My blog this week is coming to you from the magical and enchanting Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I.
I can not help but be moved by Anne's story whenever I hear it retold but sitting here, in the castle gardens of her childhood home, her safe place, the place which held such good memories for her, its tragedy is all the more poignant. My wish for a different ending is ever stronger.
There is so much written about Anne that it would be impossible to introduce you to any new facts and so that is not my intention. In this 5 minute history fix blog I want to bring to life the human elements to Anne's story by picking three specific elements; her birth date, Henry's intentions and the speed of her downfall.
Anne was born in 1501 (some say 1507) probably at Blickling Hall, Norfolk.
This 6 year discrepancy has surprised many people - how can we not know when she was born?! There are two points to make. Firstly, her status at birth. We must remember that, at the time of her birth, she was not the person of significance that she would become. Secondly, the record keeping at the time. Nowadays we take for granted that a child's birth is recorded but the registration of births was not introduced in the UK until the 19th Century.Parish records go back further but only to 1538 when the recording of Christenings, Marriages and Burials was introduced as a responsibility of the local clergy in an initiative of Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.1538 is two years after Anne's death. So, actually we could say it is not a surprise at all that there should be a question mark over her birthdate.
When the following thought occurred to me I have to say that it gave my spine, with modern sensitivities, a rather large chill…the prize of a girl's virginity.
The legal status of women as a legal appendage to a man, be it her father, husband or other male relation, persevered throughout England until fairly recent times. I can't, however, accept that this status was meekly accepted by women throughout society in any time period. There are enough examples of strong women, including Anne herself, to realise that this could not be the case even 500 years ago.
If we take this idea of ownership of women to a darker more sinister level then we talk about the ownership of her body and her virginity. If Henry merely wanted Anne as a mistress in the beginning why had she not been allowed to marry? I would argue that the virginity of Anne was a huge draw for Henry and as King he expected to take it if he wanted it. Thus the idea of her being allowed to marry and then pursuing her as a mistress was a none starter. For Anne, she was well aware of the implications of being an unmarried mistress and this was not the life she saw for herself.
Could it be possible that when Anne said she would not sleep with Henry as a mistress but only a wife it was more a statement of fact rather than a proposition? However she meant it, it put the idea into Henry's head and there was no way back!
The rapidity of Anne's downfall
The sheer speed at which Anne's fortunes changed in May 1536 is terrifying. Anne was arrested on the 2nd May, tried on the 15th and executed on 19th. Not only did she have to contemplate her demise but that of the men who were implicated in the stories told against her. One of these men was her own brother, George Boleyn, who would also have played as a child in the gardens in which I now sit.
Knowing how the story ends it would be easy to see that she had no way or escape, that her fate was effectively sealed. Perhaps we project our knowledge of how the story ended onto Anne's understanding of what was happening to her assigning her an air of regal acceptance of her situation that may not have been there. She certainly conducted herself in public with grace and bravery but how she felt inside and when away from the public eye, knowing she would never see her daughter, the husband she though doted on her and the rest of her family again, we can only surmise.
Calling all Tudor Lovers!