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Anne Boleyn's Life

Britain's Real Monarch »

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Anne Boleyn's Life

After her death a number of myths sprang up about Anne. Many of these stories had their roots in anti-Anglican works written by Roman Catholics. Nicholas Sander, a Roman Catholic recusant born c. 1530, was committed to deposing Elizabeth I and re-establishing Roman Catholicism in England. In his De Origine ac Progressu schismatis Anglicani (The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism), published in 1585, he was the first to write that Anne had six fingers on her right hand. Since physical deformities were generally interpreted as a sign of evil, it is unlikely that Anne Boleyn would have gained Henry's romantic attention had she had any. Anne Boleyn was described by contemporaries as intelligent and gifted in musical arts and scholarly pursuits. She was also strong-willed and proud, and dared to quarrel with Henry. Biographer Eric Ives evaluates the apparent contradictions in Anne's persona:

“ To us she appears inconsistent—religious yet aggressive, calculating yet emotional, with the light touch of the courtier yet the strong grip of the politician—but is this what she was, or merely what we strain to see through the opacity of the evidence? As for her inner life, short of a miraculous cache of new material, we shall never really know. Yet what does come to us across the centuries is the impression of a person who is strangely appealing to the early twenty-first century: A woman in her own right—taken on her own terms in a man's world; a woman who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex; of only moderate good looks, but taking a court and a king by storm. Perhaps, in the end, it is Thomas Cromwell's assessment that comes nearest: intelligence, spirit and courage. ”


A 17th-century portrait identified as Anne Boleyn by a later inscription on the back.

Upon exhumation in 1876, no abnormalities were discovered: her frame was described as delicate, approximately 5'3", with finely formed, tapering fingers. Elizabeth I certainly inherited her mother's frame, height, facial structure and hands. No contemporary portraits of Anne Boleyn have survived: the only likeness is a medal struck in 1534 to commemorate her second pregnancy; it is, however, severely damaged.

Following the coronation of her daughter as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe, who argued that Anne had saved England from the evils of Roman Catholicism and that God had provided proof of her innocence and virtue by making sure her daughter, Elizabeth I, later became Queen regnant. One of the most obvious examples of Anne's direct influence in the reformed church is what Alexander Ales described to Queen Elizabeth as the "evangelical bishops whom your holy mother appointed from among those scholars who favoured the purer doctrine". Over the centuries, Anne has inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works. As a result, she has remained in the popular memory and Anne has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had."

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