I’ve heard that Wolf Hall is being aired again in the US so I thought I’d highlight these articles that were written when it was first aired in the UK. I hope you find them useful and interesting.

Beth von Staats has also written an excellent article The Softer Side of Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex on her website QueenAnneBoleyn.com.

Here’s the link for information on the channel Wolf Hall is being aired on – http://www.weta.org/tv/program/wolf-hall-masterpiece.

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37 thoughts on “The Real Wolf Hall”
  1. Generally speaking, I like Hilary Mantel’s novels about Thomas Cromwell and I thought the television adaptation was superb. I was lucky enough to see Bring Up The Bodies in theatre and it was excellent. I am looking forward to the final novel in the trilogy, in which we witness Henry VIII’s marriage to Jane Seymour, her death, Cromwell’s growing power, the religious reforms, the failed marriage with Anne of Cleves, Henry’s growing passion for Katherine Howard and the downfall of Cromwell.

    However, Mantel presented a very negative depiction of Anne Boleyn in her novels, especially in Bring Up The Bodies. A question I have occasionally puzzled over: whose portrayal of Anne Boleyn was more negative, Mantel’s or Philippa Gregory’s? Both presented an Anne that was harsh, cruel, sharp-tongued, sexually promiscuous, immoral, manipulative, ruthless and bullying in her treatment of Henry and her close circle. Gregory emphasised the witchcraft and incest in her portrayal of Anne, however, whereas Mantel focused on Anne’s interactions with the male courtiers in her Privy Chamber and Cromwell’s increasing suspicions of her.

    Which brings me to a broader question: why are so many modern portrayals of Anne in the realm of fiction negative and sensationalised? I am not just talking about Mantel and Gregory here, I am also talking about say, Carolly Erickson, whose novel The Favored Queen – told from the perspective of Jane Seymour – presents Anne as a vicious poisoner, a ruthless murderess and an immoral adulteress. In the twentieth-century, Anne featured as a sharp-tongued and outspoken woman, but she was also presented as a tragic victim, and here I am thinking of the works of authors like Jean Plaidy and Norah Lofts, who depicted Anne as a much wronged woman, cruelly betrayed by her husband and her enemies, but innocent of the crimes for which she died.

    Why, in the twenty-first century, do novelists favour presenting Anne as an immoral, cruel and vindictive adulteress, capable of murder and incest, when one hundred years ago, novelists wrote about Anne as a wronged, tragic figure? What has caused this shift? Why, in 2017, are novelists still perpetuating the slander and lies put forward by Chapuys, the unknown Spanish chronicler, Nicholas Sander, and other Catholic writers that resented Anne and her daughter Elizabeth I for the break with the Roman Catholic Church?

    1. Answer…to make money from movies and television. 100 years or so ago before TV and movies, a number of well written novels appeared about Anne. Even in the 1930s there are some good portraits of Anne in books. However, we now have a sex craved audience who find normal boring. Whether authors genuinely can’t be bothered with balance and truth aa the sensational and weird sells books, plus add a sexual preditor, a seductress and the black arts, a murder, some torture and gore and the actual story does not matter. The audience laps it all up, true or not, so the blacker you can paint someone’s character the better. 100 years ago you would not be writing for an audience with little imagination. Drama is written to entertain and unfortunately, the modern audience has some odd ideas about entertainment. Having said that, theatre did the same. Shakespeare wasn’t writing to show history as we see it now…he was writing to shock, to thrill and to please. We know that all of these novels are nonsense. There are a few good ones as well, but its scandal that sells books to movie makers and that is why Anne is still wrongly shown today. It’s not right or fair, we need authors to write good balanced novels again, but I don’t think there have been that many for a long time. I have read Sarah Vasoli recently of course and Karen Harper wrote a good one a few years ago. I always retreat into Jean Plaidy or a well researched bio as an antidote. A more positive drama on Anne Boleyn is well overdue.

      1. I also think modern feminism has influenced portrayals of Anne in recent fiction. It is no longer fashionable to regard her as a helpless victim at the mercy of her wrathful husband. Susan Bordo discussed this at length in her book The Creation of Anne Boleyn. In the twenty-first century, Western women have agency, they have the freedom to work in whatever industry they like, they can wear whatever they like, they can behave however they want and they can date whoever they want. Being seen as a victim is viewed as a throwback to the nineteenth- or early twentieth-century.

        I believe it is this which has influenced harsher portrayals of Anne as a relentless, aggressive and power-hungry seductress in novels by the likes of Mantel, Gregory, Erickson, and even in non-fiction (think Starkey, Weir, Bernard). In the twenty-first century, we believe that Anne wielded agency, she was “a self-made woman”, she was autonomous. This is not historically correct and is a modern misinterpretation. But in the realm of fiction, it has become fashionable to view Anne as akin to Regina George of Mean Girls, it has become popular to depict her as a seductive, enchanting, manipulative and politically active figure capable of the most heinous crimes, crimes that are viewed as less reprehensible when they are committed by the men of the time.

        1. I haven’t seen Mean Girls, but yes I completely agree. It’s only in the last 60 years that women have had full agency, since the revolution of the 60s after the housewife as the ideal woman in the 50s, when businesses had marriage bans and so on, so when we assume Anne had full agency in the sixteenth century it is not realistic. We can’t compare Anne to Jane Seymour or the other wives either as the comparison of someone unusual for their time with a more conventional wife is unfair and again unreasonable. Numerous ladies even with high education were quite prepared to be obedient wives as this was expected. I didn’t promise to obey my husband because it had been taken out by then, but I still regard him as the head of the household and don’t care if anyone thinks I am odd. We have had 25 successful years this year and although it has at times been hard work, we are happy. Anne had a strong mind and sophisticated forward thinking education, but even this could not stop her being harassed or imprisoned or executed. Henry was the King and even Katherine of Aragon could not stand up to him forever without consequences; that is being banished from court, having regular threats from his cronies and being banned from seeing her daughter. You may probably know this from your own studies but it was only in the 1850s that a woman finally got access to her children who were her husband’s property after she had been divorced from bed and board and fought for 20 years. The Married Women’s Property Act only came in, sorry I forget the date, 1870s or 80s. A woman in the 16th century was her father, husband or male guardians property and they were meant to do what they said, well within reason. A woman did have limited agency and rights and in different circumstances, certain types of property could be held and disposed of in their wills or by testimony through an attorney. A wife or widow had a jointure for example. However, most of her property transferred to her husband. Thus we have male inheritance of rich female land from their mothers family who held twice as much wealth as their father. Anne was in a difficult position as Queen and a royal wife, because although she had some power and rights as Queen, Anne was Henry’s subject and he still expected obedience from his wife. Anne was not in a secure position without a male heir, no matter how passionate Henry felt about her.

          In modern drama, you are quite correct, the modern stereotype of a modern strong woman is actually very far from the truth. Women can indeed do as they please unless they have family commitments and even then you can find a babysitter. This is sadly not true for all women, trapped in poverty or abusive or as carers or by ill health. But, yes, it is normally the case that women work, pursue their own independent lives and careers, social life and there are a rising number of women in executive or management or leadership positions. Where the problem arises today is that film makers and literature cannot separate
          power and confidence with aggression. So a female in charge has to be aggressive. A female in management has to have slept her way to the top. Literature in the middle ages also depicted and criticised strong leadership in women in terms of sexual aggression and unnatural powers. Margaret of Anjou, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, all vilified for doing a better job at ruling than their husbands who were absent, ill or under arrest. I very much agree that Anne has been seen as an aggressive, sexual, mean girl stereotype in the same way modern leaders or executives can be seen in the media and her strength and forward thinking very much misinterpretated. The Victorian Melodrama loved to show women as at the mercy of a scoundrel, forced to marry if they cannot pay the evil landlord the rent. A woman was meant to be the Angel of the home and bring tranquillity to the home, now seperated from the world of work. The Victorian age however saw middle class women with little else to do going out to campaign for education and social improvement and then becoming terrorists to get the vote. They strode out in travel and went up mountains in hooped skirts, but the vast majority of people, men women and children were trapped in poverty, domestic violence and worked and bred and cared for everyone 16 hours a day. Women were frequently shown in some victim pose, at the mercy of some no good grasping man or master if in domestic service. Anne Boleyn somehow began to be shown as a helpless victim or a romantic. Jane Grey was also shown as an innocent child and her parents as ruthlessly forcing her to do their bidding or she was beaten. Mythology helped this image survive. Now we should not see a woman as a victim, as you say it’s unacceptable. A powerful woman who becomes a victim has to have created her own mess, right? Yet, sexual abuse of women is accepted by film and drama makers…all women must have been raped on their wedding night back then. Tudors and more recently GOT were both attacked by fans for scenes of sexual violence in a marriage setting. The man in one case, Ramsey Boulton got his comeuppance at his wife’s hands when she fed him to his own starving hounds. One version of Anne Boleyn, with actress Helena Bonham Carter, Henry Viii saw Henry rape Anne just before their marriage. George Boleyn was shown in the Tudors raping Jane, his wife, all of which is unsustainable. Women are either shown as victims in the extreme or powerful and aggressive in the extreme. It’s not acceptable it seems to show the truth, that a woman in power can be virtuous and caring and lead a life of service and justice, but that a woman, any woman, even one who is strong and resilient can become suddenly the wronged victim of a conspiracy or vicious man, accused of false crimes and innocent victims of those false charges. Anne was totally innocent of the worst crimes imaginary. She was charged with plotting to kill her husband, of sleeping with her co conspirators, committing adultery and incest with her brother. Indeed she could have been charged with witchcraft, but contrary to modern myth, she wasn’t. Anne is still shown because of the backlash against women with some form of power as being partly guilty or as unpleasant so she is shown to deserve her fate. Of course she wasn’t guilty and even if she had have been a bit unkind at times, that does not make her guilty of all sorts of vile crimes. I have read Susan Bordo and I love her reassessment of thr myths around Anne Boleyn and modern reassessments of Mary Tudor and her fairly successful reign. I am also starting a study on Isabella of Barvaria and her Afterlife, which dismisses the accusations of adultery and numerous other things, praising her for stable government during her regency in place of her mentally ill husband, Charles vi, known as Charles the Mad. I completely agree if these ladies were men, they would not have been vilified in the same way and men are indeed praised as strong rulers, their sins overlooked.

