“The King’s Grace is ruled by one common stewed whore, Anne Boleyn, who makes all the spirituality to be beggared and the temporality also.”
Reformation. A formal denunciation of ‘the word Church [that] has diverse significations’? A collected oeuvre of radically reactionary groups, who by the aggressive marketing of their beliefs and enterprises, made sinfully notorious their anathematization of the exploitative Papacy? Or a private rebellion of the Sovereign power to reassert a magnus biblicus commandment – ‘Christ forbiddeth his disciples and that oft… not only to climb above lords, kings, and emperors in worldly rule, but also to exalt themselves one above another in the kingdom of God’? In short, a sacrilegious move to run things the way the ‘Pope would not hear it’!
This is just a formal introduction sprawled in history textbooks, involving a prejudiced cast of the stereotype evil Church, benevolent Reformer and (meticulously!) scrupulous Monarch and leaving to the mercy of oblivion those shadows, who contributed to this religious upheaval their analogous significant theatrics. The European Reformation, to an extent, escapes from this curse: a remark, sadly, cannot be made for its English counterpart. Who remembers Cromwell not as a sly Lord Secretary but as one of the first reformists on English soil? Who were Foxe, Cranmer and Paget? And above all, who bothers to talk of the reformist mistress of the English King, in favored terms, as the propeller of the English Reformation who provided religious cheer to the lay Britons, in face of a pouty Papal Church and its Holy Roman Emperor? Apparently, the latest picture, however pretty, is the most difficult for digestion, reserving the general Tudor historians and the endemic Boleyn fan club, for after her execution in 1536, Anne Boleyn’s mere memory became a verboten, meant to be disgraced and unlearned. Her contemporaries gave her not many munificent glances and the monstrous vignette became more demoted after her treasonous downfall – perhaps this distressed many into a voracious Alzheimer’s disease about a venturing radical who was ‘more Lutheran than Luther himself’.
The personal religion of Anne Boleyn is a hothouse of debate as considerable importance is attached to its role in her spectacular downfall. She was the slanderous heresiarch who had to be executed to appease Henry VIII’s European brotherhood from taking up arms against him. True, Anne’s brief tenure of Queenship saw a flurry of reformist activities that all qualified for heresy in contemporary eyes, yet the stances were far from bearing the actual seal of Protestantism. Overtly, with the departure of Papal authority, England officially joined the camp of the ‘heretics’, in fact the country stood in the no – man’s land between two opposing religiosities – a reformed State with a redeemed Church, embracing flexible anti – Catholic religious reforms whilst rejecting the schism Faith. Presumably, this claim of her espousing Protestantism was contrived for serving the polar deals of character assassination and veneration by two antipodal religionists: the hostile Catholic’s intention being the crystallization of the stark distinction between the ‘Good Catholic Queen’ Katherine of Aragon and the ‘Fallen Protestant Whore’ Anne Boleyn, whilst the inclined Protestant’s to behold her as the first patron Saint of English Protestantism, who banished ‘the Beast of Rome with all its beggarly baggage ‘from the realm. Anne was no heretic – it is an unjust accusation against a devoted Queen, who to her death ‘bed’, maintained herself in the orthodox Faith. She merely triggered that ‘breach in the dyke of tradition which made the flood first of reformed, and later of more specifically Protestant Christianity, unstoppable’.
Herself an extremely complex woman in thought and action, Anne’s religion was bound to be complicated, having their origin in politics than in sentiments. Her attempts of reform, however sincere in will, because of her very reputation as a ‘brutal and effective politician’, assumed a dais of supercilious temerity in the Catholic eye – catcher: her encouragement of the heretics was perceived as a bribe for winning their goodwill toward her usurped Queenship. Indeed, temperamental inclinations, selfish motivations, ambition and circumstances – abstract nouns that seared her chutzpah “Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne,” ‘pointed to reform as the cause that would serve her best’ after Pope Clement VII revoked Henry’s annulment suit to Rome. But, despite her objectivism, from being the catalyst of an infant Reformation, Anne in thousand days, emerged as one of its chief architects, creating a constellation of reformers – ‘hell – hounds that the Devil hath in [her] kennel’ – whose exploits under Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I alchemized the condemned Faith of a condemned Queen into a timeless legacy.
… And love aveng’d a realm by priests enslav’d;
From Catherine’s wrong, a nation’s bliss was spread,
And Luther’s light from Henry’s lawless bed.
Opportunity presented itself to Anne at every turn of her life to develop a new and unique personal conviction; entirely different from the one England was fossiled in. Her radical odyssey could be traced to her childhood and adolescent years in the Courts of Burgundy and France and her subsequent domicile of an England. Circulation of ‘forbidden’ anti-catholic texts, vernacular Bibles, interceding for infamous heretics even to the extent of extending willful lavish patronage and dissolution of monasteries – ‘the Concubine’ was sufficiently enterprising to earn herself an eternity in the purgatory! Interestingly, Anne’s scandalous reformist career grew more rigorous following her marriage and coronation. Instead of shrinking from the fear of a tainted reputation of unpopularity (which she already had), she took full advantage of her royal consort – ship to further the cause that she and, in particular, her Boleyn fraction was swore to. Indeed, she was ‘the first in high places to be so blatant about her reformist preferences.’ Even her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford was an aggressive reformist of ‘renowned’ infamy.
Judging by the fact that she patronized ‘controversial’ – scandalous and explosive – men, Anne, though a Catholic, believed in the new ideal of Continental Reform: the zero anathema between religious commitment and personal human glory. She had evangelist zeal blended in deep Christian Humanism. Yes, she entertained heretical writings, but she did not refute all her religious establishments. She prioritized Orthodoxy in court rituals but at the same time, displayed her enthusiasm for the elegant rise of lay religion and Continental Reformation. Indeed, intellectuality and open mindedness was the dominantly displayed face of a coin stamped with staunch rubric!
Nevertheless, when it came to personal religion, husband and wife were miles apart. Henry, by predisposition was a ‘Natural Catholic’, however daunted he might have been in breaking away from Rome. The years that Anne and her faction held sway (1529 – 1536), Henry embarked in a masquerade of ‘Religious Reform’ of dissolving monasteries, stripping the inhabitant Clergy of its power, and reinforcing the intransigent power of the State over Religion. The Break from the Papacy might have been conducted by the virtue of the excuse to possess Anne ‘body and soul’, yet how can a man like Henry ever refuse to be seduced by power even in circumstantial opprobrium? The years following Anne’s persecution in 1536 till Henry’s demise in 1547, England witnessed an equivocal religiosity – the burning of Catholics, Protestants, and other denominational religious groups – enmasse, while at the same time, the patronization of the aristocratic factions of these respective groups in accordance to the tilt of power in court politics. Many mistake this policy as Henry’s inherent fickleness; others however revisit the cunning façade behind the childlike conduct of the Great Harry. Premier power was the ultimate surcease – Religion was a mere amenity that had to be welded in adroit to achieve this great end… In this light, one can infer that Anne’s attempts at reforming the King religiously succumbed in an abysmal failure.
In a candid nutshell, it could be said that Anne’s religion itself was cleaved at an inscrutable crossroad: in no absolute term can a definition be imposed on the credo of a Queen who white knighted reformist tendencies in her laurel times, only to thrive in reminiscence as the devout that vindicated the Catholic Orthodoxy to her dying breath.