Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn

by Malyn Bromfield

On 29th May,1533 Anne Boleyn, the pregnant and much beloved second wife of Henry VIII, made her Coronation pageant along the Thames. She wore her dark hair loose and it was so long she was sitting in it. Her clothes of cloth of gold glittered in the sunshine. For her husband, awaiting her arrival at the Tower of London, she was not only his beloved wife and queen but the saviour of the Tudor dynasty. He had no doubt that a future king of England was growing inside her womb. Three years later, on another day in May, she made the same journey from Greenwich to the Tower for her execution. I have always thought of her as the May Queen, for in that month the story of her life is told.

On 7th September she gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth, who, with hindsight, we know would become as strong a Tudor monarch as her father. Anne had chosen for her motto, The Most Happy, but her queenship began in bitter disappointment. She had promised her husband a son and she had failed. In those three years Anne spent many months either desperately hoping to become pregnant, or mourning a miscarriage or a stillbirth. There were days of hope but many days of sadness, as any mother will understand.

Theirs was a love story, on Henry’s part at least. Whether Anne truly fell in love with Henry we will never know. Letters she may have written to Henry in their courtship years have not survived. Some of Henry’s letters to Anne have, and they reveal a man smitten. Anne was not beautiful by Tudor standards but she had something better: charisma, sex appeal and something Henry in his besotted state was unable to squash. Ambition. For years Anne had refused to become Henry’s mistress as her sister, Mary, had been. She had seen how Henry discarded his mistresses when they became pregnant. She must also have known that Henry wanted rid of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, whose childbearing years were over. Anne was only the daughter of a knight but she recognised the power that she had over Henry and she saw that becoming his second queen was within her reach. So for years, she refused to be his mistress while they waited for a divorce that did not happen. Only when Henry finally accepted that the Pope would never agree to a divorce did Anne take command of the situation and agree to sleep with him. She needed to get pregnant quickly, and she did. With the promise of a son, Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and married Anne in a secret ceremony. His boy had to be legitimate.

Very soon, the new royal marriage began to crack. Anne had a hard lesson to learn: being a wife meant leaving a space in Henry’s bed for a mistress to slip into. Henry learned something too: he was not powerful enough to change the religious faith of others by an act of Parliament. His friend of many years, Sir Thomas More, refused to accept the legitimacy of the divorce and was executed for refusing to swear to an oath accepting Henry as supreme Head of the Church in England. When Anne showed herself to be as incapable of producing a male heir as Katherine had been, did Henry blame her for the sacrifice of his friend for a hopeless cause?

Anne’s downfall was sudden. In January 1536 Katherine of Aragon died. On her burial day Anne miscarried a son. Henry had no time for a lengthy divorce this time. He needed to re-marry quickly to get his legitimate male heir with his new love, Jane Seymour. Anne was accused of taking lovers, including her brother, George. This was treason and the penalty was death. With Anne safely in her grave, no one would doubt the legitimacy of a son born to the widowed Henry and his third wife.

After nearly five hundred years, the story of a king who fell in love and out again and condemned his queen to death still captures the imagination. The Church of England is founded upon this love story. There are so many questions we would like to ask Henry and Anne about love and hate, ambition and power, guilt and innocence.

Any interpretation of history is an amalgam of fact and imagination. It has to be so: we were never there to hear the whispers in corners, to see the meanings of words altered by a sly wink of an eye or a flutter of the lashes. We did not see Anne Boleyn in her chambers at leisure with the men who were later accused of being her lovers. Thus, as historians we have to put ourselves in the shoes of these long dead people. Imagination is key, the more so for writers of historical fiction and their readers, and no queen has captured the imagination of history lovers more than Anne Boleyn.

My debut novel, Mayflowers for November: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, tells the story of these three years when Anne Boleyn was queen.


Malyn Bromfield has drawn on her academic background to create a deeply researched and intensely detailed historical novel that depicts Anne Boleyn's downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth. Malyn has worked for many years teaching English, history and religious education at secondary level. She has been fascinated by the Tudor period most of her life, and this has influenced her choice of subject for Mayflowers for November, her first novel. She was placed in the first six in a BBC3 writing competition, End of Story, and further developed her writing skills through an Open University course.


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