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!