13 September 2010

The Feminine Mystique of Anne Boleyn

The following is a poem which is was inspired by Anne Boleyn. It may well be that this poem reveals a great deal about Anne Boleyn, and the kind of woman she was, the subject of such an ardently passionate poem.
Whoso List To Hunt

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Oh yes, very revealing indeed, I think.

Who's That Lady: Anne Boleyn

Though Anne Boleyn would refer to herself as having once been a "commoner," she could hardly have been called common. Anne was a woman who came from a very influential family, one of means. While it is well-nigh impossible to determine just how happy her upbringing may have been, she had certainly enjoyed substantial material comforts while growing up.

Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn, was a prominent figure in the court of Henry VIII. Intelligent, capable, and intensely ambitious, Thomas Boleyn was a man who was ever reaching for the stars, higher and higher, never satisfied with the status quo, he determined to shine brightly. Boleyn would use everything within his capacity to achieve those ends, not stopping at his own children. Still, Thomas Boleyn was not terribly different from other courtiers in his time, many who did attempt to thrust daughters and sons into the pathways of the nobility. Given the lowered status of women in the 16th century, a daughter was an undeniable liability for most men. If Mary Boleyn was as attractive as she was reported to be, undoubtedly Thomas Boleyn thought his family could capitalize on that factor. It certainly seems a very distasteful notion to our modern day sensibilities, but world of the Tudors was radically different from the world we now inhabit.

Anne, we have been told, while not as conventionally pretty as her sister, Mary, had attributes all her own. While she was never considered a great beauty, she certainly was considered attractive and desirable. There have always been women who create their own beauty, who are so knowledgeable and skillful at applying their feminine wits and charms, that men find them irresistible. Mary may have been blonde, and pretty. But Anne was a triple threat, vivacious, darling, wildly flirtatious. It is really not too difficult to understand how she eventually eclipsed her own sister, and eventually won the hand of a king in matrimony. Though the story would end badly, very badly, Anne did get Henry to marry her.

10 September 2010

Mary Boleyn: A Shadow Figure

Though Mary is so often seen as a shadow figure, remembered only for her tenure as mistress to King Henry, and as a sister to Anne and George Boleyn, she had a full life independent of the court. In fact, she wasn't exactly able to enjoy the trappings of having relations in high places, given that at one point Anne permanently ejected Mary from court.

Mary certainly did enjoy some number of favors granted and given by the king and from her sister. But Mary's relationship with Anne was changeable and certainly not close. Did this coolness stem from Mary's first having been the love interest of Henry? While her one-time romance with King Henry couldn't have helped her future relationship with Anne, it seems that the divide between the sisters was created by a number of factors. While the Boleyn and Howard clan were impressive, a family who enjoyed prestige, they were also ambitious, jealous, grasping.

Thomas Boleyn was so eager for favor and recognition from the crown, that he was more than willing to pawn his children, his own precious daughters, with seemingly little regard to the personal cost to his children. Of course he could not have known what lay in wait for his children, and perhaps he thought he was ultimately doing well by them in so aggressively pushing his children into the court of King Henry. However, having ever met King Henry would prove disastrous for George and Anne.

08 September 2010

Mary and Anne Boleyn: As Sisters

The exact sort of relationship experienced between Mary and Anne Boleyn is not easy to determine. Little information exists about the life of the two sisters as children, and their relationship as sisters is even more elusive. As I've mentioned, some historians do not agree on which sister was older, though it is generally believed that Mary was the eldest.

Various depictions of Mary Boleyn seem to paint her as a passing fancy, a quick meaningless fling in the life of King Henry. This was hardly the case, as she was Henry's official mistress for some period of time. During this time, and for the most part had always been so, the Boleyn sisters were not particularly close. They bore little resemblance one to the other physically, and were even less alike in temperament. Mary and Anne wanted different things in life, and would take entirely different paths to their own ends.

Time was passing. Wolsey was still preparing Henry's divorce, Mary still his mistress, and Anne was quietly living at Hever. At this time Mary was likely unaware that her sister would soon eclipse her, would eventually marry King Henry, and that she would ultimately fade into a distant memory, evicted from court by Anne. (Given what must have seemed at the time as a dismal end to such a hopeful beginning, historians now agree that Mary was the luckiest of the Boleyn children.)

Thomas Boleyn was certainly content with then current state of affairs, and could also not have known what laid ahead in the not too distant future. As for what Anne may or may not have been planning during this time, it is impossible to know. What we can know is that Anne was surely thinking, watching, learning. A most shrewd observer, Anne did at some point decide that Mary's seemingly dead-end position in Henry's life would never do for Anne. If she decided to play at all, it was going to be for keeps.

07 September 2010

Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn: One time wives to the Great King Henry

Anne came into King Hal's life in a rather indirect way. I don't think it is fair to say that Anne Boleyn destroyed Catherine of Aragon's marriage, because her husband was disenchanted with Catherine long before Anne made herself known at the English court. As we all know, Mary was Hal's mistress long before he became enamoured of Anne. In fact, the Boleyn Family became interwoven into Henry and Catherine's estrangement in a complex and somewhat convoluted manner. That is not to say that Anne did not bear guilt, because she certainly did. Anne carried on for years with a still very married man, and simultaneously mistreated his daughter, Mary. I have wondered to what extent the miserable treatment Mary endured from Anne Boleyn, shaped her extremely disturbed personality in her adulthood.

King Henry was gracing the Boleyns and Howards with many favours quite some time prior to his fiery romance with the raven-haired Anne. To many, it seemed that as Henry was systematically ousting poor Catherine out of his life, he was almost creating a new family for himself among the Boleyn and Howard factions.

It is difficult not to feel great sympathy for Catherine. Almost any normal woman can relate to her dilemma. She was the wife of Henry's youth and had done nothing to deserve such shoddy treatment. She had been faithful to Hal in every conceivable way, had never complained of having a convenient headache when Hal's desires were for her, (and he would admit later that she had performed her wifely duties in every way when they were together,) and she had deferred to him on all matters. But, Boy Howdy, when Hal thought he was going to quietly send Catherine on her way and take up with sexy, young Anne Boleyn, the Great Henry found he had another thing a-coming. The formerly mild, almost timid Catherine stood up to him with a fury that few man ever had dared to. Again--as women, most of us can relate. Henry had impregnated Catherine over and again. Few of us modern day women would like to be pregnant as many times as the long suffering Catherine had been. The poor queen kept having miscarriages, or infants who would tragically die shortly after birth. All contemporary accounts report that being perpetually pregnant for many years had all but destroyed Catherine's looks. Once a bright strawberry blonde, with rose-gold cheeks and curvy figure, sorrow and over a dozen pregnancies had left Catherine prematurely aged, and hopelessly stout. Sadly, Henry had not the character to remain loving to his wife. We all know couples where the wife was once a Catherine Zeta-Jones, or a Christie Brinkley, and 3 children later, perhaps a career, loads of hard work and perhaps a few heartaches along the way, has thoroughly faded the wife's once radiant beauty. And yet the husband remains solidly in love with his wife. A real man knows and expects that his wife will not look the way she did in the honeymoon photos forever. Beauty fades, and quite fast, so many of us have found. True beauty comes from the heart, and this type does not fade. Catherine had true beauty to spare. But Henry was a superficial kind of guy. He found Anne's long shimmering black hair, her flashing eyes, and her sworn state of virginity, (probably not true,) to be an offer he couldn't refuse. It is worth mentioning, and considering that we know how the story ends, Anne would one day find herself in the same unenviable position. Discarded, cheated on, unwanted was the state Anne would become familiar with, just as Catherine had experienced not so many years before.

05 June 2010

Mary was the pretty one?

Was Mary Boleyn the pretty sister? I suppose it might depend on whose opinion one chooses to rely on. If pretty is as pretty does, Anne was the winner as she was vivacious, sensuous, flirtatious. There are no such reports on Mary. Sadly, the only thing Mary had a solid reputation for was her alleged wantonness.

Anne would have been the captain of the cheer leading squad, had she lived in this modern era. Still, Mary wouldn't have lacked for dates had she been a high
school girl in the 21 century. But she lacked Anne's verve. Mary was said to have been fair-haired, a physical trait highly valued in Tudor times. (Of course, I'm not sure how much that has changed. Marilyn Monroe?) It is clear, for whatever reason, that King Henry's eye fell on Mary first. The degree of intensity of the affair between Mary and the king is debatable, and for the most part, unknown. Many historians now believe that King Henry fathered at least one of Mary's children. They certainly bore physical resemblance to Elizabeth, more so than is typical for cousins.

In any case, while Mary may have lacked the sharp intelligence and forceful personalty or her sister, she was not without self-determination. Mary was astute enough to have Thomas Gardiner appointed to Tynmouth Priory. Her husband was the beneficiary of several royal grants in 1522-1525. There may have been several reasons behind the King's largess. He may have truly appreciated Mary's discretion,
or perhaps he believed, correctly or not that Mary's children were his own. Certainly, Mary's relationship with the king ended on good terms.

It has been said many times, that ultimately, Mary was the luckiest of the Boleyn children. It seems that Mary's willingness to quietly fade into the background was her saving grace.