18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn

Natasha sheldon - August 11, 2018

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Katherine of Aragon. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Katherine of Aragon was kind to Anne

After her arrival at court, Anne Boleyn became one of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting. It seems that Henry’s first wife was kind to Anne- even when she knew her Lady was having an affair with her husband. George Wyatt claims that initially, Anne tried to resist Henry’s advances and that Katherine tried to help her, shielding her from the King’s advances. However, even after Katherine found out that Anne was encouraging Henry’s courtship, she continued to be cordial to her lady in waiting- probably because she thought Henry would grow bored with Anne once he had his way.

However, Katherine quickly realized Anne was different from Henry’s other fancies. Once when she was playing cards with Anne, Anne drew a King. “My Lady Anne, you have a good hap to stop at a King,’ remarked Katherine, “but you are not like others, you will have all or none.” The harshest words that remain on record from Katherine regarding Anne date from the time when Katherine finally realized Henry would marry her. Then, the soon-to-be abandoned Queen referred to her ex-lady as “the great scandal of Christendom.”

However, Katherine also knew Henry well too well. When her other ladies began to speak against Anne, she stopped them. “Pray for her,” she told them. “Because the time would come when you shall pity and lament her case.”

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Love Letter of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Anne Played Hard to Get

The stories of Katherine of Aragon protecting a coy Anne Boleyn are not the only evidence that Anne Boleyn played hard to get. None of Anne’s love letters to Henry VIII survive. However, 17 of Henry’s do remain. Written between 1527 and 1528, they show from the King’s responses that Anne did not make their early courtship easy. Henry’s first love letter sees him “beseeching” Anne to“let me know expressly your whole mind as to the love between us two.” Henry’s tactics then moved on, with the Kings essentially trying to talk Anne into bed as he promised he would not call her his, ‘mistress” until she gave herself up to him “body and heart.”

However, Anne was not about to become another notch on the royal bedpost. So Henry promised she would be his only lover. Still, the King met with no success. However, he must have had some encouragement because, y July 1527, he sent Anne a letter stating “Shortly, you and I shall have our desired end,” This indicates that by this time, Henry had relented and stopped asking Anne to be his mistress and instead to become his wife. Anne had played her cards in this game very cannily, winning herself a King by denying him.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Google Images.

Henry Made Anne a Noble in her Own Right

Most noblewomen in sixteenth-century England acquired their status through their fathers or husbands. Anne’s father was a noble by birth and became Earl of Ormonde and Wilshire thanks to King Henry’s good graces. However, Anne had no title in her own right; and in 1532, she needed one. This was because Henry planned to cross the channel to meet with his old rival Francis I in an attempt to secure French support for his divorce and new marriage. He planned to take Anne with him, believing that if the French King received and accepted her, the rest of Europe would follow.

However, Anne had to be of a suitable rank before she could be presented to the King of France as the future Queen of England. After all, Francis remembered her as one of his wife’s ladies in waiting. So, on September 1, 1532, Anne took part in an impressive ceremony at Windsor Castle. Wearing her hair loose over an ermine-trimmed crimson robe, Anne knelt before Henry while Stephen Gardener announced she was now Marquis of Pembroke in her own right. This was an unprecedented honor for the title Marquis was a male title. So Henry was effectively making his bride be a peer of the realm, with the right to pass on her lands to her children.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Thomas Cranmer, a leading Reformist Cleric patronized by Anne Boleyn. Picture by Gerlach Flicke. c1545. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Anne Helped Usher in the English Protestant Reformation

Many people saw Anne Boleyn as an immoral adulterous and a whore. In fact, she had strong religious convictions- albeit of the reforming kind. The Spanish Ambassador to England and great opponent of Anne’s, Eustace Chapuys referred to Anne and her faction as “more Lutheran than Luther himself.” Anne reputedly read the Bible daily and when Queen gave each member of her household a book of psalms in English.

