As many of you know, here at The Anne Boleyn Files we have been running a competition to commemorate the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution on May 19 1536.
I received 8 entries in all and it was really difficult to decide on one winner but both judges separately and unanimously picked the following article from Emma. Here it is and I think you’ll agree that it really does sum up exactly why Anne Boleyn has captured both our hearts and our minds:-
“Remember me when you do pray
That hope doth lead from day to day”
These words were penned by Anne Boleyn in a Books of Hours which is now located at Hever Castle. How poignant and almost eerie the words seem now. Could Anne have imagined that people almost 500 years later would still find her as fascinating as Henry did? Surely not, but this verse – along with “le temps viendra” (the time will come) written in another book – show that she had every intention of being a force to reckon with, a person who would not fade from memory. How is it that she has maintained her status as one of history’s most interesting women?
Firstly, her character was deep and complex. Although her most commonly referenced traits are her sharp temper and ambition, true history lovers know that is only scratching the surface. In the last ten years of her life, during her highest and lowest moments, every angle of that character was exposed. She was demanding yet giving, strict but playful, a woman who could not be controlled or crossed. In the end, stripped of her title and honor, it was her immense courage which carried her through those dark, final hours. Who among us cannot be inspired by that? Some sources portray Anne as a victim, some portray her as a villain, but the truth is that she was human. Her story may have been larger than life as a queen, but at the core she was not much different than any other woman: a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister. She saw joy and heartbreak, tragedy and triumph. We try to imagine the emotions she felt, perhaps finding a bit of her in ourselves, and this realism binds us to her even today.
Another fascinating aspect of Anne’s story is her physical appearance. Even in the present, unfortunately, judgment of women is frequently based on looks. Despite not having a firm likeness of her, we know from contemporary accounts and varied portraits that while she was attractive in an exotic way, she was not beautiful to the typical standard. Henry was not in love with Anne because of something as superficial as beauty – he was captivated by her grace, wit, intelligence and poise. She was proof of how far women can go by using her brain… how refreshing and empowering!
Ultimately, the answer to the question of why Anne is so fascinating revolves back to the question itself. Why?… We simply don’t know. So much about the time period is unknown and will remain unknown. We can’t be certain what Anne looked like, or precisely when her relationship with Henry began, and when it first began to unravel. Even the year of her birth is a subject for disagreement among historians. Centuries of debate and research has not answered all, and thus her story did not end with the stroke of a sword. We continue to learn and question, year after year, pausing on May 19th to honor a woman who is still a great mystery.
Little could Anne Boleyn have known how many lives she would impact – not just her contemporaries, but for centuries to come. The approximate ten years she spent in the public eye is but a small blip on the historical radar, yet she is one of the most popular, controversial figures of all time.
Anne was a woman before her time, a woman who dared to step outside the boundaries set by the men who ruled. When she jotted down the lines in that Book of Hours, she could not have foreseen just how much people would indeed remember her. And perhaps that is her legacy, along with her daughter Elizabeth I. Henry put out that bright flame, but it has continued to burn for 473 years in the hearts of those of us who admire her so greatly. She gives us pride, and courage, and indeed when we remember her – we find hope.
Please read the blog post below to see what happened on the day of Anne Boleyn’s execution and watch out for further Anne Boleyn Day news.