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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Vixen or Victim: who was the real Anne Boleyn, and why is she a popular icon today?

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Vixen or Victim: who was the real Anne Boleyn, and why is she a popular icon today?

Let’s start with the second question: why is Anne Boleyn a popular icon today?

I have been studying this fascinating family for 48 years and have never tired of the subject. I believe that what strikes us in today’s world is the fact that, what happened in Henry’s lifetime was, in fact, a family dynamic gone horribly wrong due, in great part, to the head injury Henry suffered in January of 1536. Anne, the key figure in this tragic time in history, fell victim to someone she trusted – her husband.

Throughout time, spouses have had to deal with the prospect of losing their mates through death, infidelity, or a simple case of disenchantment. Anne dealt with all three. Some would argue that she got what she deserved, but Henrician politics was an entity unto itself, and it fueled a lot of what was to happen. So here Anne was, a young woman, and the king wanted her. Are any of us sure that we wouldn’t jump at the chance to become queen, or first lady, or a celebrity? Anne was forbidden to marry a man she truly loved, faced with no marital prospects, and the king wanted her. Add to that the fact that her father Sir Thomas Boleyn and her uncle the Duke of Norfolk were pressuring her to nab the king as a husband, not  a lover, in order to further their own agendas and gain power, money and titles through Henry. Enter the “Home Wrecker.” So Anne dances her way through time, happy at first, gives birth, miscarries at least twice, takes care of her husband, trusts him, and then out of the blue comes the sword.

We have here a woman who is considered to be glamorous, witty and determined, who stole one woman’s husband and then lost him to another woman. This isn’t your neighbor next door, this is a queen who was the first queen to be beheaded. Add to that Henry’s proclivity to marry – often, and you have yourself a somewhat fairy tale-like story.

I believe that the final answer to the question is simply one of celebrity. Her story got out there and made her famous. We remember few queens, or kings for that matter, let alone study them and display the kind of obsession we exhibit toward, say Angelina Jolie, today. She is a 16th century celeb, and like other iconic celebrities, we will continue to be enthralled with her story.

Who was the real Anne Boleyn?

I can only conjecture, but here are the conclusions I have come to over the years:

Anne entered the court at a pivotal time in Henry’s life. It was 1522 and Henry had been married to Catherine of Aragon for 13 years. They had only one living daughter, and Henry’s dream of having a son seemed to be unattainable. Henry was only 31, but Catherine was 37 and had not become pregnant for four years. He wasn’t weary of her – yet, but after her final miscarriage in 1518, and with no subsequent pregnancies, Henry was ripe for seduction. As Anne became more prominent in court, he began to watch her. She was elegant, she was young and she was attractive. She’d lived in the court of Louis XII as attendant to Henry’s sister Mary during her short reign as queen of France. When the king died, Mary returned to England, but Anne stayed behind to attend Claude, the new queen. She remained another six or seven years and acquired what the French call je ne c'est quoi: that special something that makes a person stand out. She was loaded to the eyebrows with charisma, and she knew it. Anne was also a gifted musician, poet and lyricist. She, a simple knight’s daughter, captured the court and Henry wanted her. What person wouldn’t feel the power laid before their feet?

I don’t think that Henry initially thought of marriage. He wanted her as a mistress. It wasn’t until the years passed, the queen aged and did not conceive again and doctors told Henry, sometime around 1525, that Catherine was unlikely to conceive again, that Henry began to think of marriage. Many feel that Anne was driven by pure ambition, but I believe it to be more than that. First of all was the pressure brought to bear upon her from her father and uncle. Even a woman as strong as Anne Boleyn would feel coerced into obeying. Remember, this was the 1500s. Also keep in mind that, at this time, Henry was considered the most handsome prince in Christendom. He was lean, with red gold hair, blue eyes and a physique that made women swoon. He was a rock star. Anne fell deeply in love.

We get back to Henrician politics at this point. Revolution was in the air as far as religion was concerned, and Henry, who was used to always having his way, was enraged when Pope Clement VII wouldn’t do his bidding and grant him an anullment from Catherine. The split occurs and Henry breaks from the Catholic church, establishes the Church of England, and parliament reinstates his title of Defender of the Faith (of the Church of England), given him by Pope Leo X in 1521 for his treatise defending Catholicism against the new Protestant faith, and rescinded by Pope Paul III following Henry's break with the "true" church. By now Anne, very much in love with Henry, was moving forward on the belief, which I believe was with the aid of her father and uncle, that Catherine was not Henry’s legal wife. Ann gets pregnant. Henry, by his own decree, head of the church he has established, grants himself a divorce, and she and Henry wed on January 25, 1533.

There are reports that Henry and Anne often fought, but there are also reports of their devotion to each other, of their “making merry,” dancing and even holding hands. They were a good match as far as compatibility goes: both accomplished musicians, both poets and lyricists, both ambitious and both considered very attractive. This, however, did not stop Henry’s advisors from putting the pressure on. When Anne gave birth to a girl, and subsequently miscarried at least twice, the final one recognized as a boy, Henry's advisors began to nag and press the king into having a son. They needed a son for the succession; Henry must divorce Anne and give England a male heir. When the king hesitated, out of his still active love for Anne, they began to conspire. At this point I believe that the Seymours were very much active in this plotting. With Anne out of the way, Jane, who the king had been flirting with, could be queen and her family would raise to new heights. Then came Henry’s accident and everything changed.

We hear reports of professional athletes sustaining brain injury and going through a complete personality change, often becoming abusive. I believe that this is what happened to Henry and Anne. Thomas Cromwell, Henry's Chief Minister, began to plot against his one time protege, and playing on Henry's intense paranoia, another side effect from the head injury, Cromwell built a case, which even then people recognized as extremely weak, if not false, against Anne. When the trumped up charges were presented to Henry, his damaged brain prevented him from making rational decisions, and he acted. Anne would die within a few weeks.

Anne: can you imagine what she must have felt? At first disbelief, probably followed by confusion, and then a period of “Oh, he doesn’t mean to do this. He’s trying to teach me some kind of a lesson.” When she finally realized that she was going to die, she had to have been devastated. Keep in mind that she was a mother as well, and had to face the fact that she would leave a three-year-old daughter behind. What would happen to Elizabeth? She must have been crazy with worry.

Finally, I believe that Anne came to court excited by the opportunity for a new life. She found herself a much sought after addition to the scene, and was probably somewhat drunk with her success. Reports say that she truly loved Henry Percy and was devastated when her engagement to him was annulled. She was young, in love, and her dreams of a happy life with Henry Percy were smashed. Following this bitter disappointment was the attentions of none other than the king. It had to be a heady feeling to know that the king was courting her, and it must have assuaged her disappointment and hurt over the broken engagement. Acting out of obedience to her father and uncle at first, ultimately she fell in love, and eventually married that love, after a tumultuous affair in which all of Europe watched and waited. Sounds a bit like the Kardashians, doesn’t it?

A woman in love; an ambitious woman, whose love just happened to be the most powerful man in England. Her rock star, her celebrity, and he wanted her. They married, had a family, and she lost that family. Indeed, like many women who are victims of partner abuse, because this is what it was in my opinion, she lost her life, leaving her baby behind.

Reports say that, even as she stood on the scaffold deck, her eyes searched the crowd. Those who were with her in those last moments reported that she never believed the king would go through with it. Not her Henry. In those final moments, she scanned the crowd for her husband or his emissary, convinced that he would not do this to her.

I’m glad it was quick.

To learn how I believe it really happened, read the first five chapters of Circle of Time here.

Five stars are not enough for Debra Shiveley Welch's Circle of Time. An accident in the Bermuda Triangle throws Bridget (Bridge) Littleton through time. She awakens in the home of the Lyttleton family, her own ancestors, in the year 1532 near Bristol, England. Thus begins a fascinating alternative history story of love, mystery, intrigue, life and death in the court of King Henry VIII. Ms Shiveley Welch deftly interweaves a handful of themes, from the 'butterfly paradox effect' of time travel to the life and loves of Henry, Anne Boleyn and Bridge to present an addictive read of epic proportions. Not since Outlander by Diana Gabaldon have I read such an intoxicating story that grabbed me from page one and kept me reading almost without a break.

Circle of Time Chapters One - Five: A Romance that transcends time.

Read About it Here:

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