  2. Thanks, Claire, for posting a recap of the articles related to Wolf Hall.

    And thank you, CB, for your very thoughtful and well worded question.

    I had to reply, because I am the author of two novels about Anne Boleyn, and her relationship with Henry VIII. The novels are historically, factually based. And while I will not make the claim, like some other authors do, that my fictional portrayal is historically accurate, I will say this: my extensive research prompted me to write about Anne as I truly believe her to have been. My research included, not only primary sources, but also viewing numerous original documents including the love letters from Henry to Anne in the Vatican. From viewing those I learned much, not only about Henry, but also about Anne and how she must have responded to him throughout the years of their courtship.

    I also find that there is much which can be well deduced about Anne from the facts that we do have. For instance, there is no doubt whatsoever that she was a highly intelligent, and even intellectual person. She was accomplished in languages, music – both performance and composition, architecture, art, literature, and theology: not to mention fashion and style. We also know she was a witty conversationalist. Some may have interpreted that as shrewish, but I think she may have simply been sharp and on point.

    We also know that she was very faith-based. Her religious belief was quite important to her: this fact throws great doubt on any supposition that she was immoral.

    She was fun-loving, having greatly enjoyed sport and games during her lifetime; she was also a devoted mother. These are concepts based on the FACTS that we have available to us today.

    I think she may have been one of those women that other women envy. Attractive, stylish, good at everything, with the most powerful man devoted to her.

    What I truly believe is that she loved Henry deeply. And he loved her equally. This belief comes through very strongly when one sees the letters he wrote to her, as well as the letter both Henry and Anne wrote to Wolsey, which is on view in the British Library. Finally, I also believe she was the author of the noble letter from the Tower – which is as eloquent as were her trial and execution speeches. In this letter, one can have no doubt that she was innocent, was deeply hurt by Henry’s betrayal, but smart enough to understand how and why it had come about and that it was not going to be reversed.

    Why do authors make assumptions about Anne which are cheap and negative? I think they feel it is titillating and will sell books, and I don’t think they have taken the time to do their diligence in studying the original facts — they take information that others have interpreted, and twist it for their own devices.

    It only takes a little time reading Chapuys’ documents to see that he was a spin artist who told his boss anything that would please him; he was a whiner (or whinger!), and much of the time he was ill-informed.

    I hope you will consider reading the two Je Anne Boleyn novels (Struck With the Dart of Love, and Truth Endures) to gain my perspective on Anne. I have had many, many people agree with me. Thanks!!

    1. I agree with Sandra that many authors do tend to paint Anne in a negative light possibly as they think it will sell their books better, and in doing this they are really no different from those that made the slanderous accusations against her that she had to face in her own lifetime, (the objective being to have a case to bring her down) nothing it seems has changed, whilst we all agree Anne was hot tempered and could be vindictive she was extremely loyal to her friends and in turn they were devoted to her and tried to help those in need, she tried several times to make peace with princess Mary and only became nasty towards her when Mary refused all offers of friendship, she was as you mention Sandra a devoted mother and loved to spoil her and she loved her pet dogs to, (really I cannot see how anyone who loves their pets can be bad) she had an abrasive tongue which some people can take the wrong way and she was also hot tempered, but a hot temper comes with a passionate nature and she believed sincerely in the things she was interested in, such as political reform, she argued with Cromwell over the money taken from the monasteries as she believed it should go towards the needy, instead of in the Royal coffers, she was a highly intelligent being gifted with an academic mind and also possessed great courage which was evident throughout her trial and her sad death, I agree there has been a load of what I can only describe as trashy novels published in the last few years portraying Anne as being all kinds of things, one story I heard of showed her as a vampire – utterly ridiculous! She was not Countess Dracula, neither was she a sorceress or poisoner, she was not guilty of incest and I believe adultery also, she was a religious minded virtuous woman who loved to flirt and sing and dance, indulging in these frivolous pastimes does not mean that the person is immoral, courtly love has been evident in the English court since Eleanor of Aquataine introduced it, it was a game played between the mistress and her servant, a lady and her knight, the rule was it did not progress beyond that, everyone at court knew that but her enemies decided to use it against her, she made one fatal mistake in rashly mentioning Henrys death to Norris but it gave her enemy Cromwell the ammunition he needed, from that minute her reputation suffered and she was accused of indulging in nothing less than an orgy, and including her own brother, when Anne and George both had these charges read against them at their trials they must have felt repulsed, in fact if they were both alive today they would sue these authors for defamation of character, let’s have more books written about Anne that show her as she really was, not a sex mad harpy guilty of the most heinous crimes imaginable, but an ordinary flesh and blood woman who was possessed with a brilliant brain and immense courage, a woman who was sacrificed in the name of justice but really just because she failed to give her King a son, and he would not permit her to live, a woman who gave us our greatest monarch and who altered the religion of England forever.

    2. My three Quebecois educated children dislike Je Anne Boleyn as it’s not grammatically correct from their perspective.

      They say it should be either J’Anne Boleyn or Je Anne Boleyn.

        1. But if you changed it then you wouldn’t be true to the historical quotation – “Le temps viendra [picture of astrolabe] Je Anne Boleyn”. I don’t think they used J’ in the 16th century and their punctuation was all over the place, e.g. using a semi-colon for a fullstop/period. I know from my reading of French documents that just as 16th century English was very different, French was too. I just don’t think you can mess with historical quotations, you have to be true to the original.

      1. So many of my French speaking or educated friends have made this same remark about Je Anne Boleyn. However, Claire addressed it well – it is lifted directly from Anne’s own inscription in a book of hours which is kept at Hever Castle , translated as :

        The Time Will Come
        I, Anne Boleyn

        1. I’ve had great fun reading 16th-century French documents! My French isn’t too bad and my father is fluent but even he has found it challenging at times, just the way that letters and chronicles from Henry’s reign are challenging to us. It is great fun though and the handwriting is beautiful.

  3. the above replies have stated everything so well, I do not need to say anymore except to say–Well done and so well written.


  4. FWIW, I am still trying to find something that Chapuys said about Anne that has been absolutely disproven. . There is no contradiction between “good Anne” (Foxe’s description of Anne as sncerely devout and genuinely charitable) and Chapuys’s Anne (who wanted to murder Mary), simply because in Tudor times, piety and ruthlessness were not as inconsistent as we see them today.

    . However, I think a lot of the issue of “good Anne” or “bad Anne” in fiction would be dictated by the story line. If the hero is one of Anne’s enemies (such as Mantel’s Cromwell), Anne would have to be bad. Given that Cromwell created the case used to execute Anne, it would be difficult for Mantel readers to see him as a good guy unless Anne somehow “deserved” her fate.

  5. The portrait of just about everyone was wide of the mark in Wolf Hall. Hilary Mantel obviously has her ways of seeing things and Thomas Cromwell is the hero. In one sense we see everyone through his eyes. Her weird ideas that all five men were set up by Cromwell because of their part in a rather famous and insulting masquerade that showed Thomas Wolsey going down to hell is utter nonsense, but she has to give him some motivation. Her characters are shown as dark but Cromwell has emerged as a hero. Mantel has an agenda and unfortunately it shows. More was not a wild torturer or Anne a bitch. Jane Boleyn was not a spy or Cromwells ally. Unfortunately, because Mantel has become well known and claimed that she has done extensive research, her conclusions are taken as gospel. Yet, reading the sources numerous historians have come to different conclusions and her work has been widely criticised. As a piece of entertainment and drama, Wolf Hall has its place, but it is not history and you need to read further before deciding what is true. These articles above give a good insight and much more accurate assessment of the back story to the character and real events of Wolf Hall.

    There was of course much more to Cromwell than we often imagine, the deeply complex thinker, the widows friend, self made man, religious reformer, political revolutionary, family man, petty crook, swindler, ambitious marriage broker, self educated scholar, King’s man and promoting advanced ideas in government and social reformation, Secretary, accountant, religious transformer and the man who made Henry rich. Few dramas show all of these sides to Cromwell, but Wolf Hall gives a much deeper picture of a very complex, if often hated man. Cromwell is praised for his guile and political cunning, but also he helped numerous women gain justice, he was a good administrator, he reformed social conditions for the poor and transferred tremendous wealth to the crown. However, he was also a dark character, he oversaw legislation that led people to their deaths, Catholic monks, Anabaptist men and women, none Conformist of all descriptions and those who held his own beliefs. He took brides and had spies everywhere. On the other hand he patronized the translation of the Bible. Cromwell fell out with Queen Anne over what to do with monastic lands and revenues and he tried to unilaterally promote reconciliation with the Empire, leaving some to suspect he planned Anne’s downfall. However, not even Cromwell could have acted without the King’s orders. In Wolf Hall we do at least get something of an insight into how Cromwell saw the world, even if Mantel puts her own inaccurate spin on matters.

    1. According to Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Thomas More, many of the incidents that Mantel uses in “Wolf Hall” did happen (although not as bad as Mantel makes it look). For example, according to Ackroyd, More really did give a necklace of dried peas to his ward who had wanted to use her own money to buy pearls, but Ackroyd points out that there are portraits of the ward wearing pearls (although Cromwell might not have seen the portraits if not a guest at More’s house) While Mantel’s insinuation that the poor girl was wrongly deprived of the right to spend her own money isn’t accurate, it is based on an incident that actually happened. Similarly, More did punish a boy for making a remark about the communion elements; according to Ackroyd, he was asked about this incident at his trial (when he denied torturing heretics at his home) — and More said that he wasn’t punishing a heretic, but disciplining a rude serviant.

      1. More did not torture heretics at his home…Ackroyd acknowledgement of that is quite clear as is the acknowledgement of Fox of all things. More does not deny that he punished a servant for two offences, one being disrespectful, the other lifting up a woman’s skirts in church, an act of lewdnes. Quite correctly the boy was thrashed, nothing unusual in those days and certainly not torture. There is no evidence that Frith was tortured and in fact he was initially released. He then lapsed but he was actually condemned in Norwich, not under More’s jurisdiction. Yes More wrote against and actively sought out known heretics, the same as everyone else in authority. He believed you should turn heretics away from their beliefs, but as a magistrate it didn’t matter what his conviction was punishment of heresy was the King’s law. More didn’t invent the law, he carried it out. More let far more people brought before him on heresy charges walk than many of this contemporary magistrates. The majority were fined or given a penance. He did not torture them in his home as portrayed by Mantel. I didn’t say nothing that she wrote happened, just that she showed many things that are not true and her bias comes out very strongly. 5 people in total met the death penalty during More’s public life, two when he was in the Tower. Mantel’s portrait of Anne Boleyn was of a snooty, stuck up cow and we are also given some warped ideas that Cromwell was sexually attracted to Jane Seymour. A piece of scandal regarding John Seymour and his daughter in law, which was never proven and only a rumour was presented as fact and Jane Boleyn the black legend who spies for Cromwell against Anne, yes that is definitely accurate, although it has been discredited by Julia Fox. Wolf Hall is a well done drama, many things are true, but much is not and it’s still fiction. We are seeing things through Cromwell’s eyes, who of course never saw anyone executed while he was around or tortured (I don’t think) which colours the narrative, but unfortunately, it appears all too often to be Hilary Mantel and her self confessed bias that comes out.

        1. I can’ agree with you more, BQ. Just recently I picked up both of Mantel’s books again… reading them because I certainly acknowledge her writing ability. I don’t like the overall effect (or maybe I should say affect cause that’s what it is!) but her ability to create imagery with words is undeniable, and I can certainly always learn from those who are great. BUT… omg I just have such a hard time with the storyline she has created. Cromwell attracted to Jane… More torturing those with whom he didn’t agree… and then there’s Anne. I have really never read a more one dimensional characterization, of Anne, or any main character in a book which is acclaimed. Sigh… it’s just too difficult and I will never make it all the way through either book.

  6. Great comments, all!

    Just an additional note – worth mentioning, I think. The extensive research I did on the Letter from the Tower – Anne’s letter, dated May 6, 1536… it leads me to believe conclusively that this letter was her communication with her husband, and that Cromwell was given the letter in order, Anne believed, to pass it to Henry. It seems clear from the data we have that Cromwell instead hid it in his personal belongings and never gave it to Henry – Henry never saw it. Would it have made a difference? Perhaps not, but we will never know. Cromwell had many reasons for not allowing the King to see it. But what a stain on his character! What do others feel about this?

    1. I’m curious as to why you think Cromwell hid it; that it was found in his personal belongings in 1540 doesn’t reveal much about what happened in 1536. Also, wouldn’t Henry (or someone else) see the letter in 1540, when Cromwell’s papers were taken? If so, wouldn’t someone have done something with it … told Henry? or Elizabeth? (Sir Ralph Sadler was loyal to Cromwell and he survived into Elizabeth’s reighn).

      1. Many historians have dismissed this letter as a forgery and Weir makes a very good point in Annes use of her name throughout this document, she still styles herself as Anne Bullen or Boleyn instead of Anne The Quene, the spelling being different in Tudor times, which is what she calls herself in the other proven documents by her, (one written to Cromwell in 1535 the year before) surely after writing a letter to her husband she would still call herself thus? Katherine at the end of her life wrote Henry a letter and at the end in her final act of disobedience still signed herself ‘Katherine The Quene’, just because Anne was imprisoned in the tower does not mean she was not Henrys queen consort, she was not any old felon thrown in a cellar, she was still his queen and she was housed in the luxurious apartments she had stayed in at her coronation, therefore if she had indeed wrote this letter surely she would have still signed herself as queen? Also the heading ‘From The Lady In The Tower’ smacks a bit juvenile like a very young person had written it, (I’m not talking about the letter which is very articulate merely the title) and any correspondence written from monarchs to one another would have been carefully sealed and the addressee and recipient displayed on the front, with their correct titles eg, from her majesty Queen Anne to his majesty King Henry V111, including the date, she had waited so long to be queen I find it hard to believe that any correspondence by her she would just merely sign herself by her maiden name, she would I’m sure want to remind her husband that she was his crowned queen and it was a complete travesty she was in the tower and totally unacceptable to, therefore personally I find it very hard to believe that this letter is genuine.

        1. I have not researched the letter or its provenance in any depth, but to me the heading “The Lady in the Tower” is extremely romantic and fits in with the sympathetic view of Anne promoted in the letter, in which she is characterised as a victim, betrayed by her husband, whose eye has fallen on her maid of honour Jane Seymour, who is referred to. The tone of the letter is accusatory and at times hostile.

          The letter has been studied by scholars and the point has been raised that it would have made no sense for Anne to refer to herself as “Anne Boleyn”. She had not been known as Anne Boleyn since the mid 1520s. When her father was honoured with the earldom of Wiltshire, Anne was granted the title Lady Rochford, and would have been known as the Lady Anne Rochford. In 1532, she was made Marquess of Pembroke in her own right and would have been known as such until she married Henry the following year and became queen of England. Her stepdaughter Mary specifically referred to her as the Marquess of Pembroke.

