Anne Boleyn, Queen of England

Anne Boleyn, from the National Portrait Gallery

Anne has the distinction of being the first Queen Consort to be beheaded and because of her, the course of ecclesiastical history in England changed forever.

Anne’s exact birth date is lost but the consensus is it was either 1501 or 1507 at either the family home of Hever or possibly Blickling Castle. Her father was Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, an accomplished linguist and diplomat. Her mother was Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. They gave an the typical education for a young noblewoman at the time, including arithmetic, family genealogy, reading, writing, history, dancing and music, needlework, household management, game playing, horseback riding and hunting.

Through diplomatic contacts, Thomas Boleyn met Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and in 1513, he negotiated a place for Anne at Margaret’s court of Mechelen. She remained in the Low Countries until her father procured Anne a position in the service of Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII, when she married Louis XII, King of France in 1514. Anne served Mary and then Queen Claude for seven years. During her years in France, Anne learned a unique sense of style and all the charm and graces she would utilize later in life. Anne, never known as a ravishing beauty, made a name for herself with her enchanting and captivating behavior when she was young.

Anne returned to England in 1522 and made her debut at court. She immediately caught the attention of many young men but the one who captured her eye was the young Henry Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland, who had been contracted to marry Mary Talbot, daughter of the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury. Anne’s father worked on a match for her with her kinsman, James Butler. While we will never know for sure, Anne and Percy may have made some kind of  pledge to marry because they were truly in love. It was also during this time King Henry VIII noticed Anne and he fell hard. Henry’s chief minister Thomas Wolsey broke off Anne’s relationship with Percy, reminding him of his pre-contract with Mary Talbot.

Clearly, King Henry wanted Anne but she did not want to become Henry’s mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had been. Her family put pressure on her to become Queen to further their fortunes. So there were seven years of a cat and mouse game where Anne teased Henry and held him off. Henry asked his wife, Catherine of Aragon for a divorce and she steadfastly refused. Henry then asked the Pope for a divorce or annulment due to Catherine having married his brother Arthur before him. The city of Rome had just been sacked by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V who happened to be Catherine of Aragon’s nephew. The Pope was in no position to grant a divorce. There were promises to look into divorce or annulment and the Pope even sent an envoy to England to hear the case but this was all for naught.

During this time, Anne and her family gained much influence at court. In 1532, Henry wanted to enlist the support of Francis I, King of France for his marriage to Anne and they held a meeting at Calais. Henry made Anne the Marquess of Pembroke in her own right and she was basically treated as Queen during the meeting with Francis. It is believed that after this trip, Anne relented and she and Henry had sexual relations.

Anne became pregnan and events now moved rapidly. Anne and Henry were secretly married on January 25, 1533. Cardinal Wolsey fell from power for failing to obtain the coveted divorce from Catherine of Aragon and he was succeeded by his protege Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell began dismantling the Catholic Church in England by passing legislation in Parliament. Henry declared himself the head of the church in England, renouncing the Pope. Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and he declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void, leaving Henry free to marry Anne. The Church of England had been born.

Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I) on September 7, 1533 at Greenwich. Can we even imagine the disappointment of Henry and Anne when the child was a girl after all they had gone through? Anne would become pregnant at least another two times but both times she miscarried or had stillborns. Alison Weir, in her book “The Lady in the Tower” has speculated that Anne was rhesus negative and Henry positive. This seems to explain the birth of one healthy child and the rest of the pregnancies resulting in problems. Her failure to produce a son became an issue.

Anne’s advocacy of foreign policy and distribution of church revenues differed from Cromwell’s views and he probably considered her a threat to his position. Historians are now presuming Thomas Cromwell essentially plotted the downfall of Anne. To complicate matters, Henry’s wandering eye had fallen on one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour in 1536.

They arrested Anne on May 2, 1536, accusing her of treason for speaking of the King’s death. They also charged her with adultery with one of her household musicians, Mark Smeaton and with Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, and the poet Thomas Wyatt, and of incest with her brother, Sir George Boleyn. Following painful torture, Smeaton admitted to adultery with the Queen and they used his ‘confession’ to convict Anne and her alleged lovers at her trial. All were executed except Wyatt, who managed to survive being jailed and was released.

They found Anne guilty and her marriage to Henry was dissolved on May 14 by Archbishop Cranmer. Executed on May 19th on the green near the White Tower in London, her body and head were crammed into a small armory box and she was buried in the Church of St. Peter Ad Vincula in the Tower precincts. Anne had gambled and lost and Henry was ready to move on in his desperate attempt to have a male heir.

Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula

Further reading: “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, by Eric Ives, “ The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir, “Mistress Anne” by Carolly Erickson, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer

28 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn, Queen of England

  1. […] “Because of the subject of this post, we have to address the legend of the dogs licking Henry’s blood as his body spent the night at Syon. The story starts with the sermon by a Franciscan friar named William Petow. He preached at the chapel at Greenwich on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1532. It was the time of the king’s “Great Matter”, the name for Henry’s effort to get a divorce or annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. […]


  2. […] In 1526, Norfolk began to openly flaunt his mistress, Bess Holland, the daughter of the duke’s secretary and household treasurer. Norfolk showered her with clothes, jewelry and love which wasn’t unusual for an aristocratic male in the sixteenth century. What was out of character was Elizabeth’s reaction to the situation. Instead of accepting her husband’s mistress, she chose to fight. She called Bess Holland ‘a churl’s daughter’, the ‘washer of my nursery’, a ‘drab’, and a ‘harlot’. Despite this tension, Bess Holland was named a lady-in-waiting to the king’s new love and niece of the Duke, Anne Boleyn. […]


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