Henry and Anne TV programmeI know that many of you were unable to watch last night’s programme, Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History, so I took notes for you. My TV did go wrong a couple of times, so I missed a few minutes – sorry!

The programme opened with Anne Boleyn preparing herself for her execution on 19th May 1536. Dr Suzannah Lipscomb spoke of how Henry VIII was King of England and the country had experienced political and religious turmoil for the last decade. Anne was walking to the scaffold to face her final destiny. Henry had shown her one last act of mercy, to be beheaded by a skilled swordsman from Calais, rather than be beheaded by axe. Henry and Anne’s love affair had had a huge impact on the country, dividing England from Europe and bringing in a new religion. Suzannah explained that she would be retracing Anne and Henry’s footsteps to see what brought them together and then what tore them apart.

Suzannah’s journey began in the Kent countryside, where she’d gone in search of Anne Boleyn. She spoke of how Anne’s badge had been a falcon, a symbol of purity, chastity and grace. It’s a popular myth that Anne was a social upstart, that her family were of lowly origins, but this is far from the truth (as I keep saying, by the way!). Suzannah visited Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home, where Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth, raised their children. Out of the three surviving children, Mary was the eldest and George was the youngest. George was a great companion to the bright Anne. Thomas Boleyn was a member of the King’s council and Henry’s ambassador to France. The Boleyns were a wealthy, privileged family, and Anne was well-educated. Traditionally, she’s seen as a free spirit, sparky, intelligent and fun-loving, but this is based on rumour and speculation. We know little about her personality because we don’t have any diaries, just a few letters. But when you go to Hever Castle the veil between past and present seems to become thin.

We do have a few telling pieces of evidence. Suzannah looked at the beautiful illuminated Book of Hours at Hever, which belonged to Anne. Anne held that book, it was a treasured possession, and it shows the importance of faith at that time, how religion marked out people’s days. We have this picture of Anne the vixen, a worldly woman, but this Book of Hours reminds us that she was pious. Anne wrote an inscription in it, on a page which appears to show the Last Judgement. She wrote “Le Temps Viendra, Je Anne Boleyn”, “The time will come, I Anne Boleyn”. We don’t know what she meant by those words but they seem powerful and prophetic. Although Anne could be referring to the Day of Judgement, which Tudor people believed would come soon, there may be a more earthly explanation: did Anne Boleyn believe that she was destined for greatness?

Anne’s destiny lay with a married man: Henry VIII, the King. We think we know Henry but the picture we have of him is often based on the Henry of the last years of his reign, when he was ruthless and obese. The young Henry was noted for his good looks. He had auburn hair and was 6’2″ tall in a time when the average height for a man was 5’7 and a half. He was good at sport, his archery surpassed that of the archers of his guard, he was a talented jouster and horseman, and he was good at tennis. The Venetian Ambassador described him as having “a round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman”. He was well-loved, considered to be kind, he was affable, gracious, gentle and very charismatic. He had few flaws but he was tormented by a failure that would bring him to Anne and a relationship which would change England for ever.


On 18th February 1516, the day that Catherine of Aragon gave birth to Mary, Henry had been married to Catherine for six years. He did not have a male heir and the Tudor dynasty seemed fragile. Henry had not been born to be king, his older brother, Arthur, had died at the age of 15 and so Henry became king on the death of his father, Henry VII. Within months of his accession he married Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow, and they were crowned together. But with marriage came huge pressure, the couple needed to produce an heir and a spare. They were married for over 24 years, and most of those years had been happy, but the marriage had been blighted by a series of miscarriages and stillbirths. A son, Henry, died at just fifty-two days old, and Mary was their only surviving child. There was seen to be little value in a female heir who’d marry a foreign prince and put England under a foreign power, so Henry’s overriding obsession was to have a son.

Henry VIII believed that he was anointed by God and therefore felt punished by God for marrying his brother’s widow. Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 were both Bible verses against marrying your brother’s widow and 20:21 said that the new union would be “childless”. The theological experts Henry consulted advised him that “childless” meant no sons.

The programme then switched to Anne Boleyn. The teenage Anne had spent her formative years in the Netherlands and then at the French Court. This was a defining influence and a formative period for her. Suzannah visited the Château Royal de Blois where Francis I of France held his court. Anne became a lady to the cultured and pious Queen Claude, Francis’ wife. The French court was the most fashionable court in Europe and Blois had spectacular architecture. Claude was a patron of the Arts and Francis was a huge fan of the Renaissance. He was responsible for bringing Leonard da Vinci to France and Anne may well have met him. It was an exciting place to be. Anne became like a native born French woman.


Suzannah spoke to expert Cedric Michon who explained that Anne would have learned French and she most probably acted as an interpreter at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. She received a European education and also saw what it meant to be queen. Claude had seven children in eight years and was extremely pious, so her court was not a hotbed of promiscuity, as is often thought.

The first surviving letter written by Anne is to her father and it shows her aspirations to be part of the English court and to serve the Queen. Anne is seen as either a sexual predator or a chaste woman, yet her French education and time abroad prepared her to be a much more complex character. She was transformed into a desirable young woman by her time in Europe, and she was shaped by many influences. We tend to see her as black or white: pious or worldly, sexual or chaste, but she was much more complex than that.

By her early 20s, Anne was back in London. Suzannah visited Hampton Court Palace and explained how Anne joined Catherine of Aragon’s household as one of her ladies, becoming a companion to the Queen. She explained that there were around 1200 people at court, 200 of whom were ladies. The Tudor court was a heady mix of politics and theatre. Thomas Betteridge explained that it was religious and serious, but also fun and awash with desire, love and sex. It was full of young people with too much time on their hands. The game of courtly love was a big tradition at court. Henry VIII was the leading courtly lover and there was competition for the role of Henry’s leading lady. Did Anne aspire to this?

Henry did have mistress, particularly when Catherine was pregnant, and this was expected and accepted. In 1519, Elizabeth Blount gave birth to Henry’s son, Henry Fitzroy, and this indicated to Henry that it was not his fault that Catherine had not given him a son. In 1522, when Anne was new at court, Henry was involved with Anne’s sister, Mary. We don’t know much about Mary or the relationship, and perhaps this fleeting royal affection was a warning sign to Anne.

By March 1526, Henry had been married for 17 years and still did not have a son. His relationship with Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous love stories but we do not know how it began, although it is likely that he noticed Anne in courtly entertainment. Soon Henry was writing love letters to her and giving her gifts. Suzannah visited the Victoria and Albert Museum to see a gold whistle pendant which Henry is said to have given Anne. As well as being a whistle, it had a scoop for ear wax and tooth picks. Henry was saying to Anne “If you whistle, I will come”. Perhaps this was just another gift to a courtly love mistress, but soon the relationship would be deeper.

Whistle pendant

Much is made of the dark political forces and what is lost is that their relationship was a real passionate love affair between two individuals. Henry’s love letters to Anne survive in the Vatican Archives and the sweetest of them all is in French and Henry tells Anne that his heart belongs to her alone and he hopes that his body will also. Henry ends it by writing his initials separated by the French “autre ne cherche” (is not looking for any other), and then writing Anne’s initials in a love heart in the centre of his signature. It’s just like a schoolboy doodling on a book. We don’t know exactly when the letters were written and we don’t have Anne’s responses, but we can tell from these letters that their love was getting stronger. The lack of responses from Anne means that we have to fill in the gaps, and some people have seen Anne as manipulating Henry and playing a game, but both of them probably wanted to do what was right when it came to holding off on consummating their relationship. There could only be a legitimate heir if Anne was Henry’s wife. They were passionately in love but they wanted to wait and do it right.

The stakes were high. Thomas More once said that politics was “kings’ games, as it were, stage plays, and for the more part played upon scaffolds, in which poor men be but the lookers-on”, so Anne was risking everything. It was tough on Henry too, though, as he had to think the unthinkable: divorce Catherine and marry Anne. No king had ever divorced a queen and Henry’s quest for a divorce became known as the King’s Great Matter. A play at court made Henry’s feelings clear. The play was called “The Play of the Weather” and in it Jupiter wanted to replace an old leaky moon with a new tighter one. It was a statement of his contempt for Catherine, whose only crime was not having a son. However, Henry would underestimate how difficult it would be to end his marriage.

By December 1529, the Pope had blocked Henry’s divorce. Henry was used to getting his own way and so needed to find a solution. It was actually Anne who came up with the solution. Anne gave Henry a copy of William Tyndale’s “Obedience of a Christian Man”. In it, Tyndale argued that the supreme authority was scripture, not the Pope, and that it was shameful for princes to be under the Pope’s authority. He wrote that princes/kings were judges over all and that there was no judge over them. Henry read it and declared “This is a book for me and all kings to read”. This book gave him the solution. He didn’t need permission from Rome and this idea that he was first under God played to his ego.

Henry and Anne’s love affair had a profound impact. Henry broke ties with Rome and set about creating a Church of England, with him as its supreme head. He was risking war and needed a powerful ally so in October 1532 he and Anne went to France to seek approval for their relationship from Francis I. They got it. This had cleared the path to marriage and Henry and Anne became lovers, either in Calais or shortly after their return to England.

Suzannah has always believed that they were passionately in love. If you have any doubt over their feelings then just take a look at the Flemish Book of Hours in the British Library. It gives a glimpse into their relationship and was obviously never meant to be read by anyone but them. On one page, Henry wrote to Anne “If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R. forever.” Anne chose the page carefully for her reply. On the page with an illumination of the Annunciation (the Angel Gabriel telling the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant), Anne wrote the couplet “By daily proof you shall me find To be to you both loving and kind.” Anne was saying that she was the woman to provide Henry with a son.

Now it was time to make their union official. Suzannah went to Whitehall. Unfortunately the grand Tudor buildings were mostly destroyed in a fire, although there is a bit left in the Cabinet Office, and this is a crying shame because much of Anne and Henry’s story was played out at Whitehall, including the pinnacle of their relationship: their marriage. They would have been overjoyed on that day in January 1533. Anne was pregnant and this time they were sure it would be a boy.

Henry had defied a Pope, redefined his kingdom, and it seemed that love had conquered all.

The second and final part will be on Channel 5 on 27th February at 8pm.

You can find out more about the programme at www.channel5.com/shows/henry-anne-the-lovers-who-changed-history/articles/about-the-show

You can follow Dr Suzannah Lipscomb on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sixteenthCgirl

This article is a rundown of the programme so the content is the views of Suzannah Lipscomb and the other experts mentioned. I’m not able to say which bits are direct quotes from Suzannah, but obviously it follows her voice-over closely.

I’d love to hear what you all thought of the programme. I agree with Suzannah that Anne and Henry had a very real and passionate love affair, and it was good to hear from a historian with a balanced view of both Henry and Anne. It is easy to think of Henry as the brute he was in later years, and think “what did she see in him?”, and also not appreciate how complex a character Anne was. I had an email from Emma Connell, the actress who played Anne, and in it she said that she felt that the programme “shows Anne in a beautiful light rather than a witch and manipulator”, I have to agree. What do you think?

Related Post

21 thoughts on “Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History – Rundown”
  1. I love that she gave her opinion but also included the opinions of others and, crucially, specified why she believed the others were wrong without preaching. There was more than enough information that you could make up your own mind. The overall style of the programme was refreshing, (though the re-enactments could’ve been less repetitive) and I’m really looking forward to the second one. I agree with you, Anne was shown in a good light and it’s needed; there is too much negativity about her when we don’t know for sure.

  2. Oh I do hope someone put it in HQ on YouTube because …………… well I am so sad that all those great programms wil never be aired in the Netherlands 🙁

  3. I really enjoyed it, thanks for the heads up. I have not seen Hever catle before, other than in pictures and it really fueled my imagination. I’m glad she reminded us of how the young Henry was because it is sometimes difficult to remember him other than an obese tyrant. It was indeed a very passionate relationship. Will need to watch it again to take in some of the information. Thanks again.

  4. Saw the programme and loved it. I have not seen that beautiful whistle before: it is very lovely; what a terrific gift and what a hint: when you whistle I will come; Henry was really in love; during this early time at least. I think what went wrong is the same thing as always does in these long relationships when the couple either do not make the full commitment for years or are not able to as one is married and they cannot get together for a number of years; the relationship is passionate but thrawt with impatience and frustration as Henry and Anne had a lot of over 7 years. Then the couple achieve their ends; they finally are together, the first few months are passionate again, then they get married and the whole thing goes sour. Henry was passionate during the chase; Anne fianlly gave it all up, the marriage was not all that it had promised to be and the passion died as did the love. Anne loved the crown, Henry loved the chase, they were not well suited as husband and wife, Anne was not trained to the position as Queen, did not conform to the expectations of Henry, a more mature Henry as Queen, and was not the son making machine that she had once told him she would be. Henry blamed Anne for yet another history of failed pregnancies; although there is only evidence for three in three years; one which had produced a healthy child, but another daughter; and Henry may have thought time was running out for him to have a son. The arguments followed were probably loud and passionate as the two of them were; the blame game most likely jaded them both and their relationship went downhill. At some point Henry saw something in Anne that he no longer liked and fell out of love with her; Anne was acting strange and fearful and her enemies took full advantage of the breaches that began to appear, especially after the fateful stillbirth of a son in January 1536, which made Anne more vulnerable. Henry could enact through Cromwell and Parliament as many draconian laws to protect his new marriage and the succession through Anne and him, he could make himself head of the church of England, he could break from Rome and destroy the religious face of England, he could even execute More and Fisher and others who would not take the oaths, but he could not totally silence the factions at court.

    The Marian factions, the Aragonese faction may have seemed to have been cowed, but they had not been quelled and they found ways to rise again. One of those ways was through the imperialist policy growing in the coucil, headed by Suffolk and the Seymours and Nicholas Carew. Cromwell was won over to this cause and it was determined that Anne was in the way. Historians vary in their views on whether or not a conspiracy brought Anne down or not, but I think that this was the case. The Marian and imperial forces in the court saw a chance after Anne lost her son in January and Henry made noises about his marriage not being all he had hoped for; although evidence suggests that Anne weathered the early storm and survived in Henry’s affections; the factions that did not like Anne or the Boleyns looked about for an alternative to bring into Henry’s bed.

    I think that by the end of March 1536 things were going on in the background to unseat Anne. I think that by then Jane Seymour was in the picture and that Henry was paying her court. Cromwell was brought into the picture in April that year and he may even have suggested that Anne was in the way of a move towards an imperial alliance. Anne began to make a series of public and private mistakes, some of them fatal and suspect. Henry appeared to support Anne even until the end of April, declaring that the Emperor had to accept Anne as Queen, but was he up to something else? Was something afoot behind the scenes and did the enemies of Anne see their final chance and move swiftly against her, making Henry see that she had to go. When the end did come and the so called evidence that framed her for adultery and treason, it came with frightening speed and shocked everyone. One moment Anne and Henry were waving at the performers at the May Day Tournament, the next thing five men are rounded up and placed in the Tower, and the next day the Queen was there also. 19 days later all of them were dead.

    When did Henry fall out of love with Anne? Did he fall out of love with her? Did he just get fed up with her? Was he persuaded that he could do better and that Jane was more suitable as a wife? How powerful did the Seymour-Marian-Imperial faction believe they were? They certainly had enough confidence to move as openly and swiftly as they did, arrest Mark Smeaton and then with his confession they had the weapons that they needed to move against the Queen herself. If any of this is really what happened, and I believe it was, it was a risky strategy. They must have already had Henry on board as Cromwell could only have acted with his orders and consent. Making rumours that Anne had lovers could be treasonable in itself. If the King did not believe the confession or the evidence and saw it as a plot then they would face treason charges for these attacks on her reputation. The treason act protected the Queen from such attacks in theory at least. If the rumours or accusations that now were levied at the Queen were judged to be untrue, those who made them could be guilty of perjury and share the fate that traitors faced; death. Henry had to have made the decision to look into the matter further and provide evidence. When it was brought to him; as we know it was not all it claimed to be, many of the charges could be shown to be rubbish, but Henry most likely did not look to closely and he must have genuinely have been convinced by the accusations for him to have proceeded so harshly and so swiftly against a woman he had loved so passionately for more than a decade and to send to their deaths with her, four of his close personal attendants and friends, one Anne’s own brother.

    Was this the case of a King so fed up with a wife he no longer loved that he would accept anything that freed him as a remedy or was this a King so caught up in the pressure from the Imperial party that included his own brother-in-law and some of his oldest comrades, that he was shocked into accepting the evidence against Anne was genuine? Had he fallen in love with Jane Seymour to such an extent that he wanted to get rid of Anne with all possible speed and did not want anything to do with the divorce courts again, or where the forces that brought an end to Anne and Henry’s marriage just to strong for the failing Boleyns who seem to have lost the King’s grace before any arrests were made? Anne had been seen as an upstart from the beginning; there may not have been an active conspiracy to frame her, but once something to implicate her emerged from Smeaton’s interrogations, her ememies must have relished the prospect of bringing her down, and acted to ensure that everything was done to make sure that she was found guilty and there could be no escape. It was almost as if once Smeaton said he was the Queen’s lover; those who hated her took their revenge with almost unseemly delight.

  5. It seems unlikely that there are contemporary sources related to Anne Boleyn yet to be discovered so the unknown factors surrounding her life will continue to be a subject for debate, and who can resist a historical love story full of mystery.

  6. I hope to see this program someday, but from the article above, I see what Suzannah is trying to convey. I believe they were in love too, completely and utterly, for years. She was beautiful in his eyes, bright, accomplished, elegant and different. When I hear discussions about “what did she see in him.” I have to laugh, I can barely respond. He was everything. The sun couldn’t shine brighter in the Tudor world. He owned it. She could no more resist him, than she could stop breathing. This is not our world. Theirs was different. This regent, at the time he discovered Anne, was a marvel of masculinity and a global powerhouse. Now realistically, if those crystal blue eyes looked into yours….would you really say no? Would you want to? Hardly. His attention must have been intoxicating, although with time…human flaws become apparent, as in all marriages, routine takes over…., but with Anne and Henry I don’t understand exactly when/why/how it deteriorated to the point that her death would be allowed, and then, if he hated enough to let her die, why kill her “mercifully”…I have to ponder that one.

  7. Overall I loved the programme. The only thing I found slightly odd was that they didn’t explain the European political forces ranged against Anne and Henry (Catherine being the Emperor Charles’ aunt and the Emperor’s troops sacking Rome). But great to see a glimpse of Anne’s books on TV!

  8. I greatly respect Suzannah Lipscomb as an historian. She is serious about her field of study and not a popularized historian/novelist. Those have become the norm nowadays, unfortunately, but Lipscomb is a delight. I would love to see this series, but, as it were, I live in the United States and cannot find it anywhere online. Channel 5’s website will not let me as it is not available in my country. What a shame. This is a very insightful review though, Claire and it is good to see someone with a balanced view! Thank you.

    1. It was a very good programme, although there were some odd bits like talking about Anne’s head being stuck on a spike when it was actaully buried with her, but all in all a very good programme.

      1. I agree Claire. That was a really daft thing to say as it is well documented that her ladies ensured her head was placed with her body before it was interred. Not convinced by Susannah Lipscombe at all. I always get the impression she’s looking for the sensational angle all the time. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about Anne since I was a child and was hugely disappointed by the programme.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *