Anne Boleyn: The Martyr
Posted By Claire on June 26, 2009
As much as I love Anne Boleyn, and you all know that I do, the idea of her being a martyr or being venerated and being known as Saint Anne Boleyn is rather foreign to me and I expect that Anne would laugh at the idea.
However, there are many who believe that she died as a martyr for the Protestant Faith.
Saint Anne Boleyn
One website I visited while researching, calls her Saint Anne Boleyn, a “Queen in Heaven”, and quotes from the Book of Revelation in the Bible:-
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4).
This website (see www.reformation.org) believes that Anne Boleyn was a martyr because she risked her life to give knowledge of the scriptures to Henry VIII and that with this knowledge “King Henry would have terminated the Spanish alliance and followed up on the New World Discovery of John Cabot!!”.
Now, I’m not into slating websites or people’s opinions but I really don’t believe that this is true. Yes, Anne Boleyn did risk her life by introducing Henry to the teachings of the “New Religion, by giving him books like Tyndale’s “The Obedience of a Christian Man” which enabled Henry to see that he was only answerable to God and not the Pope, but Henry was already an accomplished theologian and knew the Bible very well. Anne could have been arrested for heresy, after all, these books were illegal, but this is not why she was executed. She was not executed solely for her beliefs.
The Evils Surrounding Anne
The website I’ve mentioned also talks of the evils of Henry VIII – how he poisoned his father, Henry VII so that he could usurp the throne and marry Catherine of Aragon, a marriage his father did not approve of, and how these actions led to God punishing him by not giving him a son. Henry also broke up the relationship and betrothal between Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn because he had fallen in love with Anne. Apparently “Anne Boleyn was another victim of the ruthless King Henry; but God was going to use the situation to bring about the end of Roman hegemony in Britain”.
The website goes on to say that:-
- Catherine of Aragon was an agent of the Spanish Inquisition who wanted to keep England busy so that Spain could conquer the New World
- That God punished Catherine by preventing her from having male children
- Spain attacked Rome in “The Sack of Rome” to prevent the Pope allowing Henry to divorce Catherine
- That Jane Seymour was instructed to give Henry hints about Anne Boleyn’s heretical learnings
- That Anne Boleyn’s miscarriages were caused by the Cantrella of Borgia (secret poison) and that her poisoners were Wolsey, More and Jane Seymour
- Edward VI was poisoned
As you can see, the website does have some fascinating theories and it seems to suggest that those who harmed Anne were punished by God (Wolsey died after his arrest, More was executed and Jane Seymour died in childbirth) and that Anne’s reward was the fact that her daughter, Elizabeth I, became the greatest queen England ever had.
Now, I agree that Anne’s execution was a conspiracy, and I don’t believe that Jane Seymour was an innocent bystander, but these theories seem far-fetched to me and cannot be used to back up the idea of Anne being a martyr or saint.
John Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments”
The owner of that website, though, is not the only person to believe that Anne Boleyn was a martyr and should be venerated as a saint of the Protestant Church, John Foxe also believed it.
John Foxe (1517-1587) was a martyrologist who is known for his book “Actes and Monuments”, or “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”, which was an account of all of the Christian martyrs throughout history but with particular emphasis on the protestant martyrs who died in England between the fourteenth century and upto, and including, the reign of Mary I, “Bloody Mary”. To Foxe and many protestants, Anne Boleyn was a heroine and martyr of the “new religion”. In his book, John Foxe calls Anne Boleyn a “worthy and Christian lady” and a “godly lady and queen” and also says:-
“Godly I call her, for sundry respects, whatsoever the cause was, or quarrel objected against her. First, her last words spoken at her death declared no less her sincere faith and trust in Christ, than did her quiet modesty utter forth the goodness of the cause and matter, whatsoever it was. Besides that to such as wisely can judge upon cases occurrent, this also may seem to give a great clearing unto her, that the king, the third day after, was married in his whites unto another. Certain this was, that for the rare and singular gifts of her mind, so well instructed, and given toward God, with such a fervent desire unto the truth and setting forth of sincere religion, joined with like gentleness, modesty, and pity toward all men, there have not many such queens before her borne the crown of England. Principally this one commendation she left behind her, that during her life, the religion of Christ most happily flourished, and had a right prosperous course.”
Foxe also details how she was more “bountiful” to the poor than other queens, that she was a “zealous defender” of the Gospel, that she helped good men like Hugh Latimer become bishops and that her Christian counsel and faith allowed Henry to hunt in Woodstock park without any harm coming to him (there had been a prophecy which had caused Henry and other kings before him to avoid hunting there). Foxe was also convinced that her execution was down to:-
some secret practising of the papists here not to be lacking, considering what a mighty stop she was to their purposes and proceedings, and on the contrary side, what a strong bulwark she was for the maintenance of Christ’s gospel, and sincere religion, which they then in no case could abide
So, according to Foxe, Anne Boleyn was executed because of her strong faith and therefore should be thought of as a martyr and saint. John Foxe concluded his “Oration to Saint Anne Boleyn with:-
“Furthermore, to all other sinister judgments and opinions, whatsoever can be conceived of man against that virtuous queen, I object and oppose again (as instead of answer) the evident demonstration of God’s favor, in maintaining, preserving, and advancing the offspring of her body, the lady ELIZABETH, now queen, whom the Lord hath so marvellously conserved from so manifold dangers, so royally hath exalted, so happily hath blessed with such virtuous patience, and with such a quiet reign hitherto, that neither the reign of her brother Edward, nor of her sister Mary, to hers is to be compared; whether we consider the number of the years of their reigns, or the peaceable-ness of their state. In whose royal and flourishing regiment we have to behold, not so much the natural disposition of her mother’s qualities, as the secret judgment of God in preserving and magnifying the fruit and offspring of that godly queen. “
In Foxe’s opinion, God had allowed Elizabeth to prosper and kept her safe because she was Anne’s offspring.
What Do You Think?
My own opinion is that Anne Boleyn was not a witch or a whore but she was also not a martyr or saint. She did many good things during her time as queen – alms giving, sewing for the poor, being a ptron of the arts, supporting the Reformation etc. but the Anne I’ve come to know through my research is no saint. She did not die for her faith. Anne Boleyn was the unfortunate victim of a plot and a husband who had tired of her, or believed that his marriage was cursed – but that is just my opinion! What do you think?
****P.S. I don’t want Henry VIII to take over the blog again but The Historic Royal Palaces charity have just released the first podcast of their Henry VIII talks, which are taking place at Hampton Court Palace between now and October. The first one is by historian Paul Lay who spoke on May 30th about “Who was Henry VIII?” – see the Historic Palaces website.****