Off with her Head – History Channel Podcast

Posted By on January 12, 2021

I’m honoured to have been interviewed for this week’s History Channel “HISTORY This Week” podcast on my favourite subject, Anne Boleyn. A big thank you to the History Channel for asking me.

The podcast is available now on your favourite podcast platform (in English speaking countries). Here’s the blurb and a few links for you:

January 15, 1535. King Henry VIII has a decree. As of today, he is “the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England”. Which means: the Pope is no longer head of the Church in England for the first time in history. And why? All because of a woman named Anne Boleyn. King Henry VIII moves heaven and earth to marry the woman he loves, but just a thousand days later he will have her executed. Why did he do it? And how is the story we always tell about Anne Boleyn all wrong?

Apple podcast link:

Spotify link:

History Channel US page:

7 thoughts on “Off with her Head – History Channel Podcast”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    Just had a listen to the above podcast on Spotify with Claire and an American presenter, really excellent.
    I don’t know about precious jewellery, Henry should have sent Anne a crystal ball and then she could marry someone else.
    Not the best move with hindsight giving him a book which told Henry he was next to God wasn’t Anne’s smartest move, for then the lion knew his own strength and was about to roar very loudly.
    There are a lot of podcasts on the History Today site, all worth checking out.
    Excellent Claire as always.

  2. Christine says:

    Yes Anne unwittingly put the idea in his head by giving him Tyndall’s book, she was hoping to seek a way of helping them both to extricate Henry from Katherine, and this book helped them enormously because it suggested that a kings power came from god, not Rome, that was good enough for Henry, but unfortunately it helped sow the seeds of Anne’s own destruction, Sir Thomas More feared the consequences of such an action because as he said, and I quote, ‘if the lion knew his own strength there would be none to gain say him’, the power of Rome more or less kept kings in check, they had to ask the pope for a divorce, they could be excommunicated if they displeased him, several ancient kings had been excommunicated for discarding their wife and marrying a lover, Philip 1st of France divorced his wife Bertha of Holland, and married his lover Bertrand de Montfort, the beautiful wife of Fulk of Anjou with whom he had fallen passionately in love, Bertrand had a bit of a reputation it was said that no good man ever praised her except for her beauty, the pope decreed he would lift the ban if he returned to Bertha, but Philip was too enamoured of the flighty Bertrand, he was thus excommunicated twice, his story is similar to that of Henry V111’s, Henry V111 really did cause a storm over his love affair with Anne Boleyn, as a mistress she would have caused no trouble at all, but Henry’s lack of sons meant that he was determined to marry the woman he loved so passionately, he believed he would have sons with her, and his need for male heirs and his love for Anne Boleyn, coupled with her ambition caused the great religious divide which split the country in two, and the founding of a new church – the Church of England of which every monarch has been head of since.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    It really is so extraordinary that Henry Viii had Anne Boleyn executed as if she was the greatest traitoress, adulteress and public criminal ever accused, because not only was she his wife and Queen, the mother of a child he had processed around with deep pride only months beforehand, but she was a lady whom he had deeply loved and had great passion for.

    This fantastic podcast traces the love between Anne and Henry and the religious, political and personal changes they had to bring England in order to marry. It was the achievement of seven long years of hot pursuit, the opposition of one remarkable woman, Henry’s fierce and valiant Queen, Katherine of Aragon, the opposition of clerics and chief Churchmen, the opposition of old friends and the opposition of the Holy Father himself. Henry had expected to be granted an annulment from Katherine, in whom he personally found no fault, because he had consulted scripture and was convinced his cause was just. So what was Henry’s martial problem and why did he want to be free from a lady he had loved and worshipped for eighteen years?

    Well, put simply he didn’t have a living male heir, his contemporaries did and he was only the second King in a new dynasty. He felt insecure for most of his reign, even though in reality he was very secure. A woman wasn’t excluded but many believed one couldn’t rule. Even Anne believed Henry needed a son. Although recognised as Henry’s heir, Elizabeth wasn’t expected to succeed Henry and Anne was still required to provide him with a living son. It was most unfortunate that Henry and Katherine were many years married and child after child died or were born dead. Their marriage had begun with so much promise, Katherine and Henry were the power couple of the age and Henry was devoted to her for a very long time. Forget the portrait by Hans Holbein which was painted when Henry was in his mid forties after his was putting on weight and imagine instead a tall Adonis of over six foot who was chivalrous, athletic, fun loving, a good friend, generous and very charming. Imagine a beautiful wife at his side, red haired and very lovely and loving. The couple were popular and they loved each other. What went wrong?

    Henry read too many books is the answer. He began to wonder about his marriage actually as early as 1514 but saw no reason to do anything about it. He had not yet given up on living sons and Katherine was still fertile but he may already have read or become aware of Leviticus. Henry had deliberately chosen Katherine although she was his brother’s widow and the Pope had granted him and Katherine permission to marry because her original marriage wasn’t consummated. Her first husband, Henry’s brother Arthur wasn’t ill at the time of their wedding, that is a myth still voiced by historians, although Sean Cunningham put it to bed years ago. The opinion is based on the misinterpretation of some small concerns made the night after the marriage was officially consummated.

    Arthur had come out boasting he had been in the midst of Spain but the couple were in fact separated for three weeks. Henry Vii made enquiries as to whether or not Arthur and Katherine should live together, because they are young. Now this wasn’t unusual with young couples in their teens. The questions asked are standard. Henry asked about the health of his son because sex was thought to be bad for young people. He also asked about the health of the bride. Other questions are asked about how they got on together, could they live together, did they as yet have an attraction, was the Prince robust and so on. As the enquiry found everything to be satisfactory Katherine and Arthur were allowed not only to lie together but to move to his establishment at Ludlow in Wales. It was only the following Spring that Arthur developed an illness which killed him. Katherine later swore that the marriage wasn’t consummated and we have no reason not to believe her. It was assumed it was, but in 1509 Henry Viii obviously didn’t care and wanted Katherine as his wife. The truth of their wedding night remains between them but there was no doubt their marriage was not consummated as Katherine was very soon pregnant. Her very sad miscarriage aside, on 1st January 1511 Katherine gave Henry a son and heir, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, whose birth was celebrated for weeks but who died aged 52 days. Henry and Katherine were grief stricken. Katherine was delivered in 1516 of a living daughter, Mary, whom was accepted as Henry’s heir and treated as such. Henry called Mary his pearl and absolutely doted on her. Then suddenly everything changed.

    By 1524 Henry was seeking an annulment because his own mortality and his fears were playing on his conscience and he sought legal opinion. Legal opinion meant the Catholic Church. The validity of his marriage was sounded out in a secret commission and he had again come across Leviticus and believed himself to have sinned for marrying his brother’s widow. Then Henry met again Anne Boleyn and fell in lust for her and after some time writing to the reluctant lady, with whom he became inflamed, Henry fell in love with Anne. By 1526 they were enjoying a mutual relationship and Anne promised Henry sons. For someone so well educated, I must say that with the wisdom of hindsight, Anne doesn’t actually appear to have had much common sense and outside of book intelligence, that either. This was a very risky thing to do, especially as his annulment suddenly stalled. To cut a long story short, Henry, Katherine and Anne went though a further six years of fighting the divorce from both sides, Katherine refused to acknowledge that she wasn’t the true Queen, because actually she was and Henry going through everything possible to change her mind. In the end, Pope Clement dud nothing and Henry invented the do it yourself divorce aka annulment by breaking from the authority of Rome, appointing a Protestant minor cleric as Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer and wedding Anne anyway. In January 1533 the couple were wed in secret in Whitehall Palace because Anne was pregnant. Henry was delighted and went mad with the coronation celebrations in May and everyone believed Anne would give him a son.

    On September 7th 1533 the baby was born, but it was a girl, the Princess Elizabeth. Henry and Anne put on a brave face, they welcomed and coddled their baby daughter, they were visibly good parents and proud of her. However, things soon began to go wrong and their marriage was in difficulty within months. Mary was obstinate and refused to acknowledge Anne as Queen, seeing her more as the wicked mistress than a stepmother, good or bad. Henry did not always just allow Anne to carry on her campaign of cruelty against Mary, even though he clearly approved of some of it, because we know he moved Mary every time she complained that she was ill. I doubt that the couple were in agreement all of the time on this issue. Anne lost a second child by the Summer of 1534, although the information is lacking about what happened. Anne and Henry found themselves threatened by the Pope, the Empire and ignored by France. Nobody acknowledged tem as being really married. Henry’s legislation to protect their marriage and their children as his only legitimate heirs and the Act of Supremacy and Treason Act were passed in 1534 and 1535. Most people felt obliged to sign them because the alternative was death. However, a number of prominent courtiers and religious men and women would not accept Henry as Supreme Head of the English Church and so they too were executed. This included his friend and mentor, the great humanist, Sir Thomas More and the very holy Bishop, John Fisher. 18 monks were also executed, very learned men, some of whom served on the Council, but that didn’t save them. People blamed Anne Boleyn, but it was Henry’s title which was to blame. The people also supported the banished Queen Katherine and Princess Mary and Henry faced possible rebellion. Anne was blamed for all kinds of stuff and Henry felt the pressure. Anne, however, rallied and together she and the King set out on a very successful progress during 1535,_covering many abbey inspections and stayed at many reformers homes. By the end of the progress, Anne was pregnant once more. In January 1536 everything apparently was going well for Anne and Henry, four or five months gone with a male child, with the death of Katherine and the potential for an alliance with the Emperor. Henry and Anne celebrated but tragically she lost her baby during those celebrations at the end of January, when the King had a bad jousting accident as well. Henry was both furious and devastated. Rows now followed with Anne over whom was to blame and Henry consulted with experts on canon law, with the intention of ending his marriage.

    The end game for Anne came in March 1536 when Jane Seymour, one of her most recent ladies in waiting, became a love interest for Henry. Anne was both seen now as in the way for any new sons by another woman and in the way of the foreign policy. Anne fell out with Thomas Cromwell and others saw her as vulnerable and began to plot her downfall. Then in April 1536 after a bizarre set of events, Cromwell acting under secret intelligence, withdrew from Court, to plot Anne’s fall. Commissions of Oyer and Terminer were set up by himself and Chancellor Thomas Audley and then the first suspects were rounded up. Now I realise that I have missed out quite a bit of detail but that’s to save time. Plenty has been said about this period without it being repeated here. On 29th April Anne had an unfortunate argument with Henry’s friend, the Groom of the Stool, Sir Henry Norris over why he didn’t marry her maid, Madge Shelton. He said he wasn’t in any rush and Anne remarked that he looked for dead mens shoes and sought to have her instead. This was imaginative of the King’s death. Anne had gone too far and rumours about her flew around the palace. On 30th April Cromwell made his first arrest taking Mark Smeaton, the musician into custody at his own home and interrogated him for 24 hours. Mark confessed to adultery with Anne and named Norris as well who was arrested the next day. Anne was arrested after a tennis match on 2nd May and her brother was also arrested. For two weeks the men arrested with Anne were held in the Tower of London and a group of female spies sent to watch and listen to her conversation. Everything she said was recorded and sent to Cromwell. Four men, Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Henry Norris were tried for treason and adultery, plotting the death of the King with Anne on numerous occasions. All four were found guilty. Anne and another, her own brother, George, charged with the same but also incest, were tried on 15th May and found guilty. None of them was guilty of anything, the entire thing was invented by Cromwell because the King was really desperate to end his marriage as soon as possible by any means necessary. The five men were beheaded on 17th May and Anne was beheaded with a sword on 19th May. Anne was buried with her brother inside the Tower of London Chapel Henry had built for Katherine of Aragon and the others in the Church yard. They were all buried with their heads which was very unusual. Henry had parties with many ladies during this time and now raced down the river to be with Jane Seymour. He married his third wife, eleven days after the execution of the second. The reaction around Europe was mixed, but many were shocked, many believed Anne was innocent and the people mumbled because of his hasty third wedding. The real truth was that Henry began to see Anne as a liability. He saw the same pattern of stillbirth and loss as he had with Katherine and he didn’t have the time or the case for another annulment. He was for some reason no longer in love with Anne, but hated her. Henry was determined Anne had to die and he had to destroy her reputation because otherwise he would look a fool. Innocent though she was, Anne had to go and Henry didn’t really care how as long as it was swift.

    1. Christine says:

      It is truly dreadful when a wife once beloved has to die because it posed too much difficulty and technicality to allow her to live, truly heinous when we know in order to shed her blood, five other’s had to have their blood shed to, and for what? All for a son for Henry V111 to rule after him, and the son he finally had lived himself barely sixteen years, and died wasting away leaving a country yet again divided by religious turmoil and a power struggle for the throne, between his anointed – his cousin, and his elder sister, Henry V111 was determined that the dynasty his father founded was to last maybe as long as the Plantagenets but there was something in the Tudor genes that sadly prevented that happening, we do not know why Elizabeth never married but it could be she thought she may not be able to bear sons herself, maybe she was traumatised by the death of her mother by her father, and the idea of marriage was abhorrent to her although when young she had toyed with the idea, but her single state meant that the Tudor dynasty died and that which her father had tried so hard to preserve, kill for was destined never to endure, the Tudors however certainly made their mark on history.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    Hi, Christine, firstly thank you for the information about Philip I and Bertha and Bertrand, sounds like a love triangle that would make a good movie.

