It’s fair to say that Anne Boleyn is one of the most recognizable names from the Tudor period. And given who else was around back then, that’s some mean feat! But did you know that there was quite a bit of secrecy surrounding her life? Well, we’ve taken a look at 20 fascinating facts you might not have heard at school.
20. Anne’s great-grandfather was a hatter
To say that Anne Boleyn’s forebears had a low status is an understatement. No one would’ve thought that a member of that clan would’ve married into royalty. They got their start in Norfolk, England, and great-great-grandfather Geoffrey was known for taking chances. Yes, he often made headway onto land belonging to the local lord, stole water and crossed field lines with his plough.
But here’s the thing – despite facing numerous court dates for those transgressions, Anne’s old relative accumulated a bit of money. Thanks to that, he gave his son, also called Geoffrey, the opportunity to become a hatter. So Anne’s great-grandfather enjoyed quite the rise. He was even named the Lord Mayor of London in the late 1450s!
19. A list of suitors
There’s no doubt that Anne is most famous for her marriage to Henry VIII. Then again, did you know that she nearly tied the knot with two different men prior to that? One match involved her cousin James Butler. It was a betrothal influenced by politics, but the wedding didn’t happen in the end.
Then Anne got engaged to a man named Henry Percy in secret too. His dad was the Earl of Northumberland, which was a significant position during that period in England’s history. Anyway, this Henry wasn’t a single guy at that time – and he was set to marry another woman! So the concealed plan was eventually rumbled, ending the engagement.
18. Years spent abroad
Anne picked up plenty of skills during her younger years, as she dived into subjects like dancing, writing, math and hunting. Yet that’s not why she would’ve stood out at court. Because Henry VIII’s future wife spent close to a decade abroad after leaving England in 1513. Her first stop was Austria.
Anne was welcomed into Margaret of Austria’s court, before moving to France in 1514. Then she was named as Queen Mary’s “maid-of-honor.” She remained in the country for another eight years under Queen Claude, returning to her homeland in 1522. At that stage, her experiences couldn’t be matched by other ladies of similar standing.
17. There was more than one Anne Boleyn
Certain names are well-liked in family circles, as numerous relatives sport the same moniker. It can get a little confusing at times! In the case of the Boleyn clan, Anne was the go-to choice. So yes, Henry VIII’s second wife wasn’t the only Anne Boleyn to appear at court in England!
Anne Hoo was the earliest of them, who married Anne’s great-grandfather Geoffrey Boleyn. Plus the future Queen’s aunt had the same name as well. That Anne Boleyn tied the knot with Sir John Shelton, leading her to take on the title of Lady Shelton. You’ve got to admit, that’s some family tree.
16. The “six fingers” rumor
If you’re a public figure then rumors are always going to circulate about aspects of your life. It’s an unfortunate drawback to being famous. And it’s not a new phenomenon either – Anne Boleyn had a similar problem hundreds of years ago. In fact, you may well have heard some of the stories.
One of the most infamous rumors is that Anne sported an extra digit on her hands. Plus tales claimed that the royal had a horrible mark around her neck. Because superstitious folk believed these things signified that she’d mingled with Satan. But despite those fantastical stories, there’s been zero proof that they’re true. And it’s more likely that the religious upheaval at the time helped push these claims along.
15. The execution
As most of you probably know, Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII ended in bloody fashion. The King’s second wife was executed on May 19, 1536. She’d been accused of adultery, incest and treason. But were you aware that Thomas Cromwell, a high-ranking official in Henry’s court, might’ve fraudulently concocted those allegations?
Yes, rumors have swirled that Cromwell falsified the accusations after falling out with Anne. But were other factors at play? For instance, the failure to provide Henry with a male heir? Here’s where it gets cloudy. The King hired an expert from France to conduct the execution to avoid any bungles. Then he got engaged to Jane Seymour 24 hours on from the event. Perhaps he was a tad conflicted?
14. The sweating sickness
Although Anne Boleyn met her end via execution, she very nearly died in the years before that when an aggressive virus swept through England. It was referred to as the “sweating sickness.” This bug, largely believed to be an influenza-like affliction, was incredibly dangerous, striking down even the healthiest.
Anne caught it in June 1528, while her dad was in a similar spot as well. The pair were holed up at Hever Castle, and Henry VIII dispatched a physician to look after his partner. Thankfully, they managed to recover from the sickness, but her brother-in-law wasn’t so fortunate. It was a scary time for the Tudors.
13. Unmistakable charm
It’s fair to say that Anne’s looks provoked plenty of discussion while she was at court. Her peers often questioned if they could label her as an attractive woman. Well, in terms of her appearance, the future Queen boasted a towering frame and “dark” features. How about her personality, though?
In truth there was little debate about that. Because Anne was a very alluring individual at court thanks, in part, to her time in France. She had a notable sense of humor, on top of a cultured attitude around her peers. Simply put, they couldn’t get enough of her back then.
12. Anne’s role in the break from Rome
The breakdown in relations between Henry VIII and the Catholic Church is a key moment in Tudor history. It came about when the King wanted to divorce his first partner Catherine of Aragon, and the Pope wouldn’t allow it. But did you know that Anne played a significant role in the eventual split?
As it turns out, Anne might’ve pointed Henry to “heretical literature” that decried the Catholic Church. Plus she informed her future husband that she wouldn’t get intimate unless they tied the knot. Thus the royal pushed through the Act of Supremacy and the Treasons Act, which led the Church of England to dethrone the previous religious regime.
11. Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII
Were you aware that Anne had a sister? Her name was Mary Boleyn, and she was William Carey’s wife up until his death from the sweating sickness. Here’s where it gets intriguing, though. Apparently, Mary may well have mothered a little girl after engaging in a fling with Henry VIII.
Now let’s be clear here – this relationship didn’t happen when Anne and Henry were married. But even so, we’ve got to ask the question: was the King the true father of Katherine Carey? According to a Tudor expert named Suzannah Lipscomb, there’s some potential to the rumors, yet it doesn’t go any further than that.
10. The promise of an heir
Henry VIII is a well-known historical figure for several reasons, and it could be argued that his obsession to father a male heir is one of them. And Anne Boleyn is believed to have used that to her advantage in getting his attention. Quite simply, she promised to provide him with what he wanted.
Yep, Anne said that Henry would finally have a son if they got together. But of course that didn’t happen, as the Queen welcomed a little girl into the world instead. We’re referring to Princess Elizabeth – the King’s second daughter after Princess Mary. There were two further pregnancies on record as well, yet the babies didn’t survive.
9. Anne had a dark sense of humor
Gallows humor can help us during fairly tough times. What’s that saying? Oh yes, if you don’t laugh, you may well cry! Well it’s thought that Anne was of that same mindset while she awaited her execution. The Queen apparently refused to let the sentence drag her down.
Because Anne reportedly uttered the following words as she described the executioner who was about to carry out the deed. The royal joked, “I hear he’s quite good. And I have a very small neck!” That’s some way to face your death, right? She certainly didn’t succumb to fear… at that point anyway.
8. The relationship with Princess Mary
As any step-parent will tell you, it’s not easy to form a strong connection with kids from a previous relationship. Yet Anne Boleyn’s bond with Princess Mary was especially frosty. Why? Mary was a Catholic just like her mother Catherine of Aragon, so she didn’t accept the coupling between Anne and Henry VIII.
And it didn’t get any easier from there. Because Anne asked her aunt, Lady Shelton, to look after Mary, before sending Shelton a strongly-worded letter. To put it bluntly, the Queen didn’t want her step-daughter to utilize her royal moniker anymore. “Slap her face as the cursed [person] that she was [if she continues],” it read. Hey, we said it was frosty!
7. The public didn’t like Anne much
Yes, Anne was a popular face during her time at court, but it was a completely different story outside of that setting. Her personality didn’t capture the love of the general public like it did with her friends. In fact, the English masses were quite hostile towards Henry VIII’s second wife after they got together.
It’s believed that Anne was confronted by groups of furious ladies following Henry’s split from Catherine of Aragon. You see, the latter was a popular figure as Queen prior to the controversial divorce. And the hostility only continued when she was crowned, as the public didn’t really commemorate the occasion. Tough crowd, right?
6. Anne might’ve compiled a songbook
Did you know that Anne Boleyn was a big music fan? A songbook believed to have been hers is currently sitting in the Royal College of Music. These pages contain arrangements by the likes of Antoine Brumel and Josquin des Prez. Plus there’s a rumor that a few of the unnamed compositions actually came from Anne.
How cool would that be? As for the book itself, music maestro David Skinner told the Classic FM website, “[Anne] had extremely sophisticated taste in music. She was [a] musical patron to many famous composers including Josquin – so Anne would’ve known these people, she would’ve met them, she would’ve heard their new works as they were churning them out.”
5. Elizabeth Howard and Henry VIII
It’s fair to say that the Tudor period had plenty of royal drama, especially with relationships. Then again, the Boleyns’ connection to Henry VIII was particularly interesting. Alongside his coupling with Anne, the King’s romantic fling with her sister was essentially an open secret. But one more story persisted at the time.
Reportedly, Anne’s mom Elizabeth Howard was a possible mistress to Henry as well. This story circulated throughout the early 1530s, with a troubling theory suggesting that the King and Queen could’ve been father and daughter. Yikes! Yet the monarch insisted that no such relationship occurred. “Never with the mother,” he once stated to Sir George Throckmorton.
4. Anne’s generosity
Today’s famous faces from across the world try to do their bit with charitable donations and campaigns. And those good deeds can obviously make a significant difference. Yet this isn’t a recent phenomenon. Anne Boleyn, for instance, was absolutely committed to helping people in need with her royal finances.
That’s right: Anne would make annual payments to charitable causes, equivalent to roughly $20,000 in today’s money. That’s a lot of cash now, so it was especially eye-watering back in the 1500s. The Queen also looked to help out in different ways through her actions – it wasn’t just a case of dropping money off. Good for her!
3. Henry VIII accused Anne of witchcraft
As we know, Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII didn’t end on good terms at all. Her death is arguably the most infamous event from the Tudor period. Yet prior to the execution, the breakdown of their bond prompted the King to make some… shall we say “out-there” accusations. Brace yourselves!
Henry claimed that Anne was essentially a witch. In his mind – somewhat conveniently – his partner had tapped into a kind of magic to push him towards marrying her. But that’s not the only thing that cropped up. Alongside these accusations, the King noted that she used “love potions” to gain his attention as well.
2. The rivalry with Jane Seymour
Following Anne’s execution, Jane Seymour became Henry VIII’s third wife. But were you aware that the two ladies had shared a toxic relationship beforehand? It was a proper rivalry. They were actually related, as their moms were cousins. Yet that connection didn’t temper the ill-feelings between them at court.
Because Jane served as one of Anne’s maids in 1536. And Henry took a liking to her, handing his future wife a small self-portrait to hang from her neck. Not exactly Tinder by today’s standards, right? And the Queen recognized this – as Henry had done the same thing for her years before! So upon spotting the image, she aggressively yanked it off Jane. The pair had other reported scraps, too.
1. Anne’s mystery birthday
When it comes to history, dates are absolutely key. Without them, we can’t place past events into a proper timeline. And the birthdays of important figures are just as vital. So you might be surprised to hear that no one actually knows when Anne Boleyn was welcomed into the world.
Quite simply, the information can’t be found in the parish records in Anne’s home county of Norfolk. Perhaps a clerical error! So experts have had to guess when Anne could’ve been delivered. They’ve put forward a six-year window which spans from 1501 to 1507. Whatever the date, though, the Queen was very young on the day of her execution in 1536.