The first in the series of posts for the anniversary is from Tereza Bodnar. I think this is a particularly good piece to start with as it discusses her views on what caused the downfall of Anne.
Anne Boleyn’s fall. Worlds Collide by Tereza Bodnar
[Introductory note] Anne Boleyn’s fall (as well as her rise into power) is a result of manifold various reasons, of the complex political game and personal collision. In the following essay, I would like to dwell upon one of the most striking, and for me, most crucial of these reasons – the personalities of Anne and Henry themselves. In my opinion, it is important to decipher (or at least slightly open the subject) somewhat traditional and superficial myth, which sometimes takes place, of these two being simple villains who deserved their end: Anne – a scheming careerist and Henry – a bloodthirsty tyrant.
Besides additional actors and tools, I am convinced, that the cause for Anne’s fall lays deep in both her and Henry’s personal characters. The personal character here, however, does not signify any autocratic will, as may be assumed, but the fact of both our heroes being deeply intertwined with and dependent on their current court order and traditions and historical events on larger scale. One who writes history of the country, like the monarchs of that age did, is never in a vacuum.
For Anne giving birth to a male heir was a clue to the position of Henry’s wife and queen subsequently. She hardly knew at the start that it was also a cornerstone of her survival. Henry, on his part, whatever may be said about him, was also bond suffocatingly by hard laws of kingship and succession: an absence of male heir simply lays country open to civil war. The greatest threat, the greatest fear of post-wars-of-the-roses monarch. It was also a matter of survival for him. Another crucial tie – king’s own pride, conviction that he may do exactly what he wants using wide range of various means – religious, legal, the instruments of terror – to procure what he thinks good for the state (decisive break-up from Rome and appointment of the kings as the new church’s head may serve as a good example).
Henry was religious, but his religion was rather that of a renaissance statesman – he took spiritual principles close to his heart and conscience, but – judging especially on their marvelous shift in 1530s, – not closer than the concerns of a state, and – what is even more important, concerns of himself as an integral head of this state, a monarch, appointed by God’s will, of course. It seems that all the higher moral principles were subdued to the notion of notorious political expediency and historical necessity. Surely, murders and other various crimes committed under king’s order to grant this cannot be justified, and we can imagine (but we shouldn’t let imagination carry us too far) that Henry could have been himself scrupulous on this account, with his conscience uneasy.
Henry’s pride, self-assurance, passion, and conviction thus become the maters of state – he perfectly justified himself in his own view, for it is said that the king is striving to maintain strong, prosperous dynasty to ensure prosperity and peace of its subjects accordingly.
Little wonder then, for Anne and her supporters in 1520s and early 1530s, that Henry, driven by passion and confidence could turn half a Europe upside down and destroy almost a quarter-century-long marriage. But could they calculate that far as to suppose that the same man may with the same ease, and very soon too, overthrow his new beloved, who chose to wish for more independence, and moreover, failed to fulfill his wishes? The calculation was good enough, doubtlessly, but it was certainly easier for Anne to be a newly-rising star of machiavellistic intrigue backed by her diplomatic family and lots of scholars employed to remove obstacles to her marriage, but it was dreadfully hard to continue so with success, being a wife, obliged to keep her opinion to herself, and unable, to her greater shock, to deliver an heir, with an open hatred to her clan and herself, professed by thousands. And, of course, Henry himself, suspicious, impulsive, his mind changes quickly, and he is disappointed, which is worst of all. A true horror-story for anyone, let alone person like Anne, who have put everything on the line.
Anne Boleyn was certainly a charismatic figure thinking outside the box, who refused to adopt unconditionally traditional and conventional (which didn’t prevent her from being a devout Christian), refused to do strictly what she is told to. She had her vanity too, as to fine attire, attention, and admiration, but hers was also a vanity of a learned and cultivated woman, willing to get what is her due. Her ambition and determination succeed to achieve almost impossible, or at least, unpredictable, but these very qualities could make her dangerous to her jealous husband, as soon as his fascination began to expire and his hopes failed.
Her energy, high intellect, cultivated taste, coincided with Henry’s and suited him. The interests of the pair met – she despised being a mistress, he desperately needed legitimate offspring. But Henry’s important choice could hardly have fallen on Anne herself – if not her self-possession and ambition.
The king going to extremes to win a woman’s favor wasn’t a new thing, but each time it is a pill hard to swallow. And the world was watching the exploits of this power couple with tremor for some time! The consequences were too crucial to be unnoticed; Anne Boleyn was a figure too much put forward to remain unseen – she was responsible for many evils in the eyes of many; the seed was sown – hatred and ill-favor were preparing to burst on her in time.
So happened during their married life that Anne became no longer convenient for Henry’s professed political expediency. She was no longer engaging to Henry to endure what he now disliked in her, and no more convenient again, to make that endurance profitable.
If not the miscarriage in January 1536, their relations may even recover, for some time at least give them both so long-wanting peace and more confidence in future. At any rate, birth of a son could secure Anne stronger position, which she desperately wanted. But what if the king had finally lost his interest in her? And how could her own fiery character bear being forced into the background and keep back her emotions, resentment, we can only speculate. We don’t know how Henry would have treated a wife, whom he has already been tired of, but who had given birth to a boy. The absence of that boy is what made him by degrees at a loss what he had done wrong this time to be again in God’s disfavor, then to be disappointed in Anne again, and consequently, increasingly suspicious. And his suspicion was too readily fed – there was no small amount of courtiers who had watched her rise with dread and were now not sorry to hasten her fall. Well, rumors and accusations fell down into prepared soil.
Henry’s eye has already been wandering and there was the other eligible lady in his view. I believe, it was only the crucial contrast to Anne that made the chance for Jane Seymour to succeed in her place. It seemed (and it proved soon also) that Jane suited to perform a role of a perfect Tudor wife – mild, resigned, humble, chiefly silent – all what Anne was not. Ironically, Henry needed Anne (and her uneasy character) to understand what he really wanted his wife to be, but to achieve this aim he found himself obliged to get rid of the present one.
However, even with aforementioned admirable qualities, a new queen could be but too easy a person to put aside, be she again unable to bear male children. That’s a risky business, no one could guess the outcome, as we see, but Henry, it turns out, was again perfectly sure that in getting Anne out of the way he is doing only what he must to secure the future of the country. Moreover, he held her guilty of his disappointment, and of other, rather invented crimes. Though, invented or not, the idea of her betrayal was too scandalous, that it could make him furious. Fury of a man like him became a trigger to signing the death warrant. Henry could at that time believe anything that could help to do away with his wife. He was determined to have a new thing started the sooner, the better, so the decision is taken – get rid of her on whatever grounds available. There’s no way back.
So there were Anne’s ambition, confidence, perseverance, high culture, and unconventional character, there were Henry’s self-assurance, strong will, and deep belief that he’s doing the right thing, which have brought Anne Boleyn to the throne, and the same things have reversed everything for her – from the throne to the scaffold. Dramatically, the reasons for Anne Boleyn’s eclipse have already been recorded in the events of her advancement. But still, we may use Mary Stuart’s more optimistic quote suggesting that, though, perhaps, in Anne’s rise was her downfall, ‘in her end is her beginning’, the beginning of legacy and appreciation.