Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2, Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn was the most notorious mistress in English history

Intelligent, sophisticated, ambitious

Captivated Henry VIII

Together Henry and Anne destroyed Katherine of Aragon

Anne became too confident and paid for the crown with her life

1529 Henry VIII in love with Anne for 3 years

Was lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon – tired of being mistress

Anne promised Henry a living son – the one thing Katherine had failed to give him – but she wouldn’t sleep with Henry until he left his wife

Katherine refused to step aside – loyal wife for 2 decades

Katherine wouldn’t give up Henry without a fight – Katherine asked Henry to allow marriage to be judged in public court

Katherine had chance to save marriage and crown

Katherine had been preparing for this her whole life – not to be crushed by any man

All or nothing

21 June 1529 great hall at Blackfriars priory – struggle made public

Henry and Katherine faced each other in the divorce court in front of public audience

Eyewitness accounts

Henry’s case rested on the fact that Katherine had been married to his brother – forbidden in at least 2 places in the bible

Court convention said Katherine was to give testimony stood beside chair

Henry caught off guard and humiliated – Katherine acted as innocent victim

Katherine asked for justice, dead children not her fault – Katherine knelt before Henry and made him angry

Katherine swore she was a virgin when she married Henry

Katherine claimed she and Arthur had never had sex – church law meant that they had never been married

If Katherine was believed Henry’s case crumbled

Katherine defied Henry by leaving the court and would never return

By walking out Katherine stopped the divorce case in its tracks – case sent to pope

Pope sympathetic to Katherine

Anne Boleyn was waiting for news she hoped would make her queen

Had to explain his failure to the woman he loved

Anne didn’t give Henry sympathy – she claimed that she had wasted her time and youth and that Henry would cast her off

By 1529 Anne was almost 30 years old, entering middle age

By 30 Katherine of Aragon had 4 pregnancies

Despair was beginning to show – Anne hated Katherine, took a darker turn

Anne’s despair turned to action and she went on the attack

Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Anne banned male courtiers from visiting Katherine and infiltrated Katherine’s household with her own spies

Ruthless operator and began taking control of the court

Henry took his fight to the international stage

Pope refused to annul the marriage so Henry decided to take it for himself

Obsession and desire for marriage to Anne Henry made momentous decision to split English church from Rome

Could force his bishops to grant him an annulment

Obsession with Anne knew no limits – Henry would move heaven and earth

Held off for 7 years and confident they would soon be married so finally had sex

Any son would be illegitimate without marriage

Henry and Anne married on 25 January 1533 – technically committed bigamy in a secret ceremony with just a few witnesses

Extraordinary move

Henry still legally married to Katherine of Aragon in the eyes of Catholic Europe

Anne finally married the man she loved after 7 years of waiting

Anne was making history – no mistress ever married the king of England

Anne triumphed and wedding was just in time as Anne was pregnant

1st week of September 1533 Anne went into labour at Greenwich Palace and Henry eagerly awaited the birth of his son

Henry had letters prepared in advance announcing the birth of a prince

7 September 1533 Anne gave birth to a healthy daughter – Elizabeth

Blow to Henry’s pride as astrologers promised the child would be a boy – Henry had organised a tournament to celebrate but this was cancelled

Birth of Elizabeth not a complete disaster

Proved that Anne could have healthy children

Henry and Anne were described as being merry together for the next 2 years

Henry and Anne kept up attacks on Katherine – deprived of money and supporters, moved from house to house

Katherine’s rebelliousness refused to die

Deember 1533 Duke of Suffolk sent to Buckden to see Katherine

Katherine said she would rather be hacked to pieces than accept the king’s new marriage – said they’d have to break down the door

Tragic end to one of the greatest love stories in English history

Teenage Katherine waited for Henry but was alone again for her final years

Love faithful and true between Henry and Katherine

“Mine eyes desire to see you above all things” – Katherine’s last letter to Henry, she never gave up on the man that she had married

7 January 1536 Katherine of Aragon died, thought to have been cancer of the heart

Katherine insisted on being called queen to the end

Henry was delighted as Katherine had been a thorn in his side

Anne was pregnant again – Henry’s gamble was paying off

Celebrated with a tournament and joust – 24 January 1536 at Greenwich

Henry addicted to thrilling and dangerous sport – showed off his manliness

Henry VIII c.1537.
Henry VIII c.1537.

Henry suffered a fall from his horse, force was more than enough to kill a man, and there wasn’t yet an heir to the throne

Dynasty hung by a thread

Henry finally came round after 2 hours – brush with death reminded Henry of the fragility of his dynasty

Succession still not secured, and Henry aged 45

All hopes were on the child in Anne’s belly

5 days after the jousting accident Anne miscarried a son – believed it was caused by the stress of Henry’s fall

“I see that god will not give me male children”

Henry feared that history was repeating itself – Katherine of Aragon’s pregnancies ended in the deaths of at least 5 babies

Was the same happening to Anne?

Anne was vulnerable and soon to make a fatal mistake

Mistake caused by what had attracted Henry to her in the first place – flirtatious sex appeal, courtly love

Courtly love supposed to be innocent fun – Anne was the greatest player

Anne couldn’t stop playing the game, and was now summit of all male desire at court

Had to absorb compliments without dishonouring the king

29 April 1536 Anne was in her private apartments and began to tease the men of the court

Mark Smeaton, court musician – “a look suffices me” – crush on Anne

Anne said she was out of Smeaton’s league

Henry Norris was a gentleman of the privy chamber, Henry’s oldest and closest friend, handsome, rich and powerful

Anne questioned him over his supposed marriage to Madge Shelton

“Look for dead man’s shoes” – Norris wanted to marry Anne if Henry died

Anne had imagined the death of the king – high treason

Anne realised her mistake but words couldn’t be taken back

Court rife with gossip

Anne had dominated the world, but her power made her many enemies and it didn’t take long for scandal to reach Cromwell

Cromwell was cunning and ruthless, rose from nothing

Cromwell saw opportunity to serve Henry

If Anne had been unfaithful the legitimacy of Anne’s children would be in doubt – royal line under question

Henry ordered full investigation without Anne’s knowledge

Cromwell rounded up suspects including Mark Smeaton

Some reports say that Smeaton was tortured by Cromwell’s men and Smeaton confessed to adultery with Anne “the queen took me to her bed, she gave in to my passions 3 times”

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

Cromwell had evidence against Anne

Fear swept through the court as 6 courtiers were arrested, including Anne’s brother, George, and Henry Norris

With no evidence beyond an accusation Henry VIII decided his friend of 20 years Henry Norris was guilty

Obsession turned to jealousy at the thought that someone else had her

Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower the following day

Anne had no idea of the charges against her – had been the most powerful woman in England

Case against Anne weak – no one but Smeaton confessed to wrongdoing

Anne would be the architect of her own downfall

Desperate to find out why she was arrested – she began to speak and several female attendants were with her, spying for Cromwell

Case against Anne was growing stronger

Henry had already made up his mind – imagination went into overdrive

Claimed Anne attempted to poison him – honestly believed Anne was against him

15 May 1536 hall at the Tower of London Anne tried for treason, incest and adultery

Judge was Anne’s uncle the Duke of Norfolk with jury of 26 peers

Henry VIII nowhere to be seen

Henry had been humiliated at his divorce trial, but wasn’t now going to make the same mistake twice – dependant on lawyers to secure conviction

The first Anne knew of the charges was when the clerk read them out in court

“Despising her marriage and entertaining malice against the king”

Salacious detail of charges was deliberate

Charges were meant to blacken Anne’s character beyond redemption

Anne swore her innocence before witnesses

Ordinary trial likely Anne would have been acquitted due to lack of evidence – not an ordinary trial and jurors owed allegiance to king

Anne was found guilty and was sentenced to be burned or beheaded

Anne showed her true strength and declared her innocence, confessed to jealousy and suspicion but no more

Anne confessed parts of the love affair had been wrong – she had been jealous and headstrong and gave her a dignity often forgotten

Couldn’t save her life

19 May 1536 Anne was the first English queen to face execution

Anne’s whole world collapsed in just 3 weeks after 7 years of waiting to marry Henry

Anne knew she was innocent but chose to accept her fate with dignity

Anne kept looking round, perhaps hoping for a reprieve, but none came

Henry showed some mercy to Anne – allowed a swordsman rather than an axeman to sever her head more skilfully

Romanticised image of Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London by Edouard Cibot 19th century.
Romanticised image of Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London by Edouard Cibot 19th century.

Anne gambled for the highest stakes and played a brilliant hand – almost won

Brave, strong and dignified

Couldn’t stop being the dangerously flirtatious woman Henry fell in love with

Henry could change even if Anne couldn’t – jealousy turned to murderous paranoia

Henry began as a smitten lover but ended up killing her

After Anne Henry was a tyrant

One thought on “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2, Anne Boleyn

  1. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say wonderful blog!


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