Sure, you've heard tales of Anne Boleyn, the alluring woman who convinced King Henry VIII of England to give up his wife and child and break from the Catholic Church to marry her. Oh, and she was the mother of one of the most renowned monarchs in British history. 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. But who was Anne Boleyn really?
The life of Anne Boleyn was anything but boring! In fact, during her lifetime, Anne was a brilliant, engaging young woman with the best education her family's position at court could provide. She served under the most royal ladies in Europe, was a known wit, and loved all things French. And once she married King Henry VIII, Anne did anything - absolutely anything - to keep her marriage intact. Any Anne Boleyn biography might also mention her family's affairs with her husband (more on that later), her religious fervor, and rumors that her ghosts still haunts people today. Keep read to learn more weird Anne Boleyn facts.
Anne's Sister Hit It First... and Had Sex with Two Kings
As you may remember from Philippa Gregory's bestseller-turned-motion picture The Other Boleyn Girl, Anne Boleyn's only sister, Mary, was the mistress of Henry VIII before her sister entered the picture. While that story contained plenty of inaccuracies, this claim was, in fact, correct.
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 "my English mare" and a "great whore," but some scholars think these names were actually meant for Anne and Mary might not have had sex with Francis.
But Mary did definitely 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 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 Catherine had been his brother's wife.
Anne May Have Encouraged Her Cousin to Have Sex with Her Husband
Once they got married, Henry didn't remain fascinated with Anne for long, so he sought sexual healing elsewhere. Anne enlisted her own allies and relatives to spy on the king and be Henry's mistresses so that he wouldn't favor one of her enemies, who might turn Henry against her.
The ladies 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 didn't really soften Henry up much.
Rumor Has It Her Mother Also Slept with Henry VIII
Anne's fiercest opponents spread a rumor that her eventual husband slept with her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire. The Catholic confessor of the future Queen Mary I, who hated Anne for displacing her mother (and eventually her country's faith), hinted that Henry had had sex with three Boleyn women: the mother and her two daughters. A goldsmith's wife also suggested that Anne should be burned because Henry had slept with both her and her mother.
Henry definitely did sleep with both Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, but there's little evidence to suggest he ravished Elizabeth, as well. According to an account by a Catholic priest, Nicholas Sander, who hated the pro-Reformation Queen Anne, Henry's second wife was actually his own daughter by Elizabeth Boleyn! That claim was definitely as false as could be.
She Literally Danced on Her Rival's Grave
The Spanish ambassador to England admittedly hated Anne with a passion, instead supporting Henry's first wife, the aunt of the Spanish king-cum-Holy Roman Emperor. He reported that Anne plotted against Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, and her daughter. 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 they were finally free of the threat of war from Catherine's nephew. The day after Catherine's death, the happy family - mother, father, and their daughter, Elizabeth - paraded to church, the legitimate royal clan of England.