Wednesday, February 27, 2013

George Boleyn: More than Collateral Damage

Unfortunately, in most novels, films and other media about Anne Boleyn, her brother George is no more than a side show. A homosexual who probably had sex with his own sister resulting in an malformed fetus which Anne spontaneously aborted in early 1536. These authors, in addition to perpetuating to above mythology about George, completely ignore his religious contributions, remarkable career and the favor/power he wielded in Henry's court. This article will be a short exploration of George's career and his downfall.

By the time Mary came to court and caught the eye of the King, George was already established as a favorite. Records show him playing dice, cards and tennis with his majesty as well as joining the royal hunting party on more than one occasion. He was only 24 or 25 when he was appointed ambassador to France, a great honor. He was popular at Francis' court and was often praised for his witty discourse and intelligence. During this time he was trusted with the delicate task of seeking French scholarly opinion on the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Over the next several years he worked in France to convince Francis to support Henry's new marriage to Anne, he carried the Papal Bull of Excommunication against Henry back to England and negotiated for the betrothal of his niece Elizabeth to Francis' heir.

George had one of the most important tasks in the Reformation Parliament; he argued the case for Kingly supremacy in front of the Convocation in 1531. He also made suggestions to the parliament from 1530 until his death six years later. Many historical sources including Dr. Ives suggest that George was a book smuggler who was responsible for passing the works of Fish and Tyndale into the hands of the English nobility.

George was raised to the peerage in February 1533. He took his role seriously and parliamentary records show that during the 1534 sessions he had the most regular attendance of any member of either house of parliament. During the same year he was assigned the tasks of monitoring all ports and making sure the crown's share of shipping writs were paid into the royal coffers. In this capacity he was also responsible of arresting criminals and serving in an admiral position. In addition to his dynamic career, George was a trusted member of Henry's inner circle. Often giving advice, administering delicate tasks and keeping the King company. He handled incredible amount of crown money, had the favor of foreign governments and more importantly the ear of the King.

His appointments were irrespective of Anne's role and when Cromwell began considering ridding himself of the Boleyn faction, George was only slightly less of a target than Anne was. With George alive, Cromwell knew he could not seek to fully control the King. There was only one way to ensure George's total destruction; his death. There would be no evidence of the George betraying the King politically as his diplomatic record was spotless, so the only other way to incite treason charges was to accuse his of violating the Act of Succession and having sexual relations with the King's wife. Cromwell accused George of saying Elizabeth was not the King's daughter; a charge we now view as ludicrous as George would have greatly benefited from Elizabeth being the King's sole legitimate heir. There is also no evidence to support the claims that he had intercourse with his sister as all the times stated in court documents have been disproven as the Queen and her brother were many miles apart.

George Boleyn was not just collateral damage in the plot to remove Anne from power; it was a carefully calculated move that ensured a new faction could rise without the impediment of Boleyn influence. His power and favor would have limited the Seymours' rise and Cromwell's plan to gain more governmental/religious control. His death was deemed necessary in order to bring their plans to fruition; and with his demise Henry lost not only a skilled, trustworthy politician but probably one of his few friends.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer

Hey all,
This is an excellent video by Julia Xharo that explores Henry VIII's relationship with artists such as Holbein and others. It questions whether Henry patronized these forward-thinking renaissance men because he truly admired them or to bolster his own ego and improve the image of his own court. There have long been questions about whether Henry wrote the music attributed to him or not, whether he was as talented as he wanted everyone to believe. Watch this video and draw your own conclusions.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Read of the Week

Hey all you Anne addicts!

This week I dove into another Anne book, this time The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives. This book is one of my favorites ever written about Anne Boleyn. Ives, though his respect for Anne is evident, never strays from his scholarly, researched approach to his book. He stays away from rumors such as the shrewish wife with a sixth finger and a malformed children, but he also does not paint Anne as an innocent victim, in fact he refers to her as being "absolutely calculating" He reinforces ideas about Anne's interest in religious reformation, not as a means to assist in her own meteoric rise, but as a genuine evangelical with God's will at the forefront of her mind. He also addresses what I have long referred to as the "fight to death" conflict between Anne and Cromwell, including their fights over distribution of Church wealth and official Church liturgy. He disputes many apocryphal claims about Anne, her family and the time period using a plethora of primary and secondary sources. He analyzes every source, making sure that the authors are unbiased in their  thoughts and research before using them to support any of his own ideas.

