In defence of the second wife by Clare Cherry
Posted By Claire on May 23, 2016
Thank you to Clare Cherry, co-author of George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat, for sharing her thoughts on Anne Boleyn’s position as “the other woman” and second wife.
Divorce is highly distressing and stressful, especially when there is a third party involved. Sometimes couples come to the mutual decision that their marriage is at an end, and in those circumstances, it is far easier for both of them because they are both reconciled to in inevitable. More often it is one of the parties to a marriage who wishes to bring it to an end. That causes enormous heartache to the other spouse, and that heartache often leads to anger and bitterness. That is tenfold when the spouse who is seeking an end to the marriage is doing so because they have met someone else. Although there are as many husbands whose wives have left them for another man, for the sake of this narrative I’m looking at the husband going off with a trollop…oops, other woman. Actually, isn’t that the general assumption, even today? If a woman commits adultery she is a whore, if a man commits adultery he is committing it with a whore.
Either way, it’s a nightmare for the injured party. It can also be a nightmare for the other woman, who automatically becomes the guilty party.
All of this leads me to Anne Boleyn. I know we cannot look at sixteenth century people and morality from a twenty-first century perspective, but they were still human beings, and I think a lot of the issues and emotions surrounding Henry, Catherine of Aragon and Anne (there were three of them in that marriage!) can still be understood by us today.
Catherine was set aside because she couldn’t give Henry VIII a son. If she had provided healthy sons, then Henry would have settled for mistresses. That meant he would not have had Anne Boleyn as a mistress because she refused to have him, but that would just have been tough luck for him. Sons by Catherine would have provided him with no supposed reason for setting aside the marriage by using Leviticus as justification. So healthy sons with Catherine would have meant no Queen Anne Boleyn.
But as we all know, it didn’t happen that way. So not only did Henry annul his marriage to Catherine because she couldn’t give him sons, but he also had another wife lined up at the same time. Double distress for Catherine. Catherine didn’t want to lose her husband or her position as queen. She saw behind her husband’s hypocrisy, and she wanted to protect her daughter from being bastardised. Also, because the Pope would not grant a divorce, Henry ultimately sort the break with Rome leading to the creation of the Church of England, of which he was the head. To the devoutly Catholic Catherine that would have been appalling. Her distress at the religious upheaval can only be imagined, but many people can empathise with her regarding the loss of her husband and position at his side. She blamed the other woman just as many wronged wives do today. A whore had stolen her husband and was taking her place as queen. A whore was leading her husband away from the true religion thereby risking his immortal soul. She hated Anne Boleyn, and it’s easy to understand why.
But what if there had been no Anne Boleyn? What if Anne had married James Butler and lived happily ever after? Do any of us seriously think that no Anne meant Henry would have stayed married to Catherine until the bitter end, irrespective of the fact she couldn’t provide him with a son and heir? Henry was looking at ways to divorce Catherine some considerable time before he considered Anne as a possible replacement. In any event, if it had not been Anne, it would have been someone else.
Anne Boleyn gets a huge amount of flack for breaking up the marriage of Henry and Catherine. The reality was that the marriage was effectively over, and had been for some years. Anne and her faction provided Henry with the answer to his desire for the annulment by evoking Leviticus, but who is to say that Henry would not have eventually come to that answer through his advisers such as Cromwell?
It was Anne Boleyn who caught Henry’s eye. She fled to Hever to avoid his advances, but when pursued by him eventually agreed to become his wife. She, like his other wives, had little choice in the matter once he had set his heart on marrying her, but for what it’s worth I also believe that she came to love him.
But we could say that all of that is irrelevant. Henry wanted to divorce Catherine, and he wanted another wife who would provide him with an heir. That woman happened to be Anne Boleyn, but if there had been no Anne Boleyn, then it would have been someone else. It was Anne Boleyn from Hever Castle with her reformist views, but it could have been Doris Smith from Clacton. That may be taking it a bit far, but you surely understand where I’m going with this.
Anne Boleyn turned the country on its head. She separated Henry from a much loved Queen, put the country at risk of war with Spain, and caused huge religious upheaval and thousands of deaths. Of course, those comments are completely ridiculous. Anne Boleyn didn’t turn the country on its head, she didn’t separate husband from wife, and she didn’t order the deaths of More, Fisher etc. or authorise the dissolution of the monasteries; Henry did that. To blame Anne is to suggest that Henry VIII was a weakling and a fool, and it gives far more power to Anne than she actually had.
Anne was blamed, abused and vilified by the public, both then and now, for Henry’s actions. But what if Henry’s second wife had been someone other than Anne Boleyn? What if the second wife had been a shy and retiring sweet-tempered woman who favoured the traditional Catholic faith? Would that have made any difference to how she was viewed then and now?
Anne Boleyn was charming and vivacious. She could be kind and generous, and was witty and intelligent. She was religious and genuinely attracted to reform. She could also be sharp-tempered, arrogant and cruel. She protected Elizabeth with the same zeal as Catherine protected Mary. Anne was cruel to Catherine and Mary. She demanded precedence for her daughter. She was jealous of Catherine and any communication or contact, whether direct or indirect, which Catherine had with Henry. In other words, taking a modern phrase, she was bolshie. That didn’t endear her to many of her contemporaries. But even if she had been that sweet-tempered, shy woman, she would still, in my opinion, have been seen as the guilty party. After all, who would have the audacity to blame the King, or criticise him for the choices he made. Because make no mistake that the choices made were Henry’s and his alone.
But it was Anne who was placed in the position of the other woman, the whore who broke up a marriage and who displaced the well-loved Catherine. If Anne had been an angel, she would still have shouldered the blame for that in the eyes of Catherine and the public. But Anne wasn’t an angel, few of us are. So let’s step into her shoes for a while. When a husband remarries, his new wife often has to cope with the hatred of the first wife, and the first wife’s friends and family. That’s even more tricky when the first wife was Queen of England and had the support and love of most of the country. It’s also hard when the first wife’s family include the King of Spain who can declare war at any moment.
Anne was not a fool. She and her family knew her marriage to Henry wasn’t supported by the English people or the majority of Henry’s court. She knew she was blamed for usurping Catherine, and was faced with a hostile court who were mostly opposed to reform of the church. Taking it at a human level, her husband’s friends preferred his first wife and wouldn’t accept her. Henry was the King, who paid his courtiers salaries, provided their wealth and power, and who they had to support at risk of being labelled a traitor. She retaliated to their antipathy with arrogance and determination. She was too proud to allow herself to be beaten into submission by those opposed to her marriage and who blamed her for all the ills at court.
Some disliked Anne because of her fiery personality, but she wasn’t hated for that. The hatred owed itself little to who she was or what she was like as a person, the hatred was because she was the other woman and because she supported reform of the Catholic Church within a court which was intrinsically orthodox.
The position she was in was down to Henry, and as long as he loved her he protected her from the enemies that he had largely created for her. But later, when he had tired of her as he had with Catherine, Henry conveniently forgot that he had pursued Anne rather than the other way around. He conveniently forgot that the hatred directed at her had been instigated by him and his actions. When he tired of her he fed her to the wolves by allowing her enemies, which he had effectively created, bring her down.
Anne was not to blame for the breakdown of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, although I don’t blame Catherine for choosing to believe that she was. Anne did not help her position following her marriage to Henry due to her temper and defiance, though I don’t blame her for reacting to her impossible position in that way. Anne was not to blame for the breakdown of her marriage to Henry either, just as Catherine of Aragon was not to blame for the breakdown of her marriage. Neither of them gave Henry the promised son. Henry tired of both of them. Catherine was set aside and banished for that. Anne died for it. If we are going to play the blame game’ there is really only one realistic suspect: the husband.
34 thoughts on “In defence of the second wife by Clare Cherry”
Thank you for shedding some much-needed light on this subject, and for really clarifying Anne’s role during these events in Henry’s life and in the history of England. I completely agree that Anne was not to blame for any of these, she was just caught up in a very complex situation. I hope that we can continue to spread this truth about her…
Great article Clare. There are two main reasons, I think, why Anne was so resented, and continues to be. Firstly, Katherine was a highly popular Queen. She was everything that contemporaries expected their queen to be: gracious, learned, kind, loyal and of excellent lineage. Secondly, the Boleyns were not popular and were the subject of negative rumours. It was not just Anne who was maligned: her brother, father and sister were all blackened by their enemies. It is possible that if Henry’s second wife had been a foreign princess, she would not have been as resented, even hated, as Anne was. The Boleyns were viewed as grasping and avaricious; they were overstepping the accepted boundaries.
Kings had obtained annulments, so Henry VIII’s desire for one was not unprecedented. Louis XII of France had had his first marriage to Jeanne of France annulled on the grounds of non-consummation; he also claimed that she was deformed. Henry VIII later had his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled, again because he had not consummated it. In both cases there were rumours of witchcraft. King John had his first marriage to Isabel of Gloucester annulled on grounds of consanguinity, while Humphrey duke of Gloucester’s marriage to Jacqueline of Hainault was annulled so that he could marry her attendant Eleanor Cobham.
Unfortunately, there were two main reasons why Henry’s bid for an annulment failed. Firstly, European politics. Katherine’s nephew was emperor Charles V, who maintained control over the Pope. The Pope had no wish to attract the hostility of the emperor by agreeing to annul Henry’s marriage to the emperor’s aunt. It would upset the balance of power in Europe and might even unleash war. Secondly, Katherine’s personality. Unlike other royal brides who agreed to an annulment, Katherine was not the shy and retiring type. She was a fearless, courageous and strong-willed woman who refused to believe that she had never been lawful queen of England, and was determined to protect her daughter Mary’s inheritance. Added to this was her refusal to step aside for someone who she clearly saw as inferior to her in birth, a mere gentlewoman as opposed to a princess.
Anne Boleyn had very little to do with this. At another time, had European politics made the pope more inclined to favour Henry VIII, or had Katherine’s personality been more amenable, then she might have become queen in more favourable circumstances, without the bloodshed and sorrow caused by the break with Rome. Anne was resented because of how popular Katherine was and because she was viewed as stepping outside of her accepted place that God had put her in. Her entire family were viewed as morally dubious and she herself was regarded as immoral.
Prior to Anne catching the King’s eye there is nothing to suggest the Boleyns were unpopular. Thomas Boleyn was a popular accomplished and successful courtier who was viewed as no more grasping or avaricious as any other of Henry’s courtiers. Rumours attempted to blacken their names after Henry had decided he wanted Anne as his wife. After Anne and George fell they were maligned, which is hardly surprising. I don’t think you can say that Anne’s entire family were viewed as morally dubious. That came from those opposed to the marriage, and following the fall of Anne and George. Had Anne not have caught the King’s eye I do not believe we would be discussing the Boleyns as being thought of as morally dubious.
Clare, I meant after she caught Henry’s eye her family were viewed thus. George Boleyn became the victim of cruel rumours, as did Mary. A story was invented that she had been Francis I’s mistress, when there is no evidence that she ever was.
I understand what you’re saying. Yes, I agree. Although with GB the rumours of promiscuity come solely from Cavendish.
Thanks for this excellent article, Clare!
Conor, I’m very interested in the point you raise about lineage, with regard to Catherine’s popularity and Anne’s lack of it. Would Catherine’s status as the child of ruling monarchs have outweighed any distrust that people might have felt about her Spanish background? I’m a beginner in my reading of Tudor history, but I got the sense that by the time Elizabeth came to the throne, the English people were very hostile toward any “foreign” matches. I guess I’m curious as to what exempted Catherine of Aragon from this hostility.
Thanks again, both of you!
I recall reading in some books (can’t remember the specific titles, though) that, during the Evil May Day riots of 1517 (anti-foreign), some Spaniards were killed (although other foreigners were the prime victims) — but Katherine of Aragon still joined her two sisters-in-law (and Wolsey) in begging Henry to be merciful to approximately 400 men facing the death penalty after being convicted of involvement in the riots. Her involvement made a particularly strong impression, since she was the only one of those seeking mercy who was not English born. (These efforts were successful, BTW).
Also, the riots notwithstanding, the anti-foreign prejudice in Katherine’s time was much less severe than it was in Elizabeth’s time. Mary’s reign — especially the matters blamed on Phillip (such as the involvement in the French war which ended with the loss of Calais) — really strengthened it.
Thank you, Esther!
A wonderful article Clare. There is so much undeserved blame placed upon Anne’s shoulders. People seem to forget that Henry was in charge. Thank you for this.
Thanks, Sharon. x
How much of the ill will that went on could be blamed directly on Henry’s approach to the whole matter?
Had Henry approach Katharine respectfully, and requested a divorce, because he was in desperate need of a male heir, which she could not provide – thanks to health problems and bad luck – would Katharine have dug in her heels so firmly? Yes, it would have pained her to lose her husband and her position, but I don’t think she would have fought as hard as she did to keep him, had he given her her due, and treated her respectfully.
Instead, Henry decides he has offended God by marrying his brother’s widow, and asks for an annulment, based on a questionably interpreted Bible verse, and then proceeds to treat Katharine – an Infanta of Spain AND Queen of England! – as if she were a willing accessory to a heinous, unforgivable crime. Their beloved surviving only child is treated as though she were born out of wedlock, and disinherited of her rightful place in the Kingdom. Then, he decides to “destroy” a beloved Church, just so he could have what he wanted.
Anne Boleyn is definitely not to blame for the breakup of that marriage. It was Henry, acting like a spoiled brat, who is solely to blame. Unfortunately, there are too many years of oddball morality that have built up, and left the blame solely on Anne. She might have been happier married to either James Butler, or even Henry Percy.
By the way, what does “Bolshie” mean?
bolshie: (of a person or attitude) deliberately combative or uncooperative.
LOL, I love collecting new words, and learned a long time ago not to be afraid to ask for clarification for new words that might join the collection!
What I find truly sad is that even now, hundreds of years later, we continue to blame the “other’ woman. Women, in even now, defend the man in the triangle as if he was blameless. It makes me ponder if we have come so far, after all. Would Henry VIII have put Katherine aside even if there had been no Anne Boleyn is a fascinating thought. I believe he would have, as the male heir was all-important to him. Would this mystery “other” woman have been as disliked as Anne? Perhaps at first, but if she gave him a healthy male heir she would have become celebrated & most certainly remained securely Henry’s queen. It is likely the scribes would have written favorably of the woman who usurped Katherine’s position, but became the mother of a male heir. So many what ifs to ponder is fun, but the reality remains that the patriarchal world will spin women into whores, witches, & nags as they see fit.
