After spending much of her young adulthood in European courts, Anne returned to England in 1521. A few years later, she caught the eye of King Henry VIII.
Henry may have been looking for a new royal mistress to replace Anne’s sister Mary. Anne, however, was seeking the higher prize of marriage
After the long frustrating years pursuing Henry’s divorce from Katherine, ultimately Anne fell pregnant. The couple married in January 1533.
Anne gave birth to the her only child, the future Elizabeth I, on 7th September 1533.
She used her position to elevate clergy who shared her evangelical beliefs, and was surrounded by loyal supporters, including her brother George and the king’s new chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.
Anne always had enemies at court, but her situation changed dramatically when she and Cromwell fell out regarding her involvement in domestic and diplomatic affairs.
In April 1535, Cromwell gathered (likely false) evidence from Mark Smeaton, a court musician, that Anne had committed adultery with a number of men, including her brother George.
With these charges, Cromwell was able to remove Anne and much of her powerful political faction.
Meanwhile, King Henry was already distracted by another young woman at court, Jane Seymour.
Anne’s alleged lovers were executed on 17th May 1536. Two days later, Anne was beheaded at the Tower of London.
The painting shown here is likely based on a contemporary portrait which does not survive. The writing at the top is in Latin, and reads: Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII. Around her neck, Anne is wearing a necklace with the pendant letter ‘B’, for Boleyn.
The 1530s: divorce, reform, martyrs