Anne Boleyn was born between 1500 and 1509. She spent several years in France, mostly attending on Queen Claude of France, and returned to England around 1521. She went to the English court and began attending on Queen Catherine. She was noticed by the King at some point, who presumably wanted her as a mistress. However, Anne refused, and Henry became consumed with annulling his current marriage to Catherine so that he would be free to marry Anne and produce heirs. When this began to get dragged out and it became clear the Pope would not grant Henry's wishes, England's break away from the Catholic Church began. Anne and Henry were, of course, eventually married and she was crowned Queen of England, although she was not a popular Queen. Memories of Queen Catherine were still too fresh in the public's mine, and she received blame for many things out of her control (such as the actions of the government). She gave Henry one daughter, Elizabeth, but miscarried her successive pregnancies, and Henry began to look elsewhere to secure an heir. Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to the King and no friend of Anne, is widely believed to have engineered her downfall. She was arrested on charges of treason, and accused of adultery and incest. Five men, including her brother with whom she was accused of an incestous affair, were also arrested and sentenced to death. If they were guilty, it only followed that Anne would also be found guilty. She was beheaded in 1536, just three years after being crowned.
I'm no historian, and it would take me a long time to compile a good concise and factual account of Anne Boleyn that hasn't just regurgitated from elsewhere. So, have some links that are worth reading if you're at all interested in Anne:
- The Anne Boleyn Files
- Anne Boleyn @ Tudorhistory.org
I'm also very fond of Hilary Mantel's books, especially her series focusing on Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies). While they are historical fiction, Mantel herself is incredibly knowledgable about that time in history, and has written an interesting account of Anne Boleyn over at the Guardian: Hilary Mantel on Anne Boleyn. Whether or not you personally agree with everything she says, it's still worth a read.
I've always been interested in Henry VIII and his reign, and the lasting effects it had on England. I was always particularly interested in his wives and the kind of lives they led in the sixteenth century, especially Anne Boleyn. She is probably the most infamous of his wives and she still inspires debates and arguments nearly 500 years after her death. There is so much we don't know about Anne, but we do know that she was a complex and intelligent woman who could also be calculating and ruthless. She rose from being a gentleman's daughter to the Queen of England, and her spectacular rise was only outdone by her quick downfall and subsequent death by beheading.