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Anne and Elizabeth: 17th Century Views

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.”

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Anne and Elizabeth: Elizabethan Views

By Natalie Sweet

I can no longer think about the subject of how Elizabethans viewed Anne and Elizabeth without thinking of a cracked.com article that was posted in September of last year. Cracked.com is, at best, a highly off-kilter website (read: not for a younger audience), and the majority of its articles are done by freelance writers. One might read a terribly off-balanced fact sheet on Anne Boleyn penned by someone who had clearly just watched The Other Boleyn Girl, or one might read an article by an author who put serious (albeit, colorful) consideration into the topic. The latter was the case of an article I read in September 2010, titled “5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class.” The #1 myth, as chosen by the author, was “Anne Boleyn was a Deformed Freak.” While giving a brief overview of the Catholic-Protestant debate in England, the author explained that the lies about Anne’s appearance were a creation of Nicholas Sanders, a Catholic priest who realized that the best way to criticize Queen Elizabeth was to insult her mother, who had died nearly fifty years before Sanders wrote his book. The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, so explained the author, might as well be titled The Rise and Growth of Your Mom, so to use a modern, turn-of-phrase insult.

What, however, does this have to do with what we know of Elizabethan views of Anne and Elizabeth? The point of discussing this article is to demonstrate that much of what we know about how Elizabethans viewed Anne is clouded by the propaganda of Elizabeth’s contemporaries, who were locked in the religious politics of Roman Catholic vs. Anglican vs. Puritan (vs. Puritan became a greater issue in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign). For many Elizabethans, insulting or praising Anne was a way to either support or challenge the changes that had been brought to England first by the Reformation and later by Elizabeth. No one who liked the Anglican Church as it was, or who wished to remain in Elizabeth’s good graces, would have dared to question the validity of Anne’s position. To do so would call into question the legitimacy of Queen Elizabeth, and also the Church of which she was the governor. The only people of position who made such insults were those who boldly attacked England’s new religious policies. The majority of those Elizabethan who criticized Anne Boleyn, as it turned out, were criticizing Elizabeth.

Aside from books that had a clear religious or political agenda, it is difficult to find Elizabethan opinions on Anne. Certainly, opinions of Anne were more positive during the time of the Armada, when Elizabeth’s “pure” English bloodline was celebrated in the face of foreign threat. We do, however, have one Elizabethan account of Anne and Elizabeth that was not to be found in a political/religious tract. In her book The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power, Carole Levin relates the following story:

“ Joan Notte had two dreams she thought important enough to share with the government.  In each of them a variety of beasts threaten both Elizabeth and Sir Robert Cecil.  In one of the dreams Anne Boleyn is also a character.  Joan Notte described how, although she had been dead for nearly seventy years “Queen Anne Boleyn…appeared warning Queen Elizabeth not to go further from London than St. James.” Joan Notte would never have even seen Anne Boleyn, who died long before Notte was born.  We do not know whether she had ever seen Elizabeth either, though she might well have; Notte had been to London during the last few years, and Elizabeth did go on progress throughout the countryside.  Of course, we can never know even with our own dreams why certain people and symbols appear, much less with the dream of a woman who lived hundreds of years earlier…So we might speculate as to why in Joan Notte’s dream it is Elizabeth’s mother rather than her father Henry VIII who comes back to deliver the warning.  Perhaps Joan Notte as a woman imagined that a mother would be the one to care most, even more than a father, over what happened to their child, especially a daughter as opposed to a son.  Or it may be that Anne Boleyn’s own spectacular and horrific death was so much a matter of public memory that any worry over the fate of Elizabeth would coalesce with the image of that ritualized slaughter, the beheading, of the earlier queen.  Joan Notte may have envisioned a connection between Anne Boleyn, a queen consort whose vulnerability was expressed by attacks on her sexual reputation and her inability to have a living son, and Elizabeth, queen regnant, who was called whore by some of her subjects and also had no heir of her body.  Anne Boleyn was killed by her husband, the man who had so desired her, written her impassioned love letters, and waited almost seven years to make her his queen.  Though over thirty years younger than the queen, Essex beseeched her favors by acting like a lover, and the rumors of sexual misconduct that had been circulating throughout the reign about Leicester and Hatton had their last appearance in whispers about Elizabeth and Essex.  Henry the king had had his wife Anne executed.  Essex might kill Elizabeth to become the king.  And why does Anne Boleyn warn her daughter not to leave the city?  The court near London was the center of power; for Elizabeth to leave, to abandon that power, would put her at terrible risk” (Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King, 159-160).

Such an interesting account suggests that Anne existed very much in the minds, and even the dreams, of the English people during her daughter’s reign. Because of Elizabeth, Anne could be neither forgotten nor erased.

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Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn Anne and Elizabeth: As a Child, What was Elizabeth Told About Her Mother?

By Natalie Sweet

Turn on the final episode of Season 2 of The Tudors, and you will watch a very sad scene of a young Elizabeth realizing that her status in the world has fallen. As Lady Margaret Bryan reorganizes the household to accommodate Elizabeth’s new position in the world, she notes, “The world is a slippery place, my Lady. If you would take my advice, for what it’s worth, find a rich man to marry who is too stupid to know anything about politics. Then, perhaps, unless you die in childbirth, which is likely, or the plague, which is almost inevitable, then you’ll be happy.” Little Elizabeth looks studiously on, as if she takes every word to heart.

Whether or not Anne’s fate influenced Elizabeth’s later marriage decisions is difficult to confirm, although mere circumstance is more than enough in this case to suggest possibility. Just as intriguing, however, is the theorization of what young Elizabeth was told at her mother’s death. Certainly, in real life she realized that something momentous had occurred. Children much younger than the age of three realize when patterns are broken; for example, my seven-month-old son was one day completely perplexed when a stranger in the grocery store line would not return his eager little smile. He waved his hand, finally received their attention and smiled his biggest grin, and was disappointed to find the person resume their reading of a magazine. He crinkled his brow and looked at me as if to say, “What is up with HER?” Of course he expected the woman to open up when he grinned at her. He had never been in a social situation where everyone in the room did not fawn over him, let alone not smile.

Now, imagine you are a child of almost three, whose every cry, whim, and snuffle has been tended to without haste. You are addressed as “My Lady Princess,” and people acknowledge your presence when you enter a room with a special gesture that is reserved only for you. Suddenly, it is taken away, and it is connected with your mother’s prolonged absence. What do you make of that?

According to at least one account, Elizabeth viewed it with great perplexity. “How haps it governor,” it is claimed she asked Lady Bryan, “yesterday my lady Princess, today but my Lady Elizabeth?” The little girl likely learned very quickly that her mother was not to be spoken of, at least in the King’s presence. As quickly as possible, the King’s workmen set to the task of removing the intricately carved, painted, and embroidered “Hs” and “As” that had once been intertwined with one another throughout the royal households. Physical representations and reminders of Anne, if any existed, were removed. A few would survive, but a majority of the images that might have reminded Elizabeth of her parents’ former relationship were eradicated. What she had to remember of her mother came from the people who knew Anne, and what a motley crew they were! From Henry who declared he had been deceived and tempted by witchcraft, to Mary, the half-sister whose own mother was placed aside for Anne, to foreign envoys who would not give Elizabeth the time of day due to her bastard status, the little girl was certain to have been bombarded by negative representations of her mother. If she believed Anne to be a whore, temptress, witch, or worse, she certainly had a crowd to confirm the opinion.

But what of positive representations of Anne Boleyn? Within the Anglican Church, a person’s godparent was to see after the child’s spiritual well-being, to make certain that they were steadfastly raised in the ways of the faith. It was not just an honor to be named a godparent; it was a duty that was to be faithfully carried out should anything happen to the child’s parents. Elizabeth’s godparents were Thomas Cranmer and the Duchess of Norfolk. Certainly, Thomas Cranmer expressed his astonishment to Henry when Anne was brought up on charges of treason. In fact, as we have discussed in other notes, his expression of overt disbelief of the charges against Anne could be viewed as a roundabout way of criticizing what happened to her. Cranmer was in no position to publicly disagree with the King, but he did not have to trumpet his condemnation of Anne in the years after the fact, least of all in front of her daughter.

Likewise, in her final days Anne sought Matthew Parker to look after Elizabeth’s spiritual needs. Elizabeth evidently took his guidance to heart, as she sought him to become the Archbishop of Canterbury when she took to the throne. Parker was the type of moderate Elizabeth sought in her quest to find a middle-path in the Catholic-Protestant divide, but it is likely that Parker’s connection to her mother and to herself as a young girl played a role in her decision as well.

Religious instructors with a connection to Anne were not the only ones to surround Elizabeth in her formative years. Her governess, Katherine Ashley was married to Sir John Ashley, a cousin to Anne. He likely joined Elizabeth’s household before 1540, and could have provided a positive representation of Anne. Likewise, Elizabeth’s future stepmothers could possibly have provided positive representations of her mother. Anne of Cleves, who was Henry’s wife for only about half a year, had a great fondness for Elizabeth. Elizabeth possibly visited Anne of Cleves at the home she was given upon her escape from Henry – Hever Castle, the former home of Anne Boleyn. Being Anne Boleyn’s cousin, Katherine Howard also carried a close connection to Elizabeth’s mother. Their meetings were likely few and far between, and Katherine’s subsequent execution likely brought back old feelings of dread for Elizabeth, but for a short time, there was a possibility of a positive connection. Finally, there was Catherine Parr, the stepmother to whom Elizabeth gave a carefully composed translation of  Marguerite of Navarre’s “The Glasse of the Synnefull Soule.” Anne Boleyn, as many of you know, once served under Marguerite, and many scholars argue that the young English girl was greatly influenced by the influential Queen.

At this point in our series, the extent to which Elizabeth was influenced by both positive and negative accounts of Anne is still a bit of a mystery. We will tackle Elizabeth’s possible thoughts on Anne tomorrow. For Wednesday, I will put forth the theory that gifts given to Elizabeth when she was queen can tell us as much about Elizabeth’s thoughts on her mother as her actual words. On Thursday, we will look at Elizabethan views of Anne and Elizabeth, and we will spend the weekend looking at various images and pop-culture videos related to the pair. As always, be certain to add your thoughts about the relationships I discussed above. There are several other obvious connections to be made between Elizabeth and those who had a connection to Anne, but I would love to see and discuss the connections that we might make as a group! Share away!

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Anne and Elizabeth: August 7, 1533

The following post was originally shared on Susan Bordo’s Facebook page, The Creation of Anne Boleyn. By Natalie Sweet

On August 7, 1533, Anne Boleyn was a month away from giving birth to her first child, Elizabeth. While not the sought-after-prince Henry desired, Elizabeth would eventually become one of the most recognized monarchs in world history, the Queen for whom an entire era was named after.  What were Anne Boleyn’s thoughts concerning her daughter? What did she hope for her? These thoughts are somewhat easy to guess. Obviously, Anne felt a mother’s love for her daughter. Anne greatly loved her own mother, and surely hoped for a replication of the relationship with her own firstborn. Given her royal status, she would not have been allowed to be the hands-on parent that many women of lower stations in life were allowed to be at the time period. However, she undoubtedly would have looked to Elizabeth’s education, overseen her upbringing, and made important decisions about how she was to be raised. Her requests for frequent updates on Elizabeth indicate her loving concern and, had she lived, we can imagine her occupying the later role that Catherine Parr filled in Elizabeth’s life:  a willing nurturer who oversaw her young charge with fierce pride.

Anne, though, did not live to claim her motherly right.  She died before Elizabeth was three, and as a result the little girl’s life took on a hard edge that she need never have experienced. Declared a bastard, made contemptible for being the offspring of a whore and a witch, Elizabeth quickly learned the unforgiving nature of 16th century politics. How would this have affected her views of her mother? Would she have viewed Anne as a victim? Would she have believed the rumors and blamed her for her fate? Who surrounded the child to influence her opinion of her mother, and when she was Queen, what were her thoughts?

The above questions are just a few of the topics I will cover in the month-long lead-up to Elizabeth’s birthday. While Susan puts the finishing touches on her book, we will explore…

Elizabeth’s thoughts on Anne

Views of Elizabeth and Anne through the centuries

Preparing for Elizabeth’s birth

Pregnancy in the 16th century

The arrival of Elizabeth

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