We’re starting a new thread on this blog! Every few weeks I will post a detailed bio of women who are absolutely fascinating and have a presence in history. Women’s history too often is overlooked, so I hope to help change that!
I’m going to start with someone who is a historical idol of mine – Anne Boleyn.
Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard. They were an English aristocratic family. It is likely she was born somewhere between 1501 and 1507. For a woman of her time, she was well educated, and she was very smart. She spent a few of her younger years in the Netherlands, under the guidance of Archduchess Margaret of Austria. She then spent seven years in France, as a lady in waiting to Queen Claude. When Anne was recalled to England, it was to resolve a hereditary dispute – she was expected to marry her cousin James Butler, to resolve a feud over the title and estates of the Earldom of Ormond. For whatever reason, the marriage did not occur.
Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, is known to history for being Henry VIII’s mistress. Once Anne was at court, she was courted by Henry Percy, and the two had a secret betrothal. The romance fell through when Percy’s father refused to endorse the match. Around 1526, Henry VIII began to fall for Anne. Anne refused to become his mistress, probably after seeing how quickly he cast aside her sister.
This was occurring at the same time that Henry VIII was looking to divorce his first wife, Catherine. The pair only had one surviving child, Mary (later Mary I), and no male heir. Mostly due to the political circumstance of the time, Pope Clement VIII refused to annul the marriage. Anne favoured Protestantism, and pushed Henry to believe that he had no superior on earth – and therefore was not required to be obedient to the pope. This led to the schism between England and Rome, and the creation of the Church of England, with Henry VIII as its Supreme Head.
In 1533, Anne and Henry were married in a secret ceremony. It is likely she was already pregnant by that time. She was crowned queen on June 1, 1533. Unfortunately she was not pregnant with the male heir Henry had hoped for. She gave birth to Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) on September 7, 1533. Anne’s inability to give Henry a son led to her downfall.
It is likely that Anne’s fall was mostly engineered by Thomas Cromwell. She was charged with adultery, incest, and treason. On 2 May 1536 Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Four of the accused men were tried in Westminster on 12 May 1536. Her co-accused: Weston, Brereton, and Norris publicly maintained their innocence and only the tortured Smeaton supported the Crown by pleading guilty. Three days later, Anne and George Boleyn were tried separately in the Tower of London.
Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536. Henry commuted Anne’s sentence from burning to beheading, and rather than have a queen beheaded with the common axe, he brought Jean Rombaud, an expert swordsman from Saint-Omer in France, to perform the execution.
On the morning of Friday 19 May, Anne Boleyn was executed.