Feb 25,2015

Fascinating facts you probably didn’t know about Anne Boleyn

Posted by Anna with No Comments

Henry VIII’s ill-fated wife was vivacious, violent – and apparently not that pretty. As BBC2’s Wolf Hall dramatises her final days, Ben Dowell delves into her life and death

Wolf Hall, BBC2’s magisterial adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels, finishes tonight and – spoiler alert! – things aren’t looking too clever for Anne Boleyn.

Yes, as anyone with even a passing interest in history could tell you, Henry VIII (as played by Damian Lewis in the drama) didn’t put his feet up alongside his second wife to enjoy their peaceful and romantic twilight years together.

Anne – played by Claire Foy – lasted just three years as Queen before her beading following a trial on charges of adultery, incest and high treason. Henry went on to exchange wedding vows four more times.

You may well know about Anne’s place in history and that she was the reason Henry broke with Rome after forcing his divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry her.

But there are plenty of other fascinating things about Anne’s life. And here are the best…

No-one knows how old she was…

Different historians have suggested that Anne was born as early as 1499 and as late as 1512, meaning that at the time of her execution at the Tower of London she could have been aged anywhere between 25 and 37…

She was a pregnant bride…

Anne was probably pregnant when she married Henry.

Their wedding was in January 1533 and she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth (her only child) seven months later in September 1533. You do the maths.

She may not have been that pretty…

Anne was notable for her vivaciousness and charm – but despite being portrayed by the lovely Claire Foy in Wolf Hall, and by Natalie Portman (to name but one) on the big screen, in her day Anne was not necessarily considered a beauty.

She was said by contemporaries to have been of average height with a slender build, long straight and thick black or dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, a “strong” nose, wide mouth with slim lips and an olive complexion.

The Venetian diarist Marino Sanuto, who saw Anne in October 1532, described her as “not one of the handsomest women in the world”. It is said she had a projecting tooth under the upper lip and six fingers on her right hand. However these details were probably invented after her death by Catholic propagandists keen to prove that she was a wrong ‘un capable of bewitching a King.

You’d be wise not to cross her…

Boy did she have a sharp tongue and a terrible temper.

Anne was once reported to have spoken to her uncle in words that “shouldn’t be used to a dog”. And – growing uncomfortably aware of the developing relationship between Henry and her maid Jane Seymour in the early months of 1536 – she took violent exception to her rival, ripping a picture of the King from a pendant in Jane’s grasp with such force that Jane’s hands bled. One contemporary eyewitness reported that there were often scratches and blows exchanged between Anne and Jane.

She wasn’t the only one to lose her head…

Five men, including Mark Smeaton, a musician in Anne’s household, and Anne’s own brother George Boleyn, were executed on 17 May 1536 for supposedly consorting with Anne. Anne was beheaded two days later.

She was almost certainly innocent of the crimes for which she was executed…

Most historians believe the charges against Anne were fabricated by the King’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell (played by Mark Rylance in Wolf Hall) under the guidance of King Henry. It is also telling that in her final hours she swore – on the eternal salvation of her soul – that she had never committed adultery. That wasn’t something people did lightly in those days.

She cracked a joke just before her execution…

Anne was at least lucky that Henry commuted her sentence from burning – which was due a Queen who had committed adultery – to beheading. And rather than have her head lopped off with a common axe, he brought an expert swordsman from France to do the job. She was killed with one swift blow while kneeling on the scaffold in the French style. Still, the execution prompted a joke from her. The Constable of the Tower of London reported her laughing heartily just beforehand and saying: “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck”.

She was buried in an arrow chest…

Anne Boleyn was originally buried in an elm arrow chest under the floor of the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula within the confines of the Tower of London – a proper coffin not being deemed appropriate. In the 1870s, the chapel underwent extensive renovations, and many bones were disturbed. The body of Anne Boleyn was one of those said to have been identified, supposedly because of her long, thin neck. The remains were re-interred but some believe they were jumbled up with those of others (including those of Henry’s fourth – also executed – wife Catherine Howard) which were reburied somewhere else within the church. To this day no-one is quite sure of Anne’s precise resting place.

The final part of Wolf Hall airs on BBC2 tonight at 9pm

Source



This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 at 3:16 pm and is filed under "Wolf Hall", Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



Leave a Reply