Anne of the Thousand Days was a 1969 film about Henry VIII’s 2nd wife Anne Boleyn. The film, adapted from the 1948 Broadway play, starred Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold in the leading roles. It explores Anne’s rise to become Henry’s wife, her marriage and execution, which according to the film, lasted a 1,000 days in all.
The British have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Anne Boleyn. On one hand, she was revered as an intelligent, intellectual, strong woman who championed Protestantism resulting in England being the first European State to break with the Papacy. She was also the mother of England’s first independent sovereign queen, Elizabeth I. On the other hand, our misogynistic past denigrated Anne as an intelligent, intellectual, strong woman who should have had the sense to keep her gob shut and know her place!
Honestly, you just can’t win sometimes, can you?
Young Henry VIII married his older brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, when he became King at the age of 18 and she was 24. Had Henry’s older brother not died, we would have had a King Arthur. Yes, Henry and Arthur’s dad knew exactly what he was doing. And you thought spin doctors were a modern invention! Let me tell you, there is nothing new in this wicked old world!
Henry married Catherine to keep the peace with powerful Spain. They were married for 24 years and had one daughter Mary: known to history as Bloody Mary… because she liked to kill Protestants, not because she liked a drink. To be fair the Protestants were just as keen on killing Catholics. So that sort of evens things up.
During their marriage, Henry always had a roving codpiece… think roving eye but somewhat further down his anatomy.
And what’s wrong with that?
From what I heard, when Prince Charles were a lad, he was banging the ‘Sloane Rangers’ (the posh debutantes from the Royal Boroughs of Chelsea and Kensington) harder than a privy door in a hurricane, and just as often. And then there’s Prince Harry… Talk about a chip off the old block, it’s not for nothing he looked like a young Henry VIII as a lad. He’s even got the same name.
Henry’s roving eye fell on Anne Boleyn…
Talking of misogynistic, no one is really too sure of the year of Anne’s birth… it might have been 1501 or 1507. Funny they knew when the boys were born.
Anne’s older sister, Mary had already been the King’s mistress, having two children by him. According to gossip (and who can say no to gossip?) Mary was brought home from the French court, where both girls were educated, because of her scandalous behaviour: dangerous liaisons with the French King and his nobility. Not done! If a woman wanted affairs in those days, she had to wait until after she was married.
So back to Henry’s roving eye…
In 1526 it fell on the 25 year old, or conversely 19 year old, Anne. (Hell, why should I care, no one else did!) Obviously her parents naturally wanted to do the right thing: pimp her out to the king for their own political benefit.
But Anne was having none of it. As Beyonce once said, ‘If you like it then you better put a ring on it!’ Perhaps it was the challenge that appealed to Henry. He was more used to the song… ‘I’m just a gal who can’t say no!’
The more Henry wanted her. The more Ann dug her heels in. And let me tell you she was playing one hell of a risky game. But one that paid off. Within a year she landed him hook, line and sinker. He proposed. There was only one slight problem. The wife.
Henry sent his best churchmen to the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Not a Divorce! Jesus Christ they were Catholic! Having read his bible where it said thou shalt not marry thy brother’s wife, Henry, who was no dunce himself in the old theology department, pointed out the marriage was cursed by God. That was why he had no male heir.
As luck would have it, the Pope at that time was the prisoner of Catherine’s nephew the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Now let’s face it, if it comes to pissing off someone a thousand miles away or someone holding you prisoner… what are you going to do?
By this time Anne was already taking the queen’s place at Henry’s side, politically if not in his bed, even though the people remained loyal to Catherine. It is claimed by some, mostly those with a vested interested, Anne was devoutly religious and pointed out to Henry the many abuses of the Catholic Church.
To cut a long story short:
Henry wed Anne bigamously; then executed Archbishop Wolsey, who failed to get the annulment. Got the new archbishop to declare his marriage to Catherine annulled. Meaning as he’d never been married, he wasn’t a bigamist. Hurrah! Champagne all round!
So the Pope promptly excommunicated Henry and the new Archbishop. Forcing Henry to make himself the Head of the Church in England, close all the monasteries and take all their wealth for himself and his mates. More hurrahs and double Champagne all round! Except, champagne wasn’t invented then!
What could possibly go wrong?
Well for a start, Anne and Henry’s first child was a girl.
The King weren’t pleased.
He didn’t go through all that for a girl.
Then came Anne’s miscarriages.
Talk about cursed by God!
And the people hated Anne. They called her a whore; more or less to her face whenever she appeared in public.
Honest to goodness, the woman was looking like more trouble than she was worth!
Poor Henry, with no one to turn to!
Well, there was Jane Seymour!
Jane was one of Anne’s ladies in waiting. Just as Anne had been one of Catherine’s ladies in waiting. She had a politically ambitious family, just as Anne…
Talk about déjà vu.
Except now, being Head of the Church in England, Henry had no Pope to complain to he was cursed by God. What could he do?
Well your Majesty, there is always torture.
Anne was charged with adultery with her musician (who confessed) and incest with her brother (who confessed). Incest was not as uncommon as you might think in those days. Anne, on the other hand, who wasn’t tortured, maintained her innocence even though they must have tried to threaten her with torture. These days, historians think Anne innocent of all charges.
The film has it Anne, knowing she was on a loser, cut a deal with Henry for the sake of her daughter, and for a swordsman from France. This is probably a bit of romantic fiction. Regardless, Elizabeth was declared legitimate and Henry sent to France for a swordsman to behead Anne with one blow.
Believe me Anne got off easy, when Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell pissed off Henry, the axe was so blunt it took a full fifteen minutes to cut his head off. Pity the poor bugger who had to stick that lot back together with elastic bands and cellotape so it could be stuck on a spike over Traitor’s Gate!
It is often claimed Henry VIII died of tertiary syphilis. No matter how satisfying it sounds, it’s not true. Syphilis leaves you deranged. Henry was compus mentus to the last. On his deathbed, he signed the Act of Succession leaving the throne to each of his 3 children in turn: first his son, the sickly under-aged Edward VI; then his eldest daughter the fanatically religious Bloody Mary and finally Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth.
And the rest, as they say, is history.