Monthly Archives: June 2011

Anne and Natalie Defy the Ideal: From Susan’s Book and Interview with Natalie Dormer

The following is the intellectual property of Susan Bordo.  Please do not quote or cite without attribution to: Susan Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming 2012.

Defying the fashion for blondes, which many privileged women with less than “whitely” locks tried to achieve through various recipes for hair and skin-lightening, Anne grew her dark hair so long that she could sit on it.  Before marriage, young women were permitted to wear their hair loose (after, it had to be hidden under a hood; the exception was the Queen, on those state occasions which required her to wear a crown.)   Religious ideology aside, Anne, must have been quite a ravishing sight, dancing at court, her thick, chestnut mane cascading down her back. “Her gracefulness rivaled Venus,” said the French courtier Brantome. When spotted after she returned to the English court by the French king Francis (whose wife Claude Anne had attended when she was younger) he declared:  “Venus etait blonde, on m’a dit: L’on voit bien, qu’elle est brunette.”  (“They say Venus was a blonde; but you can well see that she is a brunette.) Henry was obsessed with besting Francis, and the comment must have both pleased and provoked him. He was fiercely jealous of Francis’s reputation for style and dash.  I imagine the comment making its way around court, sending hearts and tongues aflutter, gossiping over the “brunette” beauty, as controversial—and influential—as the debut of the twentieth-century “flapper’s” short hair or Twiggy’s pixie.

Natalie Dormer, who plays Anne, is naturally blonde, and she auditioned that way, fully expecting, however, that if she got the role, she would play her as a brunette.  After she received the phone call telling her she’d won the part, she immediately dyed her hair.  When she arrived on set, she was shocked to discover that they had wanted her to remain blonde:

“They were really unhappy and it was communicated to me that I’d almost jeopardized my casting. But it’s such an important detail! Because she was defying the ideal, of what it meant for a female to be attractive. So we’re all barely cast, and I went to Bob Greenblatt with my heart in my mouth, and told him how important it was that Anne be dark. You have to let me play her dark! Some might say I was being melodramatic and self-important.  But I thought it would just be a direct betrayal of Anne. Of her refusal to step into the imprint of the acceptable norm at the time. “

The 16th century ideal

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More of Susan’s Interview with Michael Hirst, Writer of The Tudors

Intellectual property of Susan Bordo.  Do not quote or cite without attribution to The Creation of Anne Boleyn FB page (

SB = Susan Bordo

MH= Michael Hirst


We’ve talked about the fact that you are not doing history. In other interviews you’ve said “art is different from life, it has to have form”.  I agree completely. But I’m wondering, though, if you think that there’s a point at which a line gets crossed.  I’m thinking here in particular of “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which many of my students believe is true.


I just think you have to judge the results. Philippa Gregory has no historical sensibility at all. Her characters are all middle class people wandering into a historical situation and behaving in a very modern middle class way as a result.


The rivalry between Mary and Anne, for example?


Yes, yes, she just invented that or she didn’t know. With good fiction, you actually do understand history and you understand two things.  One is that people are completely different from us and at the same time they are completely the same. In other words, they believe things that seem extraordinary to us. But you understand their existence and you can touch them.  You don’t have to make this huge phony effort to make Anne Boleyn seem like someone in the next dorm of your university, you know.  She was of her time. Her sensibility would not have been a contemporary sensibility. But behind that she is real, behind that she is human.


I do wonder, though, with respect to The Tudors, whether you didn’t try to appeal to viewers yourself, by making Anne, in the first season, all about sex. I think that is part of what led some people to think “oh, here we have it again, Anne the slut.” Would you do that differently now or do you still stand by those choices?


Well, it goes back slightly to the initial situation we were in.  When Showtime commissioned the series they were really taking a giant leap because they believed there was no ready market for anything like that, so we had to push the boundary there.  It wasn’t until the second season when we had a market established that I could then settle down a little more and discuss serious things.  But the sex stuff wasn’t entirely cynical, because I did want to show, unlike high-school history, that there was a lot of sex at the time.  All the courts of Europe were run by people in their teens and twenties…that’s why they were so crazy.  We have this image now that the court is always middle aged, but it wasn’t true.  You know, Henry was 18 when he became King, and I thought it was ridiculous that people were telling me he was really rather prudish and there was no sex because there was no heating in the palaces…


Have they never been on a camping trip?


So, I’m not entirely sorry but I understand your point and its quite true.  People were able to dismiss it because they saw it only as a romp.  But, it wasn’t. It was a way of gaining an audience for something that wouldn’t otherwise have been watched and once I had my audience I could develop more complicated issues…


I understand what you mean.  And I think that you succeeded in that.  But some choices did puzzle me.  One, for example, was the decision not to have Henry’s body change.  That, and the minimal aging that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers did.  I mean he limped, sure, but he still looked like a pretty hot, sexy guy by the end of the series.  How did that come about?


Well the main thing was that Johnny actually has a small head and if you put a big body suit on him he would have looked ridiculous and I never wanted to go down the line of the slightly comical Henry VIII.  The moment people start laughing at him he can’t be a monster, and I’m more interested in the dangerous guy who is killing his wives. I do think, though, that he was pretty effectively degraded because on the very last show when he appears as a young man again there has been a significant change in him and, historically speaking, the real Henry VIII didn’t become monstrously fat until the last five years of his life.  The other thing is, we simply couldn’t have got Johnny to do it.  Johnny would not have allowed us to make him grotesque.

But I’m not saying this is the real Henry VIII.  This is my Henry VIII.  In fact, I wrote the scene when he commissioned Holbein to paint him as a majestic figure because I wanted to make the point that when we see historical figures, a lot of it is propaganda and how they wanted to be seen.  That picture of Henry was essentially a piece of propaganda…


I agree about the Holbein portrait, but I think a slim, older Henry is wrong. I can see, though, why it would have been difficult to do that with Rhys-Meyers.  For me, one of the most successful Henrys, both in terms of acting and physicality, was Robert Shaw, in “A Man for All Seasons.” He had the kind of heft that can turn to obesity in old age, whereas I think it would have been hard to have an athletic and slim guy like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, even if he had allowed it, seem to develop that.


In any case, the great shocking thing for many people was to show Henry VIII as young and fit.  That was a truth that a lot of people didn’t want to recognize.


To go back to the difference between history and fiction, and how good fiction, whatever its inventions, stays true to the historical context, do you think Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” falls into that category?


Well, I think it’s wonderful.  But, what amuses me is that The Tudors was often accused of being historically inaccurate, whereas I tried my best to make it as accurate within obvious limitations as possible and I used as many real quotes and recorded conversations as possible.  But Wolf Hall is completely made up.  It’s complete fiction. But nobody says that. They all say “what a wonderful book, what insights it brings to the Tudors…” Isn’t that bizarre?


A good point.  I found it ingenious and fascinating but I was disturbed by the same old mythology in the portrait of Anne Boleyn.  Mantel is a wonderful writer, but when it comes to Anne, it’s the same old schemer, only re-cycled.


Exactly, it’s trying to redeem Cromwell at the expense of damning Anne yet again.


