Friday, September 21, 2012

Anne Boleyn: Mother of the Virgin Queen

The past 20 years of research have been good to Anne Boleyn. Many respected scholars have vindicated her reputation, chief among them Professor Eric Ives. We now know that Anne was highly educated, and regarded as a brilliant mind. In her brief time as Queen she was a champion of the reform movement in England. She gave assistance to the poor, and began to create more educational opportunities for the lower classes, two causes her daughter Elizabeth would later adopt.

A copy of a 1534 portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn. Hever Castle, Kent. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne Boleyn was born in either 1501, 1504 or 1507; the date is still contested. I subscribe to the 1501 date, making Anne in her mid-twenties when she caught the eye of King Henry VIII, and almost 35 when her life was ended. Anne’s parents were Thomas and Elizabeth (nee Howard) Boleyn. The two were likely wed in 1498 or 1499. Besides Anne’s birth date, the order in which the three surviving Boleyn siblings were born in is also debated. Most historians now agree that Mary Boleyn was the eldest sister, perhaps born in 1499 or 1500, followed by Anne 1501, and then their brother George in 1504.

A panorama shot of Blickling Hall, where Anne Boleyn may have been born. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Thomas Boleyn married well-both his wife’s father and brother inherited the powerful dukedom of Norfolk. Thomas himself was an heir to the Earldom of Ormonde through his Butler grandmother (Denny, 9). Relations became strained between the Boleyn’s and their Howard relations as Thomas and his family became involved in the reform movement and most of the Howard’s remained staunchly Catholic. 

Thomas Boleyn, second from right, in a procession for the Knights of the Order of the Garter. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Thomas proved to be a learned and reliable intimate of the King, alongside the more colorful personalities of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and the tournament favorite, Sir William Compton. Thomas was also 14 years older than his King, which may account for some of his maturity. Interestingly, Thomas Boleyn’s first recorded appearance at court was in 1501, at the wedding of Prince Arthur Tudor to Catherine of Aragon (Fraser, 117)

King Henry trusted Thomas implicitly, sending him abroad on diplomatic missions. While on the continent on the King’s business, Thomas could network with theologians of the “new learning” firsthand. Thomas arranged for the secret importation of Lutheran pamphlets into England that could easily have gotten him of accused of heresy. One of these religious works, which Thomas himself translated, he dedicated to his daughter, Anne. Thomas was in correspondence with the great humanist Desiderates Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus himself declared Thomas egregie eruditus-meaning ‘outstandingly learned’ in the ways of the true faith (Denny, 11).

A portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam by Holbein, circa 1497-98. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Thomas used his continental connections to arrange for his daughters to be sent abroad for the best education possible. While George would become Oxford educated, Mary would spend her time in France. Anne was educated, beginning at the age of 12, in the court of Margaret of Austria. Margaret was a strict caretaker, called Madame (Ives, 21) who expected nothing short of excellence from her charges. Margaret was immediately impressed with Anne, writing home to her father:

"I have received your letter by the Esquire Bouton who has presented your daughter to me, who is very welcome, and I am confident of being able to deal with her in a way which will give you satisfaction, so that on your return the two of us will need no intermediary other than she. I find her so bright and pleasant for her young age that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me than you are to me."

In Margaret of Austria, "Anne Boleyn could have had no better mentor" (Ives, 21). I agree with Mr. Ives’ assessment that the way in which Anne would eventually manage her maids of honor as Queen was directly modeled after the way Margaret of Austria ran her household. At Margaret’s court Anne was being tutored in literature, music, dance, and courtly manners.  Anne would have had access to Margaret's incredible library, and would have been surrounded by the finest artwork in Europe (Ives, 22-25). We are told she mastered the lute, and it is more than likely that she composed her own music. She was probably taught alongside the future Emperor Charles V and his sisters.

A portrait of the Emperor Charles V by Titian. Prado, Madrid. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

The earliest letter of Anne’s that survives was written to her father in about 1514. Anne wrote from a hunting lodge near Brussels’ where Margaret’s court spent their summers. The letter is written in French, and is meant to show off Anne’s growing mastery of the language. The letter currently resides at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

A portrait of Margaret of Austria by Bernard van Orley, from the first half of the 16th century. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

After only a year off being abroad, big changes in English diplomacy occurred. Henry VIII married his 18 year old sister Mary to the ailing French King, Louis. Louis was over 30 years Mary Tudor’s senior. Mary was understandably less than thrilled about this arrangement, and seems to have struck a deal with her brother: if she were to marry King Louis, upon his death she should be allowed to choose whomever she wished for her next husband. 

Mary Tudor, Queen of France by an unknown artist of the French School. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On August 14th 1514, Thomas Boleyn wrote to Margaret of Austria, respectfully asking her to release Anne to the escort he had sent to Burgundy. He explained that Henry’s sister, now Queen of France, had personally requested Anne as a lady in waiting, since she now spoke fluent French. Margaret was not keen on losing the bright and witty young Anne, and delayed her release until the last possible moment.

Anne joined the young queen of France’s retinue, which also included her 15-year-old sister, Mary. By New Year’s Day the following year, the decrepit King Louis was dead at the age of 52. Queen Mary secretly wed Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, who had been sent to escort her home. Historical evidence suggests that Brandon was more than likely living in bigamy at the time. The events that followed do not belong in this essay, but it should be said that it was an absolute, royal mess, a mess that both Anne and Mary Boleyn witnessed firsthand.

While Anne handled the lusty French court in stride, continuing her education and winning praise for her wit and musical talent, Mary either chose or was manipulated into an alternate path. The new French King, Francis, had a sexual appetite that was already legendary; Mary Boleyn was to become one of many young girls to cater to his needs, only to be discarded shortly thereafter. Weir suggests in her biography of Mary that perhaps the elder Boleyn sister caught Francis I’s eye when he visited Queen Mary Tudor, trying to press his amorous suit.

King Francis I by Jean Coulet. Louvre Museum, Paris. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

For a few months in 1515 Mary was Francis’ mistress; he tired of her by the time she reached the tender age of 16 or 17. Francis never had a kind or even slightly nostalgic thing to say about Mary, describing her as “a very great whore, the most infamous of all”. Francis also called her his “mule” (Denny, 38), though we must consider that Francis I was making sensational statements to aggravate King Henry VIII. Later, at the time of Anne Boleyn’s fall, evidence came to light that perhaps Anne may not have conducted herself beyond reproach (Weir, 11 ). Yet the timing of this new “evidence” against Anne from abroad is suspect due to its timing. 

Weir puts forth a convincing theory in an appendix to her biography on Mary Boleyn that this portrait miniature, traditionally said to be of Anne Boleyn, is actually Mary Boleyn. The portrait passed of as Mary can only be of a woman of royal birth, perhaps Eleanor or Frances Brandon, or Margaret Tudor's daughter, Margaret Douglas. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While Mary Boleyn has a sexual education, which was followed by virtual obscurity, Anne was to spend the next six years attending Francis’ long-suffering wife, Queen Claude. While Anne served the Queen, Francis’ sister Margaret of Angouleme, later Queen of Navarre, a learned woman and reformer, was present at the decidedly Catholic French court. It was Margaret who brought the religious reformer Jacques LeFevre d'Etaples to court to become a tutor for her nieces and nephews, the children of Francis I. d'Etaples also served as the librarian at the chateau in Blois, where Anne was often in residence with the queen (Denny, 40). Anne and Margaret became friends, despite Margaret being 10 years Anne’s senior. Their friendship was one based on mutual affection, and it would continue until Anne’s death, with the two Queen’s corresponding by letters. 

A composite image of Margaret of Angloume, later Margaret of Navarre. Picture acquired through Flickr, shared for public use by That Boleyn Girl.

Anne acquired many books in her time abroad, all of which were written in French or English, though she could also read some Latin, the language of the Catholic Church. The earliest book Anne is thought to have acquired is in Latin; it is a Book of Hours from Bruges which can now be seen in the Boleyn’s castle, Hever. She signed the edition with her name and the prophetical saying le temps viendra, or ‘the time will come’ (Denny, 41). Besides exposure to French culture and a privileged education, it is also possible that in 1516 Anne could have been introduced briefly to Leonardo da Vinci when he was received at court in Amboise (Denny, 41).

In 1519 Thomas Boleyn served as Ambassador to France. It is more than likely that father and both daughters were together during this time, as Thomas makes frequent mention in his letters to Henry of Queen Claude’s poor health. Thomas Boleyn did not turn a blind eye to the reputation his eldest daughter had earned at court; Weir discusses in her biography of Mary Boleyn that she was probably forced into a brief seclusion in the French countryside, before being recalled from France. It is unclear how much of Mary’s reputation preceded her before she arrived in England, but we do know that after her marriage to William Carey she went on to serve Queen Catherine of Aragon, while simultaneously warming King Henry’s bed. There is speculation that one or both of Mary’s children was fathered by King Henry VIII; Weir makes a strong case that it was her daughter Katherine, not her son, Henry, that was the King’s illegitimate child (Weir, 160-163, 164).

Anne and her family were present at the “Field of the Cloth of Gold”, that famous event of male posturing. Anne could not have possibly conceived as she attended the pregnant Queen, Claude, that the English King in attendance would one day be the man who would change her life for better and ultimately, for worse. 

In 1521 Anne’s life took a significant turn; she was called back to England permanently by her father in preparation for a marriage to James Butler, the heir of the Earldom of Ormonde. 

“When the old Lord Ormonde died without a son in 1515, he left his two daughters Lady Margaret Boleyn and Lady Anne St. Leger…as co-heiresses; but the title itself was claimed by a distant cousin, Sir Piers Butler, who became the 8th Earl. As ever, the rights of the female, that is the rights of Lady Margaret deemed to have passed to her son Sir Thomas, were a confused area. As a result, Sir Thomas Boleyn claimed certain properties, and had by no means given up on the Ormonde title itself.” (Fraser, 121-122)

Anne’s proposed marriage to James Butler would hopefully resolve this dispute. It would also put her in the path of her future husband, Henry VIII.

Returning to England must have given Anne mixed feelings. She had spent more time in France than in her actual country of birth. Her contemporary Lancelot de Carles would later say of her, "for her behavior, manners, attire and tongue she excelled them all, for she had been brought up in France. No one would ever have taken her to be English by her manners, but a native-born French-woman."

Anne would be leaving behind all that she knew, and all of her friends, to return to an unfamiliar country and face an uncertain future. It would not be surprising if Anne had envisioned herself marrying a Frenchman and raising her family in her adopted country. Anne would take with her back to England a bit of France: Anne continued to dress in the French style, which visually set her apart from the other ladies at court. The sleeves, necklines, and signature "French hood" became incorporated into English dress when she became Queen.

Anne had been proposed as a bride for James Butler, son of the volatile Piers Butler. Anne's uncle, the Earl of Surrey, had initially proposed the match. If the marriage were to take place, the cultured Anne would be expected to take up at least partial residence in the hostile Irish countryside. Eventually, after much thought and consideration, the Ormonde match fell through. James Butler was back in Ireland in 1526, and by 1528 Thomas Boleyn inherited the Earldom anyway (Denny, 45).

The sketch has been identified as both Thomas Boleyn and James Butler, both Earls of Ormonde in turn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne seems to have made her first appearance at the English court in the winter of 1521, during the Christmas revelry. She was accepted as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. But it was in March of 1522 that Anne Boleyn made her first real impression. 

The court pageant on Shrove Tuesday was based around the theme of "the cruelty of unrequited love" (Ives, 37). It could not have been more prophetic, since Henry VIII would soon enough be suffering of unrequited love for Anne. The pageant required 8 ladies of the court to personify the virtues of Honour, Beauty, Kindness, Perseverance, Constancy, Bounty, Pity and Mercy. Appropriately, Anne would play Perseverance, unknowingly foreshadowing her future. The King’s sister Mary, now Duchess of Suffolk, was Beauty, and Anne's sister Mary played Kindness. The future wife of George Boleyn, Jane Parker, played the part of Constancy, a virtue she would never embody, seeing as she later gave false testimony against her husband and her sister-in-law, Anne.

The King as Ardent Desire and his men performed in the pageant alongside the ladies at Wolsey's palace, York Place (It would later be re-christened Whitehall Palace when Henry reclaimed the property and gave it to Anne). Henry's men 'stormed the castle' that the women were in, liberating them from 'Lady Scorn' (Ives, 38).

Many contemporary sources, including George Wyatt, Anne's first official biographer (who was also the son of Boleyn family friend Thomas Wyatt) would cite this pageant as the first time Henry noticed Anne. I would agree that Henry was likely intrigued by Anne for the first time on this occasion, but not remarkably so, as it would be a while before he began seriously pursuing her.

