Does Anne Haunt Henry VIII’s Dreams?
Two figures from the deep, dark past adorn my lawn this season of spook. I thought a wee bit of ancient English history might interest my Texan neighbors or at least their curious children who might continue, given a taste of it. I have started with the two most referenced—the ones on my lawn—Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. He had four more wives. (As king, Henry took advantage of his regal power.)
Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Earl of Wiltshire, served as ambassador to the Netherlands and France and encouraged his daughter to be educated there. Her date of birth is murky because records from the 16th century are spotty, but a birth in 1501 fits with her education in France and her courtship. While there, Anne served as a maid of honor to Queen Claude of France, learning how to appear in court.
Anne probably would not serve in court much before 14. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not take place. Instead, joined the court of English Queen Catherine of Aragon as maid of honor. King Henry would have been eighteen when crowned and married to Catherine. The king desired and achieved a court of unsurpassed glamour with he the handsome, athletic, and cultured lead. Henry liked to dress like a peacock, enjoyed wearing costumes, including a Turkish outfit of white damask, embroidered with roses made of rubies and diamonds.
Henry Declares War Against France, Builds Navy
But Henry was distracted. In 1522, he declared war against France. This required an increase in taxes, which was not popular. He built the British Navy from a few ships to fifty, earning the title “Father of the British Navy” and making England a serious contender on the water.
Henry got on the wrong side of Hapsburg Charles V of Australia, who carried influence with the pope, from whom the king would eventually want a divorce from Charles’ aunt. Not likely.
By 1526 Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a healthy heir (her male child died young). Henry took this as an afront to his manhood, damaging his growing ego. While he continued his marriage with Catherine for 24 years, he began to look elsewhere.
Then the king noticed Anne Bolen’s beauty as she danced and sang in court. Henry moved the courtship forward sending Anne love notes and a golden pendant that have survived through the ages. He thought these would sway her decision.
Initially Anne would not be convinced of Henry’s sentiment because she did not want to be a mistress, knowing that women who did not produce legitimate children would not have a long future in court. She brought back from France a knowledge of court and her formal schooling could have been a few paces ahead of Henry. (Although his knowledge of three languages speaks well of him.) The couple could have corresponded in French and few the wiser. (We know Anne wrote in French from a letter to her father.)
We see a different picture of this pair from more recent evidence. Five centuries later, given the picture of the rotund Henry, we find it difficult that Anne would come under the king’s spell. Bur we have learned as a young man Henry bore no resemblance to the portrait by Holbein that shows a guy who resembles a walk-on lineman for the Chicago Bears with the face of an emotionless simpleton. Their courtship lasted seven years. At the front of it, he was a 6’2” man when most everyone else was 5’7.” He kept in shape jousting and performed what we would consider extreme cross-fit sports to impress his subjects and his conquests with his prowess. Henry more likely came in around 175 pounds in his courting years.
. Venetian diplomat Sebastian Giustiani left behind his impression of the young king that draws an attractive suitor, which he shared with the senate:
He is very accomplished and a good musician, composes well: is a capital equestrian, and a fine jouster; speaks good French, Latin, and Spanish, is deeply religious. . . He is extremely fond of hunting…He is also fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture.
Perhaps the diplomat wanted to score points with the king, but he gives a picture of someone NOT the size of a refrigerator (like the portraits of Henry VIII that come down to us.)
Pope Denies Annulment; Henry Names Self Head of Church of England
Desperate to end his marriage to Catherine with an annulment, Henry appealed to the Pope in 1534. Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry from the church for dissolving convents and monasteries. Henry broke from the Catholic Church and went to the English Parliament to endorse his claim to be the SUPREME Head of the Church of England, launching the English Reformation and separating from the Roman Catholic pope. This gave the king authority to annul his marriage himself.
The year 1534 marks the beginning of Thomas Cromwell’s role as the king’s chief minister, Great Lord Chamberlain. A lawyer and statesman, he became a chief proponent of the English (Religious) Reformation and helped engineer the annulment of the king’s first marriage. This helped Cromwell become an ally of Anne Boleyn, but this soured by 1536.
Henry took Anne to France to get a blessing for their marriage from the French Archbishop, which they received and celebrated with a secret marriage in November 1532. That same year Henry conferred on Anne the title Marquess of Pembroke, a step towards their upcoming official marriage on January 25, 1533. By which point Anne has already conceived a child, the future Queen Elizabeth I, born on September 7. This pregnancy was followed by several miscarriages.
Anne Fails to Bear a Son; Pays Ultimate Price in 1536
Henry became even less forgiving after he fell off his horse in a jousting contest in 1536, the third year of their marriage, and seriously injured his ankle and the front of his brain. He was unconscious for several hours and the physical damage to the control center likely harmed his emotional responses. Those who have studied his reign believe that he became a more brutal ruler after the accident, though he may always have had a mean streak to begin with.
This might have influenced his decision, to file treason charges against Anne considered false and self-serving. He wanted to remove her as his wife, so he could marry Jane Seymour. Anne’s execution took place in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. This is where the GHOSTLY part comes. Henry brought in a professional executioner from France, known for a sharp blade, to complete her beheading. She left this earth at 35, leaving behind a daughter, Elizabeth I, who ruled for five years.
Are we to believe that Anne Boleyn did not haunt Henry VIII’s dreams?
Henry will marry four more times before his death in 1547, at which point his waist measured 54 inches. They buried him next to Jane Seymour, the only wife to present him with an heir—the only one he officially mourned.
Ian Crofton, The Kings & Queens of England. (New York: Metro Books, 2006) 128-135. Quote from Venetian and other information about the 16th century king come this source.