Anne Boleyn was possibly the best known of Henry VIII’s wives. Because of her power hungry father or her own ambitions, Anne Boleyn gambled and lost but, her legacy changed the course of England forever.
Daughter of Thomas Boleyn, a diplomat of Henry VII’s, and Lady Elizabeth Howard, she was born between 1501 and 1507. Descended from King Edward I and related to the Howard family, she had two siblings, Mary and George.
In 1514 she attended Mary Tudor, the King’s sister, for her marriage to Louis XII of France; then attended 15 year old Queen Claude.
While there she completed her education. Excelling at etiquette, fashion and religious philosophy, she probably met Marguerite of Navarre, Francis’Ëœs sister, a reformist who possibly influenced her.
She returned in 1522 to marry James Butler, an Irish cousin, to settle a dispute over an earldom claimed by her father and the father of James. Negotiations collapsed and James married someone else.
Anne’s sister, Mary, was the King’s mistress. Anne became a court favorite for her sense of style and wit. She was courted by Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland. They betrothed, but when the Earl found out, put an end to it. She went to the family estate but soon returned as one of Queen Catherine’s hand maidens.
She caught the attention of the King and was pursued relentlessly. After a year, he proposed marriage and she accepted. There is no evidence of any sexual relations between Anne and Henry at this time.
Convinced God had cursed him for marrying his brother’s widow, he appealed to Catherine to consent to an annulment, she refused, knowing it would make a bastard of her daughter, Mary.
Some believe Anne’s reformist ideas influenced the King into breaking from Rome. Regardless, the end result was he put aside Catherine, then married Anne in a secret ceremony. They discovered Anne was pregnant and married again January 25, 1533, just to be sure.
The Pope ordered Henry to rejoin Queen Catherine or face excommunication. In answer, Henry had his subjects swear an oath of loyalty to him. Refusal meant execution. The Church of England was born.
Crowned June 1, 1533, Anne was not popular. Some called her the King’s Whore and displayed displeasure at Catherine’s replacement.
Anne gave birth September 7, 1533 to a girl they named Elizabeth. Disappointed that the child wasn’t a boy, they still seemed pleased. That soon changed.
Pregnant, Anne miscarried. She became pregnant again but, after the King was knocked unconscious during a tournament, miscarried again. The child was male.
The King plotted how to rid himself of Anne. He needed his male heir and was having an affair with Jane Seymour. Thomas Cromwell amassed evidence by arresting and torturing Mark Seaton, a musician in her service. Following the arrests of Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Thomas Wyatt (who was released) and Anne’s brother, George, were accusations of adultery and treason. George’s charges included incest. Anne was arrested soon after.
Anne’s marriage was dissolved. 3 days later May 17, 1536, the accused men were executed. Henry commuted Anne’s sentence from burning to beheading and hired swordsman, Jean Rombaud, as executioner.
May 19, 1536; Anne was escorted from her rooms. The tower keeper told her it shouldn’t hurt, she responded, “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.”
Mounting the scaffolding, after a short speech, she knelt upright. It was over with one stroke. Henry, hasty to have her executed neglected her funeral. Her body lay where it fell until someone found a chest to put her in. Buried in an unmarked grave, until remodeling in Victoria’s time, she now has a marker.
Like Catherine, Anne’s vindication came when her daughter was crowned, following the death of her sister, Mary. Elizabeth I went on to be one of the best loved and most successful monarchs in British history.
Though her time on the throne was short, it cannot be denied that Anne Boleyn shaped the course of English history in a major way.