Was Anne Boleyn Nice?
Posted By Claire on October 21, 2013
My old English literature teacher would be appalled by that question, not because she had any strong opinion about Anne but because she hated the word “nice” with a vengeance. She viewed it as weak and inadequate, a word that just didn’t describe anything properly. However, this question is one I get asked on a regular basis and the word “nice” is always used.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, “nice”, when used to describe a person, means ” good-natured; kind”.1 Can we describe someone we don’t know from 500 years ago as “good-natured” or “kind”, or even the opposite: “nasty” or “spiteful”?
I don’t believe so.
As Professor Eric Ives wrote, even “historians see through a glass darkly; they know in part and they pronounce in part” and “What Anne really was, as distinct from what Anne did, comes over very much less clearly.”2 We can only judge Anne Boleyn from primary sources, but this evidence does not give us a clear picture of her. How can we judge someone’s personality on actions and words recorded in documents when we don’t know what else they said or did? The Anne of the sources is a conundrum:
“To us she appears inconsistent – religious yet aggressive, calculating yet emotional, with the light touch of the courtier yet the strong grip of the politician – but is this what she was, or merely what we strain to see through the opacity of the evidence? As for her inner life, short of miraculous cache of new material, we shall never really know.”3
In our hunt for the real Anne Boleyn, we are limited by evidence and also by the bias and opinions of those writing that evidence. No description of Anne’s personality is objective, it is someone’s opinion of her based on their experience of her. You and I might meet the same woman and come away with completely different opinions of her. She may be in a good mood when I meet her but then her mood has changed when you meet her and she comes across completely differently. I’d describe her a pleasant and good-natured, you’d describe her as moody and unfriendly. Neither of us is right or wrong, we’re just making a snap judgement on our limited experience of that woman.
To some, Anne Boleyn is a saint or martyr, to others she is a whore and bitch, and both points of view can be argued and backed up with evidence. Those who see her as a saint might back up their view with the work of martyrologist John Foxe who viewed Anne as a martyr of the Reformation, a “zealous defender” of the Gospel and a “bountiful” helper of the poor.4 George Wyatt,5 grandson of Thomas Wyatt, and William Latymer,6 Anne’s chaplain, also wrote of Anne’s generosity and the way she helped those less fortunate than herself – see Anne Boleyn and Charity, so if we relied on those sources alone we would view Anne as a pious and generous woman who went out of her way to help people. Those who view Anne as a whore and bitch, might back up their view with the letters of Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, who referred to Anne Boleyn as “the concubine” and “putain” (whore) and who wrote of Anne stating “that she wished all Spaniards were at the bottom of the sea” and “that she did not care anything for the Queen, and would rather see her hanged than acknowledge her as her mistress.”7 Can one woman be kind and giving, but also spiteful and hot-tempered? Of course she can!
Anne Boleyn was a real person. She is not the product of fiction, she is not some super-heroine to put on a pedestal, she was a real woman with gifts, talents and positive personality traits, but also character flaws. She accomplished so much but she also made mistakes. Anne was loving and giving, she stepped in and helped people in dire straits, but she also encouraged the ill-treatment of Catherine of Aragon and Mary. I expect she was fiercely loyal and loving to her family and friends, yet quite probably rejoiced in the fall of those she saw as her enemies. She was human and, like all of us, she was a complex person who showed different sides of her nature to different people.
We like to sort people into goodies and baddies, it’s human nature:
- Henry VIII the tyrant versus Henry VIII virtuous prince.
- Jane Seymour the meek and mild versus Jane the plotting woman who stole Henry from Anne and danced on her grave.
- Henry VII the goodie saving England from Richard III the baddie, versus Henry VII the usurper and Richard III the King who was wronged.
- Thomas More the Saint and family man versus the More who delighted in burning reformers.
We even do it with modern day celebrities, politicians and leaders. But people don’t fit neatly into little boxes, pigeon holes or labels, do they? Is it so difficult to realise that nobody is all bad or all good? Can’t we see that it’s impossible to judge people when sources are limited and biased, and we have little or no understanding of the times they lived in? Goodies and baddies belong in cartoons, not history or real life, and even writers of fiction need to give their characters different facets, otherwise they are not believable.
Eric Ives concluded his biography of Anne Boleyn by writing of the woman he had researched for decades:
“Yet what does come to us across the centuries is the impression of a person who is strangely appealing to the early twenty-first century. A woman in her own right – taken on her own terms in a man’s world; a woman who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex; of only moderate good looks, but taking a court and a king by storm. Perhaps, in the end, it is Thomas Cromwell’s assessment that comes nearest: intelligence, spirit and courage.”8
That idea of Anne will resonate with many people reading this article, but others will see her differently. What fascinates me about her will be different to what fascinates you, and that’s fine, just remember that she wasn’t the perfect woman but she also was not the devil incarnate.
Notes and Sources
- Ives, Eric. (2005) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. New ed. Wiley-Blackwell, p359
- Foxe, John. (1851) Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Acts and Monuments of the Church in Three Volumes, Vol. II, London, George Virtue
- Wyatt, George The Life of Queen Anne Boleigne in Cavendish, George. (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Volume 2. Samuel Weller Singer
- ed. Dowling, Maria (1990) William Latymer’s Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne, Camden Miscellany XXX 39
- LP v. 24
- Ives, p359
144 thoughts on “Was Anne Boleyn Nice?”
What a pointless and redundant article. We can form our own opinions of Anne Boleyn. We will never know who she was, nor can we ever. Maybe instead of asking such trivial questions and rehashing the same nonsense about the Other Boleyn Girl vs. more favourable portrayals, we could focus on more important questions involving religion, politics, and culture which actually use concrete evidence.
I doubt anyone cares if Anne Boleyn was ‘nice’.
You’re obviously entitled to your opinion, but I don’t think it’s a pointless article when it is something I am asked on a regular basis.
If you browse this site, you will see that I have done many articles on topics like Anne’s faith, the Reformation, the politics of her fall etc. My articles are inspired by what people want to know, what people ask me, and I think that’s a good thing to do rather than just writing articles I want to write.
Well I don’t see it pointless, I think most people when reading about historical figures, have in mind adjectives as “nice”, “bad”, “obstinate” etc regarding the treats that are more appealing or that they reject more and we want to know more and more about them, make them more “real”, more human, even closer to us than they are in documents etc
Was Anne nice? probably she was with the people she loved , sometimes out of interest sometimes out of good heart (like 99% of the human race), though I don’t think is the precise word of “defining” Anne Boleyn – I would say intense more than nice, and somehow extreme, but is just my vision
Yes, I think it’s natural for us to want to sort and categorize people, but we just can’t. We’ve stereotyped all of Henry’s wives and even Henry himself and it’s shame because some people just can’t get past the labels.
As a direct descendant of Queen Anne, I feel you did a wonderful job in your description of her nature. What you wrote was as factual as we can get, being that so much time has passed since her rein. I thank you for your personal hard work and research into her life. Regardless of her nasty disposition or innocence, she was still the Queen and should be repected as such. Thank you!
I’m sorry but the more I think about it the more I see your comment as quite rude and uncalled for.
I agree Claire, this comment is quite rude. However, please bear in mind that there are those of us that find this article quite interesting. I appreciate the time you put into writing various, diverse and well supported articles about Anne Boleyn. After all, if the title does not appeal to you, don’t read it.
Claire, don’t give too much thought on it, really
Some of us are interested some other aren’t, and as Laura said, if you’re not interested, don’t read it
BTW being written, we miss lot of communication so let’s try to be as neutral as can be to avoid hurting feelings when there’s no need for that
Thanks, Laura, I normally just let things go over my head but I am finding that some comments are getting rude and unfriendly at the moment. There are people from all walks of life and at all stages of knowledge who use this site, from primary school children to academics, and I want to write a wide range of articles that answer people’s questions. I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t get asked it.
My comment re being rude, by the way, was aimed at Dorian, I think there are nice ways of saying you don’t agree with the premise of an article or you can ignore it.
I know Claire, sorry if I didn’t express myself properly (it was addressed to him too)
You were fine, I just wanted to make it clear who I was responding to. Thanks!
Totally uncool. Shame on her. That comment by Dorian just totally jumped out and I dropped my jaw. What disrespect to someone who deseves the utmost respect than you, Claire!!! Ugh.
Totally agree Claire! You write what you want and what you see people are interested in. If that rude person doesn’t like what you write and post I assume they are more than welcome to no longer review your site!
A wonderful little tidbit as always. I have NEVER found ANY of your articles pointless or redundant! And I read every email that comes to my inbox. I haven’t read all the responses to this yet, but I’m going to NOT be nice when I say screw whoever that is, and if they don’t like your writing or articles, to either keep their negativity to themselves, or write you a private email as to not seem pointless and redundant themselves! Or even better, to stay off your wonderful site that I truly always reading. And some articles I have read several times over. Keep up your wonderful work Claire!
I think you are quite right to be offended, by the tone of Dorian’s entry. I wonder what he was doing on a site dedicated to an individual historic personality? If he has no interest in Anne why go to her site and then place an aggressive, impolite comment? Why not just say nothing if he does not find in interesting?
On another note, I was watching the British version of The Antiques Roadshow on TV this week and saw 2 episodes that were located in Hever Castle. I was there a few years ago and blessed by a gorgeous Summer’s’ day, was able to enjoy one of the best days that I can recall, I would heartily recommend a trip to Hever for any of your followers, is is a lovely place and because it is not a huge location allows you to spend several hours enjoying it and also relaxing.
Great article Claire! I don’t think it’s pointless at all when you consider the ridiculous comments you see on the web about how wonderful Anne is or how nasty she was. People make snap judgements and it’s the same with Jane Seymour. She was a cow because she stole Henry or she was lovely because she tried to reunite Henry and his kids. Blah blah blah. People act as if they know Henry’s wives personally.
Anne has been ill-served by historical records. Henry was so spiteful and self indulgent that as powerfulm as he was it’s doubtful if ever anyone really stood up to him. He methode of solution was simple- murder them(under the guise of the more politically safe “execute”.)
Anne’s ‘niceness’ or not is in the mist of time passed difficult to assess. I disagee with the oft = expressed opiion that she was calculating and set out to win a King and also was mean to Katherine of Aragon. I think Anne really did not care for Henry to much to begin with, I don’t think she was plaing a game f how to win Henry and become Queen. I think that developed over time. Anne’ detractors and more easily found than those that took her part. Who would go down on record at the time on her behalf when to do so could easily lead to one’s on death? I think that when Anne, at the end, expressed her regret that others(those accused with her) were to lose their lives (so that Henry could satisfy his wishes) she was brave and considerate. I think Anne was in some respects ahead of her time. I like and admire her.
I disagree with you and wonder why you are so agressive in your reaction. Many find histoiical personalities more interesting than politics, religion and culture. You’re entitiled to pursue what you find interesting , why not “live and let live” for those of us -who find the Characters of History more interesting than the policies and procedures?
Thank you, Alan, I like to put a variety of posts – various styles, topics etc. – on here and I know that there’s no way that I can please everyone all at the same time.
I disagree with you and wonder why you are so agressive in your reaction. Many find histoiical personalities more interesting than politics, religion and culture. You’re entitiled to pursue what you find interesting , why not “live and let live” for those of us -who find the Characters of History more interesting than the policies and procedures?
Read more: https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyn-nice/#ixzz2iNKHJhrs
Yes, what an inappropriate remark from Dorian. Sorry, but that sounds like something a troll would write. Maybe D. should start his own blog if he feels so strongly about it all. Sheesh! 😛
By the way… many many thanks, Claire, for continuing to write such interesting articles! You’re a treasure! 🙂
What a pointless and ill-thought-out post! Of course we can all form our own opinions, but those of us with open minds are also open to other opinions and healthy debate. Claire, I enjoyed this post. Sometimes those of us who get caught up in our own opinions of a person need reminding that no one fits into an simple category. For instance, Dorian is probably not a self-important arse who views religions and politics as the only issues worth exploring in history, it is simply the category I currently find most appropriate for him/her. Please keep the articles coming on what I have always considered one of the most fascinating women in English history.
I’m a few days late on reading this article, but FYI, you’re assuming that just because you may have found the article redundant, doesn’t mean the rest of us do. I, for one, am really interested in Anne’s personality. Just because you couldn’t care less about her personality doesn’t mean that you have to be a complete [Edited]. Claire has researched for years to educate us about Anne. This site has taught me so much and I appreciate all of the work that she has done.
My assessment of your personality is that you’re an [Edited].
(I’m sorry for my language, Claire, but I’m quite blunt to rude people. I love this site and appreciate all the hard work you do to make information available to the world.)
Thank you, Elise, I really do appreciate the support and encouragement but I cannot condone name-calling and don’t want to spark off a huge argument on here. I really do understand where you’re coming from, as obviously I found Dorian’s remark rude and unhelpful, but I really need to keep the peace here. I hope you understand. Thank you.
We are all entitled to opinions but some people just don’t know how to word them !! Why be so bloody rude it un called for I love your articles Clair your hard work is very much appreciated and has certainly broadened my out look thank u so much !!!
I can’t believe how off base Dorian’s comment is. Whether Ann Boylen was nice or not is exactly what I am interested in. It is also a much tougher question to answer so I appreciate articles such as this one that offer up some well-researched answers. It also makes me so happy to find others that are mystified and wonder about the same things in such the same way as I do, thank you.
You know, I think it’s the same of any Royal. We don’t know them at all. Take Princess Diana. To some she was a saint and a wonderful lady, to others she was manipulative
and publicity seeking. We have to judge people on how we find them, so it would be impossible to answer that question because we’ve never met her. We can only like or dislike Anne on our opinions, but we’ll never know her.
I agree with you about Princess Diane: I am sure she had a lovely side and did a lot to help people. Her public image hid her other side, but that was shaped by an unhappy marriage and her sad lack of love from her royal in laws. We can never really know the real Diana but I believe she had a good heart and did her best to please a lot of stuffy people who could not be pleased. I do not believe she was a saint, bless her, but she did have a generous and good heart and she got hurt by those who should have supported her and loved and accepted her. When she looked for love elsewhere it was not to be and she became depressed. I also feel that Anne went through too much stress and showed signs of anxiety and depression and may even have turned to drink as a comfort. There are reports of her behaviour being odd and erratic and I am not surprised. Henry was mistreating her at this stage in her life and she felt alone and betrayed. She, like Catherine before her was being used for one purpose: to produce an heir. You could see some of this in the marriage of Charles and Dianna. Anyone who marries into the royal family is going to be under tremendous pressure especially if they have not been born to this themselves. We cannot really know Anne, but we can prize some of the information from sources and historic documents and expert assessment. I am sure she may not have been nice; but there must have been some good points or she would not have been attractive. One thing that she was described at was whitty and gay and intelligent (that is three) and that was what caught Henry’s eye. She stood out in the pagent and must have had something the other ladies did not have. I would describe icecream as nice: not Anne; she is too complex to be merely nice.
Yes, Diana was another of those polarizing characters. She’s another who people either like to put on a pedestal or tear down.
I think a more apt comparison to Anne would be Camilla, the woman who unseated the “saintly” princess. People denigrate her for her role in Charles and Diana’s divorce and she’s generally perceived as a villain rather than a multi-faceted human being. I’ve always thought Diana was a young romantic who married a man she was in love with and who she thought was in love with her. And I think the reality of the situation pretty much changed who she was before her personality was fully formed. For a young, sheltered idealist to so publicly have her ideals shattered must be a horribly transformative experience. I rather admire the way she handled things. She came out looking like a saint whether she was one or not. Pretty nifty PR work if you ask me!
Before commenting seriously on this article which was pointless although looking at her character may be a useful exercise. An entire council of psycho people could not guess the real person from 500 years ago, but I am sure nice would not be the first thing coming to mind with either Henry or Anne. I was also taught not to use the word to describe even lovely things or people as in the 70s it was considered weak and stunted a persons vocab. Well a better word for Anne would be forthright. She seemed to know what she wanted and went after it and not with the best results for those around her. But that is Anne. More later after more reading and analysis.
“More later after more reading and analysis” and yet you see this article as pointless without bothering to read it properly and see that Claire is making the exact points you’re making. “An entire council of psycho people could not guess the real person from 500 years ago”, I think that was the point Claire was making. Why be so rude? Don’t bother reading it if you see it as pointless.
Obviously BanditQueen is entitled to her own opinions, but if the subject is good enough for Eric Ives to discuss in his book and for Hilary Mantel to discuss in a newspaper article then it’s good enough for me. As I said in another comment, this is a question I get asked all the time and I will respond to questions and answer them, however banal others see them. This is a website for lots of different visitors and I won’t write “high brow” articles all the time, I will look at the more simple questions and, actually, they turn out to be the hardest to answer.
Very good article; pointless not the right way to describe… sorry, must have been thinking of the title; having read; gives me cause for thought and in context of a wider debate on her charactor and if she was badly done to by history; first class posting.
Lyn-Marie (p.s love all the different articles on this site; do not like sites that are too over the top for academics as they put off the wider audiances. Feel welcome on this site; even as an academic.
Thank you, Lyn-Marie, that’s kind of you to say. I like writing a variety anyway as it’s good for me to mix things up a bit. I’m glad you feel welcome here, I want everyone to feel that way and I enjoy the debates that happen here.
I find your comment very rude actually: you need to read the rest of what I wrote and I was not the first one to call it pointless! The title sounded pointless; not the article! I have read it fully and I think that you will find that my later comments are both fair and rounded unlike your personal attack which I consider to be totally pointless!
The above response is aimed at TudorHistorian in response to their personal attack on my post; made before even reading my latter posts. It is not aimed at anyone else and I am sorry if it comes over very strong; but I am fed up with some of the personal attacks made by certain members on this site. The article is good when you read it and TudorHistorian your personal attacks are uncalled for.
BanditQueen, I’m sorry if you feel that you are being personally attacked on this site. I stepped in yesterday on a thread which had become rather heated between you and a couple of others, but I have not been made aware of any other instances. I would prefer for people to contact me if they feel attacked rather than keeping it to themselves and becoming fed up or upset, so please do let me know when it happens. I think discussions can become heated when people feel so strongly about things but I would hope that people here can keep things civil and friendly, and disagree without making things personal. I love the debates that happen here.
We weren’t allowed to use the word in any of our English literature work so I always cringe when it’s used today!
If you look carefully at my comment you will see that I made it five minutes after your comment in which you said “Before commenting seriously on this article which was pointless”. That was the only comment you had made at that point but I am so pleased that you then went on to read the article in its entirety and then make a more appropriate informed comment.
My comment was in no way a personal attack. I said “Why be so rude? Don’t bother reading it if you see it as pointless” and that is neither attacking nor bullying. I have been lurking on this site for some time now and have to say that your usual comments are much more aggressive than my one comment. I did find your comment rude and it caused me to stop lurking and say something for once. Perhaps you don’t like it when people disagree with you.
Thank you for your comment, TudorHistorian, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. However, I think it’s now time to move on so that people don’t get any more angry or upset. I hope you understand.
Thank you; Claire; I was feeling a bit upset in any event yesterday and I do not like people who tell others to get off the site if they do not find things as interesting as they do; really got my goat up, whether aimed at me or other people; everyone has the right to be on this site. As said later on after I had read the article properly it was food for thought and a good article and a good debate. I was also reading last night Joanne Denny who raises the side of Anne that promotes her reformed religion and influence and found that a positive way of also assessing her character. I think Anne would have been an interesting person to meet actually; a little forward for the time, but I like self assured people and Anne comes across as self assured. Then after her marriage during part of 1535 she went through a crisis of personality with fears for her safety and also for her daughter. She was restricted in her movements and had cause to be suspicious of Henry reversing his reasons for marrying her. It must have been a dark time for her; poor lass. However, whatever was happening; by the Summer it is clear that Anne and Henry were close again during the Progress and Anne was pregnant by the end of the progress: the early Autumn (October or November) as the child was said to be the appearence of about three to four months; if the feotus was indeed examined after Anne’s tragic and fatal miscarriage of January 1536. Anne had to be strong of charater to cope with all these changes and it is to be expected that she raises passions today.
Thank you for your support. I will attempt to ignore any silly attacks in future from people who just want to argue and not debate with sense.
Everyone is welcome here, whatever their opinions.
I haven’t read Denny’s book for a few years but the trouble I had with it is that it was rather too pro-Anne, if you know what I mean. It was good to read a positive depiction of Thomas Boleyn, though.
I really feel for Anne. With the marriage being based on love she must have struggled with whether to stay true to her character, and be the woman Henry fell in love with, or to become more submissive and mild-mannered. It’s hard to know whether Henry expected her to change, but then he would have bored of her if she had, I expect. I think she was stuck, whatever she did wasn’t right. Then to see Henry’s eyes wondering and to know what that could lead to… very sad.
What one person may regard as pointless and redundant doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of us think so! I think your comments are pointless but wouldn’t normally be so rude as to say so.
“We all know that people are the same wherever you go. There is good and bad in everyone.” – “Ebony and Ivory”, by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder 🙂
I do love that song.
Was Anne ever able to express her natural personally? Seems to me that in the situation she found herself, she probably spent a lot of time in an emotional state flying from one state to another.
Is it a pointless article? Not in my opinion… No one has any problems in discussing Catherine’s piety, Jane’s meekness, Kathryn’s naïveté or Catherine’s patience.
If ur not interested in the subject matter of a particular article then fine, no need to savage the author though
Yes, we do have to take into account that her behaviour round people who were seeing her on state occasions etc. would have been very different to that which she showed in private.
Claire I thought it was a very well written article and you made your point. I have been around celebrities for many years now and there is one who everytime I am around her she has been rude and mean, yet I know some people who love and adore her because she is not that way around them!
We definitely do show different sides of our character to different people and the general public like to judge celebrities on what the media says about them. It’s horrible.
I think these articles could entice us to read more and deeper into history figures
And you see? About Catalina de Aragon, everybody talks about piety, however, is not the word I would use to describe her , nor as I would use “nice” for Anne
So Claire, keep on writing
I think those who deride this post as “pointless” are missing the point of the article. As for the word “nice,” it must have some value or it would have passed out of usage.
Thanks, Susan, and perhaps I should have tried that reasoning on my English teacher!
As a mental health professional, I am always more interested in character than in policy. But, I would like to give a shout our to Susan Higgenbottham. In her new novel about Lady Jane Grey, ‘Her Highness the Traitor,’ Anne makes a cameo appearance and Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland says something to the effect that: ‘I know others may have bad things to say about her, but she was never anything but kind to me.’ I have lent my copy to someone so I can’t find the exact quote. Thanks, Susan.
At this distance in time no one can really say if Anne Boleyn was nice or otherwise. What we can be certain of is she changed the English, British and European way of life for ever.
Lots of comments, Claire, so I think that proves that it’s an article people are interested in. Don’t let people get you down.
I do think speculating about Anne’s personality is interesting, especially considering how she navigated through her 16th century world. She was faced with continuous challenges, and isn’t often credited for many of her accomplishments.
There is proof that she was “nice,” by our standards, there is also evidence that she could be quite awful. She probably wasn’t all that different from any one of us, so understanding that makes her story even more heart wrenching.
I’ve always felt that her flaws made her all the more interesting. The way she seems to have lashed out in frustration and the hysteria that we see when she’s taken to the Tower make her so human.
I don’t think that the article was pointless, either. I don’t know if “nice” would be the first word I would use to describe Anne, but since I never knew her and have to depend on primary (and secondary) sources, I could be wrong. I’ve always admired her for going after what she wanted and not letting Henry push her around like he did to so many others. In addition to Anne and Princess Diana, Hillary Clinton is another strong woman who is either loved or hated by people who don’t really know her.
Yes, “nice” just doesn’t seem to fit Anne. It makes me think of pretty little girls dressed in pink for some reason!
It is strong women who seem to cause these over-the-top reactions of either love/worship or hate.
Claire, though your post is the most basic psychology the number of times this question is asked about Anne Boleyn clearly shows that your cautionary reminder is relevant and appropriate. When considering the Boleyns, an additional factor is at work. As the saying goes, most people will forgive anything they can understand, which makes intelligence the only unforgivable crime. Thomas Boleyn and at least two of his children, perhaps the whole family, were cultured intellectuals, people with attitudes more adept and complex than most, and this in an era where verbal richness was approaching its high point. This doesn’t account for all the criticisms of Anne of course, but people who are more mentally agile than others are often disliked and distrusted, especially when they don’t suffer fools gladly. Another example of such a person is probably John of Gaunt, whose power and wealth might have been far more excused by his contemporaries had be been bluff and dense. Interesting that both Gaunt and Anne Boleyn, emphatically unpopular with the “general audiences” of their own times, have been romanticized by later generations. Something comes through the fog of time that ignites the imaginations of people who have some spark of their own capable of catching imaginative fire!
Thank you, Beth, and I think you’re right, some people do resent intelligent people and some intelligent people, as you say, don’t suffer fools gladly. The Boleyns rubbed people up the wrong way in their lifetimes and still seem to do so today. I hadn’t thought about John of Gaunt, but you’re right!
I forgot to say that I also agree with you about how historical characters are romanticised by later generations. Look at Richard III for example.
I always think of the word nice as a synonym for appealing. In that context we can say yes! She captured Henrys heart. She made good impressions on many, some in spite of their determination to perceive otherwise. Nice in the view of sweet and innocent maybe not so much, however she is a nice subject to research and read about. Keep up the good work.
“Appealing”, yes, definitely. She made enemies but she also won many hearts, including Henry’s. When I read William Latymer’s chronicle about her, I don’t believe his words in praise of her are just propaganda or written to please Elizabeth I, I read sincerity in them. She appears to have had a big heart for the poor and needy.
