Thursday, September 16, 2010

Concubine, Saint, Whore and Martyr: The Changing Image of Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of the infamous Henry VIII, is the perfect example how a person's image can change with time. Born the third child of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard (the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk), she was sent to be a Lady in Waiting to the Archduchess Margaret.  Fate, however, would not leave Anne in Continental Europe, but the education, style and wit she learned helped her land Henry VIII.
"She blinded me with science."


The rest of her story is infamous.  Henry fell madly in love with her, tried to divorce his present wife Catherine of Aragon and when the pope wouldn't grant him a divorce, Henry broke away from the Catholic church and married Anne anyway.  During her life Anne was very unpopular and many, including the Spanish ambassador, would only call her "The Concubine."  After her beheading, she was still considered the king's whore and concubine until the ascension of her daughter Elizabeth to the English throne.  Elizabeth adored her mother and during her reign, Anne became a saint and martyr for the Protestant Reformation.  

Today, Anne Boleyn is Henry's most famous wife and there has been an explosion of books, movies and television programs about the beheaded queen.  Depending on who you read or ask, everyone has a different opinion.  Some believe that Anne was power hungry and would have done anything to become queen, others believe she was simply a victim of her father and Henry.  If I didn't know any better, I would think that we weren't talking about the same person, except historical figures are often portrayed as heroes or villains, saints or sinners.  Just look at George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.  Both owned slaves, had mistresses, and other failings, yet they are considered American saints.  While we may realize the world isn't all black and white people, we fail to allow our historical characters to live in the gray.

In the book, "Anne Boleyn:  Henry VIII's Obsession" by Elizabeth Norton the author allows Anne to live in the gray.  She portrays Anne not as a sinner or saint, but simply as an ambitious woman who sought to better herself.  Today Anne Boleyn may have been a CEO, Congresswoman or trail lawyer, but in the 16th century her options were limited.  I urge all of you to rethink your opinions on someone from history and allow them to live in the gray. No one is absolutely evil or perfect not even our beloved or not so beloved historical figures.

2 comments:

  1. I read a couple of different books about Anne Boleyn a couple of years ago. It really makes you want to get at the truth behind the story. Anne is a great example of how history is in the eye of the beholder, and it makes you wonder how the present times will come out in the history books (or even how much distortion we are getting depending on the media we select).

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  2. Anne was certainly a complex character. I have difficulty making my mind up where she is concerned. She demonstrated great courage, and generosity. But she was also vicious, and quite vengeful. She seems to have made peace with God before her death, however.

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Kind, thoughtful and intelligent comments are welcome! Debate is welcomed, but harsh, judgmental comment are not.

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