I must say that we don’t live in a patriarchal world in the West.
The world has taken Katherine’s view. She blamed Anne, not Henry. Katherine, daughter of Isabella, saw no reason her daughter should not be Queen. Henry, at the time, disagreed. Later in life, he placed both of his daughters high in the succession, but likely never thought either, much less both, would succeed.
Henry was not a poor, manipulated fool. He valued Anne, but gave her up for the same reason he gave up Katherine. No son. The timing may have suited Cromwell, but the truth was that Anne was likely nearing the end of her childbearing years, and had only one healthy daughter to show for her efforts. Henry might have done as he did with Katherine and waited until there was no more chance, but he was getting older, and every year increased the chances and length of a Regency. These had never gone well in England.
And then there was Fitzroy-the backup. Was the boy already ill? Was his death really that unexpected? It may be coincidence that he died two months after Anne, or it may be that his illness was a trigger. Henry’s backup plan gone as well. Now he really did need a legitimate son, and fast. Anne was not going to be able to provide him an heir. So he picked a younger woman, and decided to start over. Cromwell made sure Anne died in disgraced, and so Jane was largely spared the tarnish of the other woman. Neatly done.
IMO, there are a lot of issues in the dissolution of Henry and Katherine’s marriage that are unique to them and their time. For example, there is a large degree of hypocrisy in Henry’s actions … wanting to end his marriage to his brother’s widow (that may have been permissible, under an exception in Deuteronomy) in favor of his ex-mistress’s sister (forbidden in Leviticus, with no exceptions). His later actions would cast doubt on the sincerity of his claimed concern for the succession .. favoring an infant Elizabeth (a “two strike loser” due to age as well as gender) over Mary (a “one strike loser” only due to gender). Most importantly (I believe) is that if the marriage was invalid, Katherine was essentially a whore because she had slept with a man without a valid marriage. I wonder what might have happened if the matter were decided by modern law..
God, or the concept of ‘God’, is allowed to have “absolute power”, and the power of the king, in christian countries, derives from God. But – to quote Lord Acton – power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In divorcing himself from Katharine, Henry divorced himself from the Pope, the spiritual source of power in christendom, and Henry took this power for himself. No king, it seems, at least to Prof. Starkey, gave himself more power than Henry at this time
When Henry abandoned Anne, authorising Cromwell to find legal ways and means for annulment, rumours swirled about court. Then three Lords went to Henry with a tale of Lady Worcester and her immoral ways and a name to be investigated – Mark Smeaton. Cromwell was ordered to investigate and what he uncovered rocked the throne of England and it ended with the brutal execution of a queen and five courtiers, including the musician Mark Smeaton – who was accorded the death of nobleman though he never was, and this remains to us today yet another mystery.
Anne’s new ideas, her reformist position, her French intellectualism, threatened the Aristocratic ‘right to rule’, absolutely. I’ve come to think (perhaps!) that Henry had “done with Anne” and wanted – as with Queen Katharine before her – OUT, meaning an annulment of the marriage with bastardisation of the one living child of that union, in order to remarry and provide a male heir for England, with a new (already in waiting) Queen Jane Seymour.
Anne’s enemies pounced: Henry ordered that now infamous Cromwellian investigation, and the rest is history. My question is, at what point did Henry become aware of the duplicitous shenanigans of his courtiers, producing varmints to swear falsely against the accused to provide a conviction – as he would later inform Cranmer? Did Henry know that, once Sir Henry Norris, known as a gentle man, and his esteemed intimate friend and servant, entered the Tower that he would never come out again> Ipso his Queen and her loyal brother, also his intimate and friend as well as useful servant? Did Henry “let it happen” because he no longer cared, indeed actively embraced and allowed himself to feel wounded in his masculinity and threatened for his life and that of Mary and Henry Fitzroy?
Is Henry’s sheer theatricality, way over the top pantomimic behaviour, indicative of a man in complete denial of truth because the lie was so deliciously in his favour?
The corruption that happens when a man has absolute power, a sacred power bestowed by God, may simply begin with a belief that rightness flows through everything one has a belief in , i.e. “This is right because I feel it so”. Absolute power corrupts. And such power Henry had.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn hold our continuing fascination because they planted the seeds for one of our most cherished rights as human beings: freedom from religious persecution. Henry’s break from the Roman Catholic Church was monumental!
Bloody Mary, a pathetic historical figure, didn’t live long enough to restore Catholicism to England. She did, however, burn many Protestants at the stake leaving herself with an undesirable legacy. Her half sister and Anne Boleyn’s daughter, however, Queen Elizabeth I, was one of the greatest monarchs in English history. Elizabeth’s world view and conduct as a ruler (and as a woman) was shaped by the events that led to her own birth and the execution of her mother. She is famous for her position that she desired no windows into the souls of men.
