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Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – How Did Love Turn to Hate?

Posted By on June 15, 2011

This article has been inspired by three different things:-

  1. An extract from Susan Bordo’s book, “The Creation of Anne Boleyn”1, which is due to be published in 2012.
  2. An interview question I was asked yesterday, “How did his incredible passion for her turn, if not to hatred, at least to a willingness to let her die violently?”
  3. A conversation I had on this year’s Executed Queens Tour with historian Eric Ives

The issue of how Henry VIII could executed his second wife, or at least stand by and do nothing while she was framed and executed, has bothered me for many years and is something I ask myself on a daily basis. The idea that a man could pursue a woman relentlessly for seven years, turn his life and country upside down to marry her and then just switch that love and passion off and court another woman while his wife’s life was hanging in the balance is just foreign to me, it just does not compute.

How could he go and visit Jane Seymour straight after Anne Boleyn’s execution? How could he become betrothed to Jane the day after Anne’s brutal death? How could he kill the woman he broke with Rome for? What happened to the man who wrote those beautiful love letters?… Was he fickle? Had he just enjoyed the thrill of the chase and then got bored? Was Anne an unsuitable Queen? Did he believe she was guilty? Had love turned to hate? Aaaaggghh, does your brain explode with these questions? Mine does!

There are many different theories and I will look at those before I put forward the one that makes sense to me:-

  • Henry became disillusioned – Susan Bordo discusses the view of Michael Hirst, creator of The Tudors, who described in an interview with her how Henry’s psyche became shattered when he realised just how much he had done to marry Anne Boleyn and have a male heir – broken with his beloved Church, executed friends, put aside his wife etc. – only to have the marriage go the same way as the first. His hopes for the future had been dashed.
  • Anne Boleyn broke her promise – In the interview with Susan Bordo, Michael Hirst also commented on how Anne Boleyn had promised Henry a son and then had not delivered on that promise, instead the birth of a daughter had been followed by miscarriages. Anne had let Henry down, she had betrayed him.
  • Henry VIII was a ruthless monster and tyrant – Hirst describes how Henry had a ruthless streak and “killed off the best part of himself in the attempt to reconcile his psychological issues”2. Anne Boleyn was not the first person who he loved and then executed, just look at the example of Thomas More who had been a friend and father figure to Henry. Henry seemed able to switch from love to hate, from “Virtuous Prince” to “Tyrant” when he felt he had been let down or betrayed.
  • Henry VIII was “a borderline or narcissistic personality type”3 – In the extract from her book, “The Creation of Anne Boleyn”, Susan Bordo quotes the definition of “splitting” from the book “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me” by Jerry Kreisman, M.D., “The world of a BP [person with borderline personality disorder] , like that of a child, is split into heroes and villains. A child emotionally, the BP cannot tolerate human inconsistencies and ambiguities; he cannot reconcile good and bad qualities into a constant coherent understanding of another person. At any particular moment, one is either Good or EVIL. There is no in-between; no gray area; people are idolized one day; totally devalued and dismissed the next.”4 Anne Boleyn suddenly went from heroine to villain just as Thomas More went from beloved friend to traitor, in Henry’s mind anyway.
  • Henry’s childhood – Susan Bordo talks of how Henry’s childhood was “split between the “cosy feminine world” of his mother and sisters and the cold indifference, then hostile domination, of his father”5.
  • “His sense of omnipotence”6, as Bordo calls it, which called for those around him to obey him.
  • His belief that his marriage to Anne was, like his first marriage, contrary to God’s law – Was his second marriage also ‘incestuous’ because he had slept with Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn? Is that why God was not blessing the marriage with a male heir?
  • Henry VIII believed that Anne was guilty – In her book, “The Lady in the Tower”7, Alison Weir talks of how the King himself was a victim of the miscarriage of justice which saw Anne go to her death on the 19th May 1536, suggesting that Henry had been led to believe that Anne was guilty of incest and adultery. Eric Ives, in “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, believes that Anne Boleyn’s fall was the result of a faction battle and Cromwell’s plot to bring Anne and the whole Boleyn faction down. “The king’s behaviour on Easter Tuesday 1536 had finally convinced him [Cromwell] that so long as she was queen, Henry would obstruct what was safest both for his kingdom and for his secretary”8, Anne had to go and Cromwell framed her.
    In an article she wrote for The Anne Boleyn Files, author and historian Suzannah Lipscomb wrote “The explanation that I would offer is that Henry believed that Anne was guilty of adultery. This revelation came amidst a succession of other shattering events in the year 1536, and was absolutely devastating for the king. He felt he had been terribly betrayed. Henry’s response to Anne came from great depths of grief, pain, anger, and loss.” His behaviour with Jane Seymour and his “unseemly haste in remarrying” can then be explained as “a way of demonstrating to all those people who mattered that, in fact, he did still have what it took to be a man” after Anne had cuckolded him and questioned his sexual prowess. See “Henry VIII and the Fall of Anne Boleyn” to read Suzannah’s article in full.
  • Henry VIII’s jousting accident in 1536 – Did Henry’s brush with death cause brain damage which made him into a tyrant or did it shake him up and make him realise that he wasn’t immortal and that he needed a male heir for the succession?
  • Love turned to hate – What had attracted Henry to Anne in the 1520s and early 1530s drove Henry mad when they were married. Anne Boleyn had a fiery temper, she stood up to Henry and told him what she thought and David Starkey, in his TV series “Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant”9 talks of how Henry could no longer tolerate Anne’s nagging and jealous – what had been attractive in a mistress was not what Henry wanted in his wife and queen. Also, Anne was said to have ridiculed Henry’s dress sense and to have discussed his sexual problems with Lady Rochford, did Henry feel betrayed and hurt by this indiscretion? Did hurt turn to hate?
  • Unrealistic expectations – In her book, “The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards”, Philippa Jones writes of Henry VIII’s unrealistic expectations of women: “Henry VIII was a man who longed for love. His tragedy was that he was looking for a love that could never exist. He had a vision of the perfect woman, an image of his mother, and no woman could measure up to this fantasy.”10 Henry, therefore, felt let down when Anne Boleyn did not live up to his expectations and perhaps this, combined with her inability to provide him with a son, made him desperate to move on to another woman who might live up to the perfect image he had in his head.
  • Henry’s insecurity – Did sexual insecurity and self-doubt make Henry intent on proving his power?
  • Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage of 1536 – The loss of this male foetus led Henry to believe that his marriage offended God and that it was all Anne’s fault.
  • Self-pity – In his book, “Henry VIII”, David loades writes “with that capacity for maudlin self-pity, which was one of his most unlovable characteristics, Henry was suddenly prepared to believe almost any charge which was fired against his wife”11 and this is shown by him talking of her being a witch who seduced him, an adulteress who had a hundred lovers and a would-be murderess who was intent on poisoning the Duke of Richmond and Princess Mary.
  • Henry’s infatuation with Jane Seymour – Loades writes of how “some contemporaries believed that the King’s infatuation with her [Jane] was one of the main reasons why he wanted rid of his second wife”12.
  • Guilt – Perhaps Henry was consumed with guilt over the way he had treated Catherine of Aragon and the execution of Thomas More, his beloved friend, and so he heaped that guilt on Anne who he saw as responsible for making him commit such cruelty.

I’m sure you can think of some other reasons and please do share them in the comments section below.

When I met Eric Ives in May I just had to ask him the burning questions “How did Henry’s love turn to hate? Why did he execute Anne Boleyn?” and put him on the spot.

