Skip to content

Anne Boleyn: A Historical Drama In Five Acts by Francis A.H. Terrell (1861)

July 6, 2013

This play was also published as Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy by Anonymous, for reasons I haven’t been able to discover, although fortunately I found this out before purchasing copies of both editions. Why Mr. Terrell wanted to remain anonymous at first I have no idea, but the book’s dedication to his wife, describing it as “The Amusement of a Vacation”, makes me wonder if he was in a profession where publishing romantic plays was looked upon as a somewhat downmarket activity. The vacation in question must have been a long one, because in addition to a very long introduction explaining that the purpose of the play is to defend Anne against the insinuations of J.A. Froude’s attempts to vindicate Henry’s behavior, the play itself is elaborately footnoted – not always accurately (as when he confidently states that yellow was the colour of mourning in France) but certainly thoroughly. Alas, all the dedication to research in the world couldn’t save this play, which suffers from a fatal defect; the author is so dyed-in-the-wool Church of England that Anne becomes a plaster statue who is treated with roughly the same reverence Catholics accorded to the Blessed Mother.

We begin in the gardens of Hever, with the young Anne chatting to a gardener named Delve, who’s bred a new species of rose and is asking if he should name it the Queen’s rose, which sets Anne to musing:

Suppose I were a queen, I’d queenly reign;
Relieve the poor, shield all the persecuted,
Protect the Protestants against the Pope,
And put the Book into the hands of all.

She is, however, glad that she’ll never have this enormous responsibility – “my soul groaning with the nightmare’s weight” – but has second thoughts after a gypsy named Mrs. Cripps happens to pass by and does a bit of palm-reading, informing her that “Storm shall follow sunshine” and that the family will contain both a snake and queen. (If you’re wondering who the snake is, well, read on). After a peaceful interlude in which Thomas Wyatt strums his lute with both Anne and Mary Boleyn – a rare early appearance for the latter, and an even rarer one in which she is nothing more than the presumably chaste wife of William Carey – we switch settings to the court, where Sir Richard Neville and Sir Francis Bryan unload a lot of exposition about how corrupt the Romish church is, right up to Wolsey (“The Cardinal hath a lark in cage, they say,”) and then go on to expounding on the charms of the hazel-eyed Anne:

All found it difficult to sketch her grace,
For half was not summed up upon her face.
She danced, and but a fairy trod the air;
She touched her lute, and your soul rose on sounds;
She sang, and your existence ceased to breathe.
You wished, and she came forth in courtesy,
Bidding you think that your desires were hers.

Sadly, the divorce from “the Spanish queen” is being held up by the Pope, who, “knowing that the marriage is void” is nonetheless delaying proceedings due to fear of the Emperor. A dinner follows, attended by Venetians, Frenchman, and Anne Boleyn, in which Lorenzo Orio theatrically marvels at the practice of benefit of clergy, so Thomas Audley can declare how much better it would be if the King were the supreme head of the church.

Back to Hever, where Anne is receiving love letters from Henry and Lady Rochford, sour and unhappy, has joined Mary Boleyn and Anne’s stepmother there as well. (It’s a curious feature of this play that although Lady Rochford has an enormous role, her husband is never seen, and only mentioned a few times. One wonders what he’s getting up to). Lady Rochford is, naturally, quite catty about Henry’s letters – it’s almost like Anne is being courted by a married man, or something – but one of her motives is revealed in an Aside.

I wish that I with heavier scale had weighed,
Or plain Jane Parker had contented stayed.
The king’s the man for me, were I a maid.

Later on we’ll discover that not only is Lady Rochford wishing she had a chance at the king, but that she’s also been screwing around with less exalted members of the court, and is also a fervent advocate of Queen Catherine and the Pope. Of course. Meanwhile the divorce is failing to make much headway, and it transpires that Wolsey, after discovering that Anne is a partisan of Tyndale’s, has not exactly been putting his best effort into it. “Would, my lord Cardinal, your venerable age / Had sought true policy in Tyndall’s page!” cries Anne, and departs, leaving Wolsey to lament that he did not “stand more on right.” So much for him. Exit Wolsey and enter – for the first time – Henry, thanking Anne for her gift of the storm-tossed lady in a ship and creating her Marchioness of Pembroke at the same time as he makes her father Earl of Wiltshire. (Just so the audience knows that no unseemly activity has taken place beforehand, Thomas Boleyn tells his wife Anne “has never lost, and I trust never will, / That sense of right and true propriety, / Which is her nat’ral crown, worth twice a queen’s.”) After a coronation in which Anne devoutly prays to be a queen who will serve all of her people, she sets to work helping out petitioning Christian Brothers, telling Henry that absolution shouldn’t require priests, demanding a stop to the burning of heretics – “They who would grow in soul, as well as size / Must have free argument, or win no prize,” and reminding him how Thomas More burned John Frith. “No Englishman shall burn whilst thou art queen,” says Henry – very unfortunate timing, since Frith was burned only a few days after Anne was crowned.

Meanwhile, Lady Rochford is very displeased about all of these developments. Not only has Anne started making decrees tightening up the sumptuary laws, but after learning of Queen Catherine’s death, Anne “in her yellow livery mocking made.” “Yellow, in France, is th’mourning of the state,” someone else informs her, but Lady Rochford isn’t interested and instead goes off on a tear about how much she hates her husband, now a “spaniel waiting on our Frenchy queen.” In a total coincidence, it turns out that the Duke of Norfolk has been feeling equally displeased with Anne, and he and Lady Rochford agree that Anne “lives to countermine / The spiritual welfare of his Grace’s realm,” and when Lady Rochford ventures that she suspects something a little off between Anne and George, the Duke urges her to tell Henry forthwith.

Henry, meanwhile, is less than pleased, as in the “cold November,” Anne has just had the shock of seeing Jane Seymour on his knee. “She swooned, she gasped, as at a spirit from hell,” one of her ladies informs another, and by the time Henry comes roaring in to try and make excuses, Anne has “been confined” and given birth a stillborn boy, “murdered by too early birth.” Henry doesn’t take it well.

Murdered! Had it but been a girl, she’d live.
B’ God’s mother, I shall get no heir, I see!
Go, say she shall have no more boys by me.

He rumbles off the stage in a fury, then vents to himself (and us) about what a pain Anne has become.

I curse the day I made this woman queen
….There’s scarce a culprit but
He apprehends her ears; then she stands plaguing
Me for pardon, filling the law with eyeholes.
I may as well dismiss my judges, jailers,
And the hangman too. There’s not a heretic
But she takes up his cause against the Church
As if her own ….
There’s a conspiracy for alms ‘gainst me;
Yet all the credit’s hers.

He’s tired of Anne being Lady Bountiful and also that she’s lost her spark for some reason: “She who was once all gaiety and song / Is now demure as any breastless nun.” Fortunately, Jane Seymour is available, and better yet, “She holds not pertinaciously religious / Twists.” Luckily, deliverance is at hand in the form of Lady Rochford, whom he despises – “she’s not a grain of conscience to abuse” but whom he’s quite ready to believe if she’ll get him out of his current predicament.

Next thing we know, Henry is making a speech to his faithful lackeys, deploring that none of the men except Smeaton have confessed but assuring them that Lady Rochford’s accusation must be true – why would she accuse her own husband otherwise? After Cranmer appears and gives a long set of speeches in which he paraphrases his real letter to Henry and defends Anne a lot longer than the real one did, Anne is arrested and sent off to the Tower, where Henry sends her a message: “His Grace suggest I should confession make / And baits compliance with the hope of life.” She writes back to him with the “Lady in the Tower” letter, which Kingston praises, and she’s visited in jail by Margaret Lee and also by Delve the gardener and Mrs. Cripps the gypsy, who foretells Lady Rochford’s downfall.

After her trial (described by various random citizens, all of whom agree that it’s a setup and deplore her lack of legal counsel) Cranmer once again sticks his neck out for Anne by annulling her marriage to Henry (on “certain grounds” never specified) and then pointing out to Henry that if Anne was never Queen, “the tainted traitors failed / In their charged treason with the Lady Anne: / If she were only Pembroke’s Marchioness, / And not your Grace’s wedded wife and Queen.”

“We ‘bide the Church’s laws; we make the State’s,” replies Henry. He’d heard that Anne was plotting his death, so mercy would be foolish, and besides, he wants to get married again quickly. Anne is resigned to her fate, which she regards as martyrdom: “Had I been firm for Rome, mine enemies / Had not so spied my way with cruel eyes.” She asks Lady Kingston to beg the Lady Mary for forgiveness of Anne’s treatment of her, rather out of nowhere since we never hear anything about Mary until now. Anne’s offstage death is reverently described by Cranmer, and in the last scene we see another Christian Brother meeting up with some foreign travelers, giving out Bibles sub rosa, ensuring that Anne’s work lives on.

SEX OR POLITICS? Religion, with a small side helping of politics– Anne is devoted to the Protestant cause and never loses a chance to talk about it. There are also several scenes featuring merchants and ambassadors of Italian and other extractions and which I think are meant to be funny; a lot of political badinage, comparisons of the different countries’ women, and so forth.

WHEN BORN? June 1, 1507. Before her trial, Anne says that “It is just nine-and-twenty years ago, / Come the next first of June, I crying came / Into the light of day – now weeping leave.” Mary refers to her as “my elder sister” so Mary at least is younger – George’s age isn’t clear and is never commented on.

THE EARLY LOVE: Henry Percy is mentioned early on, when Anne wistfully remembers how he wrote their initials in true lovers’ knots until they were wrenched apart by “an unseen power.” That’s the end of him until he turns up at Anne’s trial, where an officer describes him as having been “driven by the jealous King from court.” Percy gets two lines, total, excusing himself from the trial on the grounds of illness. Thomas Wyatt spends a happy afternoon making up extemporary rhymes with Anne and her sister, but it’s clear that they’re just friends – in fact, Anne tells him to “bring Madam Wyatt” next time so they can be merry together. Judging by the rest of the play, this wasn’t meant to be sarcasm – only Catholic characters are allowed to be loose livers here.

