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Anne Boleyn: The First Wife to Lose Her Head

Updated on July 29, 2013

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Second Wife

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII | Source

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Second Wife

Anne Boleyn attracted the attention of King Henry VIII in the mid 1520s and they were married officially in 1533. However, her reign was short lived and she was beheaded in 1536 but was she guilty of the crimes she was convicted of?

Anne Boleyn is an important figure in English history. It was partially because of her that the religious reformation came about and she was the mother of one of the most important monarchs in history; Elizabeth I. She was also the first Queen Consort of England to be executed.

There are also many rumours that surround her; she was a witch, she had six fingers, she committed incest. Some of these rumours have been proven to be false. When her body was found in St. Peter's ad Vincula, her skeleton had the normal amount of fingers per hand! There was also no proof that she was ever practising witchcraft.

The amount of hard work that Anne put in to get to the position of Queen of England was great. It begs the question whether she would have risked it all?

Anne Boleyn Catches the Attention of Henry VIII

Anne grew up with a very ambitious nobleman as a father, Thomas Boleyn, and was educated at home until around 12 years old, when she was sent to the Netherlands. She later moved to France to become lady-in-waiting to Mary Tudor and after that Queen Claude, the wife of Francis I. Anne had grown up with the bright and colourful world of the French court. She had been raised in music, literature and political thinking, while receiving some of the traditional education of being a woman in the 16th century.

When Anne came back to England, she caught King Henry’s attention. At this time, Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon but had many mistresses on the side. One of those mistresses was Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn. Henry soon lost interest in his mistresses and fell quickly for Anne. He would send gifts that Anne would return. She didn't want to become his mistress. She wanted the crown.

Whether it was Anne's planning or that of her uncle, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and her father is unknown. It is possible that Howard and Boleyn were simply using her for their own personal gain; the way they had used Mary around 1524 and 1525. Whoever thought of the idea, Anne made sure that the plan happened. She made Henry VIII want her so much that he did everything he could to divorce his wife. It took seven years but it finally happened.

Anne Boleyn's Execution on The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Henry VIII tore the country apart for Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII tore the country apart for Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII Breaks Away from the Catholic Church

Anne had some protestant views. She believed that the King was chosen by God -- as all did at the time -- and that the King could have a direct line of communication with Him. The Catholic view was that only the Pope could talk directly to God. Anne, with the help of Thomas Cromwell, persuaded King Henry VIII to consider these Protestant views when it was clear teh Pope would not allow the divorce from Catherine.

Henry saw the sense behind their arguments and broke away from the Catholic church. It sent the whole country in a religious war that didn't fully end until Elizabeth I's reign between 1558 and 1603. Henry VIII was now the Supreme Head of the Catholic Church and he could now divorce his wife of 21 years and marry Anne Boleyn.

Anne was initially hated by many of the English people. They loved Catherine of Aragon and saw her daughter, Mary Tudor, as the rightful heir to the throne. Anne was a whore; a home-wrecker. Very few went to view her coronation because of this.

Henry and Anne married in secret sometime in December 1532 but they married officially, still privately, in January 1533. Anne quickly became pregnant and Henry had to work quickly so the English people would see her as Queen and their expected son as heir to the throne. The marriage to Catherine was annulled in May 1533, with the marriage to Anne declared legitimate a few days later.

Unfortunately, the baby Anne was carrying wasn't the boy that everyone expected. It was a girl. A girl who would later become the formidable Elizabeth I of England. The good news for Anne though was that she was still young. She could have more children and there would be a boy. At least, that is what everyone hoped.

Elizabeth Tudor was the only daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Elizabeth Tudor was the only daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

The Downfall of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn was not the Queen Consort that Henry VIII expected. Her outspoken and stubborn personality that attracted him to her started to wear on him. He expected her to completely change as soon as they married. She regularly debated with him and another man in his court: Thomas Cromwell. One of the biggest issues was where the money from the dissolution of the monasteries would go: the King's coffers (where Cromwell wanted them to go) or for things for the people (where Anne wanted them to go).

Cromwell found that Anne Boleyn and her faction were rising in power in court too quickly. She was threatening his position of authority and he started to turn on her. Cromwell started to find a reason to remove her and her final miscarriage (she had at least one other beforehand) was his chance. Whether Henry VIII had any idea of Cromwell's plan is unknown but he went to work to have Anne executed for treason and adultery.

Five men were questioned, with one possibly tortured, about their relationship with Queen Anne. Only one confessed, Mark Smeaton. One of the men was Anne's own brother, George Boleyn! They were all found guilty of adultery (and incest in George's case) and treason and were sentenced to death. Anne Boleyn was also found guilty and sentenced to beheading, which was done mercifully by sword.

Anne Boleyn never provided Henry VIII with the son that he needed but she did provide him with a formidable heir. Elizabeth Tudor gained many of her mother's traits and went onto become Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.


The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, Vintage Books 2007


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