Posted in Guest Post

Unrivaled Passion for a Renaissance Queen: Reassessing Anne Boleyn

Guest Post by Rebecca Monet, Author of the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Book: An Illustrated Biography

When the term “Rival Queens” is used, it is assumed to mean Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. That is, if you aren’t Tonya Ulynn Brown and myself—then it jokingly becomes Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, and Mary Queen of Scots. We jest, but while my respected peer’s passion has drawn me to her much-maligned Scottish Queen (one whom I’ve learned was the first queen regnant of the British Isles!)— I, too, hope others will engage with Anne’s story, as Tonya has graciously invited me to answer the question, “What made you interested in Anne Boleyn?”

My fascination with Anne is not only recent, but quite unexpected. Though I have a soft spot for England, with an on-going interest in ancient empires and twenty years of flamenco dance under my belt, my history pursuits have always leaned toward the exotic. Add to this a walloping helping of all things French, and I give ten points to Mary Queen of Scots. But then, Anne would understand the French fascination too—since, like Mary, she spent most of her formative years at the French court as well—but more on that, shortly.

That said, it was all the more surprising that while the world was locked down during March of 2020, I grew obsessed with a British queen.

At the time, I had decided to go 2 for 2: to meet lockdown head on with binge watching paired with exercise. Using my mini trampoline, I bounced my way through “The Crown,” which, despite watching on my parents’ recommendation, led analytics to proffer a wide selection of British History programs. I gave a perfunctory scroll and came across a lovely lady in crushed green velvet with the words “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” scribed beneath her. I thought, “This should keep my attention for about an hour.” It has been two years and counting.

So gripped was I by her story, that my bouncing slowed to an eventual stand still. I sat on the side of my mini trampoline to watch the rest of the documentary and for over two hours I googled Anne. It was the documentary’s words, “Anne Boleyn…with a single blow of a sword, became the first queen in Britain’s history to be executed.” Henry VIII and his wives are so intwined with the notion of beheading, that I hadn’t considered Anne to be the first. Add to that the narrator’s final introductory words, “So who was the real Anne Boleyn and why was she executed?” And you have, in essence, my marching orders. It became an academic pursuit which fit the vernacular phrase, “Oh no you didn’t.”

Matched to the gross injustice Anne suffered was my fascination that Anne was not the most beautiful woman at court. This fact added mystery to the question, how did Henry become obsessed with her, dedicating seven years of precious Tudor lifespan pursuing her in marriage?

Despite scenes such as those in The Tudors (which I watched only after writing the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book, and a good thirteen years following the show’s premiere)—it was not love at first sight for Henry and Anne. It was a slow dawning which led to deep obsession; making their seven-year courtship all the more tantalizing— especially since my study of her evidenced the fact that she was not the pursuer (as “Other Boleyn” stories might wish for you to believe).

In fact, to suffer the idea that Anne was a commoner, a daughter following the schemes of her father and a blindly ambitious courtier in pursuit of power, is to align with the obsolete and misogynist views of male Victorian historians (not particularly accurate fellows). In an effort to moralize and elevate Henry— transforming him into a straddled, keen-eyed Santa Clause for their dreamy “Merry Ol’ England”—these historians deliberately dropped the agency of the six women married to Henry VIII in some sort of figurative (and grossly apocryphal) hostage exchange.

Deconstructing centuries old analysis and dramatic tropes, it is best to start with removing Thomas Boleyn from the equation. He did not need his daughters to elevate himself. He was favored by Henry VIII’s father long before Henry VIII himself made Thomas a Knight of the Bath when Anne, by today’s standards, would have been in kindergarten. In short, Thomas did not use Anne to rise in the court of Henry the VIII;

he was already a shining star— having, for one thing, been selected by Henry VIII to retain his interests with the Holy Roman Emperor against France while acting as diplomat to the court of Margaret of Austria in the Lowlands.

It is here that Thomas secured a position for Anne as one of Margaret’s filles d’honneur (or demoiselles d’honneur / maid of honour). Not to be confused with a housekeeper, Anne was in fact tutored in French and educated alongside Margaret’s nephew: the young, future Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Hense, Margaret of Austria’s given moniker, La tante de l’Europe (The Aunt of Europe). This was a prestigious and highly competitive position for Anne to attain. Margaret’s court was, as historian Gareth Russell has aptly quipped, “Hapsburg Prep.” And while there, Anne most likely rubbed shoulders with many contemporary thinkers and artists of the age, such as Albrecht Dürer and Erasmus.

Thomas Boleyn was a Humanist and Anne’s position at Margaret’s resplendent Renaissance court lived up to his ideals. He enjoyed seeing his daughter educated in a time when few women were. In fact, when Anne entered fully into Henry’s court in 1522, she was unusual in more than one way. Not only could she read and write when most women in Henry’s court could not (or at least they were highly limited in these skills), but she brought with her the proficiency of more than one language and all the talent, intelligence and artistry of the Renaissance; a way of being which was not only de rigueur, but Henry VIII’s greatest passion. Henry longed to be the consummate Renaissance prince and, as Dr. Owen Emmerson of Hever Castle has said, Anne “was the Renaissance” when she came to Henry’s court. She embodied it.

Most likely this is because after a short time at Margaret’s court, Anne was called up to the court of France—bouncing from one of the two most prominent Renaissance courts north the Alps to the other—in order to be a lady-in-waiting to Mary Tudor when Mary went to France to marry the aged Louis XII. The marriage ended with Louis’ death only three short months later. Anne remained, probably due to her French language skills (which she acquired from Margaret of Austria’s court).

Anne served and traveled with the devout and meek Queen Claude— the new queen of France and daughter of Louis XII—debunking yet another misnomer about Anne: specifically, that she learned the “art of love” in France; for, Claude ran a pious court (unlike her husband, King Francis I and his court which
held his “privy band of ladies,” in which Anne did not take part).

Yet, it is likely Anne might have met Leonardo da Vinci while in France, as Francis I brought Da Vinci to his court to paint, create architectural additions and plan court entertainments—going so far as to hang Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his stool room (bathroom).

With a Renaissance resumé such as this, it is clear to see why Henry VIII was in direct competition with Francis I for the honorary title of “Renaissance Prince;” even having the cheek to pebble the Venetian ambassador with questions such as, “Is (Francis) as tall as I am? Is he stout? What sort of leg has he?” Following up with a jovial but no less rivalrous declaration, “Look here! I also have a good calf to my leg!”

Henry longed to be the

consummate Renaissance prince

and, as Dr. Owen Emmerson of

Hever Castle has said, Anne “was

the Renaissance” when she came to

Henry’s court. She embodied it.

In today’s world, Henry VIII and Francis I would be the perfect frenemies, right down to a fateful wrestling match at The Field of Cloth of Gold where Henry suggested they have a go and where he was roundly— and quite humiliatingly— defeated by Francis.

So, when this witty, intelligent, multi-talented Anne Boleyn left France after nearly a decade of serving a pious queen along with the queen’s formidable mother-in-law (sometimes a queen regent, Louise of Savoy), and bright sparkling sister-in-law— the sister of Francis I and a true Renaissance woman— Marguerite de Navarre (who was dubbed by her 20th century biographer as “The First Modern Woman”), one can see why Henry VIII was enthralled with Anne; for, according to Lancelot de Carles, a French diplomat, she “listened carefully to (these) honourable ladies, setting herself to bend all endeavor to imitate them to perfection.”

Queen Claude
Louise of Savoy
Marguerite de Navarre


This was not because of her father’s plan to hook her up with the King (an idea that most likely frightened Thomas more than inspired him), and it was not because Anne was a commoner grasping for glory (she came from nobility and had royal blood). It was because she breezed in with the freshness and vitality of the Renaissance, and at a time when Henry desperately needed a male heir. It was, in essence, a perfect
storm.

Henry fell madly in love with a woman who was not the golden, pale ideal of feminine Renaissance beauty, but a woman whose mind and inner being held its ideals, a woman whose years on the continent, as Suzannah Lipscomb describes, “transformed her from a teenage girl into an extremely desirable woman. The Anne that emerges back in England is one who has been shaped by many different influences—who is both pious and worldly, who’s both sophisticated and something of an innocent. She’s one who can play musical instruments, who can sing, who can dance, who can speak French, who is sophisticated and witty; who’s been exposed to a world of cosmopolitan glamour. And she’s such an attractive prospect because—precisely because—she is so complex.”

In the end, the very power Anne indirectly gave Henry—the impetus to break from Rome, making his rule indelibly imperial—was the same power that brought her down. The courtly love with which enthralled Henry, also ensnared Anne when she jokingly said to his groom of the stool, Henry Norris, “You look for dead man’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.”

Henry’s need for a male heir and false accusations against Anne were the final implosion to nudge Cromwell into reassembling Anne’s remark as treasonous. In the following days and with a speed heretofore unprecedented, Cromwell orchestrated Anne’s fallacious trial which was loosely constructed on accusations which Professor Eric Ives and others have painstakingly researched and found to be highly inaccurate. Her end was swift and bewildering, even to her dissenters. Though it began with a strong desire for justice, it is Anne’s inner beauty and intelligence which impelled me to stay. When I think of Anne, I think of Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”

In the end, I doubt time will be able to disengage my love for this true Renaissance woman who became one of England’s most intriguing queens, as well as many other remarkable women of the age; one being Mary Queen of Scots, a queen who also happened to arrive on home shores from France, fresh with hopeful dreams.


Free Download entitled “She Was the Renaissance:” an in-depth dissertation regarding Anne’s time at both Margaret of Austria’s Court and the French Court is available at anneboleynpaperdoll.com

Dr. Owen Emmerson holds the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book in front of Hever Castle.

About the Author

Rebecca Money is a writer and illustrator who grew up in the state of Maryland in the U.S.  She received a degree in illustration and for nearly twenty years, created custom murals in private homes in Atlanta, Georgia. She has spent the last fifteen as a mother and writer. Her mural clients would jokingly call her “Rebecca Monet.” It wasn’t until her last year of painting murals that her father discovered, through a genealogy-fascinated cousin, her clients were not off the mark.  She has since adopted “Rebecca Monet” as her pen name.  A perennial student at heart, she loves writing, art, history, flamenco and going really fast on carting tracks.  “I think Anne would have especially loved the latter and I enjoy the thought of seeing her, French hood flying, as she beats everyone else to the finish line” ~ RM

Be sure to check out Rebecca’s Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book at anneboleynpaperdoll.com

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Hever Rose Portrait of Anne Boleyn: hevercastle.co.uk https://www.hevercastle.co.uk/news/what-was-anne-boleyns-favourite-rose/
  2. The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. Directed by Rob Coldstream, performance by Daniel Flynn & Tara Breathnach. BBC, 2013.
  3. Tomb of Thomas Boleyn. Photo by Ann Longmore-Etheridge. https://www.flickr.com/photos/60861613@N00/8228504848
  4. Anne at Mechelen, coloured “Mechelen” page using a free “fan art” face option: Monet, Rebecca. Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Colouring Book. Rebecca Monet, 2020. Available at anneboleynpaperdoll.com/store
  5. Anne with Leonardo da Vinci, coloured page using “fan art” face option : Monet, Rebecca. Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll
    Colouring Book. Rebecca Monet, 2020. Available at anneboleynpaperdoll.com/store Left to Right # 6-8:
  6. Portrait of Queen Claude of France: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  7. Portrait of Louise of Savoy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  8. Portrait of Marguerite de Navarre: Attributed to Jean Clouet, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  9. Anne Boleyn art by Dmitry Yakhovsky for MadeGlobal Publishing from: Richards, Natalia. The Falcon’s Flight: a Novel of Anne Boleyn. MadeGlobal Publishing, 2020. Available on Amazon in print and for Kindle
  10. Photo of Dr. Owen Emmerson holding up the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book in front of Hever Castle : Photo taken by Dr. Owen Emmerson, Historian and Assistant Curator at Hever Castle.
  11. Pages from the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book. anneboleynpaperdoll.com/store

A few key documentaries and podcasts which informed this article and the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Book:


Henry & Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History. Directed by Chris Mitchell, performance by Professor Suzannah Lipscomb (self), Jack Hawkins & Emma Connell. Lion Television, 2014.

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. Directed by Rob Coldstream, performance by Daniel Flynn & Tara Breathnach. BBC, 2013.


Grueninger, Natalie and Natalia Richards. All Things Boleyn with Natalia Richards, Episode 72, Talking Tudors podcast, 8 May 2020. http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2020/05/08/episode-72-allthings-boleyn-with-natalia-richards/

Amanda Harvey Purse, Tudor historian and author of The Boleyns: From the Tudors to the Windsors, featured on the Anne Boleyn Files:
https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/leonardo-da-vincis-boleyn/

Books which informed this article and the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Book:


Bardo, Susan. The Creation of Anne Boleyn: In Search of the Tudors’ Most Notorious Queen. Oneworld, 2014.


Dugan, Holly. The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.


Emmerson & Ridgway. Hever: A Castle and its People. (date and publisher TBD as of publication)


Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy. Blackwell, 2009.


Lipscomb, Suzannah. 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII. Lion Books, 2012.


Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador. Amberley, 2015.


Morris, Sarah. Le Temps Viendra. Spartan Publishing, 2013.


Morris & Grueninger. In the footsteps of Anne Boleyn. Amberley, 2015.


Richards, Natalia. The Falcon’s Rise: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2019.


Vasoli, Sandra. Struck with the Dart of Love. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2016.


Vasoli, Sandra. Truth Endures. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2016.


Vasoli, Sandra. Anne Boleyn’s letter from the Tower: A New Assessment. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2015.


Weir, Alison. The lady in the tower: the fall of Anne Boleyn. Emblem, 2011

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