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Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's most scheming wife?

Anne Boleyn failed to give Henry VIII a son. She paid with her life.

Anne Boleyn failed to give Henry VIII a son. She paid with her life.

Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn succeeded in her ambition to be queen. But Henry and Anne failed to produce a son.

Henry’s desire turned to hate and he swiftly rid himself of his second wife at the executioner’s block...

Chromolithograph of Anne Boleyn published by Charles Jefferys

Early life

Anne's childhood home was Hever Castle in Kent.

Anne, born around 1500, was the niece of the most powerful noble in England, Sir Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.

Educated at the French court, Anne’s command of French and Latin, plus her skills at dancing and flirting attracted Henry from the start.

She could, it seems, be feisty and funny, a killer combination for a king tiring of his first wife.

Anne was also fashionably glamorous and well-educated. People commented on her dark eyes and slender neck.

Image: Anne Boleyn by William Nelson Gardiner, © National Portrait Gallery, London

King Henry VIII, after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on copper, probably 17th century, based on a work of 1536. Purchased, 1863, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 157.

Catching the King's eye

By 1526, the King was becoming increasingly desperate for an heir.

His long marriage to Katherine of Aragon had produced only one surviving child, Princess Mary.

Then vivacious Anne, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, caught his eye. 

Henry became besotted, but Anne refused to consummate their relationship: she demanded nothing less than marriage.

Anne, either driven by her own ambition, or by her scheming relatives, refused to become the King’s mistress.

Eventually, Henry proposed, even though he was still married to Katherine.

Image: Henry VIII, © National Portrait Gallery, London

King Henry VIII circa 1520 National Portrait Gallery.

“Mine own sweetheart … wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss.”

A besotted Henry VIII to Anne. Image ©National Portrait Gallery

A stipple engraving of Anne Boleyn by William Nelson Gardiner

Marrying the King

Henry had to defy the Pope and break with the Roman Catholic church to get his marriage to Katherine annulled.

This created religious and political shock waves, which still affect our lives today.

Despite Anne making many enemies at court, and her unpopularity among loyal Catholics in the country as a whole, she married Henry, we believe, not once but twice: secretly in November 1532, then officially in January 1533.

Henry's marriage to Anne was technically bigamous, as his marriage to Katherine was not annulled until May 1533.

Henry VIII at York Palace with Anne Boleyn by his side and courtiers to his left inside York Palace.

Fatal attraction

Cardinal Wolsey and courtiers with, on the right, the King meeting Anne Boleyn at the Cardinal's residence, York Place, later Whitehall Palace.

Image: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Anne's enemies

Despite Henry’s passionate determination to have her, Anne wasn’t popular in the country as a whole. Many people sympathised with Henry’s first wife Katherine.

Even during Anne’s coronation procession in 1533, one eye-witness claimed that people lining the route looked ‘as sorry as though it had been a funeral’.

Anne also made enemies at court. Even before her marriage, Henry’s ministers occasionally resented her influence over the King. Thomas Wolsey allegedly called Anne ‘the night crow’ – cawing into Henry’s ear as they lay together. 

Did you know?

In 1535, a woman was brought before justices to confess that she had called the Queen a ‘goggle-eyed whore’.

Anne Boleyn by Unknown English Artist, late 16th century.  Primary collection of National Portrait Gallery, NPG 668

Anne's downfall

Henry and Anne’s first child was a healthy daughter, the future Elizabeth I. All seemed well, and Henry was confident of a son arriving before too long. But Anne and Henry had no more children.

The marriage grew increasingly bitter and Henry began to look elsewhere.

When Anne miscarried a male child on the same day that Katherine of Aragon was buried, 29 January 1536, her fate was sealed.

Without the King’s protection, Anne’s enemies, including Thomas Cromwell, began to plot her downfall.

Despite her protestations of innocence, the Queen was accused and found guilty on trumped up charges of adultery, incest and high treason.

Death by sword

Henry showed her a small mercy by granting her request to die by sword rather than axe. Anne was executed, cleanly as she’d hoped, at the Tower of London on 19 May 1536.

 

Did you know?

Anne Boleyn is buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.

The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, looking north from Tower Green

“I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck”

Anne on the eve of her execution in May 1536. Image: The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London

Memorial stones showing coats of arms within the marble pavement of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.

Memorial

A memorial stone (left) showing Anne Boleyn's coats of arms within the marble pavement of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.

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Stories

Explore

A Live Interpreter dressed as a Tudor Yeoman of the Guard, wearing a red livery coat with HR and Tudor Rose, and holding a halberd.

The shadow of Henry VIII is gone. Music, dance and fun fill the air. Have you got what it takes to make friends with the old king’s children? And is romance at last in the air for ex-Queen Katherine Parr?

10-18 February 2018

Hampton Court Palace

Events Families
View of the White Tower exterior

See the Line of Kings and the Chapel of St John the Evangelist after hours with a White Tower guide, at the Tower of London.

19 February and 12 March 2018

Tower of London

Member only

Doors open 18:15 for a 18:30 start.

Photo of an exhibition at the Young Henry exhibition at Hampton Court Palace

Meet the 'pin-up' prince before he became notoriously fat and tyrannical. The Young Henry VIII exhibition at Hampton Court Palace tells the stories of the people who knew him best.

Open daily

Hampton Court Palace

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