If there are any “adequate” adjectives to describe Anne- or for that matter- Henry- I feel that “complex” would best suit. Anne was certainly a woman who wasn’t afraid to state her opinions, issue directives, or show her emotions. I think that is what draws me the most to her. We have only contemporaries upon which to rely for a characterization of Anne within the confines of the world in which she lived…the true tragedy is that Henry had so much of Anne’s writing, portraits, personal belongings, etc destroyed in order to erase her from his life. After Anne’s death, the mere mention of her name (if one dared) and the rewriting of her history, were contemptible variations of Henry’s “truth” pertaining to Anne. How sad that Elizabeth had to grow up hearing of her mother as a “monster”, an “abhorrent” to woman-kind.
With this in mind, I find any article attempting to define Anne’s characteristics to be vastly fascinating. We draw our own pictures of Anne from our imaginations, our sense of what we would have done or been like in the similar situations, our own sense of self.
Thank you for continuing to allow our knowledge of Tudor History, and especially Anne Boleyn, the opportunity to grow by featuring the many guest writers that you do.
“Complex” id definitely very apt.
I like to think that the Boleyn relatives Elizabeth surrounded herself with were able to tell Elizabeth stories about her mother and keep her mother’s memory alive and counteract the bad things that Elizabeth would have heard.
Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoy the site.
I believe that Anne was her Daddy’s little girl. Isn’t he the one who sent her abroad as a young girl to learn languages and to adapt to court life. He must have had his reasons for that.
I wonder if Thomas saw a “spark” in his daughter, whether she was precocious. He definitely gave her an amazing opportunity.
What I love about this site is how I can indulge in my fascination with Anne and the Tudors without the historical snobbery that is always present elsewhere. I think on a site called ‘The Anne Boleyn files’ Anne’s personality will be discussed at some point.
I’m sure if we had our own personalities dissected like we do Anne’s we would come off good bad beautiful ugly saint and sinner.
Keep up the great work.
Thank you, Gemmalou, I’m glad to hear that you enjoy using the site.
This is an older post, but I loved it! And I use this site frequently when I’m curious about an individual from this dynasty. I could curl up and read for hours! Thank you for your work and dedication!
This is far from pointless, yes I know history was in the past ”it doesn’t matter anymore” yada-yada, but I’m certainly one of those people who find it all interesting. You must be a pretty pointless person.
Thank you for this article. I am currently teaching a research unit for my students and much of what you say is valid for them. Primary sources are wonderful, but they are colored by the views of the writer. So often we wonder what someone in history was really like–would I be this person’s friend, etc, but we can never know just from what others have written. Oh to find Anne’s diary!
I don’t think any primary source can be unbiased, we are all human and everything we write is coloured by our experience and our views. I think it’s also hard for us to get inside the heads of a 16th century person. We see Mary I as brutal, as “Bloody Mary”, whereas she saw herself as doing God’s work and saving people. Henry VIII would probably be shocked by our views of him too.
Yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful to find a diary!
Great article, but IMO, the problem with a one word characterization isn’t just the passage of time, but also the different points of view about Anne held at the time. We have records, for example, showing that Anne was extraordinarily charitable; the recipients would probably have a different view about Anne being “nice” than would Catherine of Aragon or Mary.
Good point, Esther. People like Nicholas Bourbon, the reformer rescued by Anne, would have seen her as a real heroine, whereas Catherine of Aragon saw her as the “scandal of christendom”.
I liked this ‘nice’ article and felt it was a good reminder (which I think we need as human beings) about not stereotyping or pigeon-holing folks. I know I’m guilty of reducing people to my impressions but we are all so much more than that. Anne is fascinating, complex and not easily captured in one word or a thousand. Thanks Claire!
I’ve been researching the Boleyns full time for over four years now and still feel that they’re shadowy and beyond my reach. I’d love to know exactly what they were like!
I agree that Claire’s article was interesting and well informed. What we as modern women fail to understand is that Anne had no choice but to act the way she did. In those times, if the King wanted you, the King had you (or at least your head.) Also, women in those days had no rights of their own. You simiply did what the patriarch of the family said. What Anne did in urging Henry to reform the Church of England was truly remarkable.
Everything I have read about Anne indicates that rather than nice, she had spirit, wit and courage. I have always believed that Anne had to do the courage to do what was best for herself and what she felt she had to do to survive. I’m not sure that even today that would be considered nice; she would probably be considered a b**ch.
Thank you for the article and your website.
Yes, and we have no idea how she felt about what was happening and how she felt about Henry. I think she just had to go with the flow and I truly believe that Henry convinced her that his marriage to Catherihe was not right in God’s eyes and that his relationship with Anne would be right and blessed. I think she then fought for their relationship, for what she believed was right, and could not believe what she saw as Catherine’s disobedience and rebellion.
we all stand before and are judged by the Tribunal of Heaven
I enjoyed the article very much. I think Anne’s contributions to the shaping of the church as we know it have been far overshadowed by those who’ve tried to cast her as a petulant homewrecker. I thoroughly enjoy anything objective and informative on this enigmatic historical figure.
Long story short, you answered the exact question I was thinking today ( because someone had asked me as a matter of fact…)so on that comments logic my friend and I are either really pointless or some peoples comments are… either way the pointless group obviously has more members than the latter! Thanks for answering my question anyway Claire, please post more “pointless” articles soon 😉
Thanks, Emma! What other questions have you heard people ask about Anne or the Boleyns, out of interest?
Mainly what she was “like”and if she was really like a portrayal they had seen of her. In a positive way a lot of people seem to know that there was a lot of false things said about her and her recent increase of coverage in main stream media has made them more curious. I have a “B” necklace but with “E” instead and you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who have stopped me about it in the street and knew it’s historical context. In a gory way, how she died is also popular.
Emma, where did you find that necklace with your initial. I would love to have one with a “T”?!
I have this necklace too in both an “A” as well a “B”.
From here – https://www.etsy.com/transaction/130547760?ref=fb2_tnx_image It’s great, I love it and good customer service too. You’ll never stop wearing it!
Great article! I have always asked myself why have I been so fascinated by Anne Boleyn for so long? Well one was because my history teacher was great in teaching this period but furthermore, Anne is so fascinating and complex and means many things to so many different people that it contributes to her appeal. Whether she was nice, a bitch, an intellectual, husband stealer, reformist and all the other words which have been attributed to her, she continues to fascinate us and consequently her appeal continues. I think you do an amazing job with your articles Claire, I have learnt and continue to learn a great deal from you. So thank you. X
Claire – keep up the great research. What is your view on the movie “Anne of the Thousand Days”.
Anne Boleyn I think was a nice kind and loving person she could just be tempestuous at times but not for no reason. She was witty strong happy polite used good words was articulate and had a sense for fashion she knew how to dress and to look nice.
re: the discussion on nice– “YOU’RE SO NICE
YOU’RE NOT GOOD,
YOU’RE NOT BAD,
YOU’RE JUST NICE.
I’M NOT GOOD
I’M NOT NICE
I’M JUST RIGHT!”–the Witch in Into the Woods (Act II) and “Nice is different than good”–Red Riding Hood, Into the Woods (Act I).
It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask. We tend, as you say, to want nice, simple categories; helps know what side to stand on: good, bad, nice, nasty, etc. And it’s often the 1st thing someone asks before they meet someone: “are they nice?” or what we’re told: “they’re nice.” It’s an introductory phrase to get someone in the mindset, get them on the same side, so I suspect it’s now ingrained to think of things that way. Trifle simplistic and maybe grade-schoolish. And sometimes you just have to state the obvious. Which you did, and very well, too!
I for one, liked the article. I have studied Tudor history for 40 years. Thank you for all your articles, insights and patience with those that are not as appreciative of your hard work.
I agree totally with Jaci’s post and several other comments made by other posters. We will never know if Anne was “nice” as in the time she lived that basic definition was different from today. The “rules” women lived by then formed personalities and others opinions of you leading to the open and inquisitive minds we have today. The lack of her personal cooespondance is such a shame. I think the closest we get to seeng the real Anne and her feelings is in the love letters written between herself and Henry, though those also are limited. Though her ladies were educated I wonder why they were not encouraged to keep ‘journals’ of court experiences ect (for they’re children per say)?
I appreciate and enjoy the articles you post Claire thay appeal to most and with the responses you recieve are either enjoyed or create an excellent forum for learning and discussion. Thanks.
Hello, Claire. Thank you for your article about Anne Boleyn being “Nice”. I think you are right in your opinion that everyone has their own feelings about people in History that lived over 500 years ago. I find it amazing to hear or read other people’s opinions, I read such violent opinions about Anne Boleyn and Richard III and what they believe about them. People seem to get very angry about what they think. I believe that we all need to have open minds about History and to know the facts, I believe that is the most important. After all, We are all Human and as you say, We all have imperfections and good things about ourselves. I have only good opinions of her from what I have learned about her and I always will. No matter what other people have to say. I’m so glad that Historians gave give us information that otherwise We would never know. Thank you, again.
Anne was too complex to be simply described as complex. She has also been portrayed by historians, the contemporary writers and the film and fiction writers in varied guises and even in extremes. That makes any attempt to pin down her character as almost impossible. I think she would have been many things to different people: to Henry and to family she must have been loving, but she also had a harsher more critical side that fired things between them up into heated rows: they were both passionate and both had strong opinions that they wanted expressed without holding back so I can imagine some of those rows; the entire palace probably heard them. There are signs that she made an attempt to be kind hearted, although it may not have been heart-felt but diplomatic when she first came to visit Mary at Princess Elizabeth’s household by saying that she came in kindness and that she would make things right between Mary and her father if only Mary would accept her as Queen.
Whether or not Anne was genuine in her attempt to befriend Mary; it was not to be as Mary, as both a teenager who had her true parents taken from her and saw Anne as the step-mother who had replaced her own and taken her father from her also; and secondly as the defiant daughter of those parents claiming that she recongnised no Queen but her mother; rebutted her approach. The next couple of years saw Anne sanction and order more and more mistreatment for Mary, something that she could not have done without the sanction of Henry, and remember some of her treatment did not stop after Anne’s death; and Mary continued to defy any attempt to get her to recognise Anne as Queen or to accept that she wanted to treat her correctly. It was almost a war of words, and Anne did have Mistress Sheldon order that the girl was to be beaton and locked in her room. Mistress Bryan on the other hand treated her with kindness and due to her ill health, Henry did allow Mary removed to her own home; to Anne’s dismay. To the foreign envoys there is a mix of French who saw her as a gracious friend of France and commnented as such and to Chapyrys she of course was a whore, witch, bitch and cruel person and every other negative description you can imagine.
Anne has also been described as gay and lively, intelligent, the heart of the party, whitty, great in company, attractive, and flirting and friendly. Her gifts to charity have been mentioned in the above article. I also believe that she had a good heart when it came to her close friends and her immediate family, although the incident with her sister at the news of her marriage to someone that they thought beneath her shows Anne as uncaring and strict. This has to be seen in the light of her role as Queen. William Stafford obviously cared for Mary and was willing to give her and her children a home and a small annual income. When Mary came to court to inform Anne and was also with child, the family where shocked. When she told them she was married; Anne reminded her that she should have sought her permission. This is correct. As Anne’s sister; sister to the Queen, Mary was now the member of the royal family and also as a member of the Queen’s household, she should have sought royal leave before marriage. That was the way it was. Mary was banished as she had not done this. This action has been used to show Anne in a poor light; harsh treatment to her own sister, but she was acting as befitted her royal rights and the law. Other royal Kings and Queens have acted thus when a royal member of the family married without their leave; it became treason in 1542 to do so; even though few went the full way with sanctions. So this harsh treatment must be seen in this light. I do believe however that Anne must have felt badly about having to do this and must have been upset; she must have felt let down and very hurt by Mary. I am not quite certain,my memory is faulty on this, but I think Anne and Mary may have been reconciled some time later on.
Film and fiction often lay the death of Sir Thomas More and others at the door of Anne, with Henry reported to have said that Anne had caused his death, or because of Anne a good man had been executed because of the influence of Anne Boleyn. Whether there is any truth in this I find very doubtful as it shows Henry as henpecked and I doubt that any of his Queens had that kind of influence over his mind. True that it was due to the marriage of Anne and Henry that the acts of Parliament came about on the succession and the supremacy, meaning that men such as Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were meant to swear to these and accept the children of Henry and Anne as the only true ones; but that does not mean that Anne pushed Henry into ordering their deaths. These are political acts that Henry and Cromwell introduced through Parliament to protect the new succession and Anne from challenge and to enrure that the break with Rome was complete so as Henry could marry Anne lawfully. Even Thomas More said he could swear to the succession; but not to the rest of the act as it denied the truth that the Holy Father is Head of the Church on Earth and not King Henry. It has been portrayed Anne mixing it up to Henry and making him change his mind and go ahead with the execution of More as he wavered. This has been seen by some detractors as evidence that she was not a gracious Queen as it was the traditional role of a Queen to beg for mercy for condemned prisoners and not the other way around, just as Queens Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour and even Katherine Howard did. I do not find that this is compelling and would need more evidence to show that Anne was guilty of this before condemning her as such. I therefore think this a myth of Hollywood and detraction. Even had she been of the type of woman to insist that these men died; the final decision lies with the King and he could have saved them had he truly wanted to. It was not poitically wise as far as Henry was concerned to save these men as they were in a position to influence others by their beliefs: he needed their acceptance above all others. In addition some other Queens did ask for lives to be saved and they were not always granted this wish.
The final thing that I want to look at that shows Anne as anything but nice is her attitude to Queen Katherine. This centres on her lack of respect and definace of Katherine and her authority in public. One particular incident is always highlighted by historians and that is the day she walked through the court in purple: the symbol of royal power and dignity. She is meant to have been stared at and all were shocked and someone made a comment that she should not dishonour her mistress the Queen so. Anne’s reply was recorded as “I care nothing for Katherine. I would rather see her hung than acknowledge her as my mistress. ” Yes, a very nice person you may say if this was your only encounter with Anne Boleyn, but as I said at the start she was much more complex than that.
Was she a nice person? Probably not, but that was not the only side to her. She as seen in the examples above could be many different things to many people and has been portrayed as such. She was a woman of whitt and good humour; she obviously had a kind and generous and loving side as well; but she could also be harsh and cruel and even very haughty. Like Henry she had a fiery temper and did not always train it well or draw in her anger. But she could have a genuine care for the poor and was a reformer. She did not like the fact that money from the monastic houses was misused by building palaces and other stuff; she wanted that money or some of it used for the benefit of schools and hospitals and other charities and so on. She promoted learning and not just for a few people and she seems to have had a genuine Christian faith. I am sure she used what skills she had to get herself advanced and her family promoted her cause and their own; many others did; she was just lucky that the King saw something more in her than the makings of another mistress. Henry saw Anne as marriage material. She was also fun loving and this sadly was the side that got her into trouble and used by her enemies to bring her down. She was a caring mother to her own child, even if she was not to Princess Mary, and she was generous with money to those in financial problems in her household; as one such loan was used by her detractors as a reason for Lady Worcester giving evidence against her. These actions all show many varied reflections of her personality and charactor. I think her strongside overcame her kinder side and meant that she pushed for what she wanted; making enemies in the process. She was also ambitious and ambition can get a lot of people hurt if taken to extremes. That was also something her enemies used when looking for flaws in her relationship with the King, flaws they could turn against Anne.
Was Anne Boleyn nice? No; she was far more complicated; far more alive and real just to be nice.
Just my opinion, but words like “pointless” and “redundant” when used in such a way just rub me the wrong way. It seems like the person wants to start an argument rather than express their viewpoint. I am very fond of your website and the last word I want to hear is that anything your write is pointless. I find it interesting that so many English teachers do not want students to use the word “nice.” I know that many young students use this word quite often but it is simply because they do not have a large vocabulary. I only wanted my students to learn other words so they did not repeat themselves. Again, just my opinion, but I find the word “nice” seems to be better used for actions than to describe someone. I know I often told my students “that was a nice thing to do.” Somehow, the word “nice” became seen as having a negative connotation tied with it. Personally, I have no problems with that word being used by adults and wondering if Anne was a nice person or not is a valid question, even if trying to answer it may not be possible.
What some don’t understand is that people are NOT one sided. One can be arrogant, but kind, impatient but caring, strong but emotional.
I’ve just seen this article, which was intelligent and interesting. No article on this site is either pointless or redundant, but I read Dorian’s comment with interest.
A substantial number of new people have been attracted to this site recently, most of whom will get enormous enjoyment out of it. But there are bound to be a few Dorian’s thrown into the mix. From his/her comment it appears the title to the article was read but whether the actual article was read is debateable.
Alison Weir made some highly derogatory comments about sites like this recently, and some people are bound to come here with pre-conceived ideas as to what they’ll fiind. From Dorian’s comment he/she hasn’t taken the trouble to read the extensive articles written here over a period of nearly five years.
Dorian, show a little respect and when it comes to this site ignore Weir and put your pre-conceived ideas to one side.
I agree but everyone is entitled to their own opinion never the less although no matter how right or wrong and like you said there will always be one person who is differentiating on the subject or that one who thinks they know it all and know best!
Have opinion and showing them was privilege. People forget ( seriously) that in 1500 was not natural express what you think. And woman didn’t think, woman obey. And that’s what I love the most about her. What she did, in every perspective, at that time was not common.
She denied Henry, she denied to be only a mistress, she dinied to agree with all the corruption from the church (a.k.a cardinal wolsey), she denied to live togheter with the rival ( Dear Katy), She requested to have the treatment she “deserved” etc
I wouldn’t indeed use “nice”, I would say Advanced person. Honestly ? I think people should be very afraid of her presence as they still are with every kind of person that are breaking the rules.
Not saint ( She’s very far from this). But a kind of person that really let’s me intrigued and fascinated. I wish I could deny a lot of things
P.S : That article was not pointless. It’s very good to stop and think about it. After a long time studying her life is good to review and rediscover what I really think about her. I’ve had a good reflection…
Anne really is a fascinating person and has been debated about over the centuries. She has been portrayed in many different guises: saint, witch, martyre, mother, romantic figure, rival to Katherine, scandle of Christendom and many other things by contemporaries and experts alike. She is also a combined person of all of these in some books and her entire rise and fall has been discected over and over again. Had she merely been a nice person and not a complex and lively personality she would not have been so attractive or achieved so much. She had witt and laughter, she had attraction and was fun to be with. She seemed to draw people to her and even her enemies were fascinated by her and her reasons for being attracted by the King. She held Henry off for seven years and that shows that she was strong and determined. She had passion and interlect and she had concern for people that she knew where in trouble. Anne had ideas of her own; a trait that Henry obviously respected, at least until after their marriage; but may-be she was a bit too forward for Henry and there is one thing he did not admire; being argued with or his wife attempting to give him advice. He may have listened to a certain point but then he would make up his mind and brooked no attempt to change it, not just from Anne but from others as well. He made this clear to Jane; who tried to make peace with his children and the rebels. Henry had respected Anne’s opinions but there is evidence that he resented those opinions in affairs of state once they were married. It has been remarked by historians that she did not make the expected transition from mistress to obedient wife. Just how factual this is may also be open to debate and interpretation, but it is a pity that Henry did not seek her advice and help more often as she was clearly intelligent and capable of being a helpmate in most things; but this unfortunately was a man’s world and Anne was not neutralised to her best talents.
Her character was shaped also by the world around her and her advance through the years: from being the initial object of Henry’s affection and may-be his desire, to being recognised that she was more than a mistress; she was marriage and Queenly material; to being a helpmate and fianlly a wife. The first year of her marriage saw her triumphs and there are highlights such as her progress around the religious houses, her promotion of reforms and English Bible and so on, to the last year when she was under threat from her rivals and Henry’s nobles. She experienced real fear and despair but came through it; carrying the King’s son, who could have secured her place at Henry’s side. Tragically she lost that boy when she faced extreme stress and loss brought on by Henry’s fall and alleged adultery. Her last five months of life where filled with turmoil and more fears, as well as some highlights such as the banquet with the French ambassador and the standing up for her by Henry in public. What made Henry fall out of love is also of much debate. I do not feel any of this would have been achieved by a lady that was jsut nice: Anne was too complicated and too full of life for a plain nice to describe her.
Postscript: i cannot help but think of Anne Boleyn in conjunction with Queen Elizabeth Woodville at the moment as I am reading the Woodville book and think there are some simular things with them. Both ladies came from an ordinary knightly family and married the King in secret and to the opposition of nobles, family members and the court. Both ladies for one reason or other were thought at the time not a suitable match for the King. The King in each case had a controversial ‘other’ marriage; although with Anne she had to unseat the very married and very popular Queen Katherine who had been married to Henry for over 20 years, and go through a long and very public divorce with Katherine refusing to go. In the case of Elizabeth the controversial thing was that it was later alleged that King Edward had been betrothed; that is practically already married to another lady, Eleanor Butler. Both ladies had to put up with detractors both at the time and in history since and had their reputations ruined by public accusations. Both Anne and Elizabeth were alleged to have been involved with dark arts by their enemies; both had been accused of having caused the death of a high member of the court and public executions were laid at their door, if wrongly of course and both were said to have undue influence over the King. Both also fell from grace suddenly and both have not recovered fully in the sight of history. With Anne it was even more harsh as the poor lady was wrongly accused of being an adulterer and of plotting the death of the King. She was then torn from all she knew and on trumped up charges tried and executed. Both ladies also lost members of their family and their children.
Anne must have been very strong to have faced those very difficult last days and weeks with fortitude and she must have gone through every emotion going. What a period to have to live in! There was an assumption of innocence and she did not know the full list of accusations that were made against her. The documents that were read out at her trial are said to have gone on for pages and pages. If there was any chance of justice it had gone long ago and today we would have said that the whole thing was rigged. There should have been some judicial representation as I understand 16th century law and social justice; but in this case it seems that what little justice there was had gone by the board before Anne and George even set foot into the court. Anne gave such a good performance of her defence speech that she engendered sympathy and even almost won over the jury or would have done in normal cases. But Anne did not have a chance; and that is the saddest thing of all. She had now to dig deep inside herself to find faith and carry on to the end; to face what was to come; and that is to be very much applauded. What was needed was fortitude and even anger; to pull out her deep and enduring self belief that she may have lost before the court; but now she recovered in order to meet the trials of her last and desperate days; to prepare for death and yet hope that somehow Henry may yet relent. I think that Anne still loved the King; even if Henry no longer loved or cared for her. That I think is the saddest thing of all and the Victorians pick up on this in pictures and drawings of Anne the romantic tragic figure; but oh she was so much more.
I’m surprised we’ve got this far without a mention of Pratchett/Gaiman’s Good Omens. A book wherein I discovered that “nice” meant scrupulously, as well as subtle (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nice). The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.
From the moment Henry decided that Anne was his current fancy, she was under soo much presssure. It’s not surprising that to some people she wasn’t the pleasant, kind, pious, yada, yada, ideal of demure Tudor womanhood. Anne’s best traits weren’t considered to be acceptable in women until…I’d love to say recently but the 2008 American Presidential Nominations showed that some people still can’t cope with a woman stepping out of her pre-ordinated sphere of barefoot and pregnant.
OTOH, Anne was loyal to those closest to her. So I’m sure she had a “nice” side to her personality too..
I was reading some website…tvtropes perhaps where they wwere using the real life example of Mary I being considered a good queen in Eire where as her sister is known as Bloody Bess.
And Claire…neither of my “O”Level English teachers would allow us to use the word nice unless it was a direct quote from the source material we were using.
Well, that escalated quickly!
Back in the day, “nice” meant “foolish”, so in that sense, I think we can confidently say that she wasn’t :). Otherwise — who knows. As you said, standards vary by person and also by time period: sixteenth century people might not consider religious tolerance to be particularly “nice”, for example, if that meant you were letting others damn themselves without trying to help them.
Thank you for this article, I signed up to get it by email and pop over to read them when I can. I have an interest in Tudor history, but it is not my main passion. This article helped me a lot to understand the topic I do heavily research and I am very grateful for it.
It’s also a very good point, and one people often overlook when they are trying to make an historical figure fit into their mold of how they should have been.
I also would like to say, after reading here for some time now. I adore it how you Tudor guys slip into ‘Olde World’ talk in your comments. I get the same thing from reading too many Cold War documents 🙂
I have enjoyed reading the post and must say it is not pointless. I do not think it is easy for us to determine whether Anne was a nice person or not. She was a complex character, we can only base our judgement on what was written about her by her enemies who described her as evil, wicked e.t.c and by her supporters who described her as a saint, matyr. Jane has also been viewed as the saint, meek, door mat, and at the same time she has been viewed as a boring like milk toast, responsible for the murder of Anne and the others, a cold blooded conspirator against Anne. During the Victorian time Anne was romanticized and she was the matyr, saint and at the same time Jane was villified by different writers.
Just like Mary, she was a generous woman, God fearing, kind to others and at the same time others looked at her as a blood thirst wicked woman giving her the nick name Bloody Mary.
Alexander the great is viewed as a great hero, probably the best commander, kind to his captives, and to others he was arrogant, cruel, cold hearted.
Even in this generation popular figures are viewed in different extreme ways, princess Diana was viewed as a saint, the peoples princess while others viewed her as manipulative, childish and Camilla has been viewed as the whore, cold and heartless woman while others view her as kind natured, polite and friendly.
Another very popular famous figure is Barack Obama he is viewed to some as a hero, inspirational, intelligent, friendly calm, wise at the same time he is viewed as the agent of the devil, a sell out, a man filled with hatred, a liar, manipulative and dangerous.
All i can say is that when it comes to historical figures or present popular figures it is not easy to determine who they really were. Many people have a mixture of the good and negative side,
Dorian, you had your fun, now quit trolling the site. I notice you skedaddled aside once you’d made your grump public.
