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.