This post is part two of my series on the personality of Anne Boleyn and the many opinions that people hold of her. Do make sure that you read last week’s article on “Anne Boleyn: A Victim” and my previous series on “Anne Boleyn: The Witch”, “Anne Boleyn: The Great Whore” and “Anne Boleyn: The Martyr”.
This article on “Anne Boleyn: The Homewrecker” was inspired by a comment on someone’s blog about how she was fed up of Anne Boleyn being romanticised when Anne was nothing but a homewrecker who destroyed a 20+ year marriage.
Now, as a happily married woman who has seen other marriages destroyed by infidelity, I cannot condone a woman setting out to trap a married man or even a woman starting an affair with a married man when it is initiated by the man, but I really don’t think the Anne and Henry situation was like that. Here are some of my reasons:-
- Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was over before Henry even met Anne – Retha Warnicke (“The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn”) writes of how Henry and Wolsey secretly met with French envoys to start negotiations over a French-English marriage alliance before Anne even became a maid of honour at court. Philippa Jones (“The Other Tudors”) writes of how Wolsey, when negotiating the Treaty with France in 1514, mentioned the possibility of Henry divorcing his Spanish bride. Kelly Hart (“The Mistresses of Henry VIII) also writes of how rumours of an annulment of the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were rife in 1514. We know that Henry had stopped sleeping with Catherine long before he met Anne and that he considered the marriage over and also not legal, due to the fact that Catherine was his brother’s widow.
- Anne did not willingly enter into an affair with Henry – We know from Henry’s letters to Anne that she refused to be his mistress and that his love and passion for her was, at the start, unrequited. Anne seemed to be fighting Henry off rather than trying to trap or pursue him. Eric Ives points out that Anne refused to sleep with the King and kept away from court, and that usually this would have led to the relationship fizzling out. Ives says that it was the King’s “realization that he could not live without Anne” that led to Henry proposing marriage and Anne changing her mind and returning the King’s feelings. Contrary to some people’s opinion that Anne dangled her virtue as bait for the King and that her refusal of his advances was a big game to trap him, there is no way of Anne knowing that her refusal would lead to a proposal of marriage, afterall, the King could have any woman he wanted as mistress.
- Henry was to blame for the deterioration of his marriage – I hate the way that the “other woman” is always villified in these circumstances! Shouldn’t the married man take some responsibility as he is the married one! Henry VIII had stopped sleeping with Catherine of Aragon by 1524 and had been considering annulling the marriage 10 years before that. He knew that Catherine would not be able to bear any more children and he was convinced (perhaps!) that their marriage was wrong in the eyes of God because he had married his brother’s widow (Leviticus 20 verse 21). His need for an heir, combined with the Old Testament commandment, was the perfect excuse for an annulment and a new marriage. Henry seemed convinced that the death of his sons with Catherine was a sign that the marriage was invalid. Whether or not we accept this argument, it was Henry who was looking for a new wife and his mission of an annulment had nothing to do with Anne Boleyn in the early days.
- Anne couldn’t say no – How do you refuse the King? It is amazing that she managed to fend him off for so long because he was definitely used to getting his way with women (with everyone in fact!). Anne must have felt so much pressure – being pursued by the King, knowing that her family’s position at court depended on her keeping the King happy etc. I don’t believe that Anne really had a choice in the matter but that she was able to turn the situation round and say “yes” to the King on her terms. OK, perhaps you could say that she hastened the end of the royal marriage by refusing to be a mistress that Henry may well have cast off, but her desire to keep her virtue and only give in to Henry for marriage should be admired not condemned.
So, while I don’t believe that Anne Boleyn was a victim of sexual harassment, who had no choice in her relationship with Henry VIII, I also don’t believe that she was a “homewrecker” or a seductress who set out to lure the King away from Catherine of Aragon. What do you think?
Please share your thoughts and opinions by commenting below.
P.S. There are still spaces on “The Anne Boleyn Experience 2010”, our special Anne Boleyn tour set in Anne’s own home at Hever Castle – Find out more at http://tour.theanneboleynfiles.com/.
P.P.S. Remember, if you’re a Philippa Gregory fan, to follow Elizabeth Woodville’s tweets from today until the launch of “The White Queen” on the 18th August – follow them at http://twitter.com/ElizWoodville and also read my review at http://reviews.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-white-queen-by-philippa-gregory/161.