Tag Archives: George Boleyn

May 17th, 1536. In tribute to George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, and Francis Weston: Two Poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt

It is often assumed, on the basis of various allusions in his love poetry, anecdotes relayed by his grandson George, and later fictional accounts, that the poet Thomas Wyatt had been in love with Anne at one time, and that his famous poetic lament over the terrible “sight” he had seen from the Bell Tower expressed his heartbreak over Anne’s execution. Undoubtedly, Anne’s death was shattering to him, whatever the nature of his affections for her. But, as a less famous poem,“In Mourning Wise Since Daily I Increase,” shows, “these bloody days” referred as well (or perhaps chiefly) to the executions of the men with whom Anne was accused. Anne is not mentioned in either poem—probably out of caution—but they are quite explicit about Wyatt’s despair over the fate of the others.

Wyatt’s poems—both these two, and many later ones–make it very clear that the experience was life-changing for him, creating complete and bitter disillusionment with court life, which raised his friends “aloft” only to bring them to such a horrible end. For no matter how pleasant and enticing life was at court, “circa Regna tonat”: Thunder Rolls Around the Throne. The “thunder”: Henry’s whims, which could turn the sun of fortune into a perfect—and fatal—storm.

As you read the poems, notice how prominent the theme of the precarious nature of court life is in them. In fact, after his release Wyatt spent only a short time at court, returning to his father’s castle in Allington, where he wrote the second poem. He ultimately did return to court in 1537, knighted by Henry for his service in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace. But nearly all his poems continue to express alienation and disdain for the artifice, vanity, and illusions of court life.

 

I

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

 

 

 

 

 II.

IN MOURNING WISE SINCE DAILY I INCREASE

In Mourning wise since daily I increase,

Thus should I cloak the cause of all my grief;

So pensive mind with tongue to hold his peace’

My reason sayeth there can be no relief:

Wherefore give ear, I humbly you require,

The affect to know that thus doth make me moan.

The cause is great of all my doleful cheer

For those that were, and now be dead and gone.

What thought to death desert be now their call.

As by their faults it doth appear right plain?

Of force I must lament that such a fall should light on those so wealthily did reign,

Though some perchance will say, of cruel heart,

A traitor’s death why should we thus bemoan?

But I alas, set this offence apart,

Must needs bewail the death of some be gone.

As for them all I do not thus lament,

But as of right my reason doth me bind;

But as the most doth all their deaths repent,

Even so do I by force of mourning mind.

Some say, ‘Rochford, haddest thou been not so proud,

For thy great wit each man would thee bemoan,

Since as it is so, many cry aloud

It is great loss that thou art dead and gone.’

Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run

To think what hap did thee so lead or guide

Whereby thou hast both thee and thine undone

That is bewailed in court of every side;

In place also where thou hast never been

Both man and child doth piteously thee moan.

They say, ‘Alas, thou art far overseen

By thine offences to be thus deat and gone.’

Ah! Weston, Weston, that pleasant was and young,

In active things who might with thee compare?

All words accept that thou diddest speak with tongue,

So well esteemed with each where thou diddest fare.

And we that now in court doth lead our life

Most part in mind doth thee lament and moan;

But that thy faults we daily hear so rife,

All we should weep that thou are dead and gone.

Brereton farewell, as one that least I knew.

Great was thy love with divers as I hear,

But common voice doth not so sore thee rue

As other twain that doth before appear;

But yet no doubt but they friends thee lament

And other hear their piteous cry and moan.

So doth eah heart for thee likewise relent

That thou givest cause thus to be dead and gone.

Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,

Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,

Save only that mine eye is forced sore

With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?

A time thou haddest above thy poor degree,

The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan:

A rotten twig upon so high a tree

Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.

And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!

The axe is home, your heads be in the street;

The trickling tears doth fall so from my eyes

I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.

But what can hope when death hath played his part,

Though nature’s course will thus lament and moan?

Leave sobs therefore, and every Christian heart

Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.

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Filed under May 19th, 1536 Feature

The Vilification of George Boleyn

Wife-Abuser?

Wife-Abuser?

