very quick thingy on Anne Boleyn
In a story inextricably interwoven with sadness and intrigue, the most overriding tragedy of Anne wasn’t in fact her untimely death, but in the way history has subsequently judged her. How it ridiculed her and demonised her, tried to destroy her legacy and downplay her triumphs. Throughout the years we’ve reduced the many facets personality down to merely her family’s puppet, a victim of circumstance or most often, “the great whore”, the “concubine”. Yet, nearly 500 years after her execution, we remain fascinated by the endlessly complexity of her rise and fall from grace, the political change she both co-ordinated and inspired, and of course, Anne as an individual. And perhaps that’s because her’s is a story in many ways still relevant today.
Centuries before the suffragettes were chaining themselves to fences, even before Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ and way, waaay before the 60’s boom of second-wavers and the birth of post-nineties third-wavers, Anne Boleyn embodied so much of, at least in my opinion as a feminist, the ‘strong woman’ archetype held in in equal amounts of reverence and disdain. And hell, did she pay for it. I mean, what else could happen to a woman who was so intellectually, politically and creatively astute, she won the heart of the King of England almost to the point of obsession, virtually masterminded the break from Rome and helped bring about evangelical reform to Britain, all within the space of a decade, other than be completely and utterly vilified by the populace, history, and eventually even her supporters and the man she married and have her head lopped off?? All this, we must bear in mind, in a world where women where largely completely cut off from power and even if they did have some semblance of authority, they were born with it, in which sense Anne is again an anomaly again ahead of her time- a self-made woman; something that was completely unheard of.
And perhaps that always was the key to Anne’s downfall, and they key to why her find such a figure of admiration and inspiration… the circumstances surrounding her arrest and execution are dubious at the very best and (realistically) utterly contrived at the worst, and simply put, Cromwell, or the King, or both, needed her dead because she was simply too much to handle. To clever, too pious, too confident, too ambitious, too loving, too jealous, too hot-headed, too human… because, after all, that’s something women were, and to some extent, are, not allowed to be.
It’s another matter entirely how all her achievements, as a woman, have been written off; the part she played in shaping the spiritual and political landscape of England post-reformation, as a woman, have been written off; how she was decried as a whore and a slut and the devil-incarnate, simply because she was a powerful person, that was, you know, female. All of that is easy to write of as symptomatic of the society in which she existed in, but it begs the question; only recently have revisionist historians really come to grasps with what an influential figure she was, so how much has really changed? How hard it is nowadays for a woman to claw her way to positions of power, how easy is it for the men around them to manipulate them for their own purposes? How often are women dismissed as dangerous, disgusting, perverse and unnatural for having ambition and belief and self-confidence? How common is that a woman’s intelligence is undermined and belittled? How often are women forced to play the card of the sexuality in order to be recognised for anything, then immediately ridiculed and demonised for doing so?
These are all issues Anne faced. And they are ones alive and thriving today. There’s an universal relevance to her story, and that’s why I think Anne is such an important figure, not only in a historical context, but as an hugely inspirational figure on a personal level, to women, and people on the whole, alive today. Of all the women in history, Anne is one of the most real, the most nuanced and complex, the most fascinating and ambiguous, and above all the most human. And whilst we can look up to her intelligence and creativity, her wit and her dignity, many of of us can also identify with her bad-temper, her impatience, her selfishness and her ruthlessness. Anne Boleyn wasn’t a one sided caricature of a woman, these single-faceted quasi-human representations of femininity we are still bombarded with today (the sexy one, the geeky one, the weak one, the strong one), she embodied primarily a staunch and unflinching humanity, and a personality that still reverberates through the ages despite every effort to quell and dirty and devalue her name. It’s credit to her strength, wisdom and terrible, destructive brilliance that we still talk of her today, and I think, if we cannot take inspiration from that, and stand with her today in solidarity against the forces not only working against women, but many unsung people on the whole, then history has not served it’s purpose. ANNA REGINA 5EVA xx