Henry VIII and 3 wivesLast week, I published a guest article, Fact, by Clare Cherry in which she talked about the problem of assumptions and theories becoming taken as fact. The article received lots of comments and I also received a fair few emails about it. One Anne Boleyn Files follower asked me “but why are these “notions” not challenged and put straight, so we can have facts and not myths?” I replied that while there are those who perpetuate myths and “notions”, there are many others who are working hard to challenge them or correct them. Here at the Anne Boleyn Files, for example, I share with you what I have found through my own research and I question some of what is taken as “fact” about Anne Boleyn, other Tudor personalities and events. I also share the work of other historians, authors and researchers.

Clare listed a few assumptions and theories that are taken as fact, so I thought I’d list some of these again with links to articles and videos challenging them. I hope you find it helpful.

Some myths, assumptions and theories can be blown out of the water by what primary sources tell us, others can be challenged and another rational viewpoint put forward. In studying history, we have to conclude that there are many things that we will never know for sure, which is the joy of the subject and which keeps us busy debating. And, of course, things can get messy when primary sources do not corroborate each other or when they are open to interpretation. Fun!

P.S. On this day in history, 11th August 1534, the friars observant were expelled from their houses due to their support of Catherine of Aragon and their refusal to accept the King’s supremacy. Click here to read more.

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7 thoughts on “Correcting the myths”
  1. Thanks for this compilation, Claire. I agree that in studying history, there are many things we will never know for certain. I rely on primary sources (and this site, ha!) to gain knowledge of Tudor history, specifically Anne. This topic of “fact or myth” reminds me a of line from Alexander Ales’ letter to Queen Elizabeth I describing his thoughts on Anne’s last days (I love that letter, it really does provide some fascinating contemporary insight) – he writes:

    “I will therefore recount, with brevity and simplicity, the events as they occurred, introducing no ornaments of doctrine, as is done by some historical writers thereby to recommend themselves to their readers and to obtain credence for their narrative.”

    1. Concerning ‘primary sources’, I often wonder how much more could be learned from Continental documents especially in France. While Anne Boleyn became a nonperson after her execution, surely more details like her age, rumours, and idle gossip were raging away from the oversight of Henry.

  2. Ah but I fear ‘interpretation’ is inevitable in history and historians must write books and hope they are best sellers and also ‘hold an opinion’. Who would read a historian who said, “Well, basically I agree with everyone else.” And who would read a novel with a heroine who was ‘basically nice but tried and failed’. Who would watch a documentary which told us that the past is unknowable because the sources are so few ‘interpretation’ is all we have?
    There is this ‘live interaction thing’ between us and what has been. It bristles with the hopes, fears and aspirations of the past and our own. But we can get an impression of this other world, this yesteryear. However filtered, biased and individual that impression is. My Anne Boleyn is not yours but then, my Queen Eliz.2. isn’t yours, either. I guess.

  3. Thanks for this interesting group of articles, with sources you always have to analyse and interpret as some are biased in one way or other. It is excellent to have such great sources and evidence, myths are for drama, fiction, entertainment, all good but the real history and evidence is what matters. Interpreting sources helps you to understand history, but it can also be challenging, especially if they don’t agree.

  4. One of the things that annoy me about these kind of myths is that in 21st C, we as a society are so much different from our Tudor counterparts.

    Had George been a wife-beater, it wouldn’t have been a big thing for the era, now in most western countries , domestic abuse has become a criminal offense irregardless of the gender/sexuality of the abuser.
    I remember my first full-time employment was in an office and one of the other women was off since she was in hospital. Two of the other female workers agreed that”it was her fault, cos every-one knows what a man’s like when he’s had a few drinks” and that was the mid-1980’s.

    I’m still hearing some men being excused from a level of guilt…cos She caused it!


    1. Hi Anyanka, thanks for your interesting link. One devastating effect of domestic violence is the troubling way children are damaged by witnessing domestic violence. I did some focus groups with children who had experienced this in their lives and how they responded to what they had experienced in contrast to other family relationships and how they saw the parental roles in the family. It was terribly heart rendering to hear their stories, nightmares and to even sadly hear nine years old children even blame the battered parent. This is because domestic violence teaches the partner and child that they are worthless and this is normal and acceptable. The children were going through very intensive and long term counselling, but it is frightening that without intervention and escape from the situation, that this tragic cycle of violence can and does pass to the next generation. It was one of the hardest and rewarding projects as a social researcher I worked on as a volunteer. It’s very frightening to think that for centuries this was acceptable, as was physical punishment for children, although the severity was regulated. The police only began to take it seriously in recent years.

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