May 19th, 1536: A Tribute to Anne Boleyn

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I know I’m not supposed to be blogging during my official leave of absence, but as many of you know, today is May 19th, the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution. And I couldn’t pass up this occasion to pay tribute to someone I deeply admire and respect.

All the ladies had stunning hair thanks to Andrea and Jenna!

All the ladies had stunning hair thanks to Andrea and Jenna!

In November 2012, several of my friends and I got together and shot a short film regarding the extraordinary life of Anne Boleyn. The final result was approximately 20 minutes, depicting her life from her time with Margaret of Austria to her execution in 1536. Our budget was literally nothing. My camera is nothing special, and neither is the editing program I used. Everything we used in the film we previously owned or made. The costumes, the set, the weapons (we had swords, axes, arrows, bows…ninja stars…they didn’t make it into the film). Everyone chipped in and contributed (we had some amazing hair stylists and seamstresses), and I think it’s safe to say we all had a blast, and everyone, especially the star of our film, learned a great deal about Anne and what it was like during her final days.

The following clip is short and just a peek at what we accomplished that day.

The beautiful Anne Boleyn, played by the equally beautiful and talented Kenzie.

The beautiful Anne Boleyn, played by the equally beautiful and talented Kenzie.

There are so many things I didn’t include in this 90 seconds — George Boleyn’s execution, Anne’s time with Mary, Queen of France, the birth of Elizabeth. Each person involved in this project is so talented and ridiculously cooperative, enthusiastic, and helpful. I was such a bossy cow of a director it’s a wonder they didn’t kill me before the day was out — and most of them want to make another film this year!

I’ve been pestering Kenzie for years, saying that she shares a startling resemblance to Anne. When I asked her if she would like to play Anne in a film, she sort of laughed and sighed and said, “Do I really have a choice?” She was remarkable; she did everything I threw at her and then some. She brought Anne Boleyn to life, and I personally think she did a marvelous job.

So here it is. In memory of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England. May 19th, 1536.

Thanks to Kenzie, Greg, Maggie, Andrea, Sam, Devin, Zozie, Jenna, Emily, Melinda, Tim, and Joan for their cooperation, assistance, talent, and patience. I love you all!

For last year’s tribute to Anne Boleyn, click here.

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! 🙂

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!

Tudor-Inspired Art!

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It’s been awhile since my last Tudor-related post, and I was contemplating  what my next should be about. I only had to take a peek around the house to decide.

My Tudor art.

I’m not an artist, but I enjoy sketching and painting, especially Tudor-era people (i.e., Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard) and Tudor-era scenes (mainly executions and the occasional birth of a princess/prince). I’ve branched away from my traditional mediums lately, however, and the results are rather interesting…

We can start with the least amazing. If Hans Holbein the Younger had a personal Facebook account, I imagined this is what it might look like. I exaggerated quite a bit, but I tried to include actual information about him — don’t sue me if I made an error. I believe I mainly used Wikipedia as I was aiming more for the art versus the history of it. I just took a Facebook template from the Internet, plugged in some pictures, typed in some status updates, and voila! A 16th century artist rocking the social media!

Click to embiggen and check out Hans’s latest status updates!

The next one was fun to make. After cutting out a template from a piece of cardboard (an old pizza box, I think), I used the same sort of gluey-gauze strips they use to make casts (don’t ask where I got them, but they really work!). Shaping the strips into leaves, branches, and bark was tricky as well as messy, but the end result was pleasing. I just used acrylic paint to detail it. The inspiration behind it was Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, as well as the magical Forest of Arden in As You Like It. Arden is the name of my protagonist in my fantasy-esque manuscript. While I don’t think I’ll be wearing it anywhere, it might make a good Halloween prop!

This piece was perhaps the most taxing to make. I wanted to represent how Anne Boleyn has become just as a large and influential and controversial figure now as she was during her time as queen and queen-to-be. Hence, my poor attempts at skyscrapers and the Eye of London versus my laughable Tower. Simple acrylic, etc. See for yourself. Notice the teeny little airplane?

Okay, this last one is perhaps the most interesting piece I’ve ever made. Normally I don’t do sculptures, but I don’t regret making this! The process was semi-difficult, but simple. Pick your shape. Wrap a layer of packing tape, sticky-side out, snugly around your shape. Do more layers, sticky-side in, until you have at least three layers, and more depending on how strong you want it. Cut it off your shape and tape up the slit. And, ta-daa! Add paint or other things if you like, like I did.

This is Katheryn Howard. I used a dummy head for her head shape, and a box for the chopping block. The axe is made of cardboard, tin foil, and newspaper. The “blood” is paint, so don’t worry. Her coif is created with some rather thick paper towel I found in a cupboard, and her hair is a painted braid of yarn. Notice her blood-soaked hair? And her tear?

I love her. So much.

She’s on display in my room. (There are worse places to put her, though. Like the bathroom…)

I had too much fun with the blood.

Katheryn might wear this as a disguise for her next secret meeting with Thomas Culpepper! Do you think Henry will be fooled?

The day has come: 19 May 1536

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Anne Boleyn prayed through the night of 18th/19th May 1536, preparing herself for her final walk — from the Queen’s Lodgings-turned-prison to the scaffold built only days before.

When the time came, the clever, dark-haired woman was ready. Aided by four young ladies, Anne climbed the scaffold steps, dressed, as always, for the occasion: grey damask gown lined with fur, red kirtle, ermine mantle and an English gable hood. Her choice of wardrobe has always fascinated, for her apparel was both bold and ironic, which Anne had been all her life. Red was the colour associated with Catholic martyrdom — essentially declaring herself innocent — and ermine was used to distinguish her royal rank (despite the fact that her marriage to Henry had been declared null and void two days earlier). Her choice of an English hood is also notable for a woman who favoured the more flattering French hood; she wanted to die an English queen, to be a woman of the people, which, frankly, she had never been.

Standing at the edge of the scaffold, she addressed the crowd in the etiquette that all executed are expected to give:

Good Christian people, I have not come here to preach a sermon; I have come here to die. For according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never, and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and a sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take leave of the world, and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.

The mother of a two-year-old girl removed her mantle and hood, shook loose her glorious, long, dark hair — said to be her most striking feature, along with her black eyes — and tucked it into a simple white cap. She had no almoner or priest with her on the scaffold, and no Biblical reading was made, but it can be sure that Anne reverently clung to these in her mind. Her only sign of nervousness was continually looking behind her at the executioner, to make sure that she wouldn’t die before she was ready.  

She bade farewell and thanks to her young ladies, who wept, and knelt, praying out loud all the while, “Jesu receive my soul; O Lord God have pity on my soul.” Some accounts say she was blindfolded, for the executioner was perturbed by her piercing stare.

Still glancing around and praying, the extraordinary life of Anne Boleyn ended suddenly, her lips still moving.

Her ladies collected the head and body of their mistress and carried her to the chapel of St. Peter, where she was placed in a an elm chest  that had contained bow staves. Her beautiful clothes were taken, and the former queen was buried in an unmarked grave near the head and body of her brother.

In 1559, the Scotsman Alexander Aless recounted his own experience on the 19th May 1536 to Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I. Aless, not leaving his home for several days, had heard nothing of Anne’s trial or execution, and after a particularly graphic dream on the night of 18th/19th May in which the queen’s head had been cut off, he paid a visit to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer asked Aless, “Do you not know what is to happen today?” Aless answered that he knew nothing of the queen’s fate as he had little cause to leave his home for several days.

The Archbishop raised his eyes and said, “She who has been the Queen of England on Earth will today become a queen in Heaven.” Unable to say any more, Cranmer burst into tears.

The impact that Anne had on those around her — positive or negative — speaks of how unconventional she was for her times, her support and involvement in the religious reform, her arguments and reasonings with the King of England, even her French mannerisms and fashions. She was unique and strong in her opinions, even too strong, and it was her demanding personality that both gave and removed Henry’s love for her.

It is on this day that Anne is remembered on the deepest and most emotional level, though for those involved in the online Tudor communities, she is a daily and inspirational part of our lives.

Rest in peace, Anne.

Further Reading:

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Back in October, I wrote a short poem regarding Anne and her last days and moments. I remind you that this is my work and that it is not to be re-created in any form without my permission. Feel free to link it to your own blog or FB page.

The bell tolls,

The head rolls

From the bloody scaffold.

The axe is cleaned

— Oh, how the steel sheens! –

And it rises and falls again.

For the next three men

It falls again,

Dying in service to me.

 

Two tears slip,

A steady drip,

From the eyes that enchanted a king.

Turn from the window,

Ladies bowed low,

Praying for my brother and friends.

I kiss them sweet

On both pale cheeks, and join them in prayer on my knees.

Two days hence

The swordsman French

Arrives to release me from this Tower.

 

My ladies help me dress

In my very best,

A gown of gray damask and ermine;

For if a queen must die,

She must be a sight for eyes,

On this most joyful nineteenth of May.

Forth I shall be free,

Soon they will see

The mistake they made in condemning me.

Ladies four,

Assist me once more –

Don’t cry, ‘tis not a sad day.

I am ready, eager

— Though soon to be meagre –

To meet this man from Calais.

 

I admit to be scared:

Oh, neck, beware!

Hence Anne Bullen will be no more.

Eyes dry –

No need to cry –

I sink to my knees on the scaffold.

Praying aloud,

Glancing around –

And silver flashes and neck is cleaved.

O, the bell tolls,

My head rolls

Gently in the straw on the scaffold.

Anne Boleyn. c1501 – 19 May 1536

They called it a trial

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Short, but not sweet, today:

Today in 1536, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, and Mark Smeaton were taken via barge from the Tower of London to Westminster Hall, where they were tried for the treasonous act of adultery with the queen. Because of their noble rank, Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother George, Lord Rochford were to be tried before a jury of their peers at a later date.

It was not a trial. The jury was made of religious conservatives (those who wanted to destroy the reformist Boleyns, and thus, these men) and friends of darling Cromwell. In short, not a jury that these men wanted. In Tudor times, defendants were not given counsel/lawyers and no time to prepare a defense — they didn’t even know what evidence was going to be used against them! 

The four men were quickly found guilty and sentenced to a traitor’s death: hung, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.

This could not have been encouraging to Anne. If the four men had been found guilty of adultery with her, then it only made sense that she would be found guilty, too.

The men would die five days later, their sentence reduced to a merciful beheading. Black humour here, people, black humour.

Another Teenage Queen Loses her Head

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[Last Tudor-related post of the week. Promise.]

Katheryn* Howard was a bubbly, generous girl raised by her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk in a dormitory-esque setting. The Duchess was responsible for several children and the household she ran was similar to that of an informal school. The size of the household — over a hundred people at Lambeth — seems to have allowed the hormone-riddled teenagers to essentially do as they pleased.

After flirting then ditching her music teacher, Henry Mannox,  in 1538 Katheryn set her eyes on Francis Dereham. Dereham was a member of the Duchess’ household and seems to have swept Katheryn off her feet. They began calling each other ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and their relationship was probably — if not undoubtedly — consummated. If they believed they were married, or as good as, there was nothing wrong with behaving as such. At least, until Mannox became jealous and tipped off the Duchess of her step-granddaughter’s promiscuity. Duchess Agnes was not impressed when she found Katheryn and Dereham ’embracing’ and flew into a rage, hitting nearly everyone in the room.

Though Dereham was better born than Mannox, it still wasn’t a great match for a girl descended from Edward I, no matter Katheryn’s feelings for him. Incidentally, they cooled while Dereham was in Ireland and she was transferred closer to court, where she met the dashing Thomas Culpepper in 1539.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), while attending on Queen Anne of Cleves, the King fell in love with her.

So, out with Henry VIII’s fourth wife and in with the fifth.

As historian David Starkey puts it, her husband was not the stuff dreams are made of. Henry, at forty-eight, was no longer the lean golden-haired prince of 1509. Balding, overweight with a stinking ulcer on his thigh and with a horrible marital history, Katheryn apparently put some spring back into His Majesty’s step. He was hopelessly in love with the teenage cousin of his second wife, showering her in gifts and jewels.

Katheryn, who had grown up considerly poor, was probably quite happy other than

A miniature identified as Katheryn Howard.

the fact that she was married to a man more than twice her age. She maintained a friendly relationship with Anne of Cleves; after dinner the two regal ladies danced together while the King retired to his chambers. I once read somewhere — probably online — that Katheryn Howard and Anne of Cleves had a lesbian affair.  I don’t believe so and I’ve read no reasonable proof, just as I don’t believe George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton were lovers.

Anyway, Katheryn continued to enjoy her queen-hood, though her husband often had to restrain her from lavishing valuable gifts at everyone she knew. Joan Bulmer, who lived with Katheryn at Lambeth, was inducted as one the new Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and Dereham himself begged his way into becoming her gentleman usher.

Though the King and Queen…met…often, there was no sign of a Duke of York to accompany Jane Seymour’s (Wife No. 3) son Edward in the nursery, despite Katheryn coming from an extremely fertile family. And Henry often spent days in his chambers nursing his swollen legs and decreeing that his wife not be allowed to see him.

Perhaps these days alone reminded Katheryn of her admiration for Thomas Culpepper. Culpepper was in his late twenties, charming, and highly favoured by the King. Historian Antonia Fraser compares him to a young Duke of Suffolk: a ladies’ man who would climb high in royal favour. The Queen, about nineteen now, bestowed upon Culpepper treasured gifts, met secretly at night, and in April of 1541 wrote him a terribly spelt yet passionate love letter.

The fall of Katheryn Howard was a swift, tragic chain of events beginning in early

Tamzin Merchant as Katheryn Howard.

November. Mary Hall, who served in the Duchess’ household at the same time as Katheryn, told her brother of the late-night meetings Katheryn enjoyed with Mannox and Dereham. Her brother then told Archbishop Cranmer, who told the King, who was a little disbelieving but insecure enough to let questioning ensue.

Mannox admitted to flirtation but nothing as horrible as a full-fledged affair. Dereham admitted that he had been pre-contracted to the Queen and of their consummated relationship. Neither of these were a crime. However, Dereham told his interrogators (and torturers?) that ‘Culpepper had succeeded him in the Queen’s affections.’ Jane Boleyn Viscountess Rochford (sister-in-law and wife of Anne and George Boleyn) was also a part of this tale. She, as maid-of-honour, had been the go-between for Katheryn and Culpepper and had encouraged her mistress in persuing the dangerous relationship. Katheryn nervously but continuously maintained her innocence.

On December 1, Dereham and Culpepper were found guilty of treason. On the 10th they were executed, Culpepper by axe but Dereham by a full traitor’s death.

Katheryn was transferred to the Tower of London on 10 February with some resistance. After an Act of Attainder (which spared Henry the grief of signing another wife’s death warrant) was passed on the 11th, Katheryn Howard and Jane Rochford were legally dead. The poor girl was notified on the 12th that she was to die the following day.

Katheryn asked for the block to be brought to her, so she could practise how to place her neck upon it.

On Monday the 13th, Katheryn climbed the scaffold steps, spoke of her sins, love for and goodliness of the King, and called upon God for mercy. She knelt and placed her neck on the block as practised, and her head was struck off.

She might have not reached her twentieth birthday.**

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*The spelling of Katheryn’s name is basically a personal preference. It has been spelt Katherine, Catherine, Katheryn, Kathryn, and Katharine. Many people spell it with a ‘y’ to discern her from Catherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr, or otherwise call her ‘Kitty.’

**The birthdate of Katheryn Howard is unknown, but can be pinned down around 1521-1525, making her between seventeen and twenty-one at the time of her execution.

Further reading:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • A Tudor Tradegy: the Life and Times of Catherine Howard by Lacey Baldwin Smith

A Teenage Queen Loses her Head

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1554 – After watching her husband’s execution from the Tower window and being met by his bloody remains on her journey to Tower Green, Lady Jane Grey mounted the scaffold steps to meet her own end. She was sixteen.

In the will of her also-teenage cousin King Edward VI, Jane was declared heir if he died childless, barring his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth from the throne. Keeping his sisters from the throne, particulary the devout Catholic Mary, saved England from reversing all the reforming Protestant work Edward had done since inheriting the crown of his father, Henry VIII. Jane and her family were staunch reformers, so it seemed like it would be a successful solution. 

When Edward died at sixteen, Jane had been proclaimed Queen of England. At the same time, Mary Tudor received news that she was now Queen. So WHO WAS THE

A Victorian depiction of the execution of Lady Jane. She was actually executed outdoors, on Tower Green.

REAL QUEEN?

It turns out the real queen was whoever had the bigger army. And Mary had the bigger army. Lady Jane Grey was only Queen of England for thirteen days (though she is remembered as the Nine Day Queen), now it was just a question of her fate. Would she be imprisoned? Turned into a nun? Banished abroad? Executed?

While not an expert on Lady Jane and the events surrounding her, I don’t think Mary wanted her cousin to lose her head, just as Elizabeth I would later drag her feet in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. However, it would eventually be inevitable.

Her scaffold speech was composed, though her ladies wept profusely for their mistress. Jane knelt, flipped her hair forward and out of the way, and was blindfolded — but terrifyingly couldn’t find the block. There were a few moments of panick before a bystander mercifully guided the young girl.

One stroke.

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It’s speculated that J.K. Rowling based the Grey Lady on Jane Grey.

Further reading: