Was Anne Boleyn sent abroad because of her scandalous behaviour?


Yes, you read that right! The question that I am answering in the latest video of my “Questions about Anne Boleyn” series is “Was Anne Boleyn sent abroad because of her scandalous behaviour?”

In my video, I explain what provoked people to send me emails asking me this question, where the idea that Anne Boleyn was sent away to France at the age of 15 because of her scandalous behaviour (affairs with her father’s chaplain and butler) originates, and whether there is any truth to it.

I dismiss the story as a myth, as propaganda, and I explain exactly why I believe this.

I hope you find it interesting.

In the video, I mention my online history course “The Life of Anne Boleyn” and you can find out more about this 18-lesson course at https://medievalcourses.com…. It’s completely online and open internationally.

Do remember to watch the other videos in the Questions about Anne Boleyn playlist and to keep up to date with my daily “On this day in Tudor history” videos.

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10 thoughts on “Was Anne Boleyn sent abroad because of her scandalous behaviour?”
  1. First off I’ve got so much to say I’m saying it here instead of on youtube. Wow, I was slack-jawed as I heard you read the blurb from the back of Josephine Wilkinson’s book. I’m really glad that she dismissed all of that. I’ve never heard any of that before. I’ve been looking at this stuff for over 30 years and that’s a first. I am glad to find out it came from someone like Nicholas Sanders and not a current author. He really did a great job with his smear campaign four and a half centuries ago. To think that this question is still coming up now after so long. Thank you for this video putting it to rest (I hope).

  2. I too only heard the story about Annes so called affair with the butler and the chaplain on this site several years ago, I had never heard it before and was amazed, her father had scurried her abroad because she had been sneaking upto the butlers chamber in the middle of the night, and I suppose the ever knowledgeable Sander had her visiting the chapel more often because she had an added zest for ‘religious learning’ what a laugh! When someone hates a person it is easy to believe the worse of them, in fact people want to believe the worst of them, and this one man who has earned fame for his lurid tales about the mother of Queen Elizabeth, is famous really for just slandering her, he had a score to settle against Anne Boleyn who he believed was the cause of all the purest in England and most of Europe, he was not alone in this, she had been deeply unpopular, her own English subjects had reviled her, as most of them were Catholic, England had been under the seal of Rome since ancient times and she unsettled the very structure of people’s belief, she had amongst her friends those who were interested in reform but largely the country was Catholic, even Henry V111 was Catholic at heart, Elizabeth when she came to the throne was aware she had enemies, later on in her reign she was described as the daughter of that infamous concubine, and she never quite managed to live down her mothers unsavoury reputation, Sander who was forced to flee his homeland because of the reformists began to hate the head of the new religion – Elizabeth 1st, for she represented everything he abhorred, and drawing on her mothers reputation he began to slander her from every angle, she looked like a witch, she had a tooth that stuck out, large moles a sign of evil, she had sallow skin that looked jaundiced, she gave birth to a shapeless mass of flesh, she was immoral from a young age she had romped with the family butler and the vicar, it goes on and on, those who hated Elizabeth lapped this piece of information up with glee, as we know from her history, Anne had not been a particurlaly nice woman she was bad tempered and riled people up the wrong way, she had said cruel things about Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, because of her very character, as Ives said and I quote, ‘ it was easy for people to accuse her of moral laxity’ the reality is she may have been a shrew but that does not mean she was immoral, it must really have been awful for Elizabeth to have seen Sanders writings if she ever did, as we know she attempted to restore Annes reputation during her reign and there were many paintings done of her, she was hailed as being the mother of the reformation, Sander degraded her memory, but ever since she died on the scaffold attempts have been made to rehabilitate her reputation, her first biographer George Wyatt, grandson of the man who once loved her, was the first to write her biography, Jane Austen in the 18thc wrote of her as being a most gracious lady, the Victorian writer Agnes Strickland painted her as a romantic heroine and she was thus to many writers of the period, those who were not so biased like Freidmann said of her ‘ she was not a good woman she was coarse’ but all of them agree down to the 21st c that she was innocent of the crimes she died for, there is however one exception, and isn’t there always for one writer has claimed she was probably sleeping with Smeaton her musician and Norris the Kings groom of the stool, and his close friend, but none of them think she was guilty of plotting to assassinate the King, or that she gave birth to a deformed baby, Warnicke makes much of Sanders writings however and believe Anne did have a malformed child, and she died with her alleged lovers because they were guilty of sexual misdeeds, it seems Sanders words carry some weight today, but thankfully the rest of us dismiss his nonsense.

