In the three years that Anne Boleyn stood along side Henry VIII as his Queen, she managed to shake the foundations of the country’s culture and religion. She was a major influence in the reformation of the English church and had the ability to use her personal strengths to achieve political success.
Her ideas and position of power often caused disturbance within political groups, she introduced and sometimes enforced her own revolutionary ideas and the fact that she was not of Royal Blood increased her struggle to take the position of queen in the eyes of the nation. While not deliberately inciting a revolution, the consequence of Anne’s personal and selfish actions led to the England reformation. However, the passion and determination that she displayed both in the Royal Court and in her personal affairs would eventually bring about her downfall.
Although not born into Royalty, Anne’s whole upbringing had been designed to prepare her to become, at worst a lady of standing, at best a Queen. Her father Thomas Boleyn was a powerful and established diplomat; he served the king and was often directly involved with the royal family. As a result, both him and his family were prominent courtiers; his children were raised in the world of politics with a keen sense of loyalty towards their family and faction.
Non so much as Anne: Thomas Boleyn, after travelling Europe when dealing with foreign matters, decided that it would be vital to Anne’s development as a lady and political player to spend the majority of her early life in Brussels and Paris. At the age of 12, Anne was sent from her family home to the continent and there she embraced the overwhelming sense of culture that surrounded these two great cities. When Anne returned after nine years, at the age of 21, The hopes of her father were fulfilled. Anne re-entered the court with continental sophistication, a quality that many at the court lacked.
As Anne took her place at court, she soon became the subject of much admiration and attracted many suitors- amongst them, the King. With her personal charm and political acumen, it was no surprise that eventually Anne became Henry’s mistress and second wife. She was immediately recognised as an important figure. She spoke French, the language of the traditional aristocracy, to perfection. She danced and was musical, but what outshone any of these qualities was the fact that Anne was incredibly charismatic and intelligent. Anne was perfectly capable of applying these qualities to the advantage of her family and faction. In conclusion, from the very start Anne entered the royal court a star..
The long-standing marriage between Catherine of Aragon and Henry was now only a marriage of name, there was no real relationship between the two. With a number of unsuccessful pregnancies, Henry in desperation entered a period of reflection, spending much of his time reading the Bible. In doing this, many questions arose that made Henry begin to question the legitimacy of his marriage to Catherine.
Through the eyes of Henry it was urgent that he secure the succession and Catherine’s failure to provide a male heir, Henry turned to Anne, Henry was now looking for ways to annul his marriage to Catherine after nearly 25 years. In confidence, Henry asked Cardinal Wolsey, a representative of the Pope, to consider the basis of this annulment. In order to reach a verdict on whether the contract between Catherine and Henry should be breached, Wolsey called an assembly of the ecclesiastical court.
However, the situation that Wolsey was placed in was not this simple. As leading advisor to the king, his aim was to use the best of his abilities to ensure the king was ‘happy’ with his political and personal situation, on the other hand, Wolsey had a long-standing loyalty to the pope as his representative. This was an impossible situation and whilst Henry was becoming increasingly besotted with Anne, another problem arose: Charles V. Charles was directly related to Catherine and also happened to be the Emperor of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ as well as the king of Spain. Charles V was one of the most powerful men of the time and was a major political player, the pope could not afford to ignore the connection between him and Catherine and as a result was hesitant to grant any kind of annulment.
Henry demanded that a representative from Rome and the Pope be to be sent across to England to sort the matter out. Lorenzo Campeggio arrived from Rome with the aim to get Catherine to accept the annulment and to withdraw to a nunnery.
In the midst of all this, Catherine had taken control of her own destiny. With the news that her marriage was under investigation, Catherine had began her campaign to consolidate her position as queen and wrote to Charles V expressing her need for help. Catherine was well prepared for any surprise the Henry had in store, only increasing the difficulty of the annulment. Catherine stood strong through the trial and refused to comply with any of Campeggios’ propositions, she seized this opportunity however to make her case stronger.
She confessed to Campeggio that her previous marriage had not been consummated and therefore her marriage to Henry was completely legitimate and valid. This statement swept away much of the ground on which Henry had formed his argument. The news became public and only increased support for the already popular queen, the lack of decision within the court meant that a public trial was inevitable, again providing a perfect opportunity for Catherine to strengthen her case. In 1529, the king and queen of England went on trial in their own country. During the trial, Catherine made a personal and public appeal, on her knees in front of her king and country.
At this point, Anne took charge and set in motion the chain of events that would eventually lead to the reformation in England. Anne and Henry had been involved for some time and now the time had come for Anne to use her powers of persuasion to achieve her goal: personal and political security. Her first move was to destroy Thomas Wolsey. Thomas was the victim of the Boleyn faction and Anne was in most part responsible for his downfall. Within months, Wolsey had been arrested with the charges of high treason and executed. The first of Anne’s’ obstacles had been eliminated and the connection with Rome saw its first blow.
Henry was now driven by fear of dynastic extinction and so allowed matters to be directed by his lover and soon to be wife, Anne. With the connection to Rome becoming weaker each day, Anne began to strengthen her position and security by presenting Henry with a book. This book, however seemingly small was the spark that lit the fuse for the explosion of the English reformation. William Tyndale’s ‘On the obedience of a Christian man’ quite clearly stated the belief that Christianity should consist only of God, The Bible and ones own conscience, with the obvious absence of any positive mention of the pope. The book had been banned in England, despite this, Anne took it upon herself to bring it into the royal court and to bring its content and message to the attention of Henry, who soon complied with Anne’s obvious belief in the message conveyed in the text.
In 1530, Anne began to steer the problem in a radical new direction. In continuing her campaign, Anne began to lay the foundations for a protestant England. Anne had built up a group of Protestants within the Royal Court. Three of the most powerful and influential members of this group were Matthew Parker: a man who gathered such a deep sense of trust from Anne, that she left the education and welfare of her daughter in his hands. Secondly, Thomas Cranmer: who became the Archbishop of the reformed church and finally Thomas Cromwell whom replaced Wolsey as Henrys ‘right hand man’, and who was a major influence in events that followed.
In 1533 an event marked the affirmation of the break from the Catholic Church and Rome. Anne and Henry were finally married. Strangely, the ceremony was kept secret, showing that Henry was still dubious as where he stood with the Catholic Church and still had concerns about the validity of his contract with Catherine. These worries were soon repressed however. With the news that Anne was pregnant, Henrys hopes for a male heir refuted any other concern and so, the Boleyn faction continued to grow in influence and Anne decided to take a major risk. She introduced the vernacular Bible and in doing so began to spread the practice of Protestantism: God, ones own Conscience and the Bible, which any one who was literate now had access to.
In most cases after the divorce, the king returned to his life of leisure and rarely took a genuine interest in the politics of his country. Henry was, in many cases used by political players in order to enforce their own ideas, but he still had charge over them and so the only way to secure themselves was to play to Henry’s ever growing ego. Thomas Cromwell went about doing this by searching for records and old documents from the very early church, which claimed royal supremacy. From then on, the idea was spread that obedience to Henry was obedience to God: Henry VIII was divinely Ordained.
Henry was now the head of religion in England and Anne his mentor and inspiration; as long as Anne was alive, Henry was a reformer. Royal supremacy was enforced and the idea of saints and shrines was crushed. England was finally falling in line with the likes of Germany, who had already seen a relatively successful reformation at the hands of Martin Luther. There was a significant difference however. The German reformation had happened for the people and was directed by the people in order to crush what they thought of as the ‘corrupted Catholic Church’. In contrast the English reformation was brought about from the ‘top’ and happened for the advantage of the king and his Royal court.
These foundations that Anne had laid however were not incredibly stable and in some cases, ridiculous measures were taken to prevent their disruption. For example, people were arrested for expressing their opposition of Anne, Henry or the reformation, for the first time in English history, it had become a crime to say something.
The foundations of Anne’s campaign, were by this time, Sinking slowly. The marriage between Anne and Henry began to witness disturbance after only two years. Anne, despite giving birth to a healthy girl, Elizabeth, failed to deliver a son and so Henry’s darkest fears were once again awakened resulting in a quick decline in their relationship. Anne’s influence over Henry was now substantially weaker and so was her power and ability to enforce ideas.
In 1936, there was a turning point in both personal matters between Anne and Henry and the political situation that England was in. On the 7th of January, Catherine of Aragon had died and shortly after Anne miscarried a male foetus: a deformed foetus. The two events were linked by a superstitious Henry, who thought that God visited these monstrous births (miscarriages) to punish the parents for their sins. In this instance, Henry probably began to doubt the legitimacy of his marriage to Anne by questioning the validity of his marriage to Catherine, and thought that his wrongful doings to Catherine were being repaid by him being refused a son. Henry felt as though a divine judgement was being made against him. This was the beginning of the end for Anne, the beginning of a dramatic end. Henry decided, maybe in an attempt to preserve his honour and dignity, that the foetus could not be his, and subsequently concluding that Anne had committed adultery.
At the same time, England was facing the ever-growing threat from Spain and ‘The Holy Roman Empire’. Thomas Cromwell in order to eliminate this threat and to preserve the foreign policy wanted to form and allegiance with Spain. With the death of Catherine of Aragon, this idea would now be easier to transform into reality. However, two obstacles stood in his way that could be traced back to the same origin: Anne. She had personal connections with France who was often engaged in conflict with Spain, therefore she prohibited any such allegiance with the Spaniards.
Secondly, Spain was a Catholic nation and forming an allegiance with them would mean reforming back to old Catholic England to a certain degree., another thing that Anne would not allow. Another factor, which provoked conflict between Anne and Thomas Cromwell, was that of kin. The price of Peace was the re-legitimising of Mary, consequently putting her ahead of Elizabeth, Anne’s daughter, in line for the throne. Anne would undoubtedly have refused to oblige to such an ‘outrageous’ request.
This difference in opinion made Thomas fear for himself, he had witnessed Anne’s powers of persuasion before and would go to all costs to ensure he made the first move and took control of the situation.
Thomas wanted to remove Anne from the equation and at the same time, Henry wanted to remove her from the throne, following this realisation, Anne Boleyn followed a dramatic downfall.
A passionate row between Anne and Henry Norris (a friend of Anne and a member of the Royal court) was made public and the idea that Anne and Norris were lovers was spread. Shortly after a musician of the court Mark Smeaton was arrested and probably tortured until, in a moment of pain, Smeaton said what Henry and many others want to hear: that Anne has slept with Norris and himself as well as three other men, including her own brother. These statements were almost certainly a fabrication but provided the basis for an arrest of the Queen of England. These accusations were made along side the allegation that she was a witch, this allegation was made on the basis that she had six fingers on one hand.
These absurd tales of Anne’s crimes were mostly unbelievable but yet provided the perfect opportunity for her to be overthrown. Within days of the ‘confessions’ made by Smeaton, both Anne and five men were tried for high treason. On the 21st May 1536 Anne was executed along side her brother, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton and two other men, all of whom were probably innocent of the crimes they had been accused. The entirety of this bloody drama that endorsed Anne’s dramatic downfall was the creation of Thomas Cromwell.
At much the same time as Anne’s downfall, opposing factions to that of the Boleyn’s were playing a major part in influencing Henry and the general ideas of the court. In order to strengthen their own position, a rival faction dedicated to Catherine of Aragon introduced a young Jane Seymour to the scene, a woman who almost instantly caught the attention of Henry. His hopes for a male heir were once again possible of coming true and Anne, with all her charisma and intelligence was soon forgotten.
In conclusion, Anne Boleyn was a woman who had great and revolutionary ideas, the enforcement of which she could only sustain for a while. The enemies she made in order to achieve such ‘greatness’ soon returned with vengeance and removed her from her position of both Queen of England and wife of Henry VIII. The consequence of her actions however stained the history of England and the question still arises as to weather Anne, the mother of the reformation gave birth to a revolution or a plague that would haunt England and its politics for eternity.