Henry, on the other hand, was a religious conservative. In 1521 he had been dubbed “defender of the faith” by Pope Leo X for his rebuttal of Lutheran ideas. Anne knew that some of her beliefs were heretical. Nevertheless, she began to share them with Henry- because they offered him a way out of the impasse, he was in with Rome over the divorce. In 1530, Anne began by introducing Henry to passages in William Tyndale’s Obedience of the Christian man” which supported his growing belief in a Kingly autocracy independent of any Pope. “The King is in the person of God and his law is God’s law.” Stated the book. It was passages like this, which fueled Henry’s determination to break with Rome and take his marital destiny into his own hands.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn’s Coronation Procession. Google Images

Her Coronation was Lavish- but Unpopular

Aside from Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn was the only one of Henry VIII’s wives that was formally crowned Queen. Henry and Anne had married in secret in January 1533, when Anne was already pregnant with their first child, the future Elizabeth I. However, once the marriage was officially announced and Anne’s pregnancy assured, Henry wanted to ensure his new, and as far as he was concerned, first legitimate Queen was royally received. So the coronation was scheduled for June 1, 1533.

According to the Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall, the coronation was a lavish affair. “All the Lords of England” were called to receive her as their Queen at, as well as the Mayor, Aldermen and, Guilds of London. The ceremonies began with Henry VIII receiving Ann at the royal apartments of the Tower of London, to a thousand-gun salute. Then, on June 1st, Anne traveled to Westminster Abbey in a litter of white satin. Dressed in white with her hair loose to her waist, she was crowned with the same crown used by her husband at his coronation and anointed Queen of England.

However, the common people did not receive Anne quite so graciously. For the new Queen was unpopular as she had displaced the much-loved Katherine of Aragon. Some claimed to hear insults shouted out and mocking laughter from the crowds. However, for the most part, people held their tongues- but nor did they cheer. When Henry asked Anne how she liked the decorations about the city she is said to have replied: “Sir, I liked the city well enough but I saw a great many caps on heads and heard but few tongues.” It was an inauspicious start to her short reign.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Portrait of Mary Tudor c.1544.Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Anne Was not a Wicked Stepmother

With her parent’s divorce, Princess Mary was stripped of her royal prerogative and declared illegitimate. Now known as simply “The Lady Mary”, she was also forbidden to see her mother. On the face of it, Anne Boleyn seemed to add to this degradation and loss. After the birth of Princess Elizabeth, with her own household abandoned, Mary was forced to join her baby sister’s household as an attendant. However, Mary refused to be crushed. She said she would call Elizabeth her sister, in the same way as she acknowledged Henry Fitzroy, Henry’s son with Bessie Blount her brother. But the title of Princess belonged to her alone.

When Anne hear of this, she reputedly flew into a rage gave instructions that if Mary continued to behave like this, she was to be starved and if she attempted to use the title of Princess, she was to have her ears boxed “as the cursed bastard” she was. Anne was also supposed to have raged that she would curb Mary’s “cursed Spanish blood” and even have her executed if she did not submit.

However, despite these outbursts and threats, it seems Anne did attempt to hold out the hand of friendship to Mary. In 1534, during a visit to Elizabeth’s household, she told the former Princess she would welcome her back to court and try to reconcile her with her father- if only she would acknowledge Anne as Queen. However, Mary refused. Anne tried again when Katherine was dying and received the same response. Perhaps Anne was not such a wicked stepmother after all. Her outbursts are more indicative of a woman desperately trying to have her new position acknowledged, to bolster a growing sense of insecurity than of true malice.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Lady Mary Shelton by Hans Holbein. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Anne Tried to Pick Henry’s Mistresses

Many people believe that Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII began to sour when she gave birth to Princess Elizabeth rather than the much hoped-for son and heir. However, it seems quite the opposite. A month after Elizabeth’s birth, the Queen’s ladies were gossiping about a remark the King had made, where he said he loved the Queen so much he would beg alms from door to door rather than give her up.

However, the status quo between Henry and Anne did begin to change. For the excitement of courtship was gone. Anne was now a wife and mother- not a lover anymore, however chaste. So when Henry’s eye began to wander once more in 1534, Anne must have felt hurt – and not a little uneasy. After all, had she not been his former wife’s lady in waiting when she had first found a place into his affections? It seems that Anne complained-and Henry put her in her place, reminding her she had “good reason to be content with what he had done for her.”

So Anne tried another tactic. If she could not stop her husband’s dalliances, she could at least control them by choosing his mistresses. So she put one of her own cousins in Henry’s path. This was either Lady Margaret Shelton, the governess of Elizabeth or her sister Lady Mary Shelton. For six months, Henry enjoyed a dalliance with one of the sisters before growing bored and moving on. Meanwhile, Anne’s situation became less stable.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Detail showing Henry VIII tilting in front of Katherine of Aragon, courtesy College of Arms – Westminster tournament roll. Source: College of Arms. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Henry VIII May Have Turned Against Anne due to Brain Damage

On January 7th, 1536, Katherine of Aragon died. Henry and Anne appeared in church, dressed in celebratory yellow, rejoicing over either Katherine’s death or its removal of the threat of war. By now, Henry was already showing an interest in Jane Seymour. However, it was still nothing more than a courtly flirtation. Anne, however, was pregnant for the third time. Katherine’s death had removed the main impediment to her legitimacy. She must have felt reasonably secure.

Then, on January 24th, while he was jousting in Greenwich tiltyard, Henry’s horse fell heavily. It landed on top of the King and knocked him unconscious. The King’s councilors believed that he would not live and the Queen was informed. Anne took the news badly. Yet, miraculously, within two hours the King was conscious and seemingly on the road to recovery. However, the shock had taken its toll on Anne. On January 29th, she miscarried another boy.

Henry turned on Anne, bitterly remarking it was clear they would have no male children. Historians date the rapid decline of the marriage from this point. The affair with Jane Seymour took on a new significance, as Anne’s enemies scented an opportunity. Within six months of Henry’s accident, Anne would be dead at her husband’s behest.

However, Anne’s downfall may not have been just due to yet another failed pregnancy and court intrigues but a change in how her husband reacted to the situation. For according to some modern experts the accident could have damaged the frontal lobe of Henry’s brain, causing a sudden personality change. After the accident, Henry became notably depressive, paranoid and tyrannical-. Many were to suffer from the King’s temperamental uncertainties in the years to come. It seems its first victim may have been Anne.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein c.1532-33. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Cromwell Removed Anne to Save Himself

Henry VIII ended his first marriage of his own accord. However, others largely orchestrated the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Henry may have tired of Anne personally but he still upheld her position as Queen. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the Seymour faction was coaching their own would-be Queen, Jane Seymour. However, they could never have achieved their aims without Thomas Cromwell.

Anne had made Cromwell and he knew very well she could break him. By April 1536, the former allies were at odds over the proceeds from the dissolution of the monasteries which Anne felt should be used for education and charity. She began to undermine Cromwell with Henry- and so Cromwell realized that to survive, he had to act first. To do so, he needed to take out Anne and all her supporters. So, he cut a deal with the Seymour faction and began to forge a case against Anne.

By April 30, Mark Smeaton was in custody and tortured into admitting his adultery with Anne. Once Smeaton’s confession was obtained, Henry was informed. Henry was already suspicious of Henry Norris, his groom of the stool who Anne had foolishly accused before witnesses of having designed over her. Smeaton’s confession convinced him that his wife had been unfaithful. From there, it was not difficult for Cromwell to persuade Henry that the rest of Anne’s supporters in court- including her brother- were also guilty. So, on May 2nd 1536, Anne Boleyn was arrested and imprisoned in the tower.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
The Beheading of Anne Boleyn. Wikimedia Commons.Public Domain

Anne could have been Burned at the Stake

On April 15th, 1536, Anne Boleyn was charged with “despising her marriage and entertaining malice against the King and following daily her frail and carnal lust.” Despite having alibis for many of the dates when she was supposedly committing adultery, she was accused of seducing five men including her brother, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton and Sir Francis Weston and plotting the King’s death.

