The Reputation of Queen Anne Boleyn
King Henry VIII succeeded the throne after his father died in 1509. His brother, Prince Arthur had already passed at the young age of fifteen, leaving his wife Queen Catherine of Aragon after twenty weeks of marriage. It was Henry's duty to take his brother's place. Henry and Catherine tried for years, to no avail, to produce not one but two sons for the Tudor dynasty. Only a daughter, Mary I, came of their union. All other pregnancies ended in tragedy.
King Henry came to believe that his bad luck was the result of marrying his brother's wife. His suspicions were given more proof within a Leviticus passage of the Bible which explains the punishment of childlessness to any man who takes his brother's wife. A priest elaborated that "childlessness" refers to a son; therefore, believing he was being punished by God, he felt hopeless.
It is unknown exactly when Henry noticed and/or met Anne Boleyn, other than that it was when she returned from France to the English court. By 1526, he was actively persuing her. After refusing to become his official mistress, he proposed less than a year later. Expecting a rapid response in his favor, Henry requested that his marriage to Catherine be annulled; unfortunately, with the refusals from Rome, he and Anne would be together for seven years before they were married.
It took great lengths for Henry to marry Anne. He parted with the Roman Catholic Church to become head of the Church of England and Catholicism was replaced with the English Reformation. Amidst their struggle for an approval of marriage, they secretly married in 1532, a few months before the public ceremony. It was after the private ceremony that Anne became pregnant.
Queen Anne gave birth to her daughter, Princess Elizabeth I in 1533. Although she had promised Henry a son, the marriage came with disappointing pregnancies. Her next two resulted in a miscarriage and a stillborn son.
As with Catherine of Aragon, the absence of a son caused Henry's eye to wander. This time to Jane Seymour. For the second time, he asked Thomas Cranmer for an annulment. There is debate as to who invented the accusations against Anne. It could have been Thomas Cromwell, it could have been Henry himself, or it could have been both. Either way, charged with adultery, incest and high treason, Anne and the falsely accused men were executed at the Tower: Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and her brother George Boleyn. Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page were accused, but let go.
"Witch" was among the most stereotypical labels bestowed upon Anne before she was executed. Rumors of a sixth finger on her right hand and being covered in moles were spread by her enemies. Not only was there no evidence, but had it been true it would have made her less attractive; therefore, an obstacle against winning Henry's affections. Thus, the claim is little more than an intellectually weak attempt to devalue her personal power that managed to work on some of England's people.
As a Pagan with a decent knowledgeable background in witch hunts, I am familiar with this tactic. Anne was a Christian Queen and more importantly, King Henry's wife. It would be absurd to speculate that Anne would seriously consider practicing witchcraft. It is my belief that she was called a "witch" for no other purpose than to convince the public that she wasn't to be trusted. It distracts from the reality that her husband was the real problem.
In 2014, I published an article on how women have been targeted the most in witch hunts, throughout history: "Witch Hunts: Women and the 'Malleus Maleficarum.'" The article includes statistics. Women made up 78-80% of the hunts in Europe and North America. Anne was used as a scapegoat for Henry to end his unhappy marriage with Catherine. Rather than blame the one with the power, the fault goes on Anne. Once the marriage to Catherine was annulled and Anne was finally made Queen, society still wanted her to prove herself. No matter what drastic changes Henry made, the people saw it as Anne's influence. Henry was never held responsible for his own actions:
"...the strong association of female sorcery with love affairs that have turned out badly for young women who have used their sexual wiles to entice a man into marriage but were ultimately rejected for a more suitable spouse" (Mackay, p.27).
Both Catherine of Aragon and Anne were unable to give Henry the son he longed for. These medical complications have caused historians to speculate if Henry had a medical condition. Of course, during the sixteenth century, the woman was blamed. As a royal and a man, he was incapable of fault.
Likewise, Anne being referred to as "whore" is ironic. Henry's endless affairs had been temporary because those women gave themselves freely. Anne's sister, Mary had been a mistress, as well. Anne refused to be a fling. Rather than be cast aside after the King had his fun, she demanded ultimate respect. Anne would only be Queen. Their relationship went on for seven years before they were married because of this.
Nothing exists to show a sway in Anne's loyalty to Henry while they were together, before and during their marriage. At the same time, Henry was a known philanderer. Most likely, he had remained faithful to Anne before the marriage and during the beginning because Anne tempted him with a future son; however, once she proved unable to give it to him, he decided she was no longer worth his devotion. It is a contradiction that she would be labeled the promiscuous one.
Anne had supporters − including Cranmer − who remained loyal to Henry, but still saw Anne as Queen. Cranmer was among those who attended her execution: "She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen in heaven." In the end, the King had the last word. When someone was charged and found guilty, the people often believed it to be just. Some didn't pause to remember the power the King had to make the court rule in his favor. It wasn't until modern studies that the accusations against Anne have been analyzed enough to be found unlikely. The witch hunts in Salem Massachusetts went on for over a year before the court realized that they were sentencing people to death without evidence. Superstition and blind faith is a dangerous mix in any century.
Today, people are divided as to whether Anne was a gold-digger or if she was another innocent who had succumb to Henry's charms. Since the very beginning of their relationship may remain forever unknown, one can only work with the letters between them and what history provides. Draw your own conclusions. My own take is that Henry manipulated all six of his wives and made it easier for women to turn against each other.
Mackay, Christopher S. The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.
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