Dan Jones

A rather orthodox doxy

‘His cursed concubine.’ That was the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys’ judgment on Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

‘His cursed concubine.’ That was the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys’ judgment on Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

‘His cursed concubine.’ That was the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys’ judgment on Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. And that was mild. The abbot of Whitby called Anne a ‘common stud whore’. The judge Sir John Spelman noted during her trial that ‘there never was such a whore in the realm’. And, of course, Henry VIII beheaded her.

Anne, rather like our own Diana, caught some heavy flak for having a sexy reputation. She was gossiped about as the court bike long before she shacked up with the king, and was convicted by a jury of the greatest nobles in the land (including the Duke of Suffolk, the Marquess of Exeter, and the Earls of Arundel, Oxford, Westmoreland, Derby, Worcester, Rutland, Sussex and Huntingdon) on charges of quintuple adultery while married to him. The most monstrous of the charges was that of incest committed with her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.

To most Tudor historians, the adultery stuff has sounded pretty rum. As G. W. Bernard puts it in this book, they have decided that ‘the very notion that a queen could have committed adultery, and with five men, is so preposterous that it is hardly worth considering’. But Bernard thinks it may have if not the smack of truth then at least the pong of plausibility about it.

Historiographical orthodoxy offers three main arguments about Anne. First, she was a flirty girl-about-court whose pheromones drove Henry bonkers. She knew it, too. Since Henry was unable to distinguish between thinking with his codpiece and his crown, and since Anne refused to put out for six years, queenship became the price for her affections and her childbearing potential.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in