Anne Boleyn (c. 1501–1536)
16″ x 20″ oil on canvas
Anne Boleyn was born circa 1501, likely in Norfolk, England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard. Living in France as a child she returned to England in 1522 and soon became a maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon, queen consort to Henry VIII.
In 1501 Catherine, daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon was married to King Arthur, Henry’s older brother. King Arthur died 5 months after their marriage. Henry became king and married his brother’s widow, Catherine, to continue the union with Aragon and Spain.
By 1525 Catherine had been unable to bear a son that survived infancy. King Henry badly wanted a son and heir. Henry had multiple mistresses in the hope of siring a son.
By the mid 1520s Anne had become one of the most admired ladies of the court. Her French style was much envied by the ladies at court. She is said to have worn different gowns daily and to have introduced a new style of headdress.
Anne’s sister Mary Boleyn was one of the king’s mistresses. Mary introduced Anne to the king and he was immediately smitten. Soon he was writing love letters to Anne. Anne, however, refused to be his mistress saying she wanted to be married and not anyone’s mistress.
To find a way to marry Anne became the king’s obsession. Based on a statement in the book of Leviticus in the Bible “that a man who takes his brother’s wife shall remain childless” he petitioned the Pope to grant him an annulment. A six-year debate followed as the Pope refused his request. In 1533 Anne became pregnant and King Henry married her without the Pope’s consent. Anne gave birth to Elizabeth I, their only surviving child.
To marry Anne, Henry broke with Rome and claimed himself head of the Church of England. The first Act of Supremacy confirmed Henry by statute as the Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1536. Such constitutional changes made it not only possible for Henry to have his marriage annulled but also gave him access to the considerable wealth that the Church had amassed. It effectively ended Roman influence in England.
Unfortunately Anne was unable to provide a son and heir. Henry again began multiple affairs. Anne became enraged and increasingly jealous. Henry was unwilling to put up with Anne’s tantrums; the marriage fell apart.
Henry decided he wanted to marry Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s maids of honor. Henry falsely accused Anne of adultery, a treasonous act, and had her locked in the tower of London to await trial. In May of 1536 Anne was found guilty and she was beheaded. Four days later Henry wed Jane Seymour. Anne had been queen of England for less than 3 years.
Unwittingly Anne became the impetus of the battle between Protestants and Catholics that raged for many years. Henry’s elevation to head of the Church of England forever changed the religious culture of the western world. Eventually their daughter, Elizabeth I, established peace and ruled as head of church and state for 50 years.