Encyclopedia Womannica

Mavericks & Legends: Anne Boleyn

Episode Summary

Anne Boleyn (c. 1500-1536) helped to bring about England’s split from the Catholic Church, became the queen of England and had a daughter who would serve as one of the most famous monarchs of all time. Her opponents accused her of witchcraft and slandered her name and historians continue to debate her real intentions.

Episode Notes

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Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today we’re talking about one of the most controversial figures in English history. Her ascent to and fall from power were extremely dramatic. She helped to bring about England’s split from the Catholic Church, became the queen of England and had a daughter who would serve as one of the most famous monarchs of all time. Her opponents accused her of witchcraft and slandered her name and historians continue to debate her real intentions. Let’s talk about the mysterious Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn was born around the year 1500, in Norfolk, England. Her father was a respected royal attendant, and her mother was the daughter of a powerful Duke. Anne spent her teen years at the French court as a companion for Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, who was married to the French king.

By 1522, Anne was back in England. She wore glamorous French clothing, and caught the attention of many suitors. She caught the eye of King Henry VIII himself. Anne may have first come into contact with King Henry after acting as the lead in a court play in 1526.

At that time, King Henry was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The pair was still unable to produce a male heir to the throne, and Henry was getting desperate.

The story goes that Henry tried to make Anne his mistress, but she refused to sleep with him out of wedlock. That may have served to increase Henry’s infatuation. Yet, divorce wasn’t an option, as Henry was a devout Catholic. Henry attempted to get his first marriage annulled, but the Pope refused Henry’s pleas. 

Anne may have inspired the eventual solution. It was the era of the Protestant Reformation. Anne gave Henry a copy of a book called “Obedience of a Christian Man.” The book’s Protestant author argued that kings were actually the rightful head of the church -- not the Pope. This book greatly influenced Henry, who ignored the Pope’s wishes and divorced Catherine in 1531..

Anne Boleyn married King Henry VIII in January of 1533.

The next year, Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and established his own -- the Church of England. This move caused conflict in the country for the subsequent 2 centuries!

After her marriage, Anne helped gather and support a new royal court that bolstered Henry’s decision to found a new church. Not much is known about Anne’s time as queen, but she may have helped transition monasteries into a new role as educational institutions. She and Henry had a daughter, Elizabeth I, but they struggled to have more children. Henry was starting to doubt the marriage he waited so long for. To make matters worse, the separation of the church fueled foreign enemies and incited domestic opposition. 

In 1536, Anne was charged with adultery and plotting against the king. She was locked in the Tower of London. The King ignored all of Anne’s protests.  She was declared guilty in a biased trial and sentenced to death. She was executed by sword in May of 1536.

Anne was only queen of England for about three years.

After Anne’s death, her opponents continued to slander her. Nearly all images of her were destroyed. Though depictions were created under her daughter’s eventual reign. King Henry went on to marry four more times.

To this day, scholars argue over how Anne should be remembered. Was she the temptress that fractured the country, or the pious woman who helped found the Church of England? Like a lot of the women we’re talking about this month, the true history is likely more complicated than that! She has inspired numerous fictional accounts and her story continues to fascinate people to this day. 

All month, we’re talking about mavericks and legends. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our newsletter, Womannica Weekly.  

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!