ANNE BOLEYN AND HENRY THE EIGHT: JAY-Z AND BEYONCE OF MODERN HISTORY ...
... with a twist.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
Henry IV. Part 2; William Shakespeare
Or, in this case, you end up with no head if you wear the crown. But before the epic love story of Anne and Henry imploded like a Death Star, thanks to Henry's insanity and Anne's ambition, they were the ultimate iconic duo, equal in all sense.
There have been plenty of poems about the ever-romantic letters (currently in the Vatican Archives) Henry wrote to her, calling himself "your servant," and plenty of both fiction and non-fiction, dedicated to how said love turned into a burning hatred. Still, there are very few documentaries or books that spiral around why they worked so well together as a couple, and how they became the OG Bonnie and Clyde of modern history.
FIRE, MEET FIRE
While Anne died a charming, witty, and fiercely intelligent woman, Henry didn't die a charismatic flirt with passion for music and hunting he was before his jousting accident. Raised by progressive minds such as Cardinal Wolsey, and a lawyer, Sir Thomas More, Henry shared their freewheeling societal views and love for catholicism and a great respect for human life. He even considered himself a humanist. Meaning, he wasn't fond of executions unless they were absolutely necessary. With a respectable Spanish jewel of royalty for a wife, England was prospering during his reign, catching a much-needed break after years of war between the Yorks and the Lancasters. The one personality trait that never changed, however, was his pettiness. He couldn't lead England to achieve the heights of glory he always imagined for himself. That is until he met Anne Boleyn. Coming from a young dynasty with a somewhat questionable claim to the throne, he presented himself as a formidable ruler. This unstoppable force could match or even surmount the French king's vast realm, "his brother."
Henry never let the shackles of pristine, boring English court dictate how a king should act. His cockiness and fiery personality stuck out amongst the priests, repressed men, and quiet wallflowers at his court like a sore thumb. The only person at the English court who stuck out with the stuck-out attitude more than him, was the Queen's lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Newly-returned from the French court, and very much annoyed with England, Anne entertained courtiers day and night, laughed loudly, played cards like a sailor, danced like there was no tomorrow, and could out-hunt any man any day. He finally found someone who understood his passion for life and beautiful things.
There was finally someone who never feared to mouth off to him, but there was also someone to chat with about religion, play Chess and Draughts with, and engage in discussions about ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. Anne received a superior education, ordained by her mother Elizabeth, the sister to the great Duke of Norfolk, and could easily outsmart Henry in any game or political debate. The same eccentricities that he fell in love with made him hater her in the final years of their relationship. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Henry, sometime around 1523-24, at the age of 33, found his zenith-partner- in- crime which he remained enamored with for the next ten years.
ANNE TRIGGERED HIS WORST IMPULSES AND EVOKED HIS BETTER SIDE ALL AT THE SAME TIME
You know how ninety-nine percent of the time, Henry is the villain in our history? Technically, he is, but Anne wasn't exactly Virgin Mary, either.
Not only was she not a virgin when she met him (a fact he must have known unless the archives about his intelligence were all lies), a raging ambition of her own she nurtured throughout her life surpassed her head tenfold. Iconic duos either make each other better people and elevate their happiness by spreading it, or bring out the worst in each other while simultaneously sinking everyone else on board with them. The latter happened to Anne and Henry. While the love for her evoked a hopeless romantic, a natural leader and a fierce ruler in him, it also woke up a monster sleeping soundly like a bear in hibernation. Anne constantly badgered him about how the clerics held more power than him, brought him Luther's scriptures about the secular power dominating over the ecclesiastical one, ultimately convincing him he's a living God on Earth. While Wolsey and More nurtured the importance of humility and modesty, Anne injected his already colossal ego with a thought-thorn of absolute power.
You remember when England was a profoundly religious, catholic-obsessed island? Yeah, no one over the age of five hundred and sixty-eight does.
Many called Henry the Eight the greatest ruler (besides his daughter) to ever preside over the English throne, but rarely anything he did was out of love for England, as much as out of love for himself. He separated himself and the country from the Catholic Church, not so much for the sake of freeing people from the grasp of clerics, not even (not AS MUCH) to get his precious divorce to marry Anne – he did it because he couldn't withstand that there was someone above him, someone who had control over his decisions as king and as a man – the Pope of Rome. Way back in the day, Popes had the power to anoint kings or excommunicate them, which was equal to damn your soul and your kingdom to hell at that time.
So what do you do when you're an egomaniacal narcissist with someone in your ear whispering that you da best?
You send a sixteenth-century equivalent of a drunken text message to your boss to Rome, saying he sucks, and that you quit being his bitch for good.
THEY SHARED THE SAME CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
Not as obvious, especially in the grand scheme of political influences and the game of thrones (pun non-intended), but one of the reasons Henry and Anne worked so well together was because they hung around the same people with the same philosophical and political beliefs. While Henry wasn't fond of his first wife, Katherine's Spanish spies, he grew to love everyone who loved Anne. Henry loved the free-spirited poetry of Thomas Wyatt. He loved to dance to the music of Mark Smeaton (even composed music himself, one of his favorite hobbies as a young king) led long conversations about diplomacy and state matters with the first Earl of Wiltshire. But Anne also introduced him to one of the most brilliant statesmen of all time – Thomas Cromwell. A low-born, son of a blacksmith, Cromwell rose to power due to his close affiliation with the Boleyns who basked the king's favors. Cromwell and Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire, (a title was given to him by Henry), were shining examples of how Henry didn't hold prejudice over people who were not born into wealth and cared about their abilities and qualifications instead. Whoever was of loyal service and a sound, bright mind, could quickly rise up at Henry's court.
If Anne whispered into Henry's right ear, it was Cromwell who whispered in his left. While the opinions of historians vary on whether Henry directly commanded Cromwell to dig up dirt so they could execute her or "just" ordered him to dig up "something" so he could divorce her, Cromwell was instrumental in Anne's downfall. Leading the investigation into her past and her indiscretions, many historians believe that Cromwell sacrificed Anne to save his own neck. After all, Wolsey fell fast and hard after he had failed to grant the king his divorce.
But before all the drama, Cromwell and Anne were co-reformers, fellow Protestants, and close allies. And Henry basked in their love and loyalty.
Basically, squad goals.
THE POWER OF LOVE
Romeo and Juliet, Rose and Jack, Rhett and Scarlett, and countless other romantic duos, as beautiful and heartwarming as they are, are mostly fictional. The power of love also lies in the power of reality.
And the reality was that Henry did fall in love with Anne, and although it took her a while to grow fond of him, she did, too. The steps they took to ensure they could live in their robust little bubble on their Island of Bleak Skies, however selfish and brutal, did change the course of history forever. Whether it was in the events that unfolded during Henry's reign, such as the rise of Protestantism, or the events after his death, such as the Golden Age of Elizabeth's reign brought, there was more to it than the pursuit of absolute power.
"… I beseech you now with all my heart definitely to let me know your whole mind as to the love between us."
Henry the Eight; to Anne Boleyn