Clare Cherry is a Tudor enthusiast who is in the process of writing a biography of George Boleyn with Claire Ridgway.

As anyone interested in Tudor history knows, George Boleyn was the brother of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne.
He was first introduced to court at a child of around 10 years old. He was a member of Henry’s Privy Chamber by 1525 but lost his place in the Eltham Ordinances. He was knighted in 1529 and appointed as Gentleman of the Privy Chamber not long afterwards. He was a recognised court poet. He was also to become one of Henry’s busiest diplomats as well as serving in Parliament, including the Reformation Parliament and becoming Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in  June 1534. By 1535 he had become an extremely successful, powerful and influential man.
Then, as his career and influence continued to flourish, he was falsely charged with incest and high treason, and went to his death in May 1536 at the age of around 32. In his own words he died, ‘with more shame and dishonour than hath ever been heard of before’. It is generally accepted today that he was innocent. Indeed that appeared to be the feeling at the time of his death, as there was a general belief in his innocence, and many claimed that it was ‘a great loss’ that he was dead.
In the years that followed George largely escaped the excesses of fiction. He was invariable portrayed as innocent, his career was recognised, and he was generally portrayed as the intelligent and compassionate brother of Anne. Admittedly he was nearly always saddled with a vindictive wife and his marriage was a failure, but she was always the guilty party, rarely if ever him.
So where did it all go so horribly wrong?
Guilty of incest?

Guilty of incest?

In the mid nineteen eighties an historian named Retha Warnicke came up with the theory that Anne surrounded herself with a number of homosexual courtiers, including her brother, George Boleyn. I won’t go into the reasoning behind Warnicke’s theory save to say that there is no evidence to support it. Be that as it may, the theory was subsequently expanded on in fiction. Now, whether George Boleyn was homo/bisexual or not, is irrelevant to his character, but writers of fiction appear not to see it that way. So once the theory was introduced they had a field day with his honour and reputation. The general consensus seemed to be ‘he’s gay, so let’s do what we like with him’. The start of George being demonised in fiction seems to me to be innately homophobic when considering when he began to be demonised. This started almost simultaneously with the Warnicke theory, which is far too coincidental.

Since the theory of his sexuality was introduced he has been a little too fond of pageboys, as well as being guilty of incest with Anne (The Other Boleyn Girl).
He has been a wife abuser and rapist, as well as a murderer (The Tudors).
He has been a smirking boorish fool who wouldn’t stoop to having sex with an animal, and who was also a coward (Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies).
He has been a vicious rapist and braggart (The Crown/The Chalice)
He has been shown as virtually raping Mark Smeaton (The Boleyn Wife).
One could go on and on. What all of these portrayals share is that his incredible career is more or less overlooked, and he is reduced to a rather ineffectual fool. Nowadays he seems to fall into one of two separate categories. He’s either rather foolish and incapable, as well as being more than happy to ride on his sister’s coat tails, or alternatively he’s clever and ambitious but extremely unpleasant. Sometimes he’s both depictions at the same time.
But whichever way his character is depicted, he nearly always has some sort of sexual perversion, which has taken the homosexual theory, expanded on it, and run with it with more legs than a centipede. Presumably the thought process is that George the homosexual must be capable of any sexual deviancy, including rape and incest.
The tables are turning on the myth that Jane Boleyn was the dreadful wife who betrayed her innocent husband. Partly that’s because George and Anne are sometimes shown as actually being guilty, but mostly because Jane’s evidence was in retaliation for the awful way George treated her. There is no evidence that Jane did betray the Boleyn siblings, and I am all for her rehabilitation, but not at the expense of her husband. Suddenly it’s George’s treatment of his wife that led to her giving evidence against Anne and George. And taking that to it’s logical conclusion Anne’s fall was largely George’s fault.
The brutal treatment of George Boleyn in fiction has become self perpetuating. Warnicke’s theory gave fiction writers the green light to commence the attack. Once that started subsequent writers continued the assault because it was easy pickings. If enough writers depict a certain character in a certain way, that characterisation takes hold. It becomes the norm to show them that way, just as it has become the norm to portray George Boleyn as a cruel husband and sexual deviant, despite the fact there is no evidence to support that portrayal. That characterisation, when seen over and over again, seeps into the public psyche, and all of a sudden that’s what George Boleyn was like. He was a dreadful person, who is now hated.
I find it incredible that in the space of thirty years a person’s honour and integrity can be torn apart, and their achievements forgotten, for the sake of entertainment, whilst the writers of that entertainment earn a good living out of the demonising of the characters they write about.
Hopefully, in due course the tide will turn once again, and George Boleyn will get the recognition and respect he deserves.

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Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, and the Ghost of Gay Rights

"The Abduction of Ganymede" (mid-17th century) by Eustache Le Sueur

“The Abduction of Ganymede” (mid-17th century) by Eustache Le Sueur

The following guest post is from Gareth Russell, author of the comic novel Popular and blogger extraordinaire at Confessions of a Ci-Devant. 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.”

Same-sex attraction was a dangerous affair in the early modern period. Within Anne Boleyn’s lifetime, her husband introduced legislation that made buggery an offence punishable by death and even monarchs suspected (correctly) of having male lovers themselves, like James I (he of the Great Bible fame), felt moved to condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Given the secrecy that surrounded it by virtue of necessity, speculating who among the famous long-dead was gay, bisexual, bicurious or whatever post-nineteenth century label you want to give it, is a rich imaginative field for modern-day history enthusiasts. Ever since the publication of Professor Retha Warnicke’s academic work in the 1980s, where she hypothesized that Anne Boleyn’s brother George had been sexually or romantically involved with the palace musician Mark Smeaton, the idea that George Boleyn, viscount Rochford, was what we would now recognize as gay or bisexual has never really gone away and in modern dramatizations of his family’s story, he is almost invariably presented that way.

 

We know relatively little about George Boleyn’s life, but just enough to flesh out the few bare narrative details. Born sometime around 1504 to Sir Thomas Boleyn, an English diplomat with a strong claim to be heir-apparent to the Irish earl of Ormonde, and his aristocratic wife, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (née Howard), George Boleyn joined his father at court at an early age and there is an unsubstantiated story that he was briefly a student at the University of Oxford. He was said to be uncommonly handsome, with a talent for languages, poetry and music, but he also had a pride that bordered on the arrogant. He followed his father into a career in diplomacy and he married the well-connected Jane Parker, Lord Morley’s daughter, in the early-to-middle part of the 1520s. He was known to be particularly enthusiastic about the emergence of Protestantism; he enjoyed debating theology and philosophy and from what we can tell, he was far more religiously radical than Anne or the king. During his sister’s time as queen consort, he was given de facto use of the sumptuous Beaulieu Palace in Essex, where he lived splendidly before being arrested on a charge of committing incest with the queen and subsequently being executed on May 17th 1536, in his early thirties.

 

It was George Boleyn’s love of music and the arts that first led to the suggestion that he may have preferred the sexual company of men. A satirical book mocking the institution of marriage, inscribed in George’s own hand, was allegedly given as a gift to Mark Smeaton, prompting Professor Retha Warnicke to speculate that such a gift was a sign of intimacy between the two. Many criticized this conclusion, often by citing a biographical sketch left of George by one of his contemporaries, the thoroughly-unimpressed George Cavendish, a loyal servant of Cardinal Wolsey, who had (at least in Cavendish’s view) lost power thanks to the machinations of George Boleyn’s family. Cavendish described Boleyn as a compulsive bed-hopper, with little discrimination about what kind of woman he went to bed with, which has led to some writers swinging to the opposite extreme to paint George Boleyn as not only heterosexual but also an habitual rapist as well. Which, as ideas go, seems to be built on even less evidence than the theory that he was gay.

