Anne Boleyn’s impact on history is indubitable; almost 475 years after her death people still speak of her whether good or bad. Her fate was tragic but her life was extraordinary.
Anne’s influence on King Henry VII inevitably sealed the fate of England. Her interests in religious reform inspired Henry towards the reformation. Anne Boleyn introduced Henry VIII to the William Tyndale’s protestant work On the Obedience of a Christian Man and How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern. This said that a king was ruler of both church and the state in his realm; this led Henry to assert his power. Anne Boleyn also aided theologian Thomas Cranmer who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his rise to power. Thomas Cranmer later introduced Henry VIII the Sufficiently Copious Collection, which explained that in the earliest days of the church, each province had its own Rome-free jurisdiction. God intended kings to be rulers of churches, and be accountable only to God. During the period 1527 – 1532, Henry’s desire for a divorce and his passionate desire for Anne acted as a catalyst for England’s break with Rome.
In 1529, Anne’s influence on Henry was evident. This influence was shown clearly with the treatment of Cardinal Wolsey. In previous years Wolsey was the king’s closest advisor and Lord Chancellor. Anne had convinced Henry that Wolsey had no interest in the king getting an annulment. In October, 1529 Wolsey was stripped of his office and was required to return his great seal. By 1530, Cardinal Wolsey was back in the King’s good graces but again Anne’s influence would play a role in his fate. He was arrested for treason and eventually fell ill and died.
In 1531 Henry was declared the ruler of the Church of England. In 1532 Henry bestowed upon Anne the Marquis of Pembroke, making her the first English female commoner known to become a noble in her own right by creation, rather than through inheritance.
In 1532, Anne Boleyn and Henry secretly married. Anne was recognized as great Protestant figure, she also saved the life of the French reformer Nicolas Bourbon, Anne also aided in the translation of the Bible to English. In September 1533, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth I. This was one of her greatest achievements although she would never live to see her daughter be Queen. In 1534 Anne concerned for her heir influenced Henry to create the “Act of Succession”. Sir Thomas Moore the King’s former Lord Chancellor refused to swear to this and the “Oath of Supremacy”, he was beheaded. Sir Thomas Moore was one of the King’s most trusted servants and this pained the king.
Anne is often portrayed in a negative light people never focused on her charitable nature distributing alms to poor relief and funds to educational foundations. Anne extravagant nature introduced French fashions to court and caused renovations on numerous palaces.
By 1535, the very same thing that attracted Henry to Anne, her witty attitude was an annoyance to him. By 1536 she had suffered two miscarriages; she had failed to provide to the king what exactly she promised: a male heir. Katherine of Aragon passed away in January 1536, giving Henry an opportunity to rid himself of Anne. Sadly, Anne’s fate was not suffered alone. Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris and Anne’s brother Lord Rochford were arrested under suspicion of having relations with the Queen. They were all sentenced and put to death. Anne was tried by her peers and found guilty of adultery. On 19th May, 1536 she was executed. Anne Boleyn was the first Queen to ever be executed and later her cousin Katherine Howard would share her fate. Her death was just as remarkable as her life.
Anne’s death played an integral part in the life of her daughter Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth never married. Elizabeth had the demeanour of Anne Boleyn but had the political genius of her father. Elizabeth re-established the Protestant Church of England and was a committed protestant. She inherited an impoverished country and by the time of her death in 1603, England was one of the most powerful countries in the world. Her reign is known as “The Golden Age”. It is believed that at her death Elizabeth was wearing the chequers ring, a locket ring with pictures of her and her mother.
Anne’s life was a tragic but incredible one. Anne was able to control a powerful man with love; she was the catalyst of religious reformation, she brought down powerful men and gave birth to a great Queen. Anne Boleyn, love her or hate her has left a indelible mark on the world, until this day England is still a protestant nation. Today, her childhood home Hever Castle is visited regularly by tourists and her final resting place the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula is a place of great fascination for many visitors. Anne may have suffered a cruel fate but in the end she won. She changed England and as a result changed the world.
by Sheena Gosine
- Impact of the English Reformation: 1500 – 1640. ed. Peter Marshall. Arnold Publishing and Oxford University Press, 1997.
- Diarmid McCullough, Thomas Cranmer. Yale, 1996.
- Simon Schama, A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World (3500 BC – 1603 AD), Talk Miramax Books, Hyperion, NY, 2000.
- The Rise & Fall of Anne Boleyn by Retha M. Warnicke (Cambridge Press)