The burning desire for freedom from religious persecution was a driving force that settled my own country and found its way into our founding documents. The First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees all of us religious liberty. Even today, we struggle to determine the scope of that liberty and whether religious beliefs may be used to justify exemptions from generally applicable laws. Our morals (or alleged lack of morals) are forever judged through the lens of religious liberty.
Our world would be a much different place today were it not for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. That, I believe, is the greatest defense in favor of Anne Boleyn as Henry’s second wife. So we study them, and their motivations, with undying fascination. And we wonder, what would the world be like today if Anne Boleyn had never been queen. It would be a very different place, indeed, and the religious liberty that so many of us enjoy today may never have materialized.
Mary was not a pathetic historical figure, she was strong in the face of adversity, she faced a deeply disturbing choice between abandoning her mother and her rights, her beliefs and remaining true to these and losing her inheritance and her father. Would you like such a choice at the age of sixteen?
Mary later had to choose to survive and swallowed her pride in order to return to her own father, to court and end her own torment and harassment. The rest of her life under Henry was good, but she was denied one thing, a husband. However, during the reign of her brother Mary was constantly persecuted and harassed for wanting to attend Mass in her own household. When Jane Seymour first asked Henry to bring her to court her friends were interrogated. Mary Tudor stood strong in all of this.
When Mary found herself sidelined and her crown usurped by Jane Grey and her family, she wrote to the council and informed them that they were wrong and called for their support. Mary raised an army and rode at its head, first of all to Suffolk and then to London. When faced with the first rebels she used sex appeal and proclaimed that she was married to England, that the people were her children, she appealed as a mother and queen. This was the tactic Elizabeth would use later on to show that she needed no husband.
Mary Tudor was greeted with cheering crowds and she began with pardons and reconciliation. Her choice of husband did not go down well, but to be fair Philip of Spain was really one of a limited choice. Mary could not marry a subject, she had to marry an equal. Philip was actually a good match for her. Mary was sensitive to the problems and ensured that the marriage treaty stated Phillip could have no right to govern the country or any other power in England. England would be free from the Empire and not a satellite state. Mary was even so confident of herself that she begged her council for help and support as she was a woman. It was a clever move.
Even in the face of her life and crown being threatened by Wyatt and others in rebellion to kill her and replace her with Elizabeth, she was far more lenient than her father or sister in the same situation. Mary only executed Jane Grey as she had no choice, after many months of trying to save her, because of Jane’s father rebelling. Jane would have been a serious problem had she not acted. Elizabeth I did the same thing. The Tudors got rid off their rivals lef right and centre. Both Henry’s gave in and executed the Pole and de la Pole claimants over time, when danger, real or imagined arose.
Mary Tudor is wrongly condemned for the persecution of heretics and reformers by Protestant propaganda. Yes she reinstated the heresy laws, but heretics were persecuted under Edward as well, although the number of people under Mary appears excessive. The trials were mostly conducted in local parishes and the Queen did not get personally involved in them. The exception to this were the political trials of Cranmer and others, who were leading figures in the reformation, bishops, or who had plotted to replace her. Cranmer had the added misfortune to have been responsible for the ending of her parents marriage.
The first rebuilding of the navy with larger galleon class warships being built or coming from Spain. The plans for the ships Elizabeth grudgingly built came from the three prototypes from Spain. Mary reorganized and equipped the navy. The shrines were rebuilt, including the shrine of Saint Edward The Confessor in Westminster. The schools were reopened and many relief for the poor introduced. Mary Tudor was the first woman accepted as queen in her own right. Had it not been for Mary who wisely, if reluctantly, named Elizabeth as her heir, Elizabeth would never have been accepted. Mary made a female King acceptable.
Elizabeth too went through some tough bits that shaped her character and hardened her. Elizabeth must have been traumatized by the loss of her mother, the marriage adventures of her father, and the possibility of abuse in her stepmother’s household. She was also only 25 when she came to the throne, with a better chance to have a child than Mary. That Mary sadly could not have a child due to her ill health is a tragic loss, not pathetic. Mary was deeply affected by this loss. She longed for a child, she put her country first. The loss of Calais also broke her heart but was not what had been intended. The complexity of this is beyond the scope of this posting.
Elizabeth I could be considered great, but she could also be ruthless and dangerous, as cruel as her father, had a terrible temper and was constantly making war in Ireland and on the sea lanes. She was fortunate in her commanders and the weather to defeat the Amarda, she was a canny diplomat, she was not afraid to expand to the Americas, but she also encouraged slavery and piracy. She upset France and Spain by accepting marriage proposals from both and then changed her mind. Elizabeth interference in Holland and Scotland cost her dear, her execution of Mary Queen of Scots left her condemned, her patronage expanded trade and the arts, drama and literature, but like all the Tudors she became paranoid. She was not universally accepted or loved as the northern rebellions and many plots show, but she tried to find a balance in most things. Elizabeth persecuted hundreds of Catholics, the majority of which were innocent, made the practice of the faith almost impossible, persecuted Puritins and left the country without any heir. She did a deal with Scotland, leading to the succession of James VI and I, but she would not name him at the end. The Tudors became masters of propaganda, in the reign of Elizabeth it went into overdrive, just as with her father. Elizabeth I was not the greatest monarch England ever had, but the propaganda made people think she was.
Banditqueen who do you find England’s greatest monarch? Mary? Or someone else?
Yes Anne was not the sort of person to endear people to her although when she was a young girl at the French court she was described as sweet and cheerful, then she came to England and fell for Harry Percy and loves young dream was cruelly quashed, it could be that her heart was hardened after that and also Wolsleys smarting words about her, having referred to her as a foolish girl must have made her very very angry, when the King chased after her this gave her certain arrogance after all, she wasn’t deemed fit enough to marry the heir to the Earldom of Northumberland yet here was the most powerful man in the country after her, it’s King! No wonder she made enemies, the Boleyns were up and coming people not of the old aristocracy yet her mother was of noble birth, but the people didn’t take to her and she alone was blamed for Henrys discarding of his first Queen and this is common among folk today, the other woman is always blamed as it’s she whose deemed as the temptress where men are easily led and cannot help themselves, the bible story of Eve where she tempted Adam is as old as time, people at the Tudor court and Europe, indeed the English people all seemed to forget that it was Henry who chased Anne, not the other way around, yet because of her refusal to sleep with him in the first place triggered of the series of events which led to him divorcing Katherine and breaking with Rome, she was vilified, she no doubt should have agreed to sleep with him, become just another mistress and no doubt would have faded into obscurity over time and no one would have remembered her name, yet Anne didn’t want to be just another mistress she was unique in that she was almost modern and ambitious for her age, she was not the average Tudor woman but some one who maybe saw herself as achieving something more for herself, because she was not sweet and quiet people hated her, yet all what happened was down to Henry, Clare mentioned that Katherine’s marriage was over long before Anne came on the scene which is true enough and he had been in talks with Wolsley about a French marriage, therefore had Anne not come on the scene I feel he would have divorced Katherine eventually, he needed a male heir and had he chosen a foreign bride I doubt his next choice would have been so resented as Anne was, Anne was not a Princess she was lady in waiting to Queen Katherine, she was socially inferior and a religious reformer, arrogant in the extreme and could be very vindictive, yet her behaviour was really inflamed by the obstacles that were put in her way and as the years passed she became intolerable to many people even her friends, she was the wrong woman to replace Katherine who was much loved and who was seen by many as Henrys true wife, Henrys treatment of his daughter was blamed on Anne yet she had nothing to do with that, Henry was determined to bring Mary to heel but again, Anne was blamed Cupid or Eros as his Greek counterpart is named was depicted as a shallow boy heartlessly firing his arrows at anyone he liked, that was never more true than in the tragic love triangle of Henry Katherine and Anne, had Henry fallen for a popular foreign Princess or maybe a lady in his own court, a Catholic woman who was of one of the noble houses of England I doubt she would have been hated as much as Anne was, the fact was he had fallen for a woman who many thought was totally unsuitable to be his Queen and some one who openly declared her hatred of the Queen, some one who was hell bent on dragging him away from a much loved Queen and changing the religion of the country and causing the death of many imminent men, it was so much easier to blame the other woman than a popular King as then as now it’s always the other woman’s fault, men have no minds do they? An excellent article Clare.
Anne could have said “no” to Henry. That she chose not too meant that in the eyes ofcontemporaries she was doing more than being a whore she was dangerously ambitious. Henry would not have forced himself on Anne and is unlikely to have humbled her family if she had said no. Anne wanted Henry and he wanted her. So much did he want her he chose to marry a “commoner” even though he was all too aware of the fate of his grandmother and his uncles. Henry and Anne’s passion for each other led him to embark on his unprecedented course when faced with opposition. Anne was not a woman who was passive but was herself an active player in the great matter.
She did say no and she even left court for Hever. He then bombarded her with love letters and offered her the title of his official mistress, which she declined. She did agree, though, when he offered her marriage. I think by then she had fallen in love with him, but some see her acceptance as Anne being harassed into it and her not having any choice in the matter. She certainly rebuffed him for quite a while.
Could Anne have said “no” to Henry after Henry proposed her?
I think that the behavior of Catherine Parr shows that a woman had no alternative to say no, even if she loved another man.
Women weren’t individuals in the sense they are now. They had to do what was a benefit to their family.
The only way an unmarried girl like Anne could have a status was by marriage. And her marriage also decided what status her children could get.
Could we realistically demand that Anne should have refused to become a Queen and get her children the highest status on the country, and instead chose to cause damage to her family and remain herself a spinster? For no man would have dared to marry her.
Great article, Claire.
