Valentine’s Day – Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII: A great love?

Posted By on February 14, 2017

Today is Valentine’s Day, the traditional day of romance. You can read all about Valentine’s Day itself in an article I wrote for the Tudor Society – click here – but here at the Anne Boleyn Files I want to ask you for your thoughts on Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII.

I want to ask you whether you think their relationship was a great love?

Did Henry VIII really love Anne Boleyn or was it lust or an obsession?

Did Anne Boleyn really love Henry VIII or did she just ‘give in’ to him?

Did love turn to hate?

What do you think of their courtship, marriage and how their relationship ended, with Anne Boleyn being executed and Henry VIII replacing her so quickly?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

Now I’m going to have a bit of a ramble through my thoughts on this, and it is a ramble as nothing is clear cut with this, so please bear with me…

Personally, I think that Henry VIII did love Anne Boleyn. I have a book with photos of all the love letters that he wrote to her, the letters that are now in the Vatican Archives, and as author Sandra Vasoli has pointed out in her research on the letters, there is a marked contrast between the letter Henry wrote to Anne after he’d received news that she was ill with sweating sickness, an illness that could kill in just a few hours, and the other letters he wrote to her. Sandra, who saw this letter ‘in the flesh’, described it as “visually a mess”. The ink is smeared, there are sprays of ink where the nib of the quill caught on the parchment, there are blots, and it is evidence of the king’s panic, his sheer terror at knowing that his sweetheart may die. The letter’s appearance speaks volumes, in a way that the words just can’t.

Did Anne love the king?

I don’t believe that she did at the beginning, and I do think that Karen Lindsey has a point when she writes of Henry’s pursuit of Anne being what we’d see as sexual harassment today, but I do think that Anne came to love him. I think the fact that it was based on love and passion became a problem later. Anne had no country or royal family behind her to protect her and she’d set a precedent by rising from lady-in-waiting to queen, and replacing a queen. Anne was in quite a vulnerable position. It was natural for her to be jealous when her husband paid other ladies attention as she knew that she could be replaced. She must have known that she wasn’t safe until she’d given Henry a son, and that must have been such a stressful position to be in. Another problem was Anne’s personality. Henry had fallen in love with one Anne and yet also wanted her to be another Anne, a traditional and submissive queen consort – how could Anne be the woman Henry had fallen in love with and be what he perceived to be the perfect consort? It is little wonder that their relationship was so volatile, that they were merry one minute and then arguing the next, and then back to being happy. It was a very real relationship.

But if it was based on love, how could Henry VIII let Anne be executed in 1536?

Well, it depends on whether you believe that Henry was also an innocent victim in 1536, whether he believed that Anne really did betray him. Did love turn to hate because of perceived betrayal? Did he want revenge? Did she have to be punished? Or was it all down to Henry? Did he just decide that she needed replacing, that she had to go at any cost?

Hmmm…

I hold Henry responsible for what happened in May 1536 and I see a man who could switch between love and hate when he felt let down by someone. You only have to look at his treatment of Catherine of Aragon and Mary, the falls of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More, the brutal ends of the Carthusian monks… Thomas More had been a true friend and father figure to the young king and yet he ended up on the scaffold even though he chose to keep his views private and never spoke against the king. More once said to his son-in-law “I find his grace my very good lord indeed, and I believe he doth as singularly favour me as any other subject within this realm: howbeit, son Roper, I may tell thee, I have no cause to be proud thereof; for if my head would win him a castle in France, when there was war between us, it should not fail to go.” How astute.

We’ve all seen marriages break down and become acrimonious; we’ve all seen couples who truly loved each other end up hating each other and tearing each other apart. You see news reports of people murdering someone they were said to love. Perhaps there really is a fine line between love and hate.

Henry VIII had loved Anne Boleyn with a passion and he ended up hating her just as passionately. In my opinion, he’d moved heaven and earth to obtain her and she let him down; she wasn’t the queen he expected her to be, she didn’t provide him with a son and heir, she didn’t massage his ego and submit to him, she was jealous, she caused him problems, she didn’t agree with everything he said and did… the passion died, the love soured, and hate grew in its place. The blackening of Anne’s name in 1536, the incest charge, the salacious details of her alleged adultery, came, in my opinion, from a man who had come to hate her, from a man with a very personal stake in it all, from a man who felt humiliated by the Boleyn siblings, the way that they were perceived as laughing at him and for the way that they talked about his lack of sexual prowess. Perhaps Henry felt emasculated, I don’t know, or perhaps he’d simply fallen in love or lust with another woman.

Enough of the rambling… It’s all speculation at best, and my own personal view, but what do you think?

By the way, you can read transcripts of Henry VIII’s letters to Anne Boleyn in their original language (some are in French) and in English in The Harleian miscellany: or, A collection of scarce, curious, and entertaining pamphlets and tracts, as well in manuscript as in print, Volume III, page 51 onwards, at https://archive.org/stream/harleianmiscella03oldyiala#page/50/mode/2up

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