You've likely heard tales of Anne Boleyn, the alluring woman who convinced King Henry VIII of England to give up his wife and child, break from the Catholic Church, and marry her. And she was the mother of one of the most renowned monarchs in British history, Elizabeth I. But there's a lot more to Anne than just her personal affairs, many of which were magnified or inaccurately portrayed by those with a political agenda after her death. So, who was Anne Boleyn really?
The life of Anne Boleyn was anything but boring. Anne was a brilliant, engaging young woman with the best education her family's position at court could provide. She served under many of the royal women in Europe, was known for her wit, and loved all things French. And once she married King Henry VIII, Anne did anything - absolutely anything - to keep her marriage intact. An Anne Boleyn biography might also mention her family's affairs with her husband, her religious fervor, and rumors that her ghost still haunts people. All in all, there are some weird Anne Boleyn facts.
Anne Boleyn's only sister, Mary, was the mistress of Henry VIII before her sister entered the picture. The two sisters worked together for years. Along with Anne, Mary Boleyn once served Henry's sister, Mary, when she was Queen of France. Unlike Anne, Mary may have become the mistress of the new monarch of France, King Francis, who ascended to the throne once Louis XII died. Francis called her "the English mare" and "the royal mule," but some scholars think these names were actually meant for Anne.
But Mary did have relations with her sister's eventual husband, becoming Henry VIII's mistress once she returned to England. She succeeded Bessie Blount, mother of Henry's only acknowledged, legitimate child, in his bed, but their affair didn't last beyond a year or so. And despite The Other Boleyn Girl's embellished claims, Mary's two children were most likely not Henry's, but those of her husband, whom she married around this time.
Mary's past with Henry came back to haunt Anne when the king sought to marry Mistress Boleyn. Technically, by legal standards of the time, trying to marry a woman whose sister he'd seduced was incestuous, so Henry had to seek a papal dispensation. Ironic, considering one of the excuses Henry used to cast off his first wife was that she had been his brother's wife.
Once they got married, Henry didn't remain fascinated with Anne for long, so he began having more affairs. Anne enlisted her own allies to spy on the king, and even become Henry's mistresses, so he wouldn't favor one of her enemies, who might turn Henry against her.
The women Anne convinced to seduce her own husband included one of her cousins, either Margaret or Mary Shelton (daughters of her father's sister). Ultimately, witnessing a relative have an affair with her husband made Anne intensely jealous, and it didn't soften Henry's allegedly terrible treatment of her.
Anne's fiercest opponents spread a rumor that her eventual husband slept with her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire. At least one woman hinted that Henry had sex with three Boleyn women: the mother and her two daughters. A goldsmith's wife also suggested Anne should be burned because Henry had slept with both her and her mother. And according to an account by Catholic priest Nicholas Sander, who hated the pro-Reformation Queen Anne, Henry's second wife was actually his own daughter by Elizabeth Boleyn.
Henry definitely did sleep with both Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, but there's little evidence to suggest he had sex with Elizabeth, as well.
The Spanish ambassador to England reported that Anne plotted against Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife and the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor. When Catherine finally died in January 1536, the ambassador recalled Anne was so happy that she wore yellow, a color of joy, not mourning.
Henry shouted in glee that he was finally free of the threat of war from Catherine's nephew, as the king's marriage to Anne could no longer be challenged by his first wife's family.