Sunday, December 13, 2015

Question from Candace - Anne Boleyn's actual power and responsibility in decisions

How responsible was Anne Boleyn for the break-up of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon's marriage and her subsequent mistreatment and that of Mary Tudor as well? Obviously, there has been a lot said and written on the subject, but I would like to hear a professional historian's perspective on the matter. In particular, what role did she play in the decision to separate Katherine and Mary, and to order Mary to wait on Elizabeth? Was there anything she could have done differently, or did she lack the power to do so?

1 comment:

PhD Historian said...

I am not a specialist on the 1530s, but I very strongly suspect that Boleyn had almost nothing to do with separating Katherine and Mary, or with "ordering" Mary to wait on Elizabeth. These were both matters of court politics and the management of public perceptions, something at which Henry VIII seems to have been quite skilled. Separating Katherine and Mary was actually a reasonably "normal" (in 16th Century terms) course of action. Remember, even Prince Edward was not raised at Henry VIII's own knee, but was instead placed in a separate household. But separating Katherine and Mary was also a useful tactic to prevent any supportive faction from gathering too easily around either woman. It was a policy of separating one's potential enemy (either woman) from her potential ally.

And I would not say that Mary was "ordered" to wait on Elizabeth. Rather, she was placed in Elizabeth's household. Unmarried women required both supervision and something to keep them occupied, at least in the Tudor mind, and service in Elizabeth's household was entirely appropriate. But that placement was also intended to have an effect on public perceptions of Mary relative to the succession. Placing her in a position of service reinforced that she was no longer the first lady in precedence, but was instead "beneath" Elizabeth in status.

I recommend Jeri L McIntosh's "From Heads of Household to Heads of State: The Pre-Accession Households of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor," an excellent study on how each woman's household was increased or decreased or combined in an effort to drive public perception and opinion.