30 January 2012

Anne Boleyn as Wife & Queen

By all accounts, Anne Boleyn's long awaited wedding day was dismal at worst, anticlimactic at best.

To say that the English people were markedly displeased may be understating the fact. It seems that perhaps the only people who were truly happy about the nuptials may have been Anne and her immediate family. Anne was harboring increasingly bitter feelings toward many, especially the catholic priests as it seemed to her that their support was solidly for Catherine. Anne was correct in her suspicions. What may be surprising is not that Anne resented the support for her rival, but that she had not fully expected such a backlash. For years Anne had doggedly persisted in her attempts to  throw Catherine off of her rightful throne, and usurp her. (It was a bitter irony that when Jane Seymour would do the very same thing to Anne shortly afterward, that Anne would react with uncontrolled rage and jealousy. Catherine had conducted herself with a far greater dignity and self-control than her rival had, while facing a situation that would make many women crumble.)

Though one may easily sympathize with Anne's disappointment, the outcome had been a predictable one. The English people had always loved Catherine, and Henry's great love for Anne Boleyn did nothing to change that affection. Catherine had been received with open arms from the very day she arrived in England, when she was a cherubic rosy cheeked girl with beautiful strawberry blonde locks.Catherine had consistently presented a picture of a dignified lady, modest and demonstrating perfect restraint even when her own world was coming apart. Anne by comparison was an emotional hothead. When the Defender of the Faith became enchanted with Anne and elected to dethrone his long time queen, the people were understandably horrified, even enraged. Anne was promptly dubbed a home-wrecker, and worse. We know from documented history that Anne Boleyn had many extraordinary qualities. But it can never be denied: Anne courted and ultimately won over a married man. It was largely felt that Henry's ridiculous reasoning of Catherine having been married  to his deceased bother did effectively cancelled his marriage, was self-serving and full of error. Hardly anyone truly agreed with Henry. Catholics were firmly against Henry's intentions; the protestant people were very nearly forced to support the union between their king and Anne Boleyn. Religion not withstanding, very few people agreed with Henry's logic, and most felt decidedly uncomfortable about this pairing.

Anne must have experienced a mix of emotions on her special day. She had finally won her king's hand,  but it was a bittersweet victory. Anne had clearly been extremely frustrated in the months leading up to her wedding, and had effectively alienated some who had been her strongest supporters. She was developing a disturbing habit of bickering with nearly anyone who showed any sort of opposition to her, and Anne was  using her position as Henry's lover as a viable threat to others. Anne could be so sharp tongued that she  brought Henry to tears on numerous occasions.  Anne was also conniving plots to humiliate and hurt Catherine.  As though taking away the queen's husband were not enough of an injury, she devised additional schemes meant to upset Catherine. One example was her intention to wear jewellery which had been the official property of the queens of England for centuries. Anne determined to wear those jewels on the famous trip to France, and had sent a messenger to Catherine who demanded her relinquishing of them immediately. Catherine initially refused; an express order from Henry finally forced her to surrender the jewels.

In April of 1533, Anne officially became the self-described Happiest of Women as the wife of King Henry VIII. However, there were critical issues that remained unresolved. The most obvious of problems was the fact that Henry was still technically married to Catherine. It seemed outrageous that the couple pursued marriage at this time as Henry's marriage had not yet been dissolved.  If circumstances couldn't have been more complicated for the pair, Anne was a pregnant bride. Henry's own courtiers could scarcely hide their own feelings of distaste. Anne did nothing to help the situation and was spending the king's money in a manner which she felt was fitting for a queen. The English people were becoming increasingly outspoken in their disapproval of Anne Boleyn, and Henry's threats did nothing to silence them.

Regardless of the backlash that Anne faced when she married her king, she was like any bride-to-be. On her wedding day Anne was full of anticipation and arrayed in dazzling garments and jewels. In this way she was like any other young bride, filled with hopes and expectations. But her actual situation was anything but typical, as Anne was marrying the king of England, who was still very married to Catherine of Aragon.  Meanwhile, Catherine was actually terrified of eating her meals, fearing that she might be poisoned. Catherine, never having enjoyed good health, was growing sickly and weak. It didn't help when she was virtually banished to Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire, a dreary drafty place made of stone. Catherine realized she was terminally ill, and her desperation to see her daughter Mary, who had been forcefully separated from her, grew daily. Shamefully, Catherine and Mary were denied their wishes to visit one another, and Catherine died without ever seeing her daughter again.  Anne was determined to seek revenge against those who had caused her damage. (Anne was not being paranoid when she feared that people in powerful places were actively seeking her downfall.) Anne did not hesitate to use her position to take vengeance on those who angered her, and she proved to be a fearful force.

Henry's affections for Anne had frozen with a remarkable speed after the nuptials. Anne had aged prematurely, and was growing thin and haggard.  She would never produce the son she had promised Henry. On the contrary, pregnancy and childbirth proved to be disastrous for Anne.  Aside from the birth of Elizabeth, her pregnancies all would end in miscarriage, and stillbirth.  Henry grew to despise Anne's strong personality. One can imagine that more than once he may have missed Catherine's submissive disposition, as the king would marry a very similar personality after Anne's death in the person of Jane Seymour. Anne had so alienated many of Henry's courtiers that by the time he decided to rid himself of his queen he would find that many of them were quite eager to assist him.

By the time that Anne met her fate at the hands of the executioner, she was so stripped and piteous that many of the English people who had once hated her felt genuine sorrow for the fallen queen. Anne was quite alone and devoid of human comfort and support in those last days.

In the end Anne Boleyn found that her motto, The Most Happy, had been tragically inaccurate. Anne did die with great dignity, but her actions would have a ripple effect on England for years to come.

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