Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Guest Post and Giveaway: Claire Ridgway Discusses Anne Boleyn's Love Life

To celebrate her new book release, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Count Down, Claire from The Anne Boleyn Files has kindly written a guest post for us to enjoy today. She has also provided a quarter length Anne Boleyn shirt for giveaway! More on that in a minute. First, I'm happy to welcome Claire!

Anne Boleyn's Love-life

In May 1536, while Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the Tower awaiting her death, her husband, King Henry VIII, was heard to comment that he thought that “upwards of 100 gentlemen have had criminal connexion with her”, i.e. that Anne had slept with over one hundred men.
We can put this comment down to bluster, to Henry defending his actions and the treatment of Anne, and even Chapuys was sceptical, commenting that “You never saw a prince or husband show or wear his horns more patiently and lightly than this one does. I leave you to guess the cause of it.” Obviously Henry was not showing any signs of distress at his wife making a mockery of their marriage! However, Anne has been called many names, in the sixteenth century and today, which relate to her sexuality and her love life:
  • The scandal of christendom
  • Goggle-eyed whore
  • The concubine
  • The putain
  • Harlot
  • The English Mare
  • The Royal Mule
  • A home-wrecker

These are names used by her enemies, men such as Nicholas Sander, who also wrote of her having an extra finger, a wen and a projecting tooth; and of course Eustace Chapuys, who just couldn't bring himself to call the woman he viewed as a usurper by name. These men had an agenda, a need to discredit Anne, plus Sander may well have been confusing Anne and her sister, Mary, who Francis I allegedly nicknamed his “English Mare”.
But had Anne done anything to earn herself these nicknames? Had she, as one book claims, before she met Henry VIII, “wandered down love's winding path....[and] learned its twists and turns during her youth spent at the courts of the Low Countries and France”? Let's examine the love-life of this fascinating Queen...

Sinning with the Family Chaplain and Butler?

According to the afore-mentioned Nicholas Sander, writing in 1585 when he was in exile to escape persecution in Elizabeth I's reign, Anne was actually banished to France by her father at the age of fifteen because she had “sinned first with her father's butler, and then with his chaplain”. I think we can take this claim with a very hefty pinch of salt when we know that Anne was sent to Margaret of Austria's court at the age of 12 to finish her education and then, a year later, to France to serve Mary Tudor, Queen of France. She was already in France at the age of fifteen and Sander is the only one to make this claim.

Corrupted by the French Court 

Alison Weir questions Anne Boleyn's virtue in her recent biography of Mary Boleyn, writing that she had “risked becoming the subject of scandal at the French court”. Weir uses two pieces of evidence to back this up:
  1. Francis I, King of France, confiding in Rodolfo Pio, Bishop of Faenza: “Francis also spoke three days ago of the new queen of England, how little virtuously she has always lived and now lives, and how she and her brother and adherents suspect the duke of Norfolk of wishing to make his son King, and marry him to the King's legitimate daughter, though they are near relations.”
  2. Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador, reporting that Henry VIII had confided in him that Anne had been “corrupted” during her time in France.
What Chapuys actually reported was that after Anne's fall Henry did not want to marry Madeleine of Valois, Francis I's daughter, because “he had had too much experience of French bringing up and manners”. Not quite the same as saying that Anne Boleyn had been corrupted.

There is no evidence to back up Francis I's claim that Anne had lived “little virtuously” and we don't even know that Francis really said it. Surely someone would have warned Henry VIII, before their marriage, if Anne Boleyn had been corrupted in France, scandal would certainly have been attached to her name. Chapuys, one of Anne's main enemies, does not repeat any gossip about her time in France or her alleged sexual experience. Seeing as Anne served the virtuous Queen Claude in France, I suspect that Anne kept her virtue. Anne would have known that her future marriage prospects rested on her keeping her virginity and her reputation.

First Love – Henry Percy

Anne Boleyn returned to England in late 1521, after being recalled to marry James Butler, one of her Irish relations, and to serve Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. According to Cardinal Wolsey's gentleman-usher, George Cavendish, it was in 1523, while Anne was serving Catherine, that she met Henry Percy, the son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland, who was a member of Wolsey's household. They fell in love and were apparently intending to marry when Wolsey and the King put a stop to their relationship.

Cavendish claims that the King ordered Wolsey to stop the marriage because of his “secret affection” for Anne, but there is no other evidence that the King was attracted to Anne at this time. It is thought that he was involved with her sister, Mary, in 1523, and the marriage was more likely to have been stopped due to Wolsey's plans for Anne to marry Butler. Anne and Percy were separated and Percy was quickly married off to Mary Talbot. It was not a happy marriage.

Thomas Wyatt - The Lover Confesseth Him in Love

In Hilary Mantel's recent novel, Bring Up the Bodies, Henry VIII suspects his wife of having had a sexual relationship with Thomas Wyatt the Elder, poet and courtier, but is there any truth to this claim?
Thomas Wyatt grew up at Allington Castle, around twenty miles from Hever Castle, the Boleyn family home, and he and Anne were a similar age. However, Anne was abroad for her teenage years so they probably did not meet until Anne began serving Catherine of Aragon in the 1520s. Wyatt was a married man, albeit unhappily married, and his love for Anne is recorded by his grandson, George Wyatt, in his memoir of Anne Boleyn. George records that when Wyatt first saw Anne at court, he was “surprised by the sight thereof”, and he also records a story about Wyatt and King Henry VIII arguing over Anne. In this story, Wyatt manages to snatch a jewel from Anne and keeps it as a trophy. Later, when he is playing playing bowls with the King and arguing over a shot, the King points to the wood, showing a finger on which is he is wearing Anne's ring, and declares “Wyatt, I tell thee it is mine”. Wyatt, seeing the ring, replies “If it may like your majesty to give me leave to measure it, I hope it will be mine”, and then takes Anne's jewel, which was hanging around his neck, and begins to measure the cast with its ribbon. An angry Henry VIII stomped off in search of Anne for an explanation.

Of course, we don't know the truth of this story, but it could well have been handed down the family. However, it does not mean that Anne and Wyatt had had a relationship. Wyatt's poem, “Whoso List to Hunt” tells of a man hunting a hind, with little chance of success, and then being forced to withdraw from the hunt because of another hunter. Wyatt may have been referring to his unrequited love for Anne and his forced withdrawal of his suit because of Henry VIII's interest in her:

“There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am”

Anne belonged to another, a more important man than Wyatt.

The Spanish Chronicle tells an interesting story. In it, Wyatt visits Anne at Hever Castle and begins kissing her and touching her breast. All of a sudden, the couple are disturbed by a stamping noise from upstairs, the stamping of a jealous and impatient lover whose liaison with Anne had been interrupted by Wyatt's arrival! This story just cannot be take seriously, it is pure tabloid journalism and simply an attempt to blacken Anne's name. No other source backs it up.

Henry VIII – For Caesar's I Am

Nobody knows exactly when Anne caught Henry VIII's eye, but Henry rode out to the Shrovetide joust of 1526 motto with the motto “Declare je nos” (Declare I dare not) embroidered on his costume below a picture of a man's heart engulfed in flames. He was declaring his love and passion for a new flame and it is likely that she was Anne Boleyn. 

What we do know is that Henry bombarded Anne with love letters between spring 1527 and autumn 1528, because we still have them, and that the couple agreed to marry in the summer of 1527. 

Following Anne's acceptance of his proposal, Henry VIII decided, in August 1527, to ask the Pope for a dispensation to marry Anne. He had no idea at that time that he'd have to wait so long to marry Anne, but he didn't give up and the couple were married in a secret ceremony on 25th January 1533.

Their relationship sounds pretty sordid. He was a married man, she was his wife's lady-in-waiting, and they actually married before his annulment had come through, but Henry was intent on replacing Catherine and having a fertile wife who would give him an heir to the throne. Anne was his chance.

Her Frail and Carnal Appetites

In 1533, Anne Boleyn was accused of committing adultery and incest, and of conspiring with her lovers to kill the King. The Middlesex and Kent indictments accused Anne of “following daily her frail and carnal appetites” and procuring Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton and her own brother, George Boleyn, to “violate” her by “sweet words, kisses, touches and otherwise”. In a letter to the King's ambassadors in France, Thomas Cromwell referred to Anne's “abominable” deeds and her “incontinent living”. He painted her as the Queen of debauchery, a woman whose sexual appetite knew no ends.

We know now that the dates of Anne's alleged crimes just do not make sense and the majority of historians believe that Anne and the five men were framed. There is no evidence that Anne was unfaithful to the King, it was simply a plot to get rid of her once and for all.


When I read through these stories of Anne's alleged lovers it makes me think of the tabloid magazines you see advertised on TV, the ones giving the latest salacious gossip about celebrities – who's sleeping with who, who's having an affair, who's having whose baby etc. We take these stories with a pinch of salt because we generally find out later that they have no basis. Well, the propaganda machinery was in full swing in Tudor times too and Chapuys was a great one for repeating gossip and then correcting himself later. And don't get me started on The Spanish Chronicle which has Thomas Cromwell interrogating Catherine Howard when he was actually dead at that time!

Anne Boleyn was and is a fascinating lady, but her love-life was far from salacious. OK, she got involved with a married man but that's the most salacious it gets. Married man: yes, 100+ lovers: not likely! She wasn't an angel, but she was far from a whore.

Notes and Sources

Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, note 54
Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism (1585), Nicholas Sander
Publisher's blurb for Anne Boleyn: Young Queen to Be, Josephine Wilkinson
Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore, Alison Weir
The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, George Cavendish
The Life of Queen Anne Boleigne, George Wyatt
Chronicle of King Henry VIII. of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (The Spanish Chronicle)
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January-June 1536: 873 and 876. 
Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

Now for the Giveaway!

The prize, as mentioned before, is a quarter-length shirt with an image of Anne Boleyn. For the guys, Claire has offer an alternative if a man wins! 

To enter, leave a comment here with your name. If you have any thoughts about any of the "lovers" mentioned above, be sure to include them! 

You can enter until Tues. June 12th at midnight. The winner will be randomly drawn and announced on June 13th. Be sure to check back in then!
Pin It


  1. What strikes me is just how dependent on Henry's whims Anne (and Anne's reputation!) were. When he loved her, she could do no wrong. Once he turned on her, she became a whore and he couldn't even stand the sight of her. I always found it hard to believe how many women were willing to marry him, even though he was a king.

    Loving these blog tour posts!
    sjbraun at hotmail dot com

  2. My thoughts about Anne and Lovers? I believe she loved Percy, but eventually fell in love and was devoted to Henry. Thank you for hosting Claire. I LOVE the shirt!

  3. Another great article about Anne Boleyn Claire. Thank you ! Anne was obviously a woman with desires who wanted a healthy marriage and children. With her talents and abilities, I believe she would have risen through the English court whomever she married. It's a shame love was basically forced on her and not of her choosing.

  4. Thanks for the great article! I agree that she was no angel but also NOT a whore! (I got here through facebook - but that is not one of the choices to comment as)

    Teresa Landis Wolfe

  5. Great article, Claire! I think about all these stories of Anne and her "lovers" and picture them on today's tabloids. Hilarious! I wonder, did Henry not realize, or did he just not care, what people were thinking when he was going about "wearing his horns" and saying how Anne had been with over 100 men? As you have pointed out so many times, how would that even have been possible? The queen was constantly surrounded by her ladies! It's all so ridiculous, and so very sad. glassrozes21@yahoo.com

  6. Another great article indeed. The very idea that a queen, with so many people surrounding her on a daily basis, could have found the time and opportunity to dally with over 100 men is so ridiculous that I can hardly believe that Henry and Cromwell even considered using it. What a sham it all was, considering that Henry had already made plans far in advance of Anne's arrest, let alone conviction. Just goes to show that injustice often prevails. *sigh* However, I am sure Anne would be most gratified to know that nearly 500 years later, her innocence is known and lauded.

    Thanks again Claire!

  7. Claire,you've done it again with one good thing about Chapuys saying good things about Queen Anne,

    "Chapuys was sceptical, commenting that “You never saw a prince or husband show or wear his horns more patiently and lightly than this one does. I leave you to guess the cause of it.”

    The fact that Henry initially doubted all this also says something...

    In addition, Francois I had his own mistress (Queen Eleanor of France was almost always absent from court), of whom he was most devoted to Anne d'Heilly, duchesse of d'Etampes, his mistress, but everyone was basically afraid of her (including the young Catherine de Medici, to whom she took a liking, but that's another subject for another forum). So Anne didn't have a chance with the King!

    If these accusations weren't so false that it makes all the other things in this article almost funny (if they weren't so preposterous [sp?]) if but that they had not led to Queen Anne's innocent death! I could go on about all the rest (Henry Percy alone would take a lot of space!!!), but I can't as there has to be left room for other comments with regard to these othere accusations...

    Claire, once again, shows she has read (as she once said her bedroom was full of primary documents, books, and other things, etc.) her stuff with the finest of tooth combs. I don't doubt her for a moment, and her sources for these are always there if one dares to double check - word of warning, one had better read them before second guessing her, trust me on that one!

    I will defend Queen Anne for as long as I'm around! She was innocent of all charges! Queen Anne did give on very special gift to England, Queen Elizabeth I! Queen Elizabeth I was the greatest absolute monarch that country has ever had!

    "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:"...
    ~ Pslams 118:23

    1. Please forgive me once again, as King Francois I was married to Queen Claude of Valois, and, yes, she did stay away from court due to the King's almost lifetime mistress! Oops! Thank you! WilesWales!

      I will defend Queen Anne for as long as I'm around! She was innocent of all charges! Queen Anne did give on very special gift to England, Queen Elizabeth I! Queen Elizabeth I was the greatest absolute monarch that country has ever had!

      "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:"...
      ~ Pslams 118:23

  8. This might be my favourite article of the Tour so far!! I do believe that Anne came to love Henry; after all he could be really charming when he wanted, he was good-looking in his younger years, athletic, intelligent.. Too bad he had another face, too.

  9. I am of the opinion that it was simply court gossip! I can't see someone as intelligent as Anne Boleyn acting so irresponsibly with her "carnal needs"... It just doesn't make sense! I do, however, think that Anne was probably very skilled at the art of flirting, which may explain all the gossip! Her charm & wit combined with her unusual beauty simply added fuel to the fire! Glad you stopped by the US,Claire! Pamela Kapustka

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I think that Anne was so young when she did meet Henry that she had a few relationships like any young person. But she really did fall in love with Henry & felt crushed by his eventual treatment.

    This is a fun blog tour & fascinating!



  12. What a great article.

    Despite not liking the idea that Anne got with a married man, I believe that she was innocent of all charges brought against her. She was popular and she did have men around her but to think she was with 100+ men for pleasure, that's over reaching.

  13. I agree that it would have been impossible for Anne to have any lovers at all. I believe she was devoted to Henry entirely and that she wanted to please him. I think Henry had to be creative and really go overboard with his accusations to get people on board with what he was trying to do in getting rid of Anne so he could marry another. He'd already gotten rid of his first wife. How ashamed do you think he felt when he went to so much trouble and the 2nd marriage didn't work out the way he had intended it to? If he hadn't made his accusations as shocking, people might have started to think he was just throwing a fit until he got what he wanted.
    I'm loving the book tour and learning so much and finding new wonderful sites I'll visit daily. Thank you Claire! -Kathy (kandebonilla@gmail.com)

  14. Another good one! Thanks for sharing. Love the shirt! bridgett.trejo@yahoo.com

  15. As always, a fascinating read! I love your posts, and your blog tours!

    I don't know why I am so fascinated by Henry's wives, and Anne in particular - I just know that ever since childhood, I have wondered about them all, and why they would all want to marry Henry, considering what had gone before.

    The more I read, the more I want to know. Thank you Claire, for continuing to fan the flames of my curiosity about this amazing woman!

    Deirdre O'Mahony

  16. Great article Claire ! Anne was and remains a fascinating lady.I do hope we have judged her case kindly.

  17. Smashing post Claire, really enjoyed it.
    When you were going through the deflamatory names they used to discribe her, I have read another, and that is 'The Night Crow', as anyone else heard of that one?

  18. WilesWales@gmail.comJune 6, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    I know that this is somewhat of a very contraversial, but if not law back then, but wasn't the future Queen supposed to be a virgin if she were to mother of the future King of England? The reason I ask is based on a number of things, and even back in those days they had ways of coming to that conclusion. I do know that Princess Diana had to be seen by a doctor before marrying Prince Charles...and Princess Diana and Prince Charles both were of royal blood as they were 16th cousins, once removed being descended from Edward the III. So even Queen Anne, even though she was considered a commoner (but not as much as Elizabeth Woodville), the marriage to Henry was only two in early modern western history to marry for love, even though Queen Anne was descended through her mother, Elizabeth Howard, as a direct descendant of Edward I. Thank you! WilesWales!

    I will defend Queen Anne for as long as I'm around! She was innocent of all charges! Queen Anne did give on very special gift to England, Queen Elizabeth I! Queen Elizabeth I was the greatest absolute monarch that country has ever had!

    "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:"...
    ~ Pslams 118:23

    1. After Catherine Howard, Henry VIII passed a law making it treason for a woman who was not a virgin to marry the King. Obviously, the widow Catherine Parr could not have been expected to have been a virgin, but this was different from an unmarried woman not being a virgin. It was not law before that.

      Interestingly, Anne Boleyn was descended from Edward I through both her mother and father.

  19. No one writes better about Anne Boleyn than Claire Ridgeway. americansamgirl@gmail.com

  20. I'm so glad that you all enjoyed my article! Thanks to Elizabeth for hosting me here.

  21. Another great article! Anne was obviously a fascinating woman, and had many men interested in her. I don't think that she had any choice when Henry showed an interest in her, but I think that she eventually grew to love him.


  22. Anne just had to make the best of a tricky situation. I don't think she actively sought out Henry's attention, but once she was in his crosshairs there wasn't a lot she could do, especially since her refusals just made him want her more. It's too bad she couldn't see how Henry could turn on her just like he did Catherine, whom he was married to for over 20 years

  23. History has always shown that even the most famous people have taken bashings and lies.Not many people I've read about had many lies and gossip like Anne did.Anne was a strong woman to stand through the name-calling and keep composure. I believed she wanted a husband but took a road that led to her demise.Her only child had became the greatest of Anne's achievements. Jessica reneeneeld@gmail.com

  24. Anne proves to be a perenially fascinating subject. The fact that she was mother of Elizabeth I, a great monarch, adds to the attraction. I often wonder how much influence she imparted to her daughter in the short time they had together.

  25. I love that I have someplace to go to satisfy my AB/HVIII cravings. Thank you for hosting this site and for always keeping things fun and interesting!

    Heather Crouse

  26. A wonderful, well written article. Thank you for all that you do to educate others about the facts of Tudor England.

  27. Well done Claire on a fascinating article. I can imagine it is very hard to bring a new slant on a subject so throughly researched by many other historians and biographers, but you have been able to do just that. It is obvious that you have completed hours of painstaking research in order to write this article and have reached your substantiated conclusions using primary evidence. It has certainly whet my appetite to read more about this myself. A throughly interesting read which I shall recommend to others.

  28. Another fantastic article, Claire! Thank you so much! I, too think she loved the King and did want to please him. I don't think she could have possibly taken a lover(s) as she was never left unattended! Elizabeth was definitely her grandest achievement and I wish Anne to be remembered for this and not all that other stuff!


  29. Every aspect of Anne fascinates me. I'm regularly amazed as she becomes a more elusive yet more substantial figure. I feel like the hunter in Wyatt's poem -- it's impossible to catch her!
    (I hope it's not too late to comment; it's not midnight here, at least, and it's a beautiful shirt!)

  30. Anne was manipulated by so many people. Unfortunately I think she was "loved" by the wrong man and loved the wrong man. Unfortunately this was not a movie with an alternative ending.
    Cheryl ~ esselmac01@charter.net