It is worth mentioning, though, that shortly after the March pageant, in April of 1522, Thomas Boleyn was made Treasurer of the Household, a position that Cardinal Wolsey had been campaigning to keep him from. Was the timing a coincidence, or something more? Mary Boleyn had already been Henry VIII mistress for two years; Thomas had always been displeased with this arrangement because his daughter had compromised her virtue without asking for anything in return (Weir). Thus, Henry was most likely not appointing Thomas so that he would turn a blind eye to his affair with Mary; it is more likely this was Henry's first extension of an olive branch, to get on Thomas Boleyn's good side so he could take up with Anne. In any case, at this point in history, Henry VIII had NO intention of marrying Anne; at most he saw her as a potential new mistress.

By this time, it seems that Anne had already given her heart to another, a man by the name of Henry Percy. He was the son of the Earl of Northumberland, and stood to inherit much of the Northern Marches. Henry and Anne’s flirtation blossomed into something serious, giving the King cause for concern. And years later, when a case was being built by Master Secretary Cromwell against Anne, he saw fit to question Percy on the extent of their relationship (Weir, 97-98, 148).

While most of the more colorful dialogue concerning their relationship comes from George Cavendish, Wolsey's usher and a contemporary of the Anne, his tale is suspect because he was writing in the reign of Mary I, who wanted to blacken Anne's name. Some of Cavendish's recollections are agreed upon by other contemporary sources, but others are likely embellished.

What we do know for a fact is that Henry Percy was part of Cardinal Wolsey's household, and that he probably fell in love with Anne Boleyn. Anne's feelings for Percy are more unclear. Percy had been betrothed to Mary Talbot, the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury as early as 1516 (when Anne was still in France) but this did not deter him from pursuing Anne. While David Starkey is convinced that King Henry threatened Percy with violence if her continued to pursue Anne, other's like Ives are skeptical of the King's level of involvement with Anne at this time. Ives feels it was more than likely that Wolsey invoked Henry's name, threatening royal wrath on Percy because Wolsey himself had more to gain from a Butler-Boleyn marriage (Ives, 65). This would not have been out of character for Wolsey, who often spoke for the king when he shouldn't have.

Percy and Anne may have promised themselves to one another. "Pre-contracting" in Tudor times was just as serious as an official betrothal or marriage. Suspicion that they has pre-contracted themselves would come back to haunt them in future.

A detail from a painting showing Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland from 1534. Picture acquired through Flickr, shared for public use by That Boleyn Girl.

When Thomas Boleyn returned from Henry VIII’s business in Spain, he had Anne recalled to the family’s primary residence, Hever Castle. Percy was also called home by his father at around the same time (Denny, 49). It would seem both parents were aware of the seriousness of their children’s relationship, so they took drastic measures to keep them apart. Henry could not marry Anne because he was promised to marry Mary Talbot. Anne was wasting her time with Percy, because he would not have been able to break his engagement off with the Talbot girl easily. 

An exterior shot of the stunning Hever Castle. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Interestingly, the papal dispensation King Henry would later seek in 1527 not only covered problems concerning the groom's marital history, but also the bride's. It specifically stated that a woman (in this case, Anne) could marry the king even if she had already contracted marriage with another, provided she had not (sexually) consummated the relationship. Ives lays out a variety of reasons for why this clause was included, coming to the conclusion that: 

 "The one thing we can be sure of is that matters had gone far enough between Anne and Percy or Butler, or both,....for Henry VIII to seek cover against possible future objections." (Ives, 67)

Henry Percy did marry Mary Talbot in January or February of 1524. Neither party was even remotely interested in the other, and their union would remain childless. Mary would come to resent her husband, and would later seek a divorce, though it was never granted (Weir, 243). Percy himself became Earl of Northumberland in 1527. In 1536, he was famously made to sit in judgment at Anne's trial, along with other peers of the realm. At this point, Percy had long since grown disillusioned with Anne Boleyn (Weir, 216-217).

Anne had endured two failed marriage proposals by the 1520's. While it was common for individuals to go through at least several marriage negotiations before they found one that stuck, (marriage in the 16th century was first and foremost a business arrangement, and everyone was looking for the best merger possible) Anne's situation was particularly dire because she was almost in her mid-twenties. While women in the 16th century did wed later that their medieval ancestors, a woman's eligibility would drop considerably as she aged, because it was perceived she would be less fertile.

Anne's next suitor was more powerful and more dangerous than she ever could have imagined. Her next suitor fell madly in love with her, and conducting himself with reckless abandon. Her next suitor was none other than Henry VIII, and Anne was the only woman who could put him in his place.

Like Francis I before him, Henry VIII was having an affair with Mary Boleyn. While he had had several extra-marital affairs during his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount had been the only mistress of great importance. King Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn’s affair was mostly conducted at Penshurst, a hunting lodge conveniently located near the Boleyn’s primary residence, Hever castle. Penshurst had formally belonging to the Duke of Buckingham, whom Henry VIII had recently executed on trumped up charges. The hunting lodge hand been managed by Thomas Boleyn since May 1521. 

Hever Castle and its surrounding Tudor cottages. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

By one account, in 1523 Henry named a ship the Mary Boleyn to honor his mistress, though Weir casts reasonable doubt on the authenticity of this claim in her biography of Mary. While most of Henry’s sexual relationships (other than with his wives) were fleeting, Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount were the only two mistresses to stay in Henry’s favor for over a year. In the case of Bessie, her tenure was close to 5 years. Still, Henry was discreet in a way that other Renaissance Kings were not, and Queen Catherine was probably entirely unaware of Henry’s relationships with Bessie and Mary until they were almost over. This is one of the reasons put forth by Weir that the story of Henry VIII publicly naming a boat after his mistress does not ring true. 

King Henry had a pattern of abandoning mistresses shortly after they became pregnant. In her book The Other Tudors, Philippa Jones suggests that Henry felt that it was some sort of betrayal for a mistress to fall pregnant when her role was to amuse the king, not carry his children. That duty was for his lawful wives, all of whom, except Jane Seymour, Henry felt failed him in that regard. Jones also sites that Bessie did not fall pregnant until several years into their affair; had she been using a primitive form of birth control and then discontinued it, conceiving Henry Fitzroy? Or, had it been an honest mistake? This is a question we will likely never have the answer to.

The funerary brass of Elizabeth Blount-Tailboys, Lady Clinton. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Mary Boleyn gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, in 1524. Weir makes a strong case that Katherine Carey was most likely Henry VIII’s child. Katherine was not formally acknowledged; a bastard daughter was of little use. Yet Henry provided handsomely for Katherine and his other possible illegitimate daughter, Ethelreda Malte (Weir, 168-69, 171). Bessie Blount’s son would be the only illegitimate child to enjoy the privilege and benefits of confirmed royal paternity. In June of that year, Henry gave more land to Mary Boleyn and her husband William Carey, who was a rising star at court. The couple would receive annuities from the crown in 1522, 1523, 1524, and 1525. While some have surmised that this was a form of compensation for Mary’s relationship with the king, it was just as likely due to William being in high favor at court. According to Weir, there is no definitive evidence that William even knew of his wife’s relationship with the King of England.
In July 1524, Anne’s brother George was granted property in Norfolk. By 1525, Henry, who had been watching Anne with great interest for the past year, was now fervently pursuing her. 1525 was also the year that Henry would create Thomas Boleyn Viscount Rochford, and the year when Henry would officially end his relationship with Mary Boleyn, who was pregnant for a second time. On March 4th of 1526, she would give birth to a boy, naming him Henry. Henry Carey was named after the King in tribute, though he was probably not the King’s child. 

Around this time, Henry made a grand overture to Anne, offering her the role of his next mistress; naturally, Henry considered this to be a great honor that no woman would refuse. Henry’s massive ego had obstructed him from seeing that Anne’s integrity and ambition would prevent her from succumbing to such an offer. 

Denny explains that evangelical’s, like Anne and her family, viewed women and marriage differently from religious conservatives. Evangelical women were expected to be highly educated, and to be an equal partner to their husband in marriage. Sexual relations before marriage were a sin that could no longer be absolved by a visit to the confessional.

These religious attitudes, so strongly held by Anne Boleyn, make a nonsense of the stories spread by her enemies that she was a witch and seductress who had indulged in many illicit love affairs. As an evangelical Christian who believed in maintaining her chastity and virtue, Anne could never have sold herself so lightly (Denny, 61).

Henry, who had spent his time as king coddled and praised by fearful courtiers, had not yet had anyone refuse to give him what he desired. After Anne declined his offer, in an attempt to make him lose interest, she left court. Given Henry’s fickle personality, it is understandable that Anne had some confidence this “out of sight, out of mind” tactic would work. However, Henry was truly smitten. Anne had no other marriage offers currently on the horizon after the Butler and Percy proposals fell through, but she was not yet willing to settle for the position of mistress to the king. Being a mistress was not necessarily a bad deal: it usually came with lavish gifts, if one asked for them, as well as distinction and high offices for the mistress’s male relatives. At the end of the affair, it usually amounted to a property settlement and a respectable husband, chosen by the King.

A portrait of Henry VIII by an unknown artist from the 1520's. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Perhaps Henry misread Anne’s leaving court as “playing hard to get”. Henry began to pursue Anne fervently. Like most men, the King fancied himself a magnificent hunter, and he began chasing Anne like a prized white hart. King Henry even sent her his kills from the hunt when he was staying at nearby lodges, like the aforementioned Penshurst.

Before 1525 when his obsession with Anne began, Henry had already been questioning the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. King Henry was disturbed that after so many years of marriage and so many pregnancies, the couple had no living male heir. Henry ordered his theologians and scholars to study the Bible and canon law to find a reason why the couple was incompatible. Leviticus 20:21 in the Old Testament decreed, “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing; he had dishonored his brother. They will be childless.” Queen Catherine had previously been married to Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur. Though Catherine had sworn the marriage had never been consummated, Henry VIII had serious doubts; the fact that Catherine had produced no living sons for her husband was the equivalent of being childless. An annulment or divorce from his wife would afford King Henry the opportunity to seek an advantageous marriage with a young, fertile foreign princess. An English-born wife would bring no political gain, and the idea of raising a subject such as Anne would not have even occurred to Henry just yet.

A portrait miniature of Queen Catherine of Aragon with her pet monkey from 1525-26. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

King Henry wrote Anne many amorous love letters, 17 of which survive. Henry sometimes enclosed Anne’s initials in a heart next to his name, much like a modern-day, love-struck schoolboy. He signed his letters informally, as H RX. To everyone else he signed his name regally, as ‘Henry R’ (Denny, 59). Unfortunately, all of Anne’s responses to these letters have been destroyed by her enemies. We do have letters which Anne wrote to others during this period that have survived the smear-campaign against her, and even a letter written jointly by Anne and Henry to Cardinal Wolsey, with Anne beginning it and Henry finishing it, and both signing at the bottom as equals.

A letter from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Vatican Papers. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Initially, it would appear Anne was unresponsive to Henry’s words, since he scolds her frequently for not writing back:

“You have not been pleased to remember the promise which you made me…which was that I should hear good news of you.”
Denny writes extensively of Henry’s letter writing, and the frustration he must have felt that Anne’s silence “…reduced (him) to demanding why she did not write to him.” (58)

Henry did not communicate with Anne’s sister during this period. While at the present the English court was largely unaware of the King’s liaison with Mary, Anne certainly would have been. Henry was attempting to show his constancy to his new love interest by spurning his old one. As Weir points out in her biography of Mary, we do not know how Mary felt about this drastic change of events. Henry shows remarkable sexual restraint during the early stages of his courtship with Anne, although he did have brief sexual encounters with at least 2 women.
After a year of no certain declaration of affection from Anne, Henry is distraught, and gives her an ultimatum:

Debating with myself the contents of your letter, I have put myself in great distress, not knowing how to interpret them, whether to my disadvantage, as in some places is shown, or to advantage, as in others I understand them; praying with you all my heart that you will expressly certify me of your whole mind concerning the love between us two. For of necessity I must ensure me of this answer having been now above one whole year struck with the dart of love, not being assured either of failure or of finding place in your heart and grounded affection. Which last point has kept me for some little time from calling you my mistress, since if you do not love me in a way which is beyond common affection that name is no wise belongs to you for it denotes a singular love, far removed from the common."

Henry also sweetens this offer of his ‘singular love’ for Anne, offering her, as Ives suggests, the English equivalent of Maitresse en titre, or official mistress before all the court and kingdom. This distinction would declare Anne above all other women in the land as the sole object of the king’s affection, including his wife. She would also receive a substantial amount of property and funds, and maybe a title. Francis I and Louis the Sun King of France, and Charles II of England would become the monarchs most commonly associated with bestowing this honor.

Anne must have begun to see that her resistance of Henry was futile.

"His desire marked her out as his prey, setting her apart and untouchable. As soon as others at court,…realized the King’s interest in Anne they withdrew, fearing the unhealthy consequences of being seen as his rivals. No other match was possible." (Denny, 92)

With no other alternatives, Anne now seriously considered the possibility of entertaining the king’s affection. While her religious convictions and ambition for a smart match would not allow her to enter into a sexual relationship with the king, she could at the very least engage in a strong flirtation. 

After receiving so many expressive and romantic letters, Anne sent the king a jeweled bauble, depicting a lone woman aboard a ship adrift in a stormy sea. This was no doubt an allegory for the perilous situation Anne found herself in.

Again, since all Anne’s correspondence has been destroyed, we do not know what message she sent to accompany the gift, but we do have Henry’s response:

"For so beautiful a gift, I thank you right cordially; not alone for the fair diamond and the ship in which the solitary damsel is tossed about, but chiefly for the good intent and too humble submission vouchsafed in this by your kindness…The proofs of your affection are such, the fine poesies of the letters so warmly couched, that they constrain me ever truly to honour, love and serve you, praying that you will continue in this same firm and constant purpose, ensuring you, for my part that I will the rather go (above and beyond than merely reciprocate), if loyalty or heart, the  desire to do you pleasure, even with my whole heart root, may serve to advance it."

Henry and Anne now began spending time together. In 1526, Henry made Anne’s brother George the King’s Cupbearer, a position of great trust, and also a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Anne’s uncle, Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, always keen to advance his position at court, recognized that Anne could be the instrument to drive a wedge between the King and his chief advisor, the corrupt Cardinal Wolsey (Ives, 108). Wolsey was mistrusted by most, but Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Howard had a special hatred for the man.

A portrait by Holbein of Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While the cardinal was abroad in France in 1527, Anne and Henry were to grow extremely close (Ives, 108). The two spent the majority of every day together and William Latimer recalled Anne’s debating theology with Henry on a regular basis (Denny, 99). While Henry was aware of the church reform movement, Anne was to heighten his interest, especially when she would later show him it could ensure him his divorce. While the early years of Henry’s marriage to Catherine had been mostly happy, the King’s bond with Anne was something else entirely; it was a meeting of like minds. “No other woman, no mistress, not even his queen, had ever been so close.” (Denny, 99)

When Wolsey returned from the continent he was shocked to discover he could no longer freely enter the King’s presence; he was now required to request an audience, like everyone else. Through Anne’s relationship with the King, the Boleyn family and its supporters had risen to high favor, and they were relishing the opportunity to gradually expose Wolsey’s abuses of his power.

He (Wolsey) had gone to France ignoring Anne as a flirtation, and confident that a divorce would free Henry to marry a French princess; he now knew things were serious, for him, perhaps deadly serious. (Ives, 109)

By 1527 Henry was no longer just seeking an annulment so that he could marry a foreign princess, beget heirs, and keep Anne as his mistress. Now the game had drastically changed: he had promised Anne that she would be the next queen of England. Anne would shortly become the scapegoat of Catholics in England and abroad for Henry VIII’s break from Rome.

On May 5th, 1527 Henry formally introduced Anne as his lady to both the English court and the French ambassadors at Greenwich palace, publicly displaying Anne’s importance (Denny, 104).

In the next few months all the foreign ambassadors became aware of Anne’s great influence and Henry’s intent to marry her. The ambassadors all reported to their home countries about these astonishing developments, but perhaps the Spanish ambassador Mendoza summarized it best, saying that Anne would be Henry’s equal if they were to wed, not at all like the subservient Catherine, “who can do…little harm.” (Ives, 110)

A portrait miniature of an aging Queen Catherine of Aragon, by Horenbout. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

It was clear to many that Wolsey’s fear of losing his position as the king’s right hand man to Anne, were she to become queen, prevented him from doing his job properly. Wolsey was in charge of obtaining his master a divorce, yet he frequently sabotaged the divorce proceedings, stalling his correspondence with the pope. And, at the same time he was half-way attempting to get Henry his annulment, he was also seeking out lawyers and doctors of divinity to block the king from marrying Anne. 

A portrait of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, from the Christ Church Picture Gallery. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While Henry trusted Wolsey too implicitly to even suspect that he was straddling the line between duty and self-interest, Anne was always wary of Wolsey’s commitment to her cause. Despite her mistrust, she knew that Wolsey was the only official even remotely equipped with the international connections and negotiating skills to get the job done (Ives, 109).

Anne played a game of cat and mouse, constantly testing Wolsey’s loyalties, and rightly so: if there was not the slightest chance of Anne being permitted to marry the king, she would either have to find another lackey to do Wolsey’s job, or abandon hope of being queen altogether. Anne had been promised the world by Henry, but it became increasingly clear that she would have to do much of the work to make their dreams a reality. 

It is important to remember that it is speculated that Anne had a deep, harbored dislike of Wolsey for his involvement in ending her relationship with Henry Percy. But, there has never been enough evidence to prove this, one way or another, because we simply do not know if Anne was as attached to Percy as he was to her. Anne and her family’s intense dislike for Wolsey probably had more to do with Wolsey’s longstanding practice of blocking of Thomas Boleyn from advancement, and the fact that he embodied all the corruption of the Church that the reformers so despised. Wolsey was unscrupulous, using his office to acquire property, excessively tax and fine those under his jurisdiction, and all the while live in splendor with his mistress and children (Denny, 112).

During this period, another bout of the horrible ‘sweating sickness’ struck indiscriminately, killing both young and old, noble and the poor. George, Thomas and Anne Boleyn all would fall gravely ill, as would Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey. Henry was paranoid of disease, given the chronic illnesses he had suffered from since childhood, and his fear was exacerbated when news reached Greenwich that Anne and her household were ill. Henry and his court (including Queen Catherine) were moved to Waltham Abbey (Denny, 117). Henry was preserving his life, but he never stopped worrying about Anne, writing to her during their separation. He even sent his best physician, Dr. Butts, to tend to her. Anne was to become friends with the doctor, a fellow evangelical, and support him later on.

A portrait of Dr. William Butt's by Holbein. Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, Boston. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne recovered, as did George and Thomas. Mary Boleyn was not to be so lucky, as she lost her husband to the sickness on June 23rd. Regardless of whether one or both were the King’s bastards, Mary was now left with two small children: Catherine, age 4, and Henry, age 2. Though Anne and Mary were as different as sisters could possibly be, and had never enjoyed a close relationship, (see Weir, Mistress of King’s) Anne was very sympathetic to the children’s plight. Anne championed their cause to Henry on Mary’s behalf. Henry had the nerve to scold his former mistress’s “poor reputation”, clearly ignoring his role in developing her reputation. After much procrastination and choice words, Henry granted Anne the wardship of little Henry Boleyn (Denny, 123).  

Anne took her nephew’s care very seriously, taking great interest in his education and his clothing, but she unfortunately failed to see that if Henry could treat a former lover and perhaps his own child so carelessly, he could easily do the same to Anne and any children from their union. Anne would also come to secure her widowed sister a 100 pound a year annuity from the crown (Denny, 123).
In 1529 Anne joined Henry on his summer progress, after Wolsey had miserably botched a divorce hearing with Catherine and Henry at Blackfriars, wherein Catherine had spoke with such assurance that she became the more sympathetic party (Tremlett, 267-281) . Anne and Henry hunted alongside one another, picnicked, and together entertained Jean Du Bellay, who was both ambassador and Bishop of Bayonne (Denny, 178). Anne had an affinity for falconry, and the stunning white gyrfalcon would become her bird of choice. Later, she would choose a crowned falcon holding a scepter as her personal emblem. It was on this trip that Anne fully demonstrated herself as an ‘honorary man’, as Historian David Starkey has called her.
King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Go Hunting in Windsor Forest, by William Powell Frith, 1903. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne would be granted two manors and an extraordinary amount of clothes and jewels by the king, including the jewels that had once belonged to his wife, Catherine. If anyone at court was still doubting Anne’s ability to hold the King’s interest, these accolades confirmed that she was being positioned as a queen-in-waiting.
During Henry and Anne’s relationship, Henry Percy was a shadow never far behind. That same summer, Henry’s wife, Mary Talbot sought a way out of her unhappy marriage by sighting Percy’s alleged pre-contract to Anne. If the Countess of Northumberland were to win her suit, she would be free of Percy, and Anne would not be able to marry the King. This threat had enough credence that Henry had the Archbishops of Canterbury and York handle the dispute (Denny 179). Perhaps King Henry instructed them that, if they valued their life, they would deny Talbot’s claim. Mary Talbot was told to return to her husband, and Anne remained free to marry the King, provided Wolsey did his job.
But Wolsey not only was doing a poor job at securing Henry his divorce; he would continue failing the king, by “…mishandling the Treaty of Cambrai, in which Francis I…deceived him (Henry) and caused (Wolsey) to mislead his master.” (Ives, 120)
Anne’s eligibility for the marriage market, with the king or otherwise, would continue to dwindle, year after year as she waited for Henry and Catherine’s marriage to be declared invalid. Anne filled her time in waiting with philanthropic efforts. As early as 1528, Anne began using her influence over the King for good.

The personal divorce plea of King Henry VIII. Paul Fraser Collectibles. Image public domain.

Anne championed two evangelical leaders who were being persecuted by the Bishop of London and Sir Thomas More: Dr. Robert Forman and Thomas Garrett of Honey Lane.  Forman was the Dean of Queen’s College, Cambridge. As a general rule, Anne would champion Cambridge men, known to be radicals and reformers, during her time in power. She supported Forman and Garrett through her letter writing campaign, persuading Wolsey to intervene. She would also persuade King Henry to twist Wolsey’s arm to rescue another target of More, the Prior of Reading. She would later use her influence to intervene on behalf of French poet Nicholas Bourbon de Vandoeuvre, and many others (Denny 127).
A sketch by Holbein of Nicholas Bourbon. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne ‘was a special comforter and aider of all the professors of Christ’s gospel’. The Imperial ambassador was to state that the Boleyn’s were the ‘principal instruments’ of rescuing ‘heretics’ from prison and that Anne was ‘the principal cause of the spread of Lutheranism in this country’, which made her the enemy of the Catholic Church (Denny, 127).
The Scottish reformer Alexander Aless would later tell Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth that, “True Religion in England had its commencement and its end with your mother.” (Denny, 132)
As Henry VIII and Anne formed a united front in matters of religion and politics, it became more evident to Henry that Wolsey, whom he had raised up and entrusted with much of the government of his realm, had betrayed him (Tremlett, 236). A case had been built against the cardinal, and on the 9th of October, 1529 Wolsey was charged at King’s Bench for various crimes, and shortly thereafter he was stripped of his position as the King’s Chancellor. Whilst Anne and Henry toured Wolsey’s palace, York Place, which had been seized by the crown, the cardinal would plead guilty to the charges against him on October 22nd. While many in the Boleyn-Howard faction had worked to bring Wolsey down, it was Anne who was instrumental in exposing the full extent of his treachery to the King (see Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn).
While Wolsey was under house arrest, Sir Thomas More was promoted. While he had previously demonstrated himself as a fervent Catholic who was loyal to the King, More, like all men at court, was a survivalist. He knew he had to appeal to Henry’s whims, so he dutifully delivered the 44 charges against Wolsey in Parliament (Denny, 150).

A sketch by Holbein of Sir Thomas More from 1527. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Because Anne was being acknowledged as Henry’s true love and the next Queen of England, her family was also basking in royal favor. On December 8th of 1529, Thomas Boleyn would be honored with the Earldom of Wiltshire. He would also be made Lord Privy Seal in 1530. This promotion made Thomas Boleyn the 3rd ranking officer in England (Ives, 127).
Despite the new accolades, divorce proceedings were at a standstill. More would not touch Henry’s divorce with a ten-foot pole because of his own personal conviction that Queen Catherine was Henry’s lawful wife. Stephen Gardiner had declared he could not in good conscious go against the Pope (Ives, 131). Henry’s closest friend and now brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, was also slacking on his duties.
The wedding portrait of Princess Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. In the Collection of the Earl of Yarborough. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

To further complicate matters, Queen Catherine was still living at court (Ives, 146). The Queen and her supporters saw this as a good sign; maybe Henry was not as convinced that his marriage was an abomination to God, as he led others to believe. Catherine, usually an obedient wife who was able to ignore indiscretions and forgive her husband’s faults, now knew that she would have to fight to save her marriage, protect her daughter, and preserve her crown. Because of her desperate situation, the Queen resorted to lies, outbursts, and even bordered on treason writing to her connections abroad, imploring them for their help. The papal nuncio in England and groups of clergy in Rome were always awaiting her next letter, and her next instruction (Tremlett, 316). Catherine especially called on her beloved nephew, the much put-upon Emperor Charles, for support. The Queen and her ally, Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, perpetuated lies abroad concerning her treatment, her living conditions, and her safety. On October 10th, 1535, Catherine wrote to Charles and the Pope, telling him that they must work together to assist her, her daughter, and the faithful Catholic’s in England. Catherine claimed that if this help was delayed, “they will do with me and my daughter what they have done with many holy martyrs.” She concluded her plea dramatically, declaring, “I write to your holiness frankly to discharge my conscience as one who expects death along with my daughter.” (quoted in Tremlett, 358).
Despite the sheer sensationalism of Catherine’s claims about her and Mary’s safety, who of us could blame her for doing anything and everything in her power to preserve her family unit? Catherine’s situation was unprecedented in England, and she and her daughter Mary were certainly facing a very uncertain future.

