There was a brilliant article in yesterday’s “Independent” by Howard Brenton, the playwright responsible for the play “Anne Boleyn” which will be performed at the Globe Theatre from the 24th July – 21st August. In the article, entitled “Anne Boleyn: Drama Queen”, Brenton reveals exactly why Anne Boleyn’s story inspired him and how there is a “fast growing Anne Boleyn cult” of people who are just as fascinated by her story.

Brenton gives the following reasons for why he thinks Anne Boleyn’s story has created such a cult following:-

  • “Her story has a Wagnerian intensity of love, death and betrayal, shot through with a very un-Wagnerian sense of reckless fun, of daring sexiness.”
  • Guilt – We feel guilty because of what happened to her.
  • The tragedy and drama of her life – The way she was plotted against by Cromwell and executed for crimes she did not commit.

  • The many faces of Anne Boleyn – “Popular culture – as in the BBC series The Tudors – sees her as a bright, sexy girl manoeuvred by an ambitious father and his friends into the King’s bed. Historians disagree. David Starkey sees her as “a brutal and effective politician” who was, after all, able to bring down the King’s First Minister, Cardinal Wolsey – whom she hated, ironically, for blocking a possible betrothal when she was younger. Antonia Fraser, who is very much of the Catholic party of Henry’s first wife, the much put upon and infuriatingly correct Catherine of Aragon, sees Anne as a schemer and a poseur. She accuses her of “religious chic”, always making sure she had a religious book in her hands when someone important came into the room. In her recent novel, Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel gives us an extraordinary Anne, calculating yet instinctive, almost feral, a very dangerous woman indeed.” Yet we also have Anne the religious reformer and Brenton ponders whether “there was a Joan of Arc, driven by a religious vision, within the more familiar figure of Anne the dazzling sexual predator.”
  • The fact that had so much intelligence, ambition and influence that she got “to the centre of a dangerous maze of male power”.
  • The fact that “she helped detonate a religious upheaval which culminated a century later in the Civil War, the breaking of divine royal power and the establishment of our Parliament” and changed the course of English history.
  • She was ahead of her time.
  • She has been misunderstood and maligned.

It is obvious from his article that Brenton has fallen under Anne Boleyn’s spell, just as we all have. You can read Brenton’s full article at and you can find out more about his play at

If someone asked you why you’re so fascinated by Anne Boleyn what would you say? What is it about her that grabs you?

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22 thoughts on “The Anne Boleyn Cult”
  1. I think Anne Boleyn was many things: a complex human being, not always in control, and unable to always say or do the right thing. I hate how historical figures become characters of one-dementional qualities. I want Anne Boleyn to be human, like us all: fallable. Can Anne not be a walking contradition, as Ives notes: she is hard to pin down, but that is what makes her so unique and attractive? I fell for her when I was a young girl eagerly searching for a role model and heroine. I was hooked the first time I laid eyes on her, and read her amazing life story. Historians inability to settle on what Anne was versus what Anne did, is what make her so tantalizing. She completely unknowable, just as I imagine she was in life. You get a glimpse of her, the she is gone, leaving you breathless and wanting more. I believe this is why she was so fascinating then, as she is now. Anne was like all of us women: strong and sensitive, with the strong grip of a politican, but the veneer of a coutier (Ives, 2004).

  2. Okay, i admit it, i am part of the cult!! Ever since i was young i have been fascinated by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, the other wives of Henry VIII and Mary, Queen of Scots, and Tudor history in general

    It just seems that in those days there were few strong women, and these stand out. Not only because they were of royal blood, but because of what they did and achieved. In a world that was very much male dominated, who could help but be intrigued by their lives?.

  3. Candice has it right – Anne was a very complex and contradictory woman, and a real source of unending fascination. Anne is first one thing, if you read accounts by those sympathetic to her, and something else altogether by her detractors. Where she truly lies is hard to say, because of the spottiness of the records left to us. I would say somewhere between saint and sinner, because there are so many contradictions in the records that are left to us. I find her more fascinating as a combination of saint/sinner than I would either strictly saint, or strictly sinner.

    Since Anne’s time, there have been a number of intriguing women, including her daughter, who have better documentation on their characters and behavior, and who, like Anne herself, ARE that combination of saint and sinner. No human being is perfect, and while we admire Anne’s great virtues, it is her flaws which bring her down to a level that we can wrap our heads around. We can definitely sympathize with a flawed Anne, and even love her in spite of those flaws.

