Henry VIII had six queens, yet none of them polarise opinion as much as the second, Anne Boleyn. Every detail of her life is argued over, often fiercely, by historians as they strive to establish the truth about her life, her relationship with Henry and, especially, her fall. She is probably the best written-about woman is the whole of English history and there are few who are not familiar with her story.
It has reached the point where Anne Boleyn has passed beyond history to become almost a legendary figure. Never before has she had such a huge following, fuelled by films, novels and TV shows which have, in turn, inspired countless blogs and websites dedicated to her. Nevertheless, myths continue to abound and certain questions have yet to be satisfactorily addressed:
● Did Anne really want to be queen, or would she have been satisfied simply to be Henry’s sole mistress?
● How far was she involved in the fall of Cardinal Wolsey?
● Was she really to blame for the death of Thomas More?
● What was the true cause of Anne’s fall: did she fall out with Cromwell, who then saved himself by destroying her; did Henry grow tired of her and seek to replace her with Jane Seymour; was it the result of factional conspiracy at court - or did Anne, in some way, bring about her own end?
● Was there any substance to the accusations against her?
Amid all the controversy stands Anne Boleyn herself. Since the TV show The Tudors was broadcast, a great many books have been produced: biographies, studies and novels about Anne Boleyn. Some of these are excellent scholarly works that add much to our knowledge of the queen; others merely repeat what others have said to produce layer upon layer of secondary works that feed off those that have gone before, and most often without their authors looking at so much as photocopy of an original document. All the while, the real Anne Boleyn has become increasingly side-lined.
The time has come to revisit the life of Anne Boleyn and update her story by returning to the original, unprinted documents and taking account of the recent academic studies, published in books and articles, in an attempt to answer these questions and produce a full and more accurate portrait of this fascinating woman who became Henry VIII’s second queen.
Dr Josepha Josephine Wilkinson received a First Class Honours degree from the University of Newcastle. She was the winner of the Third Year Prize for her work on The Little Apocalypse, which placed Mark chapter 13 into its historical context, and the Jewish Studies Prize for her historical study of the community at Qumran. She remained at Newcastle, earning an MPhil for her thesis on the historical John the Baptist (as close to a biography as is possible to do); her PhD traced historical traditions and legends of John the Baptist across several cultures as well as art, literature and film.
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