By Natalie Sweet
Just as in the Elizabethan era, opinions on Anne Boleyn in the seventeenth century were still heavily influenced by England’s religious climate and by opinions of Elizabeth I. After Elizabeth’s death, Englishmen largely welcomed the new Stuart monarchy. Many had secretly whispered that the Queen was too old, her court was too emasculated, and that her foreign wars were too costly for the English people. Thus, when James I (of England, VI of Scotland) ascended the throne in 1603, he was generally accepted, despite his Scottish background. As the years passed, however, Englishmen gradually grew more wary of their Stuart monarchs and of the possibility of their connection to Catholicism. Elizabeth’s popularity began to slowly rise once again in the 1620s. The arrival of the English Civil War at the mid-century both diminished and increased interest in Elizabeth: some wished to avoid discussion of the monarchy altogether, while other Englishmen idealized Elizabeth’s reign, proclaiming it a golden age where Queen and Parliament were harmoniously in-sync. The return of the monarchy insured that Elizabeth’s popularity did not wane. Indeed, it is clear from surviving records such as the famous Samuel Pepys diary that the memory of Elizabeth lived on. It is understandable that a favorable opinion of Elizabeth would inspire tolerant, if not pleasing, accounts of the famed Queen’s mother. Additionally, a positive portrayal of Anne was also aided by growing anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiment.
Below, we have an excerpt from The Character of Elizabeth, by Edmund Bohun and published in 1692. At the time, the Glorious Revolution had just passed, and William and Mary sat upon the throne. Describing Elizabeth as “the Greatest Princess that ever swayed this or any other Scepter,” Bohun dedicated his book to William in Mary in the hopes that they might be instructed by “[t]he Great Things she did, and the Ways, Means and Instruments she employed under her to bring them into Act” (pg. A3-A4).
The Birth and Parentage of Queen Elizabeth (modernized spelling applied)
Elizabeth, Queen of England, was born at Greenwich the 7th of September 1533. Her Father was Henry the VIIIth, Her Mother was the Lady Anne Boleyn the Daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, a Knight of great Estate and Esteem. After she came to wear the Royal Crown of England, She had a particular Affection for Greenwich, that Pleasant Seat upon the Thames, as for the place of Her Nativity: and upon that account, amongst many others, She preferred Her Palace there before all Her other Country Seats near London; as in truth it enjoys one of the Noblest, Prospects in the World, and an healthful, and a pleasing Air. From Her very Cradle She was exposed to the Hazards and Hardships of an unkind Fortune. Anne Boleyn, Her Mother, upon the Death of Queen Catherine, in the Year 1535, the 8th of January, was Arraigned for Treason; and in 1536, being Sentenced, was freed by Death from a bloody Marriage, the 19th of May. The Inveterate Malice of the Popish Clergy having ever since pursued this Match with the Reproaches as unlawful and void; because Queen Catherine his first Wife was then still living, and very much enraged at It, though to no purpose. Hereupon soon after a Parliament was summoned, which began the 8th of June; In which the Issue of both the King’s former Marriages was declared Illegitimate, and for ever excluded from claiming the Inheritance fo the Crown as the King’s Lawful Heirs by Lineal Descent; and the Attainder of Queen Anne, and her Complices, was Confirmed. So that by Authority of Parliament She stood wholly incapacitated as to the wearing the Crown of England. Her only Support in the mean time under all these Injuries and Afflictions was the Goodness of God.
As you can see, Anne is minimally noted, and at most she is titled with “Lady.” Yet, her downfall is tied to the “inveterate Malice of the Popish Clergy” and she “was freed by Death from a bloody Marriage.” The dates are terribly off, but the sentiment is positive: Anne is not a character to be reviled, but one to be treated with sympathy.
As Susan noted in a previous post, the same sentiments were true in other works produced during the time period. In 1682, John Bank’s “Vertue Betray’d” became one of the first popular plays to portray Anne as a tragic heroine: “In France at the time, a genre called “secret histories” was popular; one, by Madame D’aulnoy (who also wrote fairy tales) was the “secret history” of Elizabeth–which is actually mostly about Anne. Banks took several elements (such as the romance with Piercy) from Madame D’Aulnoy’s “secret history” to insure that the play had appeal to female audiences. Unlike D’Aulnoy’s novel, however, Banks’ play is clearly a salvo in the Protestant/Catholic culture wars. At the end of the play, Anne, hideously wronged, goes to her death in magnificent fashion, proclaiming to all the saints, cherubins and other martyrs in heaven that she is coming to them, and ending many long and lofty speeches with and an even loftier prediction of her daughter’s future–a seventeenth century version of the “Elizabeth Shall Be Queen” speech in “Anne of the Thousand Days”–and the death of Catholicism (the pope being the “holy tyrant” mentioned in the speech:
Thou, little child [meaning Elizabeth], shalt live to see thy mother’s wrongs o’re paid in many blessings on thy women’s state. From this dark calumny, in which I sit, as in a cloud; thou, like a star, shalt rise, and awe the Southern world: that holy tyrant, who grinds all Europe with the yoke of conscience, holding his feet upon the necks of kings; thou shalt destroy, and quite unloose his bonds, and lay the monster trembling at thy feet. When this shall come to pass, the world shall see they mother’s innocence revived in thee.”