  3. Yeap Anne Boleyn aged fifteen slept with the baker and butler and so on, then decided to hold the King off for several years and to be a virtuous Queen. Add to this that she then also slept her way around France and the Netherlands, but then Henry couldn’t get her into his bed for toffee.

    This of course is utterly nonsense, because it comes from Sander and other rumour mongers because it’s much later and is there to slander her name. It may be very nice for popular fiction but it is just not true. As we know Anne went to two very prestigious posts at two high and virtuous ladies, Claude of France and Margaret of Austria. It sounds as if Anne was quite the opposite and she held the powerful and sexy Henry Viii and the contemporary sources rebuff these later sources. Anne herself was virtuous and refused to sleep with the King in England and she kept a virtuous Court as Queen. Henry tried to woo her and she would only consider when he offered her the crown matrimonial and the couple fell in love and had a genuine relationship. Anne may have had a lover but we certainly don’t know much if she did and her only known relationship was with the future Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy after she returned home in about 1521. She was also a candidate for a marriage with James Butler, Earl of Ormond so as her father could claim that title but nothing came of this. She came to Court in 1522 but there is no evidence to support a relationship with Henry before 1525/6.

    We know very little about the time of Anne and Mary Boleyn at the French Court let alone about the rumours that she was liberal with her affections or that Mary was the mule of the King of France. We here have a snippet or two, that she followed the example of ladies with more experience and she is noted as having grace and learning. Queen Claude ran a very devout and highly sophisticated school and she was a virtuous woman, her ladies had to be of good character and remain so. Even though Mary was called the great prostitute for sleeping with the King of France and then Henry, probably only did so a couple of times. Anne came back from France with a very intellectual education and she was interested in the reformation. There is considerable evidence which suggests that Anne knew Margaret of Navarre, the sister of King Francis very well and may have been influenced about reformed teaching by her. Her brother, George, was also influenced by the French reformers and translated works for his sister. Rumours that Anne learned certain sexual practices and became corrupted in France are contemporary but they come from a source which is unreliable.

    Anne then went on to run a very strict household of her own, she forbade swearing, she dismissed those who were found breaking strict rules on being virtuous, she forbade the men to go to brothels and she had a copy of the English New Testament, open to everyone to read. There is no way the horrible crimes associated with Anne and George were true and they were very honest in their religious beliefs as well. Again, good for fiction, terrible for truth and reality.

  4. Having googled Nicholas Sander I learnt that he was born in Surrey and his family were all very ardent Roman Catholics, he studied at Oxford became a fellow at Oxford and after spending some time abroad, (Holland and Madrid) he became a priest of Rome and was also considered as the next Cardinal, his sisters were nuns of the sion order and devoted his life in the vain hope of restoring Catholicsm to England, he even wrote to Philip of Spain saying he hoped the King would help with the restoration of Catholicsm in England( in other words an invasion fleet was needed ) but Philip was uneasy, here we see Sander actually committing treason, he was very active in trying to restore Roman Catholicsm and he also took part in the invasion of Ireland with the popes blessing, and the 15th Earl of Desmond, but his fleet was captured by Sir William Winter, Elizabeths Admiral and he lived the rest of his life in Ireland, where it is believed he died of poverty and starvation, for a Roman Catholic family living in Elizabeths England I can well understand must have been very hard in those days, likewise those who were later called Protestants living in Mary 1sts reign, history has shown most troubles are caused by religious intolerance, Elizabeth was more merciful then her sister but still Catholics were persecuted, and noble and wealthy families took to building spy holes, where the priests could pray in safety, they can still be seen in many a grand country house today, for a man like Sander having to flee his own country because he was Catholic, was sown in him the seeds of hatred for the new religion, it was a scary time to live in for those of a different faith and across the channel, Catherine de Medici had ordered the massacre of thousands of French Hugeunots on the eve of St. Bartholemew, it was to be known as the St. Bartholemew massacre, Europe was unsettled because of the reform and many had suffered, however it was a pity that Sander who was an intelligent man, had taken to slandering the mother of the Protestant English queen just because he thought rather misguidedly that he was helping in the cause of restoring Roman Catholicsm, now we are world away from those strife torn days and I truly sympathise with those who believed in the old religion, that which they had been taught from an early age was the true one, and those of the new religion who wished to shake of the shackles of Roman Catholicsm, no one should ever have to suffer because of their beliefs, Lady Jane Grey sacrificed her life because she was dedicated to reform, for a young girl who was a teenager who was prepared to die because she believed her religion was the true one, shows how deeply people cared about their own religious beliefs, it meant everything to them and today we are very lucky that we have freedom in our beliefs, but it has taken a very long time for the world to shake of its intolerance, ISIS however is now a very real threat, an archaic belief that those who are non Muslims are infidels and murder is their way of cleansing the world in the name of Allah, it seems there will always be trouble from the minority.

