Anne Boleyn

Second Queen Consort of Henry VIII of England

drawing of Anne Boleyn

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Anne Boleyn (about 1504–1536) was the second queen consort of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I.

Fast Facts: Anne Boleyn

  • Known for: Her marriage to King Henry VIII of England led to the separation of the English church from Rome. She was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Anne Boleyn was beheaded for treason in 1536.
  • Occupation: Queen consort of Henry VIII
  • Dates: Probably about 1504 (sources give dates between 1499 and 1509)–May 19, 1536
  • Also known as: Anne Bullen, Anna de Boullan (her own signature when she wrote from the Netherlands), Anna Bolina (Latin), Marquis of Pembroke, Queen Anne
  • Education: Privately educated at her father's direction
  • Religion: Roman Catholic, with humanist and Protestant leanings

Early Life

Anne's birthplace and even year of birth are not certain. Her father was a diplomat working for Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. She was educated at the court of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands in 1513-1514, and then at the court of France, where she was sent for the wedding of Mary Tudor to Louis XII, and remained as a maid-of-honor to Mary and, after Mary was widowed and returned to England, to Queen Claude. Anne Boleyn's older sister, Mary Boleyn, was also at the court of France until she was recalled in 1519 to marry a nobleman, William Carey, in 1520. Mary Boleyn then became a mistress of the Tudor king, Henry VIII.

Anne Boleyn returned to England in 1522 for her arranged marriage to a Butler cousin, which would have ended a dispute over the Earldom of Ormond. But the marriage was never fully settled. Anne Boleyn was courted by an Earl's son, Henry Percy. The two may have secretly been betrothed, but his father was against the marriage. Cardinal Wolsey may have been involved in breaking up the marriage, beginning Anne's animosity towards him.

Anne was briefly sent home to her family's estate. When she returned to court, to serve the Queen, Catherine of Aragon, she may have become embroiled in another romance—this time with Sir Thomas Wyatt, whose family lived near Anne's family's castle.

Catching the King's Eye

In 1526, King Henry VIII turned his attentions to Anne Boleyn. For reasons which historians argue about, Anne resisted his pursuit and refused to become his mistress as her sister had. Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had only one living child, and that a daughter, Mary. Henry wanted male heirs. Henry himself had been a second son—his older brother, Arthur, had died after marrying Catherine of Aragon and before he could become king—so Henry knew the risks of male heirs dying. Henry knew that the last time a woman (Matilda) was the heir to the throne, England was embroiled in a civil war. And the Wars of the Roses had been recent enough in history that Henry knew the risks of different branches of the family fighting for control of the country.

When Henry married Catherine of Aragon, Catherine had testified that her marriage to Arthur, Henry's brother, was never consummated, as they had been young. In the Bible, in Leviticus, a passage forbids a man from marrying his brother's widow, and, on Catherine's testimony, Pope Julius II had issued a dispensation for them to marry. Now, with a new Pope, Henry began to consider whether this offered a reason that his marriage to Catherine was not valid.

Henry actively pursued a romantic and sexual relationship with Anne, who apparently held off from agreeing to his sexual advances for some years, telling him that he would have to divorce Catherine first and promise to marry her.

The King's Great Matter

In 1528, Henry first sent an appeal with his secretary to Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. However, Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the pope was being held prisoner by the emperor. Henry did not get the answer that he wanted, and so he asked Cardinal Wolsey to act on his behalf. Wolsey called an ecclesiastical court to consider the request, but the Pope's reaction was to forbid Henry from marrying until Rome decided the matter. Henry, dissatisfied with Wolsey's performance, and Wolsey was dismissed in 1529 from his position as chancellor, dying the next year. Henry replaced him with a lawyer, Sir Thomas More, rather than a priest.

In 1530, Henry sent Catherine to live in relative isolation and began to treat Anne at court almost as though she were already Queen. Anne, who had taken an active role in getting Wolsey dismissed, became more active in public matters, including those connected with the church. A Boleyn family partisan, Thomas Cranmer, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532.

That same year, Thomas Cromwell won for Henry a parliamentary action declaring that the king's authority extended over the church in England. Still unable to legally marry Anne without provoking the Pope, Henry appointed her Marquis of Pembroke, a title and rank not at all usual practice.

Queen and Mother

When Henry won a commitment of support for his marriage from Francis I, the French king, he and Anne Boleyn were secretly married. Whether she was pregnant before or after the ceremony is not certain, but she was definitely pregnant before the second wedding ceremony on January 25, 1533. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, convened a special court and declared Henry's marriage to Catherine null, and then on May 28, 1533, declared Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn to be valid. Anne Boleyn was formally given the title Queen and crowned on June 1, 1533.

On September 7, Anne Boleyn delivered a girl who was named Elizabeth—both her grandmothers were named Elizabeth, but it's commonly agreed that the princess was named for Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York.

Parliament backed Henry by forbidding any appeals to Rome of the King's "Great Matter." In March of 1534, Pope Clement responded to the actions in England by excommunicating both the king and the archbishop and declaring Henry's marriage to Catherine legal. Henry responded with a loyalty oath required of all his subjects. In late 1534, Parliament took the additional step of declaring the king of England "the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England."

Downfall and Execution

Anne Boleyn meanwhile had a miscarriage or stillbirth in 1534. She lived in extravagant luxury, which didn't help public opinion—still largely with Catherine—nor did her habit of being outspoken, even contradicting and arguing with her husband in public. Soon after Catherine died, in January 1536, Anne reacted to a fall by Henry in a tournament by miscarrying again, at about four months into a pregnancy. Henry began speaking of being bewitched, and Anne found her position endangered. Henry's eye had fallen on Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting at court, and he began to pursue her.

Anne's musician, Mark Smeaton, was arrested in April and was probably tortured before he confessed to adultery with the Queen. A nobleman, Henry Norris, and a groom, William Brereton, were also arrested and charged with adultery with Anne Boleyn. Finally, Anne's own brother, George Boleyn, was also arrested on charges of incest with his sister in November and December of 1535.

Anne Boleyn was arrested on May 2, 1536. Four men were tried for adultery on May 12, with only Mark Smeaton pleading guilty. On May 15, Anne and her brother were put on trial. Anne was charged with adultery, incest, and high treason. Many historians believe that the charges were created, likely with or by Cromwell, so that Henry could get rid of Anne, marry again, and have male heirs. The men were executed on May 17 and Anne was beheaded by a French swordsman on May 19, 1536. Anne Boleyn was buried in an unmarked grave; in 1876 her body was exhumed and identified and a marker added. Just before she was executed, Cranmer pronounced that the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn was itself invalid.

Henry married Jane Seymour on May 30, 1536. The daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII became Queen of England as Elizabeth I on November 17, 1558, after the deaths of, first, her brother, Edward VI, and then her older sister, Mary I. Elizabeth I reigned until 1603.


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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Anne Boleyn." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Anne Boleyn. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Anne Boleyn." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).