I want to thank Leslie personally for providing this quest post for my blog. It has been a wonderful week so far for the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table kick off event with Leslie. There has been some awesome posts re: Ms. Carroll's Notorious Royal Marriages. If you have not had a chance to read all of the book reviews, guest and creative posts I encourage you to visit HFBRT and do so.
Now for Leslie...
Was Anne Boleyn’s greatest “failure” in fact her greatest success?
She reigned for only a thousand days, but perhaps the only other queens of England to have received so much attention over the centuries have been two women who ruled in their own rights, and for exponentially longer: Queen Victoria, and Anne’s only child, Elizabeth I.
Anne’s influence on Henry VIII shaped England’s destiny and affected the kingdom’s relationship with continental Europe as well. Over time, she has been portrayed as a schemer, an evangelical, and even as Henry’s “concubine” before their marriage. It took nearly seven years of parry and thrust (personally as well as politically) before the “I do’s” were exchanged on January 25, 1533—by which point Anne was fairly sure she was pregnant.
“Maternal” is not a word that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Anne Boleyn. But producing an heir was at the core of her job description as queen. Although a female could by law inherit England’s throne (unlike France, where only a male could inherit), anyone who does'nt know how desperate Henry VIII was to have a son has either been living under a rock or dozed through countless history classes.
On June 1, 1533 the six-months-pregnant Anne was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. She wore an ermine-trimmed mantle of violet-colored velvet with a high starched ruff; the folds of her gown cleverly concealed her condition.
The royal couple was in high spirits as they awaited the birth of the son they had so long desired. Anne had endured a difficult pregnancy, particularly in her final months. The king was so anxious about her health that it was said he’d welcome a miscarriage if it would save Anne’s life.
Henry had confided to François I that he had to have a son “for the quiet repose and tranquility of our realm.” He’d already chosen the baby names, expressing a preference for Edward or, of course, Henry. However, at three p.m. on September 7, 1533, Anne gave birth to a flame-haired daughter, whom the monarchs named Elizabeth after both of their mothers.
Because of Anne’s rough pregnancy, Henry’s initial reaction was relief that both mother and child were healthy, followed briefly by delight that his daughter’s coloring was identical to his own. But he could not conceal his overall disappointment at the birth of a girl.
Nor, at the outset, could Anne. Her fortune had risen as far as it ever would, reaching its zenith on September 6, 1533, the day before Elizabeth’s birth. Within the space of a year, Anne had become Marquess of Pembroke, the king’s wife, the Queen of England, and the mother of the heir to the throne—but when that heir turned out to be a girl, her star plummeted. For all Anne’s education, culture, and wit, she was already failing in the one job requirement of a royal consort: she could not bear Henry VIII a son.
Henry cancelled the joust and the other grand celebrations that had been set to take place upon the birth of his son. He had been so sure Anne would give him a boy—she had practically guaranteed it—that the formal documents had been drawn up with the word “Prince” on them. All that was lacking was the insertion of the heir’s name and date of birth. Henry seethed as “ss” was added to every announcement.
By September 1534, Anne was several months pregnant again, her “goodly belly” a subject of discussion since April 27. She was in her mid-thirties during this second pregnancy, and Henry was forty-three. To their mutual consternation, she miscarried the fetus, and both of them were desperate for her to become pregnant again as soon as possible.
Yet Anne had not utterly forgotten her daughter, Elizabeth, in her rage to give birth to a son. She doted on her little girl, and breast-fed the baby herself, scandalizing the court. Anne even forced Elizabeth’s half sister to dance attendance on her as a servant, banishing Mary (Henry VIII’s daughter by Katherine of Aragon) to a tiny, dark room and demanding that the eighteen-year-old girl’s ears be boxed by her governess “for the cursed bastard she is,” if Mary dared refer to herself as “Princess.” Henry’s elder daughter was now styled the Lady Mary, stripped of her title and birthright when Henry’s marriage to her mother was annulled.
Anne was pregnant again in October 1535, though her condition did not deter Henry from paying a visit early in the month to the Seymour family at their home of Wulfhall. There, Sir John Seymour made certain that his demure and modest daughter Jane fell under the royal gaze as much as possible. It was not long before Henry gave Jane a miniature portrait of himself, which she ostentatiously wore about her throat at court. Anne was so infuriated by Jane’s impudence that she ripped the chain from her neck.
On the day of Katherine of Aragon’s funeral on January 29, 1536, Anne lost a male fetus said to be fifteen weeks old, blaming the miscarriage on two incidents that had caused her great anxiety. Sparked by Henry’s latest flirtation, they’d had a violent quarrel, during which Anne angrily exclaimed, “I saw this harlot Jane sitting on your lap while my belly was doing its duty!” And on January 24, 1536, five days before Anne’s miscarriage, Henry’s horse had fallen heavily in the tiltyard at Greenwich, and after the king in his hundred pounds or so of armor was thrown from the saddle, the mount may have rolled on top of him. Henry had lain unconscious for two hours, and naturally his queen despaired for his life and feared for her own future, should the king die of his injuries.
