People often ask; how did Anne, a Knight’s daughter manage to get the King of England to set aside his wife of 24 years radically changing the country’s religious governance in the process?
Amongst other theories there are two main schools of thought in relation to Anne’s involvement with Henry. Either she is described as an ambitious home wrecking shrew or a woman so firmly controlled by her Boleyn and Norfolk relations that she had no choice but to accept the King’s advances.
However both of these ideas could lead us to believe that Henry VIII was a weak, easily manipulated man who could be persuaded by flattery or by a well coordinated group of scheming courtiers. Of course Henry was neither of these things. Early in his reign he was a slim, athletic and handsome man. He was noted for being gifted in music, poetry and the game of courtly love.
We also have evidence that he was a devout Catholic, with his pamphlet Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (“Declaration of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther”). He wrote this in response to the heresies being spread by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther in Germany. The Pope was so impressed with Henry’s treatises in defence of the church that he rewarded Henry’s loyalty by designating him Defender of the Faith. Also by the time the King had taken a romantic interest in Anne in 1525/26 he had taken command of his army in two campaigns against the French.
He could be ruthless when his leadership was questioned and was not slow to take action when necessary. For example he personally examined witness statements in the case of the Duke of Buckingham’s threat to his sovereignty and after the Duke was convicted of High Treason by 17 of his Peers, Henry duly signed the Duke’s death warrant leading to his execution at Tower Hill on 17th May 1521.
Are we really to believe that this man would be pushed around from pillar to post and harried to action by his own nobles
In asking why Henry became so determined to have Anne, we must consider that Catherine of Aragon’s last unsuccessful pregnancy had been in November 1518 and as time moved on it became less and less likely that Catherine would be able to conceive again. There were also court rumours that Henry was questioning the validity his marriage although these cannot be substantiated.
Enter Lady Anne Boleyn: A woman who possessed a natural charm and charisma that no other Tudor woman could match. A woman who spoke fluent French and wore French fashion, which emphasised her long dark hair and black eyes. She conducted herself with a grace, presence and confidence that was unique at court and that was bound to attract suitors. Witnesses have recorded that they seldom seen her without a book in her hands, many of which were religious works. Added to her erudition she could sing, dance, and play multiple instruments. These pursuits were all favourite pass times of the King.
Anne undoubtedly flirted with the King, but there was nothing unusual or inappropriate in this. Henry VIII was an expert in the game of courtly love and Anne would have been able to match him line for line due to her experience within the court of Francis I in France.
When the King’s ardour for Anne increased and became an all-consuming desire, she refused
point-blank, despite his incessant pleading for her to become his mistress. Even when he offered her the position of being his only official mistress she still refused. Henry continued to press his suit by writing her love letters in his own hand. Although we do not have Anne’s replies to his letters it was apparent that Henry and Anne were involved in a romantic, albeit as yet a non-sexual relationship.
The only remedy to this impasse was according to David Starkey and confirmed by Eric Ives reached in January 1527 when Henry proposed marriage to Anne. She accepted and the scene was set. Once the King could secure a Papal annulment from Catherine the couple would be able to marry and consummate their relationship.
It is clear that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were now deeply in love and that the couple would now mobilise their combined intellect and determination to convince the rest of the court and all of Christendom that divorce from Catherine and remarriage to Anne was not only necessary but was the will of God.