The academic life of Anne Boleyn by Mickey Mayhew

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 wh*res 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 ‘sl*t-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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