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Execution – Was it Anne Boleyn’s Only Claim to Fame?

Posted By on May 26, 2009

Anne Boleyn Engraving

Anne Boleyn Engraving

This blog post was inspired by a comment I received from an Anne Boleyn Files visitor who said:-

“I think that what most are forgetting is that Anne was only great because of her tragic end, she would never have been mentioned except she was the first Queen to be executed.”

I actually don’t agree with this statement at all. Yes, Anne Boleyn was the first English queen to be executed, and she wasn’t the last, but we don’t remember her for this. Actually, what many people remember her for is what they were taught at school – that Anne Boleyn was a traitor, an adulteress, a witch, a woman with six fingers… – but Anne Boleyn was so much more than this. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Anne Boleyn was a martyr who died for her beliefs, because she quite clearly wasn’t that kind of person, but she also wasn’t JUST the first queen to be executed.

Here are the reasons I think that Anne Boleyn was a “great” woman and why she should be remembered, but please feel free to add to this list in your comments or to disagree with me:-

  • “No English queen has had more impact on the history of the nation than Anne Boleyn” – That is what Joanna Denny says about Anne Boleyn and I have to agree. Anne Boleyn changed the course of English history by bringing about the formation of the Church of England. Yes, Henry VIII is responsible for breaking with Rome but he did it because of his love for Anne and because of her influence over him. Anne showed Henry evangelical tracts and books that gave Henry his ideas about rulers being answerable to God and not the Pope.
  • The Reformation in England – As well as being the cause of Henry VIII breaking with Rome, Anne also gave Henry many other ideas and encouraged his study into theology. Not only that, she also encouraged her ladies to read the “English” Bible.
  • Charity – Contrary to many people’s opinions, Anne Boleyn was actually popular with the English people. When she was arrested and tried, there was much unrest and Sir William Kingston was actually worried that the Tower of London would be stormed. Thomas Cromwell also postponed her execution due to the crowds of people who had gathered in support of Anne. Anne Boleyn was popular because she was kind and charitable. She often gave alms out to the poor and needy, and argued with Thomas Cromwell over the Dissolution of the monasteries – she wanted the money to go to the poor and into education, rather than the Royal coffers.
  • Elizabeth I – ELizabeth I may have had her father’s red hair and his strength of character but let’s not forget who her mother was. Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and we can actually see much of her mother in her. Like Anne, she was a woman ahead of her time, a woman who was strong, intelligent and powerful in her own right(Henry had given Anne Boleyn the title of Marchioness of Pembroke in her own right). Her reign is known as a “Golden Age” and England prospered during her 40 year rule.
  • Her patronage of the Arts – Anne Boleyn was the Royal patron of the famous artist, Hans Holbein, and her love of the Arts really helped the Renaissance in England.
  • Anne’s influence – Anne was intelligent enough for Henry VIII to treat her as an equal. He discussed foreign policy and domestic policy with her, debated theology with her and planned palaces like Whitehall with her. Her influence over the King was why Cromwell conspired to get rid of her. No other Queen had this type of influence over Henry, not even Catherine of Aragon whom Henry entrusted to keep England safe from the Scots while he fought the French.

We will never know who Anne Boleyn really was and what she really thought about things, and that’s what makes us so fascinated by her, but she was definitely more than just a queen who was executed.

What do you think?

P.S. If you like the Anne Boleyn engraving, there are cards and gifts featuring this picture on www.cafepress.com/anneboleyn

32 thoughts on “Execution – Was it Anne Boleyn’s Only Claim to Fame?”

  1. Sabrina says:

    I agree. I do not think her only claim to fame was that Henry had a French executioner take off her head. It is one part of her story, albeit the final part, that makes her interesting. Why would anyone want to execute a queen? It makes for interesting conversation. There is a lot more to her than just her death, there is what she did in her life to get her to that point. I honestly think she was a great woman who did not deserve that fate.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for the comment, Sabrina! Yes, her whole story is an interesting one – what it was about her that made Henry the only King of England to marry for love, her influence over him, her relationships with those around her, her fall, trial, execution and how she still fascinates us today. There’s so much to discuss!

