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The women behind the Crown: Influential Queen Mothers – Anne Boleyn

The role of a mother can have an impact on any child, but how much impact does she have on her child if they are in line to the throne? In previous blog posts Katherine of Aragon, Margaret Beaufort, and Eleanor of Aquitane were all examined (a full list of the series can be found here) in order to understand how they may have influenced their children who later became Monarchs. Queen Elizabeth I is one of England’s most remembered monarchs, but how much do we really know about her mother, Anne Boleyn? Anne may have been executed when Elizabeth was just a toddler, but did Elizabeth emulate her mother at all?Miniature of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn’s birthdate is widely debated within the study of Tudor history, but most historians would assert the year of her birth as 1501. Born into what could be considered privilege, Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard. Although her mother was born into the wealthy Howard family, her father was not so lucky, but did become a favourite of King Henry VIII. Anne grew up in Kent at the idyllic castle of Hever with her two siblings, Mary and George.

During her early years, Anne’s father found her a place within the household of Margret, Archduchess of Austria, which was a great honour. By October 1514, Anne was sent to join the entourage that would wait on Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor, who was to wed Louis XII of France. Due to the short marriage, Louis XII was left without a male heir to inherit the throne, which meant Francis of the House of Valois would become King. Instead of returning to England, Anne found a place in household of Claude, the wife of Francis I. The seven years Anne spent at the French court turned her into a cultured woman, learning languages, fashion and etiquette, which all helped her upon her return to England.

In January 1522 Anne Boleyn set sail for England, and brought with her a wealth of courtly knowledge. On 4th March 1522, Anne made her debut at the English court, where she played the part of “perseverance” in a play at the Chateau Vert. It was during this time that Anne found herself secretly betrothed to Henry Percy, the son of The Earl of Northumberland. Historians still debate whether their affair was consummated, however regardless of this, the two lovers were forced to part ways.

Henry VIII fell in love with Anne some time after 1526, leading to Henry’s proposal despite already being married. Both hoped that the King could annul his marriage from Katherine of Aragon within a matter of months. They hoped that an annulment would be granted on the grounds that Katherine had been married to Arthur, Henry’s elder brother who died in 1502, and they had consummated the marriage, therefore going against the Bible’s words stating a man should not take his brother’s wife or would die without a male heir. This, of course, did not run so smoothly as the couple hoped, and Henry’s quest for a divorce became known as ‘The King’s Great Matter’. Anne soon demanded that she become his Queen or nothing at all.

During this time, it is unclear as to how far Anne’s commitment to the Protestant Reformation went, but she was said to have introduced Henry VIII to Tyndale’s heretical writings.

Up until 1532, Henry VIII fought Papal authority for a divorce, but Thomas Cromwell brought a bill before parliament that asked for the Submission of the Clergy. By asking the Clergy to submit to The King’s will, it meant that Henry would soon have royal supremacy over his realm, without the interference of foreign authority. Soon after, England broke with Rome, leaving Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

On 25th January 1533, Henry married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony; Anne was already pregnant at this point. In June, the couple were crowned and by September Anne was in her final week of pregnancy. However, the child was not the hoped for boy Henry had wanted, but a girl who they named Elizabeth. Anne would bare no more children, which most certainly contributed to her fall from grace.

The portrait of Anne in Elizabeth's ring

The portrait of Anne in Elizabeth’s ring

Although it was custom for a Queen to be less hands-on with their children, Anne fought to be just the opposite. Elizabeth I was not yet three years old when Anne was executed on 19th May 1536, and most likely didn’t have any memories of her mother. While growing up in her father’s court, Elizabeth probably heard terrible rumours about her mother, but there were supporters of Anne that fought for her legacy. The fact that Elizabeth wore a ring with a portrait of her mother on one side, and herself on another, is very telling. This demonstrates how much she must have cared for the memory of her mother, and through this piece of jewellery Elizabeth was able to display her connection with Anne to those around her.

In many ways, Elizabeth’s siding with the Protestant Reformation would suggest that she supported her mother’s religious views. It could be suggested that Henry VIII’s treatment of Anne, along with her father’s somewhat distant interest in Elizabeth, could have been ingrained upon the young Elizabeth and deterred her from marrying later on in life. In 1544, Henry VIII had a family painting commissioned, which Elizabeth is seen wearing an initial pendant with the letter ‘A’ on it. Elizabeth would have been approximately twelve years old during this painting, and validates the bond she had already forged with her late mother. Throughout Elizabeth’s life she was close with Mary Boleyn’s children, which she most probably would have not have done if she thought her mother was guilty of the crimes for which she was beheaded (which does not include witchcraft – a later rumour to further discredit Anne).

All of these signs point to how much of an impact Anne Boleyn had on her daughter, even after death. With some clear evidence, Elizabeth could be seen as being her mother’s daughter. So yes, a mother, regardless of dying early in a child’s life, can have a significant influence on their life.

photo credit: lisby1 and lisby1 via photopin cc

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