A young Elizabeth with her mother's dark eyes
A young Elizabeth with her mother's dark eyes

Just last week I wrote a post entitled “Anne Boleyn’s Influence on Elizabeth I” about Tracy Borman’s new book “Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen”, in which Borman puts forward the idea that Anne Boleyn had a far greater influence on her daughter Elizabeth I than has been previously thought.

Well, I felt I needed to write a “Part 2” after hearing an extract from Tracy Borman’s book on BBC Radio 4’s “Book of the Week” this morning. You can listen to a recording of it at the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week website, but this article is a precis of it.

The extract read out was all about the influence that both Anne’s life and death had on Elizabeth, but it also has fascinating information about the tradition of confinement and what a confinement chamber contained – tapestries depicting romantic stories, thick carpets, blocked windows and keyholes to shut out the light, a baptismal font in case a baby was born ill, an oratory for prayer and two cradles: a grand, majestic, state cradle and a simpler, modest, wooden cradle. The room must have been so stifling!

The most important information that Borman conveys in this chapter though is what Anne was like as a mother.

Anne the Mother

As I have already said, Anne defied convention by insisting on breastfeeding her baby daughter but Anne was a “hands on” mother in other ways. Despite the disappointment and fear that Anne must have felt when she had given birth to a little girl, and not the promised mail heir, Anne did not let this affect her treatment of her daughter. Borman writes of how she shocked courtiers with her displays of motherly affection and the way she placed the infant Elizabeth on a cushion next to her throne.

Like any new mother, Anne doted on Elizabeth and showered her with gifts, and it must have been a blow to her when Elizabeth was sent to her own household at Hatfield at just 3 months of age. However, Anne ensured that Elizabeth was surrounded with trusted Boleyn relatives like Lady Bryan. When Elizabeth was summoned to back to court in January 1536 to help her parents celebrate the death of Catherine of Aragon, the main challenge to the legitimacy of their marriage, it is said that Henry proudly paraded his daughter in front of the court and how Anne must have enjoyed seeing her daughter again.

Tracy Borman then goes on to talk about the gradual decline of Henry and Anne’s marriage – Henry’s growing distaste for his wife, his infidelity, Anne’s miscarriages and Henry’s growing belief that God was offended by his marriage to Anne and so was withholding the male heir that Henry craved so much. As Henry spent more and more time with his new love, Jane Seymour, Borman talks of how Anne concentrated on ordering fine clothes for her daughter and when, in April 1536, Elizabeth came to visit her parents, Anne spent all her time with Elizabeth, playing with the toddler and dressing her up, bonding with the daughter who was kept away from her so much.

We all know how the story ends – how Cromwell conspires to bring about the fall of Anne, the woman who threatened his position at court and even his life, and the wife who had become so “irksome” to Henry. However, Borman tells a slightly different story about the events leading up to Anne’s arrest. In biographies like the one written by Eric Ives, we learn that Henry is sent a message at the May Day joust about Anne’s alleged infidelities and that he never sees Anne again, yet Borman suggests that Anne hears of the rumours of her alleged misconduct and, like in “The Tudors”, appeals to the King with Elizabeth in her arms. Her appeal, even with babe in arms, is not heard and Anne is tried and found guilty of all charges.

On 19th May 1536 a very brave and courageous woman climbed the scaffold. Anne Boleyn made a dignified speech in which she praised the King, an attempt probably to keep her daughter and other family members safe from the wrath of the King she knew so well. Anne was then executed by a French swordsman and buried in an arrow chest in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, with other traitors.

Anne’s Legacy

As we know, Elizabeth I inherited many things from her mother. Although she had the Tudor red hair, her coal black eyes and swarthy skin were inherited from her mother and Borman lists the character traits that Elizabeth got from Anne: tenacity, charisma, self-discipline and also occasional cruelty and vindictiveness. However, the story of her mother’s life also deeply affected Elizabeth. Elizabeth I learned from her mother’s example that she should never put her trust in displays of love, that she should “guard her reputation fiercely” and that she should be as self-reliant as possible. Although Borman credits Anne’s life and death with making Elizabeth the “self-reliant, political pragmatist” that she was, this was also learned from other people in her life and experiences that she herself went through.

Tracy Borman believes that Anne had many qualities that would have made her a great queen, and I too believe this whole-heartedly, but she also had many flaws, “fatal flaws” as Borman calls them, and it was by recognising both her qualities and flaws that Elizabeth was able to become the amazing Queen that she became.

Further Reading

“Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen” by Tracy Borman
The Elizabeth Files – our sister site all about Elizabeth I.
“The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by Eric Ives – The best Anne Boleyn biography available.

New Henry VIII Resources Now Available

The latest Henry VIII talk is now available to listen to at the Historic Royal Palaces site. In this talk David Starkey considers how Henry VIII, arguably the world’s most famous king, has maintained his reputation for 500 years. Click here to listen to it.

Thanks to Anne Boleyn Files Visitor, Oraya, for pointing this one out. If you have been unable to use the National Archives to browse or order copies of documents pertaining to Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn and her trial, you can now access records online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/Forthcoming.aspx?v=0 – Click on the first link “Letters & Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII” and then you can search for “Anne Boleyn” or look at records for different dates. It’s a fantastic resource.

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