Anne Boleyn. Anne Bullen. Anna Bolina. Six-fingered whore-bag. Home-wrecking witch. Brother-fucking traitor.
These are some of the names we call history’s most scandalous woman. What do I call her, you ask? My fucking IDOL is what. Last semester in Bath, I would often attempt to offer scholarly remarks on the aforementioned perp in class, and Ruth would look at me quizzically and say something like, “are you saying that because you read it in The Other Boleyn Girl.” The answer was always a sheepish, “yes.” But for the record, I’m currently reading David Starkey’s Six Wives of Henry VIII, which might not be scholarly, but it’s a step above historical Romance, ok?! The point is, I have reveled in this story for some time and have fallen very deeply in love.
Other than being the strongest Strong Black Woman we’ve written about to date, Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII whose feminine power and intellectual prowess started the English Reformation and changed the course of western civilization, and perhaps most importantly, she was the mother of England’s greatest queen.
The story begins at a small estate called Hever, and ends exactly 475 years ago TODAY at Tower Green atop a charming little scaffold. But we have a while before things get grim, so let’s enjoy our heroine’s childhood while we can, am I right?!
Anne was the second daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. They were a power couple if I’ve ever heard of one. They probably sat up in bed at night with their Macbooks and a copy of the wall street journal, moving little chess pieces that looked like their children around on a map, plotting world domination.
Their first daughter was a sassy little tart named Mary. Contrary to Phillipa Gregory’s entertaining but inaccurate portrayal of Mary, Anne’s older sister was probably kind of a dumb-dumb. She got kicked out of the French court in 1519 for boning too many dudes, namely the King. Let me repeat that. The FRENCH kicked HER out of court. For boning TOO MANY dudes. Not something the Frenchies are typically concerned with, so she must have been getting WAY too many D’s wet is all I’m saying.
See, while Mary was off learning how to give BJ’s and having two of King Henry’s illegitimate children (YUP!), Anne was sent off to the most elite educative households on the continent where she learned French and Latin, read Aristotle and Socrates, was exposed to the new Humanism of the English Renaissance, learned french fashion, dance, and music, theology and political theory and became quite the smarty pants along with her brother and best friend, George Boleyn. Aside from her excellent education, one of the most indelible marks on Anne’s adolescence was her sister’s affair with the King and how she never became anything other than the Other Woman. Savvy and sexy young woman that she was, girlfriend knew she was never going to spread her legs unless he put a ring on it (to quote another strong black woman I know.)
At the court of H.VIII, where she was a lady in waiting to wifey numero uno, she had an affair with a man named Henry Percy. They entered into a secret betrothal but then Percy’s dad found out and was like, “HA! No.” and Anne was sent off to the country to lay low for a while. She came back to court eventually and then might have had a little flirtation with the poet Thomas Wyatt. Or maybe he was just obsessed with her. We don’t really know. What we do know is that Wyatt wrote some beautiful poetry that was later used as evidence to condemn Anne to death on charges of adultery. WOOPSIES. But let’s not get aHEAD of ourselves (DO YOU GET IT?! It’s not a BJ joke this time! It’s an execution joke!! HA! Those are the best kind.)
In 1526, H.VIII fell in love with Anne and wanted to get what was his one way or another. He spent a year begging her to be his mistress — who would say no to that you ask? the answer is NO ONE which is why Anne was so incredible — she was like, “I’m a lady! I do lady things! And you’re going to have to marry me if you want to see what’s under these bloomers.” I want you to forget the image of Henry as a fatty right now because he didn’t put on those lbs for a few more years. When he met Anne, he was said to be the handsomest prince in Christendom. (And Anne, Catherine of Aragon said, was the “scandal of Christendom.”) So, reason number one why Anne was a badass, she refused to lay one of the hottest, most powerful men in Europe and he stayed real fucking interested for, like, 6 years! According to wiki, scholars maintain that they probably weren’t doing it for MOST of their relationship. I think we can all agree that Blue Balls champion of the world for the years 1526-1533 goes to King Henry VIII of England. Rock on, man. After a year, Anne coyly (I imagine) agreed to marry Henry. But OOPS, Henry was still married to Queen Kat.
We’ll skip over the next six years because MRG pretty much covered the basics in our last post. Here are the highlights:
- Bye bye Queen Catherine!
- Hello Act of Supremacy!
- Adios Catholicism!
- Shalom Church of England!
- Tata Thomas More!
- Bonjour Thomas Cromwell!
- Ciao checks and balances!
- Aloha absolute power!
After that delightfully linguistic summary, let’s conclude our story.
So Catherine was stripped of her title and sent to die in a very drafty castle built on a swamp, and on June 1, 1533, Anne’s coronation took place at Westminster. At the time of her coronation, she was pregnant with a baby that everyone was SURE was a boy. SO…FUN FACT courtesy of MRG…because everyone was so certain that she was pregnant with the future King o’ England, she was crowned using the crown that is only used for Kings. Pretty cool, huh?
But, SHOCKER, it wasn’t a boy! Anne gave birth to princess Elizabeth who later became my number two favorite historical figure ever, Elizabeth I of England. (Number One goes to Anne and a Number Three goes to early 20th century American attorney, Clarence Darrow.) Not to get all sappy, but I think you can tell the kind of woman Anne must have really been when you look at Elizabeth. She was brilliant and beautiful, with a terrible temper (that probably came from her father), fiercely outspoken, assertive, headstrong, and an inspiring leader with impeccable taste.
People were OK with the baby being a girl. This time. But pressure was ON for her next pregnancy. It HAD to be a boy. Or else. (Jeezuz, can you imagine carrying a baby to term under that kind of stress?! Yeah. Me neither.) She was pregnant again in 1535 and everyone was SURE it was going to be a boy. I mean, all of the best astrologists told them it would be. Early in 1536, Anne was watching Henry joust in a tournament when he was unhorsed and knocked unconscious for, like, 2 hours. Miscarriage 5 days later. Who can blame her?
Answer: a lot of people. Vicious court rumors about her started to flare up around the time of the miscarriage. People said she was a witch, some people blamed her for the Henry’s tyrannical government, others said that she had a secret miscarriage or stillborn early in 1534 and that the baby was a monster, and that she maybe kind of was having affairs with several other men and maybe kind of also her brother. Uh. Oh.
As she was recovering from the miscarriage after the tournament, Henry started to lose interest. What was the easiest way to get rid of your wife when you’ve already changed the religion of an entire country in order to get permission for a divorce from your first wife? Answer: Kill the bitch.
Anne was brought up on charges of adultery, incest and treason. George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton, a court musician that he was probably boning were brought up on charges of treason and sodomy (ie doing it in the butt.) After probably hours of torture, Smeaton admitted to being the Queen’s lover. The two perfectly coiffed men were executed on tower green outside Anne’s tower room window on the 16th of May, 1536.
Anne was originally sentenced to execution by burning, but loving husband that he was, Henry had it switched to a beheading. He also had a skilled swordsman sent from France to execute her with a sword rather than the typical axe. SO KIND! According to Showtime’s The Tudors (which is all about historical accuracy) Henry had her execution delayed several times to fuck with her mind. I don’t know how true that is, but it makes a good story. She saw Thomas Cranmer on the morning of her execution for her last confessions and swore that she was never unfaithful to the King.
On MAY 19 1536, Anne Boleyn’s head was chopped off by a French swordsman in a private execution in the Tower of London. And just like that, one of the most brilliant but fatally ambitious women in history was gone.
What do I think? Did she do her brother? Did she have any affairs? Was she a witch? WELL I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet, but Anne Boleyn was brilliant. So no, she probably didn’t do any of it. She was too smart, too ambitious, too cautious, too aware of the system of the English Royal Court to make a wrong move. I think that she was the victim of an immature, resentful, and impatient King and a jealous court. And that’s it.