Eric gave a wonderful answer which really made sense. He talked of how Henry was a dominant character but that dominant people are, ironically, often malleable, i.e. easily influenced by others. Thomas Cromwell was able to make the King suspicious of Anne because Henry was already insecure and paranoid. This made me think of a boss I used to have when I was teaching. He was a man who was very much in charge, a really dominant person who would not listen to anybody else’s ideas, but he could be ‘played’. You could drip feed him an idea over time and then he would suddenly announce that he had had a great idea and it would be your idea. He took ownership of that idea and suddenly it was a brilliant idea because he thought that it was his! Perhaps this is what Cromwell did and to me that makes sense. Cromwell had decided that Anne Boleyn had to go, it was her or him, but he could not move against her without the King’s blessing as to do so would be to put his life in danger, to put his neck on the line. He could only move against Anne if Henry was suspicious of her, he had to feed the King’s paranoia and that back it up with ‘evidence’. Unfortunately, Anne played into his hands by having the argument with Henry Norris, accusing him of looking for “dead men’s shoes”, i.e. having feelings for her and wanting to replace the King in her affections. In saying this, Anne had also mentioned the King’s death, which could be construed as treason. This whole episode could be twisted nicely by Cromwell to make Henry suspicious of Anne and when this was backed up by a confession from Mark Smeaton, well, Anne was doomed!

To believe that Henry was malleable and influenced by Cromwell is not to take any responsibility away from Henry, in my opinion anyway. Cromwell did what he had to do to survive and I’m not one to believe that he got ‘what was coming to him’ in 1540. Cromwell exploited the King’s volatile relationship with Anne Boleyn and tried to give the King what he wanted, a fresh start which would allow him to have a son, but he could not have brought Anne, her brother and members of the King’s Privy Chamber down in such a brutal and very final way without the King’s whole-hearted agreement and commitment. There is no evidence that Henry fought for Anne in any way, yet in 1541 when he was confronted with evidence of Catherine Howard’s rather colourful past he refused to believe it and ordered an investigation to clear his wife’s name. Henry was willing to believe that Anne had committed incest with George and adultery with his friends, he was also willing to believe that a man like Henry Norris, a man who he was very close to (Norris was Henry’s Groom of the Stool, i.e. the Royal bum wiper), could betray him. Hmm…

Well, those are the various theories I have read concerning Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s fall, how love could turn to such hatred, and also what I believe, but I would love to hear your thoughts. There are no wrongs or rights with this because we just don’t know, so feel free to share.

Thanks so much to those who inspired me to write this article: to Susan Bordo, whose book I am so eager to read! To TJ, a blogger who interviewed me and asked me this very question for her blog Sketch People (the interview is not on there yet), and to Eric Ives for not minding me grilling him over dinner!

Notes and Sources

  1. The Creation of Anne Boleyn Facebook Page, Susan Bordo – You can read the extract at http://www.facebook.com/notes/the-creation-of-anne-boleyn/how-could-he-do-it-new-excerpt-from-susans-book/224330794252331
  2. Quoted in “How Could He Do it?”, an extract from Susan Bordo’s book “The Creation of Anne Boleyn”, due to be published in 2012
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir
  8. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p319
  9. Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant, TV series by David Starkey
  10. The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards, Philippa Jones
  11. Henry VIII, David Loades, p267
  12. Ibid., p269

53 thoughts on “Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – How Did Love Turn to Hate?”

  1. Joanne Howlett says:

    I think Henry was given a role to play at a time when he wasn’t expecting it with the death of his brother…as astute as he was as a king .. he was never groomed to be one … i think the panic set in to be the perfect king and produce heirs ….. and with little patience he was getting more and more frustrated with each wife letting him down in one way or another ( apart from Jane who gave him a son ) . You had to fight to keep your head a t Henry’s court and the back stabbing and mistrust there must of been a great pressure for a man who never really grew up. Ann was a strong woman who helped change England forever ….. she helped Hentry turn his back on many things he loved ( including Katherine ) The Cathoilic church ……. no male heir …. she became a bit of a let down the Henry …. She was becoming more dominent than Henry …. and off her own back without advice as Henry needed all the time …. and in many cases he was fed the wrong advice and his paranoia led him in the end.

  2. Eliza says:

    Eric Ives’ theory is definately a very possible one… I think it was a combination of reasons. I agree that Henry was a hopeless romantic who believed in a perfect love- and lover- that does not exist. I agree that he always needed to blame someone else -Anne in this case- for his errors. After all, a representative of God on earth could not be that wrong, could he? No, someone else made him do things, like execute More etc.

    But, in my opinion, I find it very strange that he seemed unaffected by this horrible treason that Anne supposedly did, and moved one so quickly. As you mention, Claire, he was devastated when he found out that Catherine Howard was unfaithful.. Why was he so non-chalant when he found out about Anne’s adultery? I think that deep in his heart he knew she wasn’t guilty, so his male ego wasn’t hurt, but he managed to fool himself, because it was convenient to blame Anne for everything and start fresh with another woman to pursue a son.

    1. LaWanda says:

      I think it’s because he truly hated Anne at that point. She demanded so much from him and in his eyes, he felt she “failed” to live up to her end of the bargain. He did so much for her. More than any of his other wives and Henry may have felt Anne made a complete ass of him. Hence is non chalant attitude and his qucik marriage not long after her beheading. The thing that hurt the most was, she was just dumped in an unmarked grave for years until Queen Victoria did the right thing and made it her final resting place.

      1. Lara says:

        I’m not sure though; looking only at the psychology of the situation, I’ve seen modern men who had trouble being honest with themselves and who wanted to appear to be in the right quickly find another woman they cared about less to somehow distract themselves and mask their feelings, then dump the one they cared about more, and quickly get in with the new one, but then a little later come to their senses and realize they had made a mistake. In this case of course though he couldnt do that since Anne was dead and he also didnt want to admit the truth of his mistake to anyone, perhaps even to himself. I wonder if one of the reasons for his removing Cromwell later was since he resented the latter for framing Anne, and now the man was actually setting him up with someone else who couldnt possibly replace her? Regardless of the scenario, he must have realized at least on some level that Anne had been falsely accused, even though the accusation was convenient for him at the time (e.g. he resented her not giving him a son and whatever other combination of reasons), but he tended to shirk responsibility for his own actions and project the blame onto others around him, making them pay for his own mistakes. He must have built up tremendous guilt over hsi life which he increasingly needed to mask and pass the buck for. Being an originally very sensitive person meant that he had a greater need to hide the truth from himself than the average less sensitive person. He also lacked the training for dealing with such outcomes and their associated guilt.

  3. Susan Bordo says:

    I love this post, and am so, so grateful for the fantastic advance PR!!! I think that Ives is right on about Henry, but for me the issue of Henry’s malleability, and also whether he believed the charges or not, etc. are separate from the question: How could he EXECUTE her? Other queens had been charged, and convicted, of adultery, but none had been executed. Henry’s extremely drastic actions require a bit more in the way of explanation, and that’s where I think–without actually “diagnosing” him, which would be anachronistic as well as impossible–that the fact that he only had two “switches”: with him or against him–and that he was particularly vulnerable to any betrayals (imagined or real) on the part of those he loved comes in. When he felt betrayed, the other person became virtually “nothing” to him, and that, I believe, was why he was able to kill her. The question for me, in my chapter, is not “why?” he turned against Anne, which is explainable in many persuasive ways, including Ives, but “How Could He Do It?” which is different. A final comment: It is absolutely wonderful to have these forums for discussion, and you, Claire, are the ground-breaker and champ! You have opened up the Tudor world to the minds and hearts of so many, created community for us, stimulated us…I could go on, but THANKS.

    1. epiphany says:

      Susan – bear in mind, Anne was a commoner, one of Henry’s subjects, so essentially he could do as he liked. He would have never considered executing KoA, for example, because she was of foreign, royal blood.

  4. Bassania says:

    I have always thought that Henry was disappointed in Anne because the promised son never arrived and after such a long fight, the disappointment was even bigger and he had idealised it in his mind to such perfection that no one could ever live up to them.
    I think he had Anne executed because maybe he thought that Anne would fight harder than Katherine and he maybe didn’t have the strength to go through it again.
    But those are just my thoughts

  5. Very interesting post Claire! I’ve often wondered the same thing. Personally, I think it was a combination of all these things, particularly having the on/off switch. It reminds me of when Tom Cruise (another Cancer) and Nicole Kidman broke up just after they renewed their vows. All of a sudden, after 10 years of marriage, it was like she was dead to him. Nicole Kidman to this day says that she doesn’t know what went wrong and why all of a sudden the marriage ended.

    Anne was also a divisive character at court. People either loved her or hated her, there were many people who were jsut waiting for a chance to take her down. Her rise made people realize that if she could do it, what was to prevent them from putting a new Queen in Henry’s bed. Anne also contributed to it by her own jealously and paranoia, probably exacerbated by her struggles to give Henry that son he longed for. How many times was she pregnant in those 1000 days?

  6. Linda says:

    You do make a case for mental illness. Usually borderline also have an axis I possibly BiPolar. It would explain the mania. I only remember one exposure of depression after Janes death. Three years does seem beyond the norm for grieving. It would be interesting to explore further.

  7. Caroline says:

    I’ve been entranced by the whole Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn story since I first visited Hampton Court Palace at the age of 10. I think, as mentioned, what Henry wanted in a wife was vastly different from what he wanted in a mistress. For all intents and purposes, he loved Catherine of Aragon, and yet he still slept around. It was just the times. If it is true that Anne never slept with him, I’m sure it drove him crazy to not have her–thus spurning everything to be with her. But in the end, the qualities that so aroused him only served to annoy him once he got what he wanted. They were both extrememly volatile people–love could easily turn to hate. And if you think about the near worship he had for Jane Seymour, I think it is clear that she came the closest to his idealized version of a woman/wife. The icing on the cake was the fact she gave him a son.

    1. Loretta says:

      I always thought Henry went through a period of ‘Limerance’. That dizzy, sexual madness that strikes men and/or women. Henry was a married man. Anne was forbidden fruit. She bewitched and intrigued him. Love letters bear this out. When she agreed to marry him, they became conspirators joined in a cause. Now this became public, people chose sides. You were for Henry or against him. By this time, the years had made him stubborn to have his way, whether or not a lover was involved. I believe his lust has cooled to desire for a son by this still attractive ( but growing impatient and petulant) woman. He did have his way, all heads rolled and Anne didn’t deliver. He must have felt duped but saved face by saying “if a daughter this time, a son next time” . Anne still couldn’t deliver on her promise and all those who were against Anne felt emboldened to have a change at the court. They felt, that if Boleyn’s daughter could become queen, why not their daughter. Colourless Jane, quiet and obedient was put forth by her ambitious family. Anne didn’t have a chance. The attraction had cooled and a new one had taken his place. Henry was a love junkie after all.

    2. epiphany says:

      In Henry’s case, a good deal of that sleeping around occurred while his wives were pregnant. Sex during pregnancy was prohibited, as it was considered dangerous for the fetus.

    3. epiphany says:

      Nonsense – Henry didn’t worship Jane. His postmortem praise of her was simply good PR, as she had produced his first (and only) legitimate son. He had the Tudor dynasty to consider, so everything he did after her death was to play up that angle, from referring to Jane as his only “true wife” to arranging his burial next to her. Their son would then be KIng – where else would Henry be buried but next to his son’s mother? If Jane had survived childbirth, Henry would certainly have remained married to her, but would have spent the rest of their marriage on the prowl for intelligent, exciting mistresses – Jane was a bit dull in looks and personailty. Anne Boleyn was the great passion of Henry’s life, but he had built it up to such an idealized level that no woman could live up to his expectations. Some of that was her fault, of course – how can you promise a man you’ll give birth to a son?

  8. RxPhan says:

    I think Henry knew the Tudors just barely had a claim to the throne of England and without a legitimate (male) heir, the throne would go to Mary, who would be married off to some foreign prince, and the throne would be lost. I think he knew the other royal housed in Europe considered him weak. After going to all of the trouble to make Anne his wife, her pregnancy history was a mirror image of Catherines. Henry also had a near-death experience. Sometimes that changes the way people look at the ones they love and they look at their current situation with new eyes.
    Henry did regret putting Thomas More to death. He may have also wanted to be absolutely sure Catherine Howard was guilty before he condemned her becaues he either regretted being hasty with Anne or he knew that the charges against her were questionable.
    I don’t think we’ll ever know Henry’s entire story-he didn’t leave a diary. All we have are other individuals observations of his actions.

    1. epiphany says:

      I really don’t get all the Henry hate from some bloggers – you can’t judge him by 21st century standards and behaviors. Kings were not elected officials; they had no constituents to cater to, no votes to try and win… kings did as they pleased and were subject to judgement only by God. That Henry, or any king, stayed his hand when metting out his punishment meant he was holding back from venting his full wrath. I think Henry deeply regretted the executions of both Thomas More and Anne. I also think that’s why he took extra time to ensure that Kathryn Howard was in fact guilty before he moved against her. It’s clear that Henry was a very emotional, deeply feeling person who loved passionately both in a sexual and a nonsexual way, and put those he loved on so high a pedestal they had no place to go but down. By the time he was middle aged, he must have felt that God had abandoned him; everything he attempted in his personal life fell apart, and while a good deal of that was his fault, it was the fault of his judgement, and his intentions. KoA could have given him an easy divorce by taking religious vows, which would have left Mary legitimate, and allowed Henry to remarry; many royal couples had done this over the centuries with little fanfare. It was KoA’s bullheaded obstinancy that made it the fodder of court gossip. What kind of a woman fights to remain married to man who doesn’t want her? The mystery of Henry’s reign, of course, is what in the world happened to turn him against Anne so quickly and so viciously that he had her executed. It wasn’t her personality – Anne never held back, and they had been together for years – he knew she was a firecracker, and he was too smart to think she would turn into a mouse just because they married. As I said, we’ll probably never know the reason, but it had to be something off the charts – something no one was even considered.

      1. epiphany says:

        Sorry, meant to say, ‘the fault of his judgement, NOT his intentions.’

  9. Esther Sorkin says:

    I think a combination of factors is involved. One is that Henry (like many in his day) saw the hand of G-d in everything; that Anne seemed to be following in Catherine’s footsteps (one surviving daughter; miscarriages) showed that his second marriage, like his first, was cursed by G-d. This, I think, would make Henry more receptive to Cromwell’s suggestions than he was to the information about Catherine Howard (IIRC, Cromwell took both his alleged “original suspicions” and the results of his alleged “investigation” directly to Henry whereas Cranmer left a letter for Henry in church — if I am correct, this would indicate that Cromwell’s suspicions were not completely unwelcome to Henry.) Another factor is the “backlash” effect … Henry’s anger and disappointment at Anne would have been miuch greater precisely because he once loved her so much and did so much to make her queen. Some form of mental illness (bipolar, borderline personality disorder, meglomania) is probably a third.

  10. Memory Gargiulo says:

    I was privy to the conversation with Dr. Ives on the tour. One thing that stuck with me was when he pointed out that Henry married Anne for love and not politics. Therefore she had to continously compete for his attention. Her success relied heavily upon his continued affection for her. Once that detoriated, she was a sitting duck, so to speak.
    Great article Claire. I think that how this amazing relationship turned to such a bad end is one of the great mysteries of the Tudor story.
    Memory

  11. Lori says:

    speaking as one who once had borderline personality disorder and is now thankfully cured, I believe that Henry very definetly did suffer from a mental illness. I am quite sure that he suffered from schizo typical disorder as well as borderline personality disorder. He always had to believe that whatever he did was right and nothing could persuade him differently. I wonder if he also heard voices that told him what to do. It would be interesting to study his behavior. In any case, what he did to Anne was unforgivable. Perhaps he couldn’t deal with a woman who was intellectually his equal if not superior in intellegence.

