Thursday, September 26, 2013

Read of the Week

This week I read the book The Daring Truth about Anne Boleyn: Cutting Through the Myth by Sylwia Zupanec. *Sigh* I know I should never start a book review like this but I honestly had a very hard time reading this book because of the incredibly poor grammar, spelling errors and strange punctuation. I found myself re-reading whole passages trying to understand what the author was saying. Almost every page was littered with improperly used words, incorrect tenses and erratic commas. I struggled with Zupanec’s inability to address her audience in a learned, professional way. Her conclusions often begin, “In this chapter, I have proven…” It seemed like it was written by high school student trying to meet the requirement of a standardized writing test. After doing some research on the author I discovered that her primary language is not English, which could account for the editing issues in the book. However, when I purchase a book that is marketed as an academically researched and written book, I expect that I will not see spelling errors. The premise of this book is that there are many misconstrued ideas about Anne because they are based on primary source documents which have been mistranslated by historians and researchers. It is hard to take this assertion seriously when there are so many obvious translation issues in the author’s own writing.
Grammar issues aside, the book, while well researched in some areas, had me screaming at others. The author used as a source for the definitions of several words. All of us millennials know that is about as unreliable as an electronic resource can be.  Zupanec goes on the defensive when addressing the primary source letters of Eustace Chapuys to Charles V. She states these letters can be used as reliable, accurate information because Chapuys was merely doing his job, reporting the court happenings to his master.  She goes so far as to call him "trustworthy" and "reliable." Honestly, it is one of the most ridiculous statements in the book. Chapuys constantly called Anne, even while she was Queen, a google eyed whore, the Great Concubine and other derogatory names. His reports, in several cases, contain outright lies and court gossip. The ambassador had a vested interest in trying to damage Anne’s reputation and limit her rise to power, so arguing that these letters can be used as legitimate sources is completely illogical. Most Tudor era historians, myself included, pick pieces out of the Chapuys letters that can be backed by other evidence to use in our writing, but are careful to realize and cite the obvious bias that is colored by Chapuys’ devotion to the Hapsburg family, his Catholic faith and his aversion to all things/people that were pro-French.
 The author also spends a lot of time painting what I view as an inaccurate picture of Henry VIII. Using the Chapuys letters, Zupanec's writing portrayal Henry as a weakling, toddling along behind Anne and abiding by her every desire. I found this depiction not only factually questionable but also offensive to the historical legacy of a king who changed the social and political landscape of an entire country to suit his whims. Henry was far from the lovesick, schmuck that Zupanec describes and she would know this if she had researched him more thoroughly. Unsurprisingly, the use of primary and secondary sources on Henry in her writing are scarce and almost non-existent in her list of sources.
I also normally do not critique the cover art or aesthetics of books (you know the old adage), but in this case, I cannot help but weigh in. When my copy of this book was delivered I could not help but think that the cartoon like image of Anne on the front cover was both unflattering and unprofessional. The formatting in the book is awkward with sub-heading titles that are not capitalized correctly and divide the book in to choppy sections and it drives me a bit crazy that the spine title is upside down.  All in all, there is nothing in the book that cannot be gleaned from a better written, better researched book such as The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives or Anne Boleyn by Paul Friedmann. My suggestion? Pick up one of them instead.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Never with the mother!" The Relationship between Henry VIII and Elizabeth Boleyn

For many years during the life of Anne Boleyn, and certainly after her death, rumors about the relationship between Henry VIII and the Boleyn family swirled. Some writers and Tudor figures have asserted that Henry VIII not only had a relationship with sisters Mary and Anne, but that he also engaged in sex with their mother Elizabeth Boleyn and during the torrid affair that Anne was conceived. In this short article we will explore three things; where did these rumors begin? What is the likelihood that there is substance to them? What outcomes/obstacles were created due to the rumors?

