You may remember me mentioning in the past that author, student and Anne Boleyn Files follower Mickey Mayhew was doing a PhD on Anne Boleyn, and one that actually involved the Anne Boleyn Files website. I know that many of you helped Mickey by answering questions for him, so as his PhD is now nearing completion I thought it would be good for him to tell us more about it. Over to Mickey…

Passions are something I prize, and whilst often they can be a very private affair, it’s a natural human trait to want – on occasion – to share them with other people. When it comes to the Tudors it seems a little strange that there isn’t a physical society one can attend [Claire: Well, there is the Tudor Society!], especially when you look at the size and scope of the Richard III Society. In fact, I still have a hard time getting my head around that one, but then again my historical obsession is strictly tunnel-vision; it begins in 1485 and ends in 1603, although I have a cursory interest in Cromwell and the early Stuarts. But I love the Tudors, so much so that I was asked to spin together a nifty gift book for kids and Tudorphiles of all ages to enjoy, published by the History Press. I think I wanted something to equal ‘The Ladybird Book of Henry VIII’, which I carried with me everywhere when I was a kid.

I wanted people to share my passion for the Tudors on a more personal level. That led me to a veritable online odyssey, many days and nights spent sifting through various websites until I settled on The Anne Boleyn Files. I joined the forum and became involved in day-to-day posting, but as time progressed I began to notice a few discrepancies; there were many more women than men, for starters. I began asking myself, “Why are we all so very fascinated with Anne Boleyn – not to mention the Tudors as a whole?” The question festered until, finally, it formed into a thesis for a PhD. I’m in the process of completing this work as we speak; in fact, my Viva is due on September 11th.

The aim of my research project was to investigate the possibility of an actual subculture surrounding Anne Boleyn; what that possible subculture meant for those involved, and if it constituted part of a new phenomenon of female-orientated online subcultures – a cybersubculture. Through the analysis of related film, TV, historical literature and fiction, my research illustrated how subcultures are perpetuated through generations cyclically; this was certainly the case where Anne Boleyn was concerned. It then documented the transition from the traditional or ‘classic’ subcultural model of the 60s (Mods and Rockers) to the 21st-century cybersubculture as espoused by The Anne Boleyn Files. Eventually, it became clear that Anne Boleyn had indeed been positioned as a sort of feminist icon/role model by the participants. This perception of Anne seemed to be based mainly on a media-mediated image (think The Tudors TV series), forming a subculture thriving on disjointed imagery and discourse in order to maintain a peculiarly subtle resistance against a predominantly patriarchal sub-cultural sphere.

What does that mean in plain English? Women ‘dig’ Anne Boleyn much more than boys. For a great many of them, Anne has become a sort of icon, open to various different interpretations. The participants involved poured their heart and soul into the subject and the various responses were both impassioned and occasionally even incendiary. For example, on the subject of Jane Seymour (Anne Boleyn’s successor) responses sometimes bordered on the vitriolic. In these answers, for me at least, it was possible to see that faint echo of the old Mods vs Rockers riots on Brighton beach in the 1960s, further confirming themes and links between the classic subcultural style and the new style of cybersubculture. Here is one response I received:

‘…any Anne fan will tell you that Jane Seymour is a two-faced girl that was even worse than Anne because she was a meek little nothing and was only put there because Henry needed a change. Anne Boleyn fans do tend to hate her. But, in reality, Jane did supplant Anne by doing the same things. The reason it worked so quick was because Cromwell had come up with an idea to get Anne out of the way quickly–death. He had Henry sign the warrant for her arrest. Jane WAS a meek, sweet person on the outside. Henry liked this. She didn’t fight like Anne. She didn’t have that fire like Anne. She was calm and compliant. He needed that. For him, it was like coming inside from being outside in hot summer. She was cooler and more easily handled. But Jane Seymour, I believe, was just as ambitious and determined as Anne, but she hid that well behind what her family told her what would attract him. And she did it well. I believe she was all of those things, but I also think her personality today is unattractive, plain, and annoying. She was guided by her family but never complained. She knew exactly what she was doing and never looked back. She knew those charges against Anne were fake. She knew she had seen an innocent woman put to death so she could be Henry’s wife. I don’t believe she felt guilty about that. So it begins to contradict who people said she was like. If she was such a kind, sweet woman then she would have demanded Henry put Anne in a nunnery or exile her–not kill her. But she didn’t. She never complained. In fact, she never complained because her family warned her against it. Jane was often described as a meek, milk-faced girl. She was a plain Tudor rose. Light blonde hair, milky skin, cornflower blue eyes. She didn’t have the dark mystery Anne held in her looks. She was just a very plain Jane–pun intended. She needed help on her rise, no doubt.’

However, an alternative view was suggested by another respondent who branded the purported subculture surrounding Anne Boleyn ‘…a subculture for whores who wreck marriages’!