          Until her death on 19 May, Anne Boleyn was England’s queen and would have referred to herself as Anne the Queen. Even though the annulment of her marriage two days before her execution essentially confirmed that she had never legally been queen, she was still entitled to regard herself as the Marquess of Pembroke, a peerage that had been granted to her by right. She was also the daughter of an earl and could still claim to be referred to as Lady Anne.

          In this day and age, such things may seem trivial, but in the aristocratic world in which Anne Boleyn was born and grew up, such things were of great importance and you broke the rules at your peril. Anne had not been known as Anne Boleyn since 1529, seven years before her death. At the time the letter was supposedly written, she was queen of England, and even if she was not legally queen, then she was still the Marquess of Pembroke. We may refer to her today as Anne Boleyn, but that is not how Anne would have referred to herself. She was Queen Anne or the honourable Marquess of Pembroke; at worst she was Lady Anne Rochford.

          For this reason alone, I highly doubt that the letter was written by Anne herself. I also think that the accusatory tone of the letter and the implied suggestion that Henry was casting her aside out of lust to marry Jane Seymour is directly contrary to Anne’s reported speech at her trial and on the scaffold, in which she did not accuse her husband but instead meekly accepted her sentence and prayed for him.

    2. I have always believed that Anne wrote this letter and it’s a heart felt appeal from a wronged, courageous but frightened wife to her husband, who she still believed would give her justice. I don’t know if it would make a difference or if Henry had already made his mind up, but it was worth a gamble. Henry had not been moved by her earlier appeal, but perhaps now he had calmed down. Anne had to set her defence of her innocence down on paper and it’s a miracle it survived. That Cromwell hid it from Henry shows how brazenly powerful he believed himself to be and that he also still feared that Anne may have the power to move Henry. What if Henry saw the letter, sent for Anne and listened to her? Is this more proof that Cromwell was the man behind the conspiracy, albeit that Henry authorized his investigation? Was Cromwell hiding something which would come out if Anne had an audience with the King? Did he fear that Anne may still have some influence with Henry? Now that Jane Seymour was waiting in the background such a letter would distract Henry, his purposes would be interrupted. Cromwell had a dark personality. This shows a dark purpose, a purpose which doomed Anne and which Cromwell wanted to see through to its terrible end. The letter may not have saved Anne, but for some hidden reason, Cromwell couldn’t take that chance. (Don’t you have to write the secret letter in orange peel and ask the guard you bribe or the chaplain to sneak it out to the person for help? In the movies Cromwell Cromwel wouldn’t come to mind as that person). Poor Anne, this was all against her and there was nobody to help her. It was all so cruel that I want to go with a big sword and fast horse and motor boat and climb up and rescue her.

      1. Well put, as usual BQ! Me too! Rescue Anne!
        PS Cromwell had said that he would visit her while she was in the Tower. HE NEVER DID! He was too afraid – cowardly – to face her, and she remarks o Kingston that she is very surprised he didn’t show up. What he did, though, was send his most trusted person, Sadler – to meet with her, pass along messages, get the documents that Kingston wrote up, AND, I believe, scribe the letter for Anne to take it back to Cromwell, who was supposed to deliver it to the King. This is why Sadler knew where it had been hidden. he was told by Cromwell, and he kept his boss’s secret until Cromwell’s death.

  7. Hi again all – I know I did steer the discussion in the direction of the Tower Letter — because I think it demonstrates how cold and calculating Cromwell was when his back was against the wall.

    Let me see if I can reply briefly to some of your questions… although (and this is not meant to be a plug) ALL of my rationale is in my little book about the Letter. I have addressed each of the common questions and concerns raised.

    First – I thoroughly reviewed the work of ‘scholars’ who have looked into this, and one would be shocked as to how many of them merely took others’ interpretations and ran with it. The group of people who did the most rigorous study was the early members of the Society of Antiquaries. It was those individuals who actually preserved and passed on the original document. It was this document which was actually found in Cromwell’s papers after his death, and it is my strong premise that it was saved by Cromwell’s secretary and close friend Ralph Sadler, who then passed it to Lord Burghley, who owned it, and shared it with Elizabeth for her lifetime. From there it was passed to others to who it could be entrusted, finally ending up in the B Library where it is today. Do I think it would have been given to the King after Cromwell’s death? No I don’t – I believe Sadler saved his dead friend from the revelation that he never passed it on – because it would have been too threatening for Cromwell had the King seen it and change his mind,

    As fo the use of the name Anne Bullen… I believe this name goes perfectly well with the tone and content of the message in the letter. It is evident that she expresses to the King that when she met him she was simply Anne Bullen – and would have been happy to remain as such – but their marriage elevated her otherwise. She wanted to appeal to her husband as her real, true self – not with the titles with which he had endowed her.

    There is much more in my book which I can’t relay here, but I will say that most of the early historians – who actually DID study the letter, believe that it is Anne’s composition. NOT her writing, because it was scribed. But her words and her intent and meaning which she hoped her husband would see. It’s a raw and very personal conversation meant for her husband, whom she loved. It’s full of emotion, and one can’t apply the standard protocol of titles to such an appeal.

    Also – most people do not know this ( and by the way – this is an error in Alison Weir’s book Lady in the Tower) – on the BACK of the original letter is an addendum … the state ment Anne makes about Henry having elevated her, and now was intending to make her a ‘martyr’. This addendum was created because Sadler was sent to the Tower to ask Anne once again if she would confess, and to make a statement for her husband to that effect. It’s in response to this demand that her famous quote was added to the very same paper.

    1. I can’t speak for Cromwell’s papers nor can I speak for the addendum that was added to the back of the original letter. However, I will say that the idea that Anne would have been content to remain as she was prior to her marriage is something I cannot agree with. She was a member of an ambitious and enterprising family, connected by blood to the Howards, one of the greatest families in the kingdom. There were only two dukedoms during Anne’s day: that of Norfolk and Suffolk. Her uncle was the duke of Suffolk.

      Anne Boleyn arrived in England in 1522, expecting to wed James Butler and become countess of Ormond. When that marriage fell through, she became involved with Henry Percy, heir to the earldom of Northumberland. I am not saying she was motivated solely by ambition, it is possible that she loved Henry Percy, but I have always believed that Anne Boleyn was an ambitious woman and the daughter of a highly ambitious man. I cannot believe that she was content to remain the daughter of a knight.

      We cannot speak for Anne’s true feelings. We cannot say that she was happy with her station before Henry VIII fell in love with her. Regardless of her feelings, it would have been against protocol for her to have referred to herself as Anne Boleyn. As I noted earlier, to have referred to herself as such would have been hopelessly out of date. In 1528 it might have been acceptable for her to sign herself Anne Boleyn; by 1536 it would have been nonsensical and perhaps even offensive. She was not Mistress Anne Boleyn, she was Queen Anne of England, and even if Henry no longer regarded her as his wife and queen, then she was the Lady Marquess of Pembroke, the daughter of an earl and the niece of a duke. For a woman as ambitious and as conscious of her status as Anne was, I cannot believe that she would have referred to herself as Anne Bullen in a wistful remembrance of her pre-marital days. Besides, from the moment she arrived in England as a young woman, she was confident that she would become a countess, whether Anne, Countess of Ormond or Anne, Countess of Northumberland. Not since 1529 was she Anne Boleyn and probably for six years prior to that she had expected to sign herself as a countess, but by 1532 she signed herself as a marquess and a year later as queen.

      1. “I am not saying she was motivated solely by ambition, it is possible that she loved Henry Percy, but I have always believed that Anne Boleyn was an ambitious woman and the daughter of a highly ambitious man. I cannot believe that she was content to remain the daughter of a knight.” But Percy was the future Earl of Northumberland so would have been a good match for the daughter of Thomas Boleyn. I don’t think there’s any evidence that Anne had her sights set higher, why would she?

        1. No, what I’m saying is I think it’s inaccurate to claim that Anne was happy to remain Anne Boleyn, as she was at the time Henry VIII fell in love with her. She was brought up to believe that she would become a countess, as the wife of Butler and later as the wife of Percy. In neither case would she have remained Anne Boleyn.

          Anyway all of this is detracting from my earlier analysis. Anne Boleyn would not have referred to herself in that manner since 1529. The letter was supposedly written in 1536. She would have signed it Anne the Queen as she did all of her other letters. Even when she wasn’t married to Henry, she signed herself as Anne Rochford. The last time she signed herself as Anne Boleyn, that I can think of, is in her letters to Thomas Wolsey in 1528.

      2. I do agree, on all correspondence after she became Englands crowned and anointed queen she signed herself as such, as indeed every other queen consort before and since her death has, it was expected of her and she knew Royal protocol, she remarked in the tower that she was the kings true wedded wife reminding those in charge of her she was still their queen and therefore commanded respect as such, I really think this letter was written by an admirer of hers, someone who believed in her innocence and maybe was a bit obsessed with her, this letter was their way of acting out a fantasy maybe that Henry would pardon her and spare her life, it is a mystery how this letter was ever found at all in Cromwells possessions and it would have had to be placed there by someone who had access to Cromwell, the heading which iv mentioned in my previous post is not how Cromwell, Henrys chief minister would have described his Royal mistress, ‘The Lady In The Tower’ sounds absurd and reminiscent of Victorian love yarns, she was not a lady, she was queen and right up until her death she was referred to as such, at her trial she sat on the chair of state and all due respect was paid to her, she had a private execution and a skilled swordsman from Calais which is quite possibly what Cromwell had to arrange after receiving orders from Henry, why should Cromwell breech etiquette and sign the letter from the lady in the tower, instead of her legal title Anne the Queen?

  8. Interesting argument , CB. I don’t disagree with the protocol you have described. And we perhaps must agree to disagree. It’s what actually makes this particular topic so fascinating. Reading the letter over and over and researching the events immediately preceding and after its creation, I feel it was Anne reaching out to Henry in her most vulnerable persona.
    I would love to have the time to do further research because I feel there is more to learn. Someday, hopefully!!

  9. As a point of reference, here is a quote from the Letter:

    “And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place I could willingly have contented my self, if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased.”

    also…”If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing in your Ears,”

    In these two statements, it makes complete sense that she would refer to herself with the name of her birth, not her titled name.

    The term “lady in the tower” was not used on the original document. It was found on a copy made much later.

    It seems much more plausible to me that Cromwell himself would have kept the original latter with his most private papers, to be found after his death, rather than someone planting a fake letter there.

    It’s my feeling that Ralph Sadler was the scribe who wrote out the letter for Anne, at the command of his master, Cromwell. The handwriting of both look remarkably similar, and I am seeking an expert to help analyze them to see if this is a plausible theory.

    1. Apologies for not getting involved yesterday, I was neck deep in accounts and today I’m off to see the accountant…but I just want to chime in and say that I agree that the use of “anne bullen” definitely does not rule out it being written by Anne, because, as Sandi has said, it goes with the whole character/ethos of the letter. Anne is reminding Henry of the woman he fell in love with, the woman he raised to be queen, she’s not intending to remind him of her status as queen, she is writing as just plain Anne Boleyn. That is so powerful to me and makes much more sense than her then signing it as queen.

      1. Can I just say this is a wonderful and illuminating debate and shows that you can debate with lovely thoughts and courtesy and still remain committed to the search for historical truth. I find this letter so beautiful and from the heart that I just hear Anne’s voice in there, but as a scholar I long for the truth. It’s so sad that we have few replies to Anne’s letters from Henry, because she did respond as he tells us he is upset by her last letter to him and his mind is in turmoil. We don’t have the letter she wrote as he probably destroyed it. It’s one of the mysterious things about their relationship we can never know. Well, you never know, some old house may find it or a copy in an old family archive some day. There are even documents in our national archives which have not been seen in hundreds of years until someone does research. I find the letter from Anne to her husband very humble. Anne is not wishing she was as she was before she became Queen, but says that had Henry chosen to have dismissed her as his mistress, she would have accepted this as his pleasure. Her tone is very much of a loving wife, not a Queen, but a wife to a husband, the part of Henry Anne hoped to reach. Lady in the Tower is probably added to identify the letter later on. There is a lot in this letter that shows the author knows the King well and has hope in his common sense and their former closeness. Signing herself Anne Bullen may sound odd, but it’s not inconsistent with her usage of the name elsewhere and she did use this form as Queen. A drawing meant to be of her as Queen has Anna Bullen, not Anne Boleyn. I don’t always sign the modern way of my own name, I use the Irish spelling on some documents for legal reasons. The two names look nothing like each other, which is consistent with Gaelic and English spelling of the same name. Maybe Anne is attempting to remind Henry of a time before they were married, before the trouble began, with a time before their life was complicated and events tore them apart. Anne is simply Anne Bullen again, his humble love, his loving wife and his humble and beloved, but frightened subject, looking for mercy and justice. We can’t know for certain why Anne used what we may find a strange use of her humblier name, but the use of her title in this context would sound even more remote. Yes, Anne Regina, to emphasise that she is still Queen would be more appropriate, but she chooses a humble more intimate form of address as she is a woman and wife, addressing her husband, as well as her King. Thanks for a lovely debate on this sad but beautiful letter, written at such a terrible and desperate time for our Anne.

  10. But would Anne have been allowed to have dictated such a letter to the King in the first place? If you consider Cromwell at long last had his most dangerous enemy where he wanted her, safely under lock and key would he have risked Henry having a change of heart and quite possibly softening towards her, that would mean disaster for Cromwell, she was surrounded by women she disliked one her own aunt and they were under strict orders to report back everything she said and did, Kingston to had to report back to Cromwell and he did, it is how we have such an accurate record of the state of her mind during those awful first days, she veered between hysterical laughter and weeping, she rambled and at times he commented, one minute she is determined to die, the next determined to live, although she was composed during her trial having become more adjusted to her circumstances, at the time this letter was written she was still in a state of great distress and not able to think properly, more than likely she wasn’t eating or sleeping properly if at all, and in those circumstances I find it highly improbable that she would be calm enough to write or dictate such an intelligent eloquent letter at all, it’s that also apart from the wording that makes me think there’s something not quite right about this letter, although I admit it does sound like something Anne may have written, the terrified imprisoned queen trying to plead with her autocratic husband the King, it would be fantastic if one day it were proved beyond doubt that she did in fact actually write it, or had it written for her, it certainly has caused plenty of debate since its appearance.

  11. Wolf Hall is being re-shown on UK TV; I caught it by chance & I’m hooked; gorgeous sets, lit only by candles, £20,000 of them! – great actors, but Anne’s execution actually made me cry; I’ve always found it unbearably sad, for her & Elizabeth. I’m glad there are people keeping her name, & the facts, alive, Anne was obviously an incredibly strong intelligent woman, as was her offspring, a credit but in the 16thC seen as a threat. RIP, RIG x

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