Weird History
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18 Facts About The Dramatic Life Of Anne Boleyn

Updated May 21, 2021 2.1m views18 items

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.

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  • Anne Was The First Cousin Of The Other Wife Henry Killed

    Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Henry VIII killed two of his six wives: his second and fifth spouses, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, respectively. But Anne and Catherine had more than just a husband in common; they were first cousins.

    Anne's mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, was the daughter of Thomas Howard, second Duke of Norfolk. From two marriages, the duke had many children, including Elizabeth and her brother Edmund, who fathered Catherine Howard; thus, Anne and Catherine were closely related, although the former was about 23 years older than the latter.

    Both Anne and Catherine were placed directly in Henry's path by their uncle, a cunning politician and the third Duke of Norfolk, also named Thomas Howard. Eager to ally himself with the monarchy even further, the younger Howard also married his own daughter to Henry's illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. 

  • Anne Was Educated In The Greatest Courts Of Europe

    Photo: Bernard van Orley/David Monniaux / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Because of her family connections, especially her father's diplomatic skills in Europe, Anne grew up at the greatest courts on the continent. In 1513, she served Margaret of Austria, who governed the Low Countries for her deceased brother, Philip. Anne learned diplomatic savvy at Margaret's knee.

    The next year, Anne went on to serve her future sister-in-law, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, wife of Louis XII. While there, she became a lifelong Francophile, which was helpful when Anne stayed in France after Louis XII's death to attend the next queen, Claude.

    The new king of France, Francis I, was a licentious man and Henry VIII's lifelong rival. But Francis's sister, Marguerite of Angoulême, was one of the most brilliant women of her age, one whom Anne greatly admired. Herself an author, she patronized great writers and thinkers, and Anne once told a French ambassador that, next to giving birth to a son, her greatest desire was to see Marguerite again.

  • Anne Was Forced To Give Up Her Alleged True Love

    Photo: Hans Bernhard / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Anne always aimed high when it came to marriage. In the 1520s, she got engaged to Henry Percy, heir to the earldom of Northumberland. Although she was just the daughter of a minor official at the time, Anne boasted important connections. She and Percy pledged themselves in front of witnesses, which was a near-legal bond in those days.

    But Percy was already betrothed, and King Henry's most powerful advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, discovered the young lovers' affair. He put an end to Anne and Percy's budding romance - possibly at the direction of King Henry, who may have already had his sights set on Anne. Anne seemingly never forgave Wolsey for denying her a chance at happiness, and her liaison with Percy came to haunt her in the days when she was cast down herself.

  • She Once Worked For Her Future Sister-In-Law

    Photo: Jan Gossaert / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Anne grew up in the various courts of Europe, serving some of the most royal ladies on the continent - including her own future sister-in-law. Henry's sister, Mary Tudor, was Queen of France for a short time, and her attendants included the Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, daughters of the English ambassador to the Netherlands. Of course, no one knew at that time that Anne would go on to marry Mary Tudor's brother.

    After Mary's husband, King Louis XII, died, Anne stayed on in France to serve the wife of his successor, Francis I. A charming woman, Anne was a skilled French speaker and a true Francophile, a fascination that lasted the rest of her life.