I have chosen to complete a literature review on the topic of Anne Boleyn. I have used a variety of sources such as academic books, google scholar, a number or primary sources such as poems and chronicles that were written at the time, which have all been essential for my completion of this project. Before completing my research on the topic of Anne and more specifically, her downfall, I had a general understanding about the events of her life. I have a genuine interest in the British monarch during the 15th and 16th centuries and my research into Anne was aided undoubtably by the vast and varied resources that were available to me both online and in more traditional mediums. My ultimate goal whilst completing this project was to gain an in-depth understanding about the many interpretations of what actually took place in the Tudor court during the early 1500s. I structured this investigation by comparing and contrasting the conflicting interpretations of two well respected academic historians. Each of whom have differing attitudes and opinions concerning Anne and her downfall. Throughout this project I have consulted many secondary sources which rely heavily on a few primary sources that have remained since the events of 1536 occurred. I have found this method of research useful as it each historian would often evaluate the same source as they tried to piece together the true events. Whilst they both shared the same primary source material, they have come to very different conclusions about aspects of the Tudor Court from Anne’s physical appearance to her supposed scandalous affairs. Ultimately, throughout this project I have tried to balance these judgements in isolation in order to reach my own conclusion. As such, I have fallen along similar lines to that of the notable Tudor historian, Professor Eric Ives. The question at the very root of Anne’s legacy is whether she was guilty of adultery. For Ives, and myself, and from the evidence that is left to us, she is innocent of this crime.
The one enduring question that always surfaces concerning Anne Boleyn is relatively simple – was she guilty? Did she commit adultery? Was she so desperate to produce an heir that she was prepared to go to such extreme lengths as incest? Ultimately, was she convicted for crimes that she actually committed? Anne has now been immortalised in our culture, she is the popular subject of films, plays, operas, biographies and the like. Our obsession with Anne has led to her being portrayed, perhaps wrongly, as a women of scandal, secrecy and suspicion. She is the most famous and controversial of Henry VIII’s six wives, her rise to power and the subsequent downfall that commenced mere months later has been widely chronicled and is one of the most outrageous events in the history of the British monarchy. Anne’s character has been widely scrutinised by a variety of historians, who each in their turn have examined the evidence and concluded whether she was guilty of not. In this project, I will come to my own conclusion as we judge Anne with all of the available evidence that will help us uncover some of the hidden truths from the time of her trial. The way in which I will approach this question is as if we are judging Anne totally blind, faced only with the facts. We must attempt to put her on trial again, and come to our own verdict.
The first of the two historians, who’s view I will be assessing is the British historian Eric Ives who was a well respected expert on the Tudor period. He is known for writing perhaps the most definitive biography of Anne Boleyn (The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn), a book which has been extremely valuable for my own research. For much of his career he was a Professor of English History at the University of Birmingham. In 2001 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his services to history. He is a prolific writer and his other books include Letters & Accounts of William Brereton (1976) God in History (1979); Faction in Tudor England (1979); and The Common Lawyers of Pre-Reformation England (1983). Contrary to the artistic portrayals of Anne in programs such as “The Tudors” and “Wolf Hall”, throughout his career Ives has delivered a more sympathetic viewpoint of Anne. He believed she played a much more significant role in religious changes during the Reformation than she is given credit for. According to Ives, Anne “did a great deal to encourage Protestant learning” as well as overseeing the appointment of bishops, including Thomas Cranmer, who would spearhead the Reformation.
The historian whose view differs greatly to Ives’
In order to investigate the downfall of Anne Boleyn, we must first consider her childhood and upbringing that no doubt shaped her into the women who has been judged so intensely throughout history. Anne was born to Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of one of England’s premier noblemen, the earl of Surrey. The Boleyn family themselves were not of long established nobel heritage. Anne’s own father was descended from Geoffrey Boleyn who earned his fortune as a mercer in London during the 1420s, (Ives 2004). Despite this, through advantageous marriages and the accumulation of wealth, the family rose to nobility and successfully shed their image as a commoners. We must be aware that it would be wrong, however, to see the Boleyns as low in society, they were one of the first families of England. Anne’s own “great-grandparents were (apart from Geoffrey) a duke, an earl, the granddaughter of an earl, the daughter of one baron, the daughter of another and an esquire and his wife” (Wedgewood, 1936) . She was, undoubtably a member of high society in England, and as the daughter of a courter she was educated as such to ensure that she was accomplished in the art of being a lady at court. At the age of ten Anne was sent to Margaret of Austria to be educated. Following this she spent many years in France at the glamorous and lavish court of the new french King Francis and Queen Claude. It was here that Anne found her french fashions and customs that made her so notorious back in the English Court.
One of the most notable and shocking claims that was made against Anne that undoubtably contributed towards her downfall was the accusation of her illicit incestuous activities with her brother George, the Earl of Rochford. Sources to support these claims include the poem, La Vie de Anne Boulein ou de Bouloigne mere de Elizabeth Royne Dangleterre. In which, the author outlines how following her miscarriage, Anne committed incest with her brother in order to beget a son and so set up the Boleyn dynasty. Firstly there is the question as to whether she did commit this crime, or was it the fictitious accusations of her enemies spun up to incriminate and ultimately remove her? If we do see some value in these accusations we must consider the arguments behind her motives. Was she selfishly seeking the continued rise in her own house or was it an act of utter desperation in ensuring her own survival and appeasing an unpredictable and inflammatory king. If the latter applies it is difficult to argue that it was entirely her own fault and perhaps she was not of entry sound mind. The fact that she was in such a state of desperation shows how it was external forces, not only the wrath of Henry, were pressuring her into producing an heir, the most important responsibility for a women in her position.
There are several possible explanations for the tragic downfall of Anne Boleyn, and as historians we can only make educated assumptions based on the evidence that remain for us to study. There is the simply answer, that for some time we have tried to avoid, that Anne was guilty of adultery – a crime that at the time was punishable by death as it was treason against the king. This was the view that was expressed in G.W Bernard’s book “Anne Boleyn – Fatal Attractions”. His views have been