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Boleyn “Birthers”

Do you belong to the "1507” camp, or to the “1499 to 1501” camp?

Do you belong to the “1507” camp, or to the “1499 to 1501” camp?

The following guest post is from Nell Gavin, award-winning author of Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn and Hang On. It is a part of the guest blog series, “Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers.”

If you’re a fan of Anne Boleyn, you undoubtedly fall into one of two camps: the “1507” camp, or the “1499 to 1501” camp. You know who you are, and whichever camp you belong to you are probably vehement and passionate, and equipped with arguments.

I have seen Internet fistfights degenerate into brawls on Tudor forums, multiple times, over the question of Anne’s birth year. I have received numerous frothy email messages in response to my essay, “Anne Boleyn’s Birth Year: 1501 or 1507?” We’re sort of like football fans wearing different jerseys and shouting insults at the other team. The problem is, neither team can conclusively “win” because there is no way of proving anything. There is no record of Anne Boleyn’s birth, so nobody really knows, and probably nobody ever will.

Why does it matter so much how old Anne was? It’s part of her mystery, certainly, but why do we care? After all, she has been dead for four hundred and seventy seven years. Why have so many people invested so much emotion in declaring her age at the time of her marriage to Henry VIII? She was at least eight years younger than Henry VIII, and possibly as much as twenty-one years younger, if you believe the fringe birthers who cite a birth year of 1512. Granted, there are fewer members of the “1512” camp, but they do exist.

If Anne was born in 1507, she would have been about sixteen years old when Henry VIII set his sights on her in the early 1520s. This makes Henry VIII more of a villain or a creep by today’s standards. Or a ridiculous old fool. Or he was a man who was understandably smitten by her youth. It all depends on your view of thirty-five-year-old men chasing teenagers. But if you add a few years to her, Anne was still not quite an old crone in her early to mid-twenties, even by Tudor standards, particularly since she was thin, and vivacious, and not at all matronly-looking.

Do we want Anne to be young because we favor anything that makes Henry looks like a fool or a creep, and an even more horrible husband to Katherine of Aragon than he might have been, had he dumped her for a more age-appropriate woman? Do we want Anne to be so brilliant and intelligent that she could play Henry like a harp, overthrow the queen, and earn a crown when she was still a girl? Do we want the contrast between Henry’s two women to be so wide that Queen Katherine’s ultimate defeat is sadder and more pitiable, and Anne more instinctively evil and treacherous? Or do we want Anne to be young because it makes her more innocent and victimized, and ultimately more desirable? Is that ageist of us?

The 1501 and 1507 camps are about evenly split. This may be because the information we have access to is about evenly split, leaning sometimes this way and sometimes the other, based on popular media. We tend to accept as “fact” the first information we receive, and then afterward reject everything that contradicts it – psychological studies indicate that this is how humans operate. Apparently the information that reaches us first is the information we trust the most, and we’re less apt to question it. So we may have chosen our camp based on the first movie we saw, or the first book we happened to read about Anne Boleyn. We may have been sorted just that randomly. That’s one theory

Boleyn Birthers – a group that includes most of Anne Boleyn’s fan base – pick sides in the debate, and we support our argument with logic or passion. We can even take it to a really silly level by changing the birth year on Wikipedia’s Anne Boleyn page, and then watching someone else change it back within hours. I am not proud to admit that I did this myself for quite some time, a few years back, just to see how long my opponent would last, before I finally got bored and walked away, defeated. At this writing, the last person to edit the Wikipedia birth year agrees with me. But that will change: I cross out your graffiti, “Cowboys” and write in my graffiti, “Bears.” Then, vice versa. Infinity.

Still, we don’t change the truth, whatever it may be, no matter how certain we are that we’re right.

There are so many variations to the Anne Boleyn story that we may simply choose our camps based on which of those many stories we prefer. It could be that we prefer our tragic romantic heroines to be young. Or we prefer them to be more world-wise and savvy. Or we prefer them to be innocent and victimized. Or we love a good evil, conniving shrew. Anne offers us everything we love in a good story. We can read all the information we have any way we like.

Ultimately, we can shape and control Anne Boleyn and her story, just a little, by choosing the year of her birth. And so we do, and probably will throughout all time, to suit ourselves.

I’m certain that, somewhere in the ether, Anne is laughing, delighted.

 

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Henry a Psychopath?

Henry+VIIIThe following article is a guest post by Kyra Kramer, author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII.

Henry VIII remains a titan in the public imagination, and a certain amount of sensationalism comes with his notoriety. And by “a certain amount” I mean “a whole big bunch”. The latest headline to trumpet Henry’s infamy popped up on his birthday, declaring “Henry VIII Would Be A Modern Day Psychopath: When ranked against the ‘psychopathic spectrum’, the king – who beheaded two of his wives – scored 174 against a ‘starting’ psychopath score of 168”.

Huh.

Now, I have been “interviewed” by the press. I have had several friends and colleagues who have also been “interviewed” by the press. The biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from those experiences has been that there is nothing on this sweet green earth that cannot be spun, skewed, or stretched to make a story a little more catchy. This is absolutely painful to academics who would murder their careers if they ever misquoted or paraphrased this loosely with someone else’s words; we are left gaping like a landed trout when it happens because it was unfathomable that anyone would do such a thing. Furthermore, when reporters just flat out make stuff up (or get it wrong if you are feeling generous) we are even more gobsmacked because falsifying information or giving non-factual data is anathema to the academic mindset. It usually doesn’t occur to us that a non-tabloid professional would brazenly do such a thing until it is too late and we are staring bumfuzzled at words/thoughts that we did not say being attributed to us.

Therefore, I am not going to critique Professor Kevin Dutton’s findings or the his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, until I know more about what it actually says.  I’ll just content myself by stating that the information as it is presented in the article is mostly crap.

It is crap first and foremost because it takes Henry VIII out of historical context. Professor Dutton is a psychologist and I am fairly sure he knows his stuff since he is an honorary affiliate member of Magdalen College, which is part of Oxford University. Nevertheless, psychology is not history. Nor is it particularly adept at looking at the sociocultural context of its subjects. In fact, psychological theories are based largely on “weird” people, i.e  the subject of psychology experiments are usually Western, Educated, from Industrialized and relatively Rich societies which are usually in Democratic countries.

Without a doubt, Professor Dutton would be an expert in finding a psychopath or measure psychopathic qualities/tendencies in modern weird humans. However, Henry VIII was more royal “we” than royal weird. He was Western and Educated, but his country was not particularly industrialized, or comparatively rich, and beyond contestation not a democracy. How does a psychopath test apply to a man who was raised to believe that royalty was appointed by God Himself and the a monarch was divinely ordained on the great chain of being as an inherently better person than all other men? How do you find someone to be egocentric when they have been taught from birth that the King and England are one and the same? How do you judge a person as ruthless that has been carefully schooled in what happens to rulers who fail to be ruthless?

As for scoring Henry VIII “very highly for emotional detachment” … in what decade? Prior to 1535 that man was as emotionally detached as Bella Swan in those odes to dysfunctional co-dependance, the Twilight books. He was devoted to his first wife, Katherina  (that is how she signed her name) of Aragon, and was considered amazingly faithful to her by the standards of his time. David Starkey even called Henry almost “uxorious” in his adoration of his regal wife. When he later wanted to divorce her and try for a male heir he ripped holes in the fabric of European religion and politics to marry Anne Boleyn rather than make an “acceptable” marriage with a foreign noblewoman or princess.

Yeah, that’s really emotionally detached right there.

Even after he became mentally compromised (if the Kell/McLeod theory is correct) in the early 1530s he still focused a great deal of attention on the woman he was in love with. His love for Anne didn’t turn into indifference — it became scalding and implacable hate. He practically set up a shrine to Jane Seymour when she died shortly after the birth of their son. He could not keep a politically expedient marriage to Anna of Cleves functioning because he didn’t love her enough. He went bonkers when he found out his fifth wife, Katheryn Howard, had not been a virgin when they wed. He wanted to be married so much that he all but forced Kateryn Parr to accept his proposal.

Jeeze Louise, how emotionally attached do you have to be to not be a psychopath?

Personally, I don’t think Henry VIII is a psychopath when he is viewed in historical context. If the Kell/McLeod theory holds water, his crimes were largely the result of uncontrollable paranoia and mental deterioration. If the theory is not correct, his actions could just as easily be ascribed to a man suffering from a delusional disorder — which opens another can of worms because how do you determine if a King is feeling “grandiose”? If the King had paranoid delusions, how would that effect his psychopathic score?

I am actually interested in reading Professor Dutton’s book, because armchair evals done by experts fascinate me. But unless the book offers much more compelling evidence than the article suggests I will continue to consider Henry VIII to not be a psychopath.

Then again, some people argue that like Norman Bates Henry VIII was a little obsessed with his mother

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