Sexuality and its Impact on History – Guest Post by Judith Arnopp

Posted By on April 16, 2018

Thank you to author Judith Arnopp for joining us today on the Anne Boleyn Files with this wonderful guest post. Judith is one of the authors of the new collaborative book Sexuality and its Impact on History which is published by Pen & Sword. Over to Judith…

I’ve been interested in history all my life, cutting my teeth on the Tudors while still at school in the ’70s. Like many girls I was drawn to Anne Boleyn’s story. In those days information wasn’t as readily available as it is now but I read all the novels I could lay hands on, visited the library and took home huge piles of books on Tudor history. It wasn’t until many years later when I began to write professionally that I undertook any really in-depth study. The Kiss of the Concubine was my fifth novel, my second set in the Tudor era, and during the research period I was intrigued at the hints of a relationship between Anne and Thomas Wyatt.

Wyatt’s poetry, as well as being beautifully fine examples of 16th century verse does indeed hint of a possible relationship. Of course, even had they been deeply in love it would have been hopeless for Wyatt was already married, but then as well as now, that does not necessarily preclude an affair. In my novel I play with the idea of an unrequited love, an attraction deeper on Thomas Wyatt’s side than on Anne’s.

At the top of the rise I pause beneath a stand of trees and scan the horizon with a hand to my ribs to ease the pain in my side. I am slightly out of breath, the winter has robbed me of my usual vigour. The wind is blowing my hair over my face. I must look like a Gorgon. I put up a hand to trap it, sweep it back.
“I knew you’d come!” A man leaps suddenly from a branch above my head, making me squeal.
“Thomas! What are you doing here? You scared me half to death. Why aren’t you at court?”
“The king took pity and sent me home to nurse the megrim I’ve been suffering.”
I cast an eye over his robust frame, his rosy cheeks and fair windswept locks. He is the picture of health.
“You look very well to me.”
His eyes are as blue as the king’s. They bore into mine, a hint of laughter disguising something deeper.
“Now I have gained the thing I lacked, I am fully restored.”
Disconcerted, I turn away and begin to walk along the ridge where the grass is shorter beneath the trees. He follows, a little behind. “I’ve written a verse.” He fumbles beneath his doublet and draws out a parchment. The wind takes it, threatens to whip it from his fingers.
“Another one? I hope it’s better than the last.”
“You are a cruel mistress.” He clears his throat. “It isn’t quite right yet, but I have the gist of it. Are you going to listen?”
I slow my pace and, spying a fallen bough, I move toward it, perching on the rough bark while he praises me with gentle speech.

“The flaming sighs that boil within my breast,
Sometime break forth, and they can well declare
The heart’s unrest, and how that it doth fare,
The pain thereof, the grief, and all the rest ….”

