November 12, 2012

Anne Boleyn:One short life that changed the English-speaking world

It's easy to judge someone by what others have said about them.

It's harder to take the time to get to know someone and see for ourselves who they really are or what they actually did.

This book does exactly that. It takes a hard long look at what Anne Boleyn did in her short life and examines the things people have said about her.

I'd never really thought of Anne in a positive light until I read Sandra Byrd's novel "To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn." It brought up a lot of questions and a curiosity of this English Queen's life.

At the back of Sandra's novel in her recommended reading, was this little book (130 pages) called "Anne Boleyn: one short life that changed the English speaking world" by Colin Hamer. I'm so glad I picked it up!

This book does a great job introducing us to the way of thinking, traditions, superstitions and mode of life in the middle ages. Helping us, in the 21st century, understand it.


At the age of 12 Anne Boleyn was sent to France for her education. There she became close friends with Marguerite d'Angouleme (Duchess of Alencon, later Queen of Navarre) who was also the sister of the French king, Francis I. It is well know Marguerite was an evangelical believer.

She once wrote:

"I have found only one true and prefect remedy, which is reading the Holy Scriptures. In perusing them, my mind experiences its true and perfect joy; and from this pleasure of mind, proceeds the repose and health of the body...I take up the Psalms and sing them with my heart and pronounce with my tongue, as humbly as possible, the fine hymns with which the Holy inspired David and the sacred authors."

The book goes on to show her influence on Anne:

"...It seems clear that Anne came to know for herself that same joy Marguerite had, probably some time during her stay at the French court; she saw for herself that faith was placed in the heart by the Holy Spirit. For a thousand years Europe had been taught that the Christian religion was about submitting to a ritualistic system, a system that had no basis in the Bible. Now Anne realized that no amount of penance could atone for sin; forgiveness was entirely God's gift and the appropriate response for a believer was heartfelt joy and thankfulness. It was a life-changing experience for Anne -- as it is for all those who receive it. It was to sustain her through some heady, triumphant, and tragic times that, unknown to her, lay ahead."


It is also well know Anne was serious about keeping her virginity. While King Henry VIII continued to  pursue and pressure her, she resisted. The Vatican holds several letter from the King to Anne:

"There exist in the Vatican library in Rome seventeen letters that Henry wrote to Anne, probably secretly taken from Anne in her lifetime by a representative of the Church in an effort to prove that the real motivation for the King's 'divorce' from Catherine was a sexual relationship with Anne. But instead they show Anne resisting this most powerful of monarchs as he pleads with her in increasing desperate terms. Anne's replies have not survived; they were almost certainly destroyed on her death by those wishing to eradicate any memory of her."

We have almost nothing written from Anne's hand and no original or authentic paintings of her. This picture of her found in her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, ring, is the only image of her which we can be sure is a close likeness.


It is clear Anne did not want to be courted by Henry at first, but after 2 years of relentless pursuit she finally relented by sending a gift. It says here:

"...hear is the crucial question. Why did Anne send this gift and so signal to Henry that she would accept him as a suitor? He was a married man, and she had rightly resisted his advances for at least 2 years. What had changed?

There are several possible answers:

-Anne had simply given up the fight. she had been worn down by Henry and feared the consequences of resisting him anymore.

-She had become attracted to him. He was undoubtedly an impressive figure - tall, good looking (at least at this stage), and accomplished in many areas including the arts.

-She saw that an annulment was possible and that she could become Henry's legitimate wife and queen, a tremendously powerful position from which she could advance the reform agenda."

This is the big question, at least for me.

Anne was a very intelligent and well learned woman. She not only had read the Bible, she had studied it. How could she have thought it was ok to date a married man? The author tries to explain the Christian beliefs of the middle ages and how Scripture was misused.  Anne and Henry as well as the church had taken  certain verses and misinterpreted them. Because Henry had had no sons after 20 years of marriage to Catherine (his brother's wife) he truly believed this was a sign from God that He was displeased. The author states here:

"The 16th century mind thought that events displayed the specific will of God - a will that could be interpreted. In Henry's case this meant that if he had a son God was personally endorsing his kingship - and his marriage to Catherine, papal dispensation or not. But there was no son: God must be expressing his disapproval. 

All the original objections to the marriage had been based on two Bible verses, Leviticus 18:16 ('Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother') and Leviticus 20:17 ('If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless').

