Alice’s Restaurant

April 17, 2007

Tudor Follies Continued – Anne Boleyn

Filed under: Henry VIII, History with Mr. Al, Research — aliceaudrey @ 12:34 pm

Mr. Al continues his take on English history with a look at one of Henry VIII’s wives.


 About Anne Boleyn. Although they ended up rivals, to put it mildly, Anne and Katherine were close friends for years. Anne entered Katherine’s service as a lady in waiting after serving for eight years with Queen Claude, (yes, that was her name.) of France. It was while in Claude’s service that Anne got her first lesson in the realities of a young lady at court. Claude’s hubby, Francis the I, held what was widely regarded as the most licentious court in Europe. No woman, married or unmarried was safe. Anne kept herself safe by sticking close to the Queen; Who, for some odd reason, preferred to spend as much time as possible away from the court at her own chateau in the Loire valley.

Anne’s older sister, Mary, who had entered the queen’s service at the same time, was not so discreet. She soon had a reputation as a floozy and a party girl. Not exactly a scarlet letter in that time or place, but it wasn’t something she was telling their parents about either. Anne was in her early teens at this point, studying all the things a young lady would need to know to hold onto a good husband. She needn’t bother finding one; the queen would do that for her. That was the whole of point serving the queen if you were a young girl of good family. It was during this period that Anne made two discoveries that would have a profound effect on her future. First, floozies and party girls aren’t taken seriously by anyone. They get their hearts broken on a regular basis and more often than not, find themselves unmarried and pregnant. This didn’t happen to Mary, at least, not the pregnant part. But it happened to enough girls within Anne and Mary’s circle that the lesson was learned without having to learn it the hard way.

The second thing was that she had “It”. What was “It?” She didn’t know, but she had it and it drove men crazy with desire. Anne was not conventionally beautiful. Even her most ardent admirers admitted that she was nothing special in the looks department. Short, with dark brown wavy hair, she had small breasts when large were the thing. What was described as a “swarthy” complexion when pale, alabaster skin was the height of fashion. Her eyes were dark to the point of being black. But for all that, Anne Boleyn had the kind of personality that can only be described as “magnetic” What Anne wore, other women copied. She moved with a poise and grace that caused heads, especially male heads, to turn.  Anne was a trendsetter in a court that worshipped fashion and she knew it. But for all the male attention that was thrown her way, she was having none of it. Her virginity was a very hot commodity the value of which she was under no illusions about. With her sister’s example before her, Anne was determined not to make the same mistakes. She didn’t.

Aside from “It”, Anne was also very intelligent and had the political instincts of a veteran Chicago ward boss. Who wielded power within the court, real power, not just who held what office was a matter of interest to her. She paid attention to who was in, who was out. She remembered who her friends were, and made sure they were taken care of. She remembered to take care of her enemies too. For all her good points, Anne could be a dangerously vindictive woman. If you made Anne’s shit list, you were in serious trouble. After returning to England, Anne’s Dad, Sir Thomas Boleyn secured positions for Anne and Mary with Katherine. By all indications, Anne and Katherine got on quite well with one another. Of course, Henry had not yet begun his pursuit of Anne, so there was no reason why they should not. Henry had, however, begun his pursuit of Mary. It was a short, but no doubt vigorous chase and the relationship, such as it was, lasted about a year and a half. If Sir Thomas had any qualms about using his eldest daughter’s promiscuity to advance himself and his friends, he never let on. Advance himself he did! If he had any worries about the marriageability of ex-royal mistresses, as Mary was bound to become, he never let on to that either.

In due course, Henry got bored, dumped Mary and began mistress shopping again. Mary returned to the queen’s service. Katherine’s attitude seemed to be “He’s the King. I don’t like it, but that’s what Kings do.” She didn’t hold it against Mary. When Henry took an interest in Mary’s kid sister, that didn’t seem to bother her either. Anne would become another notch on Henry’s bedpost. She’d get dumped, have a good cry about it, then pull herself together and get on with her life. Katherine would be there for her and do her best to see that she got a good husband. No hard feelings. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Katherine knew that Anne was several cuts above the other women at court, but she apparently had no idea how ruthlessly ambitious she was.

It came as a profound shock to Katherine when she found out Anne was gunning for her position. But that was nothing compared to the shock she experienced when she found out that Henry wanted Anne to have the job as well. Katherine was far from helpless. Though not as resourceful as Anne, she had a couple of things going for her. One, she held the moral high ground. She was the rightful Queen of England. Henry and the Boleyn faction could tie themselves in knots trying to prove otherwise, but Katherine knew she was Henry’s lawful wife and legitimate queen. The pressure brought to bear on her was intense. Not just Henry, but also Cardinal Wolsey and ultimately, the Pope himself asked her to cave. She wouldn’t do it. She had guts. More courage than most of the men that infested the court.

She also had the people on her side. Katherine was very popular with the rank and file. No small consideration in a country where revolts by the “lesser sorts” were far too common to suit the land barons. When it finally sank into Henry’s head that what he was doing was VERY unpopular, he was shocked! How the hell did all those people find out about his goings-on?

A London fishmonger knew as much about his private life as did his closest advisers! He actually tried to outlaw rumor spreading. Yeah, right! If the people were displeased with their bedhopping sovereign, they were beside themselves over his new girlfriend. To say that Anne was hated would be understating the case. Not that Anne cared a whit what the Lumpen Proletariat thought about her. She had her eyes on the prize and she was not going to give up.

Alas, what she and Henry did not have was Papal dispensation. And dang it all to heck, wouldn’t you know it, Katherine’s cousin, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles the V, had Pope Clement by the short and curlies. If Katherine had a spine of Toledo steel, Clement’s was one long strand of badly overcooked angelhair pasta. The man raised vacillating to an art form. True, as Charles’s prisoner, he had to tread carefully. The only thing that crossing Charles would get Clement would be a choice spot under the marble floor of the Sistine Chapel. Maybe. Unless Charles decided to just toss his sorry ass into the Tiber. You never could tell with a guy like that.

At the same time that Clement was telling Charles that he had drawn a line in the sand with Henry’s ambassadors over the annulment business, he was telling the same ambassadors that it was A-OK with him if Henry did whatever the hell he felt like doing. Just leave him out of it! Unfortunately, it was part of Clement’s job description that he couldn’t be left out of it. Or so everybody thought. It was enough to drive a man to the sacramental wine.

If nothing was going right for anyone, there was an extra sense of urgency for Anne. Her reason for being was not just to rock Henry’s world; she needed to give him the son he wanted above all else. Anne was twenty-nine at this point. She was twenty-four when they first got together in 1525. By the standards of the day, she was rapidly approaching middle age. It was not too late, but it would be a close-run thing. If she didn’t get into the marriage and baby making business soon, Henry would, no doubt with deep regret, put her aside and cast about for someone younger.  A thought that had already occurred to Henry.

The loss of the crown wasn’t Anne’s only consideration. Many members of her family had attained high positions within Henry’s government as a result of Anne and Henry playing snugglebunnies. Her family, and families associated with her family, had benefited. They had, especially her father, made powerful enemies along the way. If Henry dropped Anne into the remainder bin, the way he had Mary… It couldn’t happen. She had to succeed! And then, out of the blue, a chance meeting of three men in a lodging house in Essex provided Henry with everything he needed to clear the decks for Anne and he to get married.

It was in the autumn of 1529. The three men were NOT powerful people in Henry’s government. Two of the men did, indeed, work for Henry. In fact, they were on their way back to London to report that the mission they had been sent on was a complete failure. They were not looking forward to that. The third man was a middle-aged cleric, a resident at Cambridge. He was in Essex to escape the plague that that was then running through that university town. It turned out that these gentlemen had all been classmates together way back when. Henry’s men, Stephen Gardiner and Edward Fox, hadn’t seen the cleric, Thomas Cranmer, in years. They stood Thomas dinner and went on about old times. They also touched on Henry’s problem and kicked it around as a sort of intellectual exercise. They had no way of knowing it at the time, but their conversation in that Essex lodging house would not only give Henry his heart’s desire, but shatter the power of the Catholic Church in England and change the course of European history.

Mighty Oaks from tiny acorns grow. But that’s another story.

Thank you Mr. Al.  You kept me on the edge of my seat again.



  1. Thank you, Mr. Al.

    I think my pal would not regret taking history if you wrote the textbook, LOL.

    Comment by miladyinsanity — April 17, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

  2. Wow! Thanks for the great article. What a fascinating woman she was.

    Comment by TessaD — April 17, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  3. Wow — I could really get interested in history if it were all taught this way! Thanks Mr. Al!

    Comment by Ericka Scott — April 17, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  4. You see Mr. Al? I’ve been telling you for a while now and here you have it again… You should teach history! Or at the very least write a history book! It’s not just my opinion now! Thank you for the super entertaining read! Keep it coming!

    Comment by Anastasia — April 17, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  5. My humble thanks to those who have left comments. Alice has pointed out that length might be a issue with these posts. I was a bit worried about that myself. In future I shall try to keep them shorter with out sacrificeing too much of the more interesting detail. I think I can break them up into smaller blocks with disrupting the flow too badly. Please feel free to point out anything that bothers you.
    One thing about Anne, she is a fasinating person to read about, but the more I read convinces me she was not some one I would have enjoyed meeting. Especially after she became Queen. What someone once said about Lord Byron comes to mind. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know.”
    Thank you again for your kind comments. I hope you enjoy my future postings.

    Comment by Mr Al — April 18, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

  6. Another fascinating Tudor installment! I am really enjoying your storytelling, Mr. Al. And, I don’t think it was too long at all. In fact, I was disappointed that it ended when it did. I want to know the contents of the men’s discussion that provided Henry with his solution. I guess I will just have to wait for next week’s Tudor Follies blog!


    Comment by Laurie — April 19, 2007 @ 8:10 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: