Anne Boleyn used flirtation, fertility, and faith to seduce Henry VIII

Wooing the king of England away from his first wife, Anne Boleyn's tactics forever transformed Christianity in England but cost her life.

Anne Boleyn in an idealized portrait made after her death.
Photograph by ART ARCHIVE

As Anne Boleyn knelt before the king, he draped a crimson velvet cloak around her and placed a gold crown on her head; he also gave her a thousand pounds a year “for the maintenance of her dignity.” On September 1, 1532, Henry VIII had taken an unprecedented step: He had elevated a woman into England’s hereditary nobility. It was both a gift of love and compensation for enduring years of frustration while Henry tried to put an end to his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. (Henry VIII's first wife was daughter of this powerful Spanish queen.)

The couple spent Christmas together at Greenwich Palace. Here they enjoyed such a splendid banquet that temporary kitchens had to be set up in the gardens. Not long after, Anne realized she was pregnant, tipped off in part by food cravings. Since they didn’t want the child to be born out of wedlock, and even though Henry was still married to Catherine in the eyes of the Catholic Church, a chaplain wed them secretly in January of 1533. Who was this woman who had so captivated the English king?

Born in 1501, Anne Boleyn had excellent training, serving as a lady-in-waiting to a French queen. In addition to courtly savoir faire and cultural refinement, she gained worldy sophistication at the courts of France. In 1533 Francis, the French king, told the Duke of Norfolk, in confidence, “how little virtuously Anne had always lived.” Henry VIII himself confessed to the Spanish ambassador, in 1536, that his wife had been “corrupted” in France and that he hadn’t discovered this until after they were married.

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