Who Was Anne Boleyn?

Mary McMahon

Anne Boleyn was the second of the six wives of Henry VIII, and a well known figure in British history despite her rather short life and extremely short marriage. In addition to being interesting in her own right, Anne Boleyn was the mother of Elizabeth Tudor, who later acceded to the throne of England as Elizabeth I. She is also viewed as a martyr by many Protestants, and she was an important figure in the reformation of the English church.

Queen Elizabeth I's mother was Anne Boleyn.
Queen Elizabeth I's mother was Anne Boleyn.

For such a famous figure, little is known about Anne Boleyn's early years. She was born at some time between 1501 and 1507, and she was sent to the French court to be educated. In an unusual turn of events for her time, Anne Boleyn was actually quite well educated, versed in multiple languages and familiar with politics and history. She was also supposedly quite devout, and contemporaries wrote that she was kind and gentle, engaging in acts of charity for people in lesser positions.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England.
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII of England.

The woman was also apparently rather attractive, although in a dark way. The daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn had long dark hair, dark eyes, and a distinctive long, slender neck. Later histories have claimed that she had six fingers on one hand, a condition known as polydactyly; this is unlikely, as such deformities would have been viewed as unlucky, and she would not have married a King with a six fingered hand. She apparently turned heads during her time in France, and she made quite a splash in the English court when she debuted in 1522. Her education and intelligence made her a popular figure in the court, and Anne Boleyn also apparently had quite a sense of fashion.

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In the English court, she caught the eye of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, among many others. The Earl of Northumberland was briefly engaged to Anne Boleyn, but without the permission of his father, the marriage did not go forward. Anne Boleyn also captivated the King, Henry VIII, who apparently began to court her as early as 1527. Shrewdly, Boleyn refused to become his mistress, although she said that she would agree to be his Queen. This triggered Henry's break with the Roman Catholic Church, as he attempted to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

In early 1533, Anne and Henry were married, and their daughter Elizabeth was born in September of that year. Elizabeth's birth was not met with much interest, since Henry wanted a male heir, but the marriage apparently continued amiably until Anne Boleyn had a miscarriage. Abruptly, the marriage went sour, as Henry became interested in Jane Seymour, one of Queen Anne's ladies-in-waiting. Ironically, Anne Boleyn first entered the English court as a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine, whom she later displaced.

The exact reason for Anne's fall from power is a subject of debate. It appears that several factions worked against the Queen, ultimately bringing charges of adultery and incest against her. The King's attraction to Jane Seymour was also used as a tool, in the hopes that Anne Boleyn would lose favor with the King. The Queen was tried and convicted, despite the fact that the evidence for these charges was extracted under torture, and the men involved vigorously denied the claims. Anne Boleyn was sentenced to death in 1536.

Shortly before her death, Anne was stripped of her titles and her marriage to the King was declared void, disinheriting her daughter Elizabeth from any chance at the British throne. After her execution, the former Queen was buried in an arrow chest, since a coffin was not available, and interred under the floor of St. Peter ad Vincula; her body was later discovered during the reign of Queen Victoria. Elizabeth's title was later reinstated, and she later went on to become Queen of England.

Anne Boleyn was a prisoner in the Tower of London from May 2, 1536 till her execution on May 19, 1536.
Anne Boleyn was a prisoner in the Tower of London from May 2, 1536 till her execution on May 19, 1536.

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Discussion Comments


I don't know how much of the movie and book "The Other Boleyn Girl" was true, but if half of it was, then Henry takes the prize for biggest jerk of the 16th century, king or not.

Knowing how Henry treated her sister, I believe I'd have moved back to France, if I'd been Anne, but her family was very concerned with social climbing, so Henry's interest promoted the family. Of course, when Anne fell, so did the family. That was how things were done in that day and age. People clamored for the king's notice and favor, and then often regretted it.


Anne Boleyn's major mistakes were being too smart, and not being a prolific baby factory. Had she provided two or three "heirs male," Henry would have overlooked a lot. She couldn't help not being hugely fertile, but probably made some tactical errors where Henry was concerned. Plus, he was figuring Jane Seymour could be the childbearing queen he was looking for.

The trouble is, Henry was a little past 40 by the time they married, and he probably wasn't as fertile as he had been. But because he was the king, no one was going to say he might be the one to blame for a lack of heirs.

I think Anne's ability to charm the king went to her head, and ultimately led to her downfall.

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