But Henry was'nt buying either reason. Utterly insensitive to Anne’s grief at losing another baby, he bewailed the death of his son. “I see God will not give me male children,” he lamented, leaving his wife devastated, and terrified of losing his love.
Yet Anne may have conceived again soon after this miscarriage, because in April, Henry was very indiscreetly boasting to his ambassador in France that God might yet see fit to “send us heirs male,” averring, “You do not know all my secrets.” However, there is no mention of this pregnancy in any surviving records. As Henry would never have executed his pregnant queen, it’s likely that if Anne had been with child in the spring of 1536, she lost that fetus as well, unless Henry’s “secret” was his plan to marry Jane Seymour.
There were also international matters that were nearly as pressing as Henry’s need for a son. Charles V was willing to enter an alliance with England, and even accept the legitimacy of Henry’s marriage to Anne, if his cousin Mary were to be recognized at Henry’s heir presumptive. But Henry refused to countenance the validity of his first marriage, which meant that Mary remained illegitimate and therefore unable to succeed him. The way Henry’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell saw it, Henry’s allegiance to Anne was jeopardizing, if not obstructing, England’s safest and most effective foreign policy.
Therefore, Anne had to be eliminated from the picture. So Cromwell, who had once been Anne’s staunchest ally for religious reform, switched horses and allied himself with the court’s pro-Seymour faction. It took the crafty Cromwell just a month and a day to transform Anne from Henry’s beloved wife and queen to the executioner’s victim.
It was politically expedient for the minister to destroy Anne’s supporters as well, and within a brief space of time, Cromwell had all his scapegoats in the pen, awaiting slaughter.
On the weekend of April 29 and 30, Anne had an enormous spat with Henry Norris, the king’s groom of the stool, in which she accused him of being attracted to her. Norris stammered that if he ever had such a thought, “he were his head were off,” whereupon Anne threatened to undo him if she chose. Witnesses to their altercation interpreted the quarrel as a come-on from Anne to Norris. To succeed in toppling Anne from the throne, Cromwell’s commission needed to compile a dossier of Anne’s purported lovers; the contretemps between the queen and Norris (because it included a hypothetical exchange about the king’s death), allowed them to put a treasonous construct on it, thereby ensnaring Norris in their lethal net.
Anne’s argument with Norris led to another, even more volatile one with Henry. A letter sent twenty years later to Queen Elizabeth from an eyewitness to the aftermath of the royal squabble, a Scottish Lutheran clergyman named Alexander Ales, describes the mood:
Never shall I forget the sorrow which I felt when I saw the most serene queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a little baby, in her arms and entreating the most serene king your father, in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard, when she brought you to him. I did not perfectly understand what had been going on, but the faces and gestures of the speakers plainly showed that the king was angry, although he could conceal his anger wonderfully well. Yet from the protracted conference of the council (for whom the crowd was waiting until it was quite dark, expecting that they would return to London), it was most obvious to everyone that some deep and difficult question was being discussed.
Anne was arrested on May 2, 1536, on the charges of adultery, incest with her brother George, and conspiracy to kill the king. As her barge was rowed to the Traitors’ Gate, Anne was on the verge of collapse. “I was treated with greater ceremony last time I was here,” she exclaimed woefully, referring to her coronation procession. Her trial began on May 15 in the Great Hall of the Tower of London. Her brother George, Viscount Rochford, was to be tried by the same council of peers, on the charge of committing incest with his sister. Their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, presided over the proceedings as High Steward. Two thousand spectators watched the circus from purpose-built stands. Among the bogus charges against the queen was an allegation of statutory treason pursuant to the 1534 Succession Act: “slander, danger, detriment and derogation of the heirs” of Henry and Anne. In other words, Anne was charged with being a traitor to her own daughter, Elizabeth.
Her conviction was a foregone conclusion; and on May 19, 1536, Anne was executed on Tower Hill. It was a sad day for English justice, and for the kingdom’s history. And while it’s true that Anne lost her life—by dint of her own intellect and abilities she had managed to achieve what others could merely dream of. Although her ambitious father and uncle were seasoned courtiers whose success afforded her an entrée into the highest echelons of Tudor society, once she arrived, she was there to stay—despite her family—until an equally self-made individual, Thomas Cromwell, destroyed her.
Few question the fact that Anne Boleyn was innocent of the charges for which she forfeited her head. And although her religious views had a measurable influence on the history of Church and State, perhaps her greatest achievement was as a mother. Neither Anne’s bloodline nor her spirit perished on Tower Hill: she left behind a little redheaded daughter who would become England’s most venerated queen, and perhaps the greatest female monarch the world has ever known: Elizabeth I.
Today HFBRT events:
- Leslie Carroll interview with Marie Burton
- Creative Post by Heather on Peter III & Catherine the Great
- Notorious Royal Marriages book review by Arleigh