Although the rivalry between the two queens lacked the ‘moral panic’ aspect of the aforementioned Mods and Rockers rivalries of the 1960s, fans of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour were nevertheless observed to have ‘flamed’ each other on occasion. ‘Flaming’ is defined in an online forum or chatroom based context as “aggressive and/or insulting interaction between different users”. For instance, other respondents agreed with the assessment of Eric Ives’ comment in regard to the portraiture of Jane Seymour – ‘…she needed all the help she could get.’ – whilst others used it as an opportunity to question his more general stance towards women. In this way more was revealed of the rather strange dichotomy also borne out in other areas of the research, whereby Anne Boleyn is venerated as a feminist example to women whilst Jane Seymour is all but vilified for her ‘feminine’ failings; she is ‘…far more simplistic’ – ‘Jane was just as bad as Anne, maybe even worse’ – ‘I loathe this aspect of history; Jane Seymour was worse IMO’ – ‘We love to judge women’, with reference to the recent phenomenon of ‘slut-shaming’.

Thank you for sharing your findings, Mickey!

Anne Boleyn Files followers and visitors, what do you think of Mickey’s findings? I’d love to hear your comments.

Mickey’s history books ‘I Love the Tudors’ and ‘The Little Book of Mary Queen of Scots’ are both published by The History Press, and are available on Amazon and in all good bookstores.

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28 thoughts on “The academic life of Anne Boleyn by Mickey Mayhew”
  1. A very unusual piece of research and findings. Good luck with your Vivat on 11th and I loved your book on Mary Queen of Scots. All the best.

  2. I just want to point out that there IS a physical society one can attend: the Gloriana Society. It was recently established and is dedicated to the life, reign and era of Elizabeth I. They held a conference at the Tower of London last November.

    Re the subculture – Susan Bordo looked at this somewhat in her book The Creation of Anne Boleyn. Susan made the compelling – and true – point that “Anne Boleyn”, as in the cultural figure in TV, literature and art, has eclipsed Anne Boleyn, that is the real historical figure. Partly that is because we have so little information about the real woman. We don’t know her date of birth, her appearance, her place of birth, her religious beliefs, her personality, her relationship with Henry VIII.

    Yes, “Anne” – the cultural figure – has become something for everyone. For some, she is a feminist icon, one who turned every sixteenth-century ideal about women on its head. For others, she is a ruthless, predatory and unhinged woman capable of incest, adultery and attempted murder. For others, she is a romantic victim, cruelly betrayed by her husband. For others, she is the victim of a wife murderer. For others, she is an evangelical patroness, who was praised by the likes of Foxe for her piety and charity. For others, she is a husband stealer, a homewrecker, an adulteress.

    None of us know what Anne Boleyn was really like. When we think of Anne, we must confront our own preconceptions, opinions and desires. We make Anne who we want her to be. We shape her according to our own tastes. We are inherently biased, we are culturally swayed according to the time in which we write, read and think. How “Anne” is thought about in thirty years time will, I’m sure, be different to how she is thought of now; the same could be said for a century from now. Just think back to 1917 – I’m sure Anne was not thought of as a feminist icon in that period, since feminism barely existed then.

    It astonishes me that twenty-first century people like ourselves get so heated, get so inflamed, by the wives. It is amazing that people fiercely debate, criticise, slander and praise these women when, simply put, they never knew them. Why do people defend Anne so earnestly, why do others slander Jane Seymour so ruthlessly, why do others idolose Katherine of Aragon as if she were a living saint? We do not know these women. All we have are fragmentary pieces of evidence in sixteenth-century writings. By and large you can discount portraiture. We don’t have a single contemporary portrait of Anne. Forget the NPG portrait, forget the others, they date to Elizabeth I’s lifetime. We are not “seeing” the real Anne.

    It amazes me how historians make personal comments about these women as if they knew them, as if they were acquainted with them, as if they were a personal friend or an enemy. They are not. We should never fall into that trap. We know scarcely anything about these women, including Anne Boleyn. So much is speculation, so much will forever be unknown. That’s why cultural interpretations become so important. We are shaping these women according to our own tastes, desires and interests. We make them who we want them to be. We act as if we know them. We do not.

    1. I think there is also a danger of being too far the other way. While it’s not good to be so passionate and involved with historical people that you become biased and intolerant, and can’t cope with any critcism of them, a historian or author does have to have some passion for their subject otherwise their worl is just words on a page and talks they do are boring. I will never ever forget hearing Eric Ives speak about Anne Boleyn. He warned us at the start of his talk that he could go on about Anne “until the cows come home” and he wrote in his book about her being the third woman in his life after his wife and daughter. He was passionate about her, I would say that he loved her, and that makes his work incredibly readable and his talk was gripping. We didn’t want him to stop, his passion was infectious. But, it didn’t stop him being accurate and professional too. It was the perfect balance of passion and knowledge.

      I think it’s very human to want to label people as goodies and baddies, to pick teams (just go to Bosworth when they re-enact the Battle of Bosworth lol!), but that can lead to some bizarre behaviour when you see the karma type comments being slung at historical figures who’ve met awful deaths. For some, Anne is a homewrecking whore, for others she’s a tragic victim, and to others she’s a feminist icon, and still other types of Anne, and then there are all the different views of Jane Seymour, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII…

      Anyway, as an ex-teacher I will always want to inject passion into history for it is a dead subject without it, and if that comes at a cost sometimes when things get out of hand then perhaps it’s worth it.