This book is beautifully written and impeccably researched, the most accurate picture we may ever have of Anne Boleyn and a true legacy for one of our time's most respected Tudor historians.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Mary Mythology

A 17th century painting believed to be of Mary Boleyn

Throughout history, Mary Boleyn has been vilified; called The Great Prostitute, the English Mare, a whore, the woman who cuckolded her husband while sleeping her way to power and position. But who was this woman? Was Mary all that history has painted her to be? Or are Hollywood and even  history unkind to her memory?

What we know about Mary Boleyn is sadly lacking, most of the details people believe about her life are propagated by Hollywood interpretations of her. The portrait of her painted by The Tudors is as a promiscuous and often forward young woman whose escapades were widely known. The Other Boleyn Girl portrays her as being innocent and pressured into the sexual encounters she experienced by her overbearing father and uncle. The truth is that she probably fell somewhere in the middle. Most women in the Tudor time period would have had sexual experience prior to marriage, just as Mary did. However, as Mary's experiences were with prominent men, most notably King Francois of France, they are now more widely discussed.

So if Mary's sexual experience was comparable to other women of the time period, why do we still talk about it? The answer here can only be explained by her sister Anne's marriage to Henry VIII. If Anne had never become involved with Henry, his affair with Mary would be no more than an interesting side note much like his time with Bessie Blount. In fact it might be less prominent as she produced no recognized children by the King, history might have completely forgotten her if not for Anne. But because Henry later applied for a papal dispensation to marry Anne after he had already slept with Mary, the affair has become infamous.

The affair though most certainly not Mary's idea was a choice she herself had to make. Many women would've been propositioned by wealthy power players at Henry's court and some would have chose not to stray from their martial bonds; however when a King propositions you and the rewards of such a relationship would have been so great, to refuse would have been unthinkable for Mary. It is also highly inaccurate to view William Carey as being a cuckold when he would've known about the affair between his wife and the King and enjoyed some wealth and position because of it.

One thing we do know about Mary is that after her politically and financially motivated marriage to William Carey and his subsequent death, that Mary made a love match on her own. In 1534 Mary married, without permission, one William Stafford, an untitled gentlemen landowner in Essex. Her family was unaware of her actions until she turned up at court, pregnant in September 1534. She was banished from the court for her choices and had her allowance cut off. She wrote to Cromwell early in 1535 asking him to intercede on her behalf it is here she speaks openly of her love for Stafford saying, "...I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom..."

Despite the common notion that Mary was an "English rose" pale complected with blonde hair and blue eyes in direct contrast to Anne's dark looks, we simply do not know if this is a fact. There are no contemporary portraits of Mary so it impossible to determine if this is correct.

There is also the mistaken idea that Mary raised Elizabeth, Anne's daughter after her death. This is entirely nonfactual. Elizabeth shared a household with her sister Mary, often attending on the baby prince Edward after his birth. She became a ward of Kateryn Parr after King Henry's death and eventually established her own household as she grew older. It is unlikely that Elizabeth and Mary had any notable interaction, although her children and grandchildren did become favorites of Elizabeth's after her accession to the throne.

Mary's life is a blank canvas, the lack of background regarding her life has allowed novelists, screenwriters and other people interested in the time period to paint in what they see as probable details. However, we must not take these unsupported, half hearted assertions as fact.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On the Hunt!

For all of you who are as "Anne Obsessed" as I am, you know how frustrating untruths about her life and death can be; especially when made by those who should, due to their education and experience, know better. I am enclosing tonight a three part video produced by BBC. I encourage you to watch it and see if you can hunt up their mistakes. Give it a go and comment me with your thoughts!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Anne Boleyn Files Book Give-Away

In celebration of the fourth anniversary of author and historian Claire Ridgeway is giving e-reader copies of all three of her outstanding Anne related books away on If you don't have a Kindle, you can download the reader software FREE to your computer or smartphone via the amazon homepage!

Follow this link to receive your copies and don't forget to enter her gift card drawing while there!

  • Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Read of the Week

    Hello Anne enthusiasts!

    This week I dove into Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Obsession by Elizabeth Norton and admittedly I was a little disappointed. First of all the author attempts to interpret Anne's emotions WAY too much leading to phrases like "must have" "surely would have" and other conjecture to be overused. Norton's lack of ability to prove the things she says make the book seem under supported; one of the most frustratingly obvious examples of this was her claim that not only was Anne present at the Field of Cloth of Gold ceremony, but the "probably" felt happiness at seeing her father there. There is absolutely no historical record indicating that Anne attended the ceremony, let alone how she may have felt at it. The chronological order of the book is also somewhat confusing. Norton often jumps around in Anne's life, downplaying important events and highlighting others with less (I believe) historical value. For example she makes no mention of the St. Erkenwald wedding of Anne. I also noticed some historical errors in her writing; namely when she claims Mark Smeaton was hung, drawn and quartered. This is absolutely untrue. He was beheaded just like all of Anne's accused lovers.
    I confess, I wanted to love this book; the title was interesting, I am always hankering for a new Anne Boleyn work to expand my knowledge and Norton's books have their own shelf in my library. I admit, I did not love it. Despite what I feel are some short-comings I can still appreciate how the author draws the reader in; Norton's style makes for interesting and easy reading. She gives a lot of "food for thought" on the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne, presenting facts and then allowing you to interpret and draw your own conclusions. I am also recommending this book because the imagery is incredible, the author accessed parts of Hever, the Tower and other Anne related spaces not normally open to the public thus allowing many of us to see these places for the first time.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2013

    Reader Questions

    Hello again readers!

    This week we had some really great question submissions, many that I had to some research on to be able to accurately answer. Thank you for your questions and keep them coming!

    Q: Does any of Anne's jewelry survive?

    A: This is a great question, but one with a sadly disappointing answer. Most of Anne's jewels would have been seized upon her arrest because they would've been property of the crown. It is very likely that they would've been reset and worked to fit the style of Jane Seymour and her predecessors as was customary. However, there is one happy bit of news. In a portrait of the Tudor family which Henry VIII had commissioned, Elizabeth can be seen wearing the A necklace that Anne was known for. Anne had a B necklace which is commonly depicted in portraits of her but also an A which she wore often after her coronation. It is said by several historians that she started the trend of monogram jewelry in her time. Here is the portrait of Elizabeth so you can see the necklace yourself.

    The Full portrait

    Close-up of Elizabeth

    Q: How did Mary Stafford [sister to Anne Boleyn] die?

    A: Mary died July 19, 1543 at her home in Essex. The cause of her death is unknown, so more than likely it was of natural causes indiscernible by medicine and technology of the period. Her burial place is also unknown though Alison Wier believes it to be the Church of St. Andrew near Rochford. Despite the fact that we do not know much about her death, we do know thanks to genealogical records that Mary is an ancestor to many great and influential people including Charles Darwin and Princess Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

    Q: I [the sender] read somewhere that Elizabeth contracted small pox during her reign. Is that true?

    A: Yes! This is true. On October 10, 1562 Elizabeth came down with what her doctors thought was a cold. However, the illness quickly escalated with high fevers and it was thought that she would die. She recovered thanks to the special care of one of her devoted ladies, Mary Sidney. Unfortunately the woman caught the disease herself and was badly scarred the rest of her life. Elizabeth did not suffer from major disfigurement but afterward did begin to use white makeup to cover the blemishes on her face and neck.

    Q: Did Elizabeth of York [mother to Henry VIII] have an affair with her own uncle?

    A: Great question, there is no question that Elizabeth and her paternal uncle Richard III had some type of relationship. She had written to her mother Elizabeth Woodville, former Queen of Edward IV to explain the relationship. Elizabeth the elder also corresponded with Richard himself regarding his desire to marry his niece following the sure death of his sickly wife Anne. Although this seems taboo according to our modern standards the union would have made a lot of sense during the time. Richard was faced with continual uprising of those who believed he was not the true heir to the throne because he had seized it from his nephew Edward V (Elizabeth's younger brother) following the death of the boy's father Edward IV. By this point most of England had accepted that Edward and his younger brother Richard were dead. Marrying Elizabeth would have united those who believed in the legitimacy of Edward IV's line with his own supporters bringing peace to a fractured England. Now, while they may have had a relationship; it is doubtful that they were engaging in sex. Firstly, because Richard and Elizabeth were both very religious and it would have been unseemly. Secondly, there was no effective means of birth control so if Elizabeth were to become pregnant she would have been scorned and not considered a viable candidate for queen. Regardless of whether or not there was a sexual relationship, it is accurate to say that Elizabeth was a favorite of Richard and that he intended on marrying her and making her queen following his wife's death.

    Thursday, February 7, 2013

    Read of the Week

    Hey readers,
    This week I enjoyed a really great book entitled The Women of the Cousins' War: The Duchess, The Queen and the King's Mother by Philipa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones. This book is interesting because each author tackles one of the major matriarchs of the period in a series of essays. The essays cover Jacquetta, dowager duchess of Bedford, her daughter Elizabeth Woodville who would become queen of Edward IV and Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry Tudor (Henry VII) Each "short story" covers the womens' early lives including their birth and childhood, early marriages and eventual rise to power. The stories overlap nicely, painting a very well written, comprehensible picture of the time period. One complaint I might have is that the authors took some liberties when speculating how each character might have felt in certain situations. Despite this, the book is extremely well-written and fun to read. If you are a fan of Gregory's historical fiction novels, this is a must read!

    Wednesday, February 6, 2013

    Elizabeth I Documentary

    Hello All,
    Today I enjoyed this short documentary entitled Elizabeth: From Prison to Palace narrated by renowned Tudor historian David Starkey. It was recently produced by BBC History. I hope you enjoy it!

    Monday, February 4, 2013

    Richard III Remains Confirmed!

    Early this morning, scientists at the University of Leicester confirmed that the remains of a man found at the Grey Friars' Abbey archaeological site are indeed that of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England. The DNA testing, which was performed to compare material from the skeleton and a known living descendant of Richard's sister Anne, was a nearly perfect match through the maternal line. The remains were located late last summer after a brief, successful search for the monarch's bones. The find is a great advance for English history and archaeology as facial reconstructions as well confirmations of Richard's fatal wounds and scoliosis can now be performed. I am enclosing the link here so you may read more on the topic!

    This Day in Tudor History

    On this day in history, 1520 Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne and future mistress to King Henry married William Carey. Contrary to popular belief, Carey was quite a catch. He was in favor with the King and had already amassed some wealth. There is no evidence to suggest that she was married off quickly, to the first man who came along in order to cover up her affairs in France. Sometime shortly after her marriage, probably in around 1521 Mary began an affair with King Henry VIII. Over the next several years, she would birth two children, Catherine and Henry named in honor of the reigning monarchs. There were some rumors that the children were actually Henry's and not sired by her husband William, however no contemporary evidence exists to suggest that this Henry was not a Carey by blood, although Catherine's paternity has been questioned. William died of the Sweating Sickness in 1528. Upon the death of her husband, Mary was left with substantial debt and little to no income. As a result, the King granted wardship of her son Henry to Anne. Mary would remarry in 1534 without permission of her father or the King, causing great turmoil between Mary and her family. The man, William Stafford, was a relatively poor landowner from Essex. His meager means support the theory that this marriage was a love match; quite uncommon during the time period especially for the high ranking nobility. She seemed happy finally, unlike her sister who would meet her demise just two short years later.