    1. Thanks for that information and post on Dr Nicholas Sander, Christine, it’s always good to do some background research on some of these names, because then you see the context of why they are writing what they did 500 years ago. I know Sander was talking twaddle but it wasn’t his job or interest to present the truth or even a neutral portrait of Elizabeth or her mother, it was propaganda and I doubt very much that he cared if he was repeating the gossip of the earlier decades. It was interesting that he may have used William Rastell as a source as he wrote a biography of Thomas More and translated his works and he was also a publisher of his Dialogue and other prison works. In the political and religious paradigm that English Catholics found themselves, it was very hard for them not to take every opportunity to write against the other side. Sander was writing slander but he really didn’t have any reason to care.

      We now have new threats because of a minority of Islamic extremism, despite the fact that most Muslims live perfectly well with their none Muslim neighbours and today in most communities Catholic, Protestant and other Christian denominations get on well. It is very hard to mentally wind back the clock and to put ourselves in a world of distrust between traditional Catholics and those of the new and various reformed beliefs, an era of meeting in secret, a police state, when the slightest variations from what was taught in the pulpit and school every week could land you in hot water and serious ones in the Bishops Court or before the Magistrate, where fines were charged for none attendance of your official Parish Church, where people faced being dobbed in by a nosey neighbour and denounced as a heretic or you were on the list as a rescuant and imprisoned, fined or ruined, what it was like to be interrogated or tortured, to be inside a priest hole for nine days without food or water or toilet facilities, to be questioned about what we believe, to live in fear of the state police, to either be burned at the stake or hanged, drawn and quartered or any of the other things which went with following a different faith than the Monarch. I agree Nicholas Sander committed treason, but I think I would if it’s a choice between survival and freedom under someone else and living under persecution or in forced exile. I think a lot of people actually did hope King Philip would be successful. I am also even more certain most were loyal and just wanted to be left alone. It must have been like people being rounded up and put in camps during the war, (not the Nazi concentration camps, I am not comparing Elizabethan England to that horrible persecution of our Jewish brothers and sisters and others during the Holocaust) I mean loyal Germans in Australia and America, loyal Japanese, the original camps in South Africa before apartheid, Irish who had nothing to do with the Easter Rising. A good number of them became radicalized in those camps. The missions of young men risking their lives to go abroad and train as priests gave new life to the Catholic community in England and Wales. Even though these men could be and often were captured and executed on landing, several hundreds of others were free, moving from house to house, administering the old sacraments of a generation earlier and hiding in dark, tight holes at risk of discovery and death. This was the context of the words written by Nicholas Sander. He was not writing a biography, he was writing polemic, propaganda, history as myth, it was meant to shock because it was against the legitimacy of a persecuting government. Of course his words are nonsense, but if Catholics in England are going to be encouraged to stand up against Elizabeth, they have to know she is not a legitimate monarch, her mother was everything bad and Elizabeth the product and embodiment of that badness or evil. Therefore it was alright to disobey her religious laws. It was o.k to obey the Pope over a Queen who is an apostate. It was o.k to regard Elizabeth as being illicit, as being illegitimate, as being wicked, as being a heretic, because she was the daughter of a condemned traitor, an adulterous wh*re and a witch who led good King Henry astray. The language is pretty dramatic and ridiculous, but it probably wasn’t to those who read it, after it was smuggled in to England. It was probably deeply scandalous. Anne’s name was blackened in order to show Elizabeth as not being worthy of the crown and therefore, loyalty. It is a view of the inside of late Tudor England from the pen of a Catholic exile. I completely agree, what he wrote was utter nonsense, it cannot be treated as a document to rely on for accuracy, it is hostile to Anne Boleyn, designed to sully her reputation, but it also has to be studied with the background of what life was like during persecution in mind. It was written 60 years after the events of Anne’s life, there are very few contemporary sources which agree with anything in it, but it is also something which tells us that this is a brutal time in which a large number of people lived in fear for their lives because of their traditional faith, where brave men and women, including young people, faced terrible painful death and where anything which encouraged them was a welcome piece of writing.