      1. I said I would make more comments when I had seen all the showings of Wolf Hall.Well now I have. I didn’t see the thitd episode, but watched all the last three.
        as I have said before, I am not a fan of Hilary Mantel’s style of writing, but the BBC’s version was rather good, with some limitations.
        IT was mostly historically correct, but I feel that the view portrayed of Anne Boleyn did not do her justice. She was well educated, well read and interested in progress and politics. This did not come out in the portrayal. I do not criticise the performance of Claire Foy, but the type of woman that Anne Boleyn was made out to be. It wasn’t a rounded portrayal. I am sure she did like the attention of handsome young men, most women do. But I do not think she was the flibbertygibbet she was made out to be.
        There was one item which was historically out of time – Anne was already in the Tower when she said she only had a little neck. The men who were tricked into saying they had had “knowledge ” of her appear now, as they probably did at the time, were unlikely victims, carefully manipulated by Thomas Cromwell (continuously played magistrally by Mark Rylance) . The most unlikely being Brereton. He was not a very ‘nice’ man. He had already been accused of mistreating ap Ellis Eyton. I was also surprised by the mispronunciation of his name. The family, who still live in Denbighshire, pronounce it “Breerton” as I was soundly reminded by the wife of his descendant when she came into the Denbighshire County Council Health Department to complain about her child being incorrectly registered for immunization. I had to pacify her and assure her that the matter would be rectified. I had pronounced her name as in Wolf Hall and she very sharply corrected me. I find it odd that the pronunciation was not verified.
        I felt the portrayal of Henry was fairly realistic. He was confused, we find the beliefs of the day difficult to accept as all the hoo ha about the legality of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon seems idiotic.
        I will put more comments in the next few days and also mention Tudor subject books, plays and TV series which I feel are worth reading or seeing.

        1. There was a lot of correct history, but sorry, some of it was biased to more than Anne Boleyn and Cromwell didn’t choose six men to be set up with Anne and five of them executed, because they mocked Thomas Wolsey in a masquerade. The depiction of Thomas More was off the wall and Cromwell wanting to fondle Anne’s breasts was ridiculous. The claim that Hilary Mantel has studied the letters and papers of Cromwell for six years has to be challenged as she obviously ignored many of them in her portrait of Cromwell. He was shown masterfully by Mark Rylance and yes, its through Cromwells eyes, but her personal bias came out as well. I don’t agree that Henry was shown accurately, but more like a creepy idiot with a dark hidden sinister personality. Cromwell was more a sexual stalker than a family man or good administrator, although we did learn much of his early life. What happened to the monks he killed or the social ideas he had? What happened to his fall out with Anne and why was Anne shown as a right cow? Why did he fancy both Jane Seymour and Jane Rochford, shown as his creature and why did Anne become so convinced someone was trying to kill her, which is not entirely accurate? Like so many other films and dramas it falls short and is not even a good drama. In fact it was rubbish.

      2. Well, exactly. If you look at the work of the three main historians of Anne’s career – Eric Ives, G. W. Bernard and Retha Warnicke – it’s almost like they’re talking about three completely different women. Ives’ Anne is calculating, intelligent, politically active, skilled in leading her faction and is brought down as a result of her opposition to Cromwell. Bernard’s Anne is a sexual and attractive flirt guilty of committing adultery with at least two of the men she was charged with. Warnicke’s Anne is well-mannered and good-tempered, with minimal involvement in politics, and dies after delivering a deformed child.

        1. I don’t think it is uncommon for different biographers to have widely divergent views of the same person.. Schoenfeld and Hutchinson both wrote biographies of Thomas Cromwell, but their views of him differ completely; Ridley’s “Statesman and Saint” presents a Thomas More quite different from the More presented in Ackroyd’s biography; and of course, Kendall and Ross wrote biographies of Richard III that seem to describe two different people (IMO, Ross himself wrote two different Richards … one in his biography of Edward IV and one in his biography of Richard himself).

          FWIW, I loved the books “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies”, but I didn’t like the TV production as much. The books, IMO, present a much better view of Cromwell’s other activities (his own family, the proposed poor law, etc) and the acts attributed to Thomas More in the book have some factual basis — according to Ackroyd’s biography. More importantly, the books struck me as having much less of Cromwell as sex god that spoiled the TV production.

        1. The Richard iii Society was founded by a surgeon named Saxton Barton in Liverpool in 1924 under the title Fellowship of the White Boar, a group of amateur historians who wanted to change the unfair posthumous reputation of Richard iii by promoting a more balanced view. We are often said to be a bunch of cranks, but despite some more daft members who think Richard is a saint and whose opinion we still value, we are far from this. Over the years we have had many scholars and during the 1950s our membership boomed thanks to the popular novel by the late Josephine Tey. However, we have been researching the sources for decades and it’s a myth that we only read this and base our ideas on it. We wouldn’t have an academic following if we did. In the 1980s we gained a patron in HRH the current Duke of Gloucester. Since then our reputation and our international standing have grown and thanks to a certain find in a certain carpark the society is now generally respected. With Richard iii finally honoured and given a public reburial with a marvellous tomb our work is still to enhance and debate and research his life and reign. A few new projects are now being done, such as the archival search for any contemporary documents which may give some real answers as to the real fate of the sons of Edward iv, which is nationwide and international and could take years and we have a sister research website with the latest scholarship on a number of matters connected to Richard and his wider family. We also have various meet ups, we have many local groups and of course we visit sites connected to the House of York every year. We also have our Website, shop and our journal and magazines. We are responsible for numerous plaques on sites around Britain and in the areas of the Netherlands, Brussels, Ireland and France connected to the Kings and their wider family. As the supporter of a King whose reputation has had plenty of knocks I can really understand how passionate people get about Anne v Katherine v Jane and trying to balance fact v fiction is a delicate art. I really would love to see more physical societies out there for people of mutual interest in Tudor or Plantagenet history, although there are lots of fairs and re enactments especially in the summer, but at least the Internet provides a way to meet and is something better at times when you cannot travel well. The Tudor Society and the Henry Tudor Society provide a good link to people who want to explore further.

  3. LOL! I have the same ‘The Ladybird Book of Henry VIII’, also the ones for Elizabeth I, Warwick the Kingmaker, Joan of Arc, King John and Magna Carta, and Henry II.

    Those were great little books!

  4. I’ve been hooked since 4th grade. First, a book on the six wives, then Elizabeth I. I have been reading about the Tudors and Plantagenets in particular ever since. Richard III generates a lot of interest for many reasons. I think, in England, some of it is due to Roman Catholic influence. I suspect many feel the Tudors caused the split with Rome, and are less inclined to buy their side of the story. Having been raised RC, I know I was taught to regard KOA as nearly a saint, and to see Jane favorably as well. I don’t feel like judging them, as we only know but so much about any of them. Too many unknowns to ponder. I can’t help but admire Anne, as a challenger of convention, and I think she resonates with a lot of women as times and gender roles change.

  5. I remember I bought ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and just couldn’t read it, it was so far of the truth I was very disappointed and as for the movie good grief! Although I found Wolf Hall mesmerising to look at that to was way off having Cromwell imagine he was caressing Anne Boleyn and enjoying a flirtation with Jane Seymour, in his portrait he looks a cold fish to me and I think it was Annes execution that was the best part and quite possibly the most accurate part of the series, it was both poignant and harrowing, I agree with CB that we will never know the real Anne or her contemporaries, they are after all distant historical figures and what we do know are just ink on parchment from people who were witnesses, taken down and recorded for history, the rest we come to our own conclusions through mere conjecture, its like trying to fit the missing piece from a jigsaw, Annes appearance also has been described as both beautiful and average looking, all applaud her distinct eyes, we can only imagine her face as from the sources that has come down to us and her portraits as CB mentions, were not painted in her lifetime, the ones that were was destroyed, if only her husband had not done that we would have her true image, Henry V111 does not know what an injustice he has done to us, recently Annes colouring has come up for debate with many thinking she could have had deep auburn hair instead of the black tresses that she has been credited with for so long, our opinions are all divided on these people who lived many generations before us and we have to remember they were victims of their time bound by its very rules and structure, for many who hate Jane Seymour they forget she was a woman in a mans world and it was her duty to obey her family, different authors come up with their own views on their chosen subject, one biographer of Henry V111 called him a hero and another described him as a merciless prince, these people who lived out their adventurous and some tragic lives are now but dust yet they live on in our minds, they are part of the very fabric of this nations history, I’m just wondering in another five hundred years will they still be the subject of hot debate, quite possibly as I think the Tudor dynasty with Henry V111 and his six wives are the most colourful topic in English history.

    1. Yes, we can’t really get to how these women felt as so much has been lost. The only woman we know for certain loved Henry was Katherine of Aragon because she said so and she still desired to see him after everything at the very end. Poor Katherine loved him too much and couldn’t let him go. The other five, well Anne I believe was very much in love with Henry at some point and then it all went wrong and Jane had some affection and a calling to save him, but had nothing to do with Anne’s fall, so hating her is not logical. She had a mission and her family had a mission. Anne of Cleves couldn’t love him as she was only married five minutes before he changed his mind but developed an affectionate sisterly kind of feeling for him afterwards. What Katherine Howard felt is like breaking some code, impossible to work out. I believe Henry was in love and treated her well but Katherine was more likely flattered by his power and wealth and prestige and did her duty. She admitted that Henry had treated her well. However, power played a part both on the part of the Queens and their families and the magnificent idea of being married to the King, whose power attracted. Katherine Parr may have merely been flattered and felt a calling to marry Henry in order to convert him, a religious duty. This is my best guess and I doubt we can really know much more than what is just below the surface. We know some of the Six Queens had excellent educational skills and they have left us something of a legacy in words, especially KP as she wrote two books and some prayers and a number of letters. We know some were romantic or loved to dance or had musical talents or were socially aware but we really cannot get a fully clear picture. However, there are some dramas and fictional books like those above which take advantage and when filling the gaps as it were, do so with flights of fancy. When there is evidence that says Anne Boleyn was innocent, however, it is ignored and supplanted by ideas that cannot be substantiated to say she did have an affair with her brother, just to sell a book. I remember the first time I saw TOBG before reading the book and watching wide eyed and wide mouthed with shock as George is foisted in with Anne in order to conceive a child, thinking What the…..? It’s one of those unbelievable moments that unfolds on the screen and you can’t quite accept it’s happening as it is not true. The next day I had to get the book to see if this was in there. The incident is less clear in the book but it is definitely suggested. The whole idea of fiction is to explore but not to present as fact a blatant lie. The affairs between one of the men and George Boleyn have been well and truly pandered to by modern drama, even though there is no known evidence for them, just a theory. Well we won’t go there, but the other wonderful thing is character assassination. We take a few negatives and fly with it to equate those qualities as representing the whole person 24/7 336 days of the year. So Anne snaps all the time and Katherine Howard is a dipsy flirt or Jane is meek and mild and Henry an angry elephant at all times. I never really thought of them as being part of a subculture but in some cases this is what these seven fascinating people have been reduced to and we are in danger of losing all sense of who they really were.

