Who Was Anne Boleyn?

I am Anne Boleyn!

No, I am Anne Boleyn!

I am Anna Bullen!

I think you’ll find it’s Anne Bollen…

I am Anne, the Queen.

Who was Anne Boleyn? Well, we know that she was a courtier in the English court in the first half of the 1500s. We know she was educated in the courts of Austria and France. We also know that, between the years 1533 and 1536, she was Queen of England. And we know that she was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.

You could assume that, since we know a fair few facts about Anne, it would be easy enough to draw up a timeline of all the things we know and voila! We have Anne Boleyn! But it isn’t quite as simple as that.

To begin with, we don’t know all the pertinent facts. We don’t even know when or where she was born. Since this also applies to her siblings, we don’t really know which of the three Boleyn siblings was the eldest or youngest. We don’t know when it was exactly that Anne first came to the English court. There is her first documented appearance at a masque, but she would have been at court for at least some time before that. When was that? How was she received? We also don’t really know when Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII began. He was openly courting her by 1529 but some historians argue that their courtship began a few years earlier.

Beyond this, though, we don’t know Anne. There is so much documentary evidence that survived from the 1500s but, unfortunately, a well kept personal diary of Anne’s was not among such documents. Henry VIII also demanded a purge of all documents, portraits and any other reminders of Anne when she was executed. We don’t even have one remaining contemporary portrait (the portraits we do have were all painted after her death). As a result, we only really know Anne through the words, and opinions, of others.

This blog is designed to explore as many different versions of Anne that I can find, from historians carefully researched depictions of her, to raunchy historical-romances that barely keep to the few facts we have, and everything in between. Anne was such a divisive figure even in her own time, and that division has only gotten wider across the five hundred years since her death. The variety of Anne’s on show is astounding.

The one thing this blog is not setting out to do is to uncover the ‘real’ Anne Boleyn. That would be an impossible task, one needing a time-machine, truth serum and possibly telepathy. Instead, I want to look at each of the incarnations on their own merits, and see how each of them have every right to say: “I am Anne Boleyn!