Poor Tom, he is nothing if not faithful. How can I not be touched by such lines? His face as he reads betrays his sincerity.
At court it is fashionable to love in vain. All the young men strut about the palace with their hearts on their sleeves, weeping and wailing over some married woman or another. But Tom, I fear, is different. He has made the mistake of loving sincerely … albeit in vain.
His voice trails off and he folds his verse, tucks it back inside his doublet. “Of course, it still needs something. I may rework it ….”
“It’s lovely, Tom, but you are your own worst fool. You are not free to love …” I get up and begin to walk away, but he grabs my wrist.
“Anne … one kiss and I will be silent. You used to let me kiss you, when we were children.”
I look at my feet, smile ruefully. “You never kissed me, Tom. That was Mary.”
“Well, it was you I wanted to kiss. I’ve never wanted anything so much …”
“Try telling that to your wife.”
I have known Thomas Wyatt since childhood. His family seat is but a little way from Hever and they were regular callers in the summer season. He is part of my childhood, part of me, but I cannot love him. Kissing him would be like kissing George. He is too familiar, too close; almost kin.
He is very near now, my forehead level with his jaw. He puts a finger beneath my chin, forces me to look at him. “You are so fair,” he whispers, and I open my eyes wide.
“No, I am not. No one has ever called me fair. You are mistaking me again for Mary.”
“Well, Mary may be fairer but what you have, Anne, shadows her like the sun outshines a torch. The king can keep Mary; it is you that I want.”
It is not easy to rebuff the poetry of his words, but I have to for both our sakes. He has a wife and I, well, I have my virtue and intend to keep it. Since the disaster of loving Harry Percy, I am done with men.
“Just one, Anne, please? Call it payment for the verse.”
I consider for a while. I like Tom and hate to be the cause of such hurt. His pursuit of me has been long and as yet, unrewarded.
“Just one little one, then. On the cheek.”
I close my eyes and tilt my face. After a moment I sense him coming closer, his head shadowing the glare of the sun. I am swamped with the scent of apples and summertime.
His lips are warm on my skin, he leaves a gossamer touch on my mouth, a kiss so gentle that I relax, enjoying the chaste sensation of his salute. Perhaps I am wrong, it is pleasant to be kissed by Tom after all. Then suddenly, he pulls me closer, driving the breath from my lungs, our bodies tight, his mouth swamping mine as he injects all his passion into me as if he fears it will be his one and only chance.
When he finally lets me go, I stagger, almost fall, and while I gasp for breath and equilibrium, he spins away from me and goes leaping and bounding down the hill toward the house, like a thief who has successfully made off with the crown jewels.
“God bless you, Anne Boleyn,” he calls over his shoulder, his jubilance dissipating in the wind. Inwardly I am laughing, refusing to acknowledge the sudden passion that sent the blood surging through my veins as it hasn’t done since I was sent down from court.
“You are a rogue and a devil, Thomas Wyatt,” I call after him.

That was as far as I took the idea in the novel so, several years later, when I was approached to be part of a collaborative project with authors: Annie Whitehead, Jessica Cale, Hunter S Jones, Gayle Hulme, Dr Beth Lynne and Emma Haddon-Wright, I jumped at the chance to take a second, much deeper look at the subject. The anthology, Sexuality and its impact on British History, is a collection of essays examining sex and relationships through time. Each author tackles a different era, from Anglo Saxon, through medieval and Tudor to Victorian times. The result is quite eye-opening and our project has been met with enthusiasm.

In my chapter, These Bloody Days, I examine both the background history and Wyatt’s poetry, and weigh up the historiography of the subject, which was a lot more complex than I’d anticipated. One day I’d hold one view, the next I felt differently but the more I researched, the more I became immersed in the desperate sorrows of that time. My personal life took a back seat and I fell behind with my novel The King’s Mother – Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles, the life of Margaret Beaufort. I distinctly remember one afternoon sitting on the floor surrounded by books and documents and realising that I just had to stop researching and get something on paper or I was going to miss the deadline. Once I began writing, it was fine.

Wyatt’s presence in Anne’s social circle and the fact of his arrest at the same time as Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, Rochford and Weston, is often overlooked. It is only Wyatt’s surviving poems that give us pause, make us stop and consider if perhaps he was a little too close to the queen for comfort.

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

There is no doubt Wyatt was severely affected by the events of May 1536. He and Anne were friends, they moved in the same circles for most of their lives. The queen’s close companions were also his. They drank together, laughed together, sported and hunted together and later, in May 1536, he watched from his prison in the Bell Tower as they went to their deaths.

Due to Thomas Cromwell’s fondness for Wyatt, his life was spared, an act that possibly represents one of the few things we have to thank Cromwell for. Wyatt may or may not have deserved to die with them but the experience and his brush with death coloured his life, and his poetry ever afterwards.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

After a small hiccup with the printer which resulted in the first publication day being missed, Sexuality and its Impact on History was released by Pen & Sword in the UK on the 11th April 2018. A kindle edition will soon be available. The US paperback is due for release on 3rd July.
It can be ordered via the following links:

  • Amazon UK – It is showing as temporarily out of stock but can still be ordered.
  • Direct from the publisher Pen & Sword – It is in stock.
  • – For pre-order for its July release date.

All of Judith’s novels are available as kindle, paperback and coming soon on audible.
Amazon page:
Buy link:

Judith Arnopp’s life-long passion for history eventually led her to the University of Wales where she gained a BA in English and Creative Writing, and a Masters in Medieval History.

Her first novel, Peaceweaver was published in 2009, quickly followed by The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd but she remained largely unknown as an author until her first best-selling Tudor novel, The Winchester Goose. Since then she has continued to write in the Tudor era, producing five further novels covering the lives of Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr and Elizabeth of York.

The Beaufort Chronicles comprises of three volumes: The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman and The King’s Mother tracing the fascinating life of Margaret Beaufort. She is currently engaged in researching the Dissolution of the monasteries for her eleventh novel, Sisters of Arden.

Judith’s non-fiction work has also been published in various historical anthologies, the latest being Sexuality and Its Impact on History which will be published in March 2018 by Pen and Sword Books. You will also find her work on many on-line magazines and blogs. Judith is easily accessible on her webpage and blog or you can follow her on social media.

The Beaufort Chronicles (three volumes)
A Song of Sixpence
The Kiss of the Concubine
Intractable Heart
The Winchester Goose
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

14 thoughts on “Sexuality and its Impact on History – Guest Post by Judith Arnopp”

  1. Christine says:

    Sir Thomas Wyatt was attracted to Anne that much we know but wether it was a grande passion like the Kings is a matter for debate, I think he was strongly attracted to her and there is the oft repeated tale about the locket that incurred Henry V111’s jealousy, the verse, ‘ noli me tangere for Caesar’s I am’ is where his sweetheart is telling him all too clearly that she is persued by someone far greater more powerful, in short Wyatt hadnt a chance and he knew it, when Henry V111 showed his interest in a lady all other would be suitors had no choice but to give in gracefully and melt into the background, if the lady were in love with another man that was her hard luck, but they probably were all too willing, Wyatt and Annes family were close neighbours both having homes in Kent, his family owned Allington castle and it’s possible that over the years both families met from time to time, when she returned from France a fresh young damsel he saw a newer more sophisticated Anne than the one he had known during their childhood in the leafy green fields of Kent, his sister Mary was a close friend of Annes and he was one of her circle, Anne gathered round her all the talented cultured people of the court and in those early days she had suitors in Percy as well as Wyatt, she was alluring and witty and we can read much in the verses he wrote her, since man put quill to parchment he has expressed his feelings for his true love, there is yearning in Greensleeves to a fickle lover, Shakespeare himself mentioned in his sonnets a dark lady, some have pondered that perhaps this mysterious figure was a lost love of his and he paid tribute to her in his many works, Wyatt was a very talented poet he was the Keats and Shelley of the Tudor age and yes we have to be grateful to Cromwell for sparing his life but how did Wyatt feel towards the man who had been partly responsible for the deaths of five people? One of them a close friend and to whom he had been in love with once, we will never know the answer but he expressed his horror and grief at the executions of the men some who perhaps had been his friends, it is a long poem but it is filled with despair and even today, centuries after those awful events it still tugs at the heart strings, maybe Wyatt was thinking too that had Anne married him she would not be incarcerated in the Tower under sentance of death, there is a sketch of Wyatt full faced and it shows a very handsome man, his own marriage was unhappy and his wife was said to be a serial adulteress, however he had a son who he must have taken pride in, after the ‘ bloody days’ he wrote about he must have been quite traumatised, and he must have lived quite a lonely life afterwards, to lose friends in such a way is awful and to also know that his other friend Thomas Cromwell had a hand in it could have done nothing for his peace of mind,

  2. Banditqueen says:

    One of the sad things that I have found recently is a determination among some recent self appointed amateur historians, who I am sure mean well, but who in my opinion, and this is a personal opinion, if a well founded one, don’t really have any basis to dismiss a love affair between Anne and Thomas Wyatt, yet now they want to prove it as invented. I respectfully disagree. Yes, we might not have any evidence of a deeply, passionate sexual affair, but I believe Wyatt refers to Anne several times in his poetry. I believe his references to a woman with brunette hair is a clear reference to Anne Boleyn and he fancies this lady. I also believe he refers to Anne as the woman who got away and as a deer who is caught up in the chase. Anne was chased by the King and Anne got away probably from more than one potential suitor who gave up once Henry declared his love for her. I also think that saying we don’t have any evidence that Wyatt at least had some unrequited love for Anne is like saying Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford, a departure from reality. Wyatt was heart broken at her execution and those of his contemporaries and his poetry is very passionate at the time that she falls for the King. We don’t know of any other woman he loved with this passion, not even his mistress, who was almost his common law wife, and certainly not his actual wife. Henry Viii may not have believed Anne was actually having an affair still with Wyatt when she was now agreeing to become his Queen and Suffolk identified him as such, but he did take action and sent the poet off on a diplomatic mission out of the way for a few years. Wyatt was an obvious target when Anne fell and was arrested. He later blamed Suffolk, but there is no evidence that Suffolk had anything to do with his arrest. There was no evidence against him and he was a client of Thomas Cromwell and so he was released. We may not be able to say Anne and Thomas Wyatt were lovers, but they were familiar with each other, neighbours and friends and it is very possible, if not probable that he found her attractive. They could never marry but why should that stop him hoping for a bit of fun and Anne flirting with him? Well before the King came along she may well have at least teased and continued to see Wyatt and only decided to give him up when the crown floated before her and her relationship with Henry became serious. Wyatt hoped for more and Anne could not give it so he gave her up as his poem shows and she declared in the poem: Touch me not, for Caesar ‘s I am. I believe this is evidence that Anne and Wyatt had a brief fling and he was forced to give her up, not only because he was married, with a long term mistress on the side, but because Henry was on the scene and her relationship with him was now serious. Thomas Wyatt is saying goodbye to a woman he loves, but cannot have. Anne is telling her former friend and potential lover that he has to let her go because she belongs to the King. Yes, we can’t be certain of a physical relationship, but I feel the evidence in the poetry and the talk at Court and Henry’s caution indicate a romantic relationship at the very least. Certainly the latter can’t be dismissed and internal evidence in the literary remains of Thomas Wyatt do more than just hint at a broken heart and Anne being the woman who broke it.

    1. Claire says:

      George Wyatt, Wyatt’s grandson, was obviously convinced of his grandfather’s love for Anne Boleyn so I don’t understand why anyone would challenge that. Who has been challenging it, BQ? Even if Wyatt family stories and those told George by other sources had become embellished over the years, I think they were based on truth. Wyatt was certainly close to Anne and her brother, and was clearly distraught by the events of May 1536.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Hi, Claire, on one of her podcasts Tudor Home Truths Haley Nolan believed that there was no evidence and was quite dismissive of the whole idea because he was a poet and Anne would have nothing to do with a mere poet. While I agree that the romantic link between Anne and Thomas Wyatt has been debated for some time and the evidence is far from clear, but it cannot be dismissed. Wyatt may have had feelings for Anne that she didn’t or could not return as she was committed to the King, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing in the early days between them. He was part of Anne’s inner circle and knew all of the other men executed well. He was a childhood friend of Anne and George and the families were close. He wasn’t just a poet. He was a translator, diplomat and courtier and probably well paid. He was about the court and he was well known. Anne might have found him very attractive and been flattered by his words. He was very distraught at the events in May 1536, indeed as These Bloody Days shows. His works include translations and commentaries on New Testament books, such as Ephesians. Had Anne not been in a relationship with Henry Viii, who knows what her choices would have been? She may not have had a sexual relationship with Wyatt who was married, but she could still flirt with him and probably did as Henry was jealous of him. Wyatt gave Anne up because he had to, but his poems support the idea that he didn’t want to give her up. I also saw an article on the Tudor Dynasty website which denied any evidence for even a romantic connection and an article in History Extra said the same thing. I was particularly shocked to hear Susanna Lipscomb remark that there was no evidence and also dismiss the link in the poems in one of the documentaries on the Six Wives. While the evidence may not show a hot, passionate relationship, it does support a romantic one and that Wyatt had feelings for Anne. I don’t think we can dismiss something when we are not certain either way. Sorry to spout, but I feel very sad and strongly about such things and I believe Wyatt was heartbroken about Anne at her execution and his works are full of his lost love for her.

  3. Christine says:

    That Henry sent Wyatt out the country is evidence I believe that he was jealous of Wyatt, quite possibly he feared Annes attraction towards him, she had given him the run around but how she treat Wyatt? Did she find him more attractive, certainly he was handsome and talented to, all which Anne could relate to, had she allowed him to go further, Henry must have been tortured by the thoughts which were going through his mind, there is a tale that Wyatt allegedly said he had gone to visit her at Hever, when she had just returned from France and they were alone in her bedroom, she was in bed and he took liberties with her which she consented to, but I doubt it is true as Wyatt would not ruin a woman’s reputation in that way, he was a gentleman and he respected Anne, he could well have loved her all his life as nothing is more attractive than that which is out of reach, the forbidden fruit as the saying goes, unlike her other suitor Harry Percy the Earl of Northumberland whose feelings towards her had diminished over the years, Wyatt I feel did put her on a bit of a pedestal, the courtly love tradition here where the lady’s troubadour sings to her of a passionate love and she is forever aloof and out of reach, certainly Annes death affected both men and others around her, Percy died a year later and Wyatt was never the same again, the King himself had turned morose and bitter, Anne had been loved by all three and quite possibly her young musician Mark Smeaton, who tragically died along with her other friends, we are in mid April and it is very windy here in north London, in the court of Henry V111 nearly five hundred years ago the wind was turning against Anne Boleyn, storm clouds were gathering, she did not know it and neither did the court but in barely a month she and five men would all be dead.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    I ordered the book yesterday, really can’t wait to read it, although I don’t know why there is a picture of Lady Godivia on the front as her partial naked protest was about taxation, her hair covered her body and nothing to do with sexuality. Perhaps the book gives a clue. I am looking forward to reading it.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Not only that, people were told to stay indoors and not look.

    2. Christine says:

      Perhaps the publishers just thought the picture was enchanting, and that she represents femal sexuality? I believe it’s by one of the pre raephalite artists of the Victorian era, J. Waterhouse maybe? I have a book on the paintings by him and his subjects were mostly stories from Greek mythology, but it does look in his style, he painted The Lady Of Shallot, another beautiful painting, makes me laugh though as Lady Godiva is always shown as a beautiful slender maiden with long rippling tresses, she could well have been 20 stone with a face like the back of a bus.

      1. Claire says:

        Your comment re Lady Godiva possibly having a face like the back of a bus did make me chuckle! Brilliant! I don’t know whether Lady Godiva is featured in the book, I assume so, but BQ is right in that her stand had nothing to do with sexuality. I expect the publisher just thought it was an eye-catching image. It is a beautiful painting.

        1. Christine says:

          Hi Claire glad I made you laugh, yes I love pre raephalite paintings and the tale of Lady Godiva is where peeping Tom made his debut, the name given to all men who like to peer through the windows at some unaware female, usually in a state of undress!

        2. Claire says:

          I used to live in Coventry so I’m fond of the story. Ah, yes, good old Peeping Tom!

        3. Banditqueen says:

          It really is a beautiful and moving painting and it really does draw your attention to the book. Ha! A face like the back of a bus, great.

  5. Christine says:

    Glad I made you both chuckle.

  6. Hi Everyone, I’ve only just seen your responses to the blog post.Thank you so much for commenting and thank you for hosting me Claire. The books is well worth the read. It kicks off with an article about Lady Godiva, then goes on to cover the question of romance in Anglo Saxon, middle ages, Tudor, Elizabethan and Victorian, so there should be something for everyone. I hope you all enjoy it. We are all very grateful for your support.

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