Capricious Life of Anne Boleyn, The Woman Behind the Church of England
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and therefore a queen of England. In order to marry Anne, the English king broke away from Rome and formed the Church of England. Henry had hoped that Anne would provide him with a male heir. When this failed, however, Henry lost interest in her and began having affairs with other women. Eventually, Anne was tried for adultery, incest, and high treason, found guilty, and executed.
When Was Anne Boleyn Born?
Anne Boleyn was born between 1501 and 1507. The Boleyn family is recorded to have had humble origins in the Norfolk village of Salle. Her great grandfather was Geoffrey Boleyn, who was a hatter in London during the 1430s.
In 1457, Geoffrey was appointed the Mayor of London , and by the time of his death, had become part of the gentry. Anne’s father was Sir Thomas Boleyn, a courtier and diplomat, while her mother was Elizabeth, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk .
Anne spent her childhood and adolescence in Europe. Part of her childhood was spent at the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria, the regent of the Netherlands. After that, she was sent to France, where she served in the household of Mary, the sister of Henry VIII and the wife of the French King, Louis XII. After the death of the king, Anne remained in France for six or seven years more serving the new queen, Claude.
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Anne Boleyn – A Lady-in-Waiting
In 1522, Anne returned to England and was appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon , the wife of Henry VIII. At court, she soon became popular among the young men. Anne was not considered to have been an exceptionally beautiful woman. She is said to have had a large mole on the side of her neck and an extra finger on her left hand.
Nevertheless, it was her sharp wit and charm that earned her admiration. By 1523 Anne was betrothed to Henry Percy the son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland. The match, however, was refused by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and the couple never got married.
Anne’s sister, Mary, was also at the English court and the king had already had an affair with her. As a result of this, the Boleyn family was showered with gifts and titles. Sir Thomas Boleyn, for instance, was made Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, Anne and Mary’s brother George Boleyn was appointed to the Royal Privy Chamber. At some point in time, Henry VIII was enamored with Anne and began to pursue her.
King Henry and Anne Boleyn deer hunting in Windsor Forest. ( bridgeman / Public Domain )
King Henry VIII Favors Anne
Although Henry VIII had intended to make Anne his mistress, she would have none of that. Anne avoided the king and would only give in to his advances if she were made his queen. The major obstacle to this was the king’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, and Henry VIII initiated secret proceedings to obtain an annulment from her.
The king had grown tired of Catherine, whose failure to produce a male heir further worked against her favor. Nevertheless, Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and one of the most powerful men in Europe. Unwilling to offend the emperor, the pope Clement VII was unwilling to annul the marriage.
In 1533, Henry VIII took matters into his own hands, married Anne in a secret ceremony in January and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Anne was crowned queen in June of the same year and in September gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I . In the following year, the Act of Supremacy was passed, making Henry VIII the supreme head of the Church of England.
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, Wife of Henry VIII, Mother of Elizabeth I. (Lisby / Public Domain )
Henry VIII Loses Interest
If Henry VIII’s defiance of Rome signified his love for Anne, this passion was not to last. In 1534, Anne had a miscarriage and in 1536 the queen gave birth to a still-born male child. By this time, the king had lost interest in Anne and was already having affairs with other women, most notably Jane Seymour, one of the queen’s maids-of-honor. To make matters worse, due to Anne’s arrogant behavior she had made enemies at court and these were now plotting her downfall.
On May 2, 1536, Anne was arrested at Greenwich and taken to the Tower of London . She was charged with adultery, incest, and plotting to murder the king and was conveniently found guilty during the trial held on May 15. She was sentenced to be beheaded and an expert swordsman from Calais had been summoned to be her executioner. The sharp sword was supposed to deliver a cleaner cut compared to the traditional axe used for such executions.
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Anne Boleyn in the Tower. (Musée Rolin / Public Domain )
How Did Anne Die?
On the morning of May 19, Anne was taken to Tower Green where she was beheaded. Her remains were buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, the parish church of the Tower of London. When the chapel was renovated during the reign of Queen Victoria, Anne’s remains were identified and her final resting place is now marked in the marble floor.
Queen Anne before Decapitation - 16th century. ( Erica Guilane-Nachez / Adobe)
Top image: Henry VIII's first interview with Anne Boleyn. Source: FA2010 / Public Domain .
By Wu Mingren
Updated on June 3, 2020.
englishhistory.net, 2018. Anne Boleyn. [Online] Available at: https://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/anne-boleyn/
Norton, E., 2018. 11 things you (probably) didn’t know about Anne Boleyn. [Online] Available at: https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-anne-boleyn/
The BBC, 2018. Anne Boleyn. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/people/anne_boleyn/
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. Anne Boleyn. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anne-Boleyn
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