The Real Anne Boleyn

Today is the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution.

It seems a worthy sort of anniversary… it’s cold and dreary and raining (which happens to be my favorite kind of weather… but then I’m weird). But my mind is indeed drawn to that impetuous, ambitious woman who made an indisputable impact on history.

For the most part, movies and miniseries get her wrong. The real Anne Boleyn wanted nothing to do with paunchy, randy Henry VIII. She told him to get lost numerous times and then gave him an impossible impasse, figuring it would mean he lost interest. She said she wouldn’t become his mistress, but she would consider becoming his wife.

Little did she know he would tear apart his kingdom, wrench it out of the influence of Rome, and do as she asked, jolting a popular queen in the process.

Modern readers see Henry for what he was… an indisputable jerk. He had a big girth, a bad temper, a cruel side, and a habit for lopping people’s heads off. But the real Henry was also charming, and had once been very handsome. He was a romantic, a poet whose scribbled lines wedged their way into Anne’s determined little heart, and made her actually fall in love with him. For seven years, while he fought to be rid of Katharine of Aragon, fought against the Roman Catholic Church, refused to listen to his friends and advisors, he remained determined in his pursuit of Anne.

Finally, they married in secret and she became the queen. But it was not to last long. Anne had not been born as a monarch. She did not know the rules. She could not play the game that Katharine had mastered with such grace. She could not ignore his affairs and wandering eye. She could not resist contradicting him in public. By being true to herself, by being the fiery, passionate woman that had made him fall in love with her in the first place, she sealed her own fate.

But Anne was strong to the very end. Even as she went to her execution, she said that executioner would not have a hard time of it, for she had such a slender little neck. She learned a brutal, cruel, hard lesson that day… that once you fight for something and have it and it disappoints you, it can be discarded.

I have mixed feelings about Anne. I admire her courage and fierceness. I admire her cleverness and charm, for though she was not beautiful, she did captivate. I do not admire her harsh words, or her role in breaking up a marriage. I think the modern “worship” of her by many people is misguided. Anne was many things… a flawed, sinful human being one of them. She was not a saint, but neither was she a whore. She was a victim of a powerful man and her greatest mistake was not learning from the past. She did not need his treatment of Katharine and fear it for herself.

Many years ago, a queen lost her head. And whatever you think of Anne, it is a sad thing.

15 Replies to “The Real Anne Boleyn”

  1. I’m pretty sure she knew the game but she lost. Like in GOT, in the game of thrones, you win or you die. She failed to give him a male heir and that was her death sentence.

    RIP beautiful Anne Boleyn

  2. I can’t read your whole article on Irene! If I click on the link, it tells me the article’s not there. 😦

  3. I shouldn’t have but I did – some of the time, actually like Anne in “The Tudors.” She was more evil in “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Mom and I want to watch the latter again and one of these days, I’ll resume re-watching the Showtime series.

  4. Excellent article — reminded me of why I love C.W. Gortner’s novel about Catherine de’Medici — history is written by the winners, and when someone can pull back the curtain and remind us of the multi-faceted nature of real, live, human beings who’ve often become historical caricatures…that’s always a good thing, I think.

    Ruth

    1. Yeah, it is. And it’s also interesting to see how personal opinions shape history. Would we remember Queen Mary so cruelly had not her Protestant sister’s historians told us the tale?

        1. I fear we’ll never know what the real Mary Tudor was like. All of her sister’s Reformist biographers got immediately to work on her reputation, with the agenda of making Elizabeth look good.

  5. I think sometimes we tend to give history legends a larger than life image, when in reality they were human, just like any person, they had their good qualities and their bad ones.

    1. Yes, and it’s always good to remember that — everyone has their faults, and their strengths, and no one in history is truly painted in black and white.

  6. My feelings of Anne are mixed as well. I think it’s terrible that she met her end the way she did, but I think it was wrong how she encouraged others to abuse Mary. Note: I have no sympathy for Mary during her rule.

    I wonder how differently things would have turned out, had Henry VIII not gone out to make a notorious name for himself. I’m forever hearing cracks about him and his knack for getting rid of his wives. Great post!

    1. She was very nasty to Mary, I agree. But I have more empathy for Mary than you do, simply because I think those people around her manipulated and abused her in her reign and left her to carry all the blame. Given what I know of Catholicism during that time period, I know that she believed the salvation not only of herself but also England was on the line. It doesn’t make her actions right… but it makes me understand them, however immoral they might have been.

      History — both as we know it, and as Christianity knows it — would have been very different and I daresay, possibly even better off if Henry had stuck with his first wife until the end.

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