I would hope that you pay the same respects to Jane Seymour, who is equally vilified for being the other woman in Anne and Henry’s relationship, when in reality she had very little to do with Anne’s downfall other than being the right woman at the right time in the right place.
History can be so cruel to women, they are painted either as saints or whores. Progressive thinking and revisionism are slowly revealing the complex layers of the wives and I think it is a great thing. It brings the past to life knowing that these women were really just as complex, compelling and contradictory as we are today.
I enjoyed this article so much! Well said, Clare!
And you are right when you say that “I know we cannot look at sixteenth century people and morality from a twenty-first century perspective, but they were still human beings, and I think a lot of the issues and emotions surrounding Henry, Catherine of Aragon and Anne (there were three of them in that marriage!) can still be understood by us today.”
Many things have changed, but people’s emotions are always people’s emotions!
“people’s emotions rae always people’s emotions”
Yes and no.
I agree that even today a middle-aged wife who is abandoned for a younger wife feels jealousy and humiliation and tends to blame “the other woman” instead of her husband. But today she often has her own career and therefore she doesn’t lose all with divorce but retains her professional status. And in most countries the children’s rights are protected whether their parents remarries, or even whether they are born inside or outside marriage. Also, most people accept the right to divorce.
Katherine wasn’t only a middle-aged wife unable to bear a son. She was also the Queen, a daughter of a reigning Queen and a devout Catholic.
I was just thinking the same thing Eliza, the emotions are quite the same, it was just the positions that were different. I’m not a fan of Anne Boleyn because I have never understood that when she had the true upper hand she was so cruel to Catherine and Mary, especially Mary. There was absolutely no need for it, especially when she was pregnant with Elizabeth and she and Henry were sure it was a boy. I don’t think she ever loved the King but was ambitious to do what Katherine was unable to do, supply a boy. She was very rash in her speech and that got her in trouble in the end.
I don’t think a person actually *choses* whether to be cruel or not.
We don’t actually know whether Anne was cruel towards Katherine and Mary or not, only that she was told to be such by her enemies. Probably she spoke without thinking but if she also acted, Henry could have prevented her as any power and influence she had was possible only with his consent.
It was both Catherine and Mary’s interest not to blame him but Anne, but it was after Anne’s death that Mary was intimidated to submission.
The basic question is whether Anne had a cause to be *afraid* of Catherine and Mary whom the Pope and the Emperor supported, and that must be answered yes, on the basis of what *she* knew, not what we know.
Anne held out as much as she could and people have to remember she wasn’t an ordinary girl saying no to an ordinary man, this was 16thc England in the court of Henry V111 where people’s fortunes and lives were dependant on the King, she could not afford to upset him yet at the same time she valued her honour, she was placed in an impossible situation and that’s why she retired to Hever time and again, she was not leading the King on, she genuinely I think hoped he would leave her alone, after he offered to marry her she must have realised he did really love her and she wasn’t just a passing fancy, if her head was turned a little by the thought of becoming Queen who are we to judge her, it would have turned any woman’s head especially as Anne was only lady in waiting and here was the most powerful man in the kingdom offering her undreamed of power and riches, history cannot blame Anne for that, she was after all only human and it was not wrong or immoral of her to accept Henrys proposal, what was wrong was her cruelty towards Katherine and her daughter but as I said earlier had it been an easy ride to the throne then no doubt her attitude especially towards the Queen and Princess would not have been so callous, regarding Katherine’s stance this only made Anne turn against her as she saw her as a threat to her happiness, a bit like today when the husbands wife refuses to grant him a divorce so he can marry his mistress, people havnt changed much really and when the people and Henrys courtiers saw how the Queen was being treated who after all was much loved and respected they did abhor Anne blaming her for everything when it was all down to Henry really, Anne goaded him and nagged him but he was determined to rid himself of Katherine one way or another and If Anne hadn’t been there it would have been some one else.
Great article, Clare, which puts Anne and the divorce into the historical perspective of the time. However, attitudes have not changed much. It’s always the other woman stole the husband from the perfect wife and mothers, never the man was bored, things were not good at home and the selfish man fancied a bit of skirt, pursued the bit of skirt and then ran of with the bit of skirt. It is never, things are not working and the partner found somebody else. I am not condemning adultery here, nor advocating divorce, but if the marriage is not good, get help, if you cannot get help, agree to leave. If you fancy someone else, forget about them, you are married, control yourself. If you genuinely want to be with somebody else, end the marriage first, don’t commit the sin of adultery.
My first thought was the film first wives club were they all get together to take the cheating husbands to the cleaners. I have some wild image in my head of Katherine and Anne Boleyn both realizing that Henry is a cheating dirt bag and getting together to take revenge, you know a few palaces, all the dresses and jewels, a few hundred servants, few thousand crowns a year, protection for the daughters rights, several carriages, and so on. Unfortunately this is not how it was.
Henry Viii certainly was thinking about a divorce, he already asked Wolsey to secretly examine the marriage in 1524, and some sources suggest 1514. I am sorry I haven’t the sources, it is many years ago that I read this. The birth of Mary gave Henry fresh hope, which is why he did nothing. But it is believed that Henry had stopped sleeping with Katherine by now and in 1524 he had learned that Katherine could have no more children. Wolsey believed that Henry wanted to marry a French Princess, not Anne Boleyn. This did not come to light until 1527. Anne presented Henry with a solution once she responded to his advances, she promised him a son, but would only be his wife. Here was a reasonably good looking woman that he had passionate feelings for, had intelligence and grace, had a lot in common with him, from not too bad a background, from a good family, from a family in royal service who were known at court, offering him her and a son. What more could he want? Anne would come with a dowry and the usual jointer, the bride price would have to be paid, but without all the over commitments in a foreign alliance, commitment to armed aid for example, so surely marriage to an English gentlewoman was desirable? Yes from Henry’s point of view, yes from the point of view of Anne and her family, but not from the point of view of the court or country, that is Wolsey.
So what was wrong with Anne Boleyn as Henry Viii wife? Essentially nothing. However, there is the complication of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon who was the daughter of Isabella the Catholic. For me it was as simple as that. Katherine was the daughter of their Catholic Magesties, the Aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor, a popular and much loved pius Queen, the warrior Queen who led the people in time of war against the Scots, a devoted daughter of Rome, a mother of the recognized heir, Mary, a religious and devoted woman, a faithful wife, she had pedigree, but Anne Boleyn was the daughter of a knight and a subject. To the people, she was an interloper. The nobles felt threatened as she came from a rival and powerful family. The Cardinal did not want to see her as Queen as it was not politically convenient or advantageous for the country or peace in Europe. Catholic families were nervous of her reformist beliefs. The problem was that Katherine was too powerful, too popular and had too many foreign supporters to be simply set aside. If Katherine did not want to go, then Katherine would not go.
Problems abroad that arose by the time of Henry Viii petition to the Pope after Pavia in 1525, with the attack on the Pope Clement who became the Emperor’s prisoner, meant that divorce from Katherine was difficult and a political impossibility. The Emperor put pressure on the representatives of the Pope and Wolsey to stop and block the divorce. When word got out that Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, it was a conspiracy to ensure that the divorce did not go through. Anne was painted by the embassy of the Pope as a putain, a whore, an unfit and immoral person to marry the King of England. Her reputation was tarnished and the powers that be gathered around and the divorce was probably doomed once the armies of the Emperor moved into Rome.
Anne Boleyn also made enemies of people who Henry needed to support his appeal, Suffolk, Norfolk, Wolsey, before and during her marriage. Maybe once she was in the ascendancy, that is his official mistress, she felt that she called the shots. Maybe Anne like Henry as the years turned was getting fed up waiting, maybe she was over confident when Henry made noises that suggested he was looking to ditch Rome and find a way to marry Anne without Rome. Anne became nasty to some people, claimed that she would rather see Katherine hung than acknowledge her as her mistress, she dressed in royal purple, she made the fuss which caused Henry to separate from Katherine and abandon her at court, but she could not do so without Henry’s allowance. Anne spread rumours about Suffolk and his daughter, wanted precedence over all, but he spread rumours that she was sleeping with Wyatt. Henry banished him so she made a dangerous enemy. Henry Viii wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and that was his choice. He could not get a divorce or annulment so he chose to break from Rome. Anne Boleyn influenced him with the book by Tyndale, although we have no proof that Anne gave Henry this book, only that he read it. Anne Boleyn was blamed for the judicial murder of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher and the monks, but surely the blame lies with Cromwell, it was his legislation and Henry for asking Cromwell to prepare such legislation that caused their deaths. Anne was blamed as Henry married her, but the legislation was a result of the marriage, to protect the marriage and the new succession. Anne did not plead for either, but she did plead for other people in prison. Anne was generous and a good match for Henry. Her main fault is that a mistress is not a queen and wife, she did not make the transition.
Would Anne Boleyn have been accepted if she was calm, gracious, quiet, treated Mary kindly, did not make enemies, if she was more demure, obedient, etc, someone asked? I think that she may still have had a hsrd time from the people, until they got to receive her and saw her as such, but the court and gentry may have accepted her more quickly. Jane Seymour is the person this describes. Jane went out her way to help Mary, she was a traditional Catholic. Could such a person have persuaded Henry not to leave Rome? No, but she may have begged for less reactive laws and him not to alienate the men around him like Thomas More. I think it is also a question we cannot answer.
First, my apologies. I have a couple of question’s and have no idea where else I can ask them.
Do you think that if Henry could see into the future and see Elizabeth’s Reign, do you think he still would have killed Anne ? Do you think he would have gone ahead and put Elizabeth’s first in line ?
The rivalry between “team Katharine” and “team anne” and “team Jane” is dumb. All three of these women were victims of the same guy