Was Anne Boleyn ‘nice?’ is a perfectly appropriate article and one that may pique the interest of the general public reading The Anne Boleyn Files.
Anne Boleyn was nice, not-nice, humble, haughty, forgiving, spiteful, happy, unhappy, engaged, bored – in short, a fully-rounded character like every other person. It’s important in this age of sound-bites and quick-dismisses to keep that firmly in mind.
I am so sorry that Dorien was so rude about this article.If it is of no interest then the thing to do is ignore it, if one disagrees with some point in it challenge it with your own argument but in a constructive manner. The fact that there have been over 100 responses I think show the regardi in which Claire is held and the support for her, to which I am pleased to add my name.
Could another modern parallel for Anne Boleyn be actress/campaigner Vanessa Redgrave? Another vibrant, conviction-driven convert to a reformist idea, she co-founded the Trotskyist ‘Workers Revolutionary party’ and supported the PLO. Sister-actress Jane Fonda wrote of Redgrave, “There is a quality about Vanessa that makes me feel as if she resides in a netherworld of mystery that eludes the rest of us as mortals.” In person, people say she is nice as pie but the sort of person who will always go over the top, driven by audacious self-belief and chutzpah. It’s true, isn’t it, that we are what we believe and if we believe passionately enough we can sometimes move mountains yet in our intolerance, flatten millions. Both Queen Anne and Vanessa remind me of Ode by arthur O’Shaughnessy, “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ………”
Interesting to see the idea of a comparison to Vanessa Redgrave, did you know that she had a non-speaking role as Anne in the film of A Man For All Seasons? I found Robert Shaw’s performance as Henry in this film to be one of the most convincing of the filmed representations of Henry, .
I have been reading the articles on this site for quite some time now and I just want to say thank you for all of work you do. I never really cared for history until I watched the Showtime series The Tudors. I fell in love with the story and began researching it. To this day I now know much about the Tudor Dynasty and am always eager to learn more. Indeed, we will probably never know what Anne Boleyn was truly like, but it is fun to think of her as a kind woman. My personal belief is that she was vain and sometimes she was too ambitious, but I believe also that she was very intelligent and clever, and I also believe she loved Henry and Elizabeth very much. I feel she was horribly wronged in the accusations against her and personally, I wish she would have been sent to a nunnery or divorced and left alone, but I do know that of course, I cannot rewrite history.
Thank you for the articles, keep it up.
PS – Anne remains my favorite of all Henry’s wives and I send a prayer up for her and re watch her execution scene on the Tudors every year on the anniversary of her death.
R.I.P. Queen Anne.
well dorian has certainly stirred up a lot of feelings here,how can anyone know what anne boleyn was like and whether she was a nice person or not ,personally i dont think any of them were nice,how could they have been ? if you went into henrys court even halfway nice you did not come out the other end even halfway decent too much of a vipers nest when you had to watch out for oneself and just try to survive .i still think anne could have walked away in the early days when henry was persueing herand just said no .why would a supposedly intelligent woman want to go near henry knowing how he treated katherine .i dont believe she had no choice other women down the line said no and kept their heads ,sorry but i dont believe she was nice
Margaret: you put your finger on a difference between 21st century humans, and 16th century humans. Entirely different psychologies. Entirely different operating systems.
I read an article that said Anne did not behave in a quiet, “queenly” way once married, and that was the reason for her fall from the King’s grace. So, not “nice” at all. But certainly intelligent.
I worked for a media company in the US and I began to think of it as The Tudor Court due to the political games played by the other employees, and their allegiances, and secret tribunals. NOBODY there was ‘nice.’ Backstabbing, cheap games played, gossip, I only lasted 11 months. . . anyway, that’s what I thought of when I saw your viper’s nest comment. I guess I think of myself as nice, so I quit. I didn’t want anyone to associate my professional self with that bunch of vipers.
every time i see a film ,read a book or on this site anything to do with anne ,i feel the same thoughts ,why does she not get away from this man this,”nest of vipers” this dark place and save herself ,she was certainly educated and used to the ways of court life and well able to speak her mind ,so knowing what she did of henry and his lot ,what lured or dazzled her so much ?theres no doubt she helped people and was charitable and a good mother while she was allowed,but how did she not realise what henry was like given his treatment of katherine,i dont mean to insult her memory by saying as i said about her not being intelligent ,but something was amiss here maybe a case of love is blind .
this is where you have to consider the emotional human side of Anne maybe.
she possibly saw a different Henry to the one others saw, maybe love was blind as you say in this case, but I don’t think she could predict or could ever imagine his change of heart towards her, after all those years of swearing undying love for her with all the grand gestures.
Or did she think she could change him? look at all these women of our time, who write to, fall in love with, and marry serial killers!! their excuses being their love and care would change them, they are misunderstood…how blind is that, and many of these women are of normal intellect!. Things aren’t really so different now from then when it comes to the affairs of the heart if you think about it.
that should have read ,i dont believe she was nice at the end of her life,she would have i imagine felt very embittered and let down with everyone and most of all henry and who could blame her.
correct me if im wrong but were not a lot in fact nearly all marriages made back then sort of devoid of emotion completetly more of a business deal ie anne promised henry a son or maybe more and instilled in him a sense of hopefulness of the future ,if and only if he married her ,henry thought yes i will marry her and have her as my queen ,now both parties seem to be getting what they want here,again a business deal . 3 years later where is even the remnants of love ,trust and emotion gone that supposedly was there in the beginning ,if this had been a love match as supposed.
I think you are right, a high percentage of arranged marriages that happened then would be based on financial and status gain, though I would imagine that even in these cases, not saying all of them, that the couples who married would find away to care for each other and find some happiness.
But I do think in this case that after a seven year courtship with no sex involved until the very end, there must have been something a little bit more than an arrangement or a promise between them, it’s a long time to be hanging about for a son he was desperate for if there wasn’t some spark or deep feeling on his part at least.
Personally I do think that there was a mutual love between them, for a while anyway, it seem Anne was cool towards him in the beginning, but I think she grew to love him. There are different types of love, which one they were feeling would be impossible to say.
I think it is very interesting to try and work out the personality of a very controversial woman such as Anne. To put aside all the machinations and politics of the time she lived in that surrounded her life, and see her as a human being. She may have lived over 500 years ago, but Anne would have still have had, and felt all the same emotions and behaved according to her temperament, as we do today, both in the positive and the negative
To me Anne was a woman who was progressive in her thinking for her time, as were the likes of Emily Pankhurst and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in theirs, or any women who stepped out of their female boundaries and began to make roads into the Mans world well before equality came along. The impact she made may not have been as radical as these other women to come, but she did push, and cross the barriers at times.
As for a full personality analysis, that is virtually impossible to determine with any precision, but this should not deter us from trying. What I do see though is Anne is many things to many people, because we cannot determine her character accurately, she has been moulded and shaped into a multitude of different personas, depending on how you want her to fit into the role she played in that fascinating period of history.
All those of historical interest are People first and foremost, the Psyche of that individual person will determine how the events faced in life will pan out.
If Anne had given in to Henry at the first hurdle, I doubt we would be here discussing her now, so that gives us a clue that she was no ‘push over’, and raises many elaborations on that point alone, so I personally can not see why it would it be deemed as unimportant, or pointless to try and fathom out the essence of the person in question….
P.S. Sorry!! I forgot to add, what a great post this is Claire, thank you…
Actually, Henry was completely besotted with Anne. Her feelings may have been based on ambition and calculated manipulation, but his love letters to her and his contemporaries’ accounts bear testament to the fact that he was head over heels in love. He was quite the romantic and usually married women to whom he felt a romantic attraction.
well i agree henry must have felt something for anne ,but was it a case of ,that she was “not so into him “and this part attracted him and possibly once she “gave in “he got fed up and fairly quickly too also henry was used to getting what and who he wanted and like right now if you please ,i have the feeling that it was henry being in love with love and of course the promise of sons painted a very rosy picture for him and a bit of lust thrown in and not true ,till the end of our days love,i know this sounds maybe a bit daft and even people today have many dreams and hopes about their other half and for some it doent work out and you can end up really disliking someone you thought the sun shone out of ,and still even trying to work out what it was like 500 yrs ago ,it does not sound like any sort of love to me ,henry haaaaad ,at the end no trust left for anne ,he would surely have had some semblance of feelings for her ,another thing i find hard to believe is that she held him off for 7 yrs ,and that he was faithful to her ,so why did he need mistresses when anne was pregnant,henry to me sounds like the sort of man that no one should marry ,in other words keep him guessing cos once you give in like anne did your days are numbered.
I do think you are right with henry being in love with love, his high expectations of the ‘perfect women’ were impossible to reach.
