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Anne Boleyn: The Martyr

Posted By on June 26, 2009

Saint 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?

(Source: www.reformation.org)

This post is the final part of a three part series on Anne Boleyn, the previous two articles are Anne Boleyn:The Witch and Anne Boleyn:The Great Whore.

****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.****

34 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn: The Martyr”

  1. Gemma says:

    I agree, I don’t think she was a martyr. Perhaps people plotted agaisnt her because of her strong beliefs and so that led ultimatley to her death, so maybe she was in an indirect martyr.
    However you have to admit, she created one hell of a shift in history for one little lady! I also think for her time she was a very strong woman to look up to and respect. I wonder if we could ask her now, would she have done it any differently for example not make Cromwell as an enemy? Kept quiet and been obedient? Just have agreed to be Henrys mistress? I still think she would say no….!

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, Gemma, perhaps Anne was an “indirect martyr” as it was the Catholic conservatives who conspired with Cromwell against her. Little did she know that that one argument with Cromwell over the money from the monasteries was going to lead to her death!

  2. Sabrina says:

    I do not think she was a martyr. She was very religious, but did not die because of her beliefs…

    She died because her husband could not stomach her trying to be his equal, and he thought she betrayed him. When in reality she did not.

    Her redemption was that her daughter became Elizabeth the I, and in her, we saw Anne’s strenght and intelligence once again.

    1. Claire says:

      Elizabeth definitely had the best bits from both her parents and was a formidable monarch. If only Henry had known what a daughter could do perhaps he wouldn’t have been so bothered about having a son!

      1. FabNayNay says:

        Yes! I totally AGREE! If only he’d known what a strong monarch his daughter by AB was to become! Do you think he would’ve had more respect for Anne if he had known?

  3. Marie Burton says:

    LOL! From The Great Whore to the Martyr. While I applaud Anne and wish she was not beheaded I do not think that she was a Saint! I agree with you regarding the fact that Anne died because of Henry, (and his advisors) and not as a defender of her faith.
    There are specific reasons why More and Wolsey were executed.. at Henry’s request of course.
    And I believe that Catherine of Aragon gets the short end of the stick for being able to quietly put up with Henry as long as she did.. and it was probably due to the medical practices of the time, her age or Henry’s genetics that caused Catherine’s inability to produce a healthy heir. I can understand people 500 years ago believing in the suspicion/religion attributes as signs from God, but at this point I would think that those on Reformation website would know better. I was never one to be a religious zealot, I simply believe there is a God but there are a lot of other factors that make things happen or not happen.
    Fun topic, thanks!

    1. Claire says:

      I agree, Marie, I have strong religious beliefs but the Reformation site just does not make sense to me. I’m sure that Anne, even with her strong faith, would not call herself a martyr. It’s great that some people like John Foxe could see her good qualities and applaud her for her charity (Foxe suggested that she gave around £15,000 to the poor in just 9 months and George Wyatt also repeated this figure – Eric Ives suggests that perhaps an extra 0 was added by Foxe!) and this is preferable to calling her a witch or traitor, but it’s still a misconception or myth.

  4. gwenne says:

    I don’t believe that Anne Boleyn was either a ‘witch a whore or a saint’,. I believe she was an ambitious, intellectual woman who like all the others before or since are rounded up into one of those tidy categories listed above. Categories that allow society to pigeonhole ‘difficult’ women whom they don’t know what else to do with. Certainly her life contained elements of all three, but this woman is a complex multi-faceted personality that was more than the sum total of her parts. I think that the Queen would laugh and laugh be utterly amused that over five hundred years later, we still debate her. Still are fascinated by her life, and still try to divine what her true motives actually were. Yes, the Queen would be quite amused.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Gwenne,
      I really don’t understand what drives people to look for faults in successful people, particularly women – is it jealousy? It is strange and sad that we have to behave like this. Anne was a very misunderstood character.

      1. margaret says:

        i dont really think anyone could be jealous of anne boleyn or her lifestyle ,!

  5. sarah. r says:

    This final part of the three tops it all. Excellent writing – the way this has all been set out.
    What we have here is truly a very interesting field of speculation that takes us far beyond mere politics and jealousies and things like that.
    It is also revealing that Clair has chosen three aspects of AB’s life and character to write about. In mythology and fairy tale, in literature, culture and dreams the archetypal female figure is often set out in a 3-part sequence of change and development. Traditionally, this is described as the maiden (virgin), the queen and the crone.
    This corresponds to the three visible phases of the moon – new, full and old. It tells the journey of the spirit, the female journey from youth through to old age.
    Here, we have had the witch, the whore and the martyr – three aspects of Annes life but also ones which could be viewed in a progression, chronologically. We have been looking at AB as a witch, setting the bait and capturing the king. This was followed by her becoming the Queen, powerful and in command, bringing forth children (well one anyway). Finally we have seen Anne as the Martyr – the waning force, the old crone and the one who must die.
    It is possible, therefore, to take Anne and project onto her really anything we desire. For some it will be the guiding light of the Reformation, complete with conspiracy theories and all that. For others it will be just a mortal woman, who falls in love, bears children and is rejected and dies. It doesn’t really matter. And we could discuss it forever, too, and speculate about it endlessly. Anne will always be a fertile source for our ideas. Long may it continue!
    SR

    1. Claire says:

      Thankyou, Sarah. I nearly didn’t post it because I was worried that I might have rambled on a bit. I made the mistake of writing it late in the day after doing a load of other writing so I probably was not at my best!
      I could have gone on for pages on this one, there was so much to say and so many differing opinions.
      I had never thought about the 3 parts before but you’re right, there are often 3 parts to stories like this – I love the whole symbolism of the moon idea and Anne’s three stereotypes fit nicely into that. I could write about Anne for ever – good job really!

  6. Carrie says:

    As much as I love Anne, I don’t think she was a “saint.” No way, and I think that she would find it laughable too that she would be considered a saint.

    1. Claire says:

      I think she’d think it nice that people saw that she had a strong faith and her execution speech and her words while she was imprisoned show what a strong faith she had, but yes, she’d have a laugh!

  7. Emma_pug says:

    Oh, how Anne would have a good chuckle over this topic! I’ve always felt more resentment towards the “martyr” misnomer than the “whore” one. The latter is so ridiculous and unfounded, but the former makes her sound like a victim. And above all, I firmly believe Anne would not want to be remembered as a victim.

    It was certainly an interesting website – and nice to know we are not alone in our adoration of Anne – but it was radical to say the least. Some of the conclusions were quite a stretch. But as everyone has already said – she didn’t die for religion. She died because of a disgruntled husband and personal/family ambition. Such a dangerous tightrope she was walking. Oh, and it lists Thomas More as one of the “people involved in the execution of Anne Boleyn”. He had been dead for about a year himself!

    This has been a great discussion series, Claire! It all comes back to the fact that Anne was an extraordinary woman, and can’t be lassoed into a single category. Long live Anna Regina!

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, Anne would chuckle over this – she’d probably be quite amused by my website and the fuss we make of her too! I’m not sure that I think of a “martyr” as being a victim, I think martyrs are incredibly strong people. I’d like to think that I would go to my death for my beliefs but could I really be as strong as someone like Thomas More? Hard to know. But yes, I know what you mean Emma. All three names or stereotypes are so far off who I think Anne was.

      I did think it was funny that More and Wolsey were named as poisoners for Anne’s miscarriages – slightly impossible!! Very funny!

  8. Esmeralda says:

    I think Anne was not a martyr to people who hated her but to others who supported her.I really don’t think that Anne was a whore.A lot of people made stupid rumors of her.Like her having 6 fingersand and now to this day alot of people believe this rumor(i my self do not think it is true).And the huge mole on her neck (apparently i saw beautiful paintings of Anne and she doesn’t have a ugly huge mole) And the innapropriate most outrageous rumor of her having 3 breasts(sorry i said that but i don’t believe Anne had 3 breasts).And people also say that Anne was a witch.I feel bad for Anne.She never lived longer and get to know more and spend her time with her daughter Elizabeth.I actually thank Anne for giving us a first powerful female ruler that ruled England.Even it was a long time ago i actually hated Henry for being so cruel to Anne and chopped her head.People say that i might be too mean about this .But i really hate Jane Seymour.I really don’t know why but i think it’s because that Henry chopped Anne’s head so he can marry her.But to me Jane is nice in the outside but evil in the inside.I would have to say Anne Boleyn is my favorite queen of Henry’s.On the show The Tudors ,Natalie Dormer played Anne very good then the actresses who played Anne Boleyn on tv shows and movies that are about the Tudor era.Plus I thought Natalie Dormer was a pretty Anne Boleyn then the other actresses who played her.Some how Anne and i have something in coming.We are both hated by a lot of people.You see there is a boy named Michael(almost like Henry) he ditched the most popular girl for me .The popular girl was Rachel(almost like Katherine but except Rachel is very mean) .I loved Michael every since 4th grade(before He and Rachel go together).Then at 5th grade i fell in love with John (almost like Henry Percy).S

  9. Esmeralda says:

    I really don’t believe Anne was a whore.I believe that Anne was a beautiful woman and a lonely woman who didn’t have alot of friends.I blame Henry and Jane.I always think to myself why did that selfish womanizer had to chop of his wife’s head who is so innocent and beautiful? I thank Anne Boleyn for giving us England’s first powerful female ruler Elizabeth1 .I really hate Jane Seymour but even though she bore Henry a son.There is something i really hate about her . To me she may be kind to others but i think she is nice on the outside but evil in the inside.I’m sorry but that is my opinion I have to say Anne Boleyn is my favorite queen of Henry.As for my disliked queen of Henry would be Jane Seymour.I always think that jane hated anne because anne was prettier than jane and anne always got the boys after her.It is really sad that Anne really didn’t live long enough to get to know her daughter Elizabeth.HAIL ANNE BOLEYN!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Esmeralda,

      Thanks for your comments and it’s great that you can identify with Anne – I think we can all identify with parts of her character and her longing for Henry to be faithful to her. I think that Jane disliked Anne because of what Anne had done to Catherine and Mary (what Heny had done to them actually!) and so did not mind being part of the plot to bring Anne down and yes, I don’t think Jane was “sugar and spice and all things nice” but was a great actress who played her part well.

  10. Jessica says:

    Anne was far away from a martir as she was away from a whore, she was a intelligent and strong women,she make something right and other things wrong just like every human being!
    Catherine of aragon an agent of inquisition??that’s is so strange to read LOL
    even luther was supporting her in the time of divorce, how she could be an agent of inquisition?? LOL

    Thank you for all the informations about Anne you post here, your site is great!

  11. Sharon Miner says:

    I believe Anne Boleyn died so that her daughter Elizabeth could possibly one day inherit the thrown. If Anne had agreed to Henry’s terms that the marriage was null and void, Elizabeth would have immediately been labeled a bastard. ( unfortunately, that happened anyway, but there was no way for Anne to know that.)

  12. Melissa says:

    It’s been said here a few times that Anne herself would have laughed at the notion that she was called a martyr, but this quote attributed to her shows she was comfortable with the notion; “Commend me to the King, and tell him he is constant in his course of advancing me. From a private gentlewoman he made me a Marchioness, and from a Marchioness a Queen. Now he hath left no higher degree of earthly honor; he hath made me a martyr.”

    1. Claire says:

      I do love that quote but I do wonder if Anne actually ever said it. I’m just not sure that Anne would have thought herself as a martyr, when she knew what the charges against her were and they really had nothing to do with heresy (although she was very much a heretic according to the law of the time). Still, it’s a beautiful quote.

  13. Claire says:

    I’m posting this comment on behalf of Siobhan who emailed it to me:-

    Like many things history has been written by the “winners” and we rarely hear the other side of the story. Anne Boleyn was one of the minorities in Tudor England that rarely got their voice heard and were very often told “lie back and think of England”. I believe that if Anne Boleyn hadn’t persuaded Henry VIII to break from the Catholic Church so that he could get what he wanted (her and and heir) than England would be very different today.

    I also believe that Anne could be considered a Saint because (as I have hinted) without her there would be no Church of England, but if you take what John Foxe calls her “worthy and Christian Lady” and a “godly lady and Queen” then yes I believe that she could be considered a Martyr for Protestantism especially as she was victimised so much by the catholic church and their rumours that they told about her are still present today.

  14. Claire says:

    Siobhan, you make some great points. Anne Boleyn was an amazing woman and so unlike the stereotypical traditional woman and wife of her time. The fact that she spoke out and Henry listened says so much about the strength of her character and also her intelligence. Henry VIII was an intelligent well-read man who would only listen to someone who made sense and Anne obviously did.

    I don’t believe that she was a martyr for protestantism as her faith did not lead directly to her death, but her faith and her part in the break with Rome definitely did not help her situation.

    Yes, Anne Boleyn’s enemies did a great job in that she is still maligned today nealry 500 years on!

    1. antonio says:

      i noticed you read very much about Anne Boleym , i comend you for that, i think is great, did you put this website or just wrote in it? just curious, do you practice any religion? (im latter day saint) and i think she is a fascinating subject that helped freedom of religion come to the world, thats my opinion

  15. Siobhan says:

    Hi Claire, in response to what you said…yes you are right although her faith did not directly lead to her death she was left vulnerable to attack from many different people who had different agendas at that time. She still could be seen as a martyr by many people who have deep protestant faith.

  16. antonio says:

    i am fascinated by reading all your comments, it really its great that you studied anne boleym that thouroughtly (sorry for my spelling im from Spain) my opinion is that she gave her live for her believes ,that alone i admire, yes i understand that she was killed but imagine in a time where there was no freedom of religion , people feared to speak out their believes. We ourselves could be called herocies and put to death for what we are putting in this website, could you imagine that?!

  17. antonio says:

    just a comment i wanted to share with you. Joseph Smith before he was killed for his beliefs read “foxes book of martyrs” and said of those people “god had a salvation for them”. Now i know you explained that you dont consider Anne Boleyn as martyr, but sounded like at least she was innocent and defended her faith and im sure shes rewarded for that. I liked your comment in “I agree with Archbishop Cranmer who,
    on hearing of the death of Anne, said: “She who has been the Queen of England on
    earth will today become a Queen in Heaven”

  18. Dr Jonathan Cartmell says:

    Thanks for your excellent blog. My wife and I agree with you completely. However, we also feel that Anne Boleyn’s life is a testament to the historically-engrained, Neanderthal abuse of women by men. In our opinion, this serious problem is being addressed by the UN “He for She programme, recently heralded by the British actress, Emma Watson. Therefore, if you are a bloke out there, please get on their website and sign up. If you are a woman, please encourage men you know to sign it and to get actively involved. Thanks, Dr Jonathan Cartmell

    1. Claire says:

      Fortunately the world has moved on somewhat from the 16th century, but yes there are still problems today and I’m glad that Emma Watson and the UN are bringing people’s attention to it. Thank you, Jonathan, for your comment.

  19. peter says:

    In previous comments, I have referee to Anne as Beloved, Martyred, Queen of Heaven. Now it is necessary to add, Betrayed. Anne, Rest in Peace. We remember you so, so much in our hearts Forever!

  20. Banditqueen says:

    Anne may have had a strong personal faith and reformed beliefs but she was not a martyr. Yes she was innocent of the charges against her, but she didn’t die for her religious beliefs. I can see how John Fox may see her as a Protestant martyr as it served his world view to do do, especially as he was writing to promote Elizabeth as a Protestant Queen and martyrs under Mary and Henry as true witnesses. Anne was the holy mother of a holy Queen to Fox and others who promoted Elizabeth as the guardian of true belief. However, just because a few people want to promote that image, doesn’t make it so.

  21. norman Shepherd says:

    Most so called saints I think would abject to being labeled as such or else they wouldn’t be very saintly. Whatever Foxe’s view even Cambridge University acknowledges his information as factual, of course we who live in the here and now always think we know more or better.
    https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/historical-journal/article/research-rumour-and-propaganda-anne-boleyn-in-foxes-book-of-martyrs/6E237CA2B2C200F241DC2DECE70FF48C

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