Anne Boleyn: The First Queen Consort to be Beheaded

by AlexandriaIngham

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and the first to be beheaded. She started with such a promising life in the Netherland and then France.

Anne Boleyn was the first Queen Consort of England to ever be beheaded. Historians are still in debate about whether she really was guilty. Many, such as Alison Weir and David Starkey, often write about how she was an innocent woman and in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, others really believe that she did have an affair with other men; with some believing she was capable of incest!

She was relatively young when she first met Henry VIII of England and was only the second commoner to be crowned Queen of England (the first was Henry VIII’s grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville). But, who was she as a person? Was she someone who could have committed treason, adultery and incest?

The Early Life of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn’s date of birth is another matter of debate for historians. Most put her date of birth as 1501 but others put it as late as 1507; and Thomas More’s son-in-law even stated it was as late as 1512! Based on the fact that she wrote a letter in French to her father in 1514, the date of 1501 is most likely. The style and maturity of the letter was of a child of about 13 and not of seven; however, there were many spelling errors and grammatical mistakes that historian Retha Warnicke argues that it was written by a child.

Whatever her age, she was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, making her the cousin of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard. Her siblings were Mary and George Boleyn; two very important figures in Henry VIII’s court between 1521 and 1536.

While she was the first commoner wife of Henry VIII, she was still of noble birth – more noble than Henry VIII’s three other commoner wives. She was educated in Netherland and France and became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France. Her education was not the typical education English women would have (needlework etc.). She learnt arithmetic, grammar, history, languages and the arts. However, she did have some traditional English skills, along with archery and horseback riding, and she loved playing cards and chess.

Anne Boleyn and Archduchess Margaret of Austria

Due to Thomas Boleyn’s charm, Anne was offered a place in Margaret of Austria’s household. She was often referred to as “la petite Boulin”which could be in relation to the fact that she was under 12-years-old; not typical for the Archduchess’ household. She gained much praise during her time with the Archduchess. Anne was pleasant, well-spoken and presentable; not the same Anne that is depicted married to Henry VIII! Anne remained with Margaret of Austria until 1513, when she went to France with Mary Boleyn.

Anne was Maid of Honour to both Queen Mary of France and Queen Claude. During this time, she developed an interest in the religious philosophy and French fashion. When she returned to England, she brought much of the French style back with her and became the “It girl” of the 1520s. She loved her time in France, especially the connections she made.

Her personality was outgoing and perfect for building relationships. The men she met had differing opinions of her looks; however, one thing is for certain that she had a dark complexion. She wasn’t the traditionally English woman in terms of looks. Her hair and eyes were dark; more like someone of Spanish decent. The people of England were fairer in skin and hair. In 1586, Nicholas Sanders commented that Anne Boleyn has a sallow complexion, as if she was jaundice. He also stated that she had six fingers, despite no evidence of this when her body was found in St. Peter ad Vincula. It is worth noting that Nicholas Sanders was a Catholic propagandist and is the least reliable source when it comes to Anne Boleyn’s appearance or personality.

Anne’s education in France came to an end in 1521, when she had to return to England. She had been summoned by her father, around the time that Mary Boleyn was having an affair with Henry VIII of England.

Anne Boleyn to Marry James Butler

Anne Boleyn was first to marry James Butler. He was her cousin in Ireland and just a few years older than her. This was due to a dispute over the Earldom of Ormond. In 1515, the 7th Earl of Ormond died and the estates and title were left to Anne St. Leger and Margaret Boleyn. Sir Piers Butler contested the Earl’s will and claimed the throne. However, Margaret Boleyn was the eldest daughter and the mother of Sir Thomas Boleyn. He believed the title was his.

The matter went to the King, thanks to the relationship with the Duke of Norfolk; Elizabeth Howard’s brother. However, Henry VIII didn’t want a civil war with Ireland and decided that creating an alliance between the two families was the best thing to do. Thomas Boleyn didn’t want this marriage for his daughter and it meant that the Ormond inheritance would be her dowry. Luckily for Thomas, the negotiations stopped and James married Lady Joan Fitzgerald.