      1. It’s like Jane Rochford who is always being portrayed as the vengeful wife who told Cromwell her husband and Anne were guilty of incest, her reputation has suffered as the jealous harpy starved of affection by her husband who sent him to his doom, people forget she wrote him a warm letter whilst he was imprisoned and told him she would plead his cause with the King, not exactly the kind of letter a wife would write to her husband if she were the one who had put him there! Based on Warnickes theory that George Boleyn and the others who were accused of adultery with Anne were some kind of sexual deviants and Boleyn especially engaging in gay sex, authors have now let rip with this theory and has them all indulging in orgies, as Bq says, it sells a book yet the reality is I believe vastly different, George Boleyn was quite possibly just like other young attractive men of his age, cheerful with a liking for good wine and women, he could have had affairs and visited brothels, indeed the aristocracy throughout the ages have all been guilty of this vice, yet why should we think he was a sodomist who forced his wife, as one historian has put it, to indulge in his perverse sexual behaviour? This young man was a cultered and gifted poet, yet with some he is being made out to be a vicious weak person who slept with men and was cruel both mentally and physically to his wife, there is no evidence to suggest he was guilty of homosexuality or buggery as it was called then, Warnicke has placed too much emphasis on his scaffold speech, little realising that all condemned people made humble penitent speeches, the words wicked and sinful are just that, quite possibly George was alluding to himself not attending church that much, not observing lent or other religious festivals, it doesn’t mean he was referring to indulging in an orgy with Mark Smeaton and Francis Weston etc, and it’s true they have been reduced to being part of a subculture and that’s when we do lose sense of reality, young girls who in their teens idolised Elvis, the Beatles the Stones etc, they imagined they were all these perfect young men who they could take home to mother, they built up in their mind an ideal a fantasy, yet these pop groups indulged in drugs, womanising and in reality were totally unsuited to be your average boyfriend except to those women who lived in the same fast lane as them! Subculture is powerful as we as Bq says, do lose sense of who they really were.

  6. Who can really know what they were like ? I am no expert on any of Henry the VIII ‘ s wives – it is very difficult to really imagine what they really looked like or what they really felt – however i sympathize with all six of them. Those women were real women that lived ,loved and suffered in an age were women were supposed to obey the man they married and even more so because the husband WAS the KING – How can we really know if they loved him as a man or were just bound by the fact of his power as a King ?

  7. One wonders – did Anne love Henry Percy or was it his status that attracted her. Did Henry break up that marriage because he wanted her or was it broken up due to the difference in stations.

    Did Anne eagerly seek to marry Henry, cleverly driving him nuts, or was she a reluctant bride, urged on by family and the inability to say “no” to a King who would not leave her alone?

    We’ll never know. She appeared to be fiery and was almost definitely clever. Was she vindictive? Maybe. Did she hate Katherine and Mary or was she afraid of them and lashed out due to it.

    As for Jane, seemed to me she was just as clever as Anne, but in a more subtle way. She appeared to have taken note of Anne’s tactics and copied them when Henry’s eye came her way. Or did she? Was she really meek and did her family set this all up? Or was it a combination. My only problem with Jane – other than the fact Anne’s type personality is more appealing to me, is that Anne’s body was barely cold when she married Henry. That’s a huge black mark against her in my book. Did she willingly marry Henry even though she had to have known the charges against Anne were rubbish, or did so do so somewhat reluctantly, knowing what happened and pressured by both Henry and her family.

    We’ll never know. In one respect, Jane was lucky. Like Katherine, she gave Henry a son, but her son was (at least ’til his teens after Henry was dead) healthy. And she died when the marriage was still young and not long after the birth, so Henry hadn’t had a chance to tire of her yet and he had a son.

    I’d love to go back in time temporarily as an invisible viewer just to see how they really were.

    1. It’s true iv often pondered the fact that Jane having died young did not live long enough for Henry to tire of her, her character to me appears colourless, she’s like a shadowy queen in the background who married Henry done her duty as her wife and slipped quietly into death, she did not make much of an impression on her contemporaries being described as very pale and in fact was like the original wallflower, yet here we have the subculture issue again, that is how we perceive Jane, with her ladies she could have been merry and amiable who loved to chat and sew for hours, her needlework is said to have been beautiful and has survived to this day, Henry found her presence blaming like coming to port after the turbulent storm that was his marriage to Anne, she certainly entranced him enough to want to marry her therefore she could not have been as colourless as history has painted her.

  8. Well I must go against the grain then, because almost none of Mickey’s findings apply to me as an Anne Boleyn ‘fan’. I didn’t get into it because of tv – rather my interest came from a history book when I was 5 years old, and I in fact detest Anne’s portrayal in The Tudors because it is so inaccurate, making out that her father, brother, and uncle ‘pimped her out’ and that she was a ‘grasping schemer’ from the start. Neither do I have vitriolic feeling for Jane Seymour. I think that Henry’s interest in Jane probably initially came as a surprise to her, much as it did to Anne. The evidence does seem to suggest that Jane was ‘coached’ by her family and possibly Cromwell, but I don’t think she expected Anne would die – that was totally unprecedented. I think it would have been odd if Jane hadn’t at least some of the time experienced sentiments of terror during her courtship and Anne’s fall, and I think it likely she also experienced guilt – when even Anne’s enemies were shocked at the cooked up charges and her unprecedented death, I think it’s plausible, even probable, that Jane felt at least some guilt. Ultimately however, I would not blame Jane – as Henry reminded her during their marriage, she was very much at his mercy. It was Henry’s knowing decision to sever his love for Anne, and he did so coldly, with breath-taking self-deception. If it hadn’t been Jane the king’s eye fell on, it would’ve been someone else. As for Jane’s lack of education, yes, I admire Anne’s wit and learning, but Jane’s lack of education was typical of the times and her station, and I don’t feel disappointed in her personally, but rather the lack of good education given to most women. Jane can’t be held up the same way Anne can as a woman of proven intelligence and success in education in a deeply patriarchal era.

  9. One of the attractive aspects of Anne Boleyn is that she stood out and was unusual for her time. Few women had access to the standard of education she was privileged to experience in France and the Netherlands, even amongst the nobility. Women were educated at home and men who showed promise may go to University, the Church and so on, but women didn’t. Some received an advanced education such as Meg More Roper and Katherine Parr, but the majority received enough for their status and station in life. Daughters of the nobility and gentry learned the skills to run a great household. They needed grace and to be able to read and write, to understand their accounts, to run a home full of servants and to deal with tenants in her husband’s absence, to keep the home clean and effective and to receive guests. She had to be nurse, manager, have a knowledge of herbs and run and order stores for months at a time, plus the personal skills such as dancing, deportment and sometimes music. Katherine Howard and Jane Seymour would have the general education required and when we speak of them not being well educated we mean they didn’t have the classical education of a man or some of the stand out female scholars of the age. Anne would have not received any more than this under normal circumstances. Her family saw something in her which set her apart intelligence wise and she got a lucky break. Thomas Boleyn may have been aware enough to have given her a tutor as Thomas More did with his children. Well educated women often got a break by taking religious vows and being able to further their scholarship that way. One of the little known ironies of a visit that Anne made as Queen was to one particular convent in London, set aside for the daughters of gentry which was known for its promotion of international scholarship. Anne was received with respect and due reverence but was telling women with greater knowledge of Greek and Latin that they should promote education. The irony was it already did, passing on their own highly advanced education in their own female schools. Anne had a desire for education and her visit was well meaning but the Abbess later complained that it was also insulting. The Queen had presumed too much without doing her homework.

    Anne was among the best educated people in the country, but she wasn’t the only educated Queen, Katherine of Aragon and Queen Claude and Marguerite of the Netherlands were among a selection of rising international female scholars. The Medici and Duchesses of Milan and Fontana were scholars and we have their writings. We have to acknowledge these ladies but also point out that they stand out because they were rare. Henry was surrounded by scholars. It was his thing as the King of the hour and he competed in this with the other Renaissance Prince, Francis I. He needed a Queen to match and he found one first in Katherine of Aragon, who he would never have left had they been blessed with healthy sons.

    Anne was another woman who could match his intellect but she too was unfortunate in not being blessed with a son and a number of things conspired to make their marriage fall apart after a few years. I am quite certain a son would have come soon but Henry grew impatient and neither of them was great to live with at the time of her last miscarriage. Henry had changed and become dangerous. Anne had become moody and fearful and insecure. However, during the progress of 1535 things had seemed good, but maybe it was just gloss. The accident in January seemed to send Henry into a downward spire into paranoid delusional mood swings and pain. Something cracked and Anne was singled out for a savage attack of conspiracy and blind desire to end his marriage at all costs. He no longer wanted a woman who could match him in debate, he wanted a traditional Tudor housewife who would concentrate on giving him a son.