So let’s call this post what it is. A love letter to my historical idol. Let’s just make it official, shall we?
(Queen) Anne Boleyn,
I wish you hadn’t died when you did because it was probably really unfair, but your story has provided inspiration and material for countless artists, playwrights, novelists, Showtime producers, and college girls who write history blogs. So for that reason I’m not entirely upset about your untimely and probably unfair execution. I just have a really big historical boner for you and your sexploits, OK?! There, I said it. It’s true.
Just in case you haven’t heard, your daughter ended up leading England through its greatest years all by herself, no cray-cray king by her side.
In conclusion, you are super interesting and I love learning about you.
With an embarrassing amount of nerdthusiasm for your story,
PS — I love that necklace you always wear! I have one just like it!
Once upon a time in a little land called “Sixteenth-century Europe,” the lines of succession in England and Spain were all kinds of fucked up thanks to a few wars, intermarriage, and some big ol’ coups d’etat (not sure if that’s the plural, this is America, DAMMIT. Deal with me). Then the royal mommies and daddies in both countries boned, bringing Spain a sweet baby girl and England the heir presumptive to the throne. And faster than you can say “marriage by proxy,” Ferdinand and Isabella arranged that marriage right up and little Katherine of Aragon and strapping young Arthur of England were hitched.
SCREEEEEECHHHHHHHH. Wait, MRG, I thought this week was all about Henry’s wives…who’s this Aruthur motherfucker? Well I’m so glad you asked.
Dear Arthur was the eldest son of Henry VII, and due to the aforementioned European shitshow, Henry wanted to get his son betrothed real quick while simultaneously taking a huge shit on France. Literally (not literally). And the best way to do that was to secure a marital alliance with the other country who hated the Frenchies, Spain. It didn’t hurt that young Katherine had a lot of English royal blood in her due to
inbreeding similar arranged marriages, thus giving any offspring all kinds of legitimate claims to the throne.
On paper, the practice of arranged marriage seems sort of icky. But Katherine and Arthur really liked and respected each other. Sure, they were married by proxy when they were fifteen, but that was only after they exchanged letters in Latin for years and Arthur felt like he knew her well enough. Why Latin? Because they didn’t have any other language in common. And when they finally met in real life, they couldn’t even use the Latin because they’d learned different pronunciations. Anyway, I’m digressing, big-time. They met, they had an un-proxied wedding, they had a few months of marital bliss, and then they both got the sweating sickness in Wales. He died in April 1502, and she recovered only to find out her new hubby didn’t make it.
And that motherfucker Henry VII was like, “HELL NO. Not returning that sweet-ass dowry back to Spain. France probably had something to do with this. SON, GET THE FUCK OVER HERE.” So to avoid the “complications” of “reasonably allowing Katherine to return to her homeland with her stuff,” Henry VII decided that the seventeen-year-old widow would marry his TWELVE-year-old son, Henry VIII. Ostensibly, they would wait until Henry was a little older, but also until Katherine’s mom died and her inheritance fucking ballooned to include lots of Spanish lands.
OKAY. They finally got married on June 11, 1509. And they got right to the business of baby makin.’ But although poor sweet Katherine got knocked up six times, only her fifth child, Mary, survived to adulthood (and turned out to be a real bitch, but that’s another story). As a result, she became a lot more religious (in the Catholic persuasion, which will be important later) in a scholarly way as well as in practice. She was just a good, good woman, she was virtuous, well read, beautiful, smart, modest. The English people just loved her. And despite his numerous affairs, Henry loved her too. And they were very happy together for a long time.
UNTIL 1525, THAT IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
That’s when Katherine was like, “Hey, I need a new lady-in-waiting. LET ME CHOOSE THIS FOXY REDHEAD WHO’S SUPER SEXY AND SMART AND EVERYTHING MY HUSBAND COULD EVER WANT IN A SEXUAL/LIFE PARTNER.” And by this time, Katherine is 50. She’s really not looking her best. And she can’t have kids anymore, which means no legitimate male heirs for Henry. And that whole male heir thing was sort of a big deal for him, as you’ll see in the next few posts. Anne Boleyn was a very sassy, very fertile, first-class minx, and poor Katherine, although she was a strong, beautiful, moral, dignified woman, just didn’t stand a fucking chance once Anne Boleyn and her French hood hit Whitehall.
And seeing that Anne was smoking hot and that poor Katherine was as barren as Death Valley in August (there was a lot more going on, but I don’t want to prematurely steal LHB’s Boleyn-loving thurnder), Henry was like, “Hmmmm…how the fuck can I get out of this whole multiple-decade, formerly-loving, non-heir-producing marriage thing I got going on here?” So he skipped on over to his favorite Bible, found a passage that could kind of sort of be interpreted as proof that his marriage to Katherine was cursed because she had already boned his brother, and tried to get a good ol’ fashioned annulment from the Holy Roman Emperor.
EXCEPT said Holy Roman Emperor was Katherine’s nephew, and girlfriend swore up and down that she and Arthur had never ever done it. And they probably hadn’t, because 1) Arthur was mortally ill for like 80% of their marriage and 2) she was really really really Catholic, and apparently the lying is frowned upon in the whole Catholic theology.
Now, if you’ve been in a history class past the eighth grade level, you’ve probably heard of The King’s Great Matter or The Act of Supremacy. And guess what? BOTH of those things have to do with this sexy scandal. The sexiest scandal of all time, probably. Anyway, your education has come full circle. You’re welcome.
So no one wants to give Henry his annulment. And he’s like, “FUCKKKK I just wanna bone Anne but she won’t let me until she’s queen and I just want Katherine to go become a nun or something and get the fuck over herself and why is it so harddddd to rule a country and get laid at the same time?” And sneaky little Anne Boleyn’s like, “Hey boii, why don’t you read these Protestant texts that I like? They’re so hot. And they’re also your window out of this miserable situation and subsequently into my vagina.”
So Henry says, “Suck on this, Rome!” and writes up this little ditty called The Act of Supremacy that makes him the Supreme Head of the Protestant Church of England and forces everyone and their mom to swear by it. And as head of the Church he gives himself that annulment and said sayonara to poor Katherine. Well, that makes it sound like she died. She didn’t. Lots and lots and lots of other Catholics did, including Thomas More, the writer and theologian expertly played by Mr. Knightley in The Tudors. But no, Katherine was sent to live in Kimbolton Castle, where she pretty much confined herself in one room, prayed nonstop, and continued to refer to herself as the Queen. She and her daughter Mary weren’t allowed to see each other until they each acknowledged Anne Boleyn as the rightful Queen. To which both said “Hahahahaaaa NO.”
Katherine’s health deteriorated rapidly, and knowing she was going to die soon, she wrote this fucking tragic and beautiful letter to her ex:
My most dear lord, King and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I ouge [owe] thou forceth me, my case being such, to commend myselv to thou, and to put thou in remembrance with a few words of the healthe and safeguard of thine allm [soul] which thou ougte to preferce before all worldley matters, and before the care and pampering of thy body, for the which thoust have cast me into many calamities and thineselv into many troubles. For my part, I pardon thou everything, and I desire to devoutly pray God that He will pardon thou also. For the rest, I commend unto thou our doughtere Mary, beseeching thou to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat thou also, on behalve of my maides, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all mine other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I makest this vouge [vow], that mine eyes desire thou aboufe all things.
Katharine the Quene
She was such a great bitch, right? A little delusional about the whole annulment thing, but I mean, just a really good person trying to do things the right way. She was literally royally screwed. Even though she only screwed one royal.
Moral of the story: don’t marry your dead husband’s brother, and don’t hire slampieces to work at your house.