A composite image of Catherine of Aragon in her prime, in a portrait by Michel Sittow, and her daughter, Queen Mary I of England. Picture acquired through Flickr. Image shared for public use by Inor19.

Anne, in conjunction with Thomas Cranmer, would provide the solution to the annulment. Cranmer was a Cambridge man and a reformer who argued that, rather than appeal to the Pope’s verdict, Henry should amass a team of university theologians who could prove that his marriage to Catherine was unlawful according to scripture. Cranmer’s proposition collaborated nicely with what Anne had been telling Henry all along. Anne had given Henry a treatise that supported his own beliefs about government. The book was William Tyndale’s “The Obedience of the Christian Man and How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern”, first published in 1528. Tyndale had also translated the scriptures into English.
Anne marked passages specifically relevant to the couple’s predicament, and showed them to Henry (Ives 132-133). Ives has no doubt of the story since Anne’s friend Anne Gainsford, later Lady Zouche would tell the story to George Wyatt. Wyatt would write Anne’s first biography in 1590, during the latter years of the reign of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. The story about Anne’s presentation of the underlined passages to Henry VIII was also corroborated by John Foxe (author of the Book of Martyrs) and the archdeacon of Nottingham.
A sketch by Holbein thought to be of Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Cranmer would take up residence with the Boleyn’s at Durham House, where the king had granted them lodging. Cranmer would become the Boleyn family chaplain “…and he remained Anne’s pastor until her death and a friend to her memory thereafter.” (Denny, 151) 
After meeting with the king in 1529, Cranmer would accompany Thomas Boleyn in 1530 abroad to champion Henry and Anne’s marriage to both the Pope and the Emperor at Bologna (Ives, 132). Obviously, this was a disaster. The envoys were too closely tied to Anne, and there was no reason for their appeal to be any more persuasive than the previous ones. Also, being champions of church reform, Boleyn and Cranmer refused to treat the Pope with the expected courtesies, like kissing his feet.
A detail from a portrait of Thomas Cranmer. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Alarmingly, for all of Anne’s efforts, Henry began to question a break with Rome. It was difficult for Henry to distance himself from what he had been taught about religion, and his convictions caused him to fear that he was potentially jeopardizing his soul. In a move that must have been very worrisome to Anne, Henry ordered copies of the very books that she had lent him publicly burned, and outlawed all evangelical texts from the land (Denny, 160). This was an early example for Anne of the mood swings her future husband was prone to.

Anne undoubtedly was in great distress. All that she had been striving for must have now seemed further away than ever. Also distressing was Sir Thomas More’s growing power. More was using his position to call for a new crusade on heretics. Although More has been praised “as a martyr for individual conscience” this is the same right that he denied to those he personally slandered through his inflammatory writings, tortured and murdered as Chancellor (Denny, 161).
While the king’s adherence to the Catholic faith was yet another red flag that Henry lacked the conviction that Anne possessed, she would stay by his side. She was in the eye of the storm, and it was too late to back out now. In the face of adversity, Anne adopted the motto of her former caretaker, Margaret of Austria, “Let them grumble, that is how it is going to be!” (Ives, 141)
In addition to the religious confusion, Anne’s uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk was now siding with Charles Brandon, Duke Suffolk, instead of the Boleyn’s. Suffolk’s wife was the king’s sister, Mary, formally Queen of France, who disliked Anne. Some historians suspect that the origin of this tension was that Anne had seen Mary behave scandalously abroad, and had judged her. Other historians claim that Anne had not conducted herself entirely beyond reproach in France, and Mary knew this (Weir).
Norfolk only supported Anne when doing so would benefit him directly. As a general rule, the Howard’s were notoriously ambitious, stopping at nothing to advance themselves. The Duke of Norfolk was also staunchly Catholic. The Howard’s would support and then abandon Anne and later her cousin, Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard.

A portrait miniature of a woman, thought to be Katherine Howard based on the identification of the jewels worn by the sitter, which match descriptions of jewels that belonged to Katherine Howard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
1531 was altogether a series of setbacks for Henry and Anne. Aside from Henry’s taking one step forward toward separating from Rome, and two steps back into Catholic ideology, King Francis I of France, Henry’s great foil, complicated matters by trying to reconcile England with the papacy.
And still Henry was consumed with his great love for Anne. His letters to her were as romantic as ever, but they now also expressions of hope for a sexual relationship. Anne was almost 30, and was most likely still a virgin, or perhaps a technical virgin (Weir, 11). Even the agents of the Pope, who regularly intercepted letters between Anne and the king, reluctantly admitted that they could find no clear evidence that proved ‘Mistress Bolin” and the king had been intimate.
Wolsey was still languishing under house arrest, yet he had the audacity to still be in correspondence with Rome and entertaining guests (Denny 159, 165). Outraged, Henry VIII finally took the necessary measures to destroy him, once and for all. November 4th was to be a day of great historical irony: Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland was sent to arrest the very man who had prevented his courtship of Anne Boleyn.
On the 29th of that month, Wolsey was found dead. Henry and his court rejoiced at this providence, and celebrated as only the Tudor’s did: the play, “Of the Cardinal’s Going to Hell” was commissioned and performed at court (Denny, 166). The play’s final scene had the recently departed cardinal dragged down into the Mouth of Hell by devils.
After all that had transpired, King Henry VIII still had feelings of nostalgia toward Queen Catherine; after all, they had been very happy once, and had been married for over 20 years. Henry would continue to take advantage of Catherine’s maternal instinct, allowing her to mend his clothes and corresponding with her, though he could have done so just as easily been because of guilt or social obligation, not affection. Anne became increasingly possessive of Henry VIII because of his continued familiarity with Catherine. In April of 1531, the Princess Mary, ailing from stomach pains, wrote a request to be near both her mother and father at court. Paranoid that Henry, Catherine and Mary being together again would strengthen their familial bond, Anne had the request turned down. But her running interference on the matter actually caused the opposite of her desired affect: Anne had offended Henry, and he briefly retreated to Catherine (Tremlett, 299). A few days later, he dined pleasantly with Catherine on May 3rd, Holy Rood Day. But it wasn’t long before their conversation took a turn for the worst:
Freshly bawled out by Anne, he suddenly found Catherine’ gentler ways a relief. The Queen, seeing her husband soften, asked the following day whether Mary might really come to them at Greenwich. This was a mother’s love talking. It was also, surely, an attempt to score against Boleyn. Henry’s brusque, rude reply suggests he was thinking of how Anne would treat him if he assented. If she wanted to see her daughter, he said, she could do it elsewhere-and on her own. Catherine bit her tongue and replied that she would never abandon her husband for her daughter. (Tremlett, 299)

Henry returned to Anne, re-engaging in stimulating conversation and going on sporting retreats. Henry and Anne also shared in the redesigning of rooms in the various palaces that they would one day share. Still, as late as November of 1531, Henry and Catherine would still occasionally appear together in public for state occasions (Ives 147) But there was no spousal affection between them anymore. The rest of the time, Henry held court with Anne.
Ives cites New Year’s Day of 1532 as the first time Henry VIII truly distanced himself from Catherine. Henry did not gift the queen or her ladies anything for the holiday celebrations, and he famously refused her gift of an elaborate jeweled cup. The New Year also promised to be a good one because Anne and the king now had Thomas Cromwell, formally Wolsey’s man, on their side.
A 16th century portrait of Thomas Cromwell. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While Cromwell would later construct the court case against Anne, her brother, and other innocent men, that would send them to their death, for now he was to prove an invaluable ally. Cromwell and his men drafted and submitted the ‘supplication against the ordinaries’ to Henry on March 18th. Things were finally moving forward. Cranmer and Cromwell worked night and day to move toward a solution of ‘the king’s great matter’. The court was now catching on that their King was closer to achieving his goal than ever. Those who had once opposed Anne now rushed to befriend her. Anne knew well enough the fickleness of court life, but she welcomed any form of support, no matter how trivial.
In preparation for becoming Queen of England, Anne would need to be given a title. Anne received an unprecedented honor, being raised to the peerage in her own right as Marquess of Pembroke.
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, read out her patent, creating her a peer in her own right, unprecedented for a woman, and with the income to support herself. Then Henry set mantle of estate around her shoulders and a golden coronet on her head. (Denny, 181)
As Marquess of Pembroke, Anne Boleyn was now very powerful and independently wealthy; Henry had made her as close to a Queen as he possibly could at this time. Yet he would never again raise up his other English wives as he did Anne.

A composite image of the six wives of King Henry VIII. Picture acquired through Flickr. Image shared for public use by Inor19.

The current Queen and the Queen-apparent were to be two different types of wives. Catherine had never wanted to help govern. She saw her primary roles as loving wife and mother, benefactress of the Church, and thus a spiritual example for England. She did, however, rise to the occasion of ruling in her husband’s stead in 1513, as ‘Regent and Governess of England’; indeed, Catherine was a capable and diligent regent (Tremlett, 166-174). Anne had demonstrated throughout Henry’s courtship of her that she intended to be an active consort: she spoke her mind, for better or worse, and she had used her power to influence the direction of court politics (Ives) and rescue reformers from persecution (Denny). It was very clear that Anne intended to be a champion of Church reform in England, and depending on a person’s personal religious convictions, Anne was either the manifestation of hope, or of destruction.
Shortly after Anne became Marquess, the Archbishop Warham died, leaving an opening for Cranmer to take his seat (Ives, 157). On January 24th, 1532 Cranmer’s elevation to Archbishop of Canterbury was announced. With her friend now in an influential seat of power, Anne accompanied Henry to Calais, a French territory that had belonged to England since the 14th century, and would later be lost by Mary I. The trip abroad was an important summit with Francis I and his court, essentially introducing Anne as the next Queen of England to Continental Europe. Besides basking in the political significance of this visit, Anne was probably delighted to be returning to the atmosphere she had been raised in. Her affinity for French customs made her an instant favorite with Francis and his nobility, though not his new wife, Eleanor of Austria, who was a supporter of Queen Catherine. Anne was featured in a masque with her ladies, including her aunts, Lady Fitzwalter and Lady Derby (Denny, 183).
A portrait of Eleanor of Austria, Queen of France, by Joos van Cleve, circa 1530. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Also in attendance was a mysterious ‘Lady Mary’, and Ives makes a compelling argument that this was, in fact, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, Mary Tudor. Also in the English entourage was Bessie Blount’s son, Henry Fitzroy, who would leave from Calais to go to Paris to study (Denny, 184).

A portrait miniature of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, by Horenbout.  Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

There is much speculation as to whether Henry and Anne were already secretly married before this trip to Calais. There are various arguments for when their wedding took place, November 14th or 15th, or in January, to name a few. Given the evidence at hand, it is very likely that Henry and Anne had some sort of marriage ceremony before they left England, even though Henry would have technically living in bigamy (although if his marriage to Catherine was truly unlawful as he believed, this would not be the case.)
Whether they were married or not, Henry and Anne’s relationship took a big step abroad; after 7 long, exhausting years, the King of England and Anne finally sexually consummated their relationship. I would argue that in order for Anne to have entered Henry’s bed after holding out for so long, some simple marriage ceremony must have been completed, or perhaps a pledging of their troth in the presence of a witness. We know that Anne was being referred to as “the king’s wife” by foreigners in attendance in Calais, and that Henry and Anne’s apartments were connected by only one door.

'H&A" intertwined initial pendant. The necklace is a detail from the Loseley Hall Portrait. Picture acquired through Flickr. Image shared for public use by That Boleyn Girl.

Anne became pregnant almost as soon as she and Henry consummated their relationship. The future Queen Elizabeth I was conceived in Calais, and when Anne realized her condition, it became imperative that Henry get his divorce so that their child (which Henry was convinced was a prince) would be legitimate. 

A more official ceremony was performed upon their return to England, at Wolsey’s former home, York Place, on January 25th. The very next day Parliament reassembled, focusing all their efforts to expedite Henry’s divorce. It was on February 3rd that Anne could breathe a sigh of relief, when Parliament approved the Act of Appeals, which formally separated England from Rome’s authority. This meant that Henry’s divorce could now be handled under English law, without approval from the Pope.

In March, Anne began to lovingly prepare a nursery for the future heir at Eltham Palace. The next month, Cranmer was instructed to begin the divorce. Catherine, no longer queen, but the ‘Dowager Princess of Wales’ (a title appropriate for Prince Arthur’s widow) was ordered by Suffolk and Anne’s uncle Norfolk to cooperate with the proceedings ( Denny, 188). Though Catherine wrote letters claiming she was living in a ‘purgatory on earth’ in financial and material squalor, this was far from the case. She lived comfortably with many attendants. Her real tragedy would not be her divorce, but her eventual separation from her beloved child, Mary. 
A portrait miniature of Anne Boleyn by Hoskins. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Besides preparing for the arrival of her child, Anne spent this period directly before her coronation demonstrating that she would be a patron of the evangelical movement as queen, forming a close inner circle of reformers around her, both male and female, and liberating more accused heretics from prison.

Joyous news came for Anne on May 23rd; it was declared by Archbishop Cranmer that King Henry’s marriage had been illegal on the grounds that Catherine had previously been married to his elder brother Arthur, and that the marriage was consummated (although she denied it). Henry’s marriage to his brother’s widow was an ‘unclean thing’ and their union had been childless (without male issue) because of it (see Leviticus 20:21).

Anne began her joyful procession into London for her coronation. Contrary to the lies that the Marian regime would later perpetuate, Anne was welcomed with open arms by the many of the English city dwellers. Of course, “Anne’s popularity owed something to the fact that many in the city were staunch believers in reform.” (Denny 193) Reformers saw her as the champion of Christian truths, and many academics saw her as a shining example of the new, educated woman. And there were subjects that either hoped or believed that Anne would be the mother of England’s long-awaited prince. However, many of the rural country folk, especially in the North, would remain staunchly Catholic and pro-Catherine, and did not recognize Anne as Queen.

A design by Holbein for Apollo and the Muses on Parnassus, a tableau that was staged for Anne Boleyn along her coronation procession route. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne arrived by barge at the Tower of London, and was greeted by her husband with a public kiss. Anne waved and smiled at the cheering crowd; she could not have known that just three years from now she would be back at the Tower for a very different reason. The happy couple spent the next two nights at the Tower apartments together, as was tradition (Fraser, 191).

A clock given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, which includes her heraldic falcon badge etched onto its side. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy That Boleyn Girl.

On May 31st, Anne was processed through the street to her coronation with her dark auburn hair hanging loose down her back, and flowers in her hand. She was wearing a crimson brocade dress, covered in diamonds and pearls. Covering her shoulders was a purple velvet cape trimmed with ermine (Fraser, 192).  There were pageants staged for Anne to stop and view in the London streets, and the songs composed and sung for her were elaborate and beautiful.
In Westminster Abbey, Anne was anointed with Holy oil, and Cranmer placed the crown of St. Edward the Confessor on her head. “This was a singular honor, for no other consort has ever been crowned with the same crown as a reigning monarch. Effectively, Henry was creating Anne as his queen regnant.” (Denny, 197) Henry would never make another wife his equal again.
London celebrated for days on end. There was feasting and jousting, and spirits were consumed on every street corner. Queen Anne adopted her now famous motto, ‘The Moost Happi’, having it stamped on her coronation medal. In her first year as queen, Anne donated 40 pounds to both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. She also gifted money to various men pursuing their studies. 

Anne Boleyn's coronation banquet seating plan. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl. Image public domain.

Queen Anne now assembled her household. Her ladies were all expected to be upright, moral women. Among them were members of Anne’s family: her sister-in-law, Jane Parker, Lady Rochford (neither upright or moral), and her cousins Mary Shelton and Mary Howard. Other notables included Margaret Douglas, and a certain Jane Seymour. Anne would arrange a most impressive match for Mary Howard to the Kings own son, Henry Fitzroy (Denny 208-209). Anne’s personal silk-woman, Jane Wilkinson, would later tell how there never was “better order amongst the ladies and gentlewomen of the court than in Anne’s day”. 
A sketch by Holbein of Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Queen Anne’s ladies were expected to discuss theology with the queen, and attend church once a day. Anne encouraged the new evangelical faith, often gifting texts to her waiting woman (Denny, 210). Anne kept evangelical chaplains in her service. One, Matthew Parker, would later become her daughter’s Archbishop of Canterbury. Parker and Anne would create new academic opportunities for the less fortunate, founding grammar schools that granted scholarships. Those students who showed promise could be sent to Cambridge for a six-year course of study (Denny, 215). Anne’s daughter Elizabeth would later share her mother’s interest in education, becoming a benefactress of both Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and chartering more grammar schools than her predecessors; this afford more educational opportunities to the middle class, and many of these grammar schools are still in operation today.

A late 16th century copy of an original portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
On August 26th, Anne would enter her confinement with her lady’s to prepare for the birth of her child. During this time, the excited father-to be consulted astrologers and became convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the child would be his long-hoped for heir. He had birth announcements drawn up for a prince, but on September 7th, 1533, two ss's would have to be hastily tacked on to the word ‘prince’, as a daughter was born.
The birth announcement of Princess Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I of England. Picture acquired through Tumblr courtesy of Let Them Grumble.

The child was named Elizabeth, likely for her two grandmothers. Henry was very disappointed, but he still had hope that he and Anne would have sons, telling her,“You and I are both young, and by God’s grace, boys will follow.” Anne may not have entirely believed, like her husband, that the child would absolutely be a boy; but she no doubt was worried about what the repercussions would be. On September 10th, Elizabeth was christened in grand finery at Greenwich, and though neither parent was in attendance, this was common practice, and was not an indication of displeasure with the child’s gender. Cranmer was created Elizabeth’s godfather, and was in charge of her spiritual well-being (Denny, 202). After Anne’s death, Cranmer would continue to look out for the little princess, ensuring that she was brought up in the faith of her mother.

A composite image of the parent's of Queen Elizabeth I: King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

King Henry had his daughter Mary, aged 17, bluntly informed that she was now illegitimate, and must swear her loyalty to both Queen Anne and all children born from their union. Mary refused, initially. Henry continued to send his cronies to bully Mary into submission, confiscate her things, remove her trusted servants, and deny her privileges in her own home.
(Like her mother) …Mary maintained a rigid Catholic faith which would accept no criticism of the Church of Rome or its practices. …Mary believed that the New Learning and the New Religion were heretical works of the devil and that Anne Boleyn was responsible for seducing her father and ruining their lives.
Mary deceived herself. Henry had been contemplating a split with Catherine long before. Nor was it Anne who was keeping Henry away from his daughter. Although Mary (and Catherine) blamed her for every setback in her life, she later discovered it was the King himself who had determined to teach her a lesson by humiliating and ignoring her. (Denny, 205)
Mary finally gave way, despite her mother writing her and telling her not to comply. Interestingly, it was the ambassador Chapuy’s, Catherine’s ever-loyal friend, that convinced Mary to pledge her allegiance to the new regime, in order to spare her of the cruelty Henry was inflicting on her. Catherine would continue to insist on being called Queen, and her loyal ladies would oblige her. Now that Anne was officially Queen, Henry would no longer tolerate Catherine’s affronts, and he now began to downsize her retinue. Catherine’s letters to Mary, instructing her in various ways how to thwart the King, made Henry so angry that he would eventually punish both mother and daughter, forbidding them to have any contact with one another. This was a cruel injustice that Anne had no part in.

Henry VIII kneeling in prayer, from the Black Book of the Garter, circa 1534-41. In the collection of the Dean and Canons of Windsor. Image public domain.

The trusted Lady Margaret Bryan was put in charge of Princess Elizabeth’s household, but Anne would remain very much involved in her child’s life. Despite the tradition that women of the nobility would have their children fed by a wet nurse, Anne declared that she would breastfeed her daughter herself (Denny, 204). Henry was not pleased with his wife’s decision, and he put a stop to it. Breastfeeding would take Anne away from his side, and it might also (as was the belief) delay her conceiving again. 
Very quickly after Elizabeth’s birth, it became clear that the honeymoon period between Anne and Henry was over. While every couple’s relationship ebbs and flows, Anne was dealing with an increasingly more tempestuous Henry. Also, the aspects of Anne’s character that had once captured and held Henry’s attention for more than 7 years, and had inspired him to move mountains to marry her, were now wearing thin on Henry’s patience (Weir, 10).
"While previously Henry had found Anne’s independence of spirit and intellectual bantering highly attractive…these very attributes became liabilities." (Denny, 204)
Queen Anne balanced placating her unpredictable husband with her attentive care of Elizabeth. She spent time with her daughter as much as possible, and when she was away from her, kept up frequent correspondence with her caretakers, relaying instructions, and ordering elaborate cloth and trim for her daughter’s clothes. By Christmas of 1533, Anne was pregnant again, which Henry again believed to be a son. Against Anne’s wishes, he had Elizabeth and her household sent away to Hatfield (Denny, 298). Anne’s only comfort was that Lady Bryan, Margaret Douglas and Blanche Parry, loyal, loving and intelligent women chosen by Anne, were to go with her. Parry would remain in Elizabeth’s service for the next 57 years.

A monument depicting Blanche Parry kneeling beside her mistress of 57 years, Queen Elizabeth I. St. Faith's, Bacton, Hereford. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Queen Anne proved herself to be a very charitable queen, who was especially interested in the plight of the common man, a characteristic Elizabeth would embody as Queen later on. Whenever Anne traveled, she made it a practice to have her almoner find the neediest families in the towns and villages, and then give them financial gifts, sometimes amounting to 100 crowns a week. She had a soft spot for mother’s ‘overcharged with children’, and even paid for new livestock for destitute farmers. Hugh Latimer wrote to the Queen about a farmer called Ive and his wife who had lost their cattle; as a result Anne gave Mrs. Ive a gift of 20 pounds in gold (Denny, 216)
Anne’s household records show that she gave an incredible 1,500 pounds a year to charitable causes, but preferred these acts to go unpublicized. Anne gave out of the goodness of her own heart, not for recognition. This is especially commendable given that Anne could have benefited greatly from popular opinion turning in her favor, as a result of these good works being publicized.
These acts of charity are a far cry from the reputation of an ‘amoral seductress’ that has become attached to Anne. These myths, many of which are still held as fact by the general public, were created and perpetuated by the enemies of the powerful Boleyn faction. The Boleyn’s had, in truth, made a lot of enemies in their quest for power.
It should me mentioned here that Anne’s charitable giving demonstrates that she was a reformer of the Catholic religion in England, not a Protestant, as Lutheran’s would come to be known later. Had she been a full-fledged Lutheran, she would have believed that faith alone and an acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal savior would alone ensure you entry into heaven. Acts of charity, penance, or confession, although encouraged, were not necessary for salvation.
Seven of the 10 bishops elected between the years of 1532 and 1536 were backed by Queen Anne (Denny, 212). Foxe and Latimer would praise Anne’s involvement in the early Protestant church extensively. Foxe said of Anne: “What a zealous defender she was of Christ’s gospel all the world doth know, and her acts do and will declare to the worlds end.”
Being the Renaissance woman that she was, Anne did not just support evangelical men. In addition to her ladies in waiting, Anne employed various women to smuggle illegal books into the country, (Denny, 212) and wrote to release women imprisoned for their faith, like a ‘Mrs. Marye’ (213). Anne’s letter to Cromwell lobbying for Mrs. Marye’s release survives. Many reformers who had fled Thomas More’s persecution were now returning from abroad because they knew that the Queen would protect them.

The 16th century Loseley Hall Portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn, by an unknown artist of the English School. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.

Unfortunately, Anne’s sister Mary, now 34, would further complicate her life when she secretly married beneath her, to the soldier William Stafford. Weir poses the theory that it is possible that Mary first met Stafford when she visited Calais, where he happened to be stationed in the service of Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle. Even though romantics today might think it fitting that Mary would finally be afforded some personal happiness, in 1533 this was an unacceptable arrangement. Mary had dishonored the entire Boleyn family, and most of all her sister, the Queen, by marrying below her station. Also, as the Queen’s sister Mary was required by law to ask for permission before marriage. Queen Anne, who had so graciously cared for Mary and her children in her widowhood, was outraged.
Mary Boleyn pleaded to Cromwell to intercede on her behalf writing, “For well I might have had a greater man of birth, but I assure you I could never have had one that loved me so well. I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen christened.” The letter is so passionate that it borders on erratic; it is reproduced and discussed at length by Weir in her biography of Mary.
After the flames of scandal died down, Anne took pity on her sister, working with Cromwell to acquire a residence for Mary and her new husband in the country, in Essex. Henry Carey, now 7, would continue to live at court (Denny, 209). Anne could have easily turned her back on Mary due to her long history of careless choices, and few would have judged her for it. However, perhaps Anne had acquired some sympathy for her estranged sister; she might have recently reached the conclusion that she herself would ‘rather beg her bread’ with a low-born man than be the ‘greatest queen christened’ herself.
Mary Tudor, now merely Lady Mary, (a demotion her baby sister would also suffer after her mother’s death) was ordered to serve in Princess Elizabeth’s household, in an effort to make her obedient. Mary was put under the supervision of Sir John and Lady Shelton; Lady Shelton, also named Anne, was the fifty-year-old sister of Sir Thomas Boleyn (Weir, 33). At this time, Anne was still trying to pursue a friendship with Mary. While visiting her daughter at Hatfield in 1534, “Anne offered to welcome Mary if she would reach reconciliation with the King and acknowledge their marriage.” (Denny, 217-218) This, of course, was something that the Lady Mary’s conscience would not allow her to do. Mary’s continued refusal to acknowledge Elizabeth as the King’s heir aggravated Anne, so she ordered her aunt to force her stepdaughter to acknowledge Elizabeth’s position, by force, if necessary (Weir, 34-35).

A sketch by Holbein of Princess Mary Tudor, circa 1536. The Royal Library, Windsor. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Shortly thereafter there was a misunderstanding at the chapel in Eltham Palace between Queen Anne and her stepdaughter. Anne wrote a note to Mary to try to smooth things over:
The Queen salutes your grace with much affection and craves pardon, understanding that at your parting from the oratory, you made a curtsey to her, which if she had seen she would have answered you with the like; and she desires that this may be an entrance of friendly correspondence, which your grace shall find completely to be embraced on her part.
Anne’s feelings toward her teenage stepdaughter were complicated, in that they were always changing; one minute, she detested her for her insolence, and the next minute, she desperately craved friendship and peace. In this instance, she humbled herself to write a letter, explain the misunderstanding, and trying to make amends. Mary continued to declare that there was no Queen but her mother. The real person Mary should have been angry with was her father, the King. Eventually, after continually extending the olive branch and enduring countless insults, Anne would give up the hope of ever being close to Mary.
A significant cause for concern soon arrived on Henry and Anne’s doorstep from Rome. The Pope, silent for so long, now issued a decree that Catherine of Aragon and Henry’s marriage “always hath and still doth stand firm and canonical, and the issue proceeding standeth lawful and legitimate.” According to the papacy, Henry and Catherine were still married, and Mary was legitimate; Anne was a mere concubine, and Elizabeth a bastard.  Henry had to react to this news quickly, and on March 23rd he passed the Act of Succession, (which would later be revised several times before his death) declaring that only Henry and Anne’s children stood to inherit the crown; he also had included that, were he to die, Anne would be made regent until their heir(s) came of age. Also, ‘slander or derogation of the lawful matrimony (with) his most dear and entirely beloved wife Queen Anne’ would be treason (Denny, 220-221)

The only surviving contemporary likeness we have have of Queen Anne Boleyn is this defaced medal from 1534. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.

Despite being “entirely beloved” Henry bedded other women during Anne’s pregnancies. This was a common practice, since it was believed that sexual intercourse during pregnancy endangered the baby; Henry was not taking any chances where a potential male heir was concerned. Anne had a miscarriage in 1534 (Fraser, 218). She was seven months pregnant when she went into premature labor, and much to her detriment, the fetus was examined and found to be a boy (Weir, 28). before the tragedy she and had been looking forward to a reunion with King Francis and her old friend, Margaret of Angloume, now Queen of Navarre (Denny, 226). Instead of Henry rushing to his wife’s side, he distanced himself from her, going on progress by himself, with Anne joining him only after she had recovered (Denny, 227). Henry VIII believed that Anne had failed him, yet again, in the one aspect that she needed to succeed: providing him with a male heir. The theory put forth by Retha Warnicke in 1989 that “the sole reason” for Anne’s fall was that this fetus was deformed has been disproven. The deformed fetus story was created by the Jesuit priest Nicholas Sander, who in 1585 wrote and produced a tract of outright lies about Anne, including that Anne was Henry VIII’s own daughter, in order to cast doubt on her daughter Elizabeth’s right to rule (Weir 28, 159).
After the Queen was made aware that her husband had had a fling in 1534, she decided that it would be better to have Henry take up with a women she could trust than a woman who would try to manipulate him (Fraser 217). It has been widely suggested that Anne recommended her own cousin, Lady Madge Shelton, to the King. It seems a plausible survival tactic for Anne. Madge Shelton was engaged to Henry Norris, a close friend of the King. Norris would later be wrongfully executed for plotting to kill the King (regicide) so that he and the Queen could marry.
A sketch by Holbein thought to be of Madge Shelton, Lady Heveningham. Picture acquired courtesy of Tudor Place. Image public domain.

There is much discussion over Henry’s impotence, or that his various chronic diseases affected the health of his offspring in-utero. There is some contemporary evidence Henry VIII was impotent at times, but as Weir points out, there is an equal amount of evidence that he was still sexually healthy. We will never know for sure exactly what caused Anne’s failed pregnancies, and what prevented some of Henry’s other wives from conceiving.
There is a recent, credible theory that Anne and Henry VIII’s genetics were incompatible. “Anne’s first pregnancy resulted in a healthy child, but her three subsequent pregnancies ended in stillbirths, one at full-term. Could it be that she was one of the few women who are rhesus negative?” (Weir, 28)
A genetic incompatibility unknown until 1940, pregnancy problems can arise when a man’s blood is rhesus positive and his partner’s blood is rhesus negative. The issues do not occur in the first pregnancy, but during labor, tiny amounts of the baby’s blood will cross from the baby’s placenta into the mother’s blood stream. If the baby is rhesus positive like the father, the mother becomes over sensitized to these harmful antibodies. In any pregnancies to follow, the mother’s antibodies will pass through the placenta into the baby’s blood and, recognizing it as ‘foreign’, will try to destroy it’s red blood cells. Thankfully, today this condition can be treated with blood tests and transfusions, but in the 16th century this genetic incompatibility would have resulted in continual stillbirths. If Anne was rhesus negative, she would have never born Henry another living child (Weir, 28-29).
Modern science has also revealed to us that it is the man’s sperm which determines the gender of the baby. So, even if Anne were to only produce healthy female children, the determinate of their gender would have been Henry.
While religious war broke out in France, Henry had himself declared the Head of the Church of England, and all were ordered to swear allegiance to his new authority. Those who refused, like Sir Thomas More, were executed. Henry’s ego would continue to inflate in the coming years as he ordered the dissolution of the monasteries and many more executions. He also became more and more critical and controlling of Anne. At this point she had given Henry only a daughter, and had now suffered two miscarriages; she began to fear for her safety. She kept her focus on her daughter Elizabeth, doting on her whenever she could. Despite being co-regent, Anne realized how much her life depended on Henry’s infatuation with her. Not being a foreign princess, she had no royal relations to defend her, though this had not helped Catherine of Aragon in her time of need.
One of Anne’s beloved dogs, Purkoy, fell out of a window around Christmas and she was crushed (Denny, 232). Henry had to gently break the news to her. Anne spent the holiday with her daughter, constantly on guard for her husband’s mood swings. Anne and Henry went on progress in the summer, stopping at many noble houses, one being Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family.
The Seymour’s had ten children and lived in seemingly domestic bliss, though it was speculated in the 17th century that they may have hid a terrible secret. Sir John, the patriarch, may have had several illegitimate children with his son Edward’s wife, Katherine Filliol. However, there is no contemporary evidence for this allegation. Edward did however doubt the paternity of his children from his first marriage (DNB). He later married Anne Stanhope . Stanhope was a gutsy evangelical, a woman after Anne’s own heart, who would later become a leader in the Protestant movement.
A 16th century portrait of Anne Stanhope-Seymour, Duchess of Somerset. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While Jane Seymour was currently one of Anne’s ladies, and would become Henry’s next wife, we have no evidence of anything scandalous happening yet. Henry and Anne had reconnected away from the stress of court life, and many recorded how happy they looked in the country. Anne became pregnant for a fourth time. Indeed, until her final months, it was commonly stated that the King was never angry at Anne for long; their tendency to reconcile, and Anne’s influence over the King were the principal reasons why Master Secretary Cromwell constructed such a rapid and shocking case against her (Weir, 86, 122).
On January 7th of 1536, Dowager Queen Catherine of Aragon passed. Catherine’s biographer, Giles Tremlett, asserts that the letter Catherine is said to have dictated to her husband on her deathbed is almost certainly fictitious. It was more likely created and circulated by Roman Catholic writers who wanted to honor her memory. Still, Tremlett says, “It is not unreasonable to imagine that the words reflect something of Catherine’s state of mind as she lay in her bed that morning.” (364) Although the letter is probably fictional, it contains the oft-repeated line, “Lastly, I want only one true thing, to make this vow: that, in this life, mine eyes desire you alone.” In desperation, the Lady Mary had recently considered entertained the idea of trying to escape the country in an effort to raise an army abroad (Whitelock).
Henry VIII was overjoyed at being free from Catherine, grabbing his daughter Elizabeth, hoisting her up and saying, “God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!” He held a banquet on the 9th of January, and a tournament on the 24th. Alison Plowden suggests that these celebratory events may have been Elizabeth Tudor’s first conscience memory. 
Queen Anne was understandably relieved, too, but she was not heartless. Perhaps Anne’s intuition told her that the Lady Mary must have been suffering; perhaps Anne though that with Catherine dead, Mary would be more likely to warm up to her. Whatever the reason, Anne wrote to her stepdaughter, expressing her sympathies and offering to be like a ‘second mother’ to her; she also offered her a place at court (Denny, 242). While Anne may have felt she was doing the right thing, the timing was wrong, and Mary refused the offer.
On January 29th, the day of Catherine of Aragon’s funeral, Queen Anne miscarried-“with much peril of her life”-a still-born fetus-“that had the appearance of a male child of 15 weeks growth.” (Wriothesely, quoted in Weir, 7) After four pregnancies, two of them identified as boys, Anne had given the King only a daughter. She had “miscarried of her savior” (quoted in Neale, Queen Elizabeth I). Henry VIII was enraged.
What caused the miscarriage is a matter of debate. Many still identify the cause of Anne’s distress, and thus her eventual miscarriage, to Henry’s accident the St. Paul’s Eve Joust on January 24h. By now, King Henry was nearly 45 years old and rather overweight. His armor from that year shows that his waistline was a substantial 54 inches! (Denny, 242). Henry was no longer in his prime, but he was not yet the bloated monster that school children conjure up today when they hear the name “King Henry VIII”. Henry, ever the sportsman, chose to participate in the rigorous, dangerous joust he had loved since he was a youth.

Armor for King Henry VIII, on display in the Tower of London. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

According to just two accounts written down in the following  two months by the Papal Nuncio in France, and the Emperor’s ambassador in Rome, Henry VIII was knocked from his horse and struck unconscious. The Papal Nuncio, the Bishop of Faenza, wrote that he “was thought to be dead for two hours,” where Ambassador Dr. Pedro Ortiz recorded that “the French King said that the King of England had fallen from his horse and had been two hours without speaking.” Yet Eustace Chapuys, who was actually at the court at the time of the joust, merely said that the King, “fell so heavily that everyone thought it a miracle he was not killed,” but that he had “sustained no injury.” Weir summarizes that the claims of Henry’s coma were merely European gossip, otherwise Chapuys and the others actually present at the joust would have noted the calamity (Weir, 19).
Weir’s logic is appealing, yet even so, some modern medical researchers, in an attempt to identify what caused Henry VIII’s decent into tyranny, suggest that the frontal lobe of Henry’s brain was badly damaged in the fall; this is the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control. While Henry had become more and more erratic in the past two years, suffering violent mood swings, migraines, sweats, fevers, aching, and paranoia, this injury is said to have pushed him over the edge.  Whether he suffered any traumatic brain injury or not, what did happen to Henry VIII was that an old jousting wound was re-opened on his leg; due to a combination of having poor antibiotics and perhaps being pre-diabetic, Henry’s wound wound did not heal properly. The festering sore that resulted would cause Henry VIII significant agony for the rest of his life.
It is said that after the accident, Queen Anne’s uncle Norfolk came to break the news to her about her husband’s condition, supposedly in a very callous way, with little regard for her current state. Anne was so distraught that she went into premature labor. After the birth of the dead male child, Anne was then told the correct information: that her husband would recover. Yet Chapuys reported that the Duke of Norfolk broke the news of Henry’s fall as gently as possible, and any that stories to the contrary were untrue (Weir, 20). However, we must consider that, since Chapuys was no friend of Anne, he could have told his version of the story so that the blame would have been laid entirely at Anne’s feet.