 

Whether or not George Boleyn was actually gay or bisexual, to use words that did not exist in the sixteenth century, is unfortunately unknowable. There does seem to be enough evidence of his interest in women to rule out the idea that he was definitively homosexual; his bisexuality, however, cannot be dismissed with equal certainty and while it would be unwise for an historian to make pronouncements about it based on how little evidence we have, it is perhaps understandable that a dramatist, who must take a decision about their character’s psychology, would chose to dramatize George Boleyn as someone who was romantically or sexually interested in both genders at different stages of his life. Two royal lives, those of Edward II and Marie-Antoinette, stand out as two that were bedeviled to the point of death by homophobia. In Edward’s case, probably accurately, and in the case of Marie-Antoinette and her poor murdered confidante, the Princesse de Lamballe, almost certainly not. In contrast, if George Boleyn did sleep with men, and/or fall in love with them, it seems to have had precious little subsequent bearing on his life. This was a man, after all, who perished for allegedly having sex with a woman. George Boleyn, the person, therefore tells us very little (if anything) about the realities of homosexual or same-sex love in the early modern period, but George Boleyn, the ghost, the symbol, can tell us an awful lot about our own society’s evolving, if often unsettling, attitudes towards homoeroticism.

 

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Pádraic Delaney as George Boleyn in "The Tudors." (Showtime)

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Pádraic Delaney as George Boleyn in “The Tudors.” (Showtime)

In the successful television show “The Tudors,” George Boleyn was played by the Irish actor Pádraic Delaney. In season one, the wild-living George is shown enjoying a threesome with two palace servants (both women), but in season two, he is miserably married to a sour-faced Jane Parker (Joanne King) while pursuing a passionate love affair with Mark Smeaton, played by the Canadian actor, David Alpay. On his wedding night to Parker, things get off to a rocky start when she notices a provocative painting on her husband’s wall showing the kidnap of Ganymede, the beautiful mortal male abducted, raped and seduced in Greek mythology by Zeus, king of the gods. As Jane’s revulsion at her husband’s less-than-subtle advertisement of his sexuality spirals, George snaps and sexually assaults her, setting in motion a chain of events that will see Jane betray him in the crisis that took his life in 1536. At best, this portrayal of Boleyn’s romantic life could be described as confused and a meager defense can be mounted by pointing out that many people’s sexual identities are often confused and thus confusing; as Dr Kinsey would no doubt hasten to remind us, sexuality is an enormously complicated spectrum of desires, both fulfilled and repressed, and that there is therefore no reason to suppose that like billions of men and women throughout history, George Boleyn, as imagined in “The Tudors,” had a complex series of romantic and sexual feelings. He could have despised his wife, while enjoying the sexual company of other women and falling in love with a man. Michael Hirst and Pádraic Delaney’s presentation of George could tentatively be seen as fluid and devoid of an agenda, beyond spicing up the dramatic narrative of a supporting character. Boleyn fans perhaps fairly queried the need to show George’s graphic and demeaning assault on his bride in such excruciating detail; it implicitly suggested that there was some kind of link between sexual repression and sexual violence. However, by and large, it is difficult to look at “The Tudors” and see that it is guilty of anything more sinful than trying to balance the competing historical theories about the modus operandi of George Boleyn’s nether regions.

 

A far more insidious view of Boleyn’s sexuality comes in the 2001 bestseller “The Other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory. In both the 2003 BBC television adaptation and 2008 movie version of the novel, nothing is made of the subplot in the book which sees George Boleyn becoming romantically involved with Francis Weston, a handsome and athletic courtier who, in historical fact, was also one of the men executed in 1536 for allegedly committing adultery with Queen Anne. (Part of Professor Warnicke’s theory was that sixteenth-century ignorance of the psychological realities of homosexuality led to people incorrectly assuming that someone like Boleyn, Weston or Smeaton, who was capable of going to bed with their own gender was automatically capable of a plethora of other sexual vices, such as adultery with the queen or incest with a sibling. Thus, the six people sent to the block by Henry VIII in May 1536 perished due to ignorance, superstition and pornographic paranoia.) Philippa Gregory builds on this in her novel to suggest that most of the men who died as Anne Boleyn’s accused lovers were gay and the portrait she paints of them is not a pleasant one. After its publication and its commercial success, so much was made of the novel’s demonization of a remorselessly unlovely Anne and of concerns that by presenting Anne as a promiscuous sociopath against her doe-eyed, ambition-fearing, love-obsessed sister Mary, Gregory had effectively produced a novel that was about as feminist as a swimsuit pageant, that its portrayal of its male characters’ sexuality has gone almost unnoticed. Perhaps this is also because that aspect of the storyline did not make it in to either screen adaptation of “The Other Boleyn Girl” and thus garnered less attention.

 

Steven Mackintosh as George Boleyn in the 2003 BBC adaptation of "The Other Boleyn Girl" (BBC).

Steven Mackintosh as George Boleyn in the 2003 BBC adaptation of “The Other Boleyn Girl” (BBC).

In the first place, Gregory effectively has George Boleyn choosing to be gay. At one point, his sister Mary relates that George has had enough sexual experience in the course of his short life to be intimately familiar with the techniques of ‘French whores, Spanish madams, and English sluts,’ but in the spring of 1525 George reveals that he has fallen in love with Francis Weston, through a conscious decision to distance himself from the schemes and wiles of his female relatives – ‘It’s no wonder I am sick of it. The life I live makes me weary to the soul of the vanity of women.’ (Women seem to be at fault for most of the heartbreak in “The Other Boleyn Girl.”) How George Boleyn could possibly have looked upon men and been in any way inspired to see them as the nobler sex is baffling, since in “The Other Boleyn Girl,” the leading male characters emerge almost without exception as craven, sociopaths, rapists, spoiled children, moronically stupid or glorified pimps. But perhaps an even bigger psychological question mark is raised by the fact that George seems to have made the decision to embark upon a love affair with a member of his own gender simply because the women he has been exposed to are so exhausting, unlikable and uninspiring. This raises the ugly specter of the corollary of that idea: that had George Boleyn been able to spend time with more “natural” women, he would therefore have chosen a more natural sexual path and thus “The Other Boleyn Girl” stumbles right in to one of the most fraught areas of the modern civil rights debate – the allegation, at once both ludicrous and harmful, that homosexuals choose to be gay and are therefore abdicating the right to expect certain civil rights as a result of that choice.

 

Secondly, Gregory does not seem at all interested in presenting her gay characters in any way other than the most reductive of stereotypes. Henry Norris, one of Henry VIII’s closest companions before 1536, is in conversation with the queen and her family before he ‘minced back to Madge’. As mentioned, the idea that Henry Norris was intimate with his own gender is part of the historical thesis that Gregory allegedly used to inspire her storyline, but there are also ample descriptions of Norris from the books cited in the author’s bibliography that reference not just his charm and kindness, but also his intelligence and his sporting prowess. There is obviously absolutely nothing wrong with someone who minces or who is as naturally camp as New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but to shorthand it for the audience that Henry Norris is supposed to be gay by having him flamboyantly sashay across Anne Boleyn’s apartments suggests that every other trait can be swept away by the word “gay” and the stereotypical behavior that comes with it. In this world, we do not have to imagine the complexities of sexual identity, because often there are none.

 

But perhaps the most unsavory aspect of how “The Other Boleyn Girl” presents George Boleyn’s sex life is the way in which somehow everything about it is thoroughly sordid. George regularly invades his sisters’ rooms while they are in the bath or getting changed, his conversation with them is usually crude to the point of graphic, he apparently has no concept of boundaries, even when he hugs the girls there is something quasi-erotic about it, he jokes about sexually desiring Anne and at one point he French-kisses her in front of a horrified but transfixed Mary. Later in the novel, his wife remarks, ‘But of course, you don’t really like to kiss women at all unless they are your sisters.’ In this light, George’s infatuation with Francis Weston is nothing more than part of a series of sexual aberrations from the novel’s most sexually aberrant character (a tough race to win.) There is something unrelentingly unnatural about George Boleyn’s homosexuality and the reader is left with the inescapable conclusion that this is someone whose sexuality is so flexible, so fluid and so easily reduced to the lowest form of sexual infatuation that he could indeed willingly commit incest with his sister. (Later, Mary Boleyn recalls hearing George cry out in guilt, but the guilt seems shoehorned in to appease the reader, or the narrator, since there is absolutely no indication given his behavior with Anne over the previous five hundred pages that George would feel any form of guilt at toying with her. Indeed at one point, the novel describes an equally-unhinged Anne ‘giggling’ like a schoolgirl at jokes about her brother’s rampant perversity.) And thus the theory put forward by Professor Warnicke, that George Boleyn was harried to his death because of gross societal ignorance about homosexuality, is suddenly turned on his head. The paranoia becomes understandable, the prejudice and the bigotry are not so much contextualized as justified; every allegation that brought George Boleyn to his untimely death in 1536 is made understandable and even, when viewed in the context of the novel, utterly reasonable.

 

The story of history, I have often thought, is really two stories – what it tells us about the past and what it tells us about ourselves. It is fundamentally the study of human nature. Marina Warner’s musings on Western veneration of the Virgin Mary, seeing it as something like the Lady of Shalott’s mirror, reflecting undulating shadows of the society gazing into it, strikes me as true of so much of history, particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality. Susan Bordo’s book “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” looks at how the spectral ghost of Anne Boleyn illuminates so much more than simply the story of a sixteenth-century queen; it tells us a great deal about the twenty first century’s attitudes to femininity, feminism and gender. It is tempting to look through that lens at George Boleyn and wonder what presentations of him tell us about our attitudes to homosexuality or bisexuality. When discussing a modern figure like, say, openly gay characters in “Glee” or “The New Normal,” an author might hesitate to portray them in a way that pandered to negative stereotypes; there is an expectation that, in 2013, people do not behave that way and therefore cannot or should not be dramatized like that. And yet, when it comes to historical personages, our old prejudices do not quite seem to be as completely banished as the glorious, brightly-colored world of “Glee” suggests. In the world of historical dramatizations, stereotypes all too often resurrect themselves, masked thinly and disingenuously by claims that it’s in the name of context. When historians posit the theory that George Boleyn was gay (which, as I have suggested, is an idea I find unconvincing historically), a particularly interesting word used on Tudor chat rooms and websites to refute it is the declaration that they want to “defend” George Boleyn against the “accusation” that he was homosexual. The idea that to be gay is still an insult, rather than simply an inaccurate adjective in Boleyn’s case, has not gone away. Equally, in drama and literature, the very worst of the old stereotypes – mincing, vicious, self-absorbed queens, sexual ambiguities, rampant promiscuity, gay as a dominant character trait, debilitatingly confused bisexuals and the permeable boundaries between homosexuality and other kinds of sexual perversity, be they rape or incest – flow unchecked and uncensored. Maybe someday a brilliant novelist will come along and write the story of George Boleyn or Francis Weston or Mark Smeaton as people who maybe did fall in love with their own gender, but who also actively pursued and promoted the Protestant Reformation, who discussed politics, who played sport, wrote music and dabbled in international diplomacy. Maybe, at some point, it will cease to be all about their sexuality and, when we begin to see that happening in popular culture presentations of them, we will begin to know that at long last we will have stopped reducing our own cultural expectations as well.

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Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

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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May 17th, 1536: In tribute to George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, and Francis Weston

Who list his wealth and ease retain,

Himself let him unknown contain.

Press not too fast in at that gate

Where the return stands by disdain,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

 

The high mountains are blasted oft

When the low valley is mild and soft.

Fortune with Health stands at debate.

The fall is grievous from aloft.

And sure, circa Regna tonat.

 

These bloody days have broken my heart.

My lust, my youth did them depart,

And blind desire of estate.

Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.

Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

 

The bell tower showed me such sight

That in my head sticks day and night.

There did I learn out of a grate,

For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

 

By proof, I say, there did I learn:

Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,

Of innocency to plead or prate.

Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

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May 13, 1536: Why bother with justice when “the appearance of justice” will do?

What was once the location of the Great Hall.

What was once the location of the Great Hall.

On this day in 1536, preparations were made for the trials of Anne and her brother. The grand juries were commanded to furnish the indictments, and Constable Kingston received a precept from Norfolk ordering him to bring the prisoners to trial on Monday, May 15th. Norfolk also sent a precept to Ralph Felmingham, sergeant-of-arms, to summon at least twenty-seven “peers of the Queen and Lord Rochford, by whom the truth can be better made to appear.” While these official legal steps were being taken, physical preparations

were also begun to make the King’s Hall in The Tower amenable to two thousand spectators, with benches lining the walls and a high platform for the interrogator and the condemned, so that all could see. “The King was determined,” Alison Weir writes, “that justice would be seen to be done” and was sure of the judicial strength of the evidence. “This was not to be quite the farcical trial that some historians have claimed it to be,” she writes.

Yet, for Henry the outcome was such a foregone conclusion that on the same day that these preparations were being made, he ordered Anne’s household dissolved, and her servants discharged. The next day, May 14th, he sent for Jane Seymour to “come within a mile of his lodgings” so that she would be near at hand when Anne was condemned.

We at “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” admire Weir’s scholarship, but think that if any trial deserves the designation of “farce,” this one was it! The only missing ingredient was humor.  This farce was not a comedy, but a deadly business.

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May 10, 1536: “News” (!) travels

spinetThe Bishop of Faenza, in the Vatican, tells Signor Protonotario Ambrogio that “news came yesterday from England that the King had caused to be arrested the Queen, her father, mother, brother, and an organist with whom she had been too intimate.” (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII)

This is just one of many examples of how freely false gossip circulated around the arrests. Earlier, on May 2, Chapuys had reported to Charles that the reason for Anne’s arrest was that “she has for a length of time lived in adultery with a spinet-player of her chamber” and that Norris was arrested “for not having revealed what he knew of the said adulterous connexion.” Later on,  various dispatches report that “The so-called Queen was found in bed with her organist, and taken to prison. It is proved that she had criminal intercourse with her brother and others, and that the daughter supposed to be hers was taken from a poor man.” (to Charles, from Hannaert, LP) And:

“The reports from England are more than tragic.  The Queen in thrown in prison, with her father, brother, two bishops, and others, for adultery.” (Melancthon to Justus Jonas, LP).

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April 27, 1536

MythWyattAs April drew to a close, Anne’s life was clearly in danger. The following is a list of those who would be accused along with Anne, and the charges against them.

Anne Boleyn: Then Queen of England, she had suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year. She, along with those who were accused of being her lovers, would be charged with high treason against the King for their supposed acts of adultery and other treasonous actions.

Mark Smeaton: The first to be arrested, Smeaton was a court musician. After being accused of adultery with the Queen, he was almost certainly tortured for information about his relationship with Anne, and confessed. The charge: high treason and adultery.

Henry Norris: Both a supporter of the Boleyn family and the Groom of the Stool in the King’s privy chamber, Henry staunchly denied the accusations against him. Because of his position, he would not be tortured. The charge: high treason and adultery.

Francis Weston: Weston was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, which meant he was frequently with Henry. At the time of his arrest, he was married to Anne Pickering and they had a baby boy, Henry. The charge: high treason and adultery

William Brereton: Brereton was a Groom of the Privy Chamber and had married a distant cousin of Henry. He was accused of being seduced by Anne on November 16, 1533, and of committing “misconduct” on November 27.   The charge: high treason and adultery.

George Boleyn: Boleyn was the Viscount of Rochford and Anne’s brother. George’s wife, Jane Rochford, would give evidence against him. The charge: high treason, incest, and adultery.

Thomas Wyatt: Wyatt was an advisor in Henry’s court and a poet who is credited with introducing the sonnet into English. It was rumored that he and Anne were romantically connected before Anne’s marriage to Henry.  Whatever Wyatt felt, there is no evidence that Anne reciprocated his feelings. Wyatt was brought in for questioning at the Tower of London, where he viewed the executions of the condemned men and wrote a famous poem about the “bloody days” that had “broken his heart.” He may also have viewed Anne’s execution. He was later released.

Richard Page: Page was appointed as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber after supporting Anne against Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the advisor who so greatly influenced Henry’s decisions early in his reign. Like Wyatt, Page was later released from the Tower.

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