It seems Anne conceived very quickly after she slept with Henry, if they had been sleeping together for a long time and she hadn’t conceived in this time, or suffered lost babes, I think he would have kissed her ‘good-bye’, as much as he professed undying love I would imagine this would have faulted because of it, I don’t think his love would have been strong enough to put a barren woman on the throne.
It was considered dangerous to the baby in those days to continue a sexual relationship when pregnant. So when Anne was with child this stopped, no sex for 9mths + post birth recovery…long time with no rumpy-pumpy it seems, for Henry anyway.. 🙂
A son would have saved the poor Lady, whether he loved her , trusted her or plain hated her I reckon, its a sad case of not achieving the high expectations of someone who sees you as wonderful, until you fail that is, as you say is still obvious in relationships today..thank goodness divorce has replaced beheading.
Everyone has their own idea of love, Henry’s was dangerous, and in some cases fatal.
interesting perspective on “good” v “bad” people. i wonder if she treated her employees and her inferiors well. perhaps she paid them well and gave them adequate breaks and job security but lashed out at them when she was miserable.could one of the reasons for the villification of anne be due to the fact that she was a woman?
That IS an interesting question, and one that would be hard to answer for anyone who did not live in Anne’s time. The very notion of ‘nice’ differed dramatically from its meaning today, of course. When you throw in social status, and the expected behaviors applied to each rank and level, it gets even more complicated.
We know Anne is described as being volatile, jealous and temperamental where Henry is concerned, but that hardly means she behaved that way toward others. Those of us who have been in a difficult relationship will know how one person can drive you absolutely crazy.
Did she really plan or plot to harm Catherine or Mary? A better question might be, did her supporters, or even her own family? I think a good answer is “Maybe!”. As long as Catherine lived, there was doubt about Anne’s claim to the throne, so surely some people stood to gain from Catherine’s death.
I suppose my point, if I truly have one, is that we ALL behave differently towards different people and situations. How we conduct ourselves at work is not necessarily how we behave at home, and how we interact with someone we don’t like very much at a party is a whole lot different than how we act with our best friend.
All people are multi-dimensional, and there is no reason to think Anne, or even Henry..was any different.
I agree with you, the writter, that the personality of real anne boleyn can’t never be very clear. Because it is so relative. And the script about anne boylen explaining about her actions are not much. But we can conclude a little by what she done.
1. Documents said she often helping poors –> so clearly she is GENEROUS and RELIGIOUS.
2. She can attracks the king attention although (at that time), she is just a maid –> so clearly she is INTELLIGENCE and HAS GOOD INTERPERSONAL AND BODY LANGUAGE SKILL.
And then you begin confusing this question , if she is generous and religious, but why she is spiteful ?? why she was so ambitious to make henry infatuated to her and replacing the position of the queen??
The answer is simple. Ppl personality changes based on what treatment she gets. Before henry took Anne Boylen as mistress, she maybe never think about becoming a queen. But when she became mistress, cathrine was so jealous to Anne. Then Cathrine treat Anne so rudely comparing to the others maids, cathrine so cynical, looking sharply to anne eyes. Then Anne become so ambitious to winning henry’s heart. Because she hate Cathrine.
So, her spiteful is so natural. 95% woman would did the same thing.She is generous and kind to poors, but she has strong will and self regard ( because she is intelligence ).
Ignore rude comments Clair I love your articles and appreciate all your hard work they have certainly broadened my out look on the Tudors I’m obsessed but love it !!!
Thank you, I really appreciate your encouragement.
This article wasn’t pointless. I admit, something like this is perfect for me. I am intrested in hostorical figures and mystery of the looks and personality as it can inspire my stories and in many cases, popular TV series. I’m just stating my views. Although, Claire, please could you show us some evidence or some sources linked to Anne’s character because it really would help! 🙂
So far, in many books and series I’ve read and seen, I get a concluded theory of Boleyn being very witty. Her charming wittiness could of possibly attracted some suitors and Lord Percy… And let’s not forget: King Henry! She was intelligent and I think she was harsh because Anne’s previous life might not have been… Happy/satisfactory? In any case, I’ve heard once she returned to England from the court of France, she had changed and for the better. She was harsh on enemies but probably insecure inside. Although, was bright with people she loved. All in all, her confident and witty outlined shell on her heart attracted men, “in my opinions.” 😉
Thanks for finally talking about >Was Anne Boleyn Nice? – The
Anne Boleyn Files <Loved it!
This was a really interesting articly and discussion. I have read about the fortunes and misfortunes of Anne Boleyn for a long period of time now. I think I will call it reseach, but we shall see…
What I do find especially interesting regarding this whole debate is that some find AB a person who in many ways was ahead of her time. IMO, you can perfectly draw a parallell between Anne and say the struggles many successful businesswomen have to battle today. I feel that both Lady Di and Camilla Parker Bowles also are valid excamles of what I would call a Anne Boleyn syndrom.
PS. Pardon, my somewhat broken English.
Personally I think that even for the more academic readers of this site, the question of Anne Boleyn’s character should not be underestimated. I understand that some people will be more concerend with dates, religion and other matters but surely you have got to wonder who the person really was?
Anyway, as always, interesting and thought-provoking article Claire
Yes MiaC I do agree – in fact it is a great tribute to Anne Boleyn’s memory when questioning her to be nice or not can raise so warm debates …
Claire wrote there – in my opinion – a very good article . She is very cautious with the word “nice” but it does not seem to be enough…
I think it is the aim of such sites to question our nowadays views (words and morals are so different then than today), by using words like “nice” – it is provocative but in a good way it obviously MAKE people ponder over these differences.
On the other hand, I definitely do not agree with Dorian writing that we will never know about Anne’s real temper – I found this site not long ago, but if there is something clear to me is that it really helps fightin all the propaganda against her person.
It would be a pity if it was the only thing we trust about her
I like, Anne Boleyn, she is like any person of any era, maybe she had good days and bad days, unfortunately she was a bit too forthright for her own good and paid the price.
Im reading the Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir and I think that King Henry wasnt always nice either he could be very generous to his friends and family when he chose,he could have shown mercy to Anne if he wanted too,but I think Anne had too many enemies her ladies betrayed her Cromwell had it in for her and the Seymour faction were against her but she died bravely
I didnt much like Jane Seymour because I think she connived to get the throne maybe she would have been a bit like Anne doing good deeds and bad maybe she wasnt that bad either
What amazes me is that almost 500 years on (yes 500 years) this lady is still being talked about, researched, loved, hated. Wow.
I’m Australian- about as far away from Tudor History as you can get, but have been obsessed with Anne since my Mother let us stay up late to watch the BBC series with Keith Michell(?) many years ago. Though many of his wives also had many admirable qualities she was the standout to me for drama, tragedy, mystery. As an 8 or 9 yr old I had the execution etiquette down pat, always practiced at my grandparents lovely old home. I have just re-read “The Other Boleyn Girl” and although well written, I am annoyed by Phillipa Gregory’s slant. What she did so poignantly though, was to depict the despair,fear and hopelessness that Anne and her family must have felt in the last of those “One Thousand
Days”. Whatever she did or whatever she was, Anne must have been one remarkable woman.
Thank you all. I never thought one word such as ‘nice’ would initiate such fascinating debate, which has certainly opened my eyes to its use.
Personally I think it is true to say that Anne was very complex. She was a somewhat foreward thinking woman caught up in her time. Remember that girls and women in this century (amongst others) her virtually taught that they were nothing but mother’s and homemakers. In private I think she was conflicted between performing her obedience to her “betters” and living to her own set of values. This ultimately means that kindness shown might not have been sincere and cruelty the same. With this level of conflict within a singular person, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that she survived by being two faced. This I am sure played on her conscience; being amiable to those she hated but cruel to those she cared about. And all this to serve the purpose of someone else’s ambition. That said it’s obvious that she was sincerely kind to those she felt helped her in some way, Mark Smeaton for instance, which won for her the title of whore. Whilst he was obviously a witness to all that went on in her personal life, at the same time, it was said that he WAS her personal life, which implicated him and her in trumped up charges of adultery. Perhaps she was wise enough to keep a witness nearby since she possibly knew that her father’s and uncle’s shinnanigans would eventually amount to treason with her implicated.
What is obvious is that she was pious in her faith, sincere in her affection towards the King and a victim of her time.
It is hard for those of us in the 21st century to understand, and therefore judge fairly, those who lived in Anne’s time. From all I have read, life at court wasn’t easy.. and could be quite “cut-throat.” As she was the consort..who had the ex-wife living in her home, it had to be even harder for Anne.
I believe this article did a good job of presenting many facets of Anne’s personality. Its impossible to truly to know someone who lived 500 years ago based solely on what is written. Yet that’s all we have. I believe she did what she felt necessary to survive and further her belief. Along the way, maybe she Upset too many of the wrong people