The Nidd Hall Portrait of Anne Boleyn is a copy done in Queen Elizabeth's reign of a now-lost original. This is the "thin old woman" Anne had become by the end of her marriage to King Henry VIII. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Weir guesses what really caused Anne’s miscarriage was not her Uncle’s tone, but “her dawning realization that the King could have been killed forcibly” which thus “brought home to her the fearful prospect of a future without him there to protect her from her many enemies in a hostile world.” (Weir, 19) Anne apparently “took such a fright withal that it caused her to fall in travail, and so was delivered afore her full time” five days later (Wriothesley, quoted in Weir, 19). The story grew and grew, and soon everyone at court and abroad was circulating that the Queen had miscarried upon hearing the news that her husband had fallen (Weir, 19-20).

Both Chapuys and Wyatt recorded that Henry VIII told Anne angrily that “he would have no more boys by her.” In the months that followed, Anne was rarely visited by the king. The Seymour faction saw this discord between the King and Queen as an opportunity to work their way into the Kings inner circle. The Seymour men dangled one of their sisters, Jane Seymour, then about 28 years old, in front of Henry like bait. It is possible that Henry may have already developed an interest in Jane upon his visit on progress to Wolf Hall in 1535. He would have also known of Jane casually, as she had served each of his wives in turn (Weir, 14). While traditional scholars view Jane as merely a pawn in her brother’s and fathers ambitions, recent biographers have shown that Jane was more than willing to ensnare the King, and took an active role in her family’s scheme. That being said, Jane was Anne’s opposite in every way: fair, plump, demure, outwardly obedient, and complimentary. She also had been sympathetic to the plight of her former mistress, Queen Catherine, and was still a supporter of the Lady Mary (Weir, 14-15). In other words, she was just what Henry was looking for at the time. 
Henry made no secret of his interest in Jane, giving her presents and praise. Anne grew wildly jealous. If Chapuys’s reports are accurate, Anne was enraged upon learning of her husband’s lavish gift-giving to “that Seymour wench.” Apparently, she took to slapping Jane, as it was her legal right to do; in the 16th century, mistresses were permitted to slap their servants if they gave offence.  According to Thomas Fuller, in his History of the Worthies of England (1662), Queen Anne came upon Jane wearing an expensive-looking jeweled pendant about her neck. When the Queen asked to see it, Jane refused. Anne, furious at the affront, grabbed the pendant from about her neck and ripped it off with such force “that she hurt her hand with her own violence; but it grieved her heart more when she perceived in it (saw inside it) the King’s picture.” (Fuller, quoted in Weir, 46-47).

Anne Boleyn Receiving Proof of Henry VIII's Passion for Jane Seymour, a 19th century engraving. Windsor Castle. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.

As Weir explains, Fuller’s story could have been true, if he gleaned it from sources now lost to us, but it could also be a complete fabrication. I would agree with Weir that the story sounds credible, especially when we evaluate it against what we know of this period in Anne’s life, and of her relationship with Jane. There is also a story that Anne happened her husband in her own apartments, with Jane sitting boldly in his lap, although this story cannot be proven.
Depressed, Anne reportedly took to her bed on occasion, (Wyatt, referenced in Weir, 15). Though Anne must have known that the end was near for her time as Queen, there was no way that she could have conceived just how steep a price she would actually have to pay.

Despite her relationship with Henry having become so badly deteriorated, Queen Anne continued to support the reform of the Church. While she believed in the documented widespread corruption in the various churches, monasteries and abbeys, she did not believe that they all should be dissolved without revue. Some she deemed worthy of saving, like Catesby Priory and Nun Monkton in Yorkshire (Denny, 252). While Anne was not considered the legitimate Queen of England in many circles, she still enjoyed continued popularity among reformers and humanists. Anne was,
“…more than an equal and too ready to take a lead in political decision-making. Her intellect and involvement in politics and religious reform seemed like presumptuous interference in affairs best left to men. By advancing her appointees, Anne was creating her own power base. This put her in competition not only with Thomas Cromwell, but with Henry himself.” (Denny, 254)
Indeed, Weir discusses at length Cromwell’s disillusionment, and even fear, of Anne, the woman for whom he had, along with Cranmer, paved the way so that she could become Queen of England.  Anne’s downfall and the execution of her and her five alleged lovers to be was orchestrated almost entirely by Cromwell, and was “one of the most astonishing and brutal coups in English history.” (Weir, 6) 
The entire fall of Queen and and the five men accused and convicted along with her of adultery, treason, and plotting to kill the King, happened so rapidly that if you blinked you might have missed it. Anne and her five alleged accomplices were set up, charged, and murdered within a matter of weeks. This is a shocking juxtaposition to Anne’s long, gradual rise to become Queen of England in the face of overwhelming adversity. Henry had been madly in love with her for a decade-now she exhausted him. And, because Anne may have been too confident in her position, and too informal with those in her service and the men who paid her compliments at court, it was all too easy for Cromwell to take phrases, and even gestures out of context in order to paint Anne as a common harlot. The notoriously suggestible Henry found it very easy to believe the charges of infidelity against his flirtatious wife, (Weir, 83-84) and his paranoid tendencies would not permit him to discredit the dangerous allegations of attempted regicide. Weir proves, once and for all, that it was Cromwell, not Henry, who was the primary architect of Anne’s entrapment and execution in The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn; still, it was Henry, in the end, who failed to see past his own nose and question the evidence against his wife and associates. And it was Henry who refused to believe others over the word of his wife. In fact, Henry would distance himself from the proceeding as much as possible, just waiting for the whole affair to be over, so that he, the supposedly ‘cuckholded’ husband, could marry again (Weir, 239-240, 268).
Master Secretary Cromwell, Chapuys, the Seymour’s and Anne’s own uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, conspired with the king to destroy Anne. Weir discusses at length how Cromwell and Norfolk, as well as some of Anne’s ladies who testified against her, had recently grown disillusioned with her; this was either because they felt that they had not been recognized for promotion, or had been chastised unfairly, or had been the target of Anne’s temper, or had been neglected all together. Many courtiers had a reason to want to help in bringing Queen Anne down.
A timeline of the catastrophic events preceding the trial and execution is as follows:
-April 23rd, 1536 Anne’s brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford is under the impression that he is to become a new Knight of the Garter. Upon his arrival at the ceremony, he is publicly snubbed, being informed that Nicholas Carew, an enemy to the Boleyn faction, would be taking his position. 
-Bishop Gardiner, abroad in France, returns home when he is notified that King Henry is looking for a way out of his marriage.
-On Monday, April 24, On Henry’s orders, Cromwell assembles a court to investigate the matter of destroying the Boleyn’s. Henry Percy and Anne’s relationship is discussed in great detail. Percy is ordered to testify that he and Anne had an understanding to marry, but Percy refuses to comply.
-On Wednesday the 26th of April, Thomas Boleyn suspects something is afoot, and notifies Matthew Parker, who in turn warns Queen Anne. Parker would later recount his grave worry for the queen to Nicholas Bacon in 1559 (Denny, 270)
-Anne hastily makes arrangements for her daughters care, obtaining promises from trusted friends to look after Elizabeth if anything should happen to her. Meanwhile, her ladies and other servants are being questioned about her and her conduct.

-On Thursday the 27th, Parliament is recalled
-On Sunday, April 30th, Anne confronts Henry about the rumors surrounding their marriage, after his cancellation of their planned trip to Calais. The reformer Alexander Aless was present at this tragic confrontation, and later re-told the episode to Anne’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth:
"Alas, I shall never forget the sorrow I felt when I saw the sainted Queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a baby, in her arms, and entreating the most serene King your father in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard and she brought you to him. The faces and gestures of the speakers plainly showed the King was angry…"
Anne Boleyn Says a Final Farewell to Her Daughter, Princess Elizabeth by Gustaf Wappers, 1838. We can only hope that Anne was able to say some form of goodbye to her daughter before she was arrested. Picture acquired through Tumblr courtesy of auroravong.

-Cromwell began arresting various men who had had perceived closeness with the queen. Weir and Wilkinson discuss the possibility that all of the men accused were alleged homosexuals, or were known to have dabbled in taboo sexual practices. Mark Smeaton, a low-born musician in the Queen’s service, was the first to be arrested. ‘Mark’, as he was simply called in trial records, was tortured. He is the only man among the accused to have admitted to having sexual relations with Anne, and his claim is not to be believed, given that it was extracted under torture. Also, given that he had no working knowledge of the law, Smeaton may have also believed or been made to believe that, if he admitted to the crime, then the method of his execution would be far less cruel (before the King commuted the sentence, the men were all to be hung, drawn and quartered).
The last time Henry VIII and Anne ever saw one another was at the May Day tournament, when they sat together watching the joust. A message was passed to the king in the stands, and Henry called to his attendants, including Henry Norris, to leave with him immediately. According to some accounts, outside of the tournament arena, Henry asked Norris if he had had an affair with his Queen. Norris, of course, denied it, and vowed to defend the Queen’s virtue, saying that he would fight any man who besmirched her honor (Denny, 273). But this tale is part of the story concocted by the hostile Jesuit priest Nicholas Sander, saying that King Henry VIII saw a jouster (supposedly Henry Norris) use the Queen’s handkerchief to wipe sweat from his brow, and perceived it as a gesture of intimacy (Weir, 4)
Therefore, the confrontation between Henry and Norris never happened, although Henry did leave the stands to depart to Westminster after being passed a note (Weir, 4). Anne must have felt sick to her stomach as she tried to keep on a brave face presiding over the rest of the tournament. Anne had probably known for days that the King and his Councilor’s were up to something, judging by her husband’s cold treatment of her, and the bits of gossip and hearsay that she had no doubt overheard.
Along with Mark Smeaton, George Boleyn, Henry Norris, William Brereton and Francis Weston, other unfortunate and innocent men were arrested, including Boleyn family friend Thomas Wyatt. Wyatt, who was a known friend of Cromwell, may have been arrested merely as a ruse, to give the impression that Cromwell’s case was impartial, rather than fabricated. Cromwell even wrote to Wyatt to assure him that no harm would come to him. Indeed, much to his family’s relief, Thomas was released (Weir, 170-172). When Wyatt was set free, he wrote a poem to commemorate the dark days that had befallen Anne Boleyn, and to provide a sort of epitaph for her and each of the men accused of adultery with her.

A sketch by Holbein of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne was arrested and brought to the Tower of London by boat, probably entering through the Courtiers Gate. Later, her daughter Elizabeth would have the same horrible experience of being imprisoned in the Tower; thankfully her imprisonment would have a very different outcome. According to the Queen’s jailor, Master Kingston, who took copious notes on what Anne said for Cromwell, the Queen declared, “My God, bear witness there is no truth in these charges. I am as clear from the company of man as from sin.” Indeed, all the men accused, save for Smeaton, denied any affair and regularly professed to their inquisitors Queen Anne’s impeccable virtue.

The location of the demolished Queen's Apartments, where Anne Boleyn was likely imprisoned, are super-imposed over the current layout of the Tower of London. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.

The English people were in shock-while they had always know their king was capable of great cruelty, they were stunned that he had turned on his wife so quickly, and that he had arrested 4 noblemen, as well as Mark Smeaton. Queen Anne was accused of adultery with Sir Henry Norris, the king’s good friend and her cousins intended, William Brereton, a hot-headed evangelical who had given her her beloved greyhound, Urian, and Sir Francis Weston. Most shocking of all, Queen Anne was charged with sleeping with her own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. A large number of the dates provided in the deposition, detailing when the alleged infidelities took place, were impossible; under close scrutiny, we can determine that thirteen out of the twenty -one supposed occasions when one of Anne’s alleged lovers joined her in her bed, the lover was not even present at court at the time (Weir, 195). And, “In no fewer than twelve instances, either Anne or the alleged accomplice can be shown not to have been in the specified location.” For example, Anne “was accused of committing adultery with Brereton on December 8, 1533, at Hampton Court, but the court was at Greenwich on that date.” Therefore, “because it can be shown that quite a few of the dated offenses could not have been committed in the palaces specified, then the rest of the charges are also undermined.” (Weir, 195) And, for the sake of argument, if any of these alleged trysts had occurred, Anne never would have been able to carry on such an elaborate extramarital affair at court without getting caught much, much sooner.
Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton were tried first, and found guilty and condemned to die. Initially they were to be hung, drawn and quartered, but the King mercifully granted them a less grisly ending: beheading. Queen Anne and her brother George, Lord Rochford, would be tried separately by their peers at King’s Bench, due to their station. Yet with the other accused receiving guilty verdicts, there could be no question as to what their verdict would be. 

Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London by Edouard Cibot, 1835. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Rochford had to be accused of a crime as heinous as incest with his sister; if he had not been, he would have undoubtedly put up a fight to free his sister. Of course, “Quadruple adultery plus incest (committed by Anne) invites disbelief” (Ives, quoted in Weir) yet George was already known to be lascivious, so this was perhaps an easy crime for his peers to believe (Weir, 102-3).
The case against Rochford was largely based on a letter Anne had written to him, telling him she was pregnant. Cromwell twisted the significance of this announcement; saying that the reason Queen Anne was informing her brother of her pregnancy was because the child was his. Additional details against George Boleyn were brought forth by his vindictive, jealous wife, Jane Parker. Jane’s testimony is unfortunately lost or destroyed, so we do not know exactly what she said.
A sketch by Holbein thought to be of Jane Parker, Lady Rochford. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain

While Julia Foxe has recently tried to restore Jane Parker’s reputation, this is a herculean task, if not impossible. We still do not know for sure Jane’s motives; some historians have claimed that Jane was disgruntled because her husband was gay, a theory perpetuated by the Showtime series The Tudors. But George Boleyn had at least one illegitimate son, so he may have been bisexual, if not entirely straight. What we do know is that there is evidence that Jane had recently switched her alliance to the Catherine of Aragon/Lady Mary faction through the influence of her father, Henry Parker, Lord Morley (Weir, 116-117). Ironically, Jane Parker would later be executed for allegedly aiding Anne’s cousin and Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, to have secret meetings with Thomas Culpepper. 

A cameo detail from a sketch by Holbein thought to be of Katherine Howard, circa 1540. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain

The Boleyn family friend, Archbishop Cranmer, hurried back to London, and wrote a very long and letter on Anne’s behalf to the king, saying “I am in such perplexity, that my mind is clearly amazed; for I never had better opinion in woman, than I had in her; which maketh me to think, that she not be culpable…” Still, Cranmer knew he needed to protect his position for the inevitable regime change, so he did not defend the Queen outright. Henry would order Cranmer to visit Anne in the Tower, to try to get her to agree to annulment. Cranmer was to be forever inextricably tied to Anne Boleyn, the Boleyn family, and reform, and later, in the reign of Queen Mary, he was burned at the stake. 
A woodcut of the Marian burning of Archbishop Cranmer, from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain

Feeling that the end was near, Anne may have written one last letter to the Henry, to appeal for the mercy of the men that were taking the fall with her, and also for to plead her own case. The letter’s authenticity is still the subject of intense debate. The letter is dated at having been written on May 6th, yet it never reached the King. It was found hidden away in Cromwell’s papers, years later. The letter, labeled from ‘The Lady in the Tower’, is reproduced it its entirety and discussed at length in The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Weir, 178-183). The letter is in the Cotton manuscripts in the British Library.
A copy of the letter to King Henry the VIII from 'The Lady in the Tower.' The authenticity of this letter is still a subject of great debate. In the Cotton manuscript collection in the British Library. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.

Of the men that had been appointed to pass judgment, first on Norris, Brereton, Weston and Smeaton, and now on Queen Anne and Lord Rochford, all were either hostile to Anne and the Boleyn faction, or had something to prove to the King, and therefore wanted to please him by passing a guilty verdict (Weir, 204-205, 215-219). In the official record of the trial, Thomas Boleyn, Lord Wiltshire’s name “is not included among those who sat in judgment of at the trials of his daughter and son, but the list is incomplete.” Indeed, many of the documents pertaining to the investigation and trial are missing. “The Henrician government took unwonted care to preserve some of the official documentation of these proceedings. Nevertheless, crucial papers are missing: actual trial record, details of the evidence produced in court, statements known to have been made by Smeaton and Norris, depositions of all the witnesses who had been supposedly questioned, and transcripts of the interrogations of Smeaton, Norriss, and the Queen.” (Weir, 219)  

Yet, concerning Thomas Boleyn’s involvement in passing sentence on two of his three children, many contemporary sources assert that he was among the peers there. Weir suggests that Wiltshire was the twenty-seventh peer that the Duke of Norfolk had summoned. Weir, who has exposed Thomas Boleyn’s shortcomings in multiple books, believes that, “it is time to revise the long-held assumption that he was not among the lords who gathered to try his daughter and his son. Even if he had not been, in serving on the jury that condemned the others, (Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton) he effectively colluded in the destruction of his children.” (Weir, 218)
George Boleyn stood before the court before his sister, the Queen. It was reported that George spoke so passionately, with such conviction, that his defense “crumbled the royal case to dust” (Denny, 296). Still, the jury was fixed, and he was sentenced to die.
Anne was the last to stand trial, and since everyone else had already been convicted, her fate was therefore predetermined; the court was just going through the necessary motions. All that Anne could do now was handle herself with dignity and grace in the face of certain death. Queen made a speech on May 15th, but hers was much more regal and composed than her brother’s. She made ‘wise’ and ‘discreet’ “answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been guilty of the same.” (Wriothesley, quoted in Weir, 225) Her powerful address moved the hall to silence, and some fought back tears. The Mayor of London declared “I can only observe one thing in this trial-the fixed resolution to get rid of the Queen at any price” (Denny, 300). Indeed, John Spelman, a judge in the court that tried the accused, later declared that the entire spectacle was ridiculous, and that “all the evidence was bawdry and lechery.”
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was one of the peers to pass sentence on the woman he had once loved. Percy had grown to dislike Anne after she had offended the Duke of Norfolk, and in 1534 he was overheard saying to a friend that it was Anne who had tried to poison Lady Mary (Weir, 217). Clearly, Percy did not, as it has been asserted, love Anne until his death. Still, passing judgment on the woman he had once hoped to marry must have been emotional for him none the less. Queen Anne was indeed sentenced to death, by burning or beheading, at the King’s pleasure. Anne maintained her composure.

Anne Boleyn is Condemned to Death, a 19th century painting by Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret. This is a sensationalized portrayal of Anne's sentencing; in reality, she remained calm and composed. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of Inor19.

The story of the Earl of Northumberland fainting in the courtroom directly after he heard the verdict is probably apocryphal; but he did fall seriously ill within days. The Earl died a year later, almost bankrupt and leaving behind no children, and making the King his heir.
While many have interpreted King Henry’s commissioning of a swordsman from France to behead the Queen , instead of a traditional axeman, as a final act of charity, this is pure fantasy, as “…Henry must have requested that he set out for his journey long before thew jury had even guven their verdict…”(Denny, 302). Weir corroborates this, detailing the time it would take to get word to the swordsman, and then the additional time it would take for him to travel and arrive in England.
Archbishop Cranmer made one final visit to his Queen in the Tower. Denny claims that the “the suggestion that he had come to hear her last confession and grant her absolution is an error made by Catholic writers, for evangelicals…do not believe in this ritual. As a believer, Anne would have made her own peace with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit." (Denny, 302)  

Religion at this time is convoluted, and different historians have argued one way or another that Anne died a Catholic, or a Lutheran. In death, as in life, Anne was a reformer of the Catholic Church in England, not a Lutheran, and though she held some Lutheran beliefs, she appears to have died in the Catholic faith.
Cranmer undoubtedly brought great comfort to Anne, but he also was forced to do the Kings business. Killing Anne was not enough to make way for Jane; the king needed to disinherit Elizabeth with one swift move. Tragically, Anne was led to believe that if she signed the document that Cranmer had brought her, declaring Elizabeth illegitimate, that she would be allowed to leave the country peacefully with her daughter, and live out her days in a Protestant country. Anne, desperate and alone, felt great hope at the prospect of making a life for herself abroad, and raising her daughter to become a great and learned lady. She signed. After Cranmer’s visit, Anne was heard saying she would like to take Elizabeth to Antwerp (Denny, 306). Master Kingston recorded that “this day at dinner, the Queen said she should go to a nunnery, and is in hope of life”. Weir points out that if Anne entered a religious house, her marriage would be declared null and void by default. “It might be concluded, therefore, that she had agreed to the annulment without undue process.” (Weir, 245).  In the end, “there would be no question of Anne being banished to a nunnery, which would have had to be abroad anyway, since those in England were scheduled for dissolution.” (Weir, 245)
Despite the annulment of Anne and Henry’s marriage before her execution, Elizabeth Tudor’s legitimacy should have never been in question. The Act of 1534 rendered both the papal dispensation of 1528 and the marriage invalid; therefore, the legitimacy of the Princess Elizabeth, who had been born before that date, from a marriage entered into in good faith, should have never been affected. Yet her own father, the King, Cromwell, and Cranmer, were not concerned with the legality of the issue (Weir, 245).
After the executions of Henry Noriss, William Brereton, Francis Weston, Mark Smeaton and George, Lord Rochford, Anne was preparing to die. She had been informed that she was to be dispatched from this world to the next at 9 in the morning, on May 18th. She dressed herself, said her prayers, and was ready to meet her fate, when she was then told that her execution had been postponed until noon. Any lesser woman would have been overcome with anxiety at the delay, but we know from those who were with her that she kept calm, and even made a few jokes to lighten the mood.
When Anne finally mounted the scaffold, there was no booing, or taunting from the crowd. Instead, there was silence, signifying the shock and awe those in attendance. Even those English subjects who loathed Anne were shocked at this unprecedented event; never before had an English Queen been executed. There was unrest in the city outside of the Tower green, and Master Kingston even voiced fear to Cromwell of a rebellion (Denny, 313).
Anne made a short speech, careful never to criticize the king, for “ This was no time to protest her innocence, she knew it was far too late for recriminations which could only endanger her daughter Elizabeth. In her last moments Anne’s sole concern was to depart this life with grace and forgiveness for those who had wronged her…” (Denny, 315). According to tradition, Anne handed her Book of Hours to one of her only remaining friends, Margaret Wyatt, before placing her neck on the block. 

The Wyatt family has backed this story since the 18th century. In the cover, Anne had written, “Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day”. Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee was the wife of Sir Anthony Lee and the sister of Sir Thomas Wyatt. She probably was friendly with Anne, but we do not know for sure whether she was in Anne’s service. Her portrait by Holbein was painted around 1540, when she was about 34, too old, Weir thinks, to have been referred to as a young lady or a maid in the Queen’s service. There were four ladies who attended Anne before her death and accompanied her to the scaffold, but their identities are contested. 
A portrait by Holbein of Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, circa 1540. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

There is also a tradition that Anne kept a small trinket of great significance on her person until her final moments. The trinket was a small gold pendant in the shape of a pistol; the barrel held a miniature whistle and a toothpick. Anne reportedly it to a Captain Gwyn, who helped her along to the scaffold, telling him that it had been “the first token the King had given her,” adding “that a serpent formed part of the device, and a serpent the giver had proved to her.” Captain Gwyn did, in fact, exist, and held extensive property in Swansea during the reign of Henry VIII. Though the trinket, made around 1520 and currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is contemporary, there is no way to prove the story (Weir, 279-80).
The trinket said to be Henry VIII's first love token to Anne Boleyn, which she gave to Captain Gwyn before mounting the scaffold. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.

After Anne commended her spirit to God, the axe fell on her head and she was gone. There were no cheers at the conclusion of this bloodbath, but there were cannons that announced to King Henry, far away and in the company of Jane Seymour, that he was free to wed, yet again. He would do so quickly; he had to, in order to beget an heir, since he had made all of his living children bastards.
A floral tribute to Queen Anne Boleyn; the red roses are in the shape of her initials, 'AB'. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.
Anne was gone, but never forgotten. Immediately after her death, poems and ballads were written and circulated to honor the fallen Queen. There were also treasonous pamphlets criticizing the King’s behavior being printed, in England and abroad. People talked openly of the conspiracy that brought down the Queen, yet no one had been willing to risk their own lives to defend the Queen and the 5 accused men in their hour of need. Abroad, Nicholas Bourbon (whom Anne had helped rescue), Margaret of Hungary and Entienne Dolet remarked on the tragedy, among many other notable figures of the day. 

Gone but not forgotten: on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's death, and anonymous party places long stem roses on her memorial in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.
Perhaps Queen Anne's greatest legacy is the daughter she left behind, Elizabeth, who became one of the most celebrated and recognizable English monarchs of all time. Despite Elizabeth being less than three years of age when her mother was killed, there are many ways that she connected to her mother beyond the grave. 

Using a surprising amount of contemporary evidence and a little bit of conjecture based on fact,  I am excited to share with my readers how Queen Elizabeth I really felt about her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn in my article "Death Could Not Separate Them: How Elizabeth I Connected to Her Deceased Mother".

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