Path to St. Peter ad Vincula Part VII – G
History does not grant us insight into the mind of Anne Boleyn. Her aspirations for the Protestant faith, which was in its infancy, were well known and her advancement of friends and family was equally ambitious. Were these reasons enough to turn public opinion against her? Were these reasons enough for Simon Grynaeus, a German theologian to deem her a “woman entitled to no respect” (Brown IV 761)? Contemporaries labeled her as “incredibly vain, ambitious, unscrupulous, coarse, fierce, and relentless” (Friedmann II 297), “full of pride, ambition, envy, and impurity (Sander 25) with an “overbearing manner that left her without a friend save her own immediate connections and personal allies” (Froude 402). Her “arrogance and that of her family made them hated” (Pollard 349) and they were easily blamed for putting Henry “in this perverse and wicked temper, and alienated him from his former humanity” (Gairdner VI 351). “Could any enemy the King had wish him a greater plague than, with such exceeding immoderate outrageous appetite to have this woman to his wife, so pitifully to have been blinded, and so willfully and so headlong to have precipitate himself to such a danger” (Harpsfield 253)?
Yet, Henry was truly in love with Anne. As seen in a love letter written to her in perhaps 1538, Henry assured her that ‘henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone.’ He also apologized profusely for suggesting she could be a mere mistress. Did she have ambitions to become Queen or the wherewithal to ensure a secure future for herself as an untainted bride of a member of the nobility?
Henry wrote, ‘Beseeching you also that if I have in any way offended you, you will give me the same absolution for which you ask, assuring you that henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone, and wishing greatly that my body was so too.’ Added to these sentiments, Henry speaks of his ‘unchangeable intention’ to marry Ann. He praised her for the ‘demonstrations of your affection’ and the ‘beautiful words of your letter’ which he felt obliged him ‘to honour, love and serve’ Anne forever. Henry also professed his ‘loyalty of heart’ and his ‘desire to please’. He signed the letter, ‘H seeks A.B., No Other Rex’ (“Passionate Love Letter from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn on Public Display”).
With her future consisting of execution and her Protestant cause ending in stalemate, would it have been better for Anne to “become rather his mistress, as Katharine Parr, the last and most fortunate of his queens, declared to himself it was better to be, than his wife” (Herbert, Henry 107)?
This blogger cannot fathom the hatred for Anne that so quickly consumed Henry. This, what turned out to be deadly rage, must have been boiling for some time. Divorce was not enough, nor was execution. Henry’s rage required both punishments be inflicted on Anne along with the defamation of her character (with the consequence of illegitimatizing their daughter). That he sought revenge was obvious; facts were irrelevant. Had Anne “been so lost to all prudence and sense of shame, she must have exposed herself to detection, and afforde her enemies some evidence against her” (Hume 328). Proof was unnecessary; punishment was swift and severe. Henry had grown tired of an argumentative, strong-willed wife.
Anne, an attractive, vivacious woman had captured Henry’s attention by “playing well on the lute” and being “a good dancer” (Sander 25). Yet, by the “vengeance of God, this woman which at such time as with her playing, singing, and dancing, …she compassed ere the year turned about, to her perpetual shame and ignominie, lost her head” (Harpsfield 254-255). Although Chapuys reported that “everybody rejoiced at the execution of the putaine; there were some who spoke variously of the King” (Froude 442).
Even if Henry suspected the treasonous adultery, his reaction to Anne was completely different from that of finding out about Catherine Howard’s infidelities (which were more of a certainty than Anne’s). Obviously, his response is one of those mysteries of history which rests on the foibles of an individual.
The patterns of history have changed from accepting without question Anne’s guilt to defending her in her innocence—we will never know for certain. She was a remarkable woman who led an extraordinary life. Anne, a woman of religious vision, a patron of the poor, and an advocate of education, was foremost a human being. Flawed by vanity and besieged by fear she was an intelligent, outspoken woman with strong opinions. One does not have to view her with sympathy but perhaps understanding.
Must she be either a villain or a saint, victim or aggressor? She was a human being who played a pivotal role in history on her own and as the mother of Elizabeth Regina, under whose leadership her vision would be realized.
For References, please refer to the blog entry, Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part I