THE QUEEN’S BEES: Lady Rochford is by far the most important, and of course the nastiest. Margaret Lee – “Margy Lee” – appears, but only once Anne is in the Tower, and Jane Seymour is mentioned, but not seen; during her visit to Anne in the Tower, Mrs. Cripps says that “Mistress Jane Seymour laughs / And counts her days, and is just starting for / Wolf Hall, to wait for Queenship there.” Various other “Ladies” are given lines at different times throughout, but they’re not distinguished from each other.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Delve the gardener, whom we see at the very beginning and end of the play, is naturally devoted to Mistress Anne. Henry also has a fool named Swallow, who turns up now and then to drop jokes such as one imagining the Pope “smiling as an umpire snail rejoices / Watching a match of two lame tortoises,” as he delays the divorce.

THE PROPHECY: Made by a gypsy woman, Peg Cripps, in the best nineteenth-century style. She turns up at the beginning to drop hints about great changes and how she’ll see Anne again, and then pops out with:

Have faith in me, and you shall see,
And you shall see what shall be seen –
A snake within the family,
Within the family a queen.

At the end of the play, Mrs. Cripps turns up again to comfort Anne in the Tower (having somehow got past the guards) and in an Aside informs us that “Lady Rochford’s spite I knew” and that “Black fate shall not forget her due / Apples as sour as ever grew.”

In the middle of the play, when Henry is deploring his marriage to Anne, he remembers how a gypsy once told him that “were I / Unwed a single day, my sore would close,” and wonders if the “cunning wench” meant the sore on his leg or his sore heart.

IT’S A GIRL! Elizabeth’s birth isn’t mentioned at the time, but when Anne gives birth to a stillborn boy, Henry later comments that “a useless girl survives,” so he may not have been overly thrilled.


FAMILY AFFAIRS: Anne’s father and stepmother appear briefly as solid, comfortable homebodies, and Thomas cautions Anne against gallivanting around too much “I and your dear mother feel that Kent/ With country pleasures, country friends, suffice / (If the heart rests from roaming) to make up / A happy life.” When she’s in prison, Delve the gardener reappears for a visit and tells her that “they have both grown wintry white of late, / Like sunless crocuses, begot of snow …. / These many days, and croaking doleful things.” George Boleyn doesn’t appear at all and has been given a new name as well. Deploring Lady Rochford’s behavior, Anne’s stepmother declares that “Our noble Edward is too good by far / To have a wife with such malignant star.” Mary Boleyn is, uniquely, a virtuous, happy wife, in love with William Carey and without any hint of scandal about her. She hears Anne reading Henry’s love letter and advises her that it sounds like he’s sincere; after all, he sounds exactly like William did back when they were courting.


WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: All of the characters love their monologues, especially Anne and Lady Rochford. The latter’s speech on deciding to go to Henry and vent her jealousy by destroying Anne and George is a typical example of the play’s style, with its combination of grandeur and disconcerting slanginess:

Were I a man, I’d fight and conquer fate,
Kicking obstructions from the wide world’s rim.
Hot in the spirit, I would whiz around,
Hissing as Gorgon to a frightened world;
Bottling up storm within my private pouch,
To blast the face of any mortal thing.
For bodkins I’d have dagger; for pearls, shot;
And pocket sleepy poison for foe’s veins.
How my hand shakes! But ’tis not fear within:
‘Tis but the mountain’s quaver till it rend
With hot volcano from its pent-up womb –
So I must wait a space, then try my luck.

ERRATA: As in many other early Protestant works, Cromwell is a nonperson – Anne’s downfall is brought about by Lady Rochford and the Duke of Norfolk. Anne has a stepmother, although since the only indication that she’s a stepmother is in her cast list description, I wonder if maybe Terrell read Strickland too late in the game to change much more than that. Yellow was not the colour of mourning in France (or Spain, for that matter), and there’s no indication that Lady Rochford was the source of the charges. John Frith was burned at Smithfield, along with one other man, a few days after Anne’s coronation, not during More’s chancellorship (though More certainly bore responsibility for his arrest and continuing imprisonment).

WORTH A READ? Although this play is notable in its very early depiction of Mary Boleyn – the earliest I’ve found so far, in fact – and the exceedingly large role it gives to Lady Rochford, I’d have to say no. Aside from those things, it’s a dull, conventional depiction of the saintly, pious Anne whose theological opinions are thoroughly in line with the time in which it was written and is prettty interchangeable with half-a-dozen other plays of the era. There’s no character development – even Henry is seen so briefly before he turns on Anne that it’s hard to tell what their relationship is like, and the other characters all stay firmly on one note. If you absolutely must have a nineteenth-century Anne Boleyn play on your reading list, Boker, Taylor and Tyler are better bets.

From → Book Overviews

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: