Background Information

Early Life 
Anne Boleyn, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard, was born between 1501 and 1507 in England. Anne was the second of three children, with an older sister, Mary, and a younger brother, George. Anne spent the first part of her childhood at the court of Archduchess Margaret of Austria, the regent of the Netherlands. When she was 13 years old, Anne was transferred to the household of Mary Tudor (the sister of Henry VIII) in France.  Remaining at the French court for the next 7 years, it was here that Anne learned to speak French fluently and became accustomed to the French culture and etiquette. Anne’s experiences in France made her a devout Christian in the tradition of Renaissance humanism. Although later in her lifetime she would hold a reformist religious perspective, her conservative tendencies could be seen in her devotion to God and the Virgin Mary.

Return to England

Recalled by her father back to England in 1521, Anne Boleyn joined her sister as a lady of King Henry VIII’s court. Due to her unique French style and often described as a “beautiful jewel” of the English court, it was not long before Anne Boleyn had a loyal following of male suitors. However, her most persistent suitor proved to be King Henry himself. Disappointed by Catherine of Aragon’s inability to produce a male heir to his throne and tempted by Anne’s beauty, Henry VIII hastened to procure an annulment from Pope Clement VII in 1527.

Annulment and Remarriage to Anne
The political struggle between King Henry VIII and the Catholic Church lasted for over 6 years. Henry VIII claimed that his original marriage to Catherine of Aragon was not legitimate on the grounds of incest. Prior to marrying Henry VIII, Catherine had married the King’s brother, Arthur Prince of Whales. However, since Arthur had died barely 4 months after his marriage to Catherine, the Church claimed that since this marriage was never consummated, Henry VIII had no justifiable claim for annulment. Determined to marry Anne, the King broke free from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England in 1533. This newly formed church quickly annulled the marriage between Catherine and Henry, banishing former Queen Catherine and her “bastard” daughter Mary. Yet despite Henry’s immense attempts to legitimize his marriage to Anne, Queen Catherine retained popular support among the English population and court.

Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (1533-1536)
Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England in June 1533 and gave birth to her only surviving heir, Elizabeth, later in the year. Although Anne was now queen, there was much popular dissent. The long struggle for her marriage to Henry VIII had created an image of Anne that portrayed her as bitter, sharp tongued, and unworthy of replacing the noble Catherine of Aragon. When the Pope officially excommunicated the King in 1534, Henry VIII enacted the First Succession Act. This act required all of his subjects to swear an oath that recognized Anne Boleyn as the legitimate Queen of England. Those who refused to do so found themselves tortured to death in the Tower of London. With the death of Catherine of Aragon in 1536 and Anne Boleyn pregnant with an assumed male heir, all seemed well. Yet tensions on Henry and Anne’s marriage had grown so strong that Henry had taken a mistress, Jane Seymour. Upon walking in on Jane Seymour sitting on Henry’s lap, Anne became so distressed that she miscarried her unborn male child. A visiting Spanish Ambassador later stated, “She has miscarried her savior.”

Downfall and Execution

Having made more enemies than friends, causing a break from the Catholic Church, and not providing a male heir to the throne, Anne had lost the sympathies of the King. Cromwell, the King’s closest advisor, had already been plotting to remove Anne from power. He leaped into action. In 1536, King Henry VIII was presented with a document that he signed that allowed for an investigation of Anne’s loyalty. This “investigation” lead to the discovery that Anne had most likely been unfaithful to her King. Over 6 noble men, including Anne’s brother George Boleyn, were arrested, tortured and eventually killed for committing adultery with the King’s wife. Anne herself was charged with adultery, incest, and plotting to murder the King. On May 17, Anne was placed on trial and sentenced to either burning at the stake or beheading, at the discretion of the King. Anne Boleyn was beheaded on May 19, 1536.