As I was tossing and turning last night, unable to sleep, it struck me that Anne Boleyn is a rather polarising figure. People seem to either love her or hate her (like marmite*), and she’s surrounded by contradictory labels and opinions.

  • Anne Boleyn the Saint versus Anne Boleyn the Whore
  • Home-wrecker versus victim of sexual harassment
  • Heroine of the English Reformation versus conservative Catholic
  • Helpless victim of Henry’s whims versus ambitious, manipulative crown seeker
  • Witty and charming woman, with some kind of sexual magnetism, versus predator who had Henry in some kind of sexual stranglehold
  • Beautiful woman who made heads turn versus woman with an extra finger, wen and protruding tooth
  • Innocent victim versus woman who got everything she deserved
  • Defender of the poor versus money grabbing, power hungry woman
  • Woman with a true faith versus someone who used the new religious ideas for political purposes
  • Henry VIII’s true love and passion versus a woman he simply lusted after
  • Wicked stepmother versus insecure stepmother trying her best

I’m sure you can think of more!

The real Anne Boleyn probably lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes, but we’ll never know what she was really like as a person, wife, mother and queen. Primary sources can only tell us so much, and obviously we have to take into account the bias of the person writing the letter or account, so we’re stuck. I can hypothesise, I can make informed decisions about Anne based on historical sources, but I cannot hand-on-heart tell you about the real Anne because I don’t know her and she lived 500 years ago. All I can share on this site and in my books is my opinion and the opinions of those who knew her.

One of the things that draws me to Anne is the mystery surrounding her, the puzzle that she is and I adore solving puzzles. This one will never be solved and that’s frustrating, but I will never stop digging and I delight in finding more sources and information. History is a mystery and, as Napoleon one said, “History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon” so we don’t have a hope of getting to the absolute truth, do we?

You can read more of my thoughts about the labels given to Anne in my article Anne Boleyn the Mysterious and Maligned One.

*For those of you who have never heard of marmite, it’s a savoury spread made of yeast extract. Their advertising has always been about people either loving it or hating it. I’m a marmite lover, by the way!

P.S. Terri Spink won the recent giveaway for spreading the news of my book promotion. Congratulations, Terri, I’ll be emailing you!

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36 thoughts on “Anne of the Thousand Extremes”
  1. Isn’t it better then, that Anne truly IS a mystery to us, 500 years later? That is, I think, a good percentage of her allure. We know some things that cannot be denied – she was married to Henry VIII, and was the mother of Elizabeth I.

    Everything else about her, however, is limited to tantalizing clues and hints that may never be satisfactorily answered.

    The reality is that even some historical figures, of whom we have detailed records of their lives and personalities, have aspects to them that are total mysteries – Henry VIII himself, for example. Why did he allow Anne’s downfall and execution, especially since he was so passionately in love with her?

    As for Anne herself, maybe there was that aspect of enigma about her while she was alive – some loved her passionately for it (Henry Percy, Thomas Wyatt and Henry VIII) while others hated her with an equal passion (Eustace Chapuys, Mary Tudor later Mary I, Nicholas Carewe)

    What is the attraction of a mystery person? That the person cannot be known or understood fully. Everyone around that enigma wants answers to that mystery for whatever reason, and the lack of answers can possibly drive the more determined “detectives” mad with either admiration/love, or frustration/hatred.

    As for the mystery person him or herself, there might be things they are reluctant to reveal, such as what might be perceived as a weakness, or something they just want to keep private. Or it might be that part of that mystery is just as much of a puzzle to the enigma him or herself.

    Anne Boleyn has, in her own mystery, not only 500 years between herself and her fervent modern admirers and detractors, but also the fact that her life was so controversial within the span of her own lifetime. Most of the mysteries of Anne Boleyn will probably NEVER be satisfactorily answered, one way or another.

  2. Interesting thoughts but I think I know what you mean. Can anyone ever really know another person, especially those from the past? You can only come up with the most likely scenario based on the evidence available.

