Thursday, September 8, 2011
Consort Profile: Queen Ann Boleyn
There was hardly anyone at the French court who was not impressed with her. She made herself a joy to be around in almost any company. She liked to sing, gamble, hunt, exchange jokes and was a great conversationalist. Later many would claim that she also became an expert at what we shall politely refer to as ‘bedroom antics’ while in France, however, it is hard to determine the truth of those claims as most appear after opinion had turned against her whereas, at the time, she was reported to be quite virtuous. Some find that hard to believe but, even if she was not pure as the wind-driven snow she must have been very discreet about her affairs and that could be almost as great a recommendation for the circles she moved in. In 1522, when relations between England and France were growing worse, she returned to her homeland and, thanks to her family, was promptly given a place at court as one of the ladies-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. It did not take long before she caught the eye of King Henry VIII, always a man easily distracted by women and growing increasingly frustrated with his older wife and her inability to provide him with a male heir.
Henry VIII would try to get his own way within the Catholic Church but his patience was near exhaustion. Ann knew she had the King wrapped around her little finger and, perhaps unwisely, began making enemies in some pretty high places. Cardinal Wolsey was certainly at the top of that list. He warned the King against trying to divorce Queen Katherine. She was the aunt of the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, she had been married to Henry for quite a long time already, had a child with him and the King had received a papal dispensation in order to marry her in the first place. Cardinal Wolsey was certainly no pious churchman but he was realistic and informed statesman and knew that, for all of these reasons, the Pope would never agree to Henry divorcing his wife. This made him as much an enemy to Ann Boleyn as the Queen herself and, though it seemed impossible, when Henry had to choose between his chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, and Ann Boleyn it was Ann who won the day. When Wolsey failed to obtain the answer from the Church Henry wanted his political career was over and there was no doubt that Ann was to be the replacement for Queen Katherine as consort of England.
The King also began to be put off by many of the qualities which had first drawn him to Ann. He no longer found her assertiveness attractive. She was educated, intelligent and didn’t mind showing it and he didn’t like that. She was bold and opinionated and he didn’t like that and she was not bashful about speaking her mind and he didn’t like that either. As tensions grew Ann also became more unpleasant herself. People complained about her lavish spending, her cruelty toward her step-daughter Mary and many blamed her for dissolution of the monasteries, the religious innovations that divided the country and the execution of popular and respected Catholics such as Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. All of this only seemed to make Ann more defiant and her public image was certainly not helped when she wore a bright yellow dress to a party after learning of the death of Queen Katherine. This all had an impact on the King as well and he began to likewise blame Ann for all of his misfortunes, whether it was the rebellions that broke out or the growing political isolation of England by the great Catholic powers of France, Spain and the Empire. Of course, Ann was not responsible for all of this, but she made for a convenient scapegoat, often by others, such as the King, who were themselves just as much or more responsible for the state of affairs than she was.