March 01, 2008

Anne Boleyn


I haven't seen the Other Boleyn Girl yet, but as an early modernist I suppose I'm obliged to at some point! I do think though that its interesting that its this aspect of Anne's story that we highlight in drama and in movies- the recent Henry VIII series on the BBC was similar. Anne Boleyn for those who don't know successfully managed the transition from being Henry's queen's lady in waiting to Henry's mistress to his wife and queen. But in a way that's the least interesting thing about her: Boleyn was an incredibly interesting woman in her own right, without thinking about her connection with Henry. She was a patron of the careers of many Protestants at Henry's court- and though we don't know how much influence she had on Henry's policy in the Reformation, there is a good case for saying that she was one of the drivers behind the Reformation. She was also an incredibly intelligent woman- Henry was attracted by her intelligence at first but then repulsed by the fact that she refused to bow to him all the time, by her temper and her sharpness. Her fall which flowed from her character and her enthusiasm for Protestantism in some ways is much more interesting than her rise- pretty women attract compliments and royal patrons all the time- but Anne wasn't just a pretty woman, she was an intelligent, skilful player of the court game, with an ideological coterie around her of radical protestants and a strong temper and sense of herself. I doubt we'll see that in the movie (except maybe as a negative and an adjunct to her charm)- and I do think its interesting that whenever you see this queen displayed on screen, her sexiness is emphasized at the expense of her intelligence. Partly that's because cinema likes a pretty body more than an interesting mind- but partly one suspects a residual sexism in the way that we approach Anne. We don't see the intelligent woman, as much as the sexy schemer.

3 comments:

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

This is my field of study, Tiberius. She was an amazing woman - to keep him hanging on that long with her own beauty fading. Her sister - well, I could never understand why Anne didn't bring influence to bear or her uncle.

And yet I feel sorry for Catherine.

Gracchi said...

James I didn't know you were a Tudor man- might be apparant but I'm more Ives than Bernard on Boleyn!

As to the second point Catherine- I don't think its possible not to feel for Catherine, and of course for her daughter Mary. Tudor politics was a brutal place- as Anne found to her cost later on.

Donna said...

I love reading anything and everything about this fascinating women. I agree that she was the driving force behind England's reformation, charming the king with her intelligence, quick wit and rather unique beauty (rememebr she dressed in the french fashion, very different to all the other ladies at court who followed Catherine's staunch Spanish style). However, I tend to disagree that she lost favour because of her radical religious views and somewhat fiery temper. I believe that the leading cause of her downfall was after her miscarriage and her failure to provide a male heir for Henry. The main reason Henry replaced Catherine was his desperate need for a legitimate son and heir, especially after his father fought so hard for the crown. Anne's failure to do so and her miscarriage I believe promted the king to think she was incapable and so remove her from her position through any means possible. Her beheading only came about after Anne refused to abducate her position therefore making their daughter Elizabeth a bastard. That is my view however! Others may disagree.