The verdict was unanimous despite the flimsiness of the evidence and Anne’s plea of not guilty. It was read out by Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. “Because thou has offended our sovereign the King’s grace in committing treason against his person,” read the Duke, ” and here attainted of the same, the law of the realm is this, thou hast deserved death, and thy judgment is this: that thou shalt be burned here within the Tower of London, on the Green, else to have thy head smitten off, as the King’s pleasure shall be further known of the same.”

In 1530, Henry had complained to Anne of the enemies he was making for her sake. Anne had replied: “That matters not, for it is foretold in ancient prophecies that at this time a Queen shall be burnt: but even if I were to suffer a thousand deaths, my love for you will not abate one jot.” Those words must have come back to haunt her in the days surrounding her trial. However, in the end, Henry allowed her a relatively merciful death: beheading, rather than burning and with a sword rather than the ax.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot, 1835. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Anne’s Execution was Deliberately Delayed

Anne Boleyn was due to die at 9 am on the eighteenth of May. She spent much of what was supposed to be the last night of her life praying and preparing to meet her end. She heard mass at dawn and also made her confession. Somewhat unusually, she requested the Constable of the Tower, Kingston to join her. And so he witnessed Anne, not once but twice confess that she had never been unfaithful to Henry.

Nine am came, but still, Anne waited for her death. The waiting must have been a torment. Then Kingston came to her and told her she would not die until noon. Anne, who had waxed between calm and hysterical over the last few days, now was mercifully composed saying only: “Master Kingston, I hear say I shall not die afore noon and I am very sorry there fore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain.”

In fact, Anne’s execution was delayed for a whole 24 hours. She was not told her execution would occur on May 19th until the late afternoon of the 18th. So, she passed the whole of the day of her supposed execution waiting to be summoned to her death at any moment. The order for the delay had come from Cromwell on the pretext that the tower was to be cleared of foreigners. However, perhaps the intention was to finally break Anne’s resolve so that when she finally reached the scaffold, she would crack. She did not. Although she had been formally divorced to remove her daughter Elizabeth from the succession, Anne Boleyn met her death with all the dignity of an anointed Queen.

18 Unknown and Tragic Facts about the Life and Times of Anne Boleyn
Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry Collection

Anne Boleyn Did Love Henry

Anne had gambled all and lost. But had she played for love or power? Indeed, in the beginning, it seems that all the desire was on Henry’s part. His pursuit was relentless, as he showered Anne with letters and gifts. Certainly, Anne must have scented a possibility as Henry had been talking of putting away his Katherine of Aragon as early as 1522. She played with the King’s ardor skillfully and certainly seems to have at least partially manipulated him into marriage.

However, Anne and Henry also had much in common. Both had sharp minds and loved debate. They also shared a love of music, dancing, and hunting. It seems, whatever her initial feelings and intentions, Anne did fall in love. When Henry began to show an interest in other women, Anne had no reason to fear for her position. However, she reacted badly because she was jealous. She did not want to lose Henry’s love.

Perhaps the most intimate and touching relic of that love is a Book of Hours which Henry and Anne used to use to pass notes to each other during mass. On one page next to Christ as the Man of Sorrows, Henry wrote: ‘If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours, Henry R[ex] forever.’ In reply, on the page depicting the Virgin Mary being informed that she will give birth to a son, Ann responded: By daily proof you shall me find, To be to you both loving and kind.’


Where Do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

18 Facts About the Dramatic Life of Anne Boleyn, Carly Silver, Ranker

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn: Suzannah Lipscomb dispels myths about the lovers who changed history, Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb, History Extra, February 2014

Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, Douglas Richardson, 2011

Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, The Anne Boleyn Files, August 26, 2009

Anne Boleyn and the Reformation, The Anne Boleyn Files, March 29, 2010

The Coronation/Crowning of Anne Boleyn, 1533, English History

Guilty or not guilty: why did Anne Boleyn have to die?, History Extra, October 26, 2018

The jousting accident that turned Henry VIII into a tyrant, Michael Mccarthy, The Independent, April 18, 2009

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, Blackwell Publishing, 2005

Anne Boleyn Has Had a Bad Reputation for Nearly 500 Years. Here’s How One Historian Wants to Change That, Time Magazine, DECEMBER 2, 2019