Henry and Catherine had no children, or at least no sons, which amounted  to the same thing to Henry, so here was a certain proof of God's displeasure. Some have argued that Henry VIII's subsequent scruples about his marriage to Catherine were based solely on his desire to have Anne Boleyn. But this does not give sufficient weight to the 16th-centurt mindset. The fact that a papal dispensation was required clearly shows the contemporary thinking that Henry and Catherine's marriage was indeed a forbidden relationship. Secular historians of today sometimes find it difficult to grasp the reality of these spiritual issues and can lose sight of this perspective - a perspective Henry VIII certainly had. Henry was not casual in his religion - he prided himself on being a theologian. He was presumably reassured by the papal dispensation - but then, when there was no son, surely God was punishing him as Leviticus 20 said he would? This lack of a son was a double blow to Henry: his kingdom was threatened, and his marriage condemned by God."

If Anne believed this as well it is a little more understandable to see her start a relationship with Henry. In their eyes he was never really married to Catherine. I guess we will never know exactly what they were thinking but this gives us a glimpse of what they may have.


Another questionable act of Anne's is her consenting to consummate her relationship with Henry before they were officially married in a ceremony. The author explains here:

"If they were free to marry, why didn't Anne wait for a proper marriage ceremony - especially after waiting more than six years already? 

The state registration of marriages only began in England in 1857; until then marriages were controlled by the Church. Myles Coverdale (the Bible translator of the latter part of Henry VIII's reign) stated in 'The Christen State of Matrymonye' that it was possible to contract a marriage, often with a 'handfasting' ceremony (where the couple literally tied their hands together), and then have a separate wedding service performed in a church several weeks after the consummation of the relationship. The Church fully accepted this position."

So if Anne and Henry had participated in this 'handfasting' ceremony, they would have been considered married in the eyes of the Church before the ceremony.


Once they were married Anne set out to promote her evangelical views. John Foxe (author of 'Foxes book of martyrs') said of Anne:

"What a zealous defender she was of Christ's gospel all the world doth know, and her acts do and will declare to the world's end."

Here are 10 points of action from Anne:

1. She was a catalyst in the break with Rome
2. Key figures (such as the Archbishop of Canterbury) could count on Anne's support
3. Anne pressured Henry to protect evangelicals at home and abroad
4. Anne influenced key Church appointments
5. Anne saw the Bible in English as a goal
6. Anne promoted the trade in Bibles and evangelical books
7. Anne was keen to see the monasteries reformed, not dissolved
8. Anne was concerned about education
9. Anne believe in a religion of practical action
10. Anne sought to influence Parliament on behalf of the poor

The author goes into more details with each of these points, but for the sake of keeping this post from becoming another book I'll leave it for you to read in Colin Hamer's. : )


Anne was queen for only 3 years before accusations of adultery and treason against the King where set against her. Many believe these were false and created for the benefit of those, namely Thomas Cromwell, who hated her and her views. The author says here:

"The exact sequence of events leading up to the first execution of a queen in english history, and what lay behind them, has been the subject of debate by many historians. But what is certain is that sometime early in 1536 Cromwell had it in his mind to move against Anne - and when he eventually did it was with ruthless, cold efficiency."

By May 1536 Anne was dead, Having been sentenced and beheaded.

There are still so many questions about Anne Boleyn, but I found this book made a lot of things clearer and gave me a better understanding of the mindset during the middle ages. I highly recommend it.

Buy it HERE on Amazon


  1. Thank you for that book review, it was very interesting to read. I remember learning about her and Henry VIII's other wives in our history lessons but didn't know all of that. It is great to see that she tried to have so much good influence.

    1. Hi Rhoda, it was very interesting! I've always been fascinated by the middle ages and the reformation and this book explained a lot of things.

      Thanks for stopping by and following! :)

  2. Cathy,
    Fascinating. Honestly, I never thought much about Anne Bolyn outside of being a wife in the string of wives. Now you've fleshed her out and made her a person. Quite interesting. I'm visiting for the first time from Be Not Weary and glad I did :)

    1. Hi Lori, I felt the same way until I started reading about her. She definitely had fascinating life.

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

  3. Wow, what an interesting life, I have to admit I never once thought about what Anne did besides die (I know, not good). thanks for sharing this with Cozy Book Hop!


    1. I'd always thought of her as the evil seducing queen, but the more I read about her the more I see how wrong I was! :)


Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments. I try to respond to all of them by the end of the week. : )

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