I am not an Anglophile …….. in fact, I probably have something of a bias against things one associates with the English. My attitude is largely because of the time I spent in the the UK as a student in the sixties when discrimination against anyone who was not white was rife in just about evey facet of life including employment, housing and social acceptance. Things have changed today in the UK – admittedly there is still some discrimination though it is not the sort of blatant bigotry that one saw in the sixties.

I have always been somewhat puzzled by the average American’s fascination and admiration of all things British from the accent to the Royal family and various trappings associated with the pageantry that typifies English ceremonies. It is all the more ironical since the British tend to be quite condescending to most things American – of course, the British who emigrate to the US often choose to live here permanently even as they put down Americans and talk longingly about the wonderful life they left behind in the UK!

Given all of the above, my fascination with some facets of British history is a contradiction of sorts. I cannot explain it other than perhaps attributing it to the fact that history was one of my favorite subjects when I was in high school in Kenya at a time when it was still a colony of Britain. The curriculum was very much oriented to British history and the perspective was very much from a British standpoint at a time when they still were very much a colonial power. In high school we were exposed to only a minimal extent to Indian history or the history of any other country for that matter. To the extent that there was exposure to the history of other countries it was because the British were involved in those countries!

My primary interest is in British history during the Tudor era and especially Henry VIII and Elizabeth I – I have minimal interest in today’s royal family and I find it an irritant how Americans seem to revel in things associated with British royalty whether it be the soap opera with Diana and more recently with William and Kate and even the goings on about Pippa – Kate’s sister who has little going for her other than being William’s sister-in-law!

I bring this up because the past few days I have been watching the series “The Tudors” that aired on Showtime a couple of years ago. In years gone by, I have watched related movies or TV programs such as the “The Six Wives of Heny VIII”, “Anne of the Thousand Days” that I first saw in New Delhi in 1971 and the brilliant “A Man for all Seasons” which focused on the life of Thomas More and his ill-fated opposition to Heny VIII’s divorce of Katherine of Aragon. I have also enjoyed the various presentations about Elizabeth I.

I find Henry VIII a fascinating character. He was larger than life, very athletic and lived life to the fullest. He succeeded to the crown at a time when his position had not been consolidated fully and, given the times he lived in, the notion that Britain could be ruled by a woman was something that he could not envisage – and who can blame him. It was a different era and to compare the role of a woman today with what it was in the 16th century is absurd. Of course the irony is that his daughter, Elizabeth I, ended up being one of the great monarchs in British history!

I find the dynamics of that time with the political rivalries between the monarch of Britain, France and Spain fascinating – and the fleeting loyalties that existed when it came to alliances. Then we have the role of the Pope which was almost entirely geared to the repercussions that would result to the papacy if he offended any of the monarchs. Henry’s annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon by the Pope would likely have gone through without a hitch had it not been for the control that Spanish monarch, who was related to Katherine, exercised over the Pope.

The hapless Katherine, loved by the English people, and who loved her husband despite his many infidelities and flaws could not save herself from her fate because she did not produce a male heir and was past child-bearing age. She viewed Henry’s many mistresses as just passing passions which would come and go …… and she was right until it came to Anne Boleyn. Katherine viewed Anne as just another passing fancy that Henry would tire of like he did with numerous other women.

Anne Boleyn is perhaps the most fascinating of Henry’s wives She has been played by several actresses but one of the most memorable is the performance of Genevieve Bujold in that role in “Anne of the Thousand Days”. She won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress and was nominated for an Academy award for Best Actress. My favorite scene in which she appears is the one below. By way of introduction to the scene, Anne has been imprisioned in the Tower of London and is awaiting trial on multiple charges including trumped up charges of infidelity and if found guilty she would be executed. Henry, played by Richard Burton, unexpectedly visits her at the Tower.


Just for the record, the historians do not believe that Henry ever visited Anne after she was imprisioned at the Tower. So there is some dramatic license taken in the scene above intended to show Anne’s feisty nature and her strong personality.

From Wikipedia:

Anne saw an opportunity in Henry’s infatuation and the convenient moral quandary. She determined that she would yield to his embraces only as his acknowledged queen. She began to take her place at his side in policy and in state, but not, at least not just yet, in his bed. Confusing the issue of whether or not Anne and Henry had a sexual relationship, is the fact that there is no doubt that Anne was pregnant with Elizabeth (born on 7 September 1533) when she and Henry hastily and secretly wed in order to be married when Anne was crowned queen in May, 1533, since any child born before she was queen would not be able to succeed to the throne.”

There are a variety of theories advanced as to the reasons why Anne Boleyn fell out of favor with the king varying from her failure to produce a male heir to her feisty personality which held appeal for Henry when he was courting her but was tiresome after he married her and she became queen. Also, she had made enemies at court with her haughty nature which offended some people and they were glad to undermine her.

Again from Wikipedia:

Anne Boleyn presided over a magnificent court. She spent lavish amounts of money on gowns, jewels, head-dresses, ostrich-feather fans, riding equipment, furniture and upholstery, maintaining the ostentatious display required by her status. Numerous palaces were renovated to suit her and Henry’s extravagant tastes.

Anne was blamed for the tyranny of her husband’s government and was referred to by some of her subjects as “The king’s whore” or a “naughty paike [prostitute]”. Public opinion turned further against her following her failure to produce a son. It sank even lower after the executions of her enemies Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.

On the morning of Friday 19 May, Anne Boleyn was executed, She wore a red petticoat under a loose, dark grey gown of damask trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine. Anne climbed the scaffold and made a short speech to the crowd:

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

Henry went on to marry four more times. His third wife, Jane Seymour, died shortly after child-birth when she gave birth to the male heir that Henry had sought. His fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was a total mismatch and the marrrige ended in divorce. His fifth wife, Catherine Howard was executed and his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, outlived him.

Anne Boleyn’s involvement with Henry has evoked the most interest among all of Henry’s wives. It has all the elements of the ultimate drama and brought about the break with the papacy in Rome and the creation of the Church of England. There are numerous books, movies, tv shows and internet links relating to her life and marriage to Henry VIII. One interesting site is The Anne Boleyn Files which offers a variety of resources relating to her life and death. Some of the comments have a decidedly feminist viewpoint as it pertains to Anne’s role as well as Henry’s interaction with her and his wives and mistresses – somewhat incongruous given that they both lived several hundred years ago in a whole different era when the social mores are very different than they are today.

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