Anne Boleyn was one of the six wives of Henry VIII whose brief but amazing life continues to interest historians. She was the queen of England only for a period of three years but she has left a legacy that is still strong today. She is widely regarded as the reason for the birth of Anglicanism, and the heroine in the saga of England breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. She refused to be the King’ mistress and Henry had to disobey Pope Clement VII in order to annul his marriage with first wife, Catherine of Aragon. There is a lot of mystery surrounding her personal faith and her role in the English Reformation. Historians disagree as to whether she was a martyr of the ‘new religion’ and a zealous defender of the true Gospel or a conventional Catholic who did not reject the established religion and its rituals. She left behind two important legacies in the form of her step-daughter, Mary, and daughter, Elizabeth. Mary became obsessed with returning England to Papal rule which resulted in history labeling her ‘Bloody Mary’ while Elizabeth reigned for over 44 glorious years and saved England from foreign invasion. The truth probably is that she did not purposely initiate the Age of Reformation in England
Childhood & Early Life
Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, later Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard. Mary and George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford were her siblings.
In 1513, she was invited to join the schoolroom of Margaret Archduchess of Austria where her academic education covered arithmetic, family genealogy, grammar, history, reading, spelling, and writing and domestic skills.
Anne stayed with Margaret from spring 1513 till October of the following year when her father arranged for her to attend Henry VIII's sister Mary, who was about to marry Louis XII of France.
She remained in France in Queen Mary’s household and completed her study of French and developed interest in fine arts, fashion, and religious philosophy and also gained experience in the game of courtly.
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In 1520, her marriage to a distant cousin, James Butler who was the heir to Ormonde title, was proposed. She was recalled to England but the proposed wedding was cancelled without a reason
Her sister Mary married William Carey and became Henry’s mistress. By the mid 1520s, Anne was attracting the attention of many men and soon Henry VIII himself fell in love with the maid.
Henry’s queen Catherine of Aragon could not bear him a son. So he petitioned for the annulment of the marriage to the pope saying that the couple was condemned in God’s eye.
Anne refused to become his mistress and after courting for six years they married in a secret ceremony. Following a lavish coronation ceremony in 1533, she gave birth to Elizabeth I, their only child.
In 1534, Henry VIII decreed his marriage to Catherine Aragon invalid on the ground that she was his sister-in-law, and broke from Rome by setting up the Church of England.
The royal couple enjoyed a happy time but she was blamed for the tyranny of the king who executed Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher who were her enemies in 1535.
The news of Catherine of Aragon’s death in 1536 was received by the royal pair with great joy. The queen, pregnant again, was aware of the dangers if she failed to give birth to a son
Henry had begun courting Jane Seymour and when the queen miscarried a second time in 1536, he declared that he had been seduced into the marriage by means of deception.
Henry sought the annulment of the marriage, and detained Anne on several false charges including adultery, incest and conspiracy. Convicted by a court of peers, she was executed at the Tower Green in London.
Anne Boleyn played an important role in England's global reputation even before her marriage with Henry. She established an excellent rapport with the French ambassador, Gilles de la Pommeraie.
In 1534, the Act of Succession was introduced to exclude Catherine’s daughter Mary from the succession and settled in favor of the children born from Henry’s marriage to Anne, which was proclaimed legal.
Personal Life & Legacy
Following the coronation of her daughter as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr. John Foxe, a contemporary English historian, holds that Anne had saved England from the evils of Roman Catholicism.
Many legends about Anne Boleyn have survived over the centuries. One is that she was secretly buried in Salle Church in Norfolk under a black slab near the tombs of her Boleyn ancestors.
There is a persistent belief that, Greensleeves, a traditional English folk song and tune, was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and this future queen who allegedly rejected his attempts to seduce her.
She hated noisy animals, especially monkeys, pelicans, and peacocks. She did love her little dog, Purkoy, which in French means ‘why’.