In the Epilogue of his book “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions”, G W Bernard discusses women who see Anne Boleyn as a role model. He quotes a poster on a website as saying “I believe it’s something we girls should learn from; we should not sulk when things don’t go our way, we should change it” and then says:-
“With those admirable sentiments on how to live a life, I have no quarrel at all. But I do question the use of men and women from the past, indeed the present, as role models of that sort. Much better to work out what to do in its own terms; and important to remember that most men and women are mixtures of good qualities and not-so-good qualities. Models are not necessary…. Men and women should not need to study the life of Anne Boleyn, or modern ‘celebrities’, to learn that if you do not like your lot in life, you should do what you can to improve it.”
Now, of course it is better to make our own way in life and to be responsible for our own decisions, BUT, isn’t it human nature to have role models and idols, people we admire and look up to, people whose lives are an inspiration to us? Parenting and education websites are full of articles on making sure that your children have positive role models in their lives because it is a fact that children are influenced by their elders, whether it is people they come into contact with or people they see on TV. This is why many schools have mentoring programmes, matching children with adults who are successful in their field of interest. There are bad role models and good role models and we are urged to ensure that we are positive role models to our children and that we police what they watch on TV, what they read and the people that they come into contact with.
As we grow up, our role models may change but we still have role models to inspire and motivate us. Athletes are inspired by their sporting heroes, they are motivated to try harder to achieve; entrepreneurs are inspired by people who have gone from rags to riches; would-be authors are inspired by the literary giants, by people like J K Rowling whose first Harry Potter manuscript got rejection after rejection from publishers, children love super-heroes… Do you catch my drift? I don’t see having a role model as harmful in any way, not unless we live every second of our lives asking ourselves “What would so-and-so do?” or becoming completely obsessed by a person and having no life outside of our obsession (says the woman who spends countless hours knee deep in Tudor history!).
I obviously spend time reading people’s comments on The Anne Boleyn Files, in the forum, on our Facebook page and surfing the worldwide web, and there are many people who see Anne Boleyn as a role model or who have been inspired by her life and story. Is that dangerous? Are they being ridiculous? No, I don’t believe so. Why is it bad to learn from someone else’s experience? Why is it so wrong to admire a historical character’s achievements? I don’t think it is. I read the accounts of Anne Boleyn’s execution and I cannot help but admire her dignity, her courage and her strong faith in the face of such brutality. To me, she is an example of a woman who was secure in her beliefs and her faith in God and I find that admirable and I find it an inspiration. This does not mean that I cannot see her faults. Aren’t our role models an encouragement because we can relate to them? They are not perfect, they have their flaws but they have done something with their lives. Isn’t that what motivates us and inspires us?
So, I would say that role models are in fact necessary and it is the fact that “most men and women are mixtures of good qualities and not-so-good qualities” that helps us. I believe it is actually perfectly healthy and normal to have positive role models.
G W Bernard rules Anne Boleyn out as a potential role model to people today because “Anne lived too long ago, and her circumstances were so extraordinary, that they can have little bearing on the lives we lead today”, but people are people whatever time they live in.
What do you think? Is Anne Boleyn a role model to you? Has she inspired you or motivated you? Or do you think it is dangerous to have historical characters as role models? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
- Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions, G W Bernard, p194-195