Friday, May 20, 2011

Anne Boleyn's Execution Anniversary

For my eighteenth birthday I got a history book called “The Lady in the Tower – The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir. Words cannot describe how thrilled I was to see it. I’m enthralled with English history, but especially that of the Tudor dynasty. It’s so much more intriguing than a soap opera because it actually happened. Alison Weir is an excellent historian, and while I don’t always agree with her conclusions, she always includes other opinions and theories of other historians and why they feel that way, and it is all wonderfully written. The combination of a great writer/historian and one of the most dramatic moments of English history equals a great book.

Anne Boleyn

I believe Queen Anne was convicted on trumped up charges by her enemies for her opinions on religious reforms. She was reputed for her brilliant mind and offended many who would have been her friends with her stubborn nature and sharp tongue. Queen Anne had always had a strong influence on her husband Henry VIII, making her an even bigger problem with her political adversaries. Evidence and documentation shows that even in the weeks leading up to her arrest, she still wielded some power over King Henry. However, in her failing to bare the King her husband and her country with a living son, she lost a lot of her much-needed royal favor.

Anne’s enemies needed to find a way to bring down her and her faction in a swift and single blow that would be so terrify that no one would dare say “nay” for fear of their own necks, and good enough to convince the easily influenced Henry, who had already set his eyes on Jane Seymour. History shows that Anne’s enemies succeeded. Ever the court flirt, she unwittingly handed her enemies a way to destroy her and her entire faction so effectively and thoroughly that to even speak Anne Boleyn’s name for the remainder of Henry VII’s reign and into that of his son’s Edwards, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I was ill-advised. It was not until Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter, was crowned Queen, that Anne was spoken of openly in favorable tones.

"Anne Boleyn in the Tower"
After she was convicted of treason by way of plotting the king’s death and committing adultery with her co-conspirators:
Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Frances Weston, (all of whom were close friends of Anne’s and had the king’s ear on many issues) and Mark Smeaton (Henry VIII’s lute player), and incest with her own brother Lord Rochford, her husband managed to get an annulment of their marriage. Yes, an annulment, meaning that the marriage between Henry and Anne was never lawful, which means Anne couldn’t possibly have committed adultery if they weren’t married. That didn’t stop her from going to the scaffold and dying by way of the sword on May 19, 1536, for adultery, now did it?

Anne Boleyn
Painted around the time of her fall.

Never admitting her guilt, Anne all but denied it on the scaffold when she was making her last confession: her last chance to seek forgiveness before meeting her maker, and save her soul. Why she didn’t out-and-out denied it is because she knew by doing so she might provoke those who had condemned her to take it out on her cherished daughter Elizabeth.

Memorial for Queen Anne

Every year, since the 1960’s, on the anniversary of her death, anonymous persons order red roses to be placed on the memorial plaque in St. Peter ad Vincula which is said to mark the place where Anne’s body lies. However, a number of historians now believe that spot actually marks the where Katherine Howard (Henry VIII fifth wife) lies, and Anne’s body is beneath the memorial for Lady Rochford (who acted as go-between for Katherine Howard and her lover, and lost her head for it. It was also Lady Rochford’s testimony against her husband [George Boleyn] and Anne that was the primary evidence used to prove that Anne had committed incest with her brother. On the scaffold, Lady Rochford admitted that her testimony against her husband and sister in-law Anne was a lie). 
Henry VIII

Anne, handmaiden to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII first wife, was raised up to be Queen, and then she was brought back down by the same men who raised her up and her handmaiden Jane Seymour. I find it intriguing that they never took Anne’s title of “Queen” away. Her coronation papers to become queen were not based upon her marriage to Henry, and they were never undone, and she went to the scaffold a queen. It is because of her infamous fall that we all get a little feeling of foreboding when we hear anyone reference the Tower of London, in which Anne was locked in the very rooms she slept in as she awaited her coronation to become queen, and later her daughter Elizabeth would be locked in those same rooms as she awaited her own fate by the hand of her sister Mary I.

  I find it eerie that I finished “The Lady in the Tower - The Fall of Anne Boleyn” on the 475th anniversary of Queen Anne’s death, so eerie in fact that I felt I had to share the fact with everyone.
Anne Boleyn

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