Will the Real Anne Boleyn Please Stand Up?
Of King Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn is probably the most well-known—despite the fact that so little is actually known about her. King Henry had all of her portraits destroyed, and her appearance wasn’t commented on by any unbiased contemporary sources, so even the famous paintings we know as “Anne Boleyn”—which have informed the look of most actresses who have played her—aren’t necessarily accurate. King Henry also did his best to destroy her words, so we don’t know a lot about what Anne had to say about her life and circumstances.
People did—and still do—have a lot to say about Anne, though. Here are some quotes from historical figures, writers, historians, and actors—who have loved and hated Henry’s second queen:
“She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat."
—Nicholas Sander, 16th Century Catholic priest, who was born only a few years before Anne died and therefore did not ever see her in person.
“I will not give them up to a person who is the scandal of Christendom and a disgrace to you.”
—Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife, upon being told to give her jewels over to Anne.
“Your Majesty must root out the Lady and her adherents…. This accursed Anne has her foot in the stirrup, and will do the Queen and the Princess all the harm she can.”
—Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador to England from the Holy Roman Empire. He was working for Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, and thus was definitely opposed to the king’s new marriage.
“She's a spiteful and unscrupulous woman, even in victory.”
—Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl
“I am in such perplexity that my mind is clean amazed; for I never had better opinion in woman than I had in her; which maketh me to think that she should not be culpable.”
—Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, upon being told of Anne’s charges for adultery, incest and treason.
“However, the entire accomplishment cannot be till the two persons meet, which meeting is more desired by me than anything in this world; for what joy can be greater upon earth than to have the company of her who is dearest to me, knowing likewise that she does the same on her part, the thought of which gives me the greatest pleasure.”
—King Henry VIII, in a love letter to Anne.
“She’s quite a fiery woman and incredibly intelligent. So I think Anne really stood out – fire and intelligence and boldness – in comparison to the English roses that were flopping around court, she would’ve stood out. And Henry noticed that.”
—Actress Natalie Dormer, who played Anne Boleyn on The Tudors
“Had she lived, and had Elizabeth in due course succeeded, I think she would have gained a reputation as the matriarch of the English Reformation.”
—Alison Weir, historian
“Captivating to men, Anne was also sharp, assertive, subtle, calculating, vindictive, a power dresser and a power player, perhaps a figure to be more admired than liked.”
—Eric Ives, historian
“She was a woman who chose to step into the tough political game, she made her calculations, she played a winning hand, and ultimately she lost.”—Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall