Today is the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. She was put to death at 8.00am at the Tower of London on 19th May 1536 due to charges of adultery and incest.
Just in case you aren’t aware of her, one of the most famous women in history…. Anne was Henry VIII’s second wife, the one he broke with the Catholic Church in order to marry. The one who refused to be his mistress for several long years. The one who Henry came to hate so much, he had her decapitated. The one who became the first English queen ever to be executed.
Here we are, 481 years later, and Anne still captures our imaginations. This morning she was trending on Twitter, and history bloggers and authors are commemorating her all over the internet. Here’s why Anne Boleyn fascinates me…
She got under my skin at a young age
I first learnt about Anne in primary school. She was a Bad Woman who was sentenced to death for not being a good wife to the king. It didn’t cross my 10 year old mind that she could be innocent; the king wouldn’t just kill his wife for no good reason! As I grew up and learnt more about her life, I began to realise that she was innocent of all of the accusations against her…. Now is a great time to be interested in Anne’s life, because modern historians have worked to clear her name in a way that previous generations have not.
She rose so high and fell so far
I can’t think of anyone else who had such a quick rise to power, only to come crashing down to her death (except for maybe her rival, Thomas Cromwell). Anne was not from the wealthiest or most noble family. Her predecessor was a princess of Spain and she was only a lady-in-waiting. After years of waiting, when she became queen in 1533 Anne must have felt invincible…. but three short years later she would be dead, and all trace of her very existence was removed from court.
She is an enigma
I am driven to understand Anne and get inside her head, a quest which remains unfulfilled. We know that her time at the French court gave her a polished air of elegance, a mystery and charisma that led to her being admired when she arrived back in England. But…
How can a woman be so adored by the most powerful man in England, and end up despised by him? What was it about her that captured Henry’s heart? Did she love Henry? Or was she only driven by ambition? What about her caused Henry to kill her? How did it happen so quickly?
We know what Henry wrote to Anne, but her replies are lost to us. I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth of her story for sure, which pushes me on to learn more and read more!
Even if Anne had schemed and plotted to become queen, even if she treated Katherine of Aragon abominably (this she undoubtedly did), even if she HAD committed adultery with Henry’s friends (I believe her to be completely innocent of this)…. she did not deserve to be killed.
In her, Henry VIII met his match, and for that, she had to die.
The irony is, that in her rejected, illegitimised daughter, Anne gave the world one of the greatest monarchs in our history, Elizabeth I. Henry may have yearned for a son, but little did he know that his greatest heir would be his daughter by Anne! Anne’s failure to provide a son would, in hindsight, be a blessing. I hope Anne’s soul managed to find some peace.
What about Anne intrigues you?