Saturday, December 13, 2008

Question from Miranda - Contemporary belief of Anne's guilt or innocence

Nowadays people don't buy that Anne Boleyn commited adultery and incest with all those men. In hindsight we can see that she was really executed for political reasons. Did the general public believe it to be true at the time?


Elizabeth M. said...

By and large, the general populace was none too fond of Anne Boleyn, whom many believed was a "goggle-eyed whore" who had usurped the rightful place of the much-loved queen, Katherine of Aragon. However, I don't think many were thrilled with their King's behavior of clapping one wife in the Tower under sentence of death while openly wooing her replacement, Jane Seymour, and then marrying her when Anne was not even cold in her grave.
In short, many probably were glad to see Anne gone out of anger for the wrongs perpetrated on Queen Katherine, but many were probably suspicious of Anne's condemnation upon witnessing the cavalier attitude of their King towards it.

Elizabeth M. said...

Also, those who supported religious reform were firmly of the belief in Anne's innocence, while those of the Catholic faith believed her guilty of almost any monstrous evil, from being a witch with six fingers to a whore bent on destroying the King, Katherine, and Mary for her own aims, to a she-devil who gave birth to a lump of formless flesh.
Anne had her agenda, it is true, but for all her wild threats about Katherine and Mary, made when she felt her position and that of her infant daughter were in danger, I don't think she would ever have been so stupid as to really do anything to hurt them. She would not have dared, risking the wrath of not only Henry her husband and the loyal supporters of Katherine and Mary, but the might of the Holy Roman Empire, as well.
Anne was a lightening rod of controversy, for her religious beliefs, her extreme intelligence and willful nature, and her willingness to get what she wanted, namely becoming the wife of the King. You either loved her or hated her, which is what I think makes her so fascinating.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting question about what the general populace thought.

Did anybody care? Was there the need for propaganda like today? I would imagine that the general public was completely left out of all the political intrigues, probably didn't know what people like Cromwell really did or even what they looked like.

If so, how did you influence the common people in those days? Other than riding around in great processions.

Foose said...

One of the disappointing things about the records of Anne's fall is that there are few of the pungent "man in the street" comments that characterized her rise. For years, we are able to enjoy reports of what some ordinary people thought about her - "naughty pake," "common stewed whore," "a churl's daughter," "goggle-eyed whore," a "harlot of her living," etc. This was going strong through 1535 and then the reports - or maybe just the government's prosecution of the offenders - abruptly drop off. There's no recorded remarks by the usual suspects - drunks, midwives, servants, intemperate clergymen, etc. -- during or after her imprisonment, condemnation and execution.

What we do have are some opinions voiced by a very narrow segment of the society.

On the day of Anne's execution, Chapuys says: "The joy shown by this people every day not only at the ruin of the Concubine but at the hope of the Princess' restoration, is inconceivable...

"Although everybody rejoices at the execution of the putain, there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others, and people speak variously of the King."

But who are "this people" and "everybody"? Possibly he's representing the true state of street opinion, but it could be he's referring to those courtiers who disliked Anne Boleyn and deliberately sought him out to manifest their pleasure at her fall.

The day after her execution, when word about Jane Seymour was being more generally circulated, he wrote:

"The King means it to be kept secret till Whitsuntide; but everybody begins already to murmur by suspicion, and several affirm that long before the death of the other there was some arrangement which sounds ill in the ears of the people; who will certainly be displeased at what has been told me, if it be true."

This sounds more like he's referring to the ordinary people; courtiers usually are pleased by whatever the king is pleased by, especially after such an epic bloodbath. But we don't know what Chapuys' sources were; he couldn't speak English, but he may have employed English speakers who reported back to him.

Extant letters by English people at the time are cautious, and have a certain whiff of self-censorship, as if the writers were aware that their correspondence might be opened or end up as evidence in their own trial.

Edmund Harvel wrote to Thomas Starkey on May 26:

"The news of the Queen's case made a great tragedy which was celebrated by all men's voices with admiration and great infamy to that woman to have betrayed that noble prince after such ma[nner], who had exalted her so high and put himself to peril, not without perturbation of all the world, for her cause. God showed himself a rightful judge to discover such high treason and iniquity. But all is for the best ..."

And John Husee, servant to the Lisles, wrote on May 13, when Anne was in the Tower:

"Madam, I think verily, if all the books and chronicles were totally revolved, and to the uttermost persecuted and tried, which against women hath been penned, contrived, and written since Adam and Eve, those same were, I think, verily nothing in comparison of that which hath been done and committed by Anne the Queen; which, though I presume be not althing as it is now rumoured, yet that which hath been by her confessed, and other offenders with her by her own alluring, procurement, and instigation, is so abominable and detestable that I am ashamed that any good woman should give ear thereunto. I pray God give her grace to repent while she now liveth. I think not the contrary but she and all they shall suffer."

Anonymous said...

Just an idea...

Maybe the 'man in the street' was a bit more circumspect in his/her opinion about Anne due to the circumstances of the trumped-up charges? If there goes Anne, Queen of England, perhaps there goes Mack Carpenter or Maggie Goldring, albeit in a more brutal fashion.