Recently I’ve read several books on the subject of Anne Boleyn – each are very similar but slightly varying take of her and each I have read with an open mind. It is important for me to understand who she was as a person, whether or not she loved Henry or power, and what is her legacy.
Understanding Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard – the fact that her mother came from the very noble Howard family was impressive, but the fact that it was her mother and not her father diminished her total nobility slightly since the Boleyn name did not carry as much clout.
As a teenager, Anne was sent to the household of Margaret of Austria where she was educated. Not only was she taught French while in the regent’s household but she became familiar with the power that a woman could yield near the throne. Margaret was very open-minded when it came to women’s rights which must have been refreshing for Anne since early 16th century England was not friendly to women yielding power.
When Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor was sent to France to marry King Louis XII, both Anne and her sister were to serve the new French queen. At both courts Anne would learn the importance of her behavior with others and interactions, or flirtations with men. She became aware of how to get what she wanted in a discreet way. This would become useful to her in the future.
My instinct tells me that Anne was like any other girl, or woman of her time – she understood her duty as a daughter but she also wished to find love, marry and have children. Her early years, those before Mechelen, would not have had her wishing to be queen of England. The Anne I have discovered is one who wanted a “normal” life, at an early age. It was after she was sent to Mechelen and France that her ideal future began to change.
Upon her homecoming to English court around 1522, Anne returned to a country that she had left nearly a decade earlier. She was in her early twenties and ripe for marriage to a family who would increase the standing of the Boleyn family.
While serving Katherine of Aragon she met Henry Percy, who was a servant of Cardinal Wolsey. It was common practice that Percy would visit the queen’s chambers and visit with her ladies, just as other young men would. This was normal for the time. Court was a great place to make a noble marriage. Over time, Anne and Henry Percy grew affection for one another. It is said that they fell in love and formally, in front of witnesses, became betrothed. Anne Boleyn had found true love and would get the happy ending she had wished for as a young girl.
All of Anne and Percy’s joy came to an end when Wolsey discovered the betrothal – he was quick to tear the couple apart. Wolsey declared that Percy was already betrothed to Mary Talbot and had been for years, but some believe there was never a proposal and Wolsey fabricated the entire thing just to tear the couple apart. Was it Henry VIII that pushed Wolsey to tear apart the couple? It’s possible. It was in 1522 that Henry first had first set his eyes on Anne when she played Perseverance at Chateau de Vert.
Regardless of who was responsible for breaking apart the couple, it happened, and Anne must have been crushed. Anne would have been left heart-broken and filled with angst against the man, or men responsible for her misery. We don’t know for certain whether it was solely Wolsey or if the king who had ordered it so he could have Anne to himself. What I feel confident in is that Anne definitely blamed Wolsey and that she would make sure that he eventually paid for destroying her great love with Henry Percy.
When Henry VIII eventually began to pursue Anne she had no choice but to let it happen, but did she do it willingly? After everything that I’ve read I believe that she decided to use any power that would be gained from Henry and use it to her advantage. If she was unable to have the glorious love story that she had wished for then she would make sure that she got something out of her new arrangement.
Anne did not love Henry. That is my opinion. Anne got what she wanted by making promises to a man who was unhappy in his marriage and looking for a way out. She was willing to make her bed and lie in it. When she gave birth to a daughter she was devastated – this jeopardized her whole operation. Anne knew that if she fell out of favor with the king that she would end up in the same situation as her predecessor. Like Katherine of Aragon, she held a power over Henry that he was unaware of – a power of manipulation with words and actions. At the beginning of their courtship, Henry was infatuated with Anne and would do anything to have her – she learned how to play on his emotions to get exactly what she wanted, and it worked. It worked for nearly a decade.
Thomas Cromwell was the was the man who changed everything for Anne. His new-found favor with the king was thanks to Anne and her family, unfortunately, that influence would eventually grow greater than that of Anne’s with the king. And that, my friends, is when Anne fell from Henry’s good graces.
Anne wasn’t a bad person. She was a woman who cared about her country and the subjects of her king. She wanted the best for them all. That is the truth. Anne was smart. Anne was brave. Anne was the mother of the greatest monarch in English history – Gloriana.
Ives, Eric; The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
Weir, Alison; Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession
Dunn, Wendy J.; The Light in the Labyrinth
Richards, Natalia; Falcon’s Rise – The Early Years of Anne Boleyn
Gristwood, Sarah; Game of Queens – The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe