Anne Boleyn, Sex and the Church of England

Posted By on July 30, 2010

Miranda Raison as Anne Boleyn

Yes, you read the title correctly! Did you realise that Anne Boleyn “used her sexual stranglehold over Henry VIII to pursue the idea of religious reform” and “deployed her sexual power to become a ‘conspirator for Christ’ “? – aaaggghh, bump, bump – me banging my head on my desk and the stone wall behind me!

That’s what The Guardian review of Howard Brenton’s play, “Anne Boleyn”, says of our Anne. So, what The Guardian is suggesting is that the Church of England was a result of Anne Boleyn’s sexual power over Henry, if I have read it correctly – all together now, bang heads on any hard surface!

The Daily Mail, in their review of the play, say:-

“Using a shrewd political intelligence, this Anne Boleyn (Miranda Raison), advances herself in court – and Henry’s heart – by dedicating herself to the spirituality of William Tyndale’s low church, while simultaneously allowing a drooling, still-Catholic Henry to inch ever further up her leg over seven long years.”

Bang!

While I love the fact that Howard Brenton’s play is giving people a very different view of Anne Boleyn – Anne as the Protestant Reformer rather than witch and adulteress – I hate the way that the press are now painting her as a woman who used sex to push for religious reform. Just a few months ago, the papers were full of articles about Anne being guilty of incest and adultery, after the publication of G W Bernard’s “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions”, and now we have swung in completely the opposite direction and she is now a sexy Protestant Martyr who started the Church of England. All of it is bad history and goodness knows what the general public now think of Anne.

As I have said before, I agree entirely with Howard Brenton regarding his view that Anne helped to shape England’s destiny, but she was not responsible for bringing Protestantism into England and she was not a martyr. We do not consider Thomas Cromwell to be a martyr, yet he was condemned for heresy and executed as a traitor and heretic. Anyway, knowing Anne’s rather wicked sense of humour, I think she’s having a little chuckle about all of this, don’t you?

You can read the full Guardian review of “Anne Boleyn” at http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/jul/29/anne-boleyn-review and the Daily Mail one here. I’m not sure that Howard Brenton really wanted Anne to be seen in this way!

P.S. I’m not being critical of Howard Brenton or his play, “Anne Boleyn”, as he is putting forward his view of his Anne Boleyn, and it is a play, not an academic study, I’m just cross with the ideas that the press focus on and the bad history that the general public are being taught.

Tickets can be ordered online at http://www.shakespeares-globe.org/theatre/annualtheatreseason/anneboleyn/

Photo by Manuel Harlan and used with permission of The Globe.

16 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn, Sex and the Church of England”

  1. The Other Boleyn Boy says:

    I’m seeing the play tonight so I’ll let you know what I think then!

  2. Gillian Owen says:

    Well, I saw the matinee on july 27th and thought it was one of best things I have seen in theatre.I was a groundling (or “penny stinkards” as they were known in Shakespeare’s time) and stood right next to the stage. To begin with I was impressed by the actors coming out just before the performance began ,to shake hands and talk to indvidual members of the audiance.(I had a chat with two of the actors).
    O.k. so Anne was a blond and the ladies dress was more early Elizabethan in style than circa 1530,but that was a minor irritation.I was a tad put out that the deformed foetus tale was portrayed as fact and maybe the protestant martyr thing was overdone, but as Claire states “It is a play not an academic study”
    It was dramatic, witty,with great laugh out loud moments and at times deeply poignant.
    The two and a half hours passed very quickly . I , my companion and all the other groundlings near to us agreed it was a fabulous performance.

  3. Eliza says:

    I totally agree with you, Claire! People seem to see only black or white when it comes to Anne. The truth is more o a grey shade, though…

  4. Hannah says:

    Hi there, I’ve been visiting the site for a few weeks now (strictly as a spectator – this is my first post) and wanted to say how much I’m enjoying it. Its such a fantastic resource and I’ve found so much inspiration here. I’m following on facebook too!

    I went to see the play on 28th July and also loved it. I was engrossed! In fits of laughter one minute and choking back the tears the next. Henry and Anne were played wonderfully. But what I most enjoyed, is experiencing (yet another) interpretation of Anne’s story. I think its the variety of perspectives and the debate the ensues which makes her story so fascinating.

  5. Jenny says:

    Oh my, a sexy martyr? I think that might be an oxymoron in itself! Oh Claire, our beautiful Anne is so misrepresented! She probably is laughing!

