TT: Maligned Anne, Sickening Jane, Enter Another Anne

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one for news about interviews, audio books, and deep insights into the behind the scenes discussions of editors and authors.  Then come back and join me and Alan as we wend deeper into the maze of the life and wives of Henry VIII.

JANE: We left Shakespeare’s play without discussing the climax. However, so the play doesn’t provide a spoiler for history, why don’t you go first?

The Play's Not Quite the Thing

The Play’s Not Quite the Thing

ALAN: Anne Boleyn bore Henry a daughter, Elizabeth, but she failed to provide him with a son. She miscarried at least one male child and Henry, who was desperate for a son and heir, became increasingly distant from her. He took a mistress, Jane Seymour.

Then, probably in close collaboration with his Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, he had five men, including Anne’s own brother, arrested and accused of treasonable adultery by having sexual relations with Anne. She too was arrested and tried on charges of adultery and incest. The evidence was thin and unconvincing. Nevertheless all were found guilty, all were sentenced to death and all were executed.

JANE: That’s incredibly ugly.  It’s also probably one of the reasons that Shakespeare chose to end his play where he did, with the christening of the infant princess, Elizabeth, and a few grandiloquent speeches.

Anne’s fall would have made great drama (and has, in fact, made for great movies in modern times), but there’s no way that Shakespeare could have dealt with the material without impugning either King Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn – the parents of the late and much revered Queen Elizabeth I.  Once again, Shakespeare stayed on the safe side of the political line.

So, how did Anne die?

ALAN: Anne was sentenced “to be burned alive or beheaded, at the king’s pleasure”. Henry’s pleasure was that she should be decapitated. Normally this would be carried out with an axe, but for some reason Henry declared that she should be beheaded by sword. None of the English executioners knew how to do that and so a hasty search was mounted to find a suitably qualified man in Europe. A man called Rombaud, from Calais, was appointed to the task.

JANE: Ah…  Enter the suspicious Frenchman.

ALAN: Anne was escorted to the scaffold by two hundred Yeomen of the Guard and numerous councillors, aldermen and officials. She was blindfolded with a linen handkerchief and then Rombaud withdrew his sword from beneath the straw where he had hidden it to avoid upsetting Anne with the sight of it. He severed her head with one stroke.

JANE: Shakespeare the dramatist (rather than the man careful for his head) probably would have loved to do that scene.   One could do a lot with the kindness of a French executioner and the cruelty of an English king.

ALAN: There’s a music hall song about the ghost of Anne Boleyn:

With her head tucked
Underneath her arm
She w-a-a-a-lks
The Bloody Tower…

JANE:  Lovely!  British music halls clearly benefited from the depredations of Henry VIII. So, did Henry VIII wait a respectable amount of time before taking Wife Number Three?

ALAN: Not in the least. One day after Anne’s execution, Henry announced his engagement to Jane Seymour. Ten days later they were married. A year later, Jane gave birth to a son, but she caught an infection and died a few days after the birth. Henry again found himself in need of a wife…

JANE: Well, he didn’t divorce or execute her.  I suppose that’s good.  Who was next?  Oh…  And for context, how old was Henry at this time?

ALAN: Henry was 46 years old when Jane died. Time was not on his side. Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, suggested that an alliance with the largely Lutheran Low Countries of Germany and Holland would be politically advantageous in the event of a Catholic attack on England. The Duke of Cleves, though nominally Catholic, had many Protestant sympathies.  He had a daughter called Anne. Perhaps she would make an ideal wife…

JANE: So, did Anne of Cleves make an ideal wife, as Cromwell had promised Henry?

ALAN: Not really. Henry had never met Anne and he was anxious to ensure that she would be attractive enough to make a good queen. The painter Hans Holbein was sent to paint her portrait and, on the basis of the picture, and the advice of his courtiers, Henry agreed to the marriage.

JANE: Attractiveness as the basis for a good queen?  When he wanted sons?  That’s twisted.  I hope he got what he deserved.

ALAN: Oh indeed he did! When Anne arrived in England, Henry was somewhat shocked to find that her appearance did not really match the flattering portrait that Holbein had brought back. Indeed, it is said that Henry referred to her as “a fat Flanders mare.”

Despite Henry’s misgivings, the marriage went ahead. But the wedding night was not a success. Henry confessed to Cromwell that he found Anne so unattractive that he completely failed to consummate the marriage.

JANE: Well…  That would be a problem, since he wanted another son.  Still, I think our Henry is sounding increasingly shallow.

ALAN: He was obviously thinking with his other brain, the one that most men think with. It wasn’t giving him good advice, and Henry quickly reconsidered the advisability of his marriage. Anne was commanded to leave the court after a few short months, and Henry sought an annulment on the grounds of non-consummation. Anne quite happily corroborated Henry’s account – doubtless she was just as anxious as Henry to remove herself from a marriage that was now completely untenable.

JANE: And that might have gotten her murdered, given that Henry might have had Katherine poisoned, definitely had Anne Boleyn executed, and had executed his once close friend Thomas More.  I’d want out, too.

What happened to Anne afterwards?

ALAN: Henry was anxious to appear generous. After all, he didn’t want to upset his allies too much! He gave Anne a very generous settlement which included Hever Castle, the former home of the Boleyns. Anne and Henry actually became very good friends, and she was referred to as the king’s beloved sister. She often appeared at court, and Henry decreed that she must be given precedence over all the women of England except for his own wife and daughters.

She died aged 41 in 1557, probably of cancer, having outlived Henry himself and all of his other wives.

JANE: She definitely came off better than any of his wives to that point.  Earlier you mentioned that Henry’s wives can be counted as either six or four.  I’m guessing that Anne of Cleves is one of the ones who can be left off the count because of the annulment.  Is that right?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. Legally speaking, an annulment means that the marriage never took place at all!

JANE: So we have a middle-aged king with a son and heir, but no “spare,” only a couple of problematic daughters.  (Problematic because of how the marriages to their mothers ended.)  Things are looking uncomfortable.

ALAN: Ah…  But it’s not over yet! Henry VIII still had two more wives to marry and some monasteries to dissolve. How about we talk about that next time?


3 Responses to “TT: Maligned Anne, Sickening Jane, Enter Another Anne”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    ah! Now we get to the meat of the matter: why later generations of Englishmen could boast that they were ‘rich enough to buy an Abbey’

    And, perhaps, why in later years “Abbess” was not a term of endearment.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Hmm… I should warn you, there may be a holiday delay on some of this but if, when we finally get to the Abbeys, we don’t touch on all of this, I hold you to a response!

  2. Paul Genesse Says:

    Fascinating information. I’ve seen some of it play out on the movie screen, but all the little details are excellent, and horrifying. Thanks for the post.

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