The first thing we must do is evaluate where these stories originate. In order to beta test the origination of these stories we will consider two of the writers. Thomas Jackson and Nicholas Sanders were Catholics (as were almost all of the writers of these rumors), therefore inherently anti-Anne, as she and her family represented the Reformation movement in England. Jackson lived during the time period in question and was charged with saying, “…the King lived in adultery before his marriage [and] that he kept the mother and afterwards the daughter, ‘and now he hath married her whom he kept afore, and her mother also’”* Though he was a contemporary, Jackson would have been a very young man during the time of the supposed affair without access to Elizabeth or Henry. He also would have had motivation to write slander against the Boleyn family to defend against what he viewed as an attack on the Catholic faith.  Sanders, was writing two generations later during the reign of Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I. In addition to not having firsthand knowledge of Henry’s relationship with Elizabeth Boleyn, he also had much motivation to blacken Elizabeth’s history and relationship as he had been exiled from England because he was convicted of plotting to have Elizabeth killed and replaced with one of her Catholic relations. Sanders account says that Anne was conceived by Elizabeth during the time when her husband was abroad on King Henry VIII’s orders as an ambassador to France. Unfortunately for Sanders, Henry was not King in 1501 or 1507, which are the two debated dates of Anne’s birth.

Despite a lack of evidence, the salacious gossip about Henry’s love-life was not kept under wraps. In fact both Henry and Thomas Cromwell were questioned about the rumors during a conversation with George Throckmorton regarding parliamentary business. Throckmorton’s recollection of the conversation was printed in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, Throckmorton mentions the concerns of Parliament to the King saying “….I said to him that I told your Grace I feared if ye did marry Queen Anne your conscience would be more troubled at length, for it is thought ye have meddled both with the mother and the sister…” to that the King answered, “Never with the mother!”** The report continues with Throckmorton’s doubt coloring every word. There is evidence that Throckmorton heard these stories from Friar Peto, a known enemy of the Boleyn faction who preached a sermon drawing parallels between the Biblical story of Ahab and relating Anne to the character of Jezebel.

If we believe these stories have merit, we would also have to be willing to accept that Henry VIII, knowing that she was his daughter, married Anne anyway. As I have written about on many occasions, Henry VIII’s religious nature is undoubtable. He heard mass many times a day and it was reported that he was training for the priesthood prior to the death of his eldest brother and heir to the throne. He was known as Defender of the Faith due to his well-known piety and his response to the perceived heresy of Martin Luther. His deep faith troubled his conscious regarding his first marriage and led him to consider a complete conversion of his belief system.  It is, therefore, incomprehensible that someone who valued his immortal soul so completely would go so far in the world of consanguineal incest. Outside of contextual background on the situation there is also the tangible evidence of a timeline to consider. Anne’s birthday, while still debated in some historical circles, is most likely sometime in 1501 meaning that Henry would have been ten years old when Anne was conceived. It is, therefore very, very unlikely that there was any sort of relationship between Elizabeth Boleyn and the then Henry, Prince of Wales. Lastly, we can infer that these rumors were not true due to the fact that Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador to England, surely would have reported them to his master, Charles V. If they had been true and subsequently reported they would have been used as significant leverage to undermine the annulment process of Henry and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage.

Despite my vehement belief that these rumors are untrue, it is true though that almost every rumor starts with some kernel of fact. It is my belief that Elizabeth perhaps had a poor reputation regarding her chastity at court and Boleyn detractors saw this as an opportunity to damage the King’s relationship with Anne. On what do I base my thoughts? Well on the importance of symbolism to Tudor age people. Seeking to play up their good qualities, people often sought to have themselves associated with virtuous figures from the Bible and other literature. In fact, Anne herself was compared to Queen Esther. In Elizabeth’s case she was compared to Greek literary figure Cressida in a poem by contemporary writer John Skelton. Cressida, though always described as extremely beautiful, has also often been depicted by writers as being a false love, a paragon of female inconstancy. Because symbolism was so important to writers and readers of the time period we can assume that Elizabeth embodied the characteristics of Cressida, including her tendency for infidelity.

Though these rumors were exceedingly damaging to the reputation of Anne Boleyn and her family, Henry seems to have survived the accusations relatively unscathed. The insinuations that Henry had engaged in an incestuous relationship increased the dislike felt for the Boleyns amongst religious conservatives at court and also by the common people in London where the rumors were leaked. We can, in my opinion, discount these stories as sensationalism designed to undermine the Boleyn marriage and the reign of Elizabeth I.  There is not only little historical evidence to support them, but they all seem to stem from the same Catholic, anti-Boleyn source, Friar Peto.  The rumors have a blatant agenda of creating damage aimed specifically at the Boleyn family. Historical training teaches us to objectively evaluate the claims to determine their worth and significance. These have neither.

**Extracts taken from the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 1532, The Lady Becomes Marquess Pembroke

September of 1532 was a momentous time for Anne Boleyn; it was the month that Henry VIII created her Marquis of Pembroke. Women were rarely ennobled and if they were the title was almost always inherited and passed immediately to her husband upon her marriage. The excerpt below, from the Letter and Papers, recalls the ceremony:

“…creacion of lady Anne, daughter therle<sp> [the earl] of Wilteshier, marquesse of Penbroke”

“Sunday, 1 Sept. 1532, 24 Hen. VIII. The lady was conveyed by nobleman and the officers of arms at Windsor Castle to the King, who was accompanied by the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and other noblemen, and the ambassador of France. Mr. Garter bore her patent of creation; and lady Mary, daughter to the duke of Norfolk, her mantle of crimson velvet, furred with ermines and a coronet. The lady Marques, who was in her hair [meaning she wore her hair down] and dressed in a surcoat of crimson velvet furred with ermines, with trait sleeved, was led by Elizabeth countess of Rutland, and Dorothy countess of Sussex. While she kneeled before the King, Garter delivered her patent, which was read by the bishop of Winchester. The King invested her with the mantle and coronet, and gave her two patents, -one of her creation, the other of 1,000l. a year. She thanked the King, and returned to her chamber.”

Anne becoming marquess is important for two major reasons; first of all it raised Anne herself to the peerage making her a more suitable wife for a king. Secondly, her letters patent tell us a lot about the relationship between Anne and Henry at that point in time; the papers leave out the customary language granting inheritance to sons “lawfully begotten” Was this a clerical oversight [unlikely in my opinion] or a physical manifestation of Henry and Anne’s mutual fear that an annulment was out of reach and a desperate attempt to legitimize their children who might be born out of the protection of wedlock? In my opinion it is high improbable that such an omission would have been accidental. Henry and Cromwell were meticulously and analytically planning Anne’s rise to queenship. Therefore, this piece of evidence leads me to believe that Henry and Anne were either having a sexual relationship at this point or near to it. The omission of the “lawfully begotten” language would have protected Anne’s children’s inheritance should she have fallen pregnant before Henry’s annulment was finalized. Such protection would not have been necessary had the two not been sleeping together and/or planning to.

Interestingly enough, the elevation also has significant contextual importance: Marquess is the second highest, non-royal title during this time period, second only to a Duke. This meant Anne was now raised higher than her father (Earl of Wiltshire) and her brother George (Viscount Rochford). Pembroke, the Welsh castle from which Anne’s title originated, last belonged to Henry’s great uncle Jasper Tudor. Jasper had been long hailed as a hero of the Tudor family because he was instrumental in helping Henry VII rise to the throne. By making Anne not only an important noblewoman, but also granting her one of his ancestral titles, Henry strove to show the world that he was serious about making Anne his wife. These honor are indicative of the high esteem he held her in; Anne was clearly not just a fleeting fancy.

Anne's Letters Patent

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Read of the Week

When I picked up Lacey Baldwin Smith’s book on Anne Boleyn, I was fully prepared for another analysis of her life which differed very little from any of the other books written about her. I expected it to follow the same time line and make the same arguments. I was pleasantly surprised; Smith instead treats his subject with a deep appreciation for historical and cultural context of the Tudor times and Anne’s life. I enjoyed the way he sought to understand the major players and characters from their own perspectives. He gave Henry VIII more room for thought and analysis than most other writers on the subject. The author really worked to present a book that is both balanced and insightful. He makes thoughtful remarks regarding the theories of other well know Anne historians including GW Bernard, Eric Ives and even amateur historian Alison Weir. He compares their research and suggests, very delicately, where they could improve and which of their arguments are sound. Interestingly, I found myself agreeing with him in the final chapter of the book where he cuts down the theories of many authors regarding the fall of Anne. It is a long held belief that Cromwell was ultimately responsible for Anne’s fall; this theory does not take into consideration the almost absolute power of Henry and the necessity of people involved in the trial to adhere to his wishes, or possibly pay with their lives. Smith is meticulous in detail and always is careful to neither demonize not beatify Anne. I appreciated his objective view, something not many Anne historians are capable of and certainly something I struggle with myself.

There were several things I did not like about the book, though in comparison they are relatively small. For example, on page 87 the author refers to Catherine of Aragon as “fat” and “sterile” I am still unsure whether he was trying to view the situation from Henry’s perspective (he was known to prefer slender women) or whether this is his own original thought. If it is his own, his reference of Catherine’ sterility is laughingly inaccurate. Catherine was pregnant at least seven times during the duration of her marriage to Henry, making her far from sterile. While it is true that she was beyond her years of reproductivity, it would have been more accurate to refer to her as post-menopausal or another less degrading term. My final complaint is a very personal one; I prefer footnotes to endnotes as used by the author. When there is a reference in writing that I find interesting I want to have the citation at my fingertips not be flipping back and forth between my current page and the end of the book to locate information.

This book glosses over a lot of details regarding Anne that he assumes a reader would already know. Therefore if you are unfamiliar with the story of Henry VIII and Anne or are new to the world of high level academic writing I recommend avoiding the book as you will not have done the research leg-work to understand the author’s insinuations and conclusions. Otherwise, pick it up. It makes a great addition to any Anne lover’s book collection.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Anne Boleyn?

I get asked this question pretty regularly as soon as people find out I spend a lot of my time reading about her and have devoted my education to researching her. My very first reaction is to ask “Why not Anne Boleyn?” She was a fascinating woman, a woman who was ahead of her times in terms of learning and thought, ideals and politics. Then I recall that most people do not know this version of Anne.

I have now prepared myself with the following LB Smith quote on Anne, “Anne Boleyn was the crucial catalyst for three of the most important events in modern [British] history: the break with Rome causing the English Reformation, the advent of the nation state and the birth of a daughter whose forty-three years on the throne stand as England’s most spectacular literary and political success story….”

For the historical outsider, this answer is satisfactory. Only those who choose history and research as their lifeblood will understand my true reasoning; Anne is my historical perfect storm. A woman whose actions and life so changed the landscape of an entire country, yet one we know so little about that even the year of her birth cannot be confirmed. Anne inspired such hatred, and such devotion, during her time that it is no surprise that she continues to fascinate myself and scores of other scholars. Anne is ethereal, more myth and hypothesis than established fact. Digging for her story is a never ending challenge as little primary source material about her exists and the ones that do are colored by pro-Catholic and pro-Katharine of Aragon leanings. One of the most extensive primary sources on Anne is the series of letters between Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador to England, and his master, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (nephew to Katharine). Chapuys sees fit not to use Anne’s name in this correspondence; referring to her only as the Concubine, the lady and in some cases worse nomenclature. We scholars and lovers of Anne have constant debates about how seriously we can take the claims of one of Katharine’s most ardent supporters. With the elimination of Chapuys’ letters we are left with almost no other contemporary, personal accounts of Anne’s life making the hunt for answers about her even more difficult.

We know from surviving budget accounts that Anne was generous with her money, both in support of the poor and in patronage of artists, writers and theologians. She favored men of the Reformation, whether as a means to an end, (reformation ultimately meant Henry’s divorce) or because she truly believed that a more liberal, personal relationship with God was needed has also been hotly debated. Her downfall, naturally dramatic and the subject of intense sensationalism, has become the stuff of legend. Anne had six fingers, she was a witch, she gave birth to a malformed child, and she had a sexual relationship with her brother. These mythologies have enmeshed themselves so completely with established facts about Anne that most of the general public have a distorted perception of her. There are the people who want to vilify Anne, who claim she was guilty as charged, such as historian GW Bernard, a fact any historian who has explored the evidence will refute. Then there are those that put her on a perhaps undeserved pedestal such as martyrologist John Foxe. These factions are miles apart with most historians not able or willing to work towards a middle ground that would be representative of both truth and fact.  Anne, for the first 20+ years of her life was rather unremarkable. She lived only to the age of 36 and died tragically, yet her story and the unanswered questions that accompany it, reach across a span of nearly 500 years to enthrall movie-goers, novelists and historians alike.

Anne, when examined, is fascinating. The search for her story is hard work and sometimes frustrating; which makes it all worthwhile when I come up with a conclusion about her life or discover a new source about her. And that my friends, is why Anne Boleyn.