Anne Boleyn – A Victim?

Posted By on August 4, 2009

Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso List to Hunt

This post is part one of another series of three blogs that I’m going to do on the personality of Anne Boleyn. If you remember, a few weeks ago I did a series of three posts exploring Anne Boleyn The Witch, Anne Boleyn The Great Whore and Anne Boleyn The Martyr, well now I’ve been inspired to explore Anne Boleyn: A Victim, Anne Boleyn: A Homewrecker and Anne Boleyn: Opportunist Career Woman. I become inspired by ideas that other people hold and comments that annoy me!

So, today we look at Anne Boleyn as a victim.

Well, Anne Boleyn was definitely a victim, there’s no denying that. She was a victim because:-

  • Thomas Cromwell conspired against her with the help of Chapuys and the Catholic faction.
  • She did not receive a fair trial and in fact her executioner must have been ordered prior to her trial, so her guilt was already established and it did not matter what evidence she produced to contest it.
  • Her words and normal behaviour as Queen (courtly love) were twisted and used against her.
  • Her husband’s fears and paranoia were fed by a very clever Cromwell.
  • One of her trusted ladies began an affair with the King – Jane Seymour.
  • She was executed as a woman innocent of all charges.

Historian and author Karen Lindsey, writer of “Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII” goes one step further and asks whether Anne Boleyn was actually a victim of sexual harassment. Lindsey talks of the King’s infatuation with Anne and states that the fact that he wrote her 17 letters, when he hated writing letters, is evidence of this infatuation and obsession. Lindsey also points out that Henry complains in his letters about Anne not replying and that this could only have been for one reason: that Anne did not return his interest but that she could not openly reject a king. However, Anne’s strategy did not work and Henry continued to bombard her with letters. Lindsey points out that:

“Today, Henry’s approach to Anne would be instantly identifiable as sexual harassment. Anne however, had no social or legal recourse against a the man who ruled the country. She continued, as so many women before and since have done, to dodge her pursuer’s advances while sparing his feelings. It didn’t work.”

Henry VIII carried on his obsession with Anne, offering to make her his one and only mistress, which Anne did not want, and Lindsey believes that it is clear that Anne did not want the King and instead wanted a normal life and a normal marriage. Lindsey describes what she believes Anne’s position was:

“It was a hellish position. Could she really tell the king to his face that she had no interest in him? She could reiterate her desire to keep her chastity and her honor, but clearly he didn’t respect that. She could ignore his letters and stay away from court, but he refused to take the hint. To offer him the outright insult he asked for would be to risk not only her own but her father’s and brother’s careers at court. She undoubtedly kept hoping he would tire of the chase and transfer his attentions to some newer lady-in-waiting.

But he didn’t and she was trapped: there was no chance of her making a good marriage when every eligible nobleman knew the king wanted her. She began to realize she would have to give in. [as Wyatt wrote in his poem ‘Whoso list to hunt’] ‘Nole me tangere, for Caesar’s I am”.

Virtually every account of Anne’s story cites the poem, yet its central image is ignored. Anne was a creature being hunted, and hunted by the king — like the buck he had killed and so proudly sent to her. There could be no refuge from the royal assault; no one would risk protecting her from Henry’s chase. She could run, hide, dodge for a time, but the royal hunter would eventually track down his prey. And he would destroy her. The hunt was not an archaic metaphor in sixteenth century life, it was a vivid integral part of that life and everyone knew what happened to the wild creature at the end.”

Was Anne Boleyn really like the deer in Wyatt’s poem? Was she really a woman with no choice but to give in to an all powerful King?

It’s hard to say when we can’t get into Anne’s head and there are no journals or accounts from Anne herself. Lindsey believes that Anne was intelligent enough to turn the situation to her advantage and to allow herself to “become captured on her own terms” and, like Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, to resist the King’s advances and become a Queen.

Lindsey does make a very interesting hypothesis on Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne, and it is easy to believe that Henry was totally obsessed with Anne and that he put an incredible amount of pressure on her. However, I like to believe that their relationship was a meeting of minds and was actually a relationship based on love, passion and mutual respect. Although Anne may have started off being sexually harassed by the King, I think that she did fall in love with this man who had so much in common with her and that her resisiting him was more an attempt to protect her virtue and reputation, rather than a game or strategy.

What do you think? Was Anne a victim? Was she just another pawn used by Henry VIII? Did she suffer as a victim of sexual harassment and have no other choice but to give in to the King?

Comment here to give your opinions or join our discussion in the forum – see

You can read Thomas Wyatt’s poem, “Whoso List to Hunt”, on the Anne Boleyn Poems page and you can order Karen Lindsey’s book at on our special Anne Boleyn Files Amazon US Store or Anne Boleyn Files UK Store.

P.S. The release date of Philippa Gregory’s “The White Queen” is only 2 weeks away! I will be publishing my review of it on The Anne Boleyn Files special Tudor book review site, but, for now, I’ve put some videos on there to whet your appetite! See for more details.