How Have Perceptions and Images of Anne Boleyn Changed Throughout History?

Anne Boleyn NPG portrait
The Anne Boleyn people love or hate

I keep receiving emails regarding this question so I’m wondering if it’s an essay question in a history course! It is an interesting question and has really got me thinking. It is also something that I know author Susan Bordo is addressing in her next book, working title “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” – see her Facebook page The Creation of Anne Boleyn for more details.

So, how have perceptions and images of Anne Boleyn changed throughout history?

Well, in my opinion, perceptions of Anne Boleyn have gone through various stages:-

  • Being maligned by the likes of Nicholas Sander, a Catholic recusant in the reign of Elizabeth I – 6 fingers, protruding tooth, wen, witchlike, giving birth to a deformed foetus…
  • Being seen as a Protestant martyr by John Foxe in the late sixteenth century, during the reign Elizabeth I, a Protestant and also the daughter of Anne Boleyn
  • Being seen as a tragic heroine and victim by the Victorians who liked to romanticise historical figures
  • Being maligned in the 20th century by authors like Philippa Gregory in fiction

Today, there is not one perception or image of Anne Boleyn, there are many:-

  • A ‘kick-ass’ female role model for today’s women
  • A woman who single-handedly starting the English Reformation
  • A home-wrecker and sexual predator, the ‘other woman’
  • A schemer and plotter
  • An innocent woman who suffered a brutal miscarriage of justice
  • A woman who committed incest and murder
  • A mystery

And I’m sure you can think of more so do add your thoughts in the comment section below.

I find it amusing that Anne Boleyn is also appearing as a vampire in some fictional novels, wreaking revenge on those who betrayed her! What a woman!

Natalie Dormer
Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn

Opinions seem to swing back and forth, as you can see, and as someone who runs an Anne Boleyn website I receive emails from people all over the world and from many different walks of life who have completely different ideas about who Anne was. What I do find strange is that there is a lot of  ‘Team Anne vs Team Catherine vs Team Jane’  thinking around at the moment. It’s all very immature and nonsensical, don’t you think? I think that some people have watched “The Tudors” or read “The Other Boleyn Girl” and now think that they have to pick one queen and fight for her. These queens have become like modern day celebrities in a way, like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie – remember the whole Team Jennifer vs Team Angelina thing? – and their lives like a soap opera.

I run a website about Anne because I am fascinated by her and admire her, not because I feel that she should be put on a pedestal, but I often receive very offensive emails from people who feel that I should not be defending a woman who was nothing but a “homewrecker” and witch, or people who think that I automatically hate Catherine of Aragon or Jane Seymour. Interesting how times really have not changed! People feel the need to label these women and stereotype them, Anne Boleyn has to somehow fit into a box or label, however limited or inappropriate

I’d love to know how you think perceptions of Anne Boleyn have changed between the 1530s and now, and also things you’ve heard people say about Anne, the labels they give her and how they judge her. Please do comment and let’s get some discussion going here and on our Facebook page.

If this really is an essay question for you students out there, I hope this helps!

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