      1. Yes it was propaganda, and reminds me of a particular newspaper today like The Star whose lurid and fantastical headlines feature on stories like the housewife who was abducted by aliens etc, all nonsense yet people read them, possibly some believe them to, there are also the gossip magazines that say they know the Beckhams marriage is in trouble and that Meghan has had a row with Her Majesty, Elizabeths followers would have dismissed Sanders tales but his fellow Catholics would have delighted in them, as you say it was all about dishonouring the queen, today however we would call it slander and Elizabeth 1st could well have issued a writ against this one man who was trying to stir up trouble, I have always found his remarks about Annes appearance strange, because he starts with saying she was rather tall with black hair, nothing deragotory there, she had sallow skin as if troubled with jaundice which is not a very flattering remark, an ugly wen on her neck which she sought to hide by wearing a collar and a tooth which stuck out, not forgetting the sinister sixth finger surely a sign of Satan, then he finishes off by saying as if he was trying to be apologetic, she was handsome to look at with a pretty mouth, it’s a bit like that line ‘good legs shame about the face’! The Catholics in Elizabeths day still referred to the pope as their master, even though England had broken from Rome and the queen was head of the church, it was because to them their queen was a heretic a bastard and their true queen was the Queen of Scots this was what William Cecil feared, Elizabeths parents marriage was never accepted by the pope who had never issued the dispensation, and legally therefore and we have to be fair about this, fans of Anne though we are, Henry V111 had committed bigamy, Anne Boleyn was not his wife it was still Katherine, Henry unwittingly had caused all this unrest for his daughter and what he should have done, was after Katherine had died and he was then legally widowed, should have married Anne and then had his daughter legitimised, which was what John of Gaunt had done with Katherine Swynford but then his children had been barred from the succession, what the Catholics abhorred was that the daughter of the true queen Mary was cast off in favour of the daughter of Anne Boleyn, and even though Henry V111 had placed them back in the succession to them Marys true successor was Mary Of Scots or the Grey sisters as there was no question about their legitimacy, her parents marriage haunted Elizabeth all her life as she knew the pope in Rome Catholic Europe and her Catholic subjects never accepted her as their queen, she had no right to wear the crown of England, just like her father feared his Plantaganet cousins and her grandfather feared pretenders to his throne, thus was Elizabeth ever aware there would always be uprisings against her, there were thousands of her subjects wether it be the aristocratic Lord in his castle, or the blacksmith in his smithy, the farmer in the field, her incarceration of the Scottish queen fuelled that anger but Cecil feared her release and for Elizabeths safety she had to be where he could keep an eye on her, Sanders writings made her even more dangerous, Elizabeth herself did not take her own faith too seriously, she did not wish to make windows into men’s souls she once quoted, what did it matter if her Catholic subjects believed the bread was the body of Christ or as Jane Grey said, it was the baker who made him, but it was her illegitimacy they called into question, Hebry V111’s hasty secretive bigamous marriage to whom he called his second queen was unlawful, and it was Jane Seymour who really was his second queen not Anne Boleyn.

  5. I think it is interesting that Smeaton was the only one to confess to adultery and steadfastly maintain his guilt. He may have been tortured. Possibly he was promised that he would be spared the agonizing traitor’s death if he admitted guilt. He knew that he could not escape death because sexual relations with the queen was treason. Personally, I think Anne was framed and the manifestations of courtly love were misinterpreted by the unsophisticated as indications of adultery. If Anne was stupid enough to commit adultery it would be, because she, like some some celebrity beauties,thought she was irresistible to men. She, after all, had pulled off the ultimate coup by capturing a king with her magnetism. She may have felt that maintaining the idea that all men were panting after her was a way of flattering Henry’s ego. Also, she liked the fact other women envied her power to attract “alpha males”. It was cruel, for example, to imply that Marge Skelton’s future husband was more interested in Anne than he was in his betrothed. Elizabeth I had a similar obsession about wanting to be considered so attractive that men thought other women failed in comparison. Smeaton was not some lute player making music in the corner. He was the Tudor equivalent of a rock star. Whoever captured his heart would be the envied. Anne might have been tempted to get involved with the man who would have qualified for the fifteenth century version of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”. Because Henry fancied himself a brilliant musician, Anne might have wanted to retaliate with a medieval version of a sex symbol musician. It was probably not a full blown affair but there might have been enough inappropriate behavior to generate “there’s no smoke without fire” rumors. The fact that the dates of when Anne supposedly committed adultery with Smeaton and others do not align with known facts about Anne’s schedule is a moot point. Her accusers were in a position to be inaccurate because they knew that anything they said would not be challenged. Everyone was afraid of arousing the king’s anger.

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