Of all the royals in the world, past and present, the two I love the most are two of the most tragic. Back in February, I commented on one of them, Lady Jane Grey, on the anniversary of her execution, and today I mark the other on the anniversary of her execution.
The story of Anne is much more famous than that of Lady Jane, and not just because she was the focus of two seasons of Showtime’s series The Tudors. Stories about a woman who won the heart of a king, scandalized the world, and became the first queen to ever be executed – and by her own husband, no less – tend to be pretty well-known. However, depending on what you read, she was a cruel temptress with six fingers and a goiter, and she got what was coming to her. (The physical deformity rumors weren’t even begun until during the reign of Elizabeth I, and have been sourced to a Catholic activist named Nicholas Sander, who wrote them as a way of discrediting Elizabeth.) And yet, neither story even begins to scratch the surface of who Anne was and why she is so intriguing.
In my opinion, part of the tragedy of Anne Boleyn doesn’t just lie in the fact that she may have died young (if she was born in 1507 as some historians believe, she would have been about 29, not too much older than I am as of this writing), and not just that she left behind a young daughter, and not even that she was more than likely innocent, but that the skill and power with which she navigated the world of Tudor-era court politics – which is fascinating given the status of women back then – was snuffed out. Anne Boleyn held the attention of a very capricious king for years, and she did so by being more than just a pretty face (especially since she was never considered “beautiful” by the standards of the day).
This is one of my favorites among the many interpretations of Anne’s appearance. I think it looks like she’s smirking.
And even at the end, with her marriage shattered, her beloved daughter declared illegitimate, and her life coming to a close, she died with dignity – all the while maintaining her innocence.
As with Lady Jane’s day on February 12, I wear black on May 19 with a red ribbon choker in Anne’s memory; Anne, however, is the reason I started the tradition.
I have already recommended the biography of Anne by Eric Ives, and I’m more than happy to do so again. If you want to know as much as anybody can know about Anne’s life, I believe you can’t do much better than The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. However, Claire at The Anne Boleyn Files is doing a great job of telling Anne’s story. She has created a video explaining the site of Anne’s prison lodgings and scaffold site:
Video by Claire Ridgway.