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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.

Fatal Attraction

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...

Why did Henry want Anne?

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 clever Anne refused to consummate their relationship. Encourage by her scheming relatives, 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.

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 shockwaves, 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.

Did you know?

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

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

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

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.

Did you know?

Anne's childhood home was Hever Castle in Kent

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

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

Anne on the eve of her execution in May 1536

King Henry VIII: Inside the mind of a tyrant

David Starkey delves into the mind of Henry VIII

Anne’s downfall and death

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. 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.

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