Tag Archives: myth

Myth-Buster #2: How Eustace Chapuys Shaped the Story of the Decline of Henry and Anne’s Marriage

Eustace Chapuys as portrayed by Irish actor Anthony Brophy on The Tudors

Most non-historians, before Showtimes’ The Tudors introduced him to popular audiences, had never heard of Eustace Chapuys.  Those who had certainly did not think of him as a prominent figure in Tudor history—not like Wolsey or Cromwell, for example. Yet, amazingly, especially in light of his undisguised hatred of Anne, Chapuys is the man who has most shaped our image of her.  He has done so not directly, but via the historians and novelists who have accepted his reports as “biased” but accurate, and hardened them, over time, into “history.”

Eustace Chapuys  was just 30 years old when, in 1529,  he was sent to replace Don Inigo de Mendoza as ambassador of Emperor Charles V  at the court of Henry VIII.  Mendoza was known to be “hot-tempered” and “indiscreet” (Mattingly, 178), and Chapuys, a legal scholar and humanist enthusiast, was thought to be a better choice for Henry’s court.  As ambassador, Chapuys was both representative of the Emperor to Henry, and the main source of information about Henry to the Emperor and other Spanish officials.  His lengthy, anecdote-filled letters home offer the single most continuous portrait of the sixteen crisis-ridden years in which he served in his position, and biographers have relied on him heavily in their attempts to create a coherent narrative about the divorce from Catherine, the role of Anne Boleyn, and her relationship with Henry.  It’s easy to see why.  Chapuys clearly loved to write, he did so often, and he had a taste for juicy detail.  But he also had a horse in the race, for the Emperor was Catherine’s nephew, and Chapuys was, despite his humanist training, fiercely pro-Catholic.  He also hated all things French, and later in his life would threaten to disinherit a niece who planned to marry a Frenchman. (Mattingly, 184).  It’s difficult to imagine someone who would be less disposed to the dissolution of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and more opposed to the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn, who was both sympathetic to reformist ideas and “more French than a Frenchwoman born.”

But Chapuys wasn’t just “opposed.”  He despised Anne with a passion that he didn’t even try to disguise, disgustedly referring to her in his official communications as “the concubine” and “that whore”—or, with polite disdain, “The Lady.” Accordingly, Elizabeth was “the little bastard.” He accused Anne of plotting to murder Catherine and Mary—without a shred of proof beyond a few reported outbursts of Anne’s—and was the first to advance the argument that she was responsible for Henry’s “corruption.” (“It is this Anne,” Chapuys wrote, “who has put Henry in this perverse and wicked temper.” P. 484, Starkey)  Chapuys also took every opportunity to contrast “the people’s” hatred of Anne with their great love of Catherine.  When Henry had Katherine removed from court,

“All the neighborhood assembled to see her and pay her honor; and it is incredible what affection has been shown to her along the whole route.  Notwithstanding that it has been forbidden on pain of death to call her Queen, they shouted it out at the top of their voices, wishing her joy, repose, and prosperity, and confusion to her enemies.  They begged her with hot tears to set them to work and employ them in her service, as they were ready to die for the love of her.” (July 30, 1533)

The contrast is almost Hollywood-ready: the sullen, disrespectful observers of Anne’s procession; the cheering throngs, ready to die for their true Queen as she was led away from her rightful throne.

How accurate were Chapuys’ reports?  It’s almost impossible to say in the (many) cases in which he is the sole reporter of events.

Katherine of Aragon

But what is clear is that his interests were served by painting the worst picture possible of Anne, and that he worked hard to construct it.  He had an informal network of “conservative” (i.e. pro-Roman, pro-Katherine, pro-Imperial) nobles who would meet with him secretly to convey the latest anti-Anne gossip, which he then relayed to the Emperor as “word from a trustworthy source.”  And although there is no evidence that he played a direct role in the plot to charge Anne with treason, he “carefully watched all courtly signs of rejection leading up to her fall and exerted small pushes of encouragement, particularly with Cromwell.” (Lundell, p. 77), and declared it “wonderful” when she was arrested. (to Charles, May 2, 1536)  Chapuys was even willing to foment war between England and Spain if that was the only way to get Anne out of the picture and (as he saw it), keep Catharine and Mary out of harm’s way and restore relations between Henry and Rome:

“Englishmen, high and low,” he wrote to Charles, “desire your majesty to send an army to destroy the venomous influence of the Lady and her adherents, and reform the realm…When this accursed Anne has her foot in the stirrup, she will do the Queen and the Princess all the harm she can.  She boasts that she will have the Princess in her own train; one day, perhaps, she will poison her, or will marry her to some varlet, while the realm itself will be made over to heresy. “ (April 10, 1533)

Chapuys “bias” against Anne (if that mild word can do it justice) is obvious in every communication, from the very start of his service.  Even more strikingly, until Chapuys’s arrival, the Collected Letters and Papers of Henry VIII contain no seriously negative personal reports about Anne (beyond a few swipes at her appearance by Sanuto.)  As soon as Chapuys arrived, however, “Madam Anne” became “the concubine,” and everything that the pro-Catherine forces saw as dishonorable in Henry’s behavior became the fault of Anne’s “perverse and malicious nature.” (30th July, 1533.) “It is she who now rules over, and governs the nation; the King dares not contradict her,” he wrote to Charles in November of 1535—an extraordinary (and unbelievable) statement which paints the formidable Henry as nothing more than a pussy-whipped hubby.

It is Chapuys, too, who is largely responsible for our ideas about the decline of Anne and Henry’s relationship. In a letter of Sept 3, 1533—just a few days before Elizabeth was born, he reports how Anne, “full of jealousy, and not without cause, used some words to the King at which he was displeased, and told her she must shut her eyes, and endure as well as more worthy persons, and that she ought to know that it was in his power to humble her again in a moment more than he had exalted her.”  This speech has made its way into virtually every later biography, historical fiction, and film, probably due to its foreboding nature in light of later events, and because it signals such a startling turnaround in Henry’s treatment of Anne.  But irresistibly drama-friendly as it is, there’s little corroboration for it.  Chapuys never explains the “not without cause” nor how he happened to be present at this argument (if indeed he was; many of his reports are attributed to un-named sources.)  His real purpose in “reporting” the incident (which even he admitted was a “lover’s quarrel”) is revealed at the end of the letter, when he adds that “many who know the King’s disposition consider [such quarrels] a very favorable commencement for the recall of the Queen [Katherine]” Chapuys was always working this angle with Charles and, when he could, orchestrating anti-Anne sentiment and activity around Henry’s court.

It’s true that it was not uncommon for Henry to graze when his Queens were pregnant.  No-one knows for sure how many of these flirtations were innocent, “courtly” play, and how many were actual physical involvements. We do know that he had sexual mistresses when he was married to Katherine, and now that any motive to remain chaste for Anne was gone—he’d won the prize, and it was no longer necessary to play the devoted swain, or to avoid possible pregnancies with other women—why should it be any different?  But whether Henry’s affairs were physical or not, what seems hugely unlikely is that he would chastise Anne so harshly when she was so far along in her pregnancy, especially this long-awaited pregnancy, which all the stars and seers had predicted would result in a boy.  Even during her final pregnancy, when hopes were not nearly so high, he seems to have been careful with Anne.  When she purportedly caught the King with Jane Seymour on his knee and “flew into a frenzy,” the King, “seeing his wife hysterical and fearing for their child, sent Jane out of the room and hastened to placate Anne. ‘Peace be, sweetheart, and all shall go well with thee,’ he soothed.”  Although the reporters of this incident, too, are not very trustworthy (Weir says they came by way of a chain of reports, one passed on to the next, by various ladies at the court), this behavior sounds more like Henry’s modus operandi (utter some soothing words, then do what you want) than a king who would risk upsetting a very pregnant wife.

Will the real Eustace Chapuys please stand up?

It is Chapuys, too, who claimed, in a letter to Charles, that the birth of a daughter was “to the great regret both of him and the lady,” and filled Anne and Henry with nothing but “great disappointment and sorrow.” He goes on to write that “it must be concluded that God has entirely abandoned the king, and left him prey to his own misfortune, and to his obstinate blindness, that he may be punished and completely ruined.” This reported reaction, although challenged by historians, has been firmly installed—and embellished—in the popular mythology about Elizabeth’s birth, particularly in the novels.  Paul Rival: “A girl! …She heard the whispers of her attendants and Henry’s protests and thought to herself: ‘If only I could die!’” Nora Lofts:  “It was a girl…She knew she had failed, and willed herself away, welcoming the enveloping darkness.”(279) Philippa Gregory has an angry Anne pushing the baby away: “A daughter? What use is a daughter to me?” Anne of the Thousand Days depicts Henry as furious, at Elizabeth’s birth; The Tudors portrays him as cold and grim. But historians, too, have played their part, often taking it as highly significant that prepared documents, announcing the birth of a prince, were hastily altered with an added “s.”  Antonia Fraser says this “attests to the surprise and displeasure” caused by the birth.