  12. Christine says:

    I think the real breakaway from “normal” for Henry was the entire divorce thing; after he had achieved all that he was not going to switch back to “normal”, he probably didn’t care any longer what he did (if had ever done, which I doubt). It seems plausible that amour fou can change suddenly into hatred or paranoia (didn’t he say he had been bewitched?).

    IMO Henry’s behaviour in this and other instances should not be seen too separated from the times and the position he was in. This world was incredibly cynical — I don’t doubt that people had true feelings, but they were not that sentimental and cautious as we often are today; they had no insurance companies, no antibiotics, no narcotics, no airplaines, death was everywere, including that of your children, there was widespread drinking.

    I don’t think that Henry was sooo special after all, or that he was mentally ill in any way. A 13th century Duke of Bavaria had his unfaithful wife beheaded, another one had his morganatic wife executed as a witch in the 15th century (to be able to marry a more suitable wife). Think of the conquistadores: weren’t they all crazy? Lope de Aguirre declared himself Emperor of Spanish America (or so) and upheld an Amazonian terror regime until he was beheaded by the Spanish Crown.

    Even in civilized England: so soon as the Duke of Norfolk and his son Surrey were in the Tower in 1546, English diplomats wrote of them as “non-homines”; diplomat Morrison wrote eagerly of the misdeeds of the Duke of Somerset after he heard of the latter’s imprisonment, and he went on in this way against other people at every instance of regime change. I don’t even think they did all this out of fear, they were not fearful, they were conceited cynics.

  13. christopher caudill says:

    Having just watched “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” with Lucy Worsley on YouTube, I think we should throw pretty severe Type II diabetes into the mix as well. Sudden intense drops in blood sugar can result in incoherent rage, and if Henry truly believed that Anne was guilty of the lurid charges against her, his inhuman cruelty perhaps makes a little more sense. Did he really believe the charges, or not? If he didn’t, he definitely ranks with the worst of the worst (Caligula, Nero, Commodus etc).

  14. Mary Ann Cade says:

    Personally, I believe that Henry thought he would marry Anne easily and that Catherine would give him the divorce and he would live happily ever after. When Catherine resisted, Henry had faith in that the Pope would grant his petition because other monarchs had received annulments in the past or the Pope would convince her to go into a convent and he would be free to marry elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Pope would not go against Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles. whose forces sacked Rome during this time, so the Pope played a waiting game in the hopes that the King would tire of Anne and go back to his wife once he regained his senses. Henry was not one to be denied something, much like a spoiled child who gets all that he or she wants, so the idea to possess Anne became all encompassing because she was refusing to be his mistress and the Pope was refusing to grant the annulment so they could marry. I also believe that Henry thought that the people would grow to love her as their Queen like they loved Catherine, but many looked upon her as a homewrecker and many thought she was of common birth, like Elizabeth Woodville, and she was persecuted for it by the people. When the people started turning on Henry, I think it started him questioning whether or not this was all worth it especially after he had possessed her and she bore Elizabeth, not the son he craved. The miscarriages and the stillborn son coupled with the bad economy and harvests of the 1530s were alll things that prayed on his mind just like those who refused to swear to the Oaths of Supremacy and Succession and he lost good friends through execution. All of these things were blamed on Anne and I believe he started questioning whether or not this marriage was another mistake. It didn’t help that Cromwell turned against Anne and that the Seymours were putting Jane in his path and were also against the Boleyn faction. I believe that his accident in 1536 was so severe that it caused him brain damage, frontal lobe damage, which caused all of his bad personality traits to be unleased coupled with his new found power as Head of the Church and State and this was the main reason that for the last decade of his life he became more and more monstrous in his behavior and personality.

    The saddest fact for Anne was that she had no “protector” or champion to help her as Catherine did, no Emperor Charles because I believe that if she had had a champion that would have threatened to invade England if something were to happen to her, I believe Henry might have divorced her and allowed her to live abroad with Elizabeth. Sadly, I don’t believe she ever got to make any kind of choice like that.

  15. Fiz says:

    I agree with Bassiana, plus her nagging, which was tolerable when he wanted her as his wife and queen, was not what he wanted in a wife.

    1. Pauline says:

      What a fascinating post! I often ponder this question too. Perhaps Henry was already tring of Anne when he married her, but could scarcely back out when he had moved heaven and earth in order ro do so as the loss of face would be absolutely intolerable to Henry as a man and as a king. I also think that it was a combination of many of the things mentioned, but feel if Anne had borne Henry his longed for son and heir then she would not have died.

  16. Heather says:

    I’ve always believed that the root of most of Henry’s extreme actions, both politically and personally, was fear. He was brought up in a nation whose stability could end with one well planned insurrection. Without warning, someone close to you could die. There were no guarantees anywhere in life.

    I definitely subscribe to the theory that Henry had an idealized version of women. His mother was perfection to him. She was his soft and secure place to fall in a fearful and uncertain world. Her sudden death eternally enshrined her in his heart and mind. No other woman would, or could, ever live up to her sacred memory. Jane Seymour came close, but didn’t live long enough to fall short of Elizabeth of York’s glory.

    I also believe that his dysfunctional relationship with his father drove his decisions and paranoia throughout his life. As we all know, Henry VII wasn’t the warm, affirming father. Knowing what we know of him as a king, I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to imagine that he was an emotionally unavailable parent. I often wonder if Henry felt that his father viewed him as second best to his dead brother, and showed him this by his words and actions. Perhaps, Henry felt an insane amount of pressure to prove himself to his father, even after his death. He would succeed in securing England. He would succeed in being the king whose position and person would never be undermined. No matter what the cost, he would show him. He would show everyone.

    To secure his position and England, he believed he needed a son. After all, wasn’t a healthy son the mark of a healthy, virile father? Henry had sycophants telling him he was the epitome of Renaissance masculinity. His need for total affirmation led to him to lap all of the inflated praise up. That, along with the ridiculous belief that women were to blame for any reproductive disappointments, set both Katherine and Anne up for failure in his eyes. Neither woman affirmed his manhood by giving him a healthy son. Neither of them turned out to be the fruitful, angelic, cooing dove of a woman that he believed his mother had been. They both got in the way of his security, both as a man, and as a king. So intense was his fear of failure that they, along with anyone who failed, would have to be removed.

    A person as fearful and self involved as Henry could never truly love or be faithful to someone. Had his self proclaimed love for Anne been real, she would have woken on May 19th 1536 safe in her bed, and looking forward to a new day.

  17. Lee says:

    I think that principally Henry really shouldn’t have been king, he hadn’t been prepared for the role so consequently he didn’ have any idea about how to , if you like, behave! I mean it seems he really thought he was sublime and could do whatever he wished, Come on now ladies what man doesn’t like a challenge? It seems that Henry was definitely a man who loved hunting his prey, whether woman or beast, and he always captured his victims and bumped them off! Anne proved to be a very wily young lady who too, knew what she wanted and got it. Maybe she was too self-assured, after all she was extremely fascinating, and had infinite charm. Maybe Henry couldn’t compete with her, maybe she made him feel inadequate. Could it be that because of his inadequacies he thought it best to be rid of Anne simply because she was living proof of this? More to the point will we ever know?

  18. Cindy says:

    Is it possible that, as a jealous man, Henry wanted rid of Ann for various reasons but could not stomach the thought of anyone else having her either?? Hence her execution.

  19. Dawn says:

    Reading all the above, the post and comments, if you put the whole lot together, you have the Man. He was a very complex person. From that renaissance styled King, full of life and vitality, interlectual, talented and surpassing at most things, to that ill tempered, unstable despot, suffering from severe headaches and various other illnesses, that he must have been in some degree of pain continually. I think if you had 100 psychiatrist write a report on him you would get 100 difference of oppinions. He is a fascinating character to analyse, and I never tired of doing it.
    Do you remember as kids when you would see the ads. on T.V for toys around xmas time, that made you want them in your stocking. A sindy/ barbie doll (if you are as old as me) there she was twirling and dancing about in all those lovely clothes, with hair that could be styled in many different ways. When you opened the box on xmas day, after an hour or so you began to realise that she doesn’t twirl around the floor the clothes weren’t as nice as they seemed, and theres no way can you get her hair into them styles. Remember the dissappiontment, annoyance and frustration. Then came the boredom and finally abandonment never to be played with again. Well in simple terms I don’t think Henry ever grew out of those child like expectations, you had all these people telling you how great things would be and when thid didn’t materialise he threw his toys out of the pram!! and then expected better ones and so on. Its ok to do this with playthings, but human beings, well that a whole different ball game, love him or hate him, he will always be a quandry, some one will always come up with another reason why he was as he was. One thing for sure though, he has gained immortaity:)

  20. Kim Kloes says:

    What a fantastic discussion! Reading everything I can about this period in time and viewing all the discussions herein, I still can’t fathom the heart of a man who could legally murder the woman he professed to love and whom he was still touting around as his lawful wife who was due her honor as Queen of England up until a few weeks before her downfall. What an actor he must have been! But for him to hold that sort of anger and cruelty within, the kind that would move forward with an execution, the only thing that makes sense to me is some sort of mental illness. I guess it just can’t be quite that easy though. Obviously this is a very complicated relationship that offers us the opportunity to continue to break it down after all these centuries.

    You do an amazing job with this site. Your insight and commentary are most welcome.

  21. Lady Kateryn says:

    Unfortunately the price for political failure in Tudor England was death. Anne was not the only one: the disappearance of two princes, the execution of Lady Jane Grey by her royal cousin, Edward Seymour signing the death warrant of his brother….

    I have wondered whether the early death of Elizabeth of York meant Henry had a confused idea of queenship and how a queen should behave; also his grandmother had a far more dominant voice than his mother.

    Anne’s failed pregnancies began to resemble Catherine of Aragon’s which then reflected back on Henry’s masculinity (as Suzannah Lipscomb points out in her book).

    So poor Anne was both a personal and a political victim of the times and suffered the penalty of death.

  22. janice says:

    havent read the comments yet, amazing article :), i would say it was a mix of all or most of these listed reasons. Mr Ives` explanation is my favorite and….fortunately i am no queen nor I need to marry well (or at all), but ever since i had taken interest into the opposite sex it always come up to the fact, that men can be easily treated the same way Claire described her former boss. But its so low and dishonest, when you play the men this way, they are no men then, when they can be “instructed” and led to get an idea, which has already been born in somebody else` head.

  23. Venus says:

    Absolutely love this post!
    I remembered when Ives was talking about this when we were on the Tour.
    His explanation of Henry’s character was simple, short and right to the point

  24. Fiz says:

    The best theoretical explanation I have ever read was actually in Norah Loft’s novel “The Concubine” (NB I don’t like the title either, but she is actually very sympathetic to Anne). Her Henry has waited so long for Anne to agree to sleep with him that he thinks all his birthdays have come at once. He does sleep with her and to his own disbelief, Anne is just another woman in bed. It devastates him. It’s a case of when you get what you really want, you find you don’t really want it after all. It’s just a theory, but, I think, plausible. Anne probably wasn’t experienced in bed and Henry though only of his own pleasure.

  25. It seems to me life for Henry deteriorated sharply after Anne’s death. His relationship with Anne had to have been emotionally exhausting for both of them and he may have simply been relieved to have it finished. Henry needed Anne to produce a son and when she didn’t and then couldn’t, he felt justified in getting rid of her anyway possible. I believe Henry was a very complicated man and he created a very complicated court but he recognized his duty to his country and was very afraid of another civil war. He needed sons. We must remember he is only one generation removed from the War of the Roses. I am sure his father educated him and Arthur exactly of the devastating economic and human costs of civil war just as my grandmother and mother made the Depression of the 1930’s very real for me through their first hand experiences.Why are we surprised that Henry could murder his wife? People do murder their spouses when other options don’t seem available. If they didn’t what would NBC’s Dateline do for programming? I think the bigger question is would England have had its Golden Age of Elizabeth I had Henry not beheaded Anne. Would Elizabeth have gained the wisdom and survival skills that had made her a great queen if Anne had lived and she and Henry stayed together in an adequate or even bad marriage. Anne made a great sacrifice for her country and so did Henry. Henry was never really the same after he lost Anne and he suffered psychologically and physically for it.

    1. Dawn says:

      Yes it does seem Henry deteriorated mentally an physically after Anne was executed, but I do think that the rational behind getting his heir had been clouded by a more egotistic need, he needed an heir to keep the Tudor dynasty going and to steer away from civil war thats true, but a this stage it seems more to prove his manhood. And no maybe we are not suprized about the murder of spouses, which is a sad reflection on our society, but these people are usually caught and punished, prince or pauper. The difference with Henry disposing of his wife, is, it was deemed legal with no evidence, he was helped by many powerful and intelligent people, and again for egotistical reasons, no son, he was bored of her, and wanted to try his luck else where. Which even looking at it with ‘modern eyes’ is shocking.
      Who knows if we would have had the Golden age if things were different,if Anne had lived she could have given him a son eventually,still had childbearing years a head. But I also think that Elizabeth would have gain more with her mother beside her than what she did without her, I am sure she would have still had the survival instinct, you needed that in those times what ever the circumstances, but she would have been able to embrace the softer side of life, being loved and nurtured, not abandoned as after Anne’s death, and the chance to have her own family to care for, all the things most people take for granted, all the things she steered away from as Queen because she saw the bad side of love, alove that turned to hate and how it could impair your judgement, as it did to her father.

  26. Anne Barnhill says:

    Excellent article and discussion! This is, of course, the burning question for Anne Boleyn fans. I think several things were at play. First, the line between hatred and love is very thin–both are passions and Henry was always passionate about Anne. It isn’t surprising to see that switch. I think he was so disappointed not to have a son right away that he did feel betrayed–he’d done a great deal to get Anne and she didn’t keep her promise. THen, the miscarriages didn’t help. And her beauty was fading, though I think with true love (which I do believe they had, briefly) that would not matter as much. I think when Henry killed so many and broke with Rome, it hardened his heart in ways that led him to tyranny in his later years. He really does deteriorate after Anne’s execution–I don’t think he ever got over it or the way he treated Catherine. I don’t think he was mentally ill–he had a clear sense of things, it seems to me. He just wanted what he wanted and, if he did believe Anne was guilty (I have known jealous men who thought that just because they thought a woman was attractive, every man alive would be after her) that would have threatened and incensed him. I agree with Claire–we will never really know but man, it sure is fun to speculate, to try to figure it out. I think of someone like John Kennedy who was married to a beautiful, intelligent woman yet he fooled around all the time with much lesser women–how and why? Who can know? Maybe just because he could….
    Great discussion!

  27. Diane says:

    Responding to Fiz…Don’t forget that when Henry did finally sleep with Annie, he was appalled at her French style of lovemaking. (whatever THAT was! LOL)

    I too absolutely LOVE this board, and eagerly await Claire’s book. I am currently in the middle of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Alison Weir), and have learned enough now to be able to participate here. All I knew prior to this book was only from The Tudors tv series, and then I stumbled across here, what a lucky day that was! I have learned alot coming here with you knowledgable people.

    1. epiphany says:

      The term “lovemaking” particularly in those days, didn’t necessarily mean the act itself. When a man is wooing a woman – flirting with her, touching her hand – they referred to that also as “lovemaking.” The French style that appalled Henry was likely some facet of her behavior before they got into bed – too much perfume, too blatant an attempt to seduce him, making funny comments to lighten the mood – she was likely very nervous – while Henry wanted to get down to business, not exchange witty repartee. Also, remember that Henry, like all the English back then, hated the French, so he had a habit of describing anything he found irritating about Anne to be French.

  28. Diane says:

    I do have a question that is not quite the topic here. I have read past the death of Anne in Alison Weir’s book, however, I see no mention of the Swans. Was this just added drama for the series, or did Henry not give Ann, 2 swans, because they mate for life, and upon Anne’s death he consumed of them. Has anyone seen any referrences to this particular story?

  29. Diane says:

    ** I’m sorry…that should have read “he consumed one of them”

  30. Sandra says:

    What a fascinating debate. I have pondered this subject for years, and would like to think Anne was the love of his life, but maybe she stopped loving him (or he thought so). History had already proven how cruel he could be once he felt betrayed. Perhaps his madness started with her death. Maybe all his actions after Anne’s death were driven by bravado and guilt. I even wonder if his request to be buried with Jane Seymour was a final snub, to Anne. I suppose like all interested in this subject its incomprehensible that he could have acted so cruelly so we continue to find reasons and logic where there is none.

  31. I believe, for Henry, after the chase was over, he was just bored. He was probably a man easily distracted, & always wanted a new adventure. I cannot imagine him ever truly loving, or being in love with any woman. He was a 15th century skirt chaser, a player, & a womanizer. And I dont think he had a moral in his body. He was the King of England, so he was all that…or so HE thought.

  32. JADE says:

    I have never believed that Henry was involved in a plot to bring Anne down; I think that Cromwell was the main architect. But I DO think that Cromwell knew how to ‘play’ Henry. I have read that when Cromwell showed Henry his ‘evidence’ against Anne(the alleged adultery, murder plot e.t.c) Henry was so shocked that he had to take to his bed, and that when he had recovered from what he had been told, he became incandescent with rage. I do not know if this is historical fact or not, but if it is true, it would seem to demonstrate that Henry was genuinely horrified by what he heard, which would indicate that he was innocent of any plotting. I agree that Cromwell, who had long been on the receiving end of Henry’s notorious rages, can not really be blamed for trying to do what was best to save his own neck; at this stage in his life, Henry was so unpredictable that Cromwell must have often been terrified of him. and Henry was known for having those closest to him executed. I think that because Henry really believed what he had been told about Anne, who he had once worshipped and had scandalised christendom to be with, he was prepared to throw her to the wolves. However, I do think that in the years that followed Anne’s death, when Henry had had time to reflect, I think that it may have occurred to him that Anne had possibly been set-up by those who wanted her out of the way. 2 things make me think this; Cromwell was executed a few years after Anne, for ‘pushing’ Henry in to the disastrous marriage to Anne of cleves. And Jane Parker, who MAY have been Cromwell’s number one informant against Anne Boleyn, was herself executed when it was discovered that she had aided and abetted Katherine Howard’s affair with Culpepper. But I have often wondered if there was in fact another reason for the execution of Cromwell and Parker; did Henry wonder if they had both lied about Anne, and wrongly sent her to her death? who can know what was in Henry’s mind? but it is a tantalising possibility.
    Anne was Henry’s great love;he no doubt did love Jane in his own way, but there is no doubt that Anne was his grand passion. The only other time that Henry came close to that similar feeling that he had had for Anne is when he married her first cousin, the teenage Katherine Howard; Henry was totally besotted; it begs the question; did Katherine in some ways remind Henry of her cousin, the charming, passionate, clever Anne Boleyn? Katherine certainly did not share her tragic cousin’s high intelligence. But as they were closely related, did she have similar traits and mannerisms? did she move in the same graceful way as her cousin? did she have that underlying sex appeal that Anne certainly had in abundance? again, we can not know. But it is a possibility. I think that Henry never truly got over Anne; he may have claimed to hate her, but as we all know, there is a VERY thin line between love and hate!

  33. lucille says:

    Interesting discussion.
    I’m not surprised by anything Henry did to Anne, because as someone points out above, he did the same to Thomas More–and also to Catherine. He was ready to execute Princess Mary, also, after the death of Anne, if she hadn’t agreed that she was illegitiimate. He was just that way. Why would he treat Anne any differently?
    I think a lot of the times people forget that Henry appeared to be just as much in love with Catherine, twenty years previously, as he did with Anne. He was not matched up with her in the usual way that royals were matched with each other, regardless of their emotions. She was married to his brother and when his brother died it seemed for a while as if it would be worthwhile to match Henry with her–but then her mother died. With her mother gone, Catherine was much less of a prize and her father was not paying the dowry and Henry VII didn’t think Catherine was worth much anymore. He didn’t want Henry to marry her. Henry went against his father as soon as his father died and went to a lot of trouble to marry Catherine. They were a very affectionate couple and he seemed to be very in love and very romantic towards her–until she didn’t have a son and aged out, got chubby and unattractive. (She had been a lovely girl, look at her youthful portrait). At that point, Henry threw her out like trash. He came up with this ridiculous misinterpretation of leviticus and got mad at her for not going away peacefully (and protecting their daughter’s rights). He went so as to wear yellow to celebrate when she died. He could not actually execute Catherine because she was connected to the Emperor–but he definitely drove her to her death, leaving her more and more alone, with less servants in miserable houses, and denying her proper medical care. And I repeat, he had once been so ‘in love’ with her that he defied his father, called himself her ‘sir loyal heart’ and behaved entirely differently towards her than kings usually did with their wives. The pattern was there. Anne should have realized that what you can do to one, you can do to the next one, even more easily. He was never in love with Anne, this man was never in love with anybody but himself, it was just lust (and wanting a son). He did it to Catherine first and then moved on and did it to Anne, he was prepared to take out Catherine Parr the same way, Anne of Cleves gave into everything he asked because he was just not a safe person–he was a serial wife-murderer (with the law on his side). He was only mourning Catherine Howard so much because he wasn’t ready to get rid of her yet (not tired of her)–and he didn’t have to kill even her. I think Henry is a very consistent person who ran true to form and there is no surprise about his killing Anne, which I think he was the primary person responsible for (Cromwell was just his tool).

  34. cheryl says:

    I think he had the treason charges brought for one reason and to get rid of Anne quickly look how long it took him to divorce catherine he probably didn’t want to wait

  35. Alan says:

    I think Henry was truly a monster. He killed friends and others at his own whim. And justified them all . He was self indulgent and spoiled, he was alos vin and cruel. Anne’s arrest . trial and execution and henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour all took place in a month. He had to have been planning it.
    Basically to use the term execute is a misnome, he murdered his wives, People also tend to forget that he also murdered others at the time. Including Ann’s own brother. He was a tyrant.
    Alison Weir’s earlier works were not too sympathetic to Anne, I don’t think she really likes Anne, and is more sympathetic to Katherine of Aragon- who incidentally for all her suffering lived longer than any of henry’s other wives, she also is amongst the top 10 longest serving consorts of any English monarch.
    I think Anne initially did not want to marry henry, but he removed the competition and basically persued her, until he won her and then perhaps she did decide to become Queen was not a bad deal. I think she was brave, and just refused to become a mistress.

  36. katie says:

    I think it was a very malicious that may not have been his fault entirely. Did you know many historians and epidemiologist suggest he may have had syphilis? During this time period there was a devastating new form of disease that would come to be known as syphilis flooding into Europe from the New World. Syphilis was much more serious then because of the terrible conditions (1500s Europe being a thriving ground for illness) and lack of decent medicine. They would have tried to treat for 6 weeks with mercury, but this in itself was incredibly dangerous. The symptoms included in cases of syphilis today are mild in comparison and the strain far tamer. Syphilis has 3 stages. Today it is rare for people to let it go past the first stage and so syphilis has become tamer and weakened over time. But it is also a mysterious and silent but deadly disease. Back then the first stage consisted of today’s symptoms plus lesions in the area. The second stage consists of rashes or patch like lesions on other parts of the body but wasn’t always obvious at all. Some people might get a small rash and it would go away, never to return. But the tertiary stage was the kicker. That’s when it became neurological and caused unusual, even aggressive behavior, other physical malaise such as stomach problems, digestive issues, and cardiovascular problems…hmmm…sounding familiar? Another reason I personally suspect the syphilis diagnosis is because of the symptoms of syphilis in females, namely inability to carry a baby to term, frequent miscarriages, and eventual destruction of the female organs…once again, any bells ringing? How about EVERY ONE OF HIS WIVES?? And since most of them never made it to old age, we might never know if they too would have begun to suffer symptoms. Syphilis can lie dormant for years and turn on and off so to speak, so it would have been possible to sleep with his wife and not pass it on…at least for a while. Everyone knows what a dog Henry was with the ladies. It’s possible he caught it before he married Katharine, or dare I say during? Syphilis would explain why she suffered so many miscarriages. And it is possible to carry a child to term without passing the disease on, but I’d say one in five (wasn’t mary the 5th?) isn’t unheard of. And another interesting point is that no one is really sure what she died of, but an autopsy revealed black patches on her heart. Syphilis symptoms include patches (lesions) and it was common for it to cause severe cardiovascular issues. Of course it could also be cancer but the clues are interesting. Another point is that Henry suffered from lesions on his legs during his final days that were so foul they stenched up the room much like syphilis causes. And of course the mental deterioration is a stand out symptom. I personally think his own personality disorder (i think everyone can agree he was a bit narcissistic) combined with mental deterioration caused by both environmental and physical issues were mostly to blame. He felt betrayed, maybe even truly believed Anne had tricked or “bewitched” him for a crown. He certainly seemed to blame her for his shortcomings and had the power to do something about how he felt. Like giving a child having a temper tantrum a loaded weapon, someone was bound to get hurt. I also think that Anne may have grown a little too comfortable in her position and by the time she realized the danger it was too late. She thought she surely had her husband wrapped around her finger but the continued strain on their personal life by her inability to give him a male heir, his roving eye, her jealous and sharp tongue, and his realization that she was not the perfect woman led to the failure of their relationship. I also believe Anne never led him on to believe she was perfect, that she tried very hard to impress upon him what kind of wife he was getting beforehand and truly thought he loved her for her. I believe she was quite devastated when he started to show her disdain for things that were out truly of her control even though she still wanted to give him all the things she promised. Then you have his consorts constantly whispering rumors of her infidelity into his ear, and I bet any guy would agree that if his buddies constantly told him whispers about who his wife was seen with, he might eventually grow suspicious as well. Granted, influenced by medical reasons or not, it doesn’t excuse such rude behavior from a husband…
    -source: Nursing student/history/epidemiology studies

  37. Johanna says:

    I very strongly believe Henry had narcissistic personality disorder. I last year ended a relationship with someone I am now almost certain is a narcissist. I was so deeply disturbed and perplexed by what I experienced that I spent some 10 months afterwards desperately, almost obsessively, searching for an explanation for his terribly, terribly hurtful and irrational behaviour. I read and watched an enormous amount about NPD and similar disorders (in particular borderline and antisocial personality disorder, as well as ‘sociopathy’ and ‘psychopathy’, which are not DSM terms), by psychologists/ psychiatrists/ counsellors, by people who have been the victim of narcissistic abuse, and by narcissists themselves.

    There is something about experiencing narcissism that is quite different to reading about it. And, once you have experienced a narcissist, you recognise it: you recognise it in other victims’ accounts; and you recognise aspects of it in people you encounter, and in people of public profile. (And you can also distinguish traits that are not common to narcissists and must instead be specific to a particular individual rather than part of the disorder.) You recognise it in other victims: when speaking of it to someone else, I can always tell when they have experienced narcissism because they ‘get’ it in a way that is not otherwise possible.

    And I experience that same recognition in accounts of Henry and of the way he treated, in particular, Anne Boleyn. In fact, my experience with ‘my’ narcissist has given me enormous compassion and fellow-feeling for Anne; my ‘breakup’ with ‘my’ narcissist was bad (though nowhere near as bad as many accounts I have read, not least because he was a close friend not a partner), but Anne’s would have to rank among one of the worst breakups in all history, involving as it did her death.

    Most of the aspects you list as being alternatives to NPD are, in fact, part of the disorder. Guilt (and, actually, profound levels of shame). Self-pity (often when they themselves have been the one at fault, often terribly at fault; refusal to accept responsibility for their own behaviour and consequent blame of others is absolutely characteristic). Insecurity, paranoia and a ready sense of betrayal (narcissists are hypersensitive and one is always walking on eggshells). Frequent but shallow infatuations (often with text and sex addictions). Unrealistic expectations (through a lack of grounding in reality and a consequent inability to judge things rationally). Even your conclusion, that Henry, though dominant, was malleable, completely fits with narcissism: ‘vulnerable’ or ‘maladaptive covert’ narcissists are over-dependent on others.

    These are the best lay descriptions of narcissism I’ve so far read:

    http://www.psychalive.org/narcissistic-relationships/ (the slideshow in particular nails it)

    http://blog.melanietoniaevans.com/what-is-narcissistic-supply/ (this also explains what is going on for narcissists themselves)

  38. Rachel Smith says:

    My husband has been diagnosed with BPD and I have become very familiar with the behavior patterns. I think this, or another psychological disorder fits more logically as an explanation for Henry VIII’s life long tendency to exhibit the extremes of hero/villian in his own decisions and in his judgements of others. His “heroic” saving of Catherine of Aragon by marrying her against his fathers wishes, the villainous way he kept his daughter and first wife apart. Many of his earlier behaviors hint at BPD in a milder way, maybe due to Wolsey and More’s influence. Not until Anne did anyone let Henry in on the actual extent of his absolute power. For a narcissistic MSN with Borderline personality disorder, this would have been a very dangerous mistake.

  39. Shannen says:

    A very engrossing, interesting and in-depth post. What I find so intriguing about Henry and Anne’s love affair is that even 500+ years later it is still such a hot topic for discussion for so many people and their turbulent relationship and Anne’s down-fall is still a mystery.

    In regards to why and how Henry’s love for Anne appeared to turn to hate so suddenly, I think that everyone will have a different opinion. Personally, I believe it to be for a variety of different reasons, all of which have already been touched upon in the article or in the comments above.

    I believe that Henry loved Anne as much as he was capable of loving another. I think Anne’s intelligence along with the aid and encouragement of her family, meant that she was able to manipulate his feelings for her to a certain extent. She had witnessed the mistake her sister had made in regards to being his mistress, and she didn’t want to make those mistakes herself. Her family – like all families during this period – were extremely ambitious and longed to make their way up the ranks, and they saw Anne as their way to do that. Her refusal to be Henry’s mistress and her persistence of refraining from sexual relations with him, meant that naturally his attraction to her and desire for her grew to more be stronger and more intense than it would have been if she had agreed to be his mistress in the first instance. It was a typical case of wanting what you can’t have, of enjoying the chase and Henry certainly enjoyed that. He had been married to Katherine of Aragorn for more than 20 years, and the marriage was conducted based on political grounds rather than out of love, so it’s no surprise that he was enticed by Anne and that she captured his spirit. She was younger than Katherine, most likely more attractive, she was passionate and awoke that same passion within him.

    What was most likely only intended to be a brief love affair for Henry soon turned into something so much greater. For those that insist his feelings for Anne were merely infatuation or obsession, I disagree. He ripped apart his own country, separated from Rome, changed religion as it was known at that time and essentially created new laws and rules just so he would be able to freely divorce from Katherine to marry Anne. Would someone that was merely infatuated dedicate 7 years to achieving that? I personally, don’t think so.

