Abstract: The rise and fall of Queen Anne Boleyn is an important and intriguing chapter in English History. It happened in the span of a decade, inflicting path – breaking changes on English fundamentals. This paper seeks to whisk away the reasons of her downfall from the ‘physical’ factors to the more sublime account of modernity. The theme is her transgression of hitherto established norms, and how it propelled her to misfortune. Attempts have been made to mark the significant departures from previous patterns of ‘conduct’ – politically, socially and religiously – and how the change was perceived. Questions of concern are provoked – why did Anne make such a departure? How? How were such departures actually perceived? And how did it contribute to making her reputation as the “Scandal of Christendom”?

Keywords: Anne Boleyn; Change; English Fundamentals; Transgression; Norms; Modernity.

On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn – no longer Anna Regina of England – glided to a scaffold, in damask and fur, to fulfill her awaited appointment with a swordsman from Calais. The event was a sensation in itself, for not only was it the first time a queen faced state execution, but also the affair included within its fold a dramatic tale of oscillating fortunes of a woman who witnessed the glamour of queenship crumble to dust of treason before of her very eyes. What was more baffling that the man who sentenced her so was the same man, who some years previously, had moved ‘heaven and earth’ to possess her ‘body and heart’[1]!

The “Scandal of Christendom” – Name Courtesy: Katherine of Aragon.

In the 16th century, “there was much muttering of Queen Anne’s death” [2]– speculations that have transgressed the boundaries of space and time to intrigue generations of reflective minds. Even the Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, Anne’s staunchest enemy, felt that her condemnations were “without valid proof or confession.”[3] It was Tudor Law that condemned her, and ‘justly so’ after a meticulous scrutiny of the accusations presented against her – then why the fuss over the event? She was excoriated and penalized like any other traitor. Condignly, mercilessly, and briskly. Or was she?  For some sympathizers, her downfall can be attributed to matrimonial disaster that brought about the second pattern in the ‘divorce, decapitation, death’ fabric that the Henrican consorts so graciously experienced in their eventful marital life. Others contend that it was a game of courtly love gone wrong![4] Yet most opine that it was the inherent wickedness in this “Concubine” that brewed unbridled to lead to the Divine Judgment at the scaffold of Tower Green. Save the Protestant propagandists and modern scholarship – Anne, through centuries, has simply been portrayed as the “goggle eyed whore and a bawd”[5] – a “Jezebel”, who would use any means at her disposal to ensnare a king, and be rid of his wife and child, and who would not stop at adultery or incest to provide her husband with a son and so save her own skin. She was the promiscuous, heretic “English Messalina or Agrippina” who was the “author of all the mischief that was befalling the realm”[6]. And amidst all this furioso of prejudiced chronicle, the real story of an extra – ordinary woman who took the Tudor Court and King by storm and [whose] marriage to Henry changed the course of British History[7] – faded into misconception.

Misconception. Yet not oblivion! Anne Boleyn is too notorious for obscurity! She had unscrupulously ousted an anointed Queen and usurped the throne, plunged the realm into exocommunication, intrigued against the true heir, and ended her life in adultery and incest[8]. But what made this woman so different apart from her histrionic ascendency and demotion? Previous Queens have been branded Anne’s epithets – the ‘educated’ Marguarite of Naverra, the ‘commoner’ Elizabeth Wydville, the ‘adulterous’ Eleanor of Aquitine and the ‘political’ Isabella of Castille; they never gained such a defamed reputation. Is it, as David Starkey claims, the fact that no woman before her made that step from a royal mistress to the throne[9] and changed the dynamics of queenship? This is something that Katherine Swynford had already done in 1396, transforming herself from the mistress of John of Gaunt to the Duchess of Lancaster. However, the appeal of Anne’s story lay in the intermediary period of 1527 – 1536, an epoch in its own right, witnessing massive transgressions in the political, social and religious universe of Tudor England, albeit by the agency of the royal hand at her instigation, and by her independent means. It was a “breach in the dyke of tradition”[10] – and through the cracks seeped in modernity – an alien component in the medieval Tudor constituency.

Henry VIII courting “Modernity”?

Anne was herself the epitome of early modernity – for which her contemporaries had charitably dubbed as her the “fresh young damsel” of the Court[11] and censored the ‘rebellious’ variations as destruction of ‘good norms’. Conservative as the Age was, it failed to taste the change as change in itself, and despite the overview that like all other rebellions, Anne’s too ebbed away – in its short heartbeat, it sufficiently altered the roots of ‘Englishness’, setting the stage for the grandiose revolution that would manifest itself in the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I. Indeed, she started the ‘firsts’ of the many rubrics that would define the succeeding grains of sand in the English sand clock, yet these ‘firsts’ came under the larger umbrella of ‘appalling violation of the rule book’ – their positive sides veiled and their negative faces exposed. An armada of perceptions flourished around her doings, viewing them as the mere schemes of her vaulting ambition and capping them all under the ‘factor’ that drew King Hal to love her as well as repelled him to ship her off to the Tower of London. Yet there is more – her tour de force was the sheer outcome of her embodied modernity – the key legend to the vignettes of her failure as wife and queen. Recently, her inability to give Henry his male heir has become the beloved of the rationality of her downfall, shelving the much fatal modernity that sealed her mischance.

“For that virtue which is essentially male, you have sought with singular zeal … such as befits the whole and perfect virtue that men attain.”[12]

Margaret of Savoy.
Margaret of Savoy.

As a malefaction of tradition by proximate modernity, Anne’s lore is phenomenal. A progeny of the Boleyns and the Howards – two aristocratic families ignominious for their cold ambition, Anne had to inherit their desire for advancement, and self – interest. Her father and Henry’s gifted courtier, Sir Thomas Boleyn, having a shrewd eye for the future, in 1513, sent Anne to the Hapsburg Court of Mechelen in Brabant, as a filles de’ honneur to dowager Archduchess Margaret of Savoy. She was to learn continental manners and good French – criteria that would win her a place in a royal entourage and an advantageous marriage. Margaret’s court was a renaissance court and it gave more than mere polish to Anne’s character. Apart from mastering the humanist ‘European education’[13] and sophistication of a polite society[14], Anne was trained in the courtly love traditions[15] that constituted the core of princely rule. She also came in touch with the inclinations of the Dutch devotio moderna and the humanist zeal of religious reform that were to impact deeply her personal convictions. Significantly, it was here that she would watch those leaders of Europe who would so affect her later career[16] and get an exposure of the subtle art of renaissance diplomacy that was to win her the crown. In 1514, Anne was lodged at the French Court, first in the train of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor and later in Queen Claude’s till 1521; a time she utilized by civilizing in the alluring style and manners of Paris. A notable aspect of her stay in France was her association with King Francis I’s sister, the “learned and ingenious”[17] Marguerite de Navarre, a champion of female education, Evangelicals and reformists. Her salon was the nexus of the foremost scholarship of the day and of contemporary debates ranging from the “Bible Question” to the “Querelle des Femme[18], and it was here, Anne developed a love for rhetoric and the realization that a woman’s ideas were as worthy as a man’s.[19] If the Burgundian Court had implanted in her the sapling of necessary cosmopolitan poise, the French Court watered it to a formidable tree of wit, grace and eloquence. Her education perfected her in the very ‘different’ set of rules of female comportment described in Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier[20]

“…the cultivation of a ‘certain pleasant affability” designed to please men without tipping over an unseemly boldness … in practice it was a delicate and precarious balancing act, constantly walking the tightrope between “vivacity” and “modesty”… [a court lady] should be physically desirable and would engage in flirtatiousness… but her social performance must never raise doubts about her virtue.”[21]

In fact, Anne’s education was a sharp departure from traditional female ‘education’, preparing her at best for a political career at court rather than as Christian wife and mother. On her return, she was the cut – above lady – fish in the demure English Court, and it wasn’t long before she had attracted the eye of prominent courtiers like Young Percy of Northumberland or Sir Thomas Wyatt and became the idée fixe of the King of England himself!

“…Written by the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his own will,”


Letters of passion and fascination?
Letters of passion and fascination?

The courtship of Henry Tudor and Anne Boleyn has been one of the most controversial affairs of all times. The affair lacked a concrete chronology but a decisive end, with three exceptional consequences – the elevation of a maitresse – en – titre to royal consort – ship, the break from Rome and the transformation of Henry into a hardened and brutal monarch. Accomplished in courtly arts, ‘free – spirited and flirtatious, Anne provided a delightful contrast to Queen Katherine’s piety and grave dignity.[23] The radiating sexuality aside, he was fueled by intellectual stimulations, compatible interests and Anne’s rejection of his advances. Neither the Court, nor Cardinal Wolsey nor Katherine perceived this serious threat with agitation; for in their minds, Anne was merely the latest in a line of royal mistresses and would be discarded in due course.[24] Also the possibility that a ‘commoner’ mistress could replace a queen, as royal as the Daughter of Aragon; and a King would marry for love and not for political expediency or financial gains were inconceivable. But this ‘mere’ mistress did everything other than sexually gratify the King – discuss theology and politics, hunt, dance, dine, and aid him in his ‘Great Matter’ – for she was a ‘shrewd operator’, a woman slightly too cold, detached and intelligent to stake everything on love[25] and mere royal favors. She wanted something ‘tangible’ from the King and Henry in his frustrated ardor, was obliged into making the sensational departure from tradition, marrying Anne for love and causing a furor. His bitter divorce against Katherine of Aragon, however, left him embittered against the Tudor rarity of ‘self – made’ women, and Anne, unfortunately, strove to repeat the fatal pattern, and enhance the hatred.

“Then do I love again;

If thou ask whom, sure since I refrain

Her, that did set our country in a roar;

The unfeigned cheer of Phyllis hath the place

That Brunette had.”[26]

The Woman who killed More and Fisher!
The Woman who killed More and Fisher!

Because Henry’s marriage to Anne was anything but apolitical! Anne had the education of a politician and she metamorphosized into a brutal one with circumstances. She was another woman at court until Henry took notice of her and the Court became alive to its Master’s intensity of passion for her – at this juncture, Anne made her dramatic rise. What gave her political strategy its inherent uniqueness was its tint of sexuality, and Henry’s willingness to be impressed by it[27]. As the importance of ‘the power behind the throne’ gained momentum – a definite pattern began to weave itself in the canvas of Tudor court politics: political faction. Herein the agency of a ‘un – womanish’ mistress was employed by a faction, for the desired mutatis mutandis in the tension of domestic politics[28]. Around this “sufficient and apt instrument” the old nobility that was hostile to Wolsey, gathered itself to call their “malicious purpose” to fruition[29]; and she campaigned to degrade the Cardinal in the King’s eyes, effectively bringing his ruination in 1529.

Anne - Wolsey's Frostbite?
Anne – Wolsey’s Frostbite?

Wolsey’s removal meant that the King, highly impressionable[30] by nature, was now open to the tendentious counsel of Anne’s faction[31] and the situation was ripe to garner French support for the King’s “Great Matter”. Anne, a savored Francophile, attempted to propel England toward France, but in vain, for the appeal of an imperial alliance tenaciously held sway.[32] Nevertheless, the ‘political wife’ received the French diplomats and even briefed the envoys to be sent abroad; a task never undertaken before by a Queen of England.[33] At the height of her political course in 1534, Henry paid her the supreme compliment of providing for her to be ‘regent and absolute governess of her children and kingdom’ in the event of his early death.[34] Consequently, her meshing in the diplomatic game and accentuated royal power piqued her to perceive herself as a player and advisor to her husband. Her constant ‘interference’ in matters of State earned her the wrath of the courtiers, her faction, and of the King himself. Such political predilection in a woman, whom he married for love, was unacceptable and fed up, he resorted to politics and legal machinery to get rid of her.

Reformation - a political wife's doing?
Reformation – a political wife’s doing?

“… And Love aveng’d a realm by priests enslav’d;

From Catherine’s wrongs a nation’s bliss was spread,

And Luther’s light from Henry’s lawless bed.”[35]

The “Concubine” was “more Lutheran than Luther himself”[36]– Chapuys complimented the highest watermark in Anne’s tenure of queenship: The English Reformation. Ives claims:

“Anne Boleyn was not a catalyst in the English Reformation; she was a key element in the equation… The breach in the dyke of tradition which she encouraged and protected made the flood first of reformed, and later of more specifically Protestant Christianity, unstoppable. Catholic hatred of Anne damned her for the break with Rome and for the entrance of heresy into England. It was right on both counts.”[37]

Anne indeed played a major part in pushing Henry through the reformation in England; though not out of purely selfish motives, for she certainly cherished reformist sympathies – in particular for the early French humanist reforms. Promoting the Scriptures was a Boleyn enterprise and as queen, she zealously championed vernacular texts like the French Bible, Erasmus’ translations and Tyndale’s New Testament. She espoused ‘heretical literature’ like Simon Fish’s The Supplication of Beggars, Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man, Lambert’s Farrago Rerum Theologicarum and Luther’s Prophetie de Iesaie. She extended her patronage to men of Protestant reputation like John Lambert, Robert Barnes, Richard Herman, Nicholas Bourban, Thomas Patmore, and others. More significantly, her clerical favorites were marked men with a heretical past – Cranmer, Latimer, Foxe, Gardiner and Butts. She was contemptuous of the cults of saints, of their shrines, and of the pilgrimages which they attracted, all of which attitudes found their reflection in royal policy, both before and after her death.[38] She constrained the King to be tolerant with heretics; indeed her stance and tolerance were unusual in an age that favored rigid religious practices.[39] Her reformist locution harmonized with Thomas Cromwell’s, and though he was neither a French sympathizer nor a moderate reformist, the two bonded to clamor vehemently for Church reform in England.[40]

Cromwell -
Cromwell – “Her Man”.

“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.”[41]

Again, Anne was no heretic[42]. True, her piety was critical of popular ‘superstitious’ practices; she didn’t step outside the parameters which Henry himself laid down[43]. In fervency for reform within the Church, she merely put into effect her own views of religious “Evangelic”[44] enlightenment which was revolutionary enough in her time. Her want of reputation as a Christian Queen prompted her to maintain the medieval religious ceremonies and court rituals of entombed orthodoxy. She continued the ‘medieval Catholic’ tradition of her predecessors in charitable works and patronage of learning[45]. She even had genuine interests in orthodox texts such as Paul’s Epistles. These markers certainly had the redolence of a Christianity of commitment and not of routine observance[46]. Sadly, Henry never genuinely shared her reformist convictions and was soon to denounce her anti – Papal stance as a prime insignia of her witchcraft.

In a nutshell, every aspect of Anne’s life was radical, displaying norms that conformed to the word ‘modern’ rather than ‘medieval’[47]. This very link of modernity to her personality separated her from the crowd that frequented Henry’s Court. The unconventional transgressions of this new personality, for a moment, bewitched popular supplication before tradition and conventionality[48] paraded themselves more sumptuously in front of the awed beholders, riving the enchantment. The question here is why Anne continued to hold on to this divergent conduct, despite the unpopularity it invited? And was it this divergence in her persona that upon being considered so hostile resulted in her inevitable banishment? The answer lies in the anatomizing of the dual factors of an etiquette where Anne introduced new rules and a regulation that she openly flouted.

Chivalry and Courtly Love - Drawing and crossing lines that never were...
Chivalry and Courtly Love – Drawing and crossing lines that never were…

“Trust in those who offer you service,

And in the end, my maidens,

You will find yourselves in the ranks of those

Who have been deceived….

…In their hearts they nurture

Much cunning in order to deceive…

Fine words are the coin to pay back

Those presumptuous minions

Who ape the lover.”[49]

Courtly love. And Anne saw its three different facets. In the Burgundian Court, she was taught to ‘sport’ it along lines of strict convention. In France, contrarily, she was seasoned to regard sex and politics as two sides of the same coin, seeing courtly love for what it was – a part of the competitive role play of male courtiers[50]. The English Court was altogether a different affair, for here the medieval tradition persisted as an excuse for adultery. Moreover, she was substantiated this courtly ideal’s hazards. Her sister Mary Boleyn – was a burning reminder of this l’amour courtis not played in habitude, for she was referred as “una grandissima ribalda, et infame sopre tutte[51], ‘sexualized’ and discarded. She had to escape her sister’s plight – and she chose to do so by restricting the game to its romantic ideal of women worship, while harping on the humanist ideals of resource and rhetoric – and Henry, the great exponent of this chivalric cult, was enamored at this fusion.

“Noli me tangere, for Ceasar’s I am,

And wild to hold, though I seem tame.”[52]

 The measured conventional wisdom of Burgundian courtly love carried her to the heights of courtly success, only to betray her[53] when it came to successful domesticity.

Worse, the possibility of diverse perceptions of the same in different courts slipped from her mind. And unfortunately on Anne’s part, she forgot that, in the nature of things, courtly love was at once too transcendental and too artificial for ordinary consumption[54]. In England, she was confronted by a conservative society where ‘excess’ flirtation of courtly love bore the tag of questionable sexual virtue. She was a sprightly shrew and that was a characteristic trait of a “heretic”. From “heretic” to “witch” was a short step and from “witch to “insatiable carnal lust” took barely a breath.[55] Opprobrious for her ‘whoring’ and covetousness for power, this “lechery”[56] within her was rife enough to trigger adulterous tendencies[57], which would inevitably lead to murder. Her unconventional disposition and feats appeared to conform to various patterns of unpopular ‘pro – devil’ behavior, and naturally came to be associated with the ominous and aberrant hallmarks of collective consciousness. The Queen had to be above reproach – Anne was not. Rather she was perceived as the destructive matriarch who breached matrimony and matrilineal fundamentals and threatened the framework of the Tudor cosmos[58]. It wasn’t long before the composite anxieties of this temporal enclave were to rebel against her reign, for now even the Lord of this Realm was at war with his ‘wicked’ spouse!

“All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman … a wicked wife [is] contrary to her husband [and makes a] sorry heart, a heavy countenance.”[59]

Indeed, Anne fitted every contemporary description of a “wicked wife” – who despised patriarchal conventions; disobeyed their husbands, their natural rulers and intruded into the male domain. “Not of ordinary clay”, she refused to observe the unchallengeable maxim of wifely subservience and humility of manner that were requisites for royal ‘housewives’: “Women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man”[60]. She threw tantrums when Henry strayed into adulterous relationships – she had every reason to, for her marriage was purely emotional and who but her knew better what happened when Queens turned a blind eye to their husband’s sexual adventures? Nevertheless, this was an age of ‘contract’ marriages where pleasures had to be found elsewhere – and more so, if the lecherous husband in question is the King of England. Her speech of defense at her trial is the evidence of the ‘resentment’ she felt for not being the waxen wife of conventional expectation, to be molded or impressed at her husband’s will –

“I do not say that I have always borne towards the king the humility which I owed him, considering his kindness and the great honor he showed me and the great respect he always paid me; I admit, too, that often I have taken it into my head to be jealous of him . . . But may God be my witness if I have done him any other wrong.”[61]

Because his masculinity felt threatened?
Because his masculinity felt threatened?

Contrary to the feme covert of common and ecclesiastical custom, she was the feme sole who incapacitated the domination of the domestic tyrant. For her, queenship didn’t simply mean to be “bonier and buxom in bed and board” – it meant something more malodorous – royal power. She was the political wife, with a ‘political’ understanding of the gender roles, and was more suitable for the council chamber than for the boudoir[62]. Through the years of courtship, she had held her lover’s attention by her intelligence and fiery temperament: a behavior acceptable in a mistress but not in a wife. She tried to carry on the impossible formula of courtly love into marriage[63], blinded by the mirage that her seat remained grounded in sexual fiesta and political endeavors. In all her vanity and authoritarian intoxication, she became oblivious to the fact that Henry was the ultimate God of the Court and her fragile survival rested on his ever – shifting desires and needs. Whatever wifely duties she was attributed or expected to adhere to, she ‘neglected’. Treacherously, she cheated him of her share of the bargain. And at the end, she became a “barren old and ill – natured baggage”[64] of importunity, who satisfied neither the Man nor the King in Henry; and hence had to be done away with!

A Lost Tradition.
Catherine of Aragon – A Lost Tradition.
Seymour - Tradition revived...
Seymour – Tradition revived…

Here, the paper tries to demonstrate that the real tragedy of Anne Boleyn lies in her modernity. But the cause of so momentous an event could not be attributed to such abstract a factor. ‘Modernity’ itself is a very subjective term, changing with the drumrolls of time and mind-sets. What is considered to be modern in a contextual frame of time might be obsolete in the next. Anne Boleyn seems to be another “medieval woman” to the 21st century, who was one of the prominent ones in a series of victims persecuted under Tudor Law. Then the question comes back to why she was punished so. One has to understand that her rise was a decisive one in the 16th century – a transgression of all undisputable norms and the turn – over of patterns of life that have, for centuries, remain bedded in English soil. In 16th century England, this conduct was blasphemous, spelling the impending doom on a restricted and conservative macrocosm, but today, this transgression of rules have become synonymous to Modernity – a regular phenomenon that always reprehends Tradition, and in a way, this factor in her downfall have lost the proper reverence it should command. Anne Boleyn’s fall resulted from neither her ambition nor her woeful obstetric career – it was rather, the cumulative ‘wrath’ of all the dimensions refuted in a ‘radical’ and progressive (read modern) flame that turned the much pursued audacious mistress of England into a Lady in a dark and desolate tower, counting the hours for ‘paradise’! And like all flames that burn too bright for vision, it had to die…

Anne Boleyn - A Tragedy of Modernity.
Anne Boleyn – A Tragedy of Modernity?


[1] Halliwell Phillips, Pretty Dukkys: The Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

[2] George Constantine to Cromwell in the aftermath of Anne’s downfall (quoted in Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII).

[3] Mackay, Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador.

[4] Lipscombe, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (historical documentary).

[5] Margaret Chanseler (quoted in Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One). Anne Boleyn’s “black and beautiful”eyes are legendary as the most striking feature of her appearance. Fraser quotes De Carles in her book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII – “She knew how to use [her eyes] with effect, sending a silent message which carried ‘the secret testimony to the heart’”.

[6] Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. As evident in the description, Anne frequently came under misogynist and anti – Protestant criticism, both during her lifetime and after her death. A whole corpus of slanderous commentary is dedicated to her – many imparting her monstrous features like an Adam’s apple, a sixth finger, moles and a third breast.

[7] Robert Glenister, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (historical documentary).

[8] Anne Boleyn, in April 1536, was charged with treason and adultery with three gentlemen of the Privy Council – Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and Sir William Brereton; and Mark Smeaton, a Flemish musician and groom of her Privy Chamber, and incest with her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. All were executed on May 17, 1536. Others imprisoned on suspicion of adultery with the Queen were the poet and diplomat, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and the Vice – Chamberlain of Richmond, Sir Richard Page. But they were acquitted.

[9] The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (historical documentary).

[10] Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One.

[11] William Forrest on Anne in The History of Grisild the Second (quoted in Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII).

[12] Lauro Querini on Isotta Nogarola, in appreciation of her public oration and correspondence with male scholars (quoted in Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe). The saying is primarily quoted in Margaret King, “Thwarted ambitions: six learned women of the early Italian Renaissance”.

[13] The Humanist European Education, according to Wiesner, saw acquaintance with Classics as the best preparation for a political career, as either a ruler or advisor, for it taught one how to argue persuasively, base decisions on historical examples, write effectively, and speak eloquently. Conversely, it taught that a public political career or the creation of a public reputation should be through a life of action – they should write and provide knowledge for the benefit of public good. Anne, hence, unconventionally cultivated the manners and tendencies of a courtier – vivacity, ambition, diplomacy and competitiveness.

[14] Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One.

[15] Ives writes in The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One, that Margaret of Savoy was a “meticulous chaperon” when it came to a game of courtly love at her household. She kept a strict watch over the honor of her maidens of honor (something which Anne learnt and practiced as queen), and thus courtly love in the Low Countries meant that deportment and conversation had to be appropriate at all times. The court ideal was to be played by convention, in the protection of quick wit and confidence. This was a sharp contrast against the English type of courtly love which saw this ‘social phenomenon’ as a source of sexual activity – in particular adultery. One can say Anne’s approach toward courtly love was different from the one prevalent in England, and she was misunderstood as dishonorable in her conduct. She was called a “whore” for her ‘excess’ flirtations. But possibly her reputation was such because she was simply ‘the other woman’ in Henry’s marriage.

[16] The nursery of Margaret of Savoy comprised ‘royal’ wards like Charles V of Spain, and his three sisters: Eleanor, the future queen of Portugal and France; Ysabeau, the future queen of Denmark and Mary, the future queen of Hungary.

[17] Elizabeth Benger (quoted in Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen).

[18] The Woman Question.  Christine de Pisan, the famous poetess of the 15th century, laid down the foundation of female education, when she led the attack on La Roman de la Rose, and established the Court Amoureuse in honor of women and their pursuit of poetry. She was the ‘man of letters’ whose two prose treatises, La Cite des Dames and Le Livres des Trois Vertus – upheld female virtue and established the “Woman Question” of education in the context of ‘duties of women in different ranks of society’ (source – Eileen, Medieval Women).

[19] Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen.

[20] Castiglione’s The Book of Courtier presented a significant departure from the ‘deeply spiritualized ideal’ of Arthurian chivalry. It didn’t celebrate traditional courtly love; it gave advice on how to ‘perform’ a new type of political courtship that characterized an ideal courtier. ‘It’s full of clever deceptive strategies’ to dupe women. ‘Ignoring actual rank, swearing total allegiance, the lover is advised to address the beloved with deep humility, to be abject before her and totally submissive. But it’s all a ploy designed to take advantage of the woman’s vanity and gullibility’ (source – Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen).

[21] Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen.

[22] Halliwell Phillips, Pretty Dukkys: The Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

[23] Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

[24] Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. The norm of the day was to marry off royal mistresses to courtiers, after the king was ‘done’ with them or when they fell pregnant or became too scandalous for a healthy royal reputation.

[25] Mantel, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (historical documentary).

[26] Sir Thomas Wyatt.

[27] Loades, The Tudor Queens of England.

[28] This motif of ‘sexual politics’ repeated itself when the Aragonese  faction forwarded Jane Seymour to bring down the Boleyn faction in 1535 and the Conservatives supported Catherine Howard in 1539 to destroy Cromwell.

[29] George Cavendish’s commentary on the anti – Wolsey factional politics ‘headed’ by Anne in the Metrical Visions.

[30] Despite being ‘impressionable’, he impressed a silent mastery and vulnerability to pressure his subjects. Every twinge of the political sinew depended on the King’s attention. He would ‘lead, follow, manipulate, assist, observe or ignore as it suited him’. A necessary stimulant of the merciless nature of factional competition at the English Court was Henry’s complicated psychology. He had ‘his own eccentric interpretation of loyalty’ and by nature was ‘highly suspicious.’ Indeed, Henry VIII’s court was nothing without Henry, and so the inquiry into Anne’s rise and fall needs sufficient consideration of the King’s attitude and interpretation of the ‘causes’ of his action (source – Ives: Faction at the Court of Henry VIII: The Fall of Anne Boleyn).

[31] Ives: Faction at the Court of Henry VIII: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.

[32] Doran; Glenn, Tudor England and Its Neighbours. Both France and England bonded over their ‘fickle’ jealousy of imperial dominance and the alliance was neither strong, nor long – lived.

[33] Loades, The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family.

[34] Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

[35] Inscription penned by Horace Walpole and carved across the ‘Katherine’s Cross’ in Ampthill Park. The Cross now stands at the site of the vanished Ampthill Estate where Katherine of Aragon was exiled as the “Dowager Princess of Wales” during the proceedings of the “King’s Great Matter”.

[36] Mackay, Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador. This is a misconception as Anne wasn’t protestant and she maintained herself in orthodoxy till her death. The word “Protestant” in the 16th century was at its infancy, monopolized to the German religious attitude and a byword for all religious anarchy and opposition against the Roman Catholic Church, that were fortunate enough to be associated with politics.

[37] Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One.

[38] Loades, The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family.

[39] Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

[40] In many respects, theirs was a materialistic faith since they attempted to promote themselves and their kin through displays of wealth and munificence in behalf of traditional religious causes. For instance, together, they schemed the great sacrilege of inquiry into the abuses in religious houses and the dissolution of monasteries. There was a cunning logic behind these visitations – the Crown could confiscate wealth for the treasury and divest the Church of England of any lingering allegiance to the Papacy. In the subsequent closure, Church property came under the Crown and the latter appropriated its vast lands and great wealth. Nevertheless, both fell out on the question of utility of this vast resource – Anne was of the opinion that the wealth should be directed to religious reform, whereas Cromwell stood for monastic secularization. Both policies bore the risks of civil innovation in ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

[41] The Abbot of Whitby.

[42] Contemporary accounts perceived the Break from Rome as a religious schism, but the English Reformation was like no other heretical denomination. The Church of England did develop into Protestantism under the later Tudors, but at its commencement, it was intricately Catholic in its essence. Only royalty displaced the Papacy as its head and the clergy had to owe its allegiance to the monarch. The King was the representative of God on Earth, effectively Monarch and Pope in his own realm, with complete jurisdiction over his subjects’ spiritual and material welfare: this feature was prejudiced to be in line with the Lutheran concept of princely power and responsibility. However, Henry’s own sense of exalted position wasn’t Lutheran – it corresponded to the praemunir tradition of English Monarchy, which had been for some time in disharmony with the Holy See over “Peter’s Pence” and clerical corruption. And Anne was a staunch advocator of this “Royal Supremacy”. Henry, in his later years, was to blame Anne for the “schism” and for leading him unto excommunication, but through this, she gave him what he desired the most – a place in history. Unchallenged Master, Church and State – he surpassed all his predecessors to become the most powerful monarch to rule England (source – Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII).

[43] Adequate evidence shows that she tried to meet the religious standards and expectations of the Tudor times. She didn’t advocate ‘radical heresy’; she was merely acting out whatever religious convictions she could express within the extent of her class and royal estate. Yet because the issue of the Break from Rome was a contentious affair in England and with Anne standing at the forefront, it was inevitable that she should hold all blame!

[44] J.F. Davis prefers to label Anne’s reformist stance as one of “Evangelicalism” against the stigma of Protestant heresy, according to his parameters of the ‘attitude’ – of faith taking priority over confession and penance, of Scriptural supremacy, of the preaching of the Gospels over ceremonies and of the eclectic inclination toward spiritual revival.

[45] Anne gave weekly alms, clothing, money and medicine to the poor, and patronized education of scholars at the University of Cambridge and of individuals like Erasmus, Nicholas Bourban, Robert Barnes, Richard Herman, etc. Her patronage was both secular, and religious (source – Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII).

[46] Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One.

[47] Anne was associated with a court woman’s education – almost like the one imparted to career women these days. She initiated a courtship of two ‘like – minded’ equals in the feudalized setup of courtly love. She stood for a marriage for love – a concept intricately modern against the medieval ideal of dynastic and advantageous marriages. She strove toward spouse equality – a component of modern matrimony, but a sacrilege to 16th century marriages. And above all, the she shared an intimate link with the term ‘Reformation’ – an event historians associate with the advent of ‘Modern Europe’.

[48] Henry was staunchly conventional in his approaches and valued the medieval feminine virtues. These demure and docile virtues were in abundance in Katherine of Aragon and subsequently Jane Seymour. For which after the initial alacrity for Anne Boleyn’s ‘charms’, he became aversive. For him, once a dislike was always a dislike. This might explain his upbraiding of Seymour when she tried to revert him back to the ‘Old Faith’, and the measures he took to mold his other consorts in conventionality. He must have developed his hatred for outspoken and strongly opinionated women from the episode of his tumultuous marriage with Anne.

[49] Margaret of Savoy.

[50] Loades, The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family.

[51] French for “The Great and Infamous Whore”.

[52] Sir Thomas Wyatt, Whoso List To Hunt.

[53] Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One.

[54] Eileen, Medieval Women.

[55] Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen.

[56] Anne had suffered a miscarriage and given birth to a deformed foetus. Such reproductive tragedies were indicative of the parents’ poor morals and lack of virility, and consequently her femininity was questioned as far as Tudor women were defined sexually and maternally (source – Licence, In Bed with the Tudors: The Sex Lives of Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I).

[57] Charges of adultery in Tudor England brought serious consequences, simply because of the way it was perceived. In the 16th century, a wife’s adultery was thought to suggest her husband’s lack of sexual dominance in the household. This didn’t work well for Henry: Anne’s adultery challenged not only his ‘capacity’ as a man in a household, but also as a ruler (source – Lipscombe, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn [historical documentary]).

[58] Anne was highly unpopular, both as mistress and queen. Tudor misogynist ideas targetted those who transgressed clearly defined boundaries. Anne was the over – reaching commoner, a woman in mischief who defiled the sacred institutions of Church and Kingship; and hence the popular target of criticism and hatred (source – Licence, In Bed with the Tudors: The Sex Lives of Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I).

[59] Thomas Becon (quoted in Warnicke, Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners).

[60] John Knox in First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (quoted in Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII).

[61] Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Happy One.

[62] Loades, The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family.

[63] Courtly love is unacceptable in marriage, for here the wife can’t be ‘above’ her husband, as the lady is worshipped by her ‘servant’, the knight (source – Eileen, Medieval Women).

[64] Loades, The Tudor Queens of England.


  • Articles
  1. Freeman, Thomas S. “Research, Rumour and Propaganda: Anne Boleyn in Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’.” The Historical Journal 38, no. 4 (December 1995): 797 – 819. Print.
  2. Ives, E. W. “Faction at the Court of Henry VIII: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.” History 57, no. 190 (1972): 169 – 188. Print.
  3. Ives, E. W. “Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation in England: The Contemporary Evidence.” The Historical Journal 37, no. 2 (June 1994): 389 – 400. Print.
  • Books
  1. Fraser, Antonia. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. London: – Orion Books Ltd. (A Phoenix Paperback), 1992. Print.
  2. Wiesner, Merry M. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: – Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.
  3. Lindsey, Karen. Divorce, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII. The U.S.A: – Da Capo Press, 1995. Print.
  4. Power, Eileen. Medieval Women. Cambridge: – Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.
  5. Starkey, David. The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics. London: – Vintage Books, 2002. Print.
  6. Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. New York: – Harper Collins Publishers (Harper Perennial Edition), 2003. Print.
  7. Ives, E. W. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy. MA: – Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005. Print.
  8. Doran, Susan. Richardson, Glenn. Tudor England and Its Neighbours. New York: – Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2005. Print.
  9. Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. London: – Vintage Books, 2007. Print.
  10. Warnicke, Retha M. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII. Cambridge: – Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.
  11. Loades, David. The Tudor Queens of England. London: – Continuum Books, 2009. Print.
  12. Loades, David. The Boleyns: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family. Gloucestershire: – Amberley Publishing, 2011. Print.
  13. Warnicke, Retha M. Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners. New York: – Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2012. Print.
  14. Norton, Elizabeth. The Anne Boleyn Papers. Gloucestershire: – Amberley Publishing, 2013. Print.
  15. License, Amy. In Bed with the Tudors: The Sex Lives of a Dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I. Gloucestershire: – Amberley Publishing, 2013. Print.
  16. Bordo, Susan. The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen. New York: – Mariner Books, 2014. Print.
  17. Mackay, Laurence. Inside The Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador. Gloucestershire: – Amberley Publishing, 2015. Print.
  • Historical Documentary
  1. Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant [Part III – Lover]. Directed by David Sington. Performed by Roger Ashton – Griffiths, Laurence Spellman, and David Starkey. Channel 4, 2009.
  2. The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. Directed by Rob Coldstream. Performed by Daniel Flynn, Tara Breathnach, Alison Weir, David Starkey, Hilary Mantel, Suzannah Lipscomb, Philippa Gregory, Greg Walker and George Barnard. BBC Two, 2013.


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