    Jane Seymour is often seen as not having an education or being uninterested in anything. This is not the case. For one thing she was an expert huntress but we never see her hunting in drama as Anne did. Yet she and Henry spent three weeks at the start of their marriage doing little else but hunting. Like Anne she grew up in a rural setting, of course she hunted. She could certainly dance, ride, sow and was musically inclined so somebody taught her these. Her household was well ordered so she had those skills as well. She didn’t shy from being confident in the prescence of Ambassadors and she had a mission. Yes, she was trained how to get Henry and keep him, but don’t you think she had an imput, of course she did. Jane was no meek dormat. She was sensible enough to know when to shut up around Henry and that’s a skill, not a dormat. She appears mysterious in her paintings and maybe there is more going on than we are led to believe. Jane took on Henry in two dangerous areas at a time in his life when saying the wrong thing cost you your head. She spoke up, not once but twice for Mary, with the result of her friends being thrown in the Tower or questioning going on. It wasn’t Jane who succeeded in bringing Mary back, but the young woman’s ultimate submission and a letter to Cromwell, but she wrote to Mary and befriended her and planted the peace seeds. Mary thanks her for her letters. She tried to intervene in the case of the monastic houses and Pilgrimage of Grace as her role as Intercessor permitted.

    The fact that Jane got dismissed in these attempts should not undermine the political importance of her attempts to act on causes close to her heart and tell us she was not just a passive being who didn’t understand the changes around her or care about people. She was clearly concerned for the traditional faith of her people and her family and her own personal faith is revealed. She is concerned for the peace of her husband and his own legitimate daughter. Mary was popular and Jane is aware of this. Her exile from court was blamed as much on Anne as Henry, if not more and Jane feeds into that talking about the peace of the realm and the King’s peace of mind and soul. It may have been coached or not, but it is clever political theatre and Henry is mollified for a time. Remember in the last months of Anne’s life, supporters of Mary gravitated around Jane and the Seymour faction, including Thomas Cromwell. However, Henry was losing patience because it took time for a child to appear. Henry reacted violently to the rebellious north as a Tudor monarch was bound to do. Then the crowning glory. Jane was pregnant.

    Henry merely wanted Jane to provide babies but it is very clear she made him happy. He found domestic peace in the middle of the turmoil. Jane must have felt triumphant as she watched the torch light christening of her son from her window after giving birth to him a few days later. Henry would have granted Jane anything had she lived. Edward was his heir but sadly Jane died twelve days later. I have seen a number of comments that she didn’t live long enough for him to tire of her. I really don’t get these remarks.. Why would he tire of the mother of his son? Henry didn’t tire of Katherine. She couldn’t give him a male heir or he would never have left her. Had Anne had a son she could have the world. You don’t understand Henry Viii. Jane gave him a son, a son who would live. Had Jane lived, even if he was bored, she would be his Queen for the rest of their lives. The son was the importance of her success. Henry would have crowned her and maybe another son would follow and more children. Henry may have had more mistresses, although given his health this may be unlikely, but Jane Seymour was safe, she had produced the heir to the throne, the one thing two brilliant well educated women had sadly failed to do. This is how Henry saw the world. Jane was everything he needed in a wife and Prince Edward was a bonus.

    Katherine Howard is also misrepresented. She too is seen as being uneducated, a myth shred apart by modern biographies. She too, like Jane had a spell at court, which proves she had some education. She was given a music teacher, two in fact, one of whom who tragically abused her. She learned how to run a great household in every traditional way and we know she could read and write at least to a general level. She had grace and a fashion sense but she was also sensitive and could play her part in every public act demanded of her as Queen. She was no dumb bimbo. We don’t even know if she was blonde as she is always played, but she may well have been fair and more of a typical English rose. Her life was more sheltered and there is debate on how well supervised she was due to the goings on at night. Her upbringing was not as unconventional as it seems. In fact given the loss of her mother and absence of her father, it is a good upbringing to have in a large noble house. Her step grandmother gets wrongly criticised over taking little action to protect Katherine, but with over 100 people to care for, many other nieces, nephews and grandchildren, what made Katherine so special? Agnes was very old and a guardian and supervision was provided. She did take action when she saw what was happening. Katherine should have opened her mouth and complained but as with young girls or boys in such situations, fear and embarrassment take over. With Francis Dereham it was different, it was exciting and the young ladies had parties and a good time. Agnes did throw the men out a few times. Katherine wasn’t meant to be Queen but her service to Anne of Cleves, with whom Henry didn’t get on, put her in a place where Henry noticed her and Norfolk saw a possible return to Rome on the cards. Henry saw a lovely, lively young woman with whom he fell in love and hoped could give him many sons. It was another match made from a mixture of loins and Dynastic need.

    With Katherine Parr, all too often shown as dull and middle aged or a njrse Henry had a scholar, yes, but also a woman to bring peace and stability to his family and later years. Katherine was the best of all the better qualities of his other wives in one package. She was well read !ike Anne Boleyn and Katherine and she was of a domestic nature as with Jane. She brought his children to court. She improved her education by following theirs. Here Henry shows another rare quality as all three, female and male children, had the best education money could buy. Henry brought in tutors from around Europe to educate them. Katherine was an able Regent as well and yes, she was also a nurse at times. However, she was not a middle aged woman with no looks. She may be 31 but she was an attractive woman who loved fashion. However, she was also passionate about reform and this got her into trouble.

    As Christine says the lady most of the wives knew best was Jane Rochford the wife of George Boleyn, but she gets the worst press. Wolfe Hall had her as the tittle tattle spy for Cromwell and his plant to set up Anne and George. She is shown as the lady who gave false witness against George but there is nothing to support this and yet it comes up all the time. Jane may have been daft to help Katherine Howard find spots to meet her alleged lovers, but she acted on the Queens command and may have felt sorry for her young charge, although she should have known better. However, there is no evidence that she worked with the Duke of Norfolk to plot all of this as in the Private Life of Henry Viii. The evidence mainly shows a discreet but sensible woman, who fell from grace because of the blame game of court political goings on. I would recommend The Raven Widow and the biography by Julia Fox.

    We all have our vision of how these ladies and Henry were and it is often very surprising when we learn something to contradict that, but that is why I love both drama and history and read and research like some mad obsessed maniac because there is always something new to learn and debate.

  10. I was watching a wonderful programme on Tudor cookery and what they would have eaten in a grand household, and what surprised me was the that the lady of the house herself would have made the dessert not trusting her meniel servants to do it, this would often have been a march pane cake, the old term for marzipan and would have been gilded with roses and other decoration and looked beautiful when finished, this particular job would have taken hours and hours as the almonds were grounded till very soft, how her arm must have ached I cannot imagine, but it was a speciality and something only the lady of the house would have done herself, it’s true the ladies were bought up how to run a grand household, they had to be educated that far as to be able to manage the accounts and embroidery was a skill they were taught as well as possibly learning the latest dances from court, if they could play a musical instrument and sing that was a bonus, but their very existence was stifling, they owned nothing themselves and they were deemed their husbands property and they were allowed to beat them if they angered them, born in a mans world their only existence was mapped out for them, raised to be a dutiful daughter then wife, bear children and be a meek and servile wife to her husband, regarding Jane Seymour and wether Henry would have tired of her, she had given him his longed for son and heir so no I doubt he would have put her from him, she could well have given him another prince but Henry I feel would not have been faithful, as we have seen when their wives pregnant it was expected of Kings to indulge in love affairs as it was considered harmful to the child to have sex if the queen was pregnant, and Henry loved a pretty face, he loved Katherine of Aragon and yet had quite a long love affair with Bessie Blount, he grew tired of her only after many years had elapsed and they seemed to drift apart, when she entered the menopause Henry possibly stopped sleeping with her and sadly her looks and figure went, then he fell for Anne and it took him roughly ten years before he tired of her so he could well have been with Jane for many a year in domestic bliss had she not died, but whose to say, i doubt he would have remained faithful though, as we know queens were for the bearing of sons but mistresses were for pleasure…

    1. Yes indeed the march pane cake was very popular. The mistress was very much involved in making deserts and in the planning of meals as well as hospitality. They would share and keep secret dishes and preserves that they had made and thus they made recipes and we have some very old ones for chucknies and pickles and many different sauces. These ladies were very inventive. Of course they had fresh fruits from the orchards and veg was only seasonal as it was grown fresh. The mistress had to know which herbs cured what, at precise times of the year, which were dangerous and so on. She had to make arrangements for bread to go to the authorities to be baked, for ice for the ice house, for the animals to be fed and cared for and she often didn’t trust anyone to do certain things. It’s amazing just how many special dishes the lady made herself. Those programs are wonderful with the way they look at how they cooked and invented fascinating dishes in old households. The march pane you saw with the roses and gilt sounds wonderful. The preparation that went in, wow. The dessert was a special part of the meal and the lady only shared her secret with her daughter or another lady. I found it amazing how they knew how hot the fire had to be at a constant temperature in the oven. The woman also worked in the diary and the profits were hers to keep and hers something new I learned that they knew sunlight cleaned their wooden dishes and buckets. I didn’t know that but some Tudor lady or ordinary woman did. Wow.

      1. They were more knowledgeable in those days in most things than we can ever be, because nothing was there in writing and they had to think, and really think about as you say, Bq about knowing the correct temperature to cook the food and the distilling of the herbs that were made into medicines and so forth, it’s true the Tudor and indeed Stuart and the medieval housewife were not just there to greet guests and make sure the best wines were served, they learnt quite a bit about culinary and domestic things and that’s great, I never knew that about sunlight cleaning their dishes and buckets, sadly they knew nothing of medical and sanitary matters and here the effects were quite alarming as in the many cases of women dying from childbirth, Henrys two queens for eg, both so it’s assumed died after contracting puerperal fever due to lack of sanitation, the women who attended them did not know how crucial it was to have clean hands, for queens they had the laying in chamber and the great fuss they went to to ensure mother and baby were in a safe warm and calming environment with beautiful hangings and a sumptuous bed with furniture and candles etc, yet none of those things mattered, it was cleanliness that was needed, no dirty hands that would have ensured the queen did not get an infection or the baby, instruments disinfected and masks over the mouth like in operating theatres today, no wonder such a lot of the mums died in those days, sadly to say a lot of them could have survived had they known about the need for cleanliness.

        1. Yes, they scrubbed everything around Prince Edward three times a day, scrubbing the walls, everything he touched, but it didn’t occur to them to scrub themselves during his birth, or at least we assume they didn’t, but yes, simply washing your hands and everything would have saved lives. If you are interested in how they did things in Tudor times, Ruth Goodman has done a few shows living as they did, with the Monastery Farm and Life in the Medieval Castle and she has done a book on how the housewife lived. Alison Sims has also written a book called The Tudor Housewife. I highly recommend.

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