10 Lies history told you about Anne Boleyn

In her explosive new book Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies, historian Hayley Nolan exposes the lies we’ve been fed about the Tudor’s most famous queen, Anne Boleyn.

LIE: Anne Boleyn seduced Henry VIII, demanding to be his wife instead of his mistress

Far from ruthlessly pursuing king and crown, Anne Boleyn actually removed herself from court for a year to escape King Henry's unwanted advances, not wanting to risk pregnancy as a royal mistress (unlike her sister, she had no husband to hide behind with that one).

In Henry’s so-called “love letters” to Anne while she was away, he openly admits that she was not returning his affections and was even ignoring him.

Anne could see marriage to the king was never an option due to the fact she was a commoner and he was already married to Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, who brought vital international political alliances to safeguard against England war. No member of the Boleyn family would have thought they could oust her!

 

Anne Boleyn lies history told you about her
Anne Boleyn depicted in a late Elizabethan portrait, possibly derived from a lost original of 1533–36. Image via Wiki Commons

 

LIE: Anne’s father pushed his daughter’s into the king’s bed

By the time either of his daughter’s had their respective relationships with the king, Thomas Boleyn already had a 20-year career as a highly respected royal diplomat, working closely with the king’s inner circle of advisors.

He wasn’t even present at court when Mary and Anne Boleyn began their dalliances with Henry in order to coerce them—and no one of his standing would dare commit to paper any instructions to seduce and trick the King of England.

Quite the opposite, in fact, we have multiple pieces of evidence proving that Thomas was against Anne’s marriage to Henry and even tried to dissuade the king from going ahead with it, seeing it as dangerous not just for his daughter but the whole country!

 

"Anne accepted Henry’s proposal in order to champion reform within the church"

 

LIE: Anne wanted to be queen for selfish gain

In almost all popular portrayals of Anne Boleyn, from biographies to documentaries and dramas, we are shown a selfish and smug woman who revelled in only the glory of being queen.

What gets left out is the overwhelming evidence proving she was a devout evangelical, who accepted Henry’s proposal in order to champion reform within the church where the authorities were taking advantage of the people.

In the run-up to her marriage and during her reign we have endless reports of her saving activists from execution and fighting for the freedom of religious expression without persecution.

 

the other boleyn girl
As played by Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl, a film which played up a rivalry between the queen and her sister Mary 

 

LIE: Henry VIII changed England’s religion to marry Anne Boleyn

When Henry failed to get the pope’s consent for an annulment from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, this turned into an epic seven-year battle. This much we know. But it quickly developed into Henry needing to prove his powers as King of England over that of the pope. Something he still didn’t manage to do effectively because, contrary to popular belief, Henry wasn’t the one who "broke from Rome".

In the end, the pope got so fed up with Henry’s indecisiveness, it was Rome who broke with England and excommunicated Henry in the process.

 

"Anne demanded that her daughter came to live at court"

 

LIE: She spent her reign bullying young Princess Mary

Though we have reports of Anne firing off hot-headed remarks such as threatening to kill Princess Mary while the king was away or marrying her off to the household staff, it’s clear these were simply insensitive and tasteless jokes, not serious threats—they would have sparked an international war with her mother’s homeland of Spain and resulted in Anne’s own death if attempted!

There is also no truth in the gossip that Anne forced Mary to serve Elizabeth and celebrated the death of Catherine of Aragon. In fact, Anne repeatedly tried to reconcile with Princess Mary, the last time being in the days following Catherine’s death where the Spanish Ambassador reported it was Henry who wore yellow in celebration.

His only mention of Anne’s reaction was her attempt to console Mary and offer an olive branch.

 

Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger
Anne Boleyn depicted by Hans Holbein the Younger. Image via Wiki Commons

 

LIE: Anne never loved Elizabeth, because she wasn't a male heir

Though it’s true Anne and Henry needed a boy to inherit the throne, we have so much evidence that Anne doted on her baby girl.

She struggled with the royal protocol that saw children raised in separate households shortly after birth, and within weeks had Elizabeth moved closer so she could visit more frequently. But in the end, Anne demanded that her daughter came to live at court, meaning Elizabeth was with her at Greenwich Palace when she was arrested.

It was here that only five days earlier Anne had a heartbreaking conversation with her chaplain Mathew Parker, asking him to look out for her child should she not be there herself.

 

"Henry's supposed 'love' for Anne was actually a psychotic obsession"

 

LIE: Anne hated her sister and had her banished from court

While the dramas love to play up the Boleyn sister’s rivalry, bizarrely enough the two were quite close.

Even though Mary had previously had an affair with the king (and potentially two children with him, we have no firm evidence either way) Anne still spent Christmases with her, took her on a vital diplomatic visit to France shortly before her wedding and became a ward to Mary’s son when his father died.

Although Anne later over-reacted to her sister re-marrying staggeringly beneath her status and without the king’s approval—she banished her from court—what reports rarely tell us is that Anne brought her back to court almost immediately, realising her mistake, and tended to Mary in the final stages of her pregnancy.

 

Anne Boleyn
As portrayed by Natalie Dormer in The Tudors

 

LIE: Henry was passionately in love with Anne

In the book, I feature a psycho-analysis of the king’s actions with Oxford University research psychologist Dr Kevin Dutton which reveals Henry was a sociopath due to a traumatic childhood, and his supposed “love” for Anne was actually a psychotic obsession.

We’re always told Anne’s death by the sword was one final act of compassion for “the queen that he loved”, but this is an incredibly damaging way to romanticise a domestic violence murder; the method with which a man kills a woman does not prove his love for her. After all, if it can end in decapitation it was never really love.

As a sociopath devoid of conscience or remorse, it would appear the queen’s dignified death was merely damage limitation for the monarchy, as she still represented the crown.

 

LIE: Henry ordered Cromwell to conspire Anne’s death so he could marry Jane Seymour

Though Henry is well known for discarding of his wives with chilling ease, he was still using his marriage to Anne as a political bargaining tool until one week before her arrest.

Evidence reveals that it was actually the king’s advisor Thomas Cromwell and courtier Charles Brandon who conspired to frame Anne Boleyn for adultery without the king’s knowledge. But by the time Cromwell presented Henry with the false evidence that his wife had cheated, Anne had become a political liability due to her backing an alliance between England and Germany.

So when Cromwell suggested she was better off out of the picture, Henry knew what needed to be done.

 

Mary Boleyn
Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn, image via Wiki Commons

LIE: Cromwell and Anne fell out over the dissolution of the monasteries

Evidence from her final months alive reveals that Anne and Cromwell actually fell out due to her controversial million-pound Jobcentre/ NHS-style government scheme to help the poor.

Anne had been working on "The Poor Law" with her patronee William Marshall and got the king to lobby it in parliament. The reason this terrified Cromwell was because Anne wanted to set up a national council to rival the king’s privy council, of which Cromwell was the head.

Devastatingly, Anne’s original scheme was heavily diluted and what remained of it has been accredited to Cromwell ever since. An injustice that I worked to get corrected in an article published for UK Parliament Week in 2019.

 

Hayley Nolan Anne Boleyn book

Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies by Hayley Nolan (above) is published by Little A, available from 1 December 2019

For more information please visit hayleynolan.com and follow her on Instagram @ThisIsHayleyNolan, Facebook @TheHistoryReviewWithHayleyNolan or Twitter @TheHayleyNolan