There is one thing everyone can agree about Anne Boleyn – she arouses passions! Over the centuries she has been represented as all sorts of things. A proto-feminist and a female role model; a deeply religious woman whose evangelical beliefs kicked off the English Reformation; as an unscrupulous home-wrecker and sexual predator; a talented, manipulative renaissance politician, and the woman who pushed Henry VIII into destroying a thousand years of religious tradition; An innocent woman who suffered a brutal miscarriage of justice. I could go on.
Below then are a bank of quotes I have come across while putting together the Scandal of Christendom. You can find out more by listening to Shedcast 18, Anne Through the Looking Glasses. You might need to be come a member first. But that’s a Good Thing.
And if you want to find out more about Anne through the Ages, become a member and listen to the podcast, Shedcast 18 ‘Anne Boleyn through the ages’ which is out on Sunday 8th.
Relatively recent. Since 1970.
‘That Tudor rarity, the self-made woman … [who] was where she was by virtue of her own abilities and what she had made of herself, not by virtue of wealth or family”
“She was the most influential and important queen consort this country has ever had. Indeed, Anne deserves to be a feminist icon. … She had been a remarkable woman. …Anne Boleyn was one of the ‘makers of history’.”
“Captivating to men, Anne was also sharp, assertive, subtle, calculating, vindictive, a power dresser and a power player, perhaps a figure to be more admired than liked.”
(All three quotes by Eric Ives, author of the ‘definitive biography’ of Anne Boleyn)
- ‘She was the perfect woman courtier…her carriage was graceful and her French clothes pleasing and stylish; she danced with ease and had a pleasant singing voice, played the lute and several other musical instruments as well, and spoke French fluently… a remarkable, intelligent, quick-witted young noblewoman with a personal knowledge of many of the players in European politics’ (Retha Warnicke)
- “That remarkable woman, Anne Boleyn, who even her worst enemy had to admit had ‘sense, wit and courage’.”
- “Anne Boleyn had the gift of arousing strong feelings. People were never neutral: they either loved her or loathed her.”
- “[Anne] supplied the emotional drive and energy behind the attacks on Catherine and Mary” (All 3 above by David Starkey)
“No English Queen has made more impact on the history of the nation than Anne Boleyn, and few have been so persistently maligned.” (Joanna Denny)
“She must have been a young woman with charm seeping out of her fingertips.” (J. J. Scarisbrick, the definitive biographer of Henry VIII, still unsurpassed since 1968)
“[She had] a sharp and sometimes uncannily accurate instinct, a quick but entirely illogical mind. Her judgement on superficial matters of
taste, court lyrics, dress, was acute; her assessment of politics haphazard and subjective…” (Marie Louise Bruce)
- “Anne undoubtedly took an interest in religious developments, but not as a proponent of protestantism, whether embryonic or fully fledged.”
- “Henry clearly fell head over heels in love with her. But it is unlikely that Anne was ever quite so much in love with him.” (2 quotes from G W Bernard, whose ‘Fatal Attractions’ caused a storm of carefully considered, balanced, ever so academic and OUTRAGED reviews. Whaddya mean, Guilty! How dare you!)
“Always there is the faint but unmistakable whiff of the feral, the untameable, wherever she has been… Apart from the extra polish of her French education, she does not appear to have had any special accomplishments to mark her out from her contemporaries…” (Alison Plowden)
“Anne Boleyn [was] an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance”. “But I believe it is legitimate to see Anne as a feminist long before her time – or, to be accurate, of her time: it is a concept she would have understood, and it underpinned her ambitions and self-image.” (2 quotes by Alison Weir)
“Anne Boleyn is a character whose independence of mind and behaviour, as a woman, make her curiously modern.” (Antonia Fraser)
- “A bold, high-spirited and independent woman, she had played politics for high stakes, not as an agent but as a principal. In doing so, she hadused the weapons with which nature had endowed her: wit, charm, intelligence … Cruel and unjust as her fate may now appear, she suffered the standard penalty at the time for being a dangerous loser. In that sense her execution was in itself a tribute to her power.” (David Loades)
- “She was a woman who chose to step into the tough political game, she made her calculations, she played a winning hand, and ultimately she lost.” (Hilary Mantel)
“On 19 May 1536, a French sword stilled the beating heart of an English queen. Her name was Anne Boleyn and she would become one of the most controversial and iconic queens in English history. In her lifetime, Anne was a force of nature; she captivated the heart and soul of a king, divided a court and ignited the Reformation on English soil, beginning a process that would transform the religious and social landscape of the country.” (Natalie Grueninger & Sarah Morris, ‘In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn)’
“She was also fiercely loyal to her friends and passionate about supporting the arts, poor relief and education… she was the victim of a paranoid and desperate man, and of a political coup.” (Claire Ridgway, creator of the amazing Anne Boleyn Files website)
“Anne was not the ambitious, scheming slut she is often portrayed as in 20th-century popular culture.” (Susan Bordo, whose ‘The Creation of Anne Boleyn’ is a unique, insightful and refreshing look at Anne’s life and reputation, if slightly maniacal at times.)
Historians of the 19th and early 20th Centuries
There are many themes about Anne in the 19th century. There was a strong theme in fiction that here was a wronged, innocent victim. The Catholic tradition was continued by academic historians like John Lingaard in regarding the English Reformation as based on greed and lust, of which Anne was a part. And in Victorian history of the heavy moralising – that here was a woman who stepped over the line of propriety and suffered the consequences. With A F Pollard, most things were subjugated to the glorification of Bluff King Hal.
- “This amiable woman was entirely innocent of the crimes of which she was accused, of which her beauty, her elegance, her sprightliness, were sufficient proofs” (Jane Austen, 1791 – she was 16 at the time)
- [Anne] “artfully kept her lover in suspense, but tempered her resistance with so many blandishments, that his hopes, though repeatedly disappointed were never totally extinguished” (John Lingaard, 1820)
- “She had employed no artifice to obtain pre-eminence in the king’s regard…and rejected his passion with disdain til it assumed the character of honourable love” (Elizabeth Benger, 1821, whose book was the first to really analyse the interplay of gender in her affair, recognising that Anne by the end became a threat to Henry, which encouraged his attraction to the much more pliant Jane Seymour)
- “I told you Anne Boleyn was very young and beautiful. She was also clever and pleasant, and I believe very good. But the King and some of his wicked friends pretended that she had done several bad things, and, as Henry had become very cruel as well as changeable, he ordered poor Anne’s head to be cut off” (Maria Callcott, 1835, in a children’s book)
- “[Anne] Took the first steps towards the scaffold and prepared herself for a doom which full exemplified that warning those who sow the whirlwind must expect to reap the storm” (Agnes Strickland, before 1874, chin wobbling Victorian history)
- “Anne Boleyn was showing herself very worthy of the fate which afterward befell her” (Charles Dickens, 1854)
- “Anne was not good. She was incredibly vain, ambitious, unscrupulous, coarse, fierce, and relentless.” (Paul Friedmann, 1884, the first full biography of Anne Boleyn, who brought Chapuys’ testimony into the light).
- “Henry was on the whole right, the general cause for which he was contending was a good cause but he had stained the purity of his action by intermingling with it a weak passion for a foolish and bad woman and bitterly he had to suffer for his mistake” (James Froude, 1891)
- “Her place in English history is due solely to the circumstance that she appealed to the less refined part of Henry’s nature; she was pre-eminent in neither beauty nor intellect, and her virtue was not of a character to command or deserve the respect of her own or subsequent ages” (A F Pollard, 1951, the doyen of Tudor history for the first half of the 20th Century)
16th Century and contemporaries
The 16th, (and 17th, and 18th) century was dominated by a protestant-catholic split. For Catholics it was easy – Anne was the protestant temptress who lured Henry away from the path of truth and righteousness. For Protestants, it was less simple. OK for Foxe, Anne was the woman who lured Henry away to the path that rocks. But for others, Anne was a bit of an embarrassment, they were a bit split. Sure, she was a good evangelical, but she was a bit naughty wasn’t she?
- “What a zealous defender she was of Christ’s gospel all the world doth know, and her acts do and will declare to the world’s end”
- “Her many great gifts of a well instructed spirit – gentleness modesty and piety towards all, particularly towards those who were in dire poverty” “a zeal for the true religion”
- “Papal power in England began utterly to be abolished by the reason and occasion of the most virtuous and Godly lady Anne Boleyn by whose godly means and most virtuous council the king’s mind was daily inclined better and better”
(3 quotes from John Foxe, 1563)
- “A Most holy martyr” (John Bridges, 1573)
- “Anne’s liberal life were so shameful to rehearse. Once she was as wise a woman endued with as many outward good qualities in playing on instruments, singing and such other courtly graces as few women of her time, with a certain outward profession of gravity as was to be marvelled at. But inward she was all another dame than she seemed to be; for in satisfying her carnal appetite she fled not so much as the company of her won natural brother beside the company of three or four others of the gallantest gentlemen that were near about the king’s proper person – drawn by her own devilish devices that it should seem she was always well occupied’ (William Thomas, before 1558).
- “More inclined to couple with a number of courtiers rather than reverencing her husband.” (King Edward VI, not worrying about his sister’s feelings then. But also important to note that the quote is what he is supposed to have said in a speech, reported by Robert Wingfield, a Catholic gentleman who wrote a chronicle/eulogy celebrating Mary I’s accession).
- “Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair, and an oval face of a sallow complexion as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth, amusing in her ways, playing well on the lute, and was a good dancer.” (Nicolas Sander, 1585, author of the Anglican Schism, a conscious response to Foxe’s protestant narrative )
“…a person who is the scandal of Christendom and a disgrace to you.” (Catherine of Aragon, 1532. Discarded Queen. Clearly, not a Boleyn fan)
“a very good wit” (George Cavendish, 1558. Author of a Life of Wolsey, and therefore influential in painting Anne as the political schemer that brought Wolsey down. But then his theme was the fickleness of fortune, rags to rags in one generation sort of thing – and Anne was his literary device.)
“a continual serpentine enemy about the king that would I am well assured if I had been found stiff necked [have] called continually upon the king in his ear (I mean the ‘night crow’) with such a vehemency that I should (with the help of her assistance) have obtained sooner the king’s indignation” (Thomas Wolsey, as reported by George Cavendish)
“[Anne] allured there the king with her dalliance and pastime to grant unto her his request to put the bishop [Fisher] and Sir Thomas More to death” (William Rastell, 1508-1568. Printer, influential and painstaking biographer, (if not always averse to pinching out the odd inconvenient line) Catholic who eventually fled England, for whom More was, of course and saintly man and martyr).
“Intelligence, spirit and courage” (Thomas Cromwell)
“And I am in such a perplexity, that my mind is clean amazed: for I never had better opinion in woman than I had in her; which maketh me to think that she should not be culpable. And again, I think your highness would not have gone so far, except she had surely been culpable.” (Thomas Cranmer, 2nd May 1536. Cranmer had long been a client of the Boleyns, and clearly could not believe Anne was guilty. His letter (the full text of which you can find here) has been criticised for being equivocal; which is harsh! He had little choice – you don’t criticise the king – and he was the only one who tried as far as we know. You can find out more on the Anne Boleyn files)
“the chief, first, and only cause of banishing the beast of Rome, with all his beggarly baggage” (John Aylmer, 1559)
“No one ever shewed more courage or greater readiness to meet death than she did, having, as the report goes, begged and solicited those under whose keeping she was to hasten the execution. When orders came from the King to have it [the execution] delayed until to-day, she seemed sorry, and begged and entreated the governor of the Tower for God’s sake, to go to the King, and beg of him that, since she was well disposed and prepared for death, she should be dispatched immediately” (Eustace Chapuys, Ambassador to the Emperor Charles V. Famously reputed to be anti Anne, and yes he was. But he was also reasonably accurate; while he repeats tittle tattle, he lets you know when it’s tittle tattle. And capable of being balanced. It’s fairer to say that he was passionately supportive of Catherine and Mary. )
“Englishmen, high and low desire your majesty [Emperor Charles V] to send an army to destroy the venomous influence of the Lady and her adherents, and reform the realm…When this accursed Anne has her foot in the stirrup, she will do the Queen and the Princess all the harm she can. She boasts that she will have the Princess in her own train; one day, perhaps, she will poison her, or will marry her to some varlet, while the realm itself will be made over to heresy” (Eustace Chapuys)
The quotes on this page come from a number of sources, but one worth mentioning specifically is ‘The Creation of Anne Boleyn’ by Susan Bordo.