Surprise, yes.  And undoubtedly, disappointment.  But was the birth of Elizabeth really the “heavy blow” that David Starkey claims? Eric Ives, the most careful of scholars, writes that there is “no evidence of the crushing psychological blow that some have supposed.” (184)  Anne had had a hard pregnancy, and “Henry’s predominant emotion was relief.”  In those days, merely to give birth to a healthy, living child was, after all, quite an accomplishment. What “The Tudors” has Henry saying is true to the material realities of the time: “This time a girl. But we are young and healthy and by the grace of God boys will follow.” But JRM say it with such a pinched look on his face, we take it as forced. The fact is that Anne having given birth to a healthy infant the first time around portended very well for the future, especially after Katherine’s many miscarriages.

Here again, we have to consider the original source.  In the same letter in which Chapuys tells Charles of Elizabeth’s birth, he reports that “the people” were “glad” that the King and Anne had a daughter rather than a son (which seems highly unlikely) and that “the new child is to be “called Mary, like the Princess; which title, I hear in many quarters, will be taken from the true princess and given to her.”  This (completely false) rumor pleases Chapuys enormously, for “defrauding the said Princess of her title” will “augment” the “indignation of the people, both small and great, which grows every day.”  This, of course, was an “indignation” that Chapuys tried to inflame every chance he got, for he was well aware (as he tells Charles in the same letter) that “it may cool in time, so that it should be used in season.”  It was also in his interests to convince Charles (who was Katherine’s nephew as well as the head of the Holy Roman Empire) that, despite appearances, getting rid of Anne was still a real possibility.  After Katherine died, his efforts to keep Katherine’s cause alive shifted to the restoration of Princess Mary’s claim to the throne, and his case against Anne became focused on her “plots” to murder Mary.  He was also an active and eager reporter—and possibly a participant—of later match-making between the King and Jane Seymour, who Chapuys knew would support Mary’s claim.  He is about as far from a reliable source on the activities of the ruling administration as Rush Limbaugh was when the Clintons were in power.

We must do more analytical “work” with the original documents than simply reporting what is recorded.

It’s particularly important, when dealing with a sequence of events that is not very well chronicled in the original documents but highly interpreted and dramatized both by historians and in pop culture, that we do more analytical “work” with the original documents than simply reporting what is recorded. The many reports that Henry and Anne were in trouble from the beginning of the marriage, for example, invariably turned out to be rumors which, by virtue of their vacillating nature, show how untrustworthy the reports of those who were eager to see Anne out of the picture were. In December 1533, Chapuys reported that despite the disappointment of Elizabeth’s birth, the King is “enthralled” with Anne; that “she has so enchanted and bewitched him that he will not dare say or do anything against her will and commands.”  (Chapuys, of course, isn’t happy about this, which is the most compelling reason for believing him here.  He was usually quick to report any loss of the king’s favor for Anne.) In September of 1534, Count Cifuentes wrote Charles that another ambassador had “heard in France that Ana Boulans had in some way or other incurred the Royal displeasure, and was rather in disgrace with the King, who was paying court to another lady.” By October 3, Cifuentes had corrected himself, writing that the idea that Anne and the King were on bad terms was “a hoax.” However, his colleague, Alferez must not have been aware of this recantation, because on Oct 18, he reported that “…the King no longer loved her as before.  The King, moreover, was paying court to another lady, and several lords in the kingdom were helping him that they might separate him from Anne’s company.”

But whether or not Henry was involved, relatively early on, with someone else (“Who was this new flame?” Ives asks, skeptically), the quarrels don’t appear to amount to anything until Jane Seymour enters the picture. Anne had her outbursts, Henry had his, but they had many more “merry” times, reported throughout the collected papers, and both had to have been well aware that no royal relationship could ride on the twists and turns of passion.  If that had been the case, Henry would have sought to divorce Katherine long before he did, instead of waiting until he had become convinced that she was no longer capable of providing an heir.  And kings—not even narcissistic Henry—didn’t get rid of Queens just because they had the occasional jealous outburst. Katherine, too, despite her reputation as the all-accepting, patient Griselda, had had her own vocal quarrels with the King, when he first began to seek the sexual company of other women.  It was to be expected, for everyone knew that women were weak and ruled by their passions.  But ultimately, once the shouting and weeping were over, the Queen was required to accept and obey.

This was hard for Anne.  Whatever the nature of her romantic or sexual feelings for Henry, Anne was used to being the pursued darling for six years, and now was expected to behave like a wife.  That included accepting his occasional flirtations, innocent and not, something she apparently found difficult to do.  She admitted this herself, in her speech at her trial in 1536: “I confess,” she said, “ I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion enough, and wisdom, to conceal at all times.”  Whether her jealousy was because she was in love with Henry, or was fearful of being supplanted as Queen, or simply her pride rebelling, we don’t know.  But it led to a number of public quarrels, followed by amorous reconciliations  (“sunshine and storms” is how Ives describes the years between 1533-36,) both of which provided fodder for Anne’s enemies to paint a picture of her as shrewish, Henry as either hen-pecked or philandering depending on the weather, and the relationship tottering.

It was largely propaganda. If you put all the documentation of the “thousand days” that Henry and Anne were married in chronological order–—the letters, the gossip, the various ambassadors’ reports—it’s a script with a gaping hole if what you think you are reading is a love story in which declining passion and jealousy play the major role.  For there is no evidence that either of these, although they may have contributed, was the tipping point that turned Anne’s fate around.  What turned the cherished, hotly pursued consort into the lady in the tower, awaiting her execution, did not belong primarily to the realm of emotions, but to the gathering of a “perfect storm” of political, personal, and biological events, the absence of any one of which might have resulted in things turning out very differently for Anne.


Filed under Anne Boleyn Myth-Buster

The Anne Boleyn Myth-Buster: #1, Anne’s Looks

Anne as a ravishing beauty, a la Natalie Dormer.

Our ideas about Anne Boleyn’s looks tend to fall into two equally inaccurate categories. The movies and television have taught us that she was a ravishing beauty, a la Natalie Dormer.  Yet mythology surrounding Anne describes her as six-fingered and sallow, covered with disfiguring moles, sometimes with three nipples.  In the “Corpus Christi” festival in parts of Spain, even today, she is depicted in floats as a monster riding on Satan’s back.  Which should we believe?  The answer is: neither.

Anne’s looks were generally not rated among her greatest assets.  “Reasonably good-looking” pronounced John Barlow, one of Anne’s favorite clerics.  “Not one of the handsomest women in the world” reported the Venetian diplomat, Francesco Sanuto, who praised her dark eyes but criticized her flat chest and “swarthy complexion.” Both Elizabeth Blount and Anne’s sister Mary, who had both been Henry’s mistresses, were regarded as more beautiful, as they typified the medieval ideal of the blue-eyed blonde, with skin so fair and translucent one could see blue veins through it. The ideal combined equal parts of Virgin Mary and Botticelli’s (1486) powerfully sexual Venus, both of whom, at the time, were always pictured as blondes.  So were all the heroines of the literature of courtly love, from Iseult to Guinevere. Light-haired women were also considered to be more “cheerful and submissive” (very desirable.)

An example of raven-haired Anne

Anne was dark-haired and olive-skinned in an era that worshipped the fair, blue-eyed blonde. And to make matters worse, judging from the few portraits[1] that remain that are judged to be based on actual sittings (as opposed to works of pure imagination), her dark hair would have been auburn, of reddish rather than black hue (think Genevieve Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days). This was hardly a plus when it was commonly believed that red-headed children were conceived while their mothers were menstruating, thus making them impure and liable to witchcraft. Nowadays, Anne is often portrayed as raven-haired, in part because of our own associations to hair-color, which code female sexual power as either blonde or jet-black.  Flaming red hair may also be seen as “wild” and sexual, but Anne did not have flaming red hair (if she had, her enemies surely would have made the most of its satanic associations) so we have converted her hair into the hue that spells “temptress” to us.  But most likely (we do not know with certainty), she had dark auburn—not black—hair.   (Henry himself had red hair, but of the golden variety, indicating angelic origins.)

A rather unflattering image of Anne, suspiciously poor.

Anne apparently had a few other small imperfections, which her admirers saw as negligible and her enemies were able to successfully convert into major deformities.  The most credible account comes from George Wyatt, the grandson of one of Anne’s early admirers, the poet Thomas Wyatt.  George Wyatt writes that “there was found, indeed, upon the side of her nail, upon one of her fingers, some little show of a nail, which was yet so small, by the report of those that have seen her, [that] the tip of one of her other fingers might be, and was usually by her hidden without any blemish to it.” Wyatt also reported that she had several small moles, “coincident to an otherwise clear complexion.”

Post-Cindy Crawford, Anne’s moles may seem trivial, even—as moles came to be seen a century later—“beauty spots” that drew attention to attractive features.  But in Anne’s day, moles could have been seen, by her detractors, as ominous signs. The medievals, who believed that a mother’s imagination while pregnant can rupture the skin, read birthmarks the way later generations would decipher bumps on the skull. A mole on the throat (where several report Anne’s to have been) predicted a violent death.  One on the upper lip meant good fortune for a man—but debauchery for a woman.  If it was just above the left side of her mouth, “vanity and pride, and an unlawful offspring to provide for.”   Some saw them as witch’s marks:

“There is not a single witch upon whom the devil doth not set some note or token of his power and prerogative over them… “Sometimes it is the likeness of a hare, sometimes like a toad’s foot, sometimes a spider, a puppy, a dormouse.  It is imprinted on the most secret parts of the body; with men, under the eyelids or perhaps under the armpits, or on the lips or shoulders, the anus, or elsewhere; with women, it is generally on the breasts or private parts.  The stamp which makes these marks is simply the devil’s talon.” (Fifteenth Century witch-hunter Lambert Daneau)

The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, by Nicholas Sanders

Notions such as these explain how Anne’s moles could morph, in the hands of Catholic propagandist Nicholas Sander, writing half a century after Anne’s death, into a third nipple.  Sander, who probably never saw Anne dressed, let alone naked (he was nine when she was executed) also converted the vestigial nail into a sixth finger, and sprinkled in a few other nasty features for good measure:

“Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice.  She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers.  There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat.  In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their person uncovered.”

This mythology was clearly ideologically motivated. Such pronounced deformities as described by Sander would certainly have eliminated Anne as a lady-in-waiting, much less a candidate for Queen. Sander, moreover, was not well-informed about female fashion. For high necks were not in vogue while Anne was alive, and a “large wen” would not have been hidden by the delicate ropes of pearls or the decorative “B” that she wore around her neck.  Sander probably was inspired by the anonymous, and clearly hostile, account describing Anne’s coronation which attributed a “disfiguring wart” and a neck “swelling resembling goiter” to her.  (The same description says Anne wore a dress covered with tongues pierced with nails “to show the treatment which those who spoke against her might expect”—so it was clearly not exactly an objective description!)

Although the conversion of mole to third nipple, minor nail malformation to extra finger is clearly part of the detritus of anti-Anne propaganda left in the wake of her execution, it had held surprisingly tight over the centuries.  The sixth finger, in particular, just won’t let go.  By the nineteenth century, it had become a “fact” which even today, many people remember as among the first things that they learned about Anne. The third nipple, too, is reported as fact (or is described as “widely rumored” or “was said to have”—a characterization that tends to perpetuate itself) on numerous websites, many of which site the popular Book of Lists, first published in 1977, as their source.   This book, which the authors admit was written “for fun,” quickly became a source for schoolchildren “to spice up their schoolwork.

Anne was not seriously deformed, nor was she a conventional beauty (by the standards of her own times).  She was something far more interesting than either of those—a reminder that beauty, far from being cast in an unchanging, Platonic mold, is the human body moving through history, accepting or challenging the rules of its time and place. Sometimes, the prevailing rules of beauty are ripe for changing.  When Anne came back from France to the English court, English culture was on the cusp of the Renaissance, caught between rigid religious ideology and humanist values, English customs and the discovery of other cultures that knew a thing or two, courtly love and “modern” romance.  Perhaps England—or at the very least, Henry–was ready for something new.

Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett was not the only person to have been described to possess a pair of "fine eyes."

It’s striking that when her contemporaries describe Anne, they emphasize precisely those features which strayed outside the prevailing English ideal of the fair-haired, “whitely” blonde. Eyes, for example. The Trobriand Islanders called eyes “the gateways of erotic desire,” and spent more time decorating them than any other part of the body.  The use of kohl to line and accentuate was common in the Middle East.  But proper English ladies did not brazenly provoke, issuing a sexual invitation; they submitted, casting their eyes downward.  Not Anne, apparently.  Nearly every commentator mentions her eyes, not just  “black and beautiful,” (according to Sanuto, who was not a supporter) but sexually artful.  The French diplomat Lancelot de Carles, who later brought the news of her execution to France, was—being French—more lavish and precise in his description of Anne’s “most attractive” eyes,

“Which she knew well how to use with effect,

Sometimes leaving them at rest,

And at others, sending a message

To carry the secret witness of the heart.

And truth to tell, such was their power

That many surrendered to their obedience.”

The poet Thomas Wyatt, one of the first at court to develop an infatuation for Anne, probably had Anne in mind when, in one of his love poems, he describes his beloved’s eyes as “sunbeams to daze men’s sight.”

What medieval women did to become blonde: “Take a pound of finely pulverized beech-wood shavings, half a pound of box-wood shavings, four ounces of fresh liquorice, a similar amount of very yellow, dried lime peel, four ounces each of swallow wort and yellow poppy seeds, two ounces of the leaves and flowers of glaucus, a herb which grows in Syria and is akin to a poppy, half an ounce of saffron and half a pound of paste made from finely ground wheat flour. Put everything into a lye made with sieved wood ashes, bring it partly to the boil and then strain the whole mixture. Now take a large earthenware pot and bore ten or twelve holes in the bottom. Next take equal parts of vine ash and sieved wood ash, shake them into a large wooden vessel or mortar, whichever you think better, moisten them with the said lye, thoroughly pulverize the mixture, taking almost a whole day to do this. Make sure that it becomes a bit stiff. Next pound rye and wheat straw in with it until the straw has absorbed the greater part of the lye. Shake these pounded ashes into the said earthenware pot and push an ear of rye into each small hole. Put the straw and ashes in the bottom so that the pot is filled, though still leaving sufficient space for the remainder of the lye to be poured over the mixture. Towards evening set up another earthenware pot and let the lye run into it through the holes with the ears of rye. When you want to use the lotion, take the liquid which ran out, smear your hair with it and let it dry. Within three or four days the hair will look as yellow as if it were golden ducats. However, before you use it wash your head with a good lye, because if it were greasy and dirty it would not take the colour so well."

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 also grew her dark hair so long that she could sit on it. French king Francis (whose wife Claude Anne had attended when she was younger) was dazzled:  “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.)

Most important, Anne seems to have had that elusive quality—“style”—which can never be quantified or permanently attached to specific body-parts, hair-color, or facial features, and which can transform a flat chest into a gracefully unencumbered torso (Henry called her small breasts “pretty duckies”) and a birthmark into a beauty-spot.  “Style” cannot be defined.  But in its presence, the rules of attraction are transformed.  Style defies convention and calls the shots on what is considered beautiful.  So does grace of movement.  “Her gracefulness rivaled Venus,” said the French courtier Brantome.  He was speaking there about Anne’s stylish French way with clothing; but she was also continually described as a wonderful dancer.

Anne Boleyn reminds us that the body is not just a piece of inert matter that can be measured and molded.  It’s an animated, moving, speaking presence in the world.  And even in our cosmetic culture, there is still something magical, elusive, and open-ended about its attractions.   Think Helen Mirren, generally acknowledged as one of the sexiest women around.  Is she beautiful? Yes, but only if we grant the word “beauty” far greater range and variety than the surgeon’s formulas.  Think Michelle Obama, whose prominent jaw would disqualify her immediately among those who insist that symmetry and a delicate chin are biologically inscribed requisites for female appeal.  And think Anne Boleyn, who by virtue of confidence, wit, grace, intelligence and style, is now remembered as a great beauty.

If you could pick an actress to play her—other than those who have done so already—who would it be?

[1] Henry, determined to wipe the slate clean when Anne was executed and he married Jane Seymour, had any original portraits that he could find destroyed.


Filed under Anne and Gender, Anne Boleyn Myth-Buster, Anne Through the Ages, Life in 16th century England