In Florence King’s novel When Sisterhood Was In Flower, the heroine makes a living writing novels for an outfit called Moth and Flame Regency Romances, and while the setting of Moth To The Flame predates the Regency by several centuries, its Anne seems to be continually struggling to figure out whether she’s a intelligent, calculating court player or a naive heroine befuddled by the corruption around her and completely incapable of predicting the results of a single one her own or anyone else’s actions. It’s as if the author is afraid we won’t sympathize with her enough and so keeps jerking Anne back onto the steep and thorny way to heaven every time it looks like she’s going to do something really interesting. The resulting novel ends up with several split personalities, all of them sadly underdeveloped.
Anne Boleyn, like almost everyone else at the English court, had a large and not invariably friendly web of relatives, many of whom necessarily make regular appearances in the novels written about her. Although early portrayals tended to be relatively economical with their casts and often gave Anne only one sibling (George) and usually eliminated her parents altogether, by the time Boleyn novels were regularly rolling off the presses in the twentieth century, the standard cast had become much larger and would usually include, at a bare minimum, her parents, both of her siblings along with their spouses, her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, her cousin Madge Shelton and her aunt Lady Shelton. Thanks to Agnes Strickland, she was also given an imaginary and no doubt unwelcome connection to Jane Seymour, who sometimes is described as Anne’s cousin although she was nothing of the sort. It was also due to Agnes Strickland that two of the most enduring fictional members of Anne’s family were created: her stepmother, and Simonette the governess. Novelists can hardly be blamed for treating these characters as real when they had been assured by a historian that they existed, and some of the depictions of these last two have been so good that I can’t in conscience wish Strickland had never made the errors which led to their shadowy existence. However, these two are not the only imaginary relatives with which Anne has been provided over the years — she has been the recipient of invented siblings, aunts, nieces, nephews, and in a few alternative universes, invented children. Who were (or weren’t) they?
This book features one of the strangest Anne Boleyns I have ever seen in fiction — there have been villainous Annes before, and even a few blonde Annes, but never before have I seen Anne depicted as a blonde, blue-eyed villain who spends a large portion of the story roaming the English countryside in order to capture and lock up another woman so that Henry VIII can have his way with the latter. I’m pretty sure that even by the standards of the sixteenth century, locking someone up in order to force them into sex was considered at least moderately sketchy behavior. Why, you ask, does she do this? Because she’s jealous. Henry has taken a fancy to the other girl, whose name is Laura Ford, and Anne thinks that the best way to extinguish this is to actually make her available as his mistress — once he’s slept with Laura, Anne’s reasoning goes, his interest will burn out pretty quickly and he’ll return to Anne, who at the moment is busy keeping him on a string while she attempts to persuade him into giving her a crown.
This isn’t the first book to tell the story of an Anne Boleyn who managed to live past May 19 1536, but I’m willing to bet that it’s the most unashamedly melodramatic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re in the mood for a few hours of wish-fulfilling escapism, it’s hard to do better than a story in which Anne is saved from death at the last minute due to the sudden discovery that she’s pregnant, survives both the birth of her son and an attempt to have her executed again, moves to Venice under an assumed name, saves the King of France from assassination and then marries him (take that, Eleanor of Aquitaine!) and then, her heart grown hard by the suffering she’s been forced to endure, decides to take cold, lingering revenge on the enemies who put her in the Tower in the first place — namely, the Duke of Suffolk, Thomas Cromwell (here at his most Svengali-like; Henry VIII seems unable to think more than about twelve hours into the future without Cromwell’s assistance) and, inevitably, poor Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. And, as all melodramas should, it ends on a cliffhanger — not only has she started a campaign of mental torture in which Lady Rochford is getting letters written in her dead husband’s hand and Cromwell is being besieged with anonymous pamphlets detailing his crimes against the presumed-dead former queen, but Anne herself is now directly in the crosshairs of Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, the now cast-off mistress of the French King who severely resents this mysterious interloper for coming between them. Oh, and Jane Seymour’s son is born severely handicapped, and Anne is now pregnant with a potential heir to the French throne. Personally, I cannot wait to see what insanity unfolds in Volume II.
The novelization of the 1969 movie which was based on the 1948 play, so yes, the book of the movie of the play. If you’ve seen the movie, the books adheres to it very faithfully; the main differences lie only in that it contains a couple of extra scenes, mostly centered around Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, and of course has the obligatory The Book Of The Movie eight-page photo spread. Basically, this is the 1970s version of an extended edition DVD release, without the benefit of actually seeing the scenes acted out but with the benefit of not being distracted by the British Invasion hairstyles being worn by most of the 16th century courtiers. (Come on, costume designers — French hoods still look nice even with veils attached, they weren’t just fancy headbands). Anyway, if you’re familiar with the play, much of this is taken straight from the script although the poetry is somewhat reduced and a number of scenes are added which feature Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, neither of whom were portrayed in the stage play.
As in the play, both the book and the movie open with a gloomy Henry contemplating the signing of Anne’s death warrant, as a cadaverously creepy Cromwell urges him on. We then flash back to his first sight of her at court, where the middle-aged, ill Catherine watches helplessly from her throne as Henry becomes increasingly intrigued by this Frenchified young woman who just so happens to be the sister of Henry’s pregnant mistress. Anne, however, is enamored of the clumsy, unlikely yet somehow charming Henry Percy and insists that she’s not going to give the king the time of day, even when her parents insist that she should. After all, she protests, Henry made Mary his mistress, he should think of her and their impending child even if he’s not going to be bothered with his wife any more. And it’s while speaking to Mary that Anne receives the advice which will be key to the story.
This comic short story was published in the Roswell Daily Record (yes, that Roswell) on December 29, 1904. It’s marked as “Original” but since papers weren’t always 100% truthful about recycling content from other source I’ve put it down as circa 1904 just to be cautious. I admit to having difficulty identifying just what book of British history the old farmer is supposed to have read; a lot of it, the yellow dress detail especially, sounds like Agnes Strickland, but she and her sister focused on the queens of England, and their take on Henry VIII was not notably sympathetic. So if you’d like to see out the old year with the same entertainment as the readers of Roswell 111 years ago, read on!
A PREJUDICED VIEW
One night while traveling in the country I stopped at a farmhouse. I could see plainly that the farmer’s wife was not a person to be lived with on amiable terms. After she had gone to bed the farmer and I sat together chatting about the dull winters in the country and the want of means of amusement, especially for the older people. I asked him if he liked to read.
“Waal, stranger,” he said, “I reckon I do like to read ef I kin git the books. For a long time I had nothin’ but Shakespeare and the Bible. But last winter I got a historical book about them kings and queens of England. I was interested in one of ’em, a king called Henry VIII. That king was the only man I ever read or heered about that got ahead of six wimmen, all his wives, and didn’t hev to kill more’n two of ’em neither.”
“He was a monster,” I protested.
“Waal, now, stranger, I hain’t so sartin about that. I don’t know that he was quite excusable in the matter of his first wife, the Spanish woman; but, ye see, a man to git ahead of six wimmen has got to be mighty sharp. If I remember right, Henry hed married his brother’s widder, which is contrary to Scripture, and after livin’ with her twenty years his conscience troubled him. It may be that he hadn’t orter married her in the first place, but it makes a good deal of difference whether a woman’s young and amiable or old and spiteful. No, I think, under the circumstances, Henry was excusable for gittin’ a tender conscience at the right time. Most people’s consciences prick ’em at the wrong time. Henry’s come in remarkable handy.”
“You surely don’t approve of his beheading Anne Boleyn, his second wife?”
“Waal, now, I hain’t so sartin about that neither. Henry’s conscience was a very tender one and, as a I said before, always pricked him at a convenient time. When his first wife died, he wanted to show her every mark of respec’ and ordered his court to put on black. Anne Boleyn showed what kind of a woman she was when she ordered her wimmen to wear yaller. That made Henry mad. It was a convenient time to be mad. He was gittin’ ready for his next wife. I reckon ef he hadn’t been king and wise as a sarpint besides he’d never ‘a done what he did with the hull six on ’em.”
“His third wife,” I remarked. “Jane Seymour was, I believe, the only one of the six who died a natural death while married to him. The next, Anne of Cleves, he divorced.”
“The Cleves woman was the only sensible one o’ the lot, the only one that come any ways near gittin’ even with the king. When he said, “You git,” she was very much pleased to go. This wounded the king sorely. A man don’t like to be taken at his word by a woman, no matter how onruly she is.”
“What do you think of the case of Katherine Howard?”
“Lemme see. What did she do? There’s so many of ’em I forgit.”
“As a mere child she had been led into several indiscretions, including a sort of marriage with a low bred fellow who afterward turned pirate. As soon as she married the king all these who had led her astray –”
“I remember now. They all turned office seekers, and the queen had to give ’em situations or they’d blow on her. Waal, now, I don’t see how Henry could ‘a done any different. He wouldn’t believe nothin’ ag’in her till the hull thing was out. Katherine was one o’ them middle-o’-the’-road wimmin. She might ‘a lived ef she’d only given in. She wouldn’t own up to her first marriage. The king couldn’t git a ‘nulment of his marriage on any other ground, so he had to chop her head off. She done that: Henry didn’t. You see, stranger, there’s a peculiarity about wimmin that it requires jist such a man as Henry to handle. They never give in. Katherine preferred to lose her head, and in doin’ so she showed a woman’s natur’.
“There’s another point in Henry’s favor. He had two gals to leave the crown to and only one boy, an’ he a weakling. Henry had a nateral insight into wimmen’s onfitness to run things, and, having a tender conscience, it grieved him to think o’ leavin’ his people to suffer under ’em. And it turned out he was right. His first darter was `Bloody Mary’, whose name speaks for her. Then comes Elizabeth, who cut off the heads of the men she loved, and loved her cousin, Mary, queen o’Scots, so well that she cut her head off too.
“No, stranger; in summin’ up the married life o’ Henry VIII I consider that he was a remarkable man and a very conscientious one. He done all he could to keep England from bein’ pestered with wimmen rulers, and for that alone he orter be honored by his grateful countrymen. Six of ’em! What would you and I do with such a lot, restricted by law as we air? Henry VIII was a great and good man.”
The farmer’s arguments set me to thinking. Of late years we have had lives of Aaron Burr, setting forth his virtues, and of Benedict Arnold, showing how bad treatment and inexorable fate compelled him to betray his country. I confess the farmer’s logic impressed me as favorably as many lives I have read of the world’s prominent sinners.
The farmer having no more of King Henry’s queens to discuss except the last, who survived her husband, and, as the farmer expressed it, “didn’t count,” he showed me to my room. I overheard a curtain lecture he received from his wife, which somewhat diminished my respect for her opinion of women in general and the unbiased character his excuses for the great British royal Bluebeard.
— F. A. MITCHEL
This unsigned short story appeared on page 6 of the Newport [WA] Miner on July 11, 1912, nestled between several columns of jokes and comedic sketches on one side and a comic poem and “Snapshots At Celebrities” on the other. (The celebrities in question were “Douglas Robinson, Executive Of The Astor Estate” and “The New Papal Delegate, Archbishop Giovanni Bonzano” — sic transit gloria celebrity). Whether the story was actually written for this specific paper is doubtful — the surrounding articles and “Humorous Quips” are mostly sourced to a variety of other publications and it’s very likely that this story originally came from somewhere else as well, and was either officially purchased or unofficially swiped and repackaged for its entertainment page by the Miner. Some stories could circulate through different newspapers for years, which is why 1912 is only an approximate date for this one. However, I can’t help but wonder if this was in fact a new story, possibly inspired by The Favor Of Kings, which was copyrighted in April of 1912. (Reginald Drew’s lushly unhistoric Anne Boleyn, which would seem like a natural foundation for a romantic ghost story, wasn’t copyrighted until December of 1912).
It’s a fairly typical short ghost story of the time; however, readers who attended slumber parties as children and heard the usual round of urban legends and spook tales will appreciate the fact that the protagonist wears a black velvet ribbon around her neck. Enjoy!
THE GHOST OF ANNE BOLEYN: WHAT A TRAVELER BEHELD AT THE SCAFFOLD ON TOWER HILL (Author Unknown)
It was moonset, a blood red crescent sinking into a band of yellow just over the roofs of London. The day had been a holiday, for King Henry VIII had divorced his queen, Anne Boleyn, not by process of law, but by the ax.
The young Earl of Emberton, who since childhood had been in France, had just returned and was passing over Tower hill. Before him against the yellow strip loomed the silhouette scaffold, the sinking moon at the moment standing above it, its lower horn seeming to rest upon the block where that had been bowed the head of the young queen.
“Singular,” muttered the earl, “that the red crescent should be in that position.”
As he drew near the scaffold he heard a low moan and then noticed for the first time, seated on the lowest step, a woman, her head bent to her knees, her face buried in her hands.
“Madam,” he said, greatly surprised, “I marvel to find you in this grewsome [sic] place at such an hour. How came you here?”
The woman raised her head, and Emberton saw that she was young and comely. She was not weeping, yet on her face was a strange distress. Her costume was rich, denoting that she was of high degree, her robe being of silk, though without any adornment whatever. Around her neck was a broad black velvet band, but even from this no jewel or trinket was suspended.
“Oh, sir,” she said, “take me away! I was here with the crowd today, and when it was over all went to their homes but I. It was cruel to leave me here alone.”
“But your menials? If your friends deserted you, surely those dependent upon your bounty —“
“They all went together, and I, dazed by the multitude, the solemn words of the man of God, the grim figure of the executioner, the glitter of the ax in the sun, must have fallen into a swoon, for I have only just now come to consciousness.”
“I cannot imagine,” said the earl, perplexed, “how your friends and servants could have been so brutal.”
“Brutal! Can you expect tenderness from a people whose king’s divorces are written in blood?”
“Come away,” said the young man. “You are trembling; you are faint.”
“Where shall I go?” she asked, fixing despairing eyes upon him.
“To your people.”
“Oh, my people!” she said, a wail in her voice. “Do you think that they would welcome me after what occurred today?”
“Then you must come with me,” said the earl. “To stay here another hour would drive you to a madhouse.”
In Emberton’s heart suddenly, without requiring time to develop, there was born a great love for this desolate being who had passed through so strange an ordeal. Since she did not move he sat down beside her. A chill wind made her shiver, and he folded his cloak about her, leaving his arms about the cloak. His eyes fell upon the band at her neck, and as his hand rested upon her shoulder he took the ribbon in his fingers and moved it just so far that in the dim light he saw what he thought was a fine red line. She drew his hand away. Hers was as cold as ice.
“Go with me,” he pleaded. “You are cold and desolate. I will warm your heart with mine. I will make you forget this dreadful place. I will take you to sunny France. This dreary town is not fit for one so delicate, so sensitive. In France there are no troubles. The court and the nobles live in bright Paris, with its gardens, while the peasants tread the purple grapes in the wine vats, singing gayly. I came from there only today. We will go back together.”
She turned her eyes upon his and seemed to drink in every word. He fancied a color coming into the pale cheek; that the icy hand he held in his was less cold.
“I will go with you,” she said, “and love you forever, but first let me take one last look at the block.”
“No, no,” he cried; “no more of death! Come rather into life.”
Despite his pleadings she moved up the steps, looking back at him wistfully. He held her hand, but it seemed to slip from his as if it were unreal. He caught at her robe, but it was fluttering in the wind and eluded his grasp.
“Listen,” she said, pausing.
It seemed that he could hear a low murmuring of many voices. Then all was still.
She moved on, mounting each step heavily, as if weighted with lead, till she had reached the platform. Then, waving her hand to him as if in adieu, she kneeled and placed her head upon the block.
Emberton fancied he heard something moving swiftly through the air, a thud as of steel entering wood.
The next morning at daylight as the watch moved across Tower hill he discovered the Earl of Emberton lying in a stupor at the foot of the scaffold. He was taken to his home, where he lay for months with a diseased brain, and when his reason returned he left London forever. Even in his beloved France he found neither health nor happiness. No one save a menial was ever admitted to his bedroom, and after his death a portrait was discovered above his mantel — his sovereign’s beheaded queen, Anne Boleyn.