  3. I also think that Anne is a rather ambivalent personality but nevertheless very manipulator and emotional.

    I am happy to see that you are very objective. We shall never know the whole truth, unless new historic proofs are born.

    A bientôt.

    Daphnée Diane

  4. Claire, I think you’re right….people either love her or hate her. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a “middle of the road/fence sitting” faction. I think that in itself says a great deal about Anne, plus the fact that there are so many people still interested in her 500 years later! 🙂

  5. I agree with miladyblue that a lot of Anne’s allure is that she is so much of a mystery to us. It is that way with many historical figures. Another historical figure that has that effect on historians and everyday people was Jack the Ripper. People are obsessed with who this person was – was he Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Eddy? Dr. Gull, royal physician? Jane the Ripper, a woman? There are several Jack the Ripper walks every night leaving from the Tower Hill Underground station, evidence of how interested people still are even after over 100 years. I’ve heard FBI profilers speak of the fact that Jack was, in all probability, a person who lived in the East End of London (perhaps a butcher, who one would have expected to be covered in blood), since most serial killers are of the same socio-economic status as their victims. However, it is more interesting to speculate that Jack was someone important and famous. I don’t mean to liken Anne to Jack the Ripper, but I was just citing another example of someone who is a mystery to us continuing to pique our interest.

  6. If we got to know EVERYTHING, and figured Anne Boleyn to the smallest detail, motivations, and psychological makeup; we might become disenchanted with her. Some things are best left a mystery. For 500 years the world has been aware and fascinated by her; imagine if we found out Henry’s motivation to let her fall and her likeness and character totally revealed. She would become a short sentence in history, forgotten. A footnote.
    Not knowing her keeps her alive; this way, we can mould her to our own way of thinking. Investing her with the qualities we want her to possess. The facts of her life make her an ideal form to dress it up with our ideas or longings.
    Unless my dream of finding a cache of portraits, diaries and letters owned by her or Henry comes true; she will remain as quicksilver. Flashes of her in the dark, too fast to see clearly, but long enough to tantalize you with ‘knowing’ what the flash meant to say.
    (I feel very wistful this morning, the absense of enough caffeine, no doubt)

  7. Its a shame that a better examination of her remains were not done when her grave was exhumed. That would have answered many questions concerning her appearance especially the 6th finger and protruding tooth reports.

  8. I love the different ways people interpret Anne. It proves she was a fascinating woman during her life to elicit such conflicting responses. We’ll never realy know, will we? BUt I love the imagining!

  9. My personal opinion is that there is so much unknown about her that to hate her is being terribly unfair. In fact, I’m certain that if you find someone that hates her, and ask them why, their hate would come from the myths and untruths – their own ignorance of the facts really. I’m not slamming anyone – one of my friends always says ‘she was a bitch!’ when her name comes up and I’ve learnt she’s happy not knowing and has no interest in the truth so I let it be. But really; think about it. The only few bad things we know for a fact about her – some bitter things she has said, her sometimes lack of compassion for KOA; these aren’t ‘hateful’ things, but human things. If she caused the split between Henry and KOA perhaps we’d be fair in judging her lack of compassion. But seen in the factual light; where Henry had left KOA and Anne was the new woman and probably from her point of view she thought it terribly unfair she was getting the blame and probably got frustrated at KOA making things worse for herself – and worse for Anne by effect. There’s only a handful of ‘bad’ things we can factually pin to her – and most are words spoken in anger. There’s no truth to the myth she was behind the poisonings on Fisher’s guests, no matter what certain historians try and say!

  10. And conversely, if we look at what things we have in fact, that make her ‘lovable’ or well, admirable, there are plenty. She had guts, loads of them. She was lion heartedly strong willed, in a world where women were chattel. I have nothing but admiration for the women that lived in earlier eras that broke through barriers, loudly and without apology. Sometimes I wish I was born earlier because it would have been so much fun being a firecracker like that! There’s no more barriers for me to smash, and part of me resents that. There are still causes for which to fight, but none so important and world changing than how women have overthrown their oppressors these past 500 years. Only a decade before my birth my mother tells me you needed a man to get a home loan – her wage wasn’t factored into the mortgage calculation of my parents first house bought in the 1970’s Australia! And when she first began teaching, men were paid more and women had to wear skirts! I think my mother is relieved I was born too late to cause much trouble; just her telling these stories sends me into a fury!

    1. hi Tania – no more barriers for you to smash? you’re just not paying attention! read the paper and you’ll see that while women aren’t constrained in the extreme ways the Tudor women were … well, for instance: before my first marriage, when i was 21, i was known by my father’s last name. 21 years later, when i married, i was known by my husband’s last name. at 30, when i married the lovely man i’ve been with since then, i had had enough of having some man’s last name. so, i chose my own last name … and had to PAY a court fee and a documents fee to make it legal!

      check back with us in 15 years and tell us if you still feel there are not enough barriers for you to “smash.” you sound like a very young girl, “very young” being under 30.

      1. I am under 30, yes. But surely you cannot compare traditional nomenclature with the terrible lives these women often had to lead? If your mother wishes for you to have both last names this can easily be accomplished at birth by registering you under both. The mother does indeed have a choice, and as in many cases, can give the child her name only and the father’s not at all. The only reason it cost you money is because of the paperwork and flimflam these things go through. Any person no matter their gender must do this if for instance, they wish to do the very opposite and switch from their mother’s surname to their fathers. It is a long tradition, but really has no relevance now I agree, and most young men would agree too, and would likely accept a hyphenated surname or not sharing a surname with their spouse. To me it is not something that is a representation of oppression, but is rather the obvious outcome from a long standing tradition that simply made for its very simplicity: having people named in a regular way makes for ease of paperwork etc, and I believe it is because it is easier that it has survived, rather than to subjugate females.

        Contrast that with an era where women were literally brought up to get married to a match that fared best for their family, to make that husband happy, and to raise a succession of children in an age of limited birth control which rendered the poor women constantly pregnant or breast feeding from age 20 to 45 at least! Only if they were very lucky would this be the life they truly wanted, with the man they truly wanted. If their husband was abusive it was seen as her fault, failure to pop out a succession of healthy male children was also her fault. Women were seen as closer to the ‘devil’ and its offshoots of witchcraft and healing. Occupations were out of the question for the most part; and remaining single by choice not only seen as terribly odd, but also viewed as very selfish for failing to marry well and provide for their family as best they could.

        If you compare this to now; today I feel that females do still get held back (lower pay, less desired for permanent positions due to childbirth etc) and that needs to change, at the same time there is nothing I am held back from and is impossible for me simply on account of my gender (one exception of Catholic Priest). I do vote in order to equalize the pay levels across gender and stop discrimination of childbearing age women, but this problem is not a barrier in which one can smash. Women have been exceptions and paid very well, but still that is not smashing the barrier as that cannot be done by one but by all of us working towards that goal. And like with surnames, it is not a barrier and cannot be smashed by one alone in comparison to the women like Anne, who really caused sexist men’s eyebrows to shoot up into their hairline as she fearlessly broke all the rules with a seductive smile and a wink!

  11. I really admire Anne Boleyn. She was a feisty woman, and I should think unusual for the times. I believe that she was attracted to Henry VIII, but that her big objective was to obtain wealth and power for herself and her family. She made sure that she wasn’t going to submit to Henry without being married to him first, and not just a passing fancy for the King. His early fascination with her seems to have become more of an irritation as time went by, and all the accusations against her manufactured as a result. I have just completed a course on the Tudors, and find the period endlessly interesting. My reading list is incredible!!

