Hello, welcome to my blog. My name is Judith Arnopp and I write biographical historical fiction about prominent Tudors. My books take you through the wars of the roses with Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York, through the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary I. They are available in paperback, Kindle and some are on audible. I also write historical non-fiction with a book about Tudor clothing published by Pen and Sword coming in September 2023.
Find out more on www.judithmarnopp.com
Tuesday 22 October 2013
The Quest for Anne Boleyn
The true personality of Anne Boleyn was
lost the moment the sword struck off her head. After her death only the bravest, or most fool hardy
spoke out in her defence. She was the subject of poems, histories, scandals,
and it wasn’t until her daughter Elizabeth’s reign, twenty-two years after her
execution, that it was safe to speak well of her again.
Recorded feelings among her
contemporaries are mixed, John Hussey, a former supporter of Anne wrote, “...that which hath been done and committed
by Anne the Queen...which is so abominable and detestable that I am ashamed
that any good woman should give ear thereto.”
Sander, a Catholic priest and not an
admirer of Anne, writing long after her death, published a scathing attack,
describing her with witch-like features, and the child she lost in 1536 to be a
At the time of her arrest Archbishop
Cranmer wrote to the king of his shock and horror. As a friend
and supporter of
the queen, he was clearly on edge and aware that should she fall, her
supporters could be suspect too. It is interesting that he qualifies his
condemnation of her with the little word, “if.”
“If the reports of the Queen be true,
they are only to her dishonor, not yours. I am clean amazed, for I had never
better opinion of woman; but I think your Highness would not have gone so far
if she had not been culpable. I was most bound to her of all creatures living,
and therefore beg that I may, with your Grace’s favor, wish and pray that she
may declare herself innocent. Yet if
she be found guilty, I repute him not a faithful subject who would not wish her
punished without mercy. And as I loved her not a little for the love which I
judged her to bear towards God and His Gospel, so if she be proved culpable there is not one that loveth God and His
Gospel that ever will favor her, but must hate her above all other”
A few were more outspoken in their support.
Her long-time friend, and (some say) one-time sweetheart, Thomas Wyatt, made his feelings
quite plain. “These bloody days have
broken my heart.”
And even her enemy, the Spanish ambassador
Eustace Chapuys, raised some doubt as to her guilt in his remark, "there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others..."
During Elizabeth’s reign, the
poet John Foxe included Anne in his Book of Martyrs, declaring that
Elizabeth’s long reign was God’s way of testifying to her mother’s innocence.
Later historians and, more recently,
novelists have taken Anne’s name and molded her into something unrecognisable,
in some cases bordering on the inhuman. By the late nineteenth century her
guilt was a bone of contention. In 1884 Friedmann’s, Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History
1527-1536 the author places the blame squarely with Cromwell, seeing her downfall
as a political coup. And Agnes Strickland, with supreme elegance, states quite
plainly that Anne, “never incurred the crimes
for which she was brought to the block.” Strickland denounces Henry as a “despot” in pursuit of an heir.
Similarly, the twentieth century did not
find a resolution to the question of Anne’s character and, like Strickland, the
leading Tudor historian A. F. Pollard regards Anne as a victim of Henry’s
quest for an heir, although, instead of Cromwell, he cites Chapuys as being
behind the initial rumours against her.
In the 1970’s Anne becomes the heroine
of feminists and Anne Chapman, while agreeing that her failure to produce a son
was the main reason for her fall, puts the blame squarely on Cromwell’s shoulders.
In Chapman’s hands Anne is not so much a maligned innocent as a heroine, a tragic martyr
flying the flag for the cause of feminism.
these conditions of capricious hatred and undeviating ruthlessness, Anne Boleyn
lived, triumphed – and perished.”
As we approach the 1990’s Anne character
changes once again in a study by Retha M. Warnicke, The
Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII,
in which she states Anne’s fall was due to her having given birth to a monster,
a fetus so deformed as to suggest witchcraft. Warnicke argues that during the
period in question doctors believed birth defects to be the result of sexual
misconduct. This may well be true but charges of sexual misconduct, incest in particular, had long been used against women who stepped far enough from their prescribed role s to become a nuisance to their male contemporaries.
In her book published in 1995, Divorced,
Beheaded, Survived, Karen Lindsey returns to the idea of Anne as a
feminist icon, reconfirming that Anne’s failure to provide an heir caused her
fall, but this time citing Cromwell as the main instigator of her arrest.
Today, the leading historian in Anne
Boleyn studies is the late, great Eric Ives whose concise and in-depth research
has, in my opinion, yet to be bettered. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
provides a balanced opinion, citing not just Anne’s failure in childbirth as the catalyst for her fall but extending her crimes to include meddling in politics and fervour for reform.
Initially, the shared desire for reform brought
Cromwell and Anne together but, where Cromwell wanted to bring down the church and
enrich Henry’s coffers, Anne desired to restructure the existing church,
iron out the rough edges, remove the wheat and throw away the chaff.
Ives also cites the Anglo-Imperial
alliance, during which negotiations Henry and Chapuys fell out over Charles V's
refusal to acknowledge Anne as queen. When Henry, quite typically, refused to
back down Cromwell was unwilling to jeopardise his dealings with the Spanish
ambassador and Ives says, “…Anne Boleyn had
become a major threat to Thomas Cromwell…A hostile Anne threatened both his
standing with the king and his key financial achievements…Despite the risk,
despite all his past debts, Cromwell’s very survival no longer coincided with
the survival of the queen. She must go.”
There are still those who persist in
seeing Anne as she was originally personified and G. W. Bernard in his book Anne
Boleyn:Fatal Attractions asserts that the accusations against Anne
were all true and that, according to Tudor law, her death was deserved. Although he accepts that the accusations
made against her, (mostly by clergy) could be the product of gossip, Bernard
maintains that “Gossip is not necessarily
false.” The unfortunate death of Princess Diana in 1997 gave rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories, none of which have any real basis in fact. Royals will always be the focus for gossip and rumour, and since Anne's prominence in church reform made her some powerful enemies, it seems only fair to regard the charges laid against her with some suspicion.
When it comes to fiction, Anne’s
reputation has suffered even more, and she appears either as a
too-good-to-be-true heroine of all the virtues, or a depraved, incestuous, power-hungry mother of monsters. I think I have shown that opinion has been divided since the moment of her arrest and, considering the historical material available to
novelists (as discussed above) there is little surprise that historical ‘truth’ (whatever that is)
has been lost along the way. Readers of novels should always be aware of the distinction between historical fact, and historical fiction.
In my forthcoming novel, The
Kiss of the Concubine, I have tried to keep my feet more firmly on the ground and find a middle way. Of course, there is no hope of ever knowing the ‘real’ Anne Boleyn, or
categorically defining the reasons behind her fall, but it seems we never tire
In writing The Kiss of the Concubine, I have juggled with all these sources, wrestled with the conflicting opinions and applied some commonsense but, in the end, Anne
tells her own story. I haven’t tried to purify or excuse her, and neither is
she demonised. The voice that speaks from the pages of my novel comes from the inner
‘Anne;’ the hidden ‘self’ that nobody can ever really know. As human beings we always
rationalise our own actions and justify even our cruelest moments, and maybe her
proud, power-seeking ways were like a suit of armour, covering perceived inadequacies and protecting a
vulnerable, ordinary woman, who just happened to attract the attentions of a
If you read my novel, please remember it is fiction.
The Kiss of the Concubine will be published very soon.