenchanted with Anne and took on another mistress, Jane Seymour. The ex-queen Catherine had also died on January 7, 1536. On May 2, the king had Anne arrested. The king made a barrage of charges made against Anne, including that she was a witch (see below).
Henry devised a plot with the assistance of Thomas Cromwell. Anne was charged with adultery, including an incestuous relationship with her brother George. Many researchers have argued, however, that these charges were false. Her alleged suitors confessed to the charges under torture, leaving doubt that Anne was really guilty. The charges of adultery brought against Anne were merely an excuse to have Anne executed so that Henry would be free to marry Jane Seymour. She was executed primarily because she did not produce a surviving male heir to the throne.
Despite Anne's attempt to persuade the court to give her a fair trial, she was found guilty, her marriage dissolved and her daughter Elizabeth a bastard.. Anne Boleyn was beheaded on May 19, 1536. Henry married Jane Seymour soon following, and never spoke of Anne ever again.
Jane Seymour gave Henry his long-desired male heir, but she died
after childbirth. Henry would go on and marry three other women: Anne of Cleves,
Anne's cousin Katherine Howard, and Katherine Parr, who outlived Henry.
Jane's son reigned a few years as King Edward VI, but he died young.
Catherine's daughter Mary became queen, and England did not suffer a serious
civil war as Henry had feared. But Queen Mary
gained a notorious reputation and also died after a few years. So, Anne's daughter Elizabeth
inherited the throne to become the great Queen Elizabeth I,
who, ironically, was a more successful ruler than most monarchs, male or female.
Original biography Melissa Toscani, as revised by Brian A. Pavlac
"Anne Boleyn as a Witch," by Brian A. Pavlac.
Anne Boleyn's reputation for being a witch has been unfairly held against her. In trying to find grounds to incriminate her, King Henry claimed that she had used witchcraft to make him fall in love with her. He also said he feared that she would harm him with poison -- a common accusation against witches. Her enemies also repeated charges of physical deformity, such as that she was too tall, had a sixth finger (which was probably just an extra fingernail), and had strange warts and growths on her body that could have been witch's teats. The allegedly deformed male fetus of her last birth in 1536 was also used against her. While raised as an issue at first, witchcraft did not end up among the charges used by the court which found her guilty of treason in conspiracy with her alleged lovers (including her brother). That the first English law against witchcraft was passed just a few years after her trial, in 1542, reflects the growing fears about witches in England, in which Anne was also ensnared. On Anne and witchcraft, see especially the book by Warnicke. For more on witches see The Witch Hunts (1400-1800).
"Parallels of Anne Boleyn and Princess Di: Disposable Royal Wives" by Brian A. Pavlac.
The most obvious parallel between Queen Anne (b.1507?-d.1536) and Princess Diana (b. 1961-d.1997) is that both were cast aside, when the monarchy no longer needed them. But how these women of minor nobility became and lived as royal wives was very different.
King Henry VIII at first had a true passion for Anne, who, surprisingly, was not eager to fall into the king's bed. Her reputation for virginity, unlike her older sister whose sexual activity was less pure, made her a suitable breeding candidate for royal offspring. Henry Tudor's tempting her with marriage eventually overcame her resistance. Unfortunately, the scandal created by his marrying her and annulling his first marriage with Catherine of Aragon did not help Anne's popularity. Many with Roman Catholic sympathies blamed her for the break with the papacy. And Anne had no real public role, being only perceived as a sexual partner and a breeder--as was typical of the 16th Century. The English people had little contact with or love for her (except for a few Protestant reformers).
Anne's failure to bear an heir doomed her. When Henry turned to another (Jane Seymour) for sex and breeding, he needed to get rid of Anne as quickly and conveniently as possible. Tortured conspirators and bribed or intimidated witnesses before a kangaroo court expedited her execution.
Although the media manufactured a romance, Charles and Di never shared much passion. Prince Charles Windsor seems to have used Lady Diana Spencer's virtue of virginity as the main criteria for choosing her as a spouse (and like Anne, Di had an older sister, Sarah, who had been involved with the prince, but lacked the virtuous reputation). Charles, for his own reasons, clearly never desired her as a sexual partner, turning to his old flame, Camilla. Charles would hardly have been able to end the marriage, though, since Diana was protected in her position by tradition, church law, and the Queen's conservative attitudes on family. Most important, modern media had granted her a unique public status as a popular royal figure comparable to, if not surpassing, Charles and even Queen Elizabeth II.
And Princess Di did fulfill her role as a breeder, begetting the "heir and the spare." But she refused to put up with a sham marriage, and revealed her unhappiness to the sympathetic media, leading to a formal marital separation. Because of the exposure of Di's own marital infidelity, however, she embarrassed the monarchy. Although she lost some public sympathy, her charm and popularity still protected her. And, fortunately, by the late 20th Century divorce was a more acceptable means of dumping adulterous royal wives than execution. The monarchy eventually agreed to the end of the marriage in 1996. Her sudden and surprising death in 1997 preserved her in public memory as a life cut short.
Strangely enough, the idea of the execution method has been resurrected with posthumous publications (by her butler among others) of Diana's alleged fear that she would be murdered to make way for Charles to legitimately remarry. Thus the historical connection between Princess Di and Queen Anne Boleyn has become more noticeable.
Albert, Marvin H. The Divorce. New York, N.Y.: Simon Shuster, 1965.
Albert begins this book by examining the life of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Spain. The second portion of the book contains a major section dedicated to Anne Boleyn. Boleyn is referred to as the "other woman." The book also examines the constant meddling by Cardinal Wolsey into both Anne's and Henry's lives. Also, mentioned is how Henry's wish to divorce his first wife Catherine, was refused by Pope Clement and how this situation would be a key factor in England's break from the Catholic Church. The book also discusses the enemies Henry made by his divorce from Catherine and the large number of supporters she would acquire. Anne Boleyn's downfall and the accusations, including one of an incestuous relationship with her brother George, made against her, are all discussed. This chapter is appropriately entitled, 'Sword for a slender neck.' The work includes an index and bibliography to assist in further research of Anne Boleyn and also providing evidence and support to Albert's work. Included are also copies of handwritten letters from Catherine to Henry, and vice versa.
Anonymous. "Boleyn, Anne." Biography. 22 September 1997. http://www.biography.com (19
Written as an encyclopedia article, this site only offers an extremely brief synopsis of Anne Boleyn's life. This website includes a search option to research other famous individuals but the information given is also brief.
Bowle, John. Henry VIII. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.
Although the book primarily concerns itself with the life of Henry VIII, it does not fail to discuss and analyze the relationship between Henry and Anne Boleyn. It discusses Henry's actions appointing Anne to the position of Marchioness of Pembroke, and the large endowment she would receive with that title. After Anne Boleyn was married to Henry and because she was the new Queen of England, she would face a great deal of unpopularity especially from the peasants. They claimed that since Anne came in as Queen, the crops had been terrible, and unemployment and inflation were getting worse (Bowle,176). Many had perceived her as arrogant and cruel. The power that Anne held over Henry was also mentioned. This power is what the author would claim to be his ruination. Henry's claims that he had been seduced by witchcraft and that he was free to take another wife, was a primary reason discussed as to why Henry would ultimately have his wife tried with adultery and treason. This book is a good work written on the life of Henry VIII, but it also provides the reader with some valuable insight on the life of Anne Boleyn. The book includes an index to assist the reader in finding specific people and events in Henry's life as well as a valuable and extensive lineage chart of the royalty of Europe during Henry's time.
Bruce, Marie Louise. Anne Boleyn. New York, N.Y.: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan,
Bruce provides the reader with an in depth, thorough examination of Anne Boleyn's life. Anne was given contact to the Royal Court through her father, Thomas Boleyn, one of six of Henry VII's Esquires. When Henry VII died, Thomas held on to his position in the royal household. Anne received an education in France and as the author points out, "her education in France was influenced by two opposing attitudes in the King's Court, a devout, almost monastic religious piety, and a rampant eroticism disguised by the gallant conventions of 'courtly love'." Both attitudes were to have profound influence on Anne's character and play a significant role in Anne's life. Upon her return from France, Anne would enjoy a life in the court of Henry VIII and she was to wed James Butler as part of an arrangement made by her father as well as the King, himself. The only problem was that she had eyes for another man, Lord James Percy. An affair would soon ensue and Anne would be exiled to Ireland, home country of her father. Anne, however, would eventually return to England, becoming maid of honor to Queen Catherine, Henry's first wife. As a result of closer contact to the King, it was said that Anne engaged in an affair with poet and consultant to the King, Thomas Wyatt, as well as the King himself. When Catherine did not produce a male heir to the throne, Henry sought a divorce from his wife of eighteen years and to marry Anne. Anne would become Queen, producing only one surviving child, Elizabeth. Anne would now also face a threat from the King's new mistress, Jane Seymour. The King along with Sir Thomas Cromwell plotted a way to dispose of Anne. Anne would be accused and found guilty of adultery, as well as treason. Anne would be held prisoner and given an unjust trial and ultimately beheaded. Bruce includes an extensive section of many useful notes and sources as well as an index, easily helping to further research on Anne Boleyn. There is no doubt of the legitimacy of Bruce's work.
Cockburn, Alexander. "Romance in Ruritania." Nation, 8 February 1993,
An entertaining article, although it fails to significantly mention Anne Boleyn. It does however, use her name to compare the scandal surrounding her marriage to Henry VIII and her death to many other scandals (especially those of sexual nature) to those of the later royal families of England. It refers to those scandals surrounding Queen Victoria, Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The article is used to entertain rather to provide any real informative information surrounding Anne Boleyn nor any of the others mentioned.
Dowling, Maria. "Debate: The Fall of Anne Boleyn Revisited." English
Historical Review, July 1993, 450-451.
Although the magazine in which this article was found is predominately a magazine of book reviews, Dowling presents her critique in the form of a debate. She debates the work of Retha Warnicke, The Fall of Anne Boleyn. Dowling challenges Warnicke's statement regarding why Henry VIII chose to dispose of Anne Boleyn. Warnicke. Warnicke claims it was based on witchcraft, however, Dowling feels she fails to provide enough evidence to support this theory. Dowling also feels that the role Anne played in religion was not adequately presented. This was an informative article presenting the sides of the story, which Warnicke fails to address in her book.
Eakins, Lara E. "Anne Boleyn." Tudor Simplenet.
(10 January 2005).
This site provides a good biography, some interesting portraits of Anne Boleyn, pictures of places where she lived, and a few brief primary sources (like her final speech on the scaffold). Also, as the site's author writes: "This site contains biographical information on people during the Tudor period (1485-1603) of English history, as well as calendars, glossaries, maps, genealogical trees, information on life during the period, Tudor architecture and more. There are also pages on Tudor history in today's world, such as recent discoveries in the news, new books and movies. Connect to others with similar interests through the mailing lists and pen pal pages."
Erickson, Carolly. Mistress Anne. New York, N.Y.: Summit Books, 1984.
An in depth view into the life of Anne Boleyn, which pays particular attention to her life as mistress of Henry VIII. It was important to the Boleyn family that their daughter, marry into an influential family, that is why she was originally to wed James Butler. This marriage would not only benefit the Boleyn family, but England and King Henry as well. This book separates itself from other books written on Anne Boleyn's life, in that it focuses on how Anne's relationships and status would benefit those closest to her. The author also does not deny that Henry was infatuated with Anne but that she would also be very beneficial by perhaps providing him with a male heir to the throne. This would however not turn out to be true. The author also tries to present much of Anne's story in her own words as well as the words of the people close to her. Quotations are frequently used. There is also an interesting section dealing with the warnings that Henry gave Anne about what his relationship to her was costing him in terms of new enemies and the loss of friends. The book stressed that Anne was obligated to Henry. This book is useful in examining the purpose to which Anne served Henry and others. There are many interesting pictures included in this book as well as a thorough bibliography and index.
Hackett, Francis. Henry The Eighth. New York, N.Y.: Liveright Publishing
This book on Henry's life provides the reader with a specific chapter dedicated to Anne Boleyn, as to his other five wives. This book portrays Anne as a political pawn. Henry's relationship to Anne was said to have bore him two or more legitimate children, Queen Elizabeth and the Church of England. The book focuses on Anne's refusal to remain as Henry's mistress, she wanted to be the Queen of England. The book also discusses unpopularity surrounding Henry's divorce from Catherine. Henry as well as Anne were viewed unfavorably many especially women. Anne was said to have to, "fly from an irate mob of thousands of women (Hackett,219)." Although the information concerning Anne Boleyn is included in a brief section dedicated to her, the information is worth reading and provides the reader with some interesting details surrounding the relationship between Henry and Anne.
Ives, E.W. Anne Boleyn. New York, N.Y.: Basil Blackwel Ltd., 1986.
This book begins by including extensive charts of titles as well as offices of the royal houses of Europe. Ives includes thorough information regarding the background of Anne Boleyn as well as the relationships she formed. Ives focuses particular attention to Anne's death and the scandal surrounding it. An interesting section Ives includes regards Anne's taste in art and the qualities that were important to Anne. These include beauty, chastity, virtue, and nobility. Anne's badge, the crowned falcon, is also discussed in detail. There is also a chapter discussing the role in which Anne played during the Reformation. Anne was said to be very fond of the Christian Humanists of France. It also examines what importance the Bible was to her. This book portrays Anne as a victim of the court. This would lead to her untimely death. Ives gives the reader a lengthy, yet very informative and useful book on Anne Boleyn. There is a good index included, to easily the assist the reader.
Owen, Elizabeth, Producer. "The Six Wives of Henry VIII." PBS.
(16 November, 2004).
Part of a website dedicated to the television mini-series. Beautiful design with history in the form of books. Detailed and accurate information. Links to lots of more material. Worth exploring in detail.
Rex, Richard. Henry VIII and the English Reformation. New York, N.Y.: St.
Martin's Press, 1993.
Rex discusses how Anne Boleyn's relationship with Henry proved to be a decisive factor in the Protestant Reformation. It was a victory for Protestantism over Catholicism. Henry's divorce was extremely unpopular and Catherine was soon cast as the wronged wife. Women in particular were sympathetic towards Catherine. The divorce of Catherine and the death of Anne proved that a king could overpower the Catholic Church. Episcopal appointments during the reign of Anne Boleyn were predominately of evangelical patronage reformers, helping to promote and protect Protestant ways. While this book is not a book devoted to the life of Anne Boleyn, it does however, clarify the role Anne played in the Reformation. Notes, an index, and a bibliography are included.
Saraga, Jessica. "Paperback History." History Today, January 1994,
Saraga presents several yet, brief book reviews of historical books available in paperback. Some books are relevant to Anne Boleyn specifically, while others are about people, places, and events of her time. These would include cardinal Wolsey, and the Proestant and Catholic Reformations, English Reformation, Henry VIII, and the Tudors. It gives a review on Retha Warnicke's book, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn. The article provides a list of valuable resources to help further research about Anne Boleyn and people and events relevant to her life and death.
Warnicke, Retha M. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge
University Press, 1989.
Warnicke gives complete backgrounds on Anne Boleyn and her family including family allegiances. The book pays particular attention to the letters written between Henry VIII and Anne while Henry was still married. These letters would be used against Henry during the process of trying to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. There are multiple pictures of Anne, Henry, and his court. The book frequently mentions Anne's patronage and supporters. There is a great deal of attention paid to the sexual allegations, as well as the allegations of witchcraft brought against Anne. Her deformity of a sixth finger was attributed to witchcraft. The secret commission formed to investigate these allegations included Anne's father, Thomas Cromwell and her uncle. Four commoners, her brother, and herself would all be ultimately executed. Henry's marriage to Anne was declared invalid freeing him to marry, Jane Seymour. The author also includes an interesting section about Nicholas Sander, one of the first writers to portray Anne in a very negative light. Warnicke has given counter evidence challenging those accusations made against the Boleyn's, especially the accusation that Anne and her brother George were involved in an incestuous affair. There are extensive notes included at the end of the book and an index. Warnicke tries to present all sides of the stories surrounding Anne Boleyn.
Weber, Louise. Senior Producer. Henry VIII, Masterpiece Theatre. PBS.
(16 November 2004).
A site to accompany the recent television broadcast. It has some useful information on the actual production (with production notes, "frivolous bits" of trivia, synopses), as well as some useful links and an uncommented bibliography.
Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York, N.Y.: Grove
This book begins with an extensive chronology concerning all of Henry's wives. It includes the important events surrounding them. It is very useful and informative. The first part of the book is dedicated to Katherine of Aragon. The second part is dedicated to Anne Boleyn. The third part concerns itself with Henry's four remaining wives: Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Katherine Parr. The chapters dealing specifically with Anne Boleyn, examine how many Catholics despised her but was seen as a saintly queen by Protestant writers. In their eyes she did so much to further true religion in England, gave her protection to the followers of Luther, and produced the great Queen Elizabeth(p144). The book examines how Anne was certainly not a saint, but neither an adulteress or guilty of incest with her brother. It traces the Boleyn family history. The book looks at life at the court, the relationship between Anne and Henry while he was still married to Katherine and her relationship to poet, Thomas Wyatt. The book includes many excerpts of correspondences between Anne and Henry. The King's 'great matter' is discussed in detail and the challenges Henry faced in getting a divorce from Katherine. Henry's need for an alliance with Spain and to make peace with Charles V, nephew of Katherine of Aragon is also examined. Thomas Cromwell and the allegations made against Anne and the conspiracy that transpired are also examined. The Queen's decapitation is described and how King Henry would never speak of her again. The author includes a thorough bibliography and index. There is also a section of genealogical tables of Henry's as well as all of his wives families. Interesting pictures are also included. This book provides a good amount of useful information relevant to the life of Anne Boleyn.
Weir, Alison. The Children of Henry VIII. New York, N.Y.: Ballantine Books,
While this book does not concentrate its attention upon Anne Boleyn, it does give insight into her relationship with her daughter Elizabeth and stepdaughter Mary. Anne possessed a great hatred for Mary and had even urged Henry to have her put to death. On the other hand, Mary refused to acknowledge Anne as the Queen. Eventually Mary would serve as caretaker and ad a role model to Elizabeth as she was growing up. Upon Anne's death, Elizabeth would receive the harsh and cruel treatment that Mary had. Both of Henry's daughters had lived in uncertainty while their brother Edward, was always secure. There is a helpful chart of the heirs of Henry VIII. This is not a useful book on Anne Boleyn but it does help understand the relationship she had with her children.
Williamson, Hugh Ross. The Conspirators and the Crown. New York, N.Y.: Hawthorn
The book does not focus a great deal upon the life of Anne Boleyn. It does, however, mention the poor relationship that existed between Anne and her stepdaughter Mary who was only eight years younger than Anne herself. The author also discusses the allegations that Anne had an affair with dancing man, Mark Smeaton. Mary would accuse stepsister Elizabeth of being the product of that affair. This book does not focus upon Anne Boleyn, it only briefly mentions her in a sporadic fashion. It is however, an interesting book in discussing the relationship between Anne's daughter Elizabeth, and stepsister half-sister Mary. Mary let Elizabeth stay at the court and was a kind of role model to Elizabeth during her younger years. Elizabeth was pronounced illegitimate as Mary had also been once before. There is only a brief index and some pictures included. There is no bibliography to further assist the reader and to also prove legitimacy to Williamson's work.
Zagorin, Perez. "Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Court of Henry VIII." The
Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Winter 1993, 113-141.
Although the article deals basically with Thomas Wyatt and his life at the court of Henry VIII, it does examine the relationship between Anne Boleyn and he. The article refers to Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, and also those who condemned the life of a courtship. Not only Wyatt, but also his family was part of the Tudor family service, and they had profited substantially in doing so. The article examines the role Wyatt played in the Privy Council and the allegations brought against him. He faced an allegation of having an affair with Queen Anne Boleyn. Wyatt would not only face death in this matter but once again with the fall of Thomas Cromwell, the same man responsible for endangering his life in the first case. Wyatt's poetry is examined and the possibility that some of it may have been dedicated to Anne Boleyn is explored. The author concludes that Wyatt probably, at one point loved Boleyn, but that he actually had an affair with her is hard to believe. This article is quite long and extensive. It is a valuable piece written about Wyatt's life and it is also useful in examining the relationship between Wyatt and Boleyn.
"Parallels of Anne Boleyn and Princess Di: Disposable Royal Wives"
"Anne Boleyn as a Witch"
This page has had
Original Biography and bibliography by Melissa Toscani, 1998
"Parallels of Anne Boleyn and Princess Di: Disposable Royal Wives"
and "Anne Boleyn as a Witch" by Brian A. Pavlac
Last Revision by Brian A. Pavlac: 29 March 2007
Copyright © MMV Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Site