  12. people tend to judge people on their own thoughts on what they believe to be right or wrong behaviour but really she was both good and bad alike and so what if she had a mole or two and a wart which i suspect where the sixth finger story comes from .she probably was not beautiful but what does that matter .we will never understand what went on 500 yrs ago but it does seem to have been a driven ambition back then to get to the top regardless of what you had to do and anne probably did just that ,i might add like everyone else i will never accept the execution of her and many others to be justified ,but no one should view her as saintly and she wasnt she lived in a time we cant possibly understand what it was like to just exist ,and no she didnt poison or murder anyone she would have been constantly watched by everyone ,not a nice time at all

    1. I agree that people tend to judge others based on their own perceptions. I was just thinking about the fictional character of Scarlett O’ Hara from “Gone with the Wind”. People received the same description of her character and there were those who loved her and those her hate her.

      1. Reading your point I realised what it is about both of them: Anne the Quene and Scarlett. Both have character descriptions that are feisty, strong willed, spirited and also somewhat selfish. The difference between the two is Anne’s traditional description is at least partly based on myth. But I think your point is good; these two people are so polarizing I think because it is very different to admire someone from afar, from a very different age in history and look at them with admiration for their spirit. But, if say you imagined either (mythical version of Anne and fictional Scarlett) as a close friend or acquaintance to you, would you say the same? Scarlett offers a good study as reading a fictional book about this amazing woman is one thing, but if Scarlett were real and you lived in her town and moved in the same circles in certain we’d all despise her. Her betrayals of long suffering Melanie, her manipulation of two men and her lack of satisfaction with just one are not admirable in the least. In fact, I’d change my view from ‘strong willed’ to simply ‘cowardly, really’. And perhaps Anne would present a similar situation, who knows? WOULD we like her if we were say Jane Rochford or Mary I or Mary Rose Tudor, or a relatively lowdown serving maid? I still hold that there isn’t enough fact about her to cast her in the Scarlett mould, or in any mould, but it is possible we’d see it differently being there and seeing the results of Anne’s reign as Quene. She was certainly divisive in her own time.

  13. Anne’s history, in and of itself, keeps people mesmerized by her. She will always remain a mystery to some degree, because it just simply has been much too long ago to know everything. Everyone gives their two cents worth on how she really might have been, but the one sure thing is, none of us know everything. Makes for riveting history. I like Anne Boleyn. I imagine she would indeed have been a force to reckon with. And how does the old saying go? A lady always knows when its time to leave. There was nothing else she could do. And so she bowed out very gracefully. The people of today owe her a great deal of respect, I think, albeit too little, too late.

  14. It is a strange trait in most humans, if not all of us to some degree, that the more negativity that is attached to someone, the more they are remembered by people, I suppose its because ‘bad’ is more exciting than ‘good’. This is what I feel has happened with Anne, she is so much more interesting portrayed as a Tempress, seducer, cruel and manipulative (with extra body parts), who got her just deserts, than the kind and loving side of the woman, who was ‘stitched up’ by her husband.

    And I must admit it was these things that allured me to her as a young lass, and I wanted to read more about this ‘Wicked Queen’, luckily, as time went by I learnt more, and found out about the real woman behind the myths, well, as Claire says, as best you can with what few sources there are about someone who lived 500 years ago.
    What I can not understand is why she still breeds such hatred in people in this day and age…. its almost as those who hate her so much are still of the mind set from all though years ago, its archaic.. She wasn’t perfect, who is, but what did she do that was so bad, apart from become a King’s desire, who in turn ripped the country apart to have her…compare her with others through history, she fairs better than most, especially that husband of hers’…. 🙂

  15. That’s why I enjoy reading all the novels about her so much — even the really bad ones will tell us a lot, not so much about her but about what the popular perception of her and her story was at the time. For example, in a lot of very early works (17th-early 19th century) Thomas Cromwell either barely appears or is completely absent; of course, Anne is primarily a Protestant heroine in those stories and it doesn’t seem right to have the Protestant Cromwell helping bring her down. The recent rash of novels highlighting the disagreements between Anne and Cromwell on the dissolution of the monasteries are good evidence of the deserved popularity of Ives’s “The Life And Death Of Anne Boleyn” — pre-2004 books never mention the monastery monies as an issue at all.

  16. One of the great joys of The Anne Boleyn Files is reading the comments; they alone prove what a diverse attitude circulates around Anne Boleyn and how her allure attracts people even after 500 years. I too would love a cache of new documents and potraits about her to be found but as that is unlikely all we can do is speculate about her personality, her attitude, beliefs, the reasons for her doing and saying things and frankly, all aspects of her life. There is not one day that is throughly documented by contemporary records – not even the day of her execution – and no one can say “on this day Queen Anne did and said all these things” with 100% accuracy. In that lies the means for our imaginations to soar; we can walk through her life and arrange things to suit ourselves even if we keep these thoughts private and do not share them. We write her story over and over in our minds always wondering what really transpired and manipulating the facts we know with the desires we harbor in our hearts for her. Whether a fan of Queen Anne or a detractor, the ability to “rewrite” her life to suit ourselves is a heady temptation! It’s a temptation I enjoy playing with often and in the world I have created in my mind for her, I see her as a strong woman in an era when strong women were not appreciated unless it was from afar. I see her as a woman desparately trying to figure out a man who goes from a long,lusty and passionate love affair to a husband who easily steps into affairs with no hesitation. I see her as a Queen who does not know exactly how to be a Queen but who is trying to find her place and I see her as a mother who rejoices in her ability to give her child costly clothesand gifts. I see her in many other ways as well; too many to name her but I shall always see her as a woman caught up in political games that she was not equipped to negotiate in very well and coupled with the sadness of not giving the KIng a son, became her downfall. That she died with dignity and the strength of her faith sustaining her is a testiment to the kind of woman she was and I try to base my “what ifs” with that in mind because anything else would be disgraceful to her memory.

  17. That’s an interesting point. Another example is that when the idea that Anne & Cromwell argued over the dissolution of the religious houses certain facts are left out. That Henry not Cromwell or Anne was making the decisions about what was done with the money from the dissoultion. Also that less than a year before Cromwell had tried to have a poor law passed that would have made up for the loss of alms given by religious houses. Of course neither Anne or Cromwell were protestants as we would understand the word and it is hard now to accurately tell how ‘radical’ they were as reformers. If there was an argument it could have been over matters of doctrine rather than the fininacial aspect of the dissolution.

  18. I love the mystery of Anne Boleyn. The fact that we don’t know everything about her makes it so much more fascinating, don’t you think? For me, Anne Boleyn is Henry VIII’s most interesting wife. . . Maybe because she was the first to be beheaded? Maybe because she was the first to drag a Queen from her throne? She seemed to be an exciting women, mysterious even. . . Vivat Boleyn’s 😉

  19. I fell in love with Queen Anne I guess becasue she was my kinda gal. She was her own person…not falling into the mold that the men in her life wanted to place her. I think she had a strong sexual appeal and used it. She also didnt like the boot placed upon every english neck by the catholic church and used her power within the court to make radical changes. I also liked the idea that she held a mans title…the first in England. My history teacher, used Anne daughter as the lure. He introduced me to Elizabeth the first. I remember the day he placed that book in my hands. I was a sophmore having a hard time. He was just like “Read about this great woman who rose above the fact she didnt have a mother either.” I did. I was hooked. Naturally then I made the leap from Elizabeth to Anne. Women who changed the world.

  20. I find it funny that people don’t see what Henry VIII’s behavior 500 yrs ago is really no different than it is now for some people (men and women alike) today. It was just harder for him to get a simple divorce because of the political aspect. Men and women today change partners like underwear in some cases. Also think of all the diseases he may have had and the effect they would have had on his mind.

  21. It think it has to be looked at in the context of its time. As a Catholic, my natural thoughts about Anne Boleyn are ones of disgust towards any woman who breaks up a marriage (and the same towards the fickle, faithless Henry VIII). As a woman, one of admiration for a charismatic woman. However, as someone who studied medieval history at university (all pre-Tudor), I also look at her actions in the context of their time. King John killing his nephew is awful to modern sensibilities but, to a Plantagenet trying to keep a dynasty on track, it perhaps seemed part of the course. So in an oppressive court where the King held more or less absolute power and marriages were,more often than not, marriages of state, her actions are not so awful. At least to me. As to the whole six fingers, dodgy tooth and wen – I’d say that was codswallop in the same way Richard III didn’t have one shoulder higher or a hunchback – Tudor propaganda in that particular case.

    1. Just to be absolutely clear, Anne did not break up Henry’s marriage to KoA. They were already estranged – he hadn’t slept with her in 2 years, due to a “female” problem that he found repulsive -and they were functioning as separate courts except in the case of offical state functions. Henry had begun sending out feelers on how he could end his marriage as far back as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Falling in love with Anne just made him more determined to get it done.

  22. When I research Anne Boleyn’s name, the first statement that I often see is:
    “The Mother of Queen Elizabeth I.”

    The little child lost her adoring mother before the age of three, and may have barely

    remembered her; but I embrace “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child” and realize how

    ecstatic Henry VIII and Queen Anne were during the pregnancy.

    I love Anne Boleyn because in the end, she won.

  23. I just love reading about royalty exspecially medevel times. I would love to tour the tower of London and all the other castles that go back to medevel times. I’m from Massachusetts the old English colony and we are famous for witches and I’m told Queen Anne was a witch. I hope I meet Queen Anne in the after life so I can talk to her get to know her and practise witch craft and magic with her. I wish I had the pleasure of knowing Queen Anne in this life.

  24. Hi! I ran across this site while one night after watching Tudors. I will admit that I’m not a fan of the real Anne Bolyen.ND did a awesome job of playing her. I like KOA. I don’t hate Anne or think she was some evil whore. I do think it’s wrong to come between a marriage even if it is on it’s last legs. I also think her harsh words and treatment of Mary was wrong as well. Your site has softened my heart towards Anne a tad bit and I have more sympathy for her and her suffering. I do think Karma bit her in the butt in terms of Anne’s miscarriages and Henry turning on her like he did KOA. By no means do I think she deserved to die and her revenge was Elizabeth being one of England’s greatest monarchs. Keep up the great work and I will visit your site more often.

  25. I’m new in the Anne Boleyn subjet. But I have been reading like 10 books already.
    I just bought”” the fall of Anne Boleyn”” and”” Anne boley a countdown””by Claire.
    I got fustrated because I cannot find anything new about Anne. For me it became an addiction.
    I respect the way Anne manage herself after being courted by Henry VIII. Some of us criticized her for being in the middle of Henry and Catalina de Aragon. But, if you see what she can do??? Henry was powerful and he could raise or lower everybody’s position. Also, How many times she left to Hever Castle?? People said that it was an strategy to get Henry more in love with her. Really??? Anne was in love with Henry Percy.
    After all she was a human being, I’m pretty sure she made mistakes but I do not think she would try to harm Henry, Mary or the duke of Richmond.
    Now, if you think about Catalina de Arangon and Tomas Moore ( Saints ) they burned a lot of people, I know it was their religion or belief, but doesn’t Catalina had a good heart??
    Everything comes to an end and everybody gets what they deserve.
    Anne—- Her daughterElizabeth 1 was the best Monarch in England. Loved by her people
    Catalina —— Her daughter Mari 1 was the worst and dangerous monarch in England. Hated by her people.
    Henry— would die alone and would never know that it was not the boy he was so proud of. but instead it was the girl who he left abandoned the one who continue his legacy.
    It would be better not to look for Anne’s good or bad deeds, it’s better to think what she left for us with her legacy, Her daughter Elizabeth I.

  26. Hi there
    I am currently reading the biography of AB by Paul Friedman, I was searching the internet and came across your site. I, like many others, have always been intrigued by Anne and would love to know more about her but she remains elusive. Anne does not have a voice, we are only left with the opinions of others. Most of her personal writings,portraits etc will have been destroyed as her enemies tried to airbrush her from history. Anne has the last laugh though and she lives forever. Love the site, I a sure I will be a regular visitor.

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