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Anne Boleyn

Hilary Mantel’s Tudor Series has piqued my interest in the historical period. Loads of books have been written about Anne Boleyn and the period between her rise and her beheading at London Tower. I have enjoyed Mantel because she tells the story in the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the Master Secretary to King Henry VIII. He helped the king annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, implement regal supremacy, and make Anne Boleyn queen. Anne was not popular with the people of England. They were upset to learn that at the Christmas celebrations of 1529, Anne was given precedence over the Duchesses of Norfolk and Suffolk, the latter of which was the King’s own sister, Mary.

On the first day of September 1532, she was created Marquess of Pembroke, a title she held in her own right. In October, she held a position of honor at meetings between Henry and the French King in Calais. Sometime near the end of 1532, Anne finally gave way and by December she was pregnant. To avoid any questions of the legitimacy of the child, Henry was forced into action. Sometime near St. Paul’s Day (January 25) 1533, Anne and Henry were secretly married. Although the King’s marriage to Katherine was not dissolved, in the King’s mind it had never existed in the first place, so he was free to marry whomever he wanted. On May 23, the Archbishop officially proclaimed that the marriage of Henry and Katherine was invalid. This makes up the content of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

Plans for Anne’s coronation began. In preparation, she had been brought by water from Greenwich to the Tower of London dressed in cloth of gold. The barges following her were said to stretch for four miles down the Thames. On the 1st of June, she left the Tower in procession to Westminster Abbey, where she became a crowned and anointed Queen in a ceremony led by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

By August, preparations were being made for the birth of Anne’s child, which was sure to be a boy. But she gave birth to Princess Elizabeth, whose christening service was scaled down, but still a pleasant affair. The princess’ white christening robes can currently be seen on display at Sudeley Castle in England. Anne now knew that it was imperative that she produce a son. By January of 1534, she was pregnant again, but the child was either miscarried or stillborn. In 1535, she became pregnant again but miscarried by the end of January. The child was reported to have been a boy. The Queen was quite upset, and blamed the miscarriage on her state of mind after hearing that Henry had taken a fall in jousting. She had to have known at this point that her failure to produce a living male heir was a threat to her own life, especially since the King’s fancy for one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, began to grow. This is the gist of the second book, Bring Up the Bodies.

Bring Up the Bodies focuses on Cromwell’s careful orchestration to overthrow Anne. Anne’s enemies at court began to plot against her using the King’s attentions to Jane Seymour as the catalyst for action. Cromwell began to move in action to bring down the Queen. He persuaded the King to sign a document calling for an investigation that would possibly result in charges of treason. Anne’s musician and friend for several years, Mark Smeaton, was arrested and probably tortured into making ‘revelations’ about the Queen. Next, Sir Henry Norris was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Then the Queen’s own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford was arrested.

On May 2, the Queen herself was arrested at Greenwich and was informed of the charges against her: adultery, incest and plotting to murder the King. She was then taken to the Tower by barge along the same path she had traveled to prepare for her coronation just three years earlier. In fact, she was lodged in the same rooms she had held on that occasion. There were several more arrests. Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton were charged with adultery with the Queen. Sir Thomas Wyatt was also arrested, but later released. They were put on trial with Smeaton and Norris at Westminster Hall on May 12, 1536. The men were not allowed to defend themselves, as was the case in charges of treason. They were found guilty and received the required punishment: they were to be hanged at Tyburn, cut down while still living and then disemboweled and quartered.

Anne Boleyn was still executed after his marriage to King Henry VIII was declared invalid. On her scaffold, she made her last speech (spelling modernized):

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.

I want to say many books, both fiction and nonfiction, have been written about her during her very short life of about 32 years. Not all of them are historically authentic. The Other Boleyn Girl is page-turning but very inaccurate. It portraits Anne as a shewolf. The Most Happy by Charlotte St George portrays Anne being a more likeable person. In this novel Anne is very reluctant to Henry VIII’s attentions and eventual proposal and is also shown to have enjoyed an unfulfilled, tragic love story with Henry Norris. Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir. It is very good for anyone who is looking for an definitive non-fiction account of Anne’s last few months leading up to her execution.

One Response

  1. This is such an interesting time of history. It is unbelievable how Henry’s desires for women caused a complete change in all of Christianity too. It led to the reformation and so much conflict after his death with his daughters honoring their respective mothers’ religions. His choices to be supreme ruler led to the break from the Catholic faith that had ruled the government since the fall of Rome in 476AD.

    Fascinating.

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