Anne Boleyn now made her debut in Court at the Chateau Vert pageant on March 4, 1522. She played Perseverance with Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s younger sister, along with other ladies and her own sister. She quickly became one of the most stylish women in the Court and many men wanted her. She was graceful, stylish and moved beautiful, which made her the perfect woman for the time.

Anne Boleyn Falls for Henry Percy

Around this time, Anne and Henry Percy met. Henry was the Earl of Northumberland and they fell in love with each other. The became betrothed in secret but, according to George Cavendish, never became lovers and their relationship remained celibate. Henry’s father didn’t support the union and the engagement was broken off. Cardinal Wolsey was also against the relationship.

After that, she became Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting and met Thomas Wyatt. Wyatt married a woman that was not his choosing and separated from her on ground of adultery in 1525. Many historians also link this to his love of Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn Catches the Eye of Henry VIII of England

Sometime around 1526, Anne Boleyn caught the eye of Henry VIII. Henry VIII was tiring of Catherine of Aragon and believed that his marriage was not valid. He wanted to take another mistress, after tiring of others, and Anne was his new option. However, Anne wasn’t interested in becoming a mistress; she had already see the reputation her sister gained by becoming mistresses to Kings and men.

Anne stated that the only way she would be with Henry was if she was Queen. It was a bold move but just what she needed to do. Henry VIII was instantly looking for a way to divorce Catherine and marry his new bride. It took seven years and Henry had to break away from Rome and start the religious reformation in England to get his end result.

However, according to the love letters between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the relationship remained unconsummated throughout the seven year wait. It wasn’t until her marriage to Henry in 1533 that she was pregnant. They did marry in secret in 1532 though, which is when it could have been consummated.

Did Anne Boleyn Cause Catherine of Aragon’s Fall?

The timing seems to link that Catherine of Aragon’s fall from favour was due to Anne Boleyn. However, many historians believe that Henry VIII wanted out of the marriage before meeting Anne; she was just the force that made him do something about it. By 1526, Catherine of Aragon had only provided Henry with one living child; and not the male heir that he needed. She was now unable to have any more children.

Henry often referred to the book of Leviticus and used Catherine’s marriage to his brother as the reason for the divorce. He believed that she had consummated her marriage to Arthur and that the marriage to Henry was not valid in the eyes of God. Had that not been the case, he would have likely kept Catherine and tried to talk Anne into being his mistress. Anne Boleyn just happened to come at the right time for him.

It wasn't Anne's fault that Catherine fell so much. Henry VIII did offer her the chance to become the Dowager Princess of Wales and have lands, a salary and a good life. It was arguably Catherine of Aragon's own fault for landing in the situation that she found herself in.

Anne Boleyn Marries Henry VIII of England

Anne Boleyn finally married Henry VIII some time at the end of 1532. This marriage was in secret and not legally valid as Henry was still married to Catherine. However, she fell pregnant quickly after this and they believed it would be a boy. Henry needed to make sure the baby was legitimised and this meant another wedding on January 25, 1533. It was still in private but followed the procedure of The Royal Book.

It wasn’t until May that the marriage to Catherine was declared null and void and the marriage to Anne was declared valid. Anne became Queen Consort of England and felt like she had gained everything. However, she hadn’t gained the love of the English people; they believed Catherine was their Queen.

On September 7, 1533, Anne gave birth but to a girl. It was a disappointment to all at Court, especially Henry VIII. After that birth, Anne struggled to provide Henry with the heir he needed. There were at least two miscarriages after her first baby, both of which were said to be boys. Henry started to wonder whether the marriage to Anne was valid.

From there, Anne Boleyn’s reign went downhill. She quickly fell out of favour and was executed in 1536. What were the events leading up to her execution? You can check out some of my posts about Thomas Cromwell and the men accused with her for now but there will be another post about Anne Boleyn’s downfall coming soon.

Updated: 07/17/2013, AlexandriaIngham
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Thamisgith on 07/18/2013

Thanks for an interesting read.

AlexandriaIngham on 07/17/2013

Yes, she was. Sorry, I've just realised the year I wrote! Thanks for pointing that out.

Anne on 07/16/2013

She was actually executed in 1536 on May 19th.

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