Anne Boleyn

Copy of a lost original , National Portrait Gallery, London (16th century). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Anne Boleyn’s birthdate remains a mystery, with some arguing she was born in 1501 and others arguing she was born in 1507. Anne spent much of her childhood at Hever Castle, in Kent, with her parents Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard and her siblings Mary and George. Anne spent what was likely her late pre-teen and early teen years in the Spanish Netherlands at the court of Margaret of Austria, where she learned all the things necessary to be a good courtly woman. She then went on to France to serve in the households of Queen Mary and Queen Claude.

Upon returning to England, she caught Henry VIII’s eye. Still married to Katherine of Aragon at this point, Henry opted eventually to break with the Roman Catholic Church, partly in order to annul his first marriage so he could marry Anne. They were married originally in a secret ceremony in late 1532 or early 1533 and then remarried officially when Henry learned that Anne was pregnant.

On September 7, 1533, Anne gave birth to the future Elizabeth I, much to the disappointment of Henry, who had been hoping for a son. Though Anne had other pregnancies, Elizabeth was the couple’s only surviving child. Their marriage became quite rocky the longer it continued, with allegations of adultery on Anne’s part reaching the king’s ear. Historians now believe that these allegations were false, created in order to allow Henry to end his marriage.

Anne was arrested in early May 1536 for adultery and treason and was executed at the Tower of London on 19 May 1536. She is buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower and flowers are placed anonymously on her grave every year on the anniversary of her death.

Recommended Reading

Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005)

Stephanie Russo, The Afterlife of Anne Boleyn: Representations of Anne Boleyn in Fiction and on the Screen (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

“Talking Tudors” podcast episodes from 2020:

Recent relevant episodes:

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