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

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

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

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Hever Rose Portrait of Anne Boleyn:
  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.
  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
  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 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.

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.

Amanda Harvey Purse, Tudor historian and author of The Boleyns: From the Tudors to the Windsors, featured on the Anne Boleyn Files:

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

Posted in Historic Characters

The First Executed Witch in the North Berwick Witch Trials

What were the North Berwick Witch Trials?

The North Berwick witch trials were held to examine several people who were accused of witchcraft in Scotland starting in 1590.

King James VI of Scotland married Anne of Denmark in a proxy marriage ceremony in 1589. But when it came time for Anne to sail to Scotland to meet her new husband, that is when the real trouble began.

Anne’s ship was delayed by storms for so many months that James decided to sail to Norway, where she was stuck, and retrieve her. He too, had issues with the storms, but they finally reached Scotland in 1590.

  • Portrait title: James VI and I, 1566 – 1625. King of Scotland 1567 – 1625. King of England and Ireland 1603 – 1625. Artist unknown but attributed to Adrian Vanson.
  • Portrait title: Portrait of Anne of Denmark (1574-1619) by Unknown Artist.

It was during this turbulent time that it was first brought to James’ attention that witches might be responsible for the storms that caused the delay in Anne’s travels (and also caused the death of one her maids). Witchcraft and the hunting of witches was very popular in other parts of Europe at the time and James began to make serious inquiries into the possibilities. Eventually a woman name Geillis Duncan who lived in the town of Tranent, was arrested. She went on to accuse several more people of being witches and a true witch hunt began.

Not All Accused Witches Were Women

At least three of the names that Geillis Duncan gave her accusers were men. One of these men was a schoolmaster from Prestonpans by the name of Doctor Fian, who went by the alias, John Cunningham. It was said he was the witches’ register, and  that there was not one man who could come to the devil’s readings but only he.

Once he was arrested, Doctor Fian had his head thrawed, whereby a rope would be wrapped around the head and squeezed. This did not have the effect his accusers had hoped, and he confessed nothing. He was also put in the “boot” which was a wooden or metal device into which wedges were hammered thus crushing the feet and lower legs. Yet, he still would not confess. The other accused witches urged his accusers to search his tongue, whereby two pins were found underneath, pressing up into his tongue. The witches claimed that the charmed pins were the reason Doctor Fian could not confess. He was immediately released from the boots and brought before the king where his confession was taken, written in his own hand.

Love-Sick Schoolmaster?

Along with his admittance of recording the witches’ confessions of service and true oath to the Devil, he would write whatever the Devil commanded him.  Doctor Fian also admitted to bewitching another man in town who had an interest in the same young woman that Doctor Fian did. He caused the man to fall into a state of lunacy for the span of one hour, every 24 hours. This young man was brought before King James to testify and it was witnessed that he did indeed fall into madness, bending himself and capering directly up, so high that his head would touch the ceiling. It took several men to subdue the man and once he was bound hand and foot, he was left to lie still until his fury had passed. Once the bewitchment was over, the man had no recollection of the events. 

Doctor Fian was also accused of trying to bewitch the young woman that he was in love with. Having enlisted the help of one of his students, who happened to be the brother of the woman he was in love with, he attempted to obtain “three hairs of his sister’s privities”. Doctor Fian gave the young man a piece of paper to wrap the hairs in to be brought safely back to him.  The young man pestered his sister so much that she brought it to her mother’s attention.

Her mother (who was said to also be a witch), began to inquire of the brother what he was trying to do. She finally beat a confession out of him and he told her all that Doctor Fian had asked him to do. Wanting to give the schoolmaster a taste of his own medicine, she then proceeded to snip three hairs from the utter of a heifer and wrapped them in the paper that Doctor Fian had given to her son. 

When Fian used the hairs in an attempt to cast his love spell, you might imagine what happened next! According to contemporary accounts, he had no sooner done his intent to them, that the heifer appeared at the door of the church where the schoolmaster was. The cow came through the doors of the church and made toward him “leaping and dancing”, and followed him out of the church and wherever he went. 

According to the writer of Newes from Scotland, this was witnessed by many of the townspeople who recognized that such acts could never have been sufficiently effected without the help of the Devil. It became such an ordeal that Doctor Fian came to be known amongst the people of Scotland as a notable conjurer. 

An Apparent Change of Heart

Doctor Fian eventually recanted his allegiance to the Devil and renewed his confession of Christ. He pledged to live a godly life and eschew all that the Devil had asked of him. But the morning following his confession, Fian revealed that the Devil had visited him in the night and demanded that he continue his faithful service. The Devil had appeared to him dressed all in black with a white wand in his hand. Doctor Fian claims he rebuked the Devil, telling him that he would no longer take part in that lifestyle. He also claimed that the Devil then told him “once ere thou die, thou shalt be mine”. The Devil then broke the white wand and immediately vanished. 

Doctor Fian told these events to his accusers the next morning and remained in solitary confinement throughout the day. He appeared to ponder the care of his own soul and would call upon God indicating a penitent heart. However, that very same night, Fian was able to apprehend a key to the cell in which he was kept and escaped the prison.

The king immediately issued public proclamations throughout the land in an effort to apprehend Doctor Fian. According to Newes from Scotland, a hot and hard pursuit ensued, and he was eventually recaptured.

Although the schoolmaster had confessed his sins in his own handwriting, he denied now that he had ever had such a pact with the Devil. The king, perceiving that Fian had renewed his allegiance to the Devil during his absence from prison, commanded he be searched again for a mark indicating his new pact. He was thoroughly searched, but no mark could ever be found. 
More torture was ordered and it was done in this manner:


All his fingernails were split with an instrument called a Turkas (pincers)  and two needles were pushed up under each nail up to the heads. The Doctor felt nothing and confessed to nothing from this torture.

He was then put to the boot again. He remained in the boots for a long time, enduring many blows insomuch that his legs were “crushed and beaten together as small as might be, and the bones and flesh so bruised, that the blood and marrow spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unserviceable forever.” For more information about how the boot was used as a torture device check out this website here.

Example of a boot used for torture

Yet, he still would not confess. 

His accusers claimed that the Devil had entered his heart so deeply that he utterly denied all that he had previously confessed. Doctor Fian claimed that he had only made such confessions for fear of pains which he had endured. 

Pincers from the archaeological excavation at the Harburger Schloßstraße in Hamburg-Harburg, Germany. Dated to approx. 15th or 16th century. Photoraphed at Archaeological Museum Hamburg. Photo credit: Bullenwächter; Wikipedia CC

After great consideration by the king and His Majesty’s council, in the name of justice and “also for example’s sake”, Doctor Fian was soon condemned to death. 

According to Newes from Scotland, he was strangled, carried in a cart to Castle Hill of Edinburgh and put into a great fire and burned. 

Doctor Fian was the first accused witch executed in the North Berwick witch trials.  There would be many more.

Woodcut featured as a scene from the life of Doctor Fian’s life, in Newes from Scotland, published 1591.