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Queens of Infamy: Anne Boleyn

Do either of the Annes do it for you? Or, god forbid, are you a fan of the insufferable Jane Fucking Seymour?

Personally, I’m Team Anne Boleyn. My reasons for this are multifold. As an Anne, I am naturally sympathetic to others of my name. I also can’t help rooting for an underdog, and if being beheaded because your crusty husband wants to marry Jane Fucking Seymour doesn’t make you an underdog, I don’t know what does. Finally, I respect a good hustle, and Anne’s hustle was iconic — my god, how she hustled! Even if you think Anne Boleyn was a king-seducing homewrecker extraordinaire, it’s impossible not to appreciate the sheer audacity of it all. But who was Anne Boleyn, exactly? The mythology surrounding her improbable rise and sensational fall is pretty well-known, yet most of the information we have access to was either written by haters or produced decades after her death (or both). It’s hard to know much about Anne as a person (as opposed to Anne, Destroyer of Marriages and Churches). We’re not even sure what year she was born — 1501 and 1507 are the two most likely candidates, with arguments hinging on a letter Anne wrote to her father in 1514. Historians have endlessly debated what age Anne was when she composed that neat, measured handwriting (in her second language, no less), and while I am absolutely not an expert, I will say that as the mother of a 7-year-old, I feel 97.5% sure that a child of that age did not write that letter. Then again, maybe my low penmanship expectations are the product of my plebeian public-school education.

Anne was writing to her father because her educational circumstances were about to change drastically. Initially, Thomas Boleyn had managed to secure a spot for his young daughter in the Burgundian court in the Netherlands. There, she was educated alongside several royal children, including Charles of Castile, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. It’s unknown how Thomas, a diplomat whose closest personal tie to royalty was his wife, a descendant of Edward I, managed to winkle this incredible opportunity for his daughter; some historians speculate that it may have had to do with a gambling debt owed to him by Margaret of Austria, regent of the court where Anne was staying. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the gift for aggressive upward social mobility was strong in the Boleyn blood.

Even if you think Anne Boleyn was a king-seducing homewrecker extraordinaire, it’s impossible not to appreciate the sheer audacity of it all.


Anne Thériault | Longreads | May 2018 | 23 minutes (5,949 words)

From the notorious to the half-forgotten, Queens of Infamy, a Longreads series by Anne Thériault, focuses on badass world-historical women of centuries past.

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Looking for a Queens of Infamy t-shirt or tote bag? Choose yours here.

Some people believe that the Myers-Briggs questionnaire is the ultimate way to classify personality types. Others think that the Enneagram is the way to go. Even more people set their stock in astrology, hoping that the fixed position of the stars at the time of a person’s birth will explain everything about them. I, however, think that you can tell everything you need to know about someone based on which wife of Henry VIII’s is their favorite. Do you prefer Catherine (or Catherine, or Catherine)? Do either of the Annes do it for you? Or, god forbid, are…

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