Writer of The Tudors, Michael Hirst


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Interview with Joanna Carrick, author of “Fallen in Love”

1.     What got you interested in writing a play focusing on the relationship between Anne and George?

Originally my interest was in writing about Anne.  I’ve always been mildly fascinated. There is a village very near here called Erwarton where Anne’s aunt and uncle lived and she visited them as a child. A school friend of mine lived in the hall and I went there a couple of times and was told stories about Anne haunting once a year.  The Church in Erwarton has a legend that Anne’s heart was buried there and I was taken there quite often as a child. There’s a Boleyn Close and a Queen’s Head Pub in the village and so I suppose from an early age Anne has been a part of the landscape for me. My interest turned to writing a play about Anne, after having written a historical play about Thomas Clarkson, a most inspiring person who devoted himself to achieving the abolition of the slave trade. This project got me really fired up about history and bringing it to life for a diverse audience. Having decided to write about Anne, I read extensively about her life and visited historical sites. At Red Rose Chain I work with recovering heroin addicts and run a women’s group for women moving away from drug addiction and street prostitution. Four years ago, five women involved in street prostitution were horrific ally murdered in Ipswich and the work we do today was initiated in response to those events. The women I work with, all non-achievers at school, have been inspired by the Anne Boleyn story and have become known recently as The History Girls, becoming very knowledgeable about the subject and developing their own theories about what happened to Anne. In our discussions, the subject of George and the accusation of incest regularly came up and the girls explored the idea in historical and modern improvisations as well as discussions. I became fascinated  by Anne and George’s relationship and why, if untrue, so many people believed the accusations. For a while I considered writing a play with four characters, Anne, George, Henry and Jane Parker but in time I realized that it was Anne and George I really wanted to portray and decided to create a two hander with the other characters off stage.

2.     What, if anything, annoys you/delights you about how Anne has been represented in other works?

I haven’t in all honesty dwelt much on other interpretations recently, as I’ve been finding out as much as I can and trying to develop my own idea of Anne for some time now. What I don’t relate to is the “horrible histories”  “let’s all enjoy a good beheading” approach. I’ve been trying to stretch out a hand over the last 475 years and emphasize the humanity we have in common.

3.     Why do you think interest in Anne has blossomed over the past few years?  Do you think Anne “speaks” to young women in some way?

I have certainly found this to be the case, working with my women’s group. Anne’s strength and modernity have made her extremely attractive to them, while her flaws of character seem to have endeared her even more. I think the intellectual parity of her relationship with Henry, coupled with her eventual total lack of equality with him makes her a feminist martyr to be celebrated and the act of celebrating her seems to me to empower young women today and especially those who have been victims of abuse and the sex industry.

4.     I love the fact that Henry is “missing” in your play.  Do you have any thoughts on his personality/character?

I don’t know where to begin! I also like the fact that he’s missing, because it enables the audience to create their own visions of him in their minds. At the end of the scene where Anne is about to marry Henry, both Anne and George turn and bow toward the door as music announces his approach and every night during the run the sense of excitement at this moment was palpable as the audience turned to see him, although of course he wasn’t really there. In rehearsals we worked on the idea of Henry a great deal. Both the characters impersonate him at different points and we needed to create a shared vision for them both. Personally I think he was utterly spoilt in the true sense of the word. A man with enormous abilities but totally corrupted by his own power and vanity.

5.     What was the most challenging thing about writing about Anne?

Once I’d got the history right, it was developing a voice for her which sounded real, which had a   sense of period about it but didn’t sound “cod” historical. I found myself imagining her sitting next to me in my car and got used to talking to her and showing her things.

6.     Has anything surprised you about audience/critic responses to your play?

I’ve been delighted by the response. The opening night was a wonderful experience. There couldn’t have been anyone more scary turn up than Alison Weir – unless Anne herself had put in an appearance – and to get such an overwhelming endorsement from her has had a really significant impact on me. It was also such an amazing experience to actually see Alison enjoying the play so much!  During the run, which played to over 2500 people the reaction just seemed to get better and better and we were inundated with letters and emails praising the show and urging us to take it on tour, which we are doing in 2012. People were very moved but also inspired by the ending. Lots of men cried!

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How Could He Do It?: New Excerpt from Susan’s Book

Note: The Following is excerpted from a draft chapter of Susan Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming 2012.  Do not cite or quote without attribution.

How Could He Do It?

When the guns sounded Anne’s death, Henry “immediately boarded a barge and went to Mistress Seymour.” Later that night he returned to Hampton Court, the magnificent palace that Henry had appropriated from his long-time mentor and Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, and refurbished for Anne.  Jane Seymour followed Henry at six the next morning.  They were betrothed at nine o’clock.   The palace had been divested of all the emblems and other evidence of Anne’s queenship (except for those missed by the furiously scrambling revisionist carpenters and stonemasons.)  Soon it would be renovated, once again, to accommodate Prince Edward, the long prayed-for male heir.

The execution of a queen was unprecedented, extreme and shocking, even to Anne’s enemies. Henry had invested six years of time, energy, intellect, money, and blood in making the marriage happen. They were married less than three years. There is no evidence of an unbridgeable emotional estrangement between them. His earlier love letters to her, admittedly written in the bloom of fresh passion, portray a solicitous, tender suitor whom it is impossible to imagine coldly ordering a wife’s death. There are plenty of explanations for Henry’s desire for a new marriage–Anne’s failure to provide a male heir, Jane Seymour, waiting in the wings, fresh and fertile, Henry’s recognition that Anne was creating problems with his image, and perhaps the need to reaffirm his declining masculinity with a new, more pliant bride. […..] In the end, whichever account you find most convincing, it still takes a leap of incomprehension to find any of them sufficient to explain Henry’s willingness—in fact, seeming eagerness—to sign the order for Anne’s execution.  We are still left asking ourselves: How could he do it?

The answer to that question requires going deeper into Henry’s psychology, both as a man and as a King, in search of precisely that piece of his being that made the order to execute Anne possible for him. [………….] Ideas about this fall into one of two categories.  There are those that see the young Henry and the older Henry as two very different men.  Lipscomb’s and Starkey’s theories falls into this category, and so does Michael Hirst’s.  Hirst, creator of The Tudors, described in an interview with me what he views as a shattering of Henry’s psyche, brought on by the recognition that he had spent years of his life, shed the blood of friends, and broken with the church of his childhood, only to be proved mistaken in the supposition that this was what God wanted of him.  On this interpretation, Anne’s failure to produce an heir was not just a blow to the security of the Tudor line but a sign that the hope that he had built his entire life around was based on an illusion:

“He had attacked the church on the basis of a love affair, largely.  But he felt sure of what he was doing at the time, and Anne had mistaken promised him a son. After she’d given him a daughter and had the miscarriages, it began to seem to him as though he’d gone horribly wrong.  He was plunged back into reality, which is messy and not perfect. And I think that as he confronted the huge seriousness of it, he began to think in weird ways, that she was a witch and so forth.  This of course, shows how juvenile he still was.  And he did have an absolutely ruthless streak which his father, too, had possessed.  But beyond that, he did suffer a severe psychological crisis, knowing he had been so deluded. He came out of that crisis a much worse person, a complete tyrant and monster, who killed off the best part of himself in the attempt to reconcile his psychological issues.”

Hirst dramatized this transformation with a chilling last scene in the final episode of the second season of The Tudors.  This was the episode in which Anne is executed, and throughout, scenes of her suffering in the Tower were punctuated with the image of Henry, gazing contemplatively at two beautiful swans nuzzling in the pond outside the palace.  His mood and thoughts are left deliberately ambiguous; perhaps, the viewer imagines, he is thinking back over his love for Anne and the life they shared together, perhaps he is having regrets, feeling sorrow for the beauty that is about to be lost?  No.  After the execution scene, we are immediately taken to the King at his table, looking forward to his breakfast, which is being brought to him in a large gilt tureen on a silver platter.  The lid is lifted, and the servants and nobles surrounding Henry gasp and applaud in delight.  There on the platter is one of the swans, roasted and decorated with its own beautiful wings, posed as gracefully as if it were still swimming in a lake.  Henry, referencing Charles Laughton’s famous eating scene but giving Henry’s voraciousness a menace missing from Laughton’s comic depiction, tears off a wing, plunges his hand into the body of the swan, and begins eating, oblivious to the greasy drool spilling from his mouth.

But there are those who argue that although Henry’s resilience, emotional balance, and temper may have degenerated—and his waistline expanded[1]–as he got older, his personality and character were essentially the same from the beginning of his reign to the end.  Those who argue in this way generally believe, like Lacey Baldwin Smith, that Henry was always a man of many faces, a “baffling composite of shifting silhouettes” who could be good-natured, generous and charming one moment and dangerously cold as stone the next, highly emotional yet rigidly stubborn, a genuine searcher of his conscience for “God’s will” yet able to subordinate all moral scruples and guilt to solidifying his own authority or satisfying his own desires.  The combination of informal warmth and lethal self-interest meant that even the closest relationships with him were never on solid ground, always skating on thin ice.  Thomas More, of all of Henry’s contemporaries, was most perceptive about the inherent danger of making too much of the King’s outward gestures of affection. He told Fisher  that “the king has a way of making every man feel that he is enjoying his special favor.”  It may have been a compliment, but it was also a warning.  He told a young courtier—and this was in 1520, before any “crisis” had occurred in Henry’s reign—that having fun with the king was like “having fun with tamed lions—often it is harmless, but just as often there is the fear of harm.  Often he roars in rage for no known reason, and suddenly the roar becomes fatal.  The pleasure you get is not safe enough to relieve you of anxiety.  For you it is a great pleasure.  As for me, let my pleasure be less great—and safe” (Lion’s Court, p. 217).

But even More couldn’t remain safe.  He realized, as he told his son in law Roper, that even when he was favored by the King “more singularly” than any subject in the realm, “I have no cause to be proud thereof, for if my head could win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go.” (Ridley, 188)   In the end, Henry was just that cavalier with More’s life, although not over a castle in France. Henry had promised, years before, that he would always allow More to avoid any declarations or actions that went against his conscience.  But when Henry’s own supremacy was at issue, More’s conscience—and his head—proved to be easily dispensed with.  On the day of More’s execution, Henry went hunting in Reading.  This was the way Henry dealt with all his executions of old friends and lovers: go hunting, have a party, be merry. Move on.  It may have been a survival mechanism, whose aim was to defend him against normal human feelings of regret or grief.

Despite their many insights—I particularly value Suzanne Lipscomb’s work–the problem with theories that postulate a crisis or set of crises that turned Henry from a virtuous prince into the sort of man who could order the execution of a wife is that Henry was always capable of decisively and irrevocably turning off the switch of affection, love, tender feeling and shared memories, severing all ties, and refusing to look back.  In fact, those whom he loved the most—Wolsey, More, Anne, Cromwell–were most at risk.  Because he loved them, they had the most power to disappoint him—and for Henry, disappointment could never be “slight.”  All wounds to his authority, his manhood, his trust, were bloody gashes that he could only repair by annihilating (psychologically or literally) the one who inflicted the wound.  This, perhaps, is what distinguishes Henry’s pattern from “ordinary” royal imperiousness.  Kings execute people.  Kings have grandiose ambitions.  Kings are threatened by challenges to their authority.  Kings can become drunk on power, and often do.   But Henry may be unique among famous authoritarian kings in that his close relationships only had two switches: on and off.  As Howard Brenton, author of the play Anne Boleyn, put it in an interview with me, “With Henry, you were either totally in or you were dead.  He would have someone close to him, he’d elevate them, and they’d be terrific and virtually run everything on his behalf, and then when something went wrong, or a wind came his way, he would turn 180 degrees against them and they would be out.  It happened to Wolsey, it happened to More, it happened to Anne, it happened to Cromwell.”  It almost happened to Mary, who so enraged Henry when she refused, even after Anne was dead, to take the oath recognizing her father as Supreme Head of the Church of England, that Cranmer , at the last minute, had to talk him out of ordering her execution (Ridley, 274).  Mary was Henry’s daughter.

In 2011, this kind of personality would probably be diagnosed as indicating that Henry was a borderline or narcissistic personality type.  Phenomenologically—that is, without attempting to put a medical label on Henry, but simply looking at his patterns of behavior—he certainly exemplifies the phenomenon therapists call “splitting”:

“The world of a borderline, like that of a child, is split into heroes and villains.  A child emotionally, the borderline cannot tolerate human inconsistencies and ambiguities; he cannot reconcile another’s good and bad qualities into a constant coherent understanding of that person.  At any particular moment, one is either ‘good’ or ‘evil’; there is no in-between, no gray area.  Nuances and shadows are grasped with great difficulty, if at all.  Lovers and mates, mothers and father, siblings…and friends may be idolized one day, totally devalued and dismissed the next” (10, ‘I hate you’).

In a certain sense, of course, the medieval world view was itself a “split” universe, in which God and Satan, the saved and the fallen, were at starkly opposite poles, and “history was an extended moral homily upon the actions of men behaving rightly or wrongly.” (Mask of royalty, 75) It wasn’t until the psychological turn of the 19th century that human beings began to be seen as mixtures of good and evil, ego and id, light side and dark side.  But a dualistic ideology and a personality for whom others are either “for you” or “against you” are two very different things.  In philosophical or religious dualism it is God (or the universe) that assigns the categories of good and bad, which are relatively stable; for Henry, his own shifting needs were the measure of all things. “He is a prince of a royal disposition, and hath a princely heart, “ Wolsey told Kingston in 1529, long before Kingston became Anne’s warder in the Tower, but “rather than he will either miss or want any part of his will or appetite, he will put the loss of one half of his realm in danger.” (p. 256, Lion’s Court) But Henry’s “will” was not always easy to discern, for it was capricious.  In the screenplay of “A Man for All Seasons,” Robert Bolt brilliantly captures, in one brief action, not only the trembling uncertainty this produced in those around him, but Henry’s delight in it.  Henry’s boat has just arrived at Chelsea, More’s home, and the king (Robert Shaw), robust and athletic has jumped off the deck and into, unexpectedly, into a pool of mud.  He glares menacingly at the rowmen, who quake appropriately.  Henry then bursts into a hearty, howling laugh, and the tense atmosphere among the men is transformed into playtime, as they take their turn jumping into the mud.

There’s no evidence that Henry took such childish pleasure in manipulating the emotions of his subjects—although there are plenty of occasions when he used his ability to make people cower in order to show his magnanimity (e.g. staged last-minute pardons) or assert his authority.  Those tactics were pretty standard for kings, whose image was essential to maintaining power.  It was also judicious for royalty to develop a strong shell of mistrust, for the reality is that Henry’s life and line of descent were in constant danger.  He was not “paranoid” to be watchful for signs of betrayal.  But Henry’s turnabouts do not seem to have been always under his control.  The letters of ambassadors, even from the early years of his reign, describe sudden, explosive angers, “tears and tantrums.”   1535, the king’s fool almost lost his life over a joke about Anne Boleyn; a year later, Henry was weeping uncontrollably while hugging his illegitimate son, relieved that he was now safe from  “that accursed whore” who had slept with over a hundred men.  A hundred?  That would have meant a new man every ten days of her Queenship.  Yet it’s possible that Henry believed something near to this, for his emotional switch, for whatever reasons, had turned against her, and she was now as wholly evil in his eyes as she once was wholly virtuous.

If we want to go beyond the phenomenology of Henry’s “splitting” to causal explanation, we could find it in his childhood, which was itself split between the “cosy feminine world” of his mother and sisters and the cold indifference, then hostile domination, of his father.  “As the only boy in the royal nursery,” writes  Robert Hutchinson, Henry “was thoroughly spoilt and tenderly protected from the hard knocks and bruises of childhood misfortune.  The toddler prince was cosseted, his grumpiness and tears sweetly cooed away, and his every whim swiftly fulfilled by the doting matronly ladies who cared for him.” (15)  It’s not clear, however, that naturally energetic Henry was entirely happy with all this “doting,” which after Arthur’s death kept him “as locked away as a woman” out of fear that the precious spare heir would also be lost.  As soon as he was free to, he was non-stop jousting, wrestling, and showing off with his boy-pals. But the masculine attentions of his father came with a high price, too.  Until Arthur’s death, his father had virtually ignored Henry, leaving him to the care of the women; after Arthur died, however, he became obsessively focused on preparing him for the throne, and in the process, Henry became subject to his father’s famous rages when he didn’t do exactly as required.  He was so strict with the child that he gave the impression to Reginald Pole, Henry’s contemporary, that he had “no affection or fancy unto him.” (Erickson, 51)

You don’t need to venture into psychoanalytic territory, or engage in anachronistic psychologizing, to imagine Henry growing up with the belief that relationships were an either/or business, largely defined by gender:  You could be extravagantly loved but smothered by women (perhaps part of the reason why he was initially drawn to both Katherine and Anne, and later Katherine Parr, all of whom were strong-minded women whose strengths he came to resent.)  Or: you could excel in the competitive world of men, where you might exercise power and command fear but never achieve the unconditional adoration you crave.  Perhaps this intense desire for male love, and not only freedom from the restrictions of his childhood, helps to explain both his attraction to a father figure like Wolsey, and also why Henry was at his happiest, most generous, most exuberant, among the young men he hunted and cavorted with.   But in the end, everyone—with the exception of Charles Brandon and Katherine Parr, the two “survivors” of life with Henry—was bound to fail him, for he expected the impossible.

Whatever the origins of Henry’s personality, his problems were vastly exacerbated by the fact that he was, after all, king.  As such, he was continually flattered and pampered, his every whim indulged, his grandiosity rarely challenged, his illusions carefully maintained.  All of this encouraged his sense of omnipotence, which in turn made it all the riskier for those around him to show anything less than absolute allegiance.  In proving this, even obedience, ironically, put one at risk, for Henry wasn’t a fool; he knew those around him were afraid, and so never fully trusted anyone.  When he was young, he sought out people like More, and encouraged them to be honest with him, seeking some solid ground on which to base a relationship.  But it was a zero sum game; when More ran up against Henry’s need to be the center of the universe, More’s once-cherished independence of mind became worse than “nothing” in Henry’s “all or nothing” demands on relationships.

It’s hard to know exactly what threw the switch with Anne.  Her final miscarriage may have convinced him that God was not on the side of their relationship.  He may have believed in the charges of adultery—although his exaggerated estimates of her infidelities make me less rather than more likely to believe that; if he truly believed she had slept with five men, including her own brother, surely that would have been enough to “justify” his outrage without dragging half the men in court into her bed.  Or the humiliation of hearing that Anne gossiped about his lack of sexual performance may have been all that was needed.  We will never know, and it really doesn’t matter.  It was sufficient, whatever it was, to shut off any currents of empathy, memory, attachment that Henry felt for Anne.  This is where “Anne of the Thousand Days” has it so wrong.  The play and movie both open with Henry tormented by the decision whether or not to order Anne’s execution.  In Maxwell Anderson’s play, which is written in verse, Henry muses:

“This is hard to do

when you come to put pen to paper.

You say to yourself:

She must die.  And she must—

If thing are to go as planned.

Yes, if they are to go at all.

If I am to rule

And keep my sanity and hold my England off the rocks…

Go back to it, Henry, go back to it.

Keep your mind

On this parchment you must sign.

Dip the pen in the ink write your name…

It’s only that a woman you’ve held in your arms

And longer for when she was away,

And suffered with her—no, but she promised you an heir.

Write it down—

Write Henry Rex, and it’s done.

And then the headsman

Will cry out suddenly, “Look, look there!’

And point to the first flash of sunrise,

And she’ll look,

Not knowing what he means, and his sword will flash

In the flick of sun, through the little bones of her neck

As she looks away,

And it will be done.

It will be done.”

It’s romantic and moving, and beautifully written.  But it is not, I believe, the poetry of Henry’s reality.  In that reality, they handed him the parchment.  He dipped the pen in the ink.  He signed his name: Henry Rex.  And it was done.

[1] Something The Tudors never shows, in part due to the vanity of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

Hans Holbein, Henry VIII


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What Ye Myght Be Feeling at 6 Months Pregnant: Anne’s Coronation

Contributed by Natalie Sweet

The following descriptions are combined from the most recent 4th edition of Heidi Murkoff’s and Sharon Mazel’s What to Expect When You are Expecting (passages in bold) and from Jakob Reuff’s (1500-1558) The Expert Midwife, which was reprinted in English in 1637 (passages italicized). A pregnant lady would not necessarily experience all of these symptoms, but they are very common ones when one is 6 months pregnant.

What Ye Myght Be Feeling at 6 Months Pregnant

More definite fetal activity: “an Infant, although as yet, by reafon of his tender and feeble condition and ftate, he wanteth motion.”

Continued vaginal discharge

Achiness in the lower abdomen and along the sides

Constipation: “But if it fhall happen that they be bound and cannot goe orderly to ftoole, let them take Spinage feafoned with ftore of Butter, alfo Lettuce made tender with Water, with Salt, Wine, and Vinegar. But if thofe things will not relaxe and unloofe the belly, let them ufe Suppofitors, confected and made of Hony and the yolke of an Egge, or with Venice-Soafpe. But if the conftipation and binding fhall be for eat, that this remedy will not profit, let them by the avice of a skilfull Phyfician, ufe a potion of the decoction of the leaves of Sena, together with Caffia, newly extracted and drawne, which the Phyfician fhall minifter, more or leffe, according to the quality fo the conftipation or coftiveneffe.”

Heartburn, indigestion, flatulence, bloating: “Let [preganant women] abftaine from crude, raw, and groffe mates: to wit,Lentils, Beanes, Milium, Beefe, falt an fryed, fruites, milke, cheefe, and fuch like.”

Occasional headaches, faintness, or dizziness: “let them drinke Sorrell-water, and Rofe-water warmed, tempered with Cinamon and little Rundells or Cakes, named Manus Chrifti, or Diamagariton. Of the water of Rofes and Bugloffe, being tempered with a little Cinamon, Cloves, and Saffron beaten to powder: fhall be laid upon the breft in a cloth once or twice doubled together, dipped and fteeped in that water.”

Nasal congestion and occasional nosebleeds; ear stuffiness

Sensitive gums

Hearty appetite: “Let the diet and food of women with child, be frugall and moderate…let them ufe Chickins, Egs, diverf forts of Pottages, Birds, Mutton and Veale, It will be good fometime to ufe Cinamome and Nutmeg, with Sugar. Let reafonable white Wine ferve for their drinke.”

Continued Morning Sickness: “But if a difposfition to vomiting fhall creepe upon them, or that they cannot difeft the meat which they have taken, let them use this fyrup: Take the fyrup of Pomegranates one ounce and a halfe, Muske, Lignum Aloes, of each one fcruple, Cinamome one fcruple and a halfe, temper and commixe them with three ounces of water of Sorrell, and make a draught of it for them to drinke. Let them drinke this fyrup every day when they are fafting, being well warmed.”

Leg cramps

Mild swelling of ankles and feet, and occasionally of hands and face: “prepare and make bathes for their fete and legges, in which let them fit daily one houre before fupper, and againe three houres together after fupper.”

Varicose veins of the legs and/or hemorrhoids

Itchy abdomen

A protruding navel


Skin pigementation changes on abdomen and/or face

Stretch marks

Enlarged breasts: due to “the Dugs or Paps chang[ing] the blood into milke”

Trouble sleeping

Numbness in hands

Slight bleeding

Note: “There is neede of very great causion and heed to be taken, that no peril and danger may happen to them which are with childe by any manner of meanes, either by fudden feare, affrightments, by fire, lightening, thunder, with monftrous and hideous afpects and fights of men and beafts, by immoderate joy, forrow and lamentation; or my untemperate exercife and motion of running, leaping, riding, or by furfeist or repletion by meate and drinke: or that they being taken with an difeafe doe not ufe fharpe and violent medicines ufing the counfell of unkilfull Phyficians.”


A woodcut image of a woman’s anatomy from Jakob Reuff’s book.

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Filed under Coronation Feature, Life in 16th century England

At the Scaffold

The following entry should not be sited, reproduced, or quoted without attribution to me and my book:  Susan Bordo, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

At the Scaffold.

Despite her proclaimed readiness to die, until very near the end Anne still harbored the belief that Henry might pardon her. It was not an unreasonable expectation.  Not only had no British queen up until then been executed, but the last-minute rescue of the condemned queen was a centerpiece of the romance of chivalry, which was still being avidly consumed at court via Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.  In the Arthurian legend, Guinevere is condemned to death twice for treason (the second time for adultery with Lancelot) and both times is saved from the stake by Lancelot—with King Arthur’s blessings.  Arthur had, in fact, suspected the queen’s infidelity for years, but because of his love for her and for Lancelot, had kept his suspicions a secret.  When Modred and Aggravane, plotting their own coup d’etat, told the King about it, he had no choice but to condemn his queen, while privately hoping she would be rescued.

It was a romantic fantasy—but one which Henry and Anne had grown up with, and which no doubt shaped their ideas about love.  The Arthurian romance, even today, has the power to move us.  And in 1536, many of the outward trappings and habits of courtly love still existed.  Henry was himself an adroit and seductively tender courtier, who at the beginning of his courtship of Anne had written seventeen letters in which he pledged himself her “servant” and swore his constancy. The pledges may (or may not) have been made manipulatively, but his infatuation was real and the gestures were convincing. Why wouldn’t Anne, who Henry had in fact honored like Guinevere for six years, cherish the hope that she, too, would be rescued from death?

Henry had no such plans in mind, however. As Anne prepared for her death, Henry was spending much of his time at Chelsea, visiting Jane Seymour and making plans for their wedding.  Chapuys describes the king as showing “extravagant joy” at Anne’s arrest.  Convinced (or making a great show for posterity) that Anne was an “accursed whore” who had slept with hundreds of men, he was “very impatient” and wishing to have the thing done with “already.”  Ironically, Anne, on her part, felt the same way. Expecting to die on the 18th, she took the sacrament at 2 a.m., having prepared her soul for many hours.  By now all who were in close contact with her must have been convinced of her innocence, whatever their politics. She had insisted that Kingston be present when she took confession, so her assertion of innocence of the charges would be public record. Even her old enemy Chapuys was impressed by the fact that Anne, before and after receiving the Sacrament, affirmed to those who had charge of her “on damnation of her soul, that she had never offended with her body against the King.”  In the 16th century, to speak anything other than the truth at such a time would be to invite the utter condemnation of God. Anne had nothing to gain and her salvation to lose by lying.

She was prepared to die.  Yet, cruelly, the execution was delayed twice, once in order to clear the Tower of possible sympathetic observers, the second time because the executioner had been delayed. The first delay dismayed Anne, who thought that at the newly appointed hour she would already “be dead and past my pain.”  Kingston, who seems to have been an absurdly literal man, took her to be referring to the physical pain of the execution itself, and reassured her that “there would be no pain, it was so subtle.” Anne replied with her most famous line: “I have heard say the executioner is very good, and I have a little neck.”  And then, according to Kingston, “she put her hand around [her neck], laughing heartily.”  Kingston flat-footedly interpreted this to mean that Anne had “much joy and pleasure in death.”  He apparently did not “get” Anne’s irony, or the fact that at this point, she was probably becoming a bit unhinged.  At the news of the second delay, she was distraught.  But “It was not that she desired death,” as she told Kingston (or perhaps one of the ladies, who then told him) “but she had thought herself prepared to die, and feared that the delay would weaken her resolve. “  So much for Kingston’s theory that Anne felt “joy and pleasure” at the prospect of death.

What she may have felt was something closer to what James Hillman describes as the state of mind that often precedes an attempt at suicide:  a desperate desire to shed an old self whose suffering had become unbearable, and thus be “reborn” in the act of dying.  This imagined rebirth, for Hillman, has nothing to do with belief in reincarnation, or even in heaven, but the perception, ironically, that the soul cannot survive under existing conditions. What Anne had been through was certainly enough to shatter any hold her previous life may have exerted on her.  She had been discarded by the man who had pursued her for six years, fathered her daughter, and seemingly adored her for much of their time together.  The person she was closest to in the world—her brother George—had been executed on the most hideous and shameful of charges.   The rest of her family, as far as we can tell, had either abandoned her or—as Anne believed of her mother–was awash with despair and grief over what was happening.  Still recovering from a miscarriage, her body and mind undoubtedly assaulted by hormonal changes and unstable moods, she had been sent to prison on absurd, concocted charges, and “cared for” there by women who were hostile spies.  She knew she would never see her daughter Elizabeth again, and—unlike the fictional Anne of Anne of the Thousand Days, who predicts that “Elizabeth will be queen!”—had no hope, after Cranmer’s visit, that her child would ever be anything more than she had seen Mary reduced to: a bastardized ex-princess forced to bow down to any children the new wife might produce for Henry.  She had been given reason to hope that she would be allowed to live, only to have those hopes crushed at her sentencing. In a sense, she had already been through dozens of dyings.   Nothing was left but the withered skin of her old life, which she was ready to shed.

As she mounted the scaffold, wearing a role of dark damask (black in some reports, grey in others) trimmed with white fur, with a red kirtle (petticote) underneath—red being the liturgical color of Catholic martyrdom—political and national affiliations continued, as they had through her reign and would for centuries to come–to shape the descriptions of her appearance and behavior. To an author of the Spanish Chronicle, she exhibited “a devilish spirit.” A Portugese witness who had snuck in despite the ban on “strangers”, wrote that “never had she looked so beautiful.” An imperialist observer described her as “feeble and stupefied” (which would be understandable, and not incompatible with her looking beautiful as well.)  Wriothesley says she showed “a goodly smiling countenance.”  French de Carles commented on the beauty of her complexion, pure and clear as though cleansed by all the suffering.  For all, the spectacle of a queen, wearing the white ermine of her role, mounting the stairs to the scaffold, was unnerving.

Unlike her trial speech and her “last letter,” Anne’s remarks on the scaffold made the more conventional bows to the goodness and mercy of the King—in this highly public context, it was virtually required, if only to prevent any retribution against surviving relatives—and asked the people to pray for her.  She did not admit to guilt for the offenses with which she was charged or accuse the judges of malice, but did make reference to the “cruel law of the land by which I die.” By now, the four young ladies who had accompanied her to the scaffold (clearly not the hostile spies that had lived with her in the Tower, but others, more intimate with her, who she had been allowed to have with her in these last moments) were weeping.  Anne, having helped them take off her robe—an act that in itself must have demanded great composure and courage—“appeared dazed” as he kneeled down, modestly covering her feet with her dress, and asked the executioner to remove her coif, lest it interfere with his stroke.  The executioner realized that she was afraid of the pain of an impeded blow; she kept looking around her, her hand on her coif, anticipating the moment.   Clearly “distressed” at the task he was to perform, he told her that he would wait until she gave the signal.  “With a fervent spirit” she began to pray, and the Portuguese contingent, unable to bear it, huddled together and knelt down against the scaffold, wailing loudly.

Anne gave the signal.  But either the executioner or someone else in charge had devised a scheme to distract Anne at the last moment, so the fatal blow would come when she wasn’t expecting it; he turned toward the scaffold steps and called for the sword, and when Anne blindly turned her head in that direction, he brought the sword down from the other side and swiftly “divided her neck at a blow.”   As these things went—others had died only after multiple clumsy hackings—it was an easy death: if the naturalist Lewis Thomas has it right, it was far easier than her weeks of suffering in the Tower:  “Pain, “ he writes, “is useful for avoidance, for getting away when there’s time to get away, but when it is end game, and no way back, pain is likely to be turned off, and the mechanisms for this are wonderfully precise and quick.  If I had to design an ecosystem in which creatures had to live off each other and in which dying was an indispensible part of living, I could not think of a better way to manage.”   He quotes Montaigne, who nearly died in a riding accident and later described the “letting go” that he experienced at what could have easily been the very end:

“It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who have let themselves slide into sleep. I believe this is the same state in which people find themselves whom we see fainting in the agony of death, and maintain that we pity them without cause…If you know not how to die, never trouble yourself; Nature will in a moment fully and sufficiently instruct you; she will exactly do that business for you; take you no care with it” (Lewis, 104-5).

While I was in London, conducting interviews for this book and visiting sites of importance, I had an experience that reminded me of Lewis’s essay. Returning to my hotel from a day-long visit to the Tower, I was obediently following the crowd across a busy intersection when I heard a voice call out “Watch Out!” and, struck on my lower back, was knocked to the ground. The impact was forceful and disorienting; I had no idea what had happened.  Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw the red of a London bus. “I’m about to be run over by a bus!” I thought, disbelieving but sure; it seemed impossible, on my innocent little research trip, that I should die in this arbitrary, unexpected way, but that was clearly what was about to happen.  I tried to lift myself up, and realized that although I was hurt, I wasn’t about to be crushed, for I’d been hit not by the bus I’d seen out of the corner of my eye, but by an impatient bicyclist; the bus had slowed to a stop by the time I was on the ground.

I was bleeding from a bad scrape on my arm, and sharp darts of pain in my back and side accompanied every breath, in a way that I recognized from a hair-line rib fracture I’d once received in an auto accident. I suppose I ought to have gone to the hospital just to be sure everything was okay, but I didn’t.  And eventually, everything did heal.  The only injury that remained was existential: the memory of that moment when I was sure that I was about to be extinguished, just like that, without warning.  I had felt terror, yes, but then, when the fatal blow seemed inevitable, an eerie calm overcame me.  It seemed useless to struggle—a feeling that I had never before experienced, in a life devoted to making things happen, protecting myself and those I love, and constantly moving forward.  For a moment, when I thought I was about to be struck by that bus, I relaxed into the unfamiliar sense of “letting go.” It was only for an instant, and then, when I realized that the bus had stopped and escape from the traffic was still possible, the self-protective fear returned and I scrambled to my feet, and hobbled across the street to the sidewalk where my husband was standing, looking alarmed.

Dostoevsky, too, had experienced a close brush with death—by the Czar’s firing squad, a sentence from which he was reprieved at the last moment—and fictionalizes his experience through a character in The Idiot.  His account, though very different from Montaigne’s or mine, nonetheless describes a radically altered state of consciousness, not characterized by pain but a sense of the infinity of time, stretching his final moments into an extended reflection culminating in the sense of impending re-birth into the “new self” that James Hillman describes:

“About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear the sentence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten the criminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were taken to the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over their faces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group of soldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth on the list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. A priest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes of time left for him to live.

He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminable period, an enormous wealth of time; he seemed to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, so that he made several arrangements, dividing up the time into portions–one for saying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple more for thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and another minute for a last look around. He remembered having divided his time like this quite well. While saying good- bye to his friends he recollected asking one of them some very usual everyday question, and being much interested in the answer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon those two minutes which he had allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going to think about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly as possible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minutes he would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? He thought he would decide this question once for all in these last three minutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittered in the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays of light sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from these rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minutes he would become one of them, amalgamated somehow with them.”

Anne’s preparations for dying, facing the inevitability of her execution, may also have been filled with internal good-byes, existential confrontation with the mystery of “being” and “nothingness”, and imaginings of becoming one with nature.  I like to think of her final hours as immensely rich, in a way that I cannot comprehend but that was sustaining to her, even beyond her more conventional—but extremely deep, for Anne—religious faith.  And then, at the end, I hope that nature or God (it makes no difference), gave her no more to figure out, no more to regret, no more to say good-bye to, no more work to do, and took care of her dying.

Sir William Russell Flint – Queen Guinevere rescued from the stake by Sir Lancelot, from ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, Book XX, Chapter VIII

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Filed under Anne and Gender, Book Excerpts, May 19th, 1536 Feature

Famous Thinkers on the Approach of Death

Something to consider when thinking about Anne in prison and at the scaffold. From Dostoevsky, with many thanks to Lisa Tecoulesco for sending it to us:

“As to life in a prison, of course there may be two opinions,” said the prince. “I once heard the story of a man who lived twelve years in a prison–I heard it from the man himself. He was one of the persons under treatment with my professor; he had fits, and attacks of melancholy, then he would weep, and once he tried to commit suicide. His life in prison was sad enough; his only acquaintances were spiders and a tree that grew outside his grating-but I think I had better tell you of another man I met last year. There was a very strange feature in this case, strange because of its extremely rare occurrence. This man had once been brought to the scaffold in company with several others, and had had the sentence of death by shooting passed upon him for some political crime. Twenty minutes later he had been reprieved and some other punishment substituted; but the interval between the two sentences, twenty minutes, or at least a quarter of an hour, had been passed in the certainty that within a few minutes he must die. I was very anxious to hear him speak of his impressions during that dreadful time, and I several times inquired of him as to what he thought and felt. He remembered everything with the most accurate and extraordinary distinctness, and declared that he would never forget a single iota of the experience.

“About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear the sentence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten the criminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were taken to the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over their faces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group of soldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth on the list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. A priest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes of time left for him to live.

“He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminable period, an enormous wealth of time; he seemed to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, so that he made several arrangements, dividing up the time into portions–one for saying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple more for thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and another minute for a last look around. He remembered having divided his time like this quite well. While saying good- bye to his friends he recollected asking one of them some very usual everyday question, and being much interested in the answer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon those two minutes which he had allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going to think about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly as possible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minutes he would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? He thought he would decide this question once for all in these last three minutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittered in the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays of light sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from these rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minutes he would become one of them, amalgamated somehow with them.

“The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, ‘What should I do if I were not to die now? What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!’ He said that this thought weighed so upon him and became such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it.”


A photo of Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Filed under May 19th, 1536 Feature

June 1, 1533: The Coronation (and Price) of a Queen

Contributed by: Natalie Sweet

Anne Boleyn’s coronation took place on June 1, 1533. Instead of listing the descriptions provided by Thomas Cranmer or Edward Hall, we will share with you the events as related in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. To help you understand the prices of things, I include this handy explanation:

The penny at this time was the standard monetary unit. The letter ‘d’ represented the penny. The shilling was represented by an ‘s’. The pound would be familiar to those who either live or are familiar with British currency today, as it was represented by an l or £. To put everything into perspective, the pound would today represent about 400 US dollars, 277 Euros, 389 Canadian dollars, or 244 British pounds sterling. If your nation’s currency is not listed here, a simple Google search for “currency converter” will help you figure out the amount!

Coronation Of Anne Boleyn

The manner of attendance of the judges at the coronation of queen Anne, at Whitsuntide, 25 Hen. VIII., as reported by Sir John Spillman, one of the King’s justices, then present.

Before the coronation, Westminster Hall was prepared, and the Court of King’s Bench was kept for the time in the Exchequer Chamber, the Common Pleas in the Abbey, and the Chancery in the White Hall. The King sent letters missives to each of the justices to attend at the Coronation. On Thursday the Queen came from Greenwich to the Tower, where she rested all the Friday. On Thursday the Chancellor wrote to the Chief Justice, desiring him and his companions, in their scarlet robes, to come to Tower Hill, each with one servant, between one and two on Friday, to ride with the Queen, between the lords and knights, to Westminster Hall, and to attend at the Hall on Whitsunday at seven. When the chief justice, FitzJames, received this letter, he summoned the chief baron, Sir Robt. Norwich, chief justice of the Common Pleas, Sir Ric. Lyster, chief baron, Sir Humphrey Conisby, Sir Ant. Fitzherbert, Sir John Port, Sir Thos. Englefield, Sir John Shelley, and Sir John Spilman, who determined to ride together to the Tower. On Saturday, after dinner, they rode to the Tower on horses and mules, in scarlet gowns and hoods, sarcenet tippets and collars of S.S. ; but being too late to go into the Tower they came back to Sir John Dancy’s house in Mark Lane, and after resting half an hour rode back to Tower Hill, where they staid an hour, while the knights and squires rode by. The heralds appointed the justices to ride before the knights of the Bath, of whom 18 were made that day, and before the King’s council. At Westminster Hall they alighted, and waited for the Queen in the Hall next to the said knights. When she had sat in her chair and drunk, she went to her chamber, and the justices all kneeled to her ; to whom she said, “I thank you for all the honor you have done to me this day.” After this they came to their inns. On Whit Sunday, wearing their coifs, scarlet robes, hoods, cloaks, and collars, they rode to Westminster Hall, and accompanied the Queen to the church in the same order as before. In the church they were with the lords upon a scaffold. When the Queen was ascended unto the high place, they and the lords descended to the door of the Hall, and put off their coifs, cloaks, and hoods, and put on their tippets, collars, and hoods, as before. The marshals assigned them to sit next to the barons, at the same table. After dinner they advanced themselves before the Queen as she went to her chamber, and kneeled down, when she spoke as before. They then came back to their inns. They were not at the jousts the next day, for they were not commanded to be present.

Later copy, pp. 2. (Letters and Papers)

 “For the Quenys litter” :—

Crimson velvet, 32½ yds. at 13s. 4d. Crimson damask for lining, 19 yds. at 7s. Scarlet for covering it, 3 yds. at 8s. Red cloth, for a foot cloth, 1 yd., 3s. 4d. Crimson cloth, for lining the collars, “dosers,” and breeches, 1½ yd. at 3s. 4d. A mattress, 5s. A serecloth, gold and silk fringe, points, &c. 2 great brasses that beareth the litter, 8s. Making 2 saddles, covered with crimson velvet, 13s. 4d. 2 great double collars, stuffed, with bells, 16s. 2 great bits, with gilt bosses, 10s. 10,000 gilt nails, at 3s. 4d. a 1,000. 2 white girths, 2s. 2 black reins, 6d. 1 doz. gilt buckles, at 10d. Chains and breeches for the saddles, 8s. 10 gilt roses, at 8d. 4 gilt pommels, with roses, at 4s. For making the covering, of crimson velvet, bordered with black velvet, embroidered with 2 heads, 6s. 8d. To the broiderer, for mending the border, 10s. (Added, in Cromwell’s (?) hand) : “Mem. To speak with Justice, for the making of the new litter, 46s. 8d. ; for the painting of it, 33s. 4d.”

 5. Apparel :—

Item. 1½ yd. of crimson satin. 3 yds. of crimson taffeta to line her velvet gown. 2 yds. of black satin for her gown. To send 4 cr. to buy white fur for her black satin gown. For making 2 gowns, 1 cr. 2 yds. of black buckram, to line the two gowns in the bodies. 3 yds. of frieze, to line the pleats of the gowns after their use. ½ yd. of white satin, to make habiliments for her head. 5 yds. of white satin for a kirtle. 2½ yds. of red cloth to line her kirtle. 17 pieces of goldsmith’s work. A flat gold chain “as the dothe … to wear there.” 12 cr.

 Goldsmith’s work :—

A gold cup with a cover, weighing 59¾ ozs., at 45s. the oz., 134l. 8s. 9d. Workmanship, at 5s. the oz., 14l. 18s. 9d. Total, 149l. 7s. 6d.

Narrative of the entry and coronation of Anne Boleyn, queen of England, at London, 2 June 1533.

The Queen left Greenwich on Thursday, about four o’clock in the afternoon, in a “barque raze,” like a brigantine, which was painted with her colours outside, with many banners. Her ladies attended her. She was accompanied by 100 or 120 similar vessels, also garnished with banners and standards. They were fitted out with small masts, to which was attached a great quantity of rigging, as on large ships ; the rigging being adorned with small flags of taffeta, and, by the writer’s advice, with “or clinquant,” as it reflects the sun’s rays. There were many drums, trumpets, flutes, and hantbois. They arrived in less than half an hour at the Tower of London, where the cannon fired a salute. It was a very beautiful sight ; for, besides the vessels, there were more than 200 small boats, which brought up the near. The whole river was covered. On Friday the Queen did not leave her lodging. On Saturday, about five o’clock in the afternoon, in her royal dresses, which are of the same fashion as those of France, she mounted a litter covered inside and out with white satin. Over her was borne a canopy of cloth of gold. Then followed twelve ladies on hackneys, all clothed in cloth of gold. Next came a chariot covered with the same cloth, and containing only the duchess of Norfolk, step-mother of the Duke, and the Queen’s mother. Next, twelve young ladies on horseback, arrayed in crimson velvet. Next, three gilded coaches, in which were many young ladies ; and, lastly, twenty or thirty others on horseback, in black velvet. Around the litter were the duke of Suffolk, that day Constable, and my lord William (fn. 2) [Howard], who was Great Marshal and Great Chamberlain,—a hereditary office,—in place of his brother the duke of Norfolk. Before them marched two men, called esquires, who wore bonnets furred with ermines, somewhat like the chief usher of Paris. Then came the French ambassador, accompanied by the archbishop of Canterbury ; then the Venetian ambassador, accompanied by the Chancellor ; then many bishops, and the rest of the great lords and gentlemen of the realm, to the number of 200 or 300. Before all, marched the French merchants, in violet velvet, [each] wearing one sleeve of the Queen’s colours ; their horses being caparisoned in violet taffeta with white crosses. In all open places (carrefours) were scaffolds, on which mysteries were played ; and fountains poured forth wine. Along the streets all the merchants were stationed. The Queen alighted in a great hall, in which was a high place, where she partook of wine, and then retired to her chamber.

On Sunday morning, accompanied by all the said lords and gentlemen, she went on foot from her lodging to the church, the whole of the road being covered with cloth, and being about the length of the garden of Chantilly. All the bishops and abbots went to meet her, and conducted her to the church. After hearing mass, she mounted upon a platform before the great altar, covered with red cloth. The place where she was seated, which was elevated on two steps, was covered with tapestry. She remained there during the service, after being crowned by the archbishop of Canterbury, who delivered the crown to her, and consecrated her in front of the high altar. That day the duke of Suffolk was Grand Master, and constantly stood near the Queen with a large white rod in his hand. My lord William and the Great Chamberlain were also near her. Behind her were many ladies, duchesses, and countesses, attired in scarlet, in cloaks furred with ermines —such as are usually worn by duchesses and countesses,—and in bonnets. The dukes, earls, and knights were likewise clothed in scarlet robes, furred with ermines, like the first presidents of Paris, with their hoods. The coronation over, the Queen was led back again with the same company as she came, excepting some bishops, into a great hall, which had been prepared for her to dine in. The table was very long, and the Archbishop was seated a considerable distance from her. She had at her feet two ladies, seated under the table to serve her secretly with what she might need ; and two others near her, one on each side, often raised a great linen cloth to hide her from view, when she wished “s’ayser en quelque chose.” Her dinner lasted a long time, and was very honorably served. Around her was an inclosure, into which none entered but those deputed to serve, who were the greatest personages of the realm, and chiefly those who served “de sommelliers d’eschançonnerie et panetrie.” The hall being very large, and good order kept, there was no crowding. Beneath the inclosure were four great tables, extending the length of the hall. At the first were seated those of the realm who have charge of the doors ; below them, at the same table, were many gentlemen ; at the second table, the archbishops, bishops, the Chancellor, and many lords and knights. The two other tables were at the other side of the hall : “à celle du hault bout” was the mayor of London, accompanied by the sheriffs ; at the other were duchesses, countesses, and ladies. The duke of Suffolk was gorgeously arrayed with many stones and pearls, and rode up and down the hall and around the tables, upon a courser caparisoned in crimson velvet ; as also did my lord William, who presided over the serving, and kept order : they were always bareheaded, as you know is the custom of this country. The King stationed himself in a place which he had had made, and from which he could see without being seen ; the ambassadors of France and Venice were with him. At the hall door were conduits pouring out wine ; and there were kitchens to give viands to all comers, the consumption of which was enormous. Trumpets and hautbois sounded at each course, and heralds cried “largesse.” Next day a tourney took place, eight against eight, and every one ran six courses. My lord William led one band, and Master Carew, the grand esquire, the other.

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May 31, 1533: The Procession as Recorded in the Letters and Papers of King Henry VIII

On Thursday, 29 May 1533, 25 Hen. VIII., the lady Anne marchioness of Pembroke was received at Greenwich, and conveyed to the Tower of London, and thence to Westminster, where she was crowned queen of England.

Order was taken by the King and his Council for all the Lords spiritual and temporal to be in the barge before Greenwich at 3 p.m., and give their attendance till the Queen took her barge. The mayor of London, Stephen Pecocke, haberdasher, had 48 barges in attendance richly decked with arras, hung with banners and with pennons of the arms of the crafts in fine gold, and having in them trumpets, shallands, and minstrels ; also every barge decked with ordnance of guns, “the won to heill the other troumfettly as the tyme dyd require.” Also there was the bachelor’s barge sumptuously decked, and divers foists with great shot of ordnance, which went before all the barges. Order given that when her Grace’s barge came “anontes” Wapping mills, knowledge should be given to the Tower to begin to shoot their ordnance. Commandment given to Sir Will. Vinstonne (Kingston), constable of the Tower, and Sir Edw. Wallsyngham, lieutenant of the Tower, to keep a space free for her landing. It was marvellous sight how the barges kept such good order and space between them that every man could see the decking and garnishing of each, “and how the banars and penanntes of armis of their craftes, the which were beaten of fyne gould, yllastring so goodly agaynste the sonne, and allso the standardes, stremares of the conisaunsys and devisis ventylyng with the wynd, allso the trompettes blowyng, shallmes and mistrielles playng, the which war a ryght symtivis and a tryhumfantt syght to se and to heare all the way as they paste upon the water, to her the sayd marvelles swett armone of the sayd ynstermentes, the which soundes to be a thinge of a nother world. This and this order hir Grace pasyng till she came a nontt Rattlyffe.”

The Queen was “hallsyd with gones forth of the shippes” on every side, which could not well be numbered, especially at Ratcliffe. When she came over against Wapping mills the Tower “lousyd their ordinaunce” most triumphantly, shooting four guns at once.

At her landing, a long lane was made among the people to the King’s bridge at the entrance of the Tower. She was received on coming out of her barge by Sir Edw. Walsingham, lieutenant of the Tower, and Sir Will. Kinston, constable of the Tower. The officers of arms gave their attendance ; viz., Sir Thos. Writhe, Garter king-of-arms, Clarencieux and Norroy kings-of-arms, Carlisle, Richmond, Windsor, Lancaster, York, and Chester heralds ; the old duchess of Norfolk bearing her train ; the lord Borworth (sic), chamberlain to her Grace, supporting it, &c. A little further on she was received by lord Sandes, the King’s chamberlain, lord Hause (Hussey), chamberlain with the Princess, the lord Windsor, the lord Nordunt (Mordaunt?), and others ; afterwards by the bishops of Winchester and London, the earl of Oxford, chamberlain of England, lord Will. Haworth, marshal of England, as deputy to his brother Thos. duke of Norfolk, the earl of Essex, &c.

Somewhat within the Tower she was received by the King, who laid his hands on both her sides, kissing her with great reverence and a joyful countenance, and led her to her chamber, the officers of arms going before. After which every man went to his lodging, except certain noblemen and officers in waiting. The King and Queen went to supper, and “after super ther was sumptuus void.”

On Friday, 30 May, all noblemen, &c. repaired to Court, and in a long chamber within the Tower were ordained 18 “baynes,” in which were 18 noblemen all that night, who received the order of knighthood on Saturday, Whitsun eve. Also there were 63 knights made with the sword in honor of the coronation. Then all the nobles, knights, squires, and gentlemen were warned to attend on horseback, on the Tower Hill on Saturday next, to accompany her Grace to Westminster, to do service at the coronation.

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A Funeral or a Triumph? The Crowds Who Watched the Coronation Ceremonies

Contributed by: Natalie Sweet

In the last letter we viewed from Chapuys, he noted that, “all the people showed themselves as sorry as though [the coronation procession] had been a funeral” (Letters and Papers, HVIII). He would not be the only person to note the hostility of the crowds that week. From this anonymous description pulled from the Letters and Papers of Brussels, a very disturbing image of Anne’s coronation emerges:

“Though it was customary to kneel, uncover, and cry O God save the King, God save the Queen whenever they appeared in public, no one in London or the suburbs, not even women and children, did so on this occasion.  One of the Queen’s servants told the mayor to command the people to make the customary shouts, and was answered that he could not command people’s hearts, and that even the King could not make them do so. [The Queen’s] dress was covered with tongues pierced with nails, to show the treatment which those who spoke against her might expect. Her car was so low that the ears of the last mule appeared to those who stood behind her to belong to her. The letters H.A. were painted in several places, for Henry and Anne, but were laughed at by many.  The crown became her very ill, and a wart disfigured her very much. She wore a violet velvet mantle, with a high ruff of gold thread and pearls, which concealed a swelling she has, resembling goiter. (Letters and Papers, from a catalogue of papers at Brussels, now lost.)

Could it be that such a hostile crowd greeted Anne? By the accounts, thousands watched Anne’s journey. Undoubtedly, there were many present who disliked the idea of Anne becoming Queen. Katherine had been much beloved, and Anne had been treated with hostility before, in public and in the form of malicious gossip and fanciful tales. The idea that no one paid her honor, however, is a little hard to believe. For one, we have already viewed letters of merchants and artisans asking for the privilege of serving the new Queen. If the people of 16th century England were anything, they were wary of their monarch’s changing moods and opinions, and they were also on the lookout for new ways to rise from their own stations. Recognizing the new Queen was one way to move upward and replace the old order.

Secondly, there are always those within every society in every time period who just accept the turning of the tides. Would they have taken time out of their day to go greet the new Queen? Perhaps not. However, Henry, like monarchs before and after him, considered this fact. As such, food and drink was made available to the crowds to celebrate the monumental occasion of a coronation, just as it was during births and weddings.

Finally, we must take the time and step back to examine the full blast of this anonymous person’s complaint. Besides reporting about the hostile crowds, care was taken to deride Anne’s physical appearance. Her dress is clearly a complete fabrication, as we know of no embroidered design of “tongues pierced with nails.” The existence of an ugly wart was discussed, and Anne’s pregnancy was portrayed as a goiter. Complaints of Anne’s physical appearance was a common crutch used by her enemies, even long after her death. It contributes to the difficulty we face in understanding what Anne truly looked like.

Considering all of this, I am led to believe that portions of the crowd were surly, and didn’t respond enthusiastically to Anne’s arrival. However, I’m sure that there were others who responded cheerily to the event, if only because the red wine flowing from the fountain was plentiful!

What of your thoughts, however? Should we take these accounts as an insightful look at the majority of the crowd, some of the crowd, or none of the crowd?

Plans for Coronation

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