For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have decided to discuss my favorite Queen of all time yet again. After seeing the new docu-series about her on Netflix, which I also reviewed earlier this week here on White Rose of Avalon, I felt that she was the perfect topic for this week’s Femme Fatale Friday. In particular, I will be focusing on her impact on history, both during her lifetime and her lasting legacy.
I will begin with her influence on Henry and his court. Anne famously was the one to give Henry books that were then considered heretical. It was very dangerous for her to have and read these books in the first place, which was smartly covered in the Netflix series Blood, Sex & Royalty: Anne Boleyn. It was she who gave Henry a copy of Obedience of the Christian Man by William Tyndale. This book laid out many ideals that conflicted with the Catholic Church and was an important work of the Protestant Reformation. The part of the book that truly appealed to the very Catholic Henry VIII was the idea that each King is the head of the Church in his own country. A King is not under the authority of the Pope. It is this principle that would be eventually applied by Henry to England when he broke with the Church of Rome and the Pope to form the Church of England where he was the Sovereign Ruler of both Church and State! Of course, this could have been avoided had the Pope granted Henry his divorce from Katherine of Aragon in order for him and Anne Boleyn to marry.
I find this to be an example of Anne finding the perfect timing to share her radical viewpoint on the subject of religion, garnered in part during her time in France, to show Henry what the future of the country could look like. She was showing a massive amount of bravery and trust in Henry and his love for her in sharing this with him at the time she did, for he could have easily had her burned as a heretic for even possessing or reading this material herself! Instead, she gave him a book outlining a different way of thinking about practicing your faith and one that would bring about great and bloody changes in the history of England. Anne did not expect, or necessarily even agree with, how bloody and dark this period became. She is said to have questioned the Dissolution of the Monasteries, especially Thomas Cromwell’s use of the funds that should have filled the King’s coffers instead. This could have been part of the beginning of Cromwell and Anne’s relationship deteriorating (given that they originally got along well, both being reformist in nature and wanting Anne on the throne instead of Katherine).
Over the course of Anne and Henry’s relationship, the influence of Anne’s intellectual pursuits on Henry’s reign is shown to be impactful. This is certainly most true at the beginning, as both fought to be able to marry and hopefully bare a son for the country. Of course, we know that Anne failed to give Henry the son he desired. This is often what is assumed to have been what led Henry to want to have Anne executed. Those that believe that Henry was the architect of her downfall will state that the lack of a son, that had been promised, combined with possible brain trauma (due to his head injury after his jousting fall in 1536) would cause him to plot her death. I do not feel that this is the case, as Henry was a monarch obsessed with his own virility and masculinity. We see this in his Holbein portraits that highlight his large codpiece. This leads to my point on why I cannot believe that Henry would choose to have Anne sent to the Tower on charges of adultery and incest. Those charges showed him to be a cuckold, whose wife thought him so bad in bed that she had to sleep with numerous other men to satisfy her needs! No King would willfully choose to have this be the case. In fact, I believe that Henry was hurt and angered by the idea of this being the case, hence why the trial took place as fast as it did. In my opinion, the true architect of Anne’s destruction was Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell did not want to risk Anne turning against him as they began to disagree, so he framed her for crimes, and Henry’s paranoia had him believing them to be true! Now, I will admit that this is a belief that I cannot prove, as we can never know which one was more at fault for certain.
The irony of Anne’s failure to give her husband a son is that the son was supposed to be the heir that would rule England well and continue the Tudor Dynasty. Henry did get that son with his third wife, Jane Seymour, but Edward would only outlive his father by six years. Katherine’s daughter, Mary would rule another five after her half-brother’s demise. But, it was Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth that would rule England for over four decades, ushering in a Golden Age for the country and becoming arguably the greatest monarch the country ever knew! For all of that obsession with having a son to properly continue the bloodline and pass on the crown, it was the daughter that Anne gave Henry that would truly embody what Henry would have hoped for in that son. It is truly heartbreaking that Anne was unable to raise her daughter, but we know that her daughter never forgot her and that she had an impact on the legacy of her country through Elizabeth.
Anne’s legacy continues into the modern age with countless books, films, television series, and plays discussing her life and her death. She was not perfect, as she is known to have been jealous and her sharp-tongued wit could sometimes get her into trouble. But she was brilliant, charismatic, stylish, and bold, and her impact will not long be forgotten. There is so much of her we do not know, even her birth year is largely debated by historians, as is much of what I have discussed in this post, but we do know unequivocally that the history of her country would not be the same if Anne Boleyn had not been a King’s obsession who refused to be a Mistress and would settle for nothing less than being his next Queen! I hope you have enjoyed this analysis of the legacy of Anne Boleyn. What do you think of Anne Boleyn and her legendary role in history? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a poster for Suzannah Lipscomb’s documentary series about Henry and Anne’s romance. I found the image on https://www.amazon.com/Henry-Anne-Lovers-Changed-History/dp/B014VVNR9Y.
- The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
- The Anne Boleyn Papers by Elizabeth Norton
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
- Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence
- Blood, Sex & Royalty: Anne Boleyn (2022)
- Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History (2014)