  3. Clint says:

    I think it’s pretty damn lame that that’s the only thing she’s known for. I guess you already knew that, but damn! Her posthumous slandering has been shameful above all–that she was conniving, that she was cheating, that she even had six fingers…

  4. Sherri says:

    How could anyone assume that Anne’s only claim to fame was her execution. There was much more to Anne. Yes, she was a tragic figure in history but she was not a victim. Anne was very intutitive and knew her fate from the beginning. Anne knew that she would have to die in order for Elizabeth to succeed to the throne. She sacrificed herself for her country and her daughter. I would say that’s extremely noble.

    If you read extensively about Anne you can almost feel the essence of her personality coming through the pages. Anne was of course well before her time. She was well educated and very intelligent. Elizabeth inherited Anne’s intelligence and charisma.

    Henry in much of his reign surrounded himself with extremely intelligent people. Anne was one of those people. Henry used many of her ideas concerning the Reformation and the break with Rome.

    I have often thought that Jane Seymour was not Henry’s soulmate but Anne was and he missed her for the rest of his life. What was Jane in comparision to Anne ?

    The more you read and research about Anne the more you realize that Anne was truly a remarkable woman in any time of history.

  5. Sabrina says:

    Yes there is.. Even with all the biographies of her, we will never really know what happened…. No matter what, she was a great woman

  6. Jase says:

    Thanks for a leaving a note in my site – now I am sooo happy finding all the resouces I need to know more about the Boleyn sisters! I am totally entranced by the Boleyn sisters particulary Anne and her daughter Elizabeth. Good to know that we have a fan base …. Hopefully we uncover more historical information to know more about Anne Boleyn…. Thanks and more power to your site!

  7. admin says:

    Thanks for all your great comments!
    Clint – It’s great that Anne gives us so much to debate about! I totally agree with you!

    Sherri – That’s exactly how I feel about Anne. Whatever people think about her, they have got to give her credit for what she accomplished and how ahead of her time she was.

    Sabrina – Yes, a real woman of mystery.

    Jase – Thanks for visiting. I’m still on my journey to find out more about Anne and what a journey it is!

  8. Bassania says:

    Anne is mainly known nowadays because of her execution, it is not her only claim to fame but it is her main one. The only reason most have heard of her is because of her death. The reason Anne encouraged Henry to break with Rome was because of her dealings with religion, had she not have encouraged it, she would have been burnt at the stake, as she had heretical beliefs. The reason she donated to charities was because, she needed to win over the people of England somehow.
    The only claim anne has as to how Elizabeth turned out was that she gave birth to her. She was only alive till Elizabeth was three, she had no real impact on her life, she was never spoken of by henry, all she would have known was the stuff she could get from her governess.
    The influence Anne had on Henry is the power someone has over someone who loves them, of course she had influence.

  9. Emma says:

    I strongly disagree with the above. Saying that Anne is most known for her death is akin to saying Henry was mostly famous for being large. It’s a factor at one point, but hardly explains it all. If you ask random people on the street about Anne Boleyn, those who had heard of her would probably say something about her “taking” Henry away from his first wife. I’d say she is most known by the general public as that – the stereotypical seductress/home-wrecker role. If only people would dig a little deeper!

    As someone who lost a parent while young, I can say that a lack of presence does not mean a lack of influence. While Elizabeth had no memories of her mother, I would bet on the fact that Anne and her story crossed Elizabeth’s mind every single day. The tragedy, the drama of it would have influenced E1 both on a personal level and as a ruler. And there are those Boleyn genes: Elizabeth was very smart and cunning and witty, much like her mother. I don’t think anyone here is saying that Anne deserves sole credit for Elizabeth’s success, but Anne can’t be brushed off as merely the brood mare.

    To imply that Anne would not be remembered as a great woman if she hadn’t been executed – that is missing SO much of the story. There are some great bios of her out there, read one! Had Anne been sent to a nunnery, history would still remember her for the extraordinary assertiveness and courage she showed.