    Anne was trying to help with the situation with Henry and his deeply entrenched legal problems with his annulment. She also saw an opportunity in an incident with one of her friends and the said Book to bring the information to Henry for his attention. Her maid came into procession of Tyndale’s work and it was confiscated by an agent of Cardinal Wolsey. Anne was asked if she could petition for the return of the book and she went to Henry to explain and it was returned. Anne is said then to have marked certain passages and brought the book to Henry who of course read it. He declared it was the book for him and began a search for other books which would back up his path to becoming Head of the English Church. Here began the road to a do it yourself annulment. Anne was into reform but not a Protestant but she wanted to see England loosed from Papal control but she unleashed on Henry something entirely unexpected, the realisation of real power, authority and thirst for independence and everything that control of the clergy would bring, both spiritual and temporal riches. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the full consequences of making a King, especially one with Henry’s growing ego head of both Church and state. It was that powerful combination that made Henry so reactionary and intolerant of opposition during the 1530s and 40s. Henry used that power to pass laws which made speaking against his marriage to Anne and denial of his new title high treason, a capital crime. It was also partly responsible for unleashing his anger and revenge on Anne herself. Henry’s personality changed radically after 1532, especially after so long fighting for an annulment and the riding accident of 1536 speeded up his decline into tyranny. Henry already showed signs of being convinced of his semi divine authority but now Tyndale’s book said he was next to God. For Henry that was music to his ears and unfortunately the whole basis of his new monarchy for years to come.

  5. Christine says:

    Yes he did see himself as a Demi god, it was very dangerous for a man of Henry V111’s character to have these new found powers, it was rather letting a seven year old run loose in the sweet shop, the consequences were dire, as for Philip he was called ‘the amorous’, he was tired of Bertha rather like Henry V111 with Katherine, and he even insulted her calling her fat, charming! Poor Katherine herself had grown rather stout and like Philip, Henry V111 was enamoured of a lithe and slender figure, He met Bertrand and had no trouble enticing her away from her husband Fulk who was himself, described as being a rather lascivious man himself, but after some time all three became friends very surprising, Bertrand had several children with Fulk and several with Philip, Bertrand was the daughter of Amaury de Montfort, possibly ancestors of the great Simon, it was Bertha however not Bertrand who gave Philip his son and heir.

  6. Banditqueen says:

    Hi Christine, I have been reading the story of Philip I called the Amorous and his two wives, Bertha and Bertranda, sister of Amaury de Montfort, daughter of Simon I de Montfort and wife of Count Fulk of Anjou and his Queen Bertha of Holland. Talk about a love triangle, this marriage had four people in it. Bertha was the first wife, the mother of his heir Louis vi, then Philip married Bertranda who was already married and despite his repudiation of Bertha, he was still legally her husband. No wonder it caused a scandal and the Pope excommunicated him. Fulk couldn’t have been too pleased either. Poor Bertha, she was the rightful Queen and had three children, Constance and Louis who lived and another little boy, Henry who died young. The couple had waited nine years for children. Even after the Pope excommunicated Philip he was too much in love with Bertranda and poor Bertha died a year later. He then had several more children with Bertranda. Then of course she already had kids with Fulk. What a mess.

    A number of French Kings got away with reputation of their wives. Philip iii did something similar but he didn’t remarry until he had been granted permission. His wife complained for years that he was unfair and everyone agreed. Philip the Fair ended up with Joan of Navarre, who was independent and yet he accused her of adultery and some people tgink that he killed her, although officially she died in childbirth. His sons first wife, Marguieritte he had accused of adultery alongside another lady, I think it was his sister in law and they were imprisoned. His son demanded his wife was set free but she was found mysteriously dead in her cell. Philip the Fair of course went on to persecute the Knights Templar because he was broke. His daughter, Isabella became the wife of Edward ii.

    It was terrible the way some Queens were treated, although few were actually executed and there Henry Viii is certainly unique. The man managed to behead not one but two, the second barely out of her teens. Anne was just another inconvenience and her treatment was particularly bad because it was merely for just that, Henry’s convenience. Dreadful.

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