Full Title: Why Does Anne Boleyn Haunt Us So Much Nearly 474 Years After Her Death?
As I sit snowed in by the second major nor’easter to hit the northeastern United States in 5 days, it gives me time to think about Anne and why she still has an effect on some of us so long after her death. Why Anne?
There were plenty of other queens to occupy our thoughts and fantasies, most of their lives having much happier outcomes than Anne’s did. She was not a long-reigning queen like Victoria, nor a woman renowned for her power, wealth and beauty during her own lifetime, like Eleanor of Aquitaine. I can only speak for myself, but I have some thoughts on the matter.
In my case, Anne has fascinated and haunted me since I first heard her story – probably as a child or pre-teen. Being a rather scrawny girl with dark brown hair and brown eyes, I was far from the feminine ideal of the buxom, blue-eyed blonde who seemed to be every man’s fantasy. In the fairy tales we all hear as children, the beautiful, blue-eyed blonde heroine always ends up with the handsome prince. The villainesses are ugly, dark-eyed brunettes who are vindictive and jealous of their much fairer counterparts. They throw everything possible in the heroine’s path but her goodness, sweetness and beauty always wins in the end, leaving them bitter and frustrated at best. Yet here one of the most powerful men of his time, Henry VIII of England, was obsessed by a woman who was described by Venetian diplomat Francesco Sanuto when he saw her in Calais as having a “bosom not much raised”, “swarthy complexion”, and “eyes which are black and beautiful”. So maybe there was hope for me after all!
Another thing that I’ve always admired about Anne was her feisty personality – she actually had the gumption to deny the powerful Henry VIII his most ardent desire for seven years – until she was on the cusp of having the relationship on her own terms as his wife and queen. Maybe part of Anne’s tragedy is that what Henry saw as desirable in a potential mistress was the exact opposite of what he wanted in a wife – someone who was meek and accommodating. The fact that he couldn’t have her just made him desire her more. I’ve always hoped that sometimes Henry missed Anne after she was gone, even though history suggests otherwise. I’ve never been able to figure out how Henry could have ordered the death of one he had once loved as passionately as he loved Anne. But then, as the saying goes, the opposite of love is not hate but indifference, and I guess that Henry’s passion had turned to a new direction. I’ve never been able to figure out why history views Jane Seymour so favorably and Anne so negatively. Either Jane was a spineless wimp who allowed her father, brothers and other members of the anti-Boleyn faction to manipulate her for their own benefit, or she was a cold, calculating woman who hid behind a goody-two-shoes facade in order to destroy her rival. At least with Anne you knew what you were dealing with! But then, as the saying goes, history is written by the victors. Much has been made of how Jane was able to reunite Henry with his eldest daughter, Mary. However, the fact remains that Mary was forced to acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the Church of England and her beloved mother’s marriage to be “by God’s law and man’s law incestuous and unlawful” before Henry would her back to court and back into his life. Then he made a self-serving comment to her about she and the Duke of Richmond (her illegitimate half-brother) were rescued from “that poisonous strumpet” (meaning Anne). This betrayal of Katherine of Aragon’s memory would haunt Mary for the rest of her life.
My quest to “discover” Anne continued when my parents gave me a tour to London as a combined 22nd
birthday/college graduation present. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to go – I had always gotten homesick before, and London is a long way from New Jersey! However, my cousin was looking for a
companion to go on the tour with her, and my parents convinced me that after I started working I might not get such an opportunity again. I agreed to go, and on my first morning there the group visited the Tower of London.
I remembered feeling like I was standing on hallowed ground as I stood before the scaffold site on Tower
Green. I actually felt my hair stand on end, knowing that I was standing on ground that Anne had walked on so long ago! Since then, I’ve taken every possible opportunity to travel to England, visiting the Tower of London (once on May 19th, Anne Boleyn Day!), Hever Castle, Hampton Court Palace, Blickling Hall (which is on the site of Anne’s probably birthplace, but, unfortunately, not the original building), and every other possible site pertaining to Anne, Henry or the Tudors. I honestly believe that my parents came to regret talking me into taking that tour! On October 29th I attended a psychic event at Hever Castle which included dinner in the Astor Wing and overnight at the castle. Connections there led me to the Anne Boleyn Files and the Anne Boleyn Experience 2010. I’m really looking forward to meeting like-minded people who are as passionate about Anne and Tudor history as I am! I guess that when I go to dinner in the main dining room at Hever Castle wearing my Tudor reproduction dress I’ll feel like I’ve come full circle!
By Nancy Smith