Anne Boleyn: More than a Vagina

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January is a monumental month for Anne Boleyn fans. Not only do we have the speculated date for her secret marriage to Henry VIII on the 25th of 1533, but several other less fortunate events, consisting of what would be the ultimately infamous year 1536. On January 7th, 1536 Catherine of Aragon died at Kenilworth; Henry questionably celebrated the death of his first wife by throwing parties, jousting, doting on his second, legitimate daughter Elizabeth, and wearing ‘yellow for mourning.’ These festivities lasted weeks to the offense of Catherine’s supporters and most of the public.

Yet while Henry saw Catherine’s death as the ultimate finalization of his second marriage, Anne Boleyn, 15 weeks pregnant, was nervous. Her marriage to the king already suffered fissures and cracks, and he had begun to tire of the fiery personality that had won his heart nearly ten years earlier. The king’s eye had begun to wander again, this time to her own lady in waiting, Jane Seymour.

On January 24th, Henry suffered a severe jousting accident and was unconscious for several hours. Anne was understandably distraught, and the stress of Henry’s near-death, her failing marriage, and catching her husband with Jane Seymour ‘on his knee’ likely resulted in the miscarriage of a male foetus on January 29th (ironically the same day as Catherine’s funeral).

This miscarriage is widely acknowledged to be the kick-start of Anne Boleyn’s quick demise from her already-tenuous situation as Queen. I’ve heard the loss of this baby described as her greatest failure.

I pondered this. In conjunction to this ‘failure,’ her birthing the girl who would become Elizabeth I is largely considered her greatest triumph or accomplishment.

Now, I know this is not an universal agreement, but I’ve come across these opinions often enough to feel fair in generalizing it for the sake of this post. I’m also not a mother, so if producing a child is the greatest thing a woman can do in your opinion, that’s great, too.

However, to say that Anne Boleyn’s greatest failure is the miscarriage of a child is a bit inaccurate, don’t you think? She didn’t make the mistake of miscarriage, she didn’t have a choice. Circumstances were unfortunate what with Henry’s accident and her failing marriage, but it was not a failure in the sense that she had a conscious option to instead succeed.

If you want to talk about her greatest failures, perhaps we could include making an enemy of Thomas Cromwell, or underestimating the love of the king, or what colour dress she wore on a certain day. Those are mistakes and failures, things she could have done differently to prevent the outcome that eventually came to be. Miscarriage is a biological occurrence with many factors, factors that the century was unable to control. The loss of her child on January 29th was a tragic happening. It might have been her greatest misfortune, but it was not her greatest failure.

The flip side of this coin is the birth of her daughter Elizabeth almost three years earlier, on September 7th, 1533. Was it her greatest accomplishment? Some might see it that way, and others might see it as a result of chance and good luck. Elizabeth just happened to come to term and survive infancy. Anne had very little part in the enduring existence of her daughter.

In this regard, it might be more fair to say that Anne Boleyn’s influence on Elizabeth was her greatest accomplishment, but even this is uncertain. Like all royal children, Elizabeth was raised by nurses and nannies, and saw her mother only occasionally. There is no doubt that Anne loved Elizabeth, there is no question of that, but Elizabeth wasn’t even three years old when her mother met the French swordsman on May 19th, 1536. Whatever stories were passed down and whatever idea the little bastard princess formulated on her own of Anne Boleyn may have influenced her later actions as both woman and queen, but Elizabeth was her entirely own person. Anne Boleyn had scarce much to do with who her daughter would become.

So was Elizabeth’s birth the greatest accomplishment of the ‘most controversial queen’ in English history? I just can’t say it. Labelling such an extraordinary woman as Anne Boleyn — who I often see as the epitome of womanhood and female strength — for her success as a baby-making machine is something I disagree with. She was much more than a vagina, uterus, and ovaries, despite being forced into the role of fertile, heir-producing queen.

Feel free to share, with credit, of course! :)

Feel free to share, with credit, of course! πŸ™‚

She was a well-read, educated woman who formed her own opinions, supported religious beliefs that were at the time considered incorrect and scandalous, and debated at equal and sometimes superior skill with the highest and most notable noblemen and scholars of her time; she was a patron of the arts, advocate of religious reform, and supporter of the less fortunate. Her friendships — and indeed enmity — with the highest men in the land brought both greatness and demise. She defied the convention of her times by taking the bold step into independence, becoming an utterly unique person envied by all the court, and left everything she knew beyond into the murky waters ahead by capturing the heart of the most powerful man in the country, which led to the separation from the Roman Church and creation of today’s Church of England. She dined and danced with kings and queens, both supported and argued with some of the most distinguished intellects of our history. She married for love, an act in itself unknown. She defended her innocence like few had done. Her infamous death at the hand of a French swordsman and is seen as a beautiful act of bravery and true faith. Her words and actions survive today to inspire new generations of women to embrace who they are and the dare defy what society wants to mold us into.

Yes, she popped out one of the greatest monarchs, but this in itself was not her greatest act.

Anne Boleyn was more than a vagina.

Anne_Boleyn

Let them grumble!

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9 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn: More than a Vagina

  1. I’ve never thought of Anne Boleyn this way before. Most of what I know about her involves how cruel and unfair she was to Mary. This poor seventeen-year-old was not Bloody Mary yet, so the least we can do is make her side of the story heard.
    I used to assume that Mary was always Bloody Mary and deserved for people to be cruel to her, but then I learned, like I told you before, that the Tudors were real people, not fairy tale characters.

    • Anne’s treatment of Catherine and Mary is one of the less noble things she did in her lifetime, but she expressed regret for her cruelty to her stepdaughter during her last days in the Tower… Mary led a tragic life, in my opinion, and should be pitied instead of villain-ized by today’s standards. Sometimes it’s hard to remember they were real people; they’ve been portrayed in fiction so often!
      Thanks so much for stopping by, Lily! πŸ™‚

  2. There’s no way to disprove that Anne Boleyn’s spoken regrets to how she treated Mary were just done so she could go to Heaven, though. It’s sort of like when Hamlet decided not to kill Claudius while he was expressing regrets, because he didn’t want him to go to Heaven.
    I’ll admit I don’t know enough about Anne Boleyn to analyze her as a real person. I’ve really only done so with Elizabeth, Mary, and Henry, but I know it should be done with all the Tudors.
    I will let you know my thoughts once I’ve read more about the Tudors.
    Don’t forget to check out my new posts!

  3. Gail Marie

    I agree that things that happen that you have no control over, should not really count as failures or accomplishments. With that in mind, I think Anne’s greatest failure was not recognizing that power and influence were fleeting, and she still needed friends at court, so she made some deadly enemies as a result. I think one of Anne’s great accomplishments was securing Elizabeth’s future as best she could, by entrusting her care to Matthew Parker, who saw to it that Elizabeth received the education and upbringing that would give her the opportunity to become queen, and the confidence to rule and become one of England’s greatest monarchs. Thus Elizabeth’s legacy turned out differently from Mary’s (who I think was dealt a really bad hand in life).

  4. No, Anne wasn’t just a vagina, and she didn’t willingly “fail” to bear healthy male children, but you’re carrying a modern perspective to the 1500’s.

    Fair or unfair, bearing children was THE primary job function of a medieval queen, just like a medieval king was supposed to be good at war and diplomacy, even if he was good at, say, growing cucumbers or interior decorating. No matter how good the queen’s other qualities were, she was supposed to make babies, or considerately die off or get to a nunnery, so he could make them with someone else.

    Mind you, I love Anne Boleyn. She was smart and fiery and witty and amazing. But if you look at Catherine of Aragon before her: Royalty – check. Highly intelligent and educated – check. Gracious and generous – check. Excellent regent in times of peace or war – check. Deeply pious – check. Beloved by one’s subjects – check. She was even an excellent seamstress. The only way that *Catherine* failed was she could not produce a living son (not for lack of trying).

    If Catherine’s boys had lived, Henry might still have fallen for Anne, might have been influenced by her, become her Henri to his Diane de Poitiers. But it is impossible to imagine Anne would have become queen, unless Catherine died, and even then, if even one of Catherine’s boys had lived, the court would have been a very different place. Henry would *not* have broken with the Pope and the Catholic Church to marry Anne.

    • Hi Beverly! Sorry for not replying sooner; I’m on leave of absence for blogging and only pop in once in a while.

      Yes, I realize I’m looking at this with 21st century eyes. That was the point of my post. It’s expected for both Anne and Catherine’s miscarriages and stillborns to be seen as failures by their contemporaries. That was a woman’s “duty,” to provide a male heir, especially as a queen.

      However, I wrote this post for 21st century eyes, especially people who know more about Anne (and Catherine, for that matter). Most people who are an active participant in the online Tudor community know what you and I know about A.B. and C.o.A. — that they were outstanding women in terms of intellect, faith, and actions in their society and ours.

      So yes, in looking at their failed pregnancies as *failures* we’re adjusting a 16th century concept to our own. Had either woman lived in today’s society, their miscarriages and stillborns would be seen purely as tragedies.
      While it might not be fair to combine concepts of societies hundreds of years apart, we’re doing it by labeling Anne and Catherine as feminist icons for today’s generation of young women — and if we’re treating them by these strong, feminine standards, shouldn’t we be treating their biological misfortunes with similar standards?

      What I’m attempting to say is that today, in the 21st century, we don’t label unfortunate, biological occurrences as failures, and I think we should be acknowledging the fact that a miscarriage in history is the same as it is today. A tragic event. Especially where we’re bringing other aspects of their lives into today’s modern ideas (like feminism, etc).

      What may or may not have happened if Catherine had given birth to a son that lived through to adulthood is too conflicting for me to imagine. History would have been very different!

      Thanks so much for the great comment, Beverly! πŸ™‚

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