    Sherri I have to agree with you about Anne being Henry’s true love! I’ve always said that they have one of the greatest love stories of all time, even with its ending. There is a saying, after all, that the “best love stories have sad endings”. I am not a romantic but who can’t get caught up in their whirlwind romance and how it shook the earth?!

  10. admin says:

    I agree with you, Emma, and thanks for your comment. I’m so enjoying learning more about Anne – the person she was, the things she did and the influence she had – and she was so much more than a queen who was excuted.

    I’m not a Tudor historian, just a lover of history, and this website is a kind of “log” of my discoveries about Anne but I always try to post stuff that is based on historical evidence or historians/biographers that are well respected. None of the historians I’ve come across just “relegate” Anne to her execution, they feel that she had a real impact on the time that she lived and on English history. However, it’s great that we all have our opinons on her and Henry, and we can’t really say what’s true because we just don’t know enough. We can debate Anne for ever!

  11. Bassania says:

    Well having recently conducted a questionnaire about Anne Boleyn and people’s knowledge of her, i have to say that all results pointed to anne being remembered for her execution. i know that i myself found out about her through her execution, that is also how most of my acquatances did as well. We are all fans of her story, but if we hadn’t have had the inclination to further explore her story, our knowledge would have remained at that. Her execution is in fact how most of the people i have spoken to, began their search for her truth. Another thing she is remembered for is how she ‘stole’ henry from catherine. she couldn’t have, their marriage was over, henry just needed the motivation.

  12. admin says:

    Hi Bassania,

    I’m not saying that Anne isn’t remembered for her execution, as I’m sure a questionnaire on the general public would reflect this and the fact that she was a witch, had six fingers etc., what I’m trying to say is that she shouldn’t just be remembered for that. That’s part of the reason I set up this site, to really explore who Anne was and what she did. I totally agree with you that her execution is the reason that many people start their journey of discovery and I’m glad that so many people do want to know more about her.
    Yes, I agree too about the Catherine issue, what did Catherine call her? “The scandal of Christendom?”. I cannot condone Anne and Henry for what they did to Catherine, even though the marriage was over, but you’re right, Anne did not steal Henry.
    Anyway, thanks again for your comment x

  13. Sherri says:

    I’d like to reply to Bassania. Yes, the common people on the street know of Anne Boleyn by “homewrecker” and by her execution. Some of the movies made about her exploit that truth and people become interested in who this women actually was and how did she hold on to Henry’s love for so long ? If you take note there were only two women that actually were either married to Henry for so long or courted by Henry. One as we well know was Catharine and the other was Anne. I think in many ways that they were similar. If you look further down the line at the women Henry married they were all rather bland. Anne of Cleves and also Katharine Parr were intelligent but didn’t have the charm, charisma and personality that Anne had or the sensuality. Remember also that Henry became bored easily with people,places and things.

    For the note: I became curious about Henry not Anne. As for Henry’s motivation – Henry was a pure narcissist individual and even though I feel that Henry truly loved Anne she wasn’t the only motivating factor in the breakup of his marriage to Catharine. There were so many other factors. For instance the dissolution of the churches and the wealth they would bring him. Also the fact that he would be just one step lower in power than God. Anne was only one part of the tapestry that Henry was weaving.

    Emma, yes I am a true romantic and believe that Henry actually did love Anne until his dying days. So, because of that obessive soul mate love Henry actually did have to execute Anne. There was no nunnery for Anne as Henry realized that she actually had a following and that if allowed to live Anne could have possibly fought Henry or for that matter any other faction for Elizabeth’s right to the throne. Henry also knew that she was as intelligent, intellectual, political, cunning and shrewd as he was. His one true opponent.

    So, Henry loved Anne for Anne but realized she would be a direct threat againist him and his heirs.

  14. Kimberly Thorpe says:

    ok she only change the church which was the base of life and she changed the life of a monarch giving him power over everything. She changed life for all queens to come after her. She wasnt a witch or a whore she was a woman in love that watched her husband taking up with another woman and that made her sad and angry and maybe a little crazy I know I did all this when my husband cheated. I did things that were mean and cruel to get back at him then I went all beggy and please love me , only anne had it 5 time worse she was queen and she wasnt well liked. She may have given henery a son if she lived and that son may have had a son but her death well her murder is why we remember her on top of all thoese things she also gave the world Elizabeth the greatest monarch to ever rule. I believe if she lived she would have been honored and remembered for all the thing good bad and ugly she did. She was a human, a scared woman, a hated woman, and a loved woman. I feel henry loved her always and thats why he never spoke of her it pained him to. I feel after Jane died he felt god took from his son what he took from elizabeth. Jane Bolyen admitted lying about anne and george when she was being executed for her role in Kathren H’s death. I believe Kathren H did have affairs after all she was a child given great place and power with no one to guide her orphaned and alone living with a man who was old and feeble she was seeking joy and comfort. Anne knew how to play her role but jealous as women are(I know I am one), that took her over.If Jane had lived would henry have cast her aside for Kather howard? would he have sought a younger woman who was healthy after all if she would have lived she would not have been able to bear more children. we dont know and there are many what ifs, but had anne lived I fell it would be henry who was forgotten and anne long remembered for his fame is not from his works but his sins!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Kimberly,
      You make some excellent points! I agree that Anne was Henry’s true love. He married her for love and pursued her for so long that he must have loved her. Here was a woman very much like him who he coukd argue with, debate with, make plans with, it’s just so sad that he tired of her and was turned against her.

      1. Kimberly Thorpe says:

        Hi Claire I dont think henry tired of anne I think he belived thoese around him that she was commiting adultry. Remember she was a passionate woman thats how henry fell in love with her. Henry was easily lead by the popular vote and when anne didnt deliver the boy he wanted she was open to her enimies to slip in but they didnt slip they charge in. Henry looked to Jane who everyone sees as innocent but she could not have been heck she married henry before anns body was cold. Jane knew what she was doing and acted oppesite of anne. Henry while loving anne did tire of her brain as many men still do. I believe reading as I have henry regretted the murder of anne thats why he didnt bring elizabeth to court she is said to have had annes eyes. He banished his children because he couldnt live with is actions. All of this is JMO but its how I feel.

        1. Claire says:

          Hi Kimberly,
          I think that Henry did tire of Anne. Starkey talks of how what attracted Henry to Anne when she was his “mistress” soon became intolerable in a wife and I have to agree with him. Henry didn’t like the fact that she argued with him and wouldn’t turn a blind eye to his indiscretions as Catherine had done and I think that he expected Anne to become more demure and traditional when they were married.

          Yes, I agree with you about Henry being easily led and being open to Anne’s enemies poisoning him against her and tempting him with Jane but I think he was open to this because:-
          1) He was vulnerable because he felt let down by Anne (no son like she promised).
          2) He was a bit fed up of her arguing and perhaps even “nagging”.
          3) He was doubting their marriage – God was not blessing the union with a son.

          I’m not sure that Henry ever showed any remorse about Anne’s death and he seemed able to separate what happened to Anne from his feelings for Elizabeth and he was said to be very affectionate with her when she came back to court. Although I know The Tudors isn’t accurate, I think the scenes where Henry is eating that swan, having separated it from its mate (swans mate for life), and where he is celebrating with Jane Seymour while Anne is being executed, really do bring home the fact that this man was executing the love of hs life and yet was indifferent.

          We’ll never know how Henry actually felt deep down, he seems to have been a very complex man!

        2. Kimberly Thorpe says:

          i agree with a lot of your points but in my mind she will always be the love of his life

        3. Claire says:

          Definitely, she was the only woman he showed such passion for.

  15. Kathy says:

    I think she’s famous and well- known because of her intelligence and charm and of course beacuse we are never going to know everything about her, but I agree that she won’t be that famous if she hadn’t been executed or if she hadn’t been one of the wives of Henry the VIII. But we love her anyway so…why does it matter why??? sorry if a made some mistakes but i’m no english

  16. Karen Tough says:

    I think Anne was a fiesty Mrs and that there was probably lots of agro between them . He obiously tired of her after he got her.I dont know what she was really like but you have got to admire her.When she was executed she showed a sense of decorom.Not many people could do that and especially not me.

  17. hv8 says:

    welll I DONT AGREE WITH ANY OF YOU EXEPT FROM THE 5TH ONE

  18. sylvia says:

    Anne was a leading light for the reformation in England, albeit secretly at first, but nevertheless. And she put the spotlight on Henry as a man , in England and in the rest of Europe , were other realms took real notice of Henry and his work and his monarchy and many became cautious in their handling with him. And I seriously believe that after Anne died he was never truly happy , and the metamorphisis started to happen at a radical speed and I believe he began to go mad. One can safely say that Anne left a lasting impression, in more ways than one.

  19. Katarzyna says:

    Claire, above all, thank you for this informative and
    fascinating website. Great and addictive place! Now, let me answer
    to this question from the foreign perspective. In my country, I
    learned at school about Reformation. Anne Boleyn was mentioned not
    because of her execution (in fact, it was not mentioned at all!),
    but due to her role in the Reformation in England and in setting up
    of the English Church. That is how she is know widely. The
    execution is for those who are more interested in history of
    England. So I dare say that her claim for fame was her personality,
    because this is what made her so attractive to the king and that
    was a trigger for later events, especially for English
    Reformation.

  20. I am not sure I agree with Denny’s statement as it is rather sweeping. In a sense, I would say Elizabeth, has also impacted the nation. People can have positive and negative impacts as well. Mary certainly had an impact too, though perhaps it is more of a negative impact. I think perhaps what a few people are trying to say, is that there can be a tendancy to romaticize Anne BECAUSE of her execution. This is true of many Kings and Queens however. I can’t really say one way or another if Anne was Henry’s true love. He certainly pursued her out of lust for some time-I see that as more of an obsessive passion. I believe he truly loved his first wife, but with a man like Henry, it’s possible he never really found true love at all. Finally, I never learned anything about Anne being guilty or a witch in school (thankfully) I think teachers are a little more objective about the past !

  21. ANNE BOLEYN DIDN’T LOSE HER HEAD BECAUSE OF A CRUEL HUSBAND
    BY RIGHT SHE COULD HAVE TOOK THE DIVORCE AND HER CHILD AND WAIT
    FOR THE HUSBAND DIES , AND TOOK OVER THE KINGDOM . BUT HENRY WAS A MAN OF ONLY HIS SEXUAL PLEASURES WITH MEN AND WOMEN , LIKE JAMES I
    HIS LOVE OF BOTH , I SAY SEX OF ANY EMPIRE WILL FALL . LIKE I ANCIENT ROME AND EGYPT . IT NEVER FAILS. POWER CORRUPTS AND ABSOLUTE POWER IS
    CORRUPTABLE .

  22. I know the true reason of Anne Boleyns execution well first her father sent her off to flirt with the king and become queen of Englend and she failed to produce a living son to check if this is true even though it is true buy The tudors season pack.

    1. The Moost Happi says:

      I wouldn’t base such a statement on The Tudors TV show Charlotte. It has many inaccuracies such as the whole Mary/Margaret mix up.

  23. Juliane says:

    And the part tht Wolsey played, together with the earl or wiltshire’s scheming, and Henry Percy’s father? And the Osborne alliance that fell through, and the king himself painting poor Anne into a corner? That he made it so, nobody could have Anne if he couldn’t. henry, you dog in the manger!

  24. kylie says:

    Hi, I know this was written a really long time ago but I was really pleasantly surprised to read that Anne was popular with the English people? She was just so famous for being hated in the 1500s and today and I would love to read more about records of the people defending her! thanks and I love this article! I’ve always thought of Anne as the best queen of england — and not just queen-consort; I think as queen in her own right she would do a wonderful job too! xx

  25. margaret says:

    the sad thing about anne is ,i think, if she had been allowed marry her true love henry percy ,we would not have known much about her and she would not have ended up with such a terrible end ,we do know of her so well because she married henry and was executed and it was his fault all this happened ,so really its a pity she did not marry the man she wanted to in the first place ,it would have given her a happier life and she would have been safe.

  26. Emily says:

    Anne was popular with the English people? I read in many books that people who come in crowds and riots stating CatherineOA was the rightful queen. Where did you get that info?

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