Posted By Claire on October 15, 2009
Today’s post was inspired by a comment that was left a few weeks ago by Aimee, who always leaves wonderfully thought-provoking comments. Aimee really got me thinking deeply about Anne and the triangle which existed between her, Catherine and Henry.
Obviously this whole website is a celebration of Anne Boleyn’s life and an attempt to debunk the myths about her but I don’t want to put her on a pedestal and go too far the other way. Anne Boleyn was not a goddess or a saint, she was a human being and a woman with flaws.
Anne Boleyn – Not So Innocent
Here is Aimee’s wonderful comment and you’ll see what I mean by thought provoking. By the way, I have not written this article to attack Aimee’s point of view so I do not want any attacking comments (I know you’re all lovely anyway!), I simply want to look at Anne from another perspective.
“This is a difficult comment for me to make, especially on a MB celebrating the best of Anne Boleyn. I have always admired and respected Anne Boleyn, and I’ve pitied her too. Her situation was far from enviable if one examines all the facts.
That said, yes, Anne Boleyn was indeed a “whore” and an “adulteress” by the standards of the time.
To those who feel she is “innocent” because she did not immediately consummate her relationship with Henry VIII, I ask this question: would you consider another woman “innocent” of adultery if she accepted love letters and gifts from your husband? If she accepted at least partial financial support and multiple favors from him?
There is such a thing as emotional love affairs and Anne and Henry had one. There is much evidence proving that, in the beginning, at least, Anne gave resistance, but ultimately she chose to acquiesce to Henry’s desires. She did not have to make that choice, other choices were available, and I won’t dispute they weren’t GOOD choices (banishment, exile, difficulty for her family, perhaps.) But the bottom line is that Anne made the choice to accept Henry (a married man’s) suit and support.
The King’s true marriage could not be dissolved without the intervention of what amounted to a kangaroo court for the times. If you were married in a Christian church and your husband married another in a Buddhist temple, would you consider yourself no longer married?
I don’t take issue with the terminology used to describe Anne’s position and behavior. It might sound cruel, but if the shoe fits you’ve got to wear it. I doubt even Henry’s strongest supporters really viewed Anne’s marriage as a true marriage.
I don’t take umbrage with Chapuy’s use of the term “concubine.” What else could Anne be called? For better or worse, she elected to accept the King’s suit, eventually had relations with him and conceived a child, and married him in a controversial private ceremony.
Ask yourselves if Katherine of Aragon was your next door neighbor, and her husband put her through similar treatment? What would you call his new significant other?”
Anne: The Other Woman
What a well thought out comment and thanks so much to Aimee for taking the time to leave it. But, it has left me in a quandary, and I don’t mind admitting that. Anne was indeed the “other woman”, the woman who ended Catherine and Henry’s marriage and I know that we all like to excuse this with the following reasons:-
- Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine was already over, he had been considering an annulment and remarriage long before Anne.
- Henry had been unfaithful to Catherine many times.
- It wasn’t Anne’s fault, she had no choice in the matter and could not refuse a King.
But can we really excuse Anne’s actions?
What if Anne was the other woman in your life? What if she was the other woman to your friend’s husband? We all know or know of someone who has been hurt by their husband leaving them for another woman so perhaps we need to view Anne from Catherine’s perspective.
Yes, Anne held on to her virtue but perhaps it was this that brought about the end of Henry’s marriage. Perhaps if Anne had slept with him and become his mistress, even his one and only mistress, he would have stayed married to Catherine and finally got bored with Anne, like he did with others. Catherine could turn a blind eye to Henry’s mistresses because a King was expected to indulge in this way but Anne became a real threat.
Yes, Anne did seem to give him the brush-off at first, this is obvious from his letters to her, but, as Aimee says, she gave in in the end and made it clear that it was marriage or nothing. So, was she responsible for the marriage break-up? Was Henry’s complete infatuation with her and his lust her fault?
Do you see what I mean when I say I’m in a quandary?!
I can understand why Anne was seen as a whore and I’m sure that if I had been Catherine’s friend or a lady at Henry’s court then I would have thought this too. This Boleyn woman destroyed a royal marriage, dashed the hopes of a Spanish princess and true Queen of England, “bewitched” Henry with her sex appeal and charms, came between Henry and his daughter Mary and caused a complete uproar. Hmmm…
Anne: The Victim?
As much as I can understand Catherine’s heartbreak and why Anne was vilified at the time, I hate the way that we still, as a society, heap all the blame on the other woman. Let’s see things from Anne’s perspective.
Anne was a single woman at the English court who had been noticed by the King, the most important man in England, a man who could destroy her and her family in one stroke or who could raise her and her family in the same way. It became apparent that Henry VIII wanted a relationship with her and her father had noticed it too and was probably encouraging it, after all, families got rewarded for pleasing the King. But Anne wasn’t just any young woman, she wanted more to her life than being a King’s mistress, like her sister had been, and was desperate to keep her virtue and reputation so that she could marry well and have a good life. So, Anne refused the King’s advances and made it clear that she was not interested, but this did not stop the King. Henry knew what he wanted and he had to have Anne. Nobody said no to a king and Henry was not accepting a refusal from a simple maiden!
We all know how the story went. Henry bombarded Anne with letters and Anne eventually relented. I do believe that she was intoxicated by Henry and fell in love with him, but I also believe that she really had no choice in the matter anyway. A “no” would have displeased Henry and I’m sure that this would have had consequences for both Anne’s position at court and that of her brother and father. Anne did the only thing she could to protect her reputation and her beliefs, she refused to become Henry’s mistress.
And what about Henry VIII? Why blame Anne and call her a “whore” or an “adulteress” anyway? She wasn’t married, HE was. I know that is a rather lame excuse but it just annoys me that the other woman gets the blame all the time! I don’t think Anne was actively looking to form a relationship with Henry and I don’t think she tried to tempt him or seduce him in any way. He came on to her and she refused. Let’s give her some credit.
I think I see Anne as a victim in this. I’m not sure that I agree entirely with historian Karen Lindsey’s view of Anne as a victim of sexual harassment – see my post Anne Boleyn: A Victim for further information – but I can see Anne as the deer of Wyatt’s poem “Whoso List to Hunt”, Henry’s prey. Henry was the one with all the power and Anne had none apart from her virtue. He hunted her down until she relented and she was as much a victim as Catherine, they were both pawns on the King’s chessboard.
Anyway, I’ve rambled far too much as usual, but it’s a complex subject. What do you think?
P.S. See today’s other post on “The Beasts of Hampton Court Palace”.