The idea that women used to be bartered like cattle a mere 500 years ago is quite utterly appalling to me. No where is this more clearly demonstrated than in the dazzling pageantry of the film The Other Boleyn Girl. Henry VIII was well known as a voracious philanderer, unconscionable adulterer and a murderer. It is this image we remember rather than the charismatic, shining ruler who roused a nation. There are many ways to traverse the downfall of a king, and Henry’s once golden rule dwindled to that of a corpulent man in decline. The theme music in the movie for the character of Henry is ominous and chilling, a fitting score for the reality of the terrifying man. When he tired of one woman, he simply found a way to rid himself of her, and whether it be sinister or not, it was sanctioned lest the ax fall upon the necks of the nobles or clergy of the king’s council.
Unfortunately, the lot of women in Tudor times was bleak at best. Beauty, wealth and good breeding were a woman’s only currency, and making a brilliant match was all one could hope for.
Just look at Mary. She attained the great heights of the king’s bed, only to receive 100 pounds, and that only after being left destitute for quite some time once Henry’s fascination with her waned. Did Anne fare any better? Yes, she became queen of England, the highest of titles in the land afforded a woman, yet even she could not escape the king’s wrath.
Anne Boleyn, the most happy, was cunning and calculating — ruthless even — intelligent and a master strategist; traits that would have been highly valued if she hadn’t been a woman and was a man instead.
She was daringly ambitious and eager to rid herself of the yolk of her Howard uncle. The desire to be free of a man was a trait she passed down to her daughter. To be in control of your own destiny was a dangerous desire for a woman in a land where intrigue was rife and betrayal abounded. Terrifying if she failed. Glorious if she succeeded. And in fact, as we all know, Anne did succeed. Yet no truer were the words, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Written by the master bard Shakespeare in 1597 (approx.) in Henry the IV, Part 2. Who was he thinking of I wonder? The play was written a scant 61 years after Anne — one of England’s most notoriously famous queens, second only to her daughter, the great and glorious Elizabeth I — was executed for the false charges of witchcraft, and the more disputed charges of adultery and incest with her own brother, George on May 19th, 1536 — exactly 473 years ago today.
How well Henry succeeded in thoroughly tarnishing her already dubious character is apparent even to this day, as Anne’s equivocal quilt is open to heated debate even now. Yet Anne achieved a legacy that Henry played an unwitting part in orchestrating, and though Anne succumbed to the executioner’s blade and her own mortal condition, she laid claimed to an immortality that Henry and his contemporaries could have never perceived when Elizabeth — Anne and Henry’s only daughter — laid claim to the throne. So Anne it seems, triumphed after all, though I am certain even that ill fated lady would caution, “Be most careful what you wish for.” Did Elizabeth ever wish to be queen? I wonder.
Yes, Henry changed the very face and landscape of his beloved England, but it was Anne who ignited a king with the force of her will, and begat a dynasty that lasted an age.