Romance and Real Estate
Anne Boleyn gives Henry VIII a crowbar. And she finally gives him something else he has pursued for seven years.
Let’s go back to the role of sex in harnessing the hurricanes of history.
In 1527, Henry VIII showered Anne Boleyn with jewels. And she, in return gave Henry a gift that would change the course of British history.
But this gift did not consist of diamonds or gold. Instead, Anne introduced Henry to the work of a heretic. The Catholic church had kept the Holy Scriptures hidden in an obscure language—Latin. But Anne told Henry about a Bible translated into, of all things, English. Yes, plain, simple English. Which meant that Henry no longer needed his bishops and his pope to tell him the word of God. He could read that word of God for himself.
The forbidden Bible had been translated by William Tyndale, a wanted man who would later be strangled, then burned at the stake for this sin. In 1557 you forfeited your property for merely possessing an English translation of the Bible. Much less for being the translator.
And, in 1529, two years after Anne made Henry aware of the forbidden English Bible, she introduced the king to something even more subversive, another of Tyndale’s works, “The Obedience of the Christian Man and How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern.” In fact, Anne did more than just hand over the new book. She pointed out a few stunning passages. Passages explaining that according to the Bible, “a ruler is accountable to God alone and that the Church should not control a monarch.”
As Hayley Nolan explains it, “Tyndale’s book” prompted “Henry VIII to have an epiphany: as king of England , he was answerable to no man on earth. No , not even the pope. Only God.” But that would be true if, and only if, Henry pried England out of the Catholic church. With the English translation of the Bible, Tyndale, and Martin Luther as his crowbars.
Oh, and if Henry broke out of the shackles of the Roman church there would be three additional bonuses:
- Henry would not need the permission of the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
- He could marry and have sex with the woman he loved and who loved him, a woman who, during six years of courtship, had refused to yield her body to him.
- And, finally, up to a third of the land of England belonged to the Church. It was being used for buildings, farms, and gardens that housed nuns and monks. If Henry yanked England out of the church, he could take possession of a fortune in real estate.
Yes, Henry’s way out of his marriage might be to ditch the pope and do his own version of what the Lutherans were doing in Northern Europe—establish a new church. With himself at its head.
With the gift of Tyndale’s words, Anne moved a giant step toward really holding Henry’s crown in her hand, a step toward allowing her to change the belief system of the entire English nation.
Says Hayley Nolan, during their seven years of courtship, “it’s clear that” Anne and Henry “bonded over their shared goal of fighting for the country’s independence from Rome, and would often have felt that it was ‘ us against the world .’” A battle of us against the world that would last until Anne was 32 years old, Henry was 42, and Henry could undo the bonds of the church in Rome and establish a church of his own. A battle of this kind can hold two people together with an intensity that normal matings simply do not possess. It’s what sociologist Norbert Elias calls “functional bonding”—bonding over a common project. And bonding by facing common obstacles. What would that bond produce?
Seemingly nothing. But thanks to sex, something remarkable.
In 1529, Anne Boleyn was growing impatient. According to Eustace Chapuys, the envoy of the Holy Roman Empire to Henry’s court, Anne complained to Henry, “I see that some fine morning…you will cast me off. I have been waiting long, and might in the meanwhile have contracted some advantageous marriage, out of which I might have had issue, which is the greatest consolation in this world; but alas! farewell to my time and youth spent to no purpose at all.” Two years later, a very two long years, in 1531, Henry finally rid himself of his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and began the process of elevating Anne to the level of queen. In a Windsor Castle ceremony where Anne wore so many jewels that you could barely see her ermine collar and crimson velvet, Henry made Anne Duchess of Pembroke. But the two were still going through the elaborate social obstacle course that finally allowed one in those days to have sex. And to obtain sex’s product children. Legitimate children. Children with the right to inherit.
Henry was performing yet another delicate dance. But this one was geopolitical. For a quarter of his reign, Henry was at war with France. But now he needed France’s support to switch wives. Remember, Catherine of Aragon, the woman he worked so strenuously to throw away, was the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor. France’s rival for power. If Henry planned a move that would offend the Holy Roman Empire, he would need an alliance with another superpower. And that superpower was France.
Anne had spent seven years at the French court. Says author Olivia Longueville, she “was probably more French than English.” She knew France’s power players well. So Henry planned to take Anne to France to get the approval of his new queen from France’s king. Henry apparently wanted to give Anne additional standing and to guarantee that any children of their mating would have respect, money, and royal heft. Meanwhile, Henry gave Anne the privilege of holding court as queen.
In 1532, he and Anne—who were still not married—sailed to Calais for a week, including four days with the French king, who greeted the pair with a display of regal splendor that included bull baiting, bear baiting, wrestling, elaborate dinner parties and dances. In other words, the king of France approved of the couple’s engagement. And finally, Anne and Henry had sex. Out of wedlock. But just a few weeks before their wedding. Yes, finally.
Then came two weddings, one in secret, and one in public. And Anne became pregnant with what Henry hoped would be a son. In September of 1533, Anne’s baby was born. To Henry’s regret, Anne Boleyn had given him exactly what he’d gotten from Cathryn, a daughter. In fact, Henry’s regret was so keen that he had Anne beheaded in 1536 so he could try again with a younger wife. Little did he realize that he had planted two unique seeds, two daughters, each of whom would make history. Each of whom would harvest and be harvested by history’s hurricanes.
Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon—Mary–would break the bounds of possibility. She would be the first woman to rule all of England. A stunning achievement.
Like her mother, Mary would be a staunch Catholic. And her efforts to eradicate Henry’s Protestant legacy and to return England to the Pope would earn her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” But Mary would die at the age of 42 during an influenza epidemic. And she would be succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth.
Under Queen Elizabeth, England would flourish in whole new ways, giving us, among other things, the plays of William Shakespeare. Yes, under Elizabeth, England would experience what historians called its “golden age.” Who were Elizabeth’s parents? Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
Henry believed that a woman could not rule England. The experiment had been tried almost 400 years earlier in 1139, and it had failed. In fact, it had led to a period called The Anarchy. Mary would prove Henry wrong. She would rule England for five years. But Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, had raised her as a Catholic, and Catholicism was the historical hurricane that Queen Mary would choose to ride. In the process, Mary would put over 300 Protestants to death.
But as Abraham Lincoln would say three centuries later, “public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.” The current of British public sentiment was against Mary. More important, it was against Catholicism. If the public had loved the pope, every death of a Protestant would have been cheered. Instead, every execution produced a martyr. A person whose blood fueled a cause. The cause of Protestantism. Then Mary succumbed to illness after only five years on the throne.
She was succeeded by another impossibility, another woman, her half-sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth, whose mother, Anne Boleyn, had raised her a Protestant.
Remember, sex does not use you to merely reproduce. Your kids do not come out exactly like you. Far from it. Sex does not carbon copy you. And it doesn’t use you to make kids who are identical to each other. Far from it. Sex uses your co-mingling with your mate to make oddballs, to make one of a kinds. To make individuals who are utterly unique. The upheavals of romance twist together strings of genes that have never been twisted together before.
What sort of unique mix and match had the chromosome dance of sex created when Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn finally mated? Their daughter, Elizabeth was intellectually gifted. She was given the same education as a young prince, and that education took. She had a command of seven languages. She was also good at music. Which may be why she was good at sensing the rhythms and melodies of public sentiment. A necessity in a political leader able to stay on the throne for 45 years. And able to ride the tides of conflict so well that she produced peace.
Under Elizabeth, England would defeat the Spanish Armada, expand its naval activity to the new world, and would produce the scientific thinking of Francis Bacon.
Put a one of a kind person into a one of a kind circumstance and you can move the evolution of humanity up a step. To his dismay, Henry had no sons. All he had were two daughters. But those daughters vastly exceeded his expectations. Each was a unique individual. And each was a powerful rider on a different hurricane of history. Thanks to the power of romance, sex and genes.
Hayley Nolan, Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies, Amazon Publishing, 2019.
David G Newcombe,Henry VIII and the English Reformation, Routledge; 2002.
Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII, Cambridge University Press, 1991 p. 117.
The Divorce of Katharine of Aragon, The Edinburgh Review, July, 1879, p. 267.