  6. Tracy C says:

    “the whore who changed England” nice comment (sarcasm) will it never end? I can see Anne shaking her head and saying ‘here we go again” Wish we could see the play here in the states so please keep posting your reviews when you see it. Very interesting in deed can’t wait to blog more the play and Bernard’s book which I just finished ( yuck).

  7. lisaannejane says:

    Claire, Don’t hit your head too hard! Wait until the musical version comes out!

  8. Belle says:

    Can anyone tell me why she is holding a head?! Is she trying to incorporate Hamlet as well?? lol!

  9. Thaïs says:

    It’s too complicated. As someone said here, people tend to see and observe things in black or white when it refers to Anne. History is full of shades of grey, and Anne Boleyn’s history couldn’t be different. I feel disappointed and quite concerned about what ordinary people (those who don’t study Anne Boleyn’s life and death) will think of her. Shame! =(

  10. Gillian Owen says:

    Belle. The play opens with the ghost of Anne Boleyn walking onto the stage dragging her bloodstained dress behind her. She is holding a large bag . “Do you want to see it”she asks the audience.She teases and debates whether she should show us the bags contents. “Oh all right then, here” and pulls out a Bible and tells us that this killed her.
    She kisses the Bible putting it back into the bag, and asks what we thought we would see “This”? taking out her severed head ! She then goes on to say “for a moment I saw my body lying in the straw.And I closed my eyes. ..It was I…closing them” .It was a very moving moment, many of us had tears in our eyes.

  11. Sheena says:

    lisaannejane- HAHAHA! Too true…then it becomes a musical, we are all done for! =)

  12. Charlie says:

    I think negative ideas are ok, as long as they are balanced by the good, because as much as she could possibly have been bad we don’t know what was going on in her head and let’s face it her family were probably always about and she was trying to court Henry. It’s all about being unbiased.

  13. Belle says:

    Thanks Gillian for letting me know-that sounds like a great opening!

  14. Kelsey Birk says:

    I like how you said “knowing Anne’s wicked sense of humor.” You don’t. You never met her. You don’t know, and nobody knows for certain, whether or not she used sex to get Henry the VIII. If you think she used pure intelligence in a time when women were not supposed to do just that thing, then you are a fool. Feminism is a recent thing in the span of history, and if Anne Boleyn had to use sex to initially grab Henry’s attention, then the she probably did because Henry VIII wanted a son. He was not going to get one by having an intellectual discussion with her. Sure, she may have been his intellectual equal eventually, but he wanted a son, and in order to have a son, you have to have sex, and lots of it. And no one wants to have sex with someone they aren’t attracted to. She had to use some degree of sex to get to him. I’m not saying she wasn’t brilliant and a great thinker and reformer, but she was a woman, in a time when women were not greatly accepted as such.
    For crying out loud, sex happens, it’s okay.

  15. Claire says:

    Hi Kelsey,
    No, I never met Anne, obviously, but from reading primary sources and things that were said about her I can surmise that she had a rather wicked sense of humour. For example, her words in the Tower to William Kingston as reported by him:-
    “I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck”, and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily.”
    Please refrain from calling anyone “a fool” on here. We have a nice, friendly community here and there’s no need to be aggressive. You are forgetting what Tudor times were like. Sex before marriage was forbidden and although men could get away with “sowing their wild oats”, women had to guard their reputation and virtue fiercely and were seen as unmarriable if they were not virgins and were lucky to find a husband. We know that Anne Boleyn was very religious and she had spent her teenage years in the court of Queen Claude who was known for her piety and virtue, there is no way that Anne would contemplate using sex as a weapon. G W Bernard thinks that it was actually Henry who decided that they should not sleep together because he wanted to ensure that any issue from their relationship were legitimate.
    Anyway, I never said that they were not sexually attracted to each other and I never said that Anne was a feminist, I am just against the view that Anne used some kind of sexual stranglehold over Henry, that she used sex as a weapon to manipulate him. I also did not say that sex is not ok or that it’s wrong.

    1. Wendalore says:

      I’m so glad you wrote this excellent response. I was still feeling offended by the primitive nature of the shallow, self-congratulating tone of the post you are responding to. You lifted the conversation back up from the usual dregs bathed in by the typical pseudo-intellectual simplistic web-discussion participant. I would not have known where to begin to respond to it and was going to have had to make to with feeling annoyed. Thank you again.

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.