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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn was born sometime between 1501 - 1507 at Blicking Hall, Norfolk. A lack of parish records from the period has made it impossible to establish Anne's exact date of birth.

Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire (1477-1539), was a wealthy diplomat whose offices included ambassador to France and Envoy to Holy Roman Emperor. Anne's mum, Elizabeth Howard was the daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Later tradition would claim that the Boleyns were practically middle-class, but recent research has proven that Anne Boleyn was born a "great lady". Her great-grandparents included a Lord Mayor of London, a duke, an earl, two aristocratic ladies and a knight.

Anne was brought up at Hever Castle in Kent, her family having purchased it in 1462.

Before she'd reached her teens, Anne was invited to join the schoolroom of Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Margaret was so impressed with Anne that she offered her a place in her household. Anne stayed with Margaret from spring 1513 until her father arranged for her to attend Henry VIII's sister Mary, who was about to marry Louis XII of France in October 1514.  She went on to be a maid of honour to Queen Claude of France, with whom she stayed nearly seven years.

Margaret of Austria loved music and was a patron of many European composers. Also at the French court, musicianship was held in high esteem. It was during her time in France that Anne compiled the songbook that she kept with her at all times, which may well have been a source of comfort to her before her execution.

In her younger days Anne created a recipe for a small tart with an almond, curd cheese and lemon filling. Henry was so enchanted he named the creator of the cake maid of honour.

Anne's older sister, Mary was a mistress to Henry VIII for four years, before Anne and the king began their relationship.

It was at Shrovetide 1526 that Henry VIII  began pursuing Anne. She refused to become the King's mistress, but began a correspondence with him, (The Vatican library preserves 12 love letters he wrote to her). Fluent in French, some of Anne's love letters between her and Henry were in French.

Henry proposed marriage to her sometime in 1527 (probably around New Year), while he sought a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. After some hesitation, she agreed.


It was in order to marry Anne that Henry divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon and thus initiated the quarrel with the pope that led to the English reformation. In other words if Anne had been born with a double chin and cauliflower ears maybe the Church of England would never have been born.

Once she became the king's mistress, Anne became the victim of a public hate campaign, mobilised by Katherine of Aragon's supporters, and in 1531 a crowd of 8,000 women marched through the streets of London in an attempt to lynch her.

When, in 1532, Henry gave her the title Marchioness of Pembroke, it was the first time a woman had ever been created a peer in her own right.

Anne and Henry finally slept together for the first time in late 1532 at Calais, and her reasons for submitting at this point are difficult to fathom. They married in secret on January 25, 1533 and Archbishop Cranmer blessed the marriage a few months later.

Anne's coronation on June 1, 1533 was marked by the people's hostility, and the crowds refused to remove their hats as a sign of respect for their new queen. When asked what she had made of London at her coronation, Anne replied, "I liked the City well-enough, but I saw few caps in the air and heard few tongues."


Despite being a Catholic herself, Anne was sympathetic towards the new Bible based Protestantism and Martin Luther viewed her rise to the throne as a positive sign.

Anne was unable to supply a male heir for Henry, there were only several miscarriages, a still birth and the illegitimate Elizabeth, who was conceived before they married.  However, Anne's lack of success on the child bearing front was causing concern and when she miscarried for the last time, Henry thought the marriage was damned.

Anne had beautiful coal black eyes with long dark hair, long neck,swarthy complexion, middling to pert stature. She wasn't a physical beauty but had the ability to exploit her vivacious.

By Unknown 

Anne played an enormous role in England's international position, by solidifying the French alliance in 1531. She established an excellent rapport with the French ambassador, de la Pommeraye, who was completely captivated by her and paid tribute to her formidable intellect and influence over English foreign policy.

The diplomat John Barlow was devoted to her, and spied for her in Rome. Later in life this ability to attract fanatical male devotion back-fired spectacularly when she found herself the object of feverish unrequited love from a Dutch musician in her household called Marc Smeaton.

Anne had a rather off-putting habit, first observed during her coronation banquet, of vomiting during meals. So one of her ladies in waiting had to hold up a sheet to shield her from other diners at appropriate moments.

Her enemies exaggerated her defects, claiming Anne was a witch with six fingers. In fact she had two finger tips on the end of one finger.

Anne's personality was complex, and it has been greatly distorted by those opposed to her marriage and religious views. She was also a very loyal woman who gave generously to charity and, contrary to popular myth, was extremely emotional.

Anne was gifted musically - her extra finger must have made her a mean harpsichord player. Ole dark eye's ballads included "O Deathe oche me on Sepe" which is said to have moved her husband.

William Forrest, author of a contemporary poem about Catherine of Aragon, complimented Anne's "passing excellent" skill as a dancer. "Here", he wrote, "was [a] fresh young damsel, that could trip and go."

Anne was quite sporty and went riding and hunting with Henry. However during one deer shoot with the king, she shot a cow.

An early-20th-century painting of Anne Boleyn, depicting her deer hunting with the King

Anne was a great card player and she won lots of money and other things when she played with Henry.

She knew that her failure to produce a male heir for Henry had placed her in a tricky position. On April 26, 1536, Anne met with her chaplain, the Protestant reformer Matthew Parker, and asked him to watch over her daughter if anything happened to her.


Anne Boleyn was watching a game of real tennis on May 2, 1536 when she was arrested for incest with her half brother, infidelity with four others, treason and witchcraft. When told of the charge Anne said "Oh, Lord help me as I am guiltless of that where I am charged." She was imprisoned in the Tower of London.



Anne was sentenced to be beheaded at Tower Green, London on May 19, 1536. She requested to be executed by sword and the service of a skilled executioner of Calais was engaged, who used a sword for the beheading according to French practice instead of the axe used by English executioners. Anne rehearsed the beheading the night before and the execution itself had to be delayed so she had to walk around the block weeping and laughing in turns.



She was a great animal lover and had a dog called Purkoy. While Anne was awaiting execution, Purkoy fell from a window and died. None of her ladies-in-waiting could break the news.

Anne had a wolfhound called Vrian who was allegedly beheaded along with her

Her last words were probably sarcastic about her husband, "A gentler or more merciful prince was there never. To me he was ever a good, gentle and sovereign lord. Christ have mercy on my soul." Anne refused to be blindfolded and the executioner found her so disarming he persuaded someone to attract her attention so he could steal up silently behind her to carry out the death penalty.

Meanwhile Henry was in Epping Forest taking part in a hunt waiting for a signal to proclaim the news that "it" had been done.

Henry wore white to her funeral. A day later he was betrothed to Jane Seymour.

Anne was buried in the chapel of St Peter at the Tower of London in a box that had contained arrows. When the chapel was restored in 1876, Queen Victoria had the 1,500 bodies buried there exhumed and properly reburied including Anne.

Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill and PG Wodehouse could all trace their ancestry back to the Boleyn family.

You may not be aware of the 1936 novelty song "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm" but its worth checking out. Click here to listen to the ditty and read its songfacts.

Almost 500 years after their relationship, new legislation was introduced in 2015 allowing Irish citizens to trash talk Anne Boleyn for marrying Henry VIII.



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