For many, many years Anne Boleyn has had a bad image. Her legacy through history has been that she was the seductress who had an illicit affair, ruined Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and became Queen of England. Then, through her own debauchery and even witchcraft, brought her own downfall, being beheaded in May of 1536 at the age of 36.
However, her image is being slowly changed through new scholarship. Recent books by Joanna Denny and Eric Ives (which I highly recommend) have painted a very different picture of Anne Boleyn. And this book, by Colin Hamer is a wonderfully concise, short (if you don’t want to read the 480 pages of Ives book) outline of why scholarship is changing regarding Anne Boleyn.
Far from being the scheming temptress, Denny, Ives and Hamer suggest she was in fact a strong christian believer who, having returned to England from her years in the French Court did so having read much of the new ‘religion’ by Martin Luther and early early reformers. Not only had she read them, but she had brought these books back with her (despite there being a ban on them by order of Henry himself). It is also argued (convincingly) that Anne refused Henry’s advances and that she only considered a relationship with him AFTER he had begun his separation from Catherine. Of course, we must also realize that the marriage Henry had with Catherine of Aragon had received a special dispensation from the Pope. Catherine had originally married Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who had died early in their marriage. Henry became heir to the throne at 11 years of age and was pledged to Catherine, his former sister-in-law in order to maintain the alliance with Spain. Hence, Henry’s later decision to seek an annulment (not a divorce) from the Pope came from some fairly strong foundations.
Anne’s influence in Henry’s life and more importantly, the early reformation is the main point of this new scholarship. Anne was instrumental in giving Henry books to read from the reformers, often spending the evenings talking through these new doctrines and ideas. While Henry remained largely catholic and used the Mass every day throughout his life, Anne’s influence on him allowed the reformation a foot hold in England.
Anne’s downfall was almost certainly related to this. Her repeated mis-carriages and failure to produce a male heir, alongside her influence upon Henry, led to her enemies attack on her. They fabricated (and the historical evidence is fairly clear on this now) her ‘affairs’ with Henry Percy, her brother George and others. They laid the seed of the charge of witchcraft or being under a curse, when her third child mis-carried and was discovered to be deformed.
Henry was, by now, obsessed with getting a male heir and was willing to do anything to achieve this. The hate campaign against Anne Boleyn was massive and successful. She was tried, convicted and executed.
Colin Hamer’s book is a great overview of all this – at 132 pages it is a wonderful introduction, entertaining and packed with further reading.