Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Death of Anne Boleyn

The History Behind Malyn Bromfield's New Novel


After nearly five hundred years the story of a king who fell in love and out again and condemned his once beloved queen to death still captures the imagination of history lovers.  Its legacy is the founding of the Church of England, and in 1558, the accession of a queen who established, beyond any doubt, that a woman was able to rule “with the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too,“  Henry and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth 1st.

My debut novel, “Mayflowers for November: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn,”  is the story of two marriages. While Avis, a maid in Anne Boleyn’s entourage, recalls her teenage years in the royal palaces and tells her blind servant the story of Henry and Anne’s three year marriage, her own story is unfolding. Both tell of a woman desperate for a child and of the precarious nature of childbearing in Tudor Times. The two stories weave together like ivy climbing through branches of may, for when the mayflowers bloom in 1533, Anne Boleyn travels along the Thames to her coronation. Three years later, in that same month, she goes again, by water, to her death.

Anne’s was not the fair haired, blue eyed kind of beauty that Tudor gentlemen admired.  She arrived at the English court after many years in France.  With her lively black eyes, her flattering French hood that shockingly showed her hair, her ready wit, and the way she spoke with a hint of a French accent, she was a lady to be noticed. Henry Percy, the young heir to the earldom of Northumberland, was the first English courtier to fall in love with her.  They pledged to be married, indeed, a secret marriage ceremony may have taken place, but this was not allowed. She was only a knight’s daughter and her father sent her home to Hever Castle in disgrace. When she returned to court, it was King Henry’s turn to be smitten and the young lady who had been told she was not fit to marry an earl, was telling the King that she would never be his mistress, only his queen.

Anne died because she failed to give Henry the son who would be the saviour of the Tudor dynasty. Yes, she was feisty. Flirtatious? Perhaps she was. Certainly her hot temper had become an embarrassment to Henry. But it was her obstetric history, which uncannily followed that of Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, that caused her downfall.  After a series of miscarriages and stillbirths Henry claimed that he had been seduced into sorcery. The love affair was over.

In January 1536 the divorced Katherine of Aragon died. On her burial day Anne miscarried a son. This had been her last chance.  “I see that I shall have no more sons by you, madam,” Henry told her as she lay weeping for her dead baby. Henry, already in his forties, realised that he needed to re-marry very quickly to get his longed for male heir.  There was to be no lengthy divorce this time. He wanted no doubt about the legitimacy of the children that would come from his third marriage to his new love, Jane Seymour. Henry needed to be a widower. He needed Anne dead, like Katherine.

Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s first minister, historically takes much of the blame for Anne’s disgrace and execution.  Did he sneak up to Henry and reveal in a trembling voice the shocking evidence of the Queen’s adultery with five gentlemen, including her own brother? Or, did he provide his monarch with evidence he had been ordered to acquire?   Anne might have been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, but Henry chose an easier, surer way to rid himself of her. He made himself a cuckold.  Adultery was a treasonous offence in a queen because it threatened the sacred bloodline which passes the succession to the throne from royal father to royal son. If Anne was found guilty the penalty was death.

In the sexually charged atmosphere of the court, where games of courtly love gave gentlemen licence to have a mistress to serve, we can see how easily one thing might lead to another, especially with the bad example Henry VIII set with his extra marital affairs.  It was no difficult task for Cromwell to find men to accuse of adultery with a queen who was always surrounded by gentlemen vying for her favour. That the poet, Thomas Wyatt, was in love with Anne is evident from his poetry. Somehow, he managed to escape execution.

Cromwell went for easier prey.  A young court musician, Mark Smeaton, son of a seamstress, was a favourite of Anne Boleyn and the King.  He confessed to adultery with the queen. Was he tortured? Sir Henry Norris, the servant closest to Henry and his good friend of many years, was said to have made a confession too, of sorts. The others denied their guilt, but it was the terrible accusation of incest with her brother, George, that defiled Anne’s name so that even her daughter never spoke of her again.  Cromwell gave dates and places where the adultery was supposed to have taken place. Modern historians have analysed this evidence with a scrutiny that was sorely lacking at Anne’s trial in 1536. In many instances it is clear that the evidence was fabricated.

Was there any truth to the charges against Anne Boleyn? 

“Mayflowers for November: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn”  is Endeavour Press’s Book of the Month. There is a pre-release special (99 cents) in effect until February 29th when it will be released and it will go up to full price on March 2nd (£2.99/$3.99).  Amazon UK Amazon US

Malyn Bromfield has worked for many years teaching English, history and religious education at secondary level. She has been fascinated by the Tudor period most of her life, and this has influenced her choice of subject for Mayflowers for November, her first novel. Malyn was placed in the first six in a BBC3 writing competition, End of Story, and further developed her writing skills through an Open University course. She lives in West Yorkshire.