    Once they had married, Henry’s feelings for Anne most likely began to wane, which is inevitable, and what he saw in Anne and what drew him to her would with time become the qualities that he most despised in her. Her fiery attitude, her sharp tongue, her confidence and strong will, are all qualities that were inconvenient and undesirable in a wife of the King. She was a woman unafraid to speak her mind and challenge the opinions of those she didn’t agree with, even if the people she didn’t agree were important members of the Church or court or even the King himself. Anne is known for speaking out of turn, for commenting on matters which she should not and with time this naturally began to irritate Henry. A woman during that time did not exist to challenge her husband or to get involved in political matters, she merely existed to bear children and be an obedient and loyal partner, however Anne was a strong woman ahead of her time. Anne’s intellect and knowledge in all matters matched Henry’s and although this was appealing at first, Henry grew tired of her questioning him or undermining him in important matters. We have to remember that the King’s wife was a direct reflection of the King himself, and Anne’s ill manners and inappropriate behaviors naturally reflected negatively on him. The fact that Anne was so widely disliked by those around Henry, most likely only fueled this. There were rumors of people plotting to kill Anne, and very few people had taken to her or fully accepted her as their Queen. It stands to reason that with time these matters took a toll on Henry and caused him to feel insecure in his relationship with Anne, which allowed others in Court to take advantage of that and turn him against her further.

    Anne had many enemies in court and it’s likely that those enemies went to Henry and whispered in his ear, planting seeds of doubt and making him question his marriage. Anne probably sensed this and grew more anxious and distressed, which I can imagine impacted on her behavior and caused her to act inappropriately. Anne desired to be Queen, but I believe that once she reached the position, she realised that she was way over her head. She was surrounded by people of a much higher standing than her, with influences much more vast than hers and despite being Queen she had very little power in these matters, and few people backing her corner.

    Once Henry’s infatuation for Anne started to subside, the reasons that people were so against Anne as Queen in the beginning, probably began to reside with him and he began to question how appropriate she was. I don’t necessarily believe that Henry’s love for Anne turned to hate, I merely believe that he was driven more by a desire to continue his legacy than by love. Despite being a hopeless romantic and enjoying the company of women, the most important thing during the Tudor era was power and Henry is no exception. He knew that there were people that would see to take the throne from him and any weakness he displayed only gave those people a window to exploit him. Anne was a weakness. She failed to deliver him the heir he so desperately sought, alliances with other countries were made difficult due to his seperation from the Catholic church and on top of that she was causing issues for him at Court, rumors of her flirting with other men were floating around and his marriage with Anne was putting a strain on his relationships with his friends and close allies at Court. Once Jane Seymour was introduced Henry could see his future without Anne, with a new and younger wife, that would provide him with a son where Anne failed and that was also more placid and agreeable in nature. Henry saw Jane as being the polar opposite of Anne and knew she would be the wife he needed.

    With all of these factors combined, it is no wonder Henry came to the decision he did.
    Anne was an inconvenience and a liability – she was causing friction in Court and preventing him from being with Jane – and the easiest way to get rid of her was through execution, so that is what he did. Personally, I think he most likely came to the decision to have her executed before the accusations of her adultery came to light. In fact it would be no surprise to me if Henry himself constructed the allegations himself so as to have a valid and just reason to go through with an execution.

    I think in today’s society people find it so shocking that someone could have their own wife whom they claim to love killed, but being King meant something very different in the 1500’s than it does today. Henry was under constant pressure to maintain peace in his kingdom, to make decisions on the most complex and difficult matters within England. There was a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and in the end he chose being King and his kingdom over the love he had for Anne. Of course, it’s likely that as others have mentioned and the article mentioned, that his mental health had some part to play. But mostly I believe his actions can be explained as a man that was driven solely by the desperation to remain in power and ensure The Tudor reign continued for generations and did not end with him.

  40. What I see is a man who was all powerful with a tyrannical and egotistical character who had never been refused anything he wanted in his entire life. The women he had pursued before Anne were either too flattered or too afraid (I think the latter) to refuse him, which left him thinking himself irresistible. He was like a child who, when refused a desired toy, wanted that toy even more.

    I do not believe that Anne refused him to increase his ardour; I believe she hoped he would give up and go away. He had ruined her hopes for a future with Harry Percy, so why should she think kindly toward him? He was twice her age, not the young and handsome prince he once was.

    But Henry was determined to have her no matter what the cost and when he discovered the Pope was not his friend, would not change the law for him and grant his divorce, he decided he, Henry, was all powerful, not the Pope. He could do without the Pope. And then he discovered how much more could be had in riches and power if he became head of the church himself.

    I am always puzzled by the idea that Henry and Anne were deeply in love. I cannot see that myself. He was obsessed with her because he could not have her. He was the King! Everything he thought and did was God’s will and he was appalled that anyone would refuse him. I believe that if she had given in to him, he would have discarded her as quickly as he did her sister and she might have gone on to live a normal life.

    Why was a young woman’s wish to go to a husband with her virginity intact seen as someone who schemed to take the throne? I do not believe he ever loved her, or anyone, and I do not believe she ever loved him. I think she was afraid of him, as were most people, and a King who kept changing the treason laws to suit himself was one to be feared. She was not allowed to walk away and once he had had her, the novelty wore off.

    As to her promising him a son, well I find that ridiculous. People in those days were not as enlightened but surely a woman would know that she had no power whatsoever over whether she had a male child, or any child. She wasn’t stupid; why should she promise him something over which she had no control, especially knowing how important that was. Is there any written evidence that she made such a promise?

    A man who had ever once loved a woman could not have fabricated charges against her, ordered her execution and spent the night before that execution poring over plans for her scaffold. He must have taken some perverted pleasure from so doing.

    She proved herself capable of giving him a healthy child and I think the fear of failure contributed to the miscarriages. But he only allowed her three years to give him a son, not even that long before he got tired of her and started plotting her downfall. I have no doubt that, had Jane Seymour not been so fortunate as to die in childbirth, she would have gone the same way.

  41. Marlette says:

    I have come across many interesting, intelligent, logical comments and reasons for Henry’s behaviour. My opinion, however, which is not supported by any personal qualifications in psychology, is that Henry had one or more personality disorders which manifested in later life, after some sort of traumatic event (perhaps his jousting accident?), when those latent mental abnormalities emerged. My father-in-law was apparently a gregarious, talented, successful (although unfeeling at times, early on in life, I have heard) individual who, at the age of 40, after a mere suspicion that his wife was having an affair, sold his business, shut down all communication, threatened to commit suicide, dragged his wife around by her hair, jumped on her several times (while she was pregnant with my husband), and made her suffer emotionally, financially and psychologically, and laughing at her dementia, for the next 60 years until her death at 89, and never once mentioned her name afterwards. After her death he thought I was going to be a substitute victim, and accused me of trying to poison him, stealing his will/testament, owing him money, preventing my kids from visiting him, etc. His sister meanwhile was a diagnosed schizophrenic manic depressive who died in an institution. Why I’m saying all this is because we often try to explain abnormal behaviour in rational terms, when in fact one is dealing with an individual who should have been permanently restrained, being a danger to themselves, their family and society. Having witnessed (and met people who were witness to my father-in-law’s behaviour over decades, and the many faces he showed to different people, I conclude that people such as Henry Viii are perfectly possible, and in fact are still around; only, now, we may not be qualified, but we are generally better informed about mental illness and its implications to others. Unlike my mother-in-law, I am empowered and better informed, and as such have more control over my own life in the way my mother-in-law never did … nor did the six women who were unfortunate enough to find themselves under the control of a mentally ill, and thereby remorseless, conscienceless psychopathic Henry, who was in fact, apart from physical ills, cold, controlling and uncontrolled, but, I think, eventually, a victim of his own mental non-wellbeing.

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