Anne Boleyn: Scandal of Christendom? The Debate


When Queen Catherine was asked to hand over the royal jewels so that Anne Boleyn could wear them, she was outraged. “I will not give them up to a person who is the scandal of Christendom and a disgrace to you” she returned. Anne and Henry’s affair had indeed scandalised Christendom, and has been dividing folks ever since. So this is the chance for the good listeners of The History of England to tell the world what we think.

From October 8th to November 5th we are going to be celebrating Anne’s life, the momentous events that surrounded it, remembering her death. From 29th October there’ll be a chance for you all to both comment and vote, and it’ll be topped off by a prize draw. Meanwhile I am also really lucky to be joined by two historians and authors, Claire Ridgway and Natalie Grueninger, who will be doing guest episodes. Over the next month there’ll be:

  • 3 episodes from me about Anne and her life, and England during her reign when Henry VIII breaks with Rome
  • Guest episodes from authors and historians Natalie Grueninger and Claire Ridgway
  • Members only episodes, poll and prize – Anne and her reputation through the ages; Who killed Anne Boleyn poll and prize draw.
  • The Listeners speak: The Scandal of Christendom debate: an argumentative episode from me, and votes and comments by for everyone on the Facebook site
  • Prizes! Original Coins , Anne Boleyn Medallion by Lucy Churchill, and books. Sponsored by Simon Hall of Halls Hammered coinsNatalie Grueninger and Claire Ridgway

There’s a smorgasbord of Prizes. A smorgasbord I tell you. Find out more on the Prizes page.

For Members

The History of England Podcast is free, but frankly it keeps going because of the members who support it. So there will be special episodes, debate and competition just for members. on 25th October there’ll be an episode from me on who killed Anne? Then there’ll be comments on the Facebook Page, and a prize. The prize is an original Elizabeth I Silver Half Groat.

To support The History of England (aka me) why not go to Become a Member? You’ll get a back catalogue of podcasts, and 90 minutes or so worth of new podcasts, including a History of Scotland.

The Scandal of Christendom Diary

Below are the episodes and events over the next month, so you know what’s going on.


Scandal of Christendom? The big question

Anne remains a fascinating puzzle; what motivated her, what did she achieve? She was a complex character – and yet has been too easily categorised as villain or hero.

So I have a complicated question on which I’d like your views; to focus on Anne’s impact:

The History of England agrees with Eric Ives that Anne Boleyn was “a maker of history” and rejects Catherine of Aragon’s insult that she was nothing more than the “Scandal of Christendom”.

I realise the question is a composite one, with many variables. To agree you will probably tends to agree with the majority (not necessarily all) of the statements below:

  • Anne did not cynically entrap Henry solely because she wanted power; she and Henry shared had a genuinely loving relationship
  • Anne was an active and effective player in court politics, rather than simply its victim
  • Anne was a genuine leader and principal of change, rather than just a catalyst because of the king’s desire for her; she played an active part in leading, influencing and shaping policies such as the strategy to break with Rome.
  • She promoted evangelical ideas and reform; and that did so from personal conviction and piety – not just because they increased her chances of becoming Queen.
  • Her treatment of Catherine of Aragon and Mary was as much due to the king’s views and the necessities of the situation as to any personal vindictiveness.

We’ll start your comments and voting on 29th October – so watch this space!

13 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn: Scandal of Christendom? The Debate

  1. I am not sure that either Anne nor Henry knew at the time about the momentous upheaval that their love would cause to the history of the world! However, I feel that Anne was truly innocent and the victim of Court politics and religious ambitions. What is truly ironic is the fact that while Henry felt that only a son could rule England, Anne’s Elizabeth proved to be one of Britain’s greatest monarchs. I wonder what Henry would have thought of that!
    Really love the podcast although I am still back in the time of Henry III!

    1. H Sarah, that’s really interesting – I find myself wavering one way and the other as I go through. And you are so right about the Queen thing! Isn’t that the most delicious irony. And actually, I think Mary, had times bee different, may well have made a very decent leader

  2. If anyone was the scandal of Christendom it was Henry. By herself Anne could never have caused so much change. It was a man’s world back then. No matter what Anne or any woman may have wanted or done, at the end of the day change was up to the man in charge. And that man was Henry. He could have stopped the reformation at any point But he didn’t.

    1. Hi Samantha – thanks; and I agree it’s a critical point to the whole debate, that in effect all decisions come through the ‘Prince’. Factions were formed, goes the theory to influence the Prince’s decisions, and ultimately of course Henry therefore takes absolute responsibility. But it also makes it hard to understand exactly how much influence people like Anne, or Suffolk etc had – because it’s all in the background.

  3. First off I’d like to thank you for the month of October. It is amazing to see what you have done for us with the “month of Anne” in such great detail considering how much it has been gone over and over in TV and movies (which blurs the real story).
    Isn’t it amazing how in 2017 She continues to be a flashpoint of such opinion and debate!
    Being Catholic my heart is with Catherine of Aragon and Mary but I certainly am open to who and what Anne was and achieved.
    Cant wait for the polls and comments at the end of all this, might change my vote.!!
    I’m across the pond in the US (sorry for trump) and really enjoy everything you do.

  4. Thanks! I hope it’s possible, at this distance at least to have some sympathy for both parties. I must admit I was/am slightly worried about the amount of time I am spending on Anew, so it is lovely of you to comment.

  5. I am relieved to say that I agree with all of your theses above—I have always felt an affinity for Anne and grief at her end and the injustices involved. In addition to your last point, I suggest that she had endured a lot of insults and humiliations without being able to strike back as she would like (something that surely went against her nature); once they were married there was surely a tidal wave of resentment to let loose. Further, intelligent and insightful as she was, she likely simultaneously perceived that she was not as secure as she had hoped—despite her confident claims, anyone can see that only half of all pregnancies produce boys. Fury can mask profound fear.

    1. Certainly the biggest thing I’ve come to realise over the last few months researching this is how much pressure she must have been under, and how vulnerable she must have felt. And the frustration must have been intense that in the end she could not control her own destiny – so much depended on giving birth, and giving birth to a boy. Completely in the lap of the Gods!

  6. Anne is a “scandal of Christendom.” If she is as evangelical as she wants us to believe, then living in an adulterous marriage should be anathema to Anne. To be evangelical is to feel so strongly about your faith that you need to share that faith. You live that faith, it is vitally important to you. You strive to be “salt and light” to the world. This evangelical movement grows from the vernacular translations of the the Holy Bible; reading and absorbing what The Word says. The Bible makes very clear what marriage is and what adultery is. I do not think that Anne planned all of this, I think Anne was opportunistic, in the right place at the right time to catch the fancy of the king of England. Once the wheels started turning and adding a little grease she then could not control it and it ran her over. I do feel sorry for her because her ending is harsh and not deserved.

  7. Thank you for all the great answers from the intelligent folks above. I think Wolsey is the actual scandal or Christendom. Had he not tried to pander to the Pope and block Henry’s remarriage (which Henry would have tired of after he had gotten his own way), there may not have been such a complete break with the church. Wolsey wanted to hold on to his own power which set the Howards and aristocratic families against him. I don’t think the powerful nobility who backed Ann ever thought their actions would contribute to a complete break with Rome. Ann and Henry were backed into a corner and found the only way to be together formally was to defy the church. People do crazy things when they are in love, but Wolsey and Catherine’s intransigence actually did the most damage.

  8. I think Anne was innocent of the charges and She was a victim of court politics. Having said that, Henry was enough of a spoiled brat to let the politics run their course as it was convenient for him at the time. After all, when Catherine Parr or Wolsey were at risk of being toppled by opposing factions he sent both lots packing with a flea in their ear, so he could have protected her if he had wished to. Having said she’s innocent of the charges, I still think she was an active player in politics and I also think she could be vindictive because of the fundamental insecurity of her position. I don’t think Henry ever had a genuine and loving relationship with anyone other than himself. Still love him though – the man was a lion.

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