Sure, you’ve heard tales of Anne Boleyn, the alluring woman who convinced King Henry VIII of England to give up his wife and child and break from the Catholic Church to marry her. Oh, and she was the mother of one of the most renowned monarchs in British history. But there’s a lot more to Anne than just her personal affairs, many of which were magnified or inaccurately portrayed by those with a political agenda after her death. But who was Anne Boleyn really?
The life of Anne Boleyn was anything but boring! In fact, during her lifetime, Anne was a brilliant, engaging young woman with the best education her family’s position at court could provide. She served under the most royal ladies in Europe, was a known wit, and loved all things French. And once she married King Henry VIII, Anne did anything – absolutely anything – to keep her marriage intact. Any Anne Boleyn biography might also mention her family’s affairs with her husband (more on that later), her religious fervor, and rumors that her ghosts still haunts people today. Keep read to learn more weird Anne Boleyn facts.
Anne’s Sister Hit It First… and Had Sex with Two Kings
The two sisters worked together for years. Along with Anne, Mary Boleyn once served Henry’s sister, Mary, when she was Queen of France. Unlike Anne, Mary may have become the mistress of the new monarch of France, King Francis, who ascended to the throne once Louis XII died. Francis called her “my English mare” and a “great whore,” but some scholars think these nameswere actually meant for Anne and Mary might not have had sex with Francis.
But Mary did definitely have relations with her sister’s eventual husband, becoming Henry VIII’s mistress once she returned to England. She succeeded Bessie Blount, mother of Henry’s only acknowledged, legitimate child, in his bed, but their affair didn’t last beyond a year or so. And despite The Other Boleyn Girl’s claims, Mary’s two children were most likely not Henry’s, but those of her husband, whom she married around this time.
Mary’s past with Henry came back to haunt Anne when the king sought to marry Mistress Boleyn. Technically, by legal standards of the time, trying to marry a woman whose sister he’d seduced was incestuous, so Henry had to seek a papal dispensation. Ironic, considering one of the excuses Henry used to cast off his first wife was that Catherine had been his brother’s wife.
Anne May Have Encouraged Her Cousin to Have Sex with Her Husband
The ladies Anne convinced to seduce her own husband included one of her cousins, either Margaret or Mary Shelton (daughters of her father’s sister). Ultimately, witnessing a relative have an affair with her husband made Anne intensely jealous and didn’t really soften Henry up much.
Rumor Has It Her Mother Also Slept with Henry VIII
Henry definitely did sleep with both Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, but there’s little evidence to suggest he ravished Elizabeth, as well. According to an account by a Catholic priest, Nicholas Sander, who hated the pro-Reformation Queen Anne, Henry’s second wife was actually his own daughter by Elizabeth Boleyn! That claim was definitely as false as could be.
She Literally Danced on Her Rival’s Grave
Shockingly, for the Time, She Was Crowned Using a King’s Crown
This crown emphasized that Anne and the child she was carrying at the time of her coronation were the real royal family (excluding Catherine and her daughter, Mary). To be fair, though, Anne later donned a crown made especially for her, which was probably a bit lighter, but still pretty regal.
Henry Gave Anne a Man’s Title
It was also important to make Anne a noble in her own right because Henry was taking her on an official visit to his biggest frenemy, Francis I of France. So Anne needed to be of sufficient rank to merit meeting a foreign king and being a consort of the English monarch. She was thus on par with – and actually outranked – many of the male nobles in the kingdom. Henry gave her the most gorgeous jewels in town, even asking his first wife to send back the royal gems, but she refused.
Henry Ordered a Special Swordsman for Anne’s Execution
Anne herself was alternately happy and hysterical right before she was killed. One can imagine that facing death in that way could wreak havoc on anyone’s emotions! A letter from the constable of the Tower of London, where she was held, mentioned that Anne even joked that she might be remembered as “Queen Anne Lack-Head” after her death.
She Probably Didn’t Have an Extra Finger or Too Many Moles
Anne Was the First Cousin of the Other Wife Henry Killed
Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, was the daughter of one of the most important – and Catholic – nobles in England, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. From two marriages, the duke had tons of children, including Elizabeth and her brother Edmund, who fathered Catherine Howard; thus, Anne and Catherine were closely related, although the former was about fifteen years older than the latter.
Both Anne and Catherine were placed directly in Henry’s path by their uncle, a cunning politician and the third Duke of Norfolk, also named Thomas Howard (see a pattern here?). Eager to ally himself with the monarchy even further, Uncle Howard also married his own legitimate daughter to Henry’s only acknowledged illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. But Grandpa Howard’s second wife, Agnes Tilney, was already married to the duke by the time Catherine hit her teenage years, so she was tasked with raising the young Howard ladies. Needless to say, when news of Catherine’s adolescent indiscretions hit the fan years later, Agnes came under heavy fire.
Anne Was Educated in the Most Brilliant Courts in Europe
Anne went on to serve her future sister-in-law, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, wife of Louis XII. While there, she became a lifelong Francophile, which was helpful when Mary went home to England after Louis’s death and Anne stayed in France to attend the next queen, Claude. The new king of France, Francis I, was a licentious man and Henry VIII’s lifelong rival.
But Francis’s sister, Marguerite of Angoulême, was one of the most brilliant women of her age, one whom Anne greatly admired. Herself an author, she patronized great writers and thinkers, and Anne once told a French ambassador that, next to giving birth to a son, her greatest desire was to see Marguerite again.
Anne Was Forced to Give Up Her One True Love
But Percy was already betrothed, and King Henry’s most powerful advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, discovered the young lovers’ affair. He put an end to Anne and Percy’s budding romance, saying that the lordling must marry as befit his station and with the permission of his family and monarch, implying that Anne wasn’t good enough for him.
Anne probably never forgave Wolsey for denying her her chance at happiness and high position, so she made it her mission to bring him down once she gained the king’s favor. Anne achieved that goal, but her liaison with Percy came to haunt her in the days when she herself was cast down.
She Once Worked for Her Future Sister-in-Law
After Mary’s husband, King Louis XII, died, Anne stayed on in France to serve the wife of his successor, Francis I. A charming woman, Anne was a skilled French speaker and a true Francophile, a fascination that lasted the rest of her life.
Elizabeth Rarely Spoke of Her Mother, but Kept Her Memory Close
But evidence indicates that Elizabeth still cherished memories of her mother. She adopted one of her mother’s old mottos, Semper eadem (“always the same”), and her badge of a falcon with a crown holding a scepter. In the 1570s, Elizabeth wore a ring that contained miniature portraits of both herself and Anne.
She also kept her family close, cherishing her maternal first cousins by her aunt Mary. One of her favorite ladies-in-waiting was Mary’s daughter, Catherine Carey Knollys, and she greatly trustedCatherine’s brother, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. Henry eventually became his cousin’s Lord Chamberlain.
She Was Captivating, Not Classically Beautiful
But Anne knew how to play up her best features: Her eyes were “black and beautiful,” and she used them to great effect. A cleric admitted that Henry’s earlier mistress, Bessie Blount, was more attractive than Anne, but Mistress Boleyn was “more eloquent and graceful, really more handsome.”
Anne and Her Family Were Pro-Reforming the Church
The Spanish ambassador to England, Eustace Chapuys, disdainfully called the Boleyns “more Lutheran than Luther himself.” Anne and her ally, Henry’s minister Thomas Cromwell, worked together to protect evangelicals and brought about the election of reformer bishops.
She Loved Lavish Gifts
Anne also catered to Henry’s love of hunting (before he got too fat) later in life. In 1532, she gifted him with boar spears, perhaps hinting at his virility (and her promise to give him a son).
Anne’s Family Was a Mixture of Average Joes and the Highest Nobility
But it was Anne’s father, Thomas, who truly upgraded. His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of one of the foremost noblemen in the kingdom, the Duke of Norfolk, who boasted a very well-connected and powerful clan. A savvy diplomat, Thomas got some foreign appointments on his own merit but became an earl in his own right and father of a queen thanks to his daughter.
Her Ghost Might Haunt Her Childhood Home