Anne Boleyn

She was no ravishing beauty. Anne Boleyn's most striking features were her dark hair, her dark, almond shaped eyes and her long neck. On her left hand she had an exiguous, sixth finger that she deftly hid.
It was said to be an evil omen, or even the sign of a witch.

She certainly bewitched Henry VIII into going to extremes in order to marry her. Sir Henry Percy, heir to the earldom of Northumberland had also fallen madly in love with Mistress Boleyn. The poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder, was totally enchanted by her as well, and wrote 'Of his love, called Anna'.

Wyatt's grandson recorded an anecdote, that in 1527 or 1528 his grandfather took a locket from Anne as a trophy. During the same week, Henry VIII took one of her rings, which from then onwards he always wore on his little finger.
During a game of bowls with courtiers including Wyatt, the king insisted that he had won the final throw. He pointed at it with the ringed finger, and whilst casting a meaningful glance at Wyatt, repeated- 'I tell thee it is mine'.
Wyatt asked if he might measure the distance between the wood (a 5 inch ball) and the jack (a 2.5 inch ball), and used the locket to do so. The king immediately stamped off muttering words of having been deceived, leaving all the players quite perplexed.

The second verse of Wyatt's sonnet- 'Whoso List to Hunt'  (adapted from Petrarch's rime 190, refers to Anne Boleyn.

Who list° her hunt, I put him out of doubt,                       °cares
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."

('Noli me tangere quia Caesaris sum'  "touch me not for I am Caesar's" was inscribed on collars made for Caesar's hinds before they were set free, thus supposedly safe from hunters).

The Plague also insidiously forced a separation between the King and Anne. In 1528 he sent her yet another message of "wishing myself, specially on evening, in my sweet-heart's arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss".

Henry was determined to marry Anne Boleyn, also with the intention of fathering the much required son and heir to the throne. However, Pope Clement VII, then subject to Catherine's uncle, Charles V, newly proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor, refused him the right to divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This led to Henry's reaching the monumental decision of renouncing allegiance to Roman Catholicism, declaring 'Henrician Supremacy' by proclaiming himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Cardinal Wolsey had to go, also to Anne Boleyn's satisfaction, and Sir Thomas More was the natural choice as the Lord Chancellor's successor. He was much respected, certainly by the king, and already had established an international reputation for his writing. He first refused the honour and responsibility, having his own reservations about the King's 'Great Matter', but Henry coaxed him into accepting the title by assuring him that he would be spared from all such concerns and should 'look first unto God, and after God, unto him'.

It was considered that there never was, nor ever would be a Chancellor more honest and accomplished as Sir Thomas More. But Henry was unable to keep his promise or leave More alone. To try to appease his tormented mind he needed the humanist to renounce his neutrality. But this Thomas More could never do. His refusal to take the Oath of Succession unless it was reworded, was considered as treason, according to the newly devised 'Treason Act', and this tragically led to him being tried and condemned to death.

Could one not reason that due to her effective, 'feminine tactics' and insatiable ambition, Anne Boleyn had inadvertently changed the cause of English history? Henry's initial, fired-up passion for her certainly seems to have determined the nation's acquiring it's democracy and independant parliament sooner than most, if not all, European nations. Yet Anne, of course, fell victim to Henry's tyranny as well, for not having been able to fulfil his obsessive but self-deluding expectations.

Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote his poem 'V. Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei'  (My enemies surround my soul) when he was imprisoned in 1536. It was from the Bell-Tower during his period of imprisonment that he actually witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn.

History is full of ironic consequences, unprepared for reflections from the deformed mirror of the future. Anne Boleyn's daughter was to become Queen Elizabeth I. Her Golden Era and Reformation was to establish another, particularly important precedent, for the United Kingdom and posterity.

Text © Mirino. Sources- Norton Anthology of English Literature. Henry VIII and his Court (Neville Williams). Image- Wikipedia, with thanks (Anne Boleyn circa 1534. Artist unknown).                                                  December, 2010

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