  4. I would be interested to see how Henry is portrayed in this play if Anne is the star attraction. The actress playing Anne looks the part! I’m glad she’s got her B 🙂

    I have to say though, I wish he’d given the play a more imaginative title!

  5. The thing about Anne that attracts me is the fact that she was both a woman of both brains and beauty. It is something that even today, people have a hard time associating one with the other. There is a song from the 90’s by Meredith Brooks that more or less makes me think of Anne…

    I’m a b***h, I’m a lover
    I’m a child, I’m a mother
    I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
    I do not feel ashamed
    I’m your health, I’m your dream
    I’m nothing in between
    You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

    …The rest of the song also seems like I could see Anne singing it. She was truly a complex woman, and it would have been great to see what she could have accomplished, had she lived to old age. As for the play at the Globe- hoping I can see it when I go to England next year! =)

  6. Candice, well said. I was thinking about what drew me to the story – and you have done the job for me.

  7. I’ve never been part of a cult before!
    I think part of Anne’s appeal is her non-royal status, she’s a regular person, maybe more upper class but still there was no expectation at her birth that she would be become Queen of England and one of the most famous women of all times!
    She gets swept up in events and tries to keep her self afloat; you can see Elizabeth inherited that tendency with better results.

  8. Sheena, there used to be a Tudors fan vid on YouTube to that song, and it is excellent. I say “is” because I downloaded it before it disappeared.

  9. Sheena,

    It’s a different one! I like ‘mine’ better, but it doesn’t say on the vid who the vidder is. Are you registered on the forum? Or I could try to send you a copy of it by zip file if you give Claire permission to send me your e-mail. Or, I could send it to Claire (if she agrees), who could forward it to you, thus keeping your e-mail private. Let me know.


  10. I, too, fell for Anne when I was around 15. I think I saw very clearly the inequalities in our culture based on gender and loved reading about a woman who lived in an even more chauvinistic time use her intelligence to become a queen. The romance between Anne and Henry added to the attraction–I was just discovering my own sexual power and it was thrilling to me to see a woman of spirit and cleverness get her way in spite of huge obstacles. And then, her swift fall from grace, so calculated and cruel, made her all the more sympathetic. She was an amazing woman and the more I read of her, the more I am in awe. Her best qualities are evident in Elizabeth.

  11. Carolyn,

    I have no problem having Claire send you my e-mail address. I would love to see this music video! =) Thanks!

  12. I am very much drawn to Anne, because she was a dazzling, intelligent beauty in her own right. Unfortunately, we will never know for certain “which Anne” she truly was…. the intelligent schemer, the put upon pawn in a game created by her father, the religious pioneer. I choose to think she was all of the above. She took a situation she was forced into the turned the tables so that things were on her terms. She rose to Queen of England where at every turn, people were plotting and hoping for her downfall.

    You can’t help but admire a woman who “put the whole country in a roar.” (Taken from Showtime’s The Tudors. Wyatt says it in reference to Anne.)

  13. what was so wonderful about Anne was the fact that she had a thousand and one facetsAA woman who lived 5oo hundred years ago but also one gets the feeling that she could have fitted quite comfortably in the 21st century! A timeless woman, who captues the imagination. A REAL womaqn. Eleonor of Aquitaine was also one of those women in a million.

  14. I have always been fascinated by history and the Tudors but with Anne Boleyn in particular. It is hard to define why- her story is captivating, tragic and dramatic, but then, so are many. I wish I knew the exact truth of her life- exactly what she experienced. Imagine if they had a diary of hers! That would be brilliant. I find her enigmatic- just looking at her portraits you can see her mystery and charisma. I also feel that she was an incredible woman- intelligent, powerful. I don’t find it all coincidental that it is HER daughter that is known as one of the greatest monarchs of all time.

  15. I now feel like I may be part of this cult. That has never happened before. i always thought I was different growing up because I was drawn to this period in English history. Being from the southern US, English history always takes a back seat to the Civil War. I try to visit Westminster when we are in the UK. I cried the first time we went much to the dismay of the guide and my husband. I was actually standing in front of the last remains of Elizabeth I. I would love to see this production at the Globe, but it will be another year before the next trip.

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