Skip to content

Anne Boleyn To King Henry VIII: An Epistle by Elizabeth Tollet (before 1754)

July 20, 2013

Elizabeth Tollet lived from 1695 to 1754, and according to the introduction of her Poems On Several Occasions, With Anne Boleyn To King Henry VIII (1755) was too modest to allow her poems to be published during her life, which seems to have been a quiet one of keeping house for her father and writing during her free time. The poems in this collection certainly bear the stamp of their era; long, flowery addresses to her dear brother at college, Imitations of Horace, and the occasional light verse, such as “Written In A Book Of Novels”:

Methinks that reading these Romances
Is just like dancing Country Dances:
All in the same dull Measures move,
Adventures brave and constant Love;
Each pair in formal Order tread
The Steps their Predecessors led.

As the unmarried daughter of a Navy commissioner, Miss Tollet must have suffered through more than her fair share of both long social evenings and second-rate literature. Unfortunately, her modesty about publishing during her lifetime means that it’s impossible to discover whether this poem predates or postdates William Whitehead’s Ann Boleyn To Henry The Eighth: An Epistle. Certainly there are many similarities — how could there not be, since they’re both based on Anne Boleyn’s supposed letter to Henry “From the Lady in the Tower”? The two poems make an interesting display when set side by side — while many themes are similar, Whitehead’s poem lays a strong emphasis on Anne’s conscious rejection of mercy in exchange for a “confession”, whereas Tollet’s poem mentions no such possibility but lays a much stronger emphasis on Anne’s emotional state; Whitehead’s Anne is fearful but dignified, but Tollet’s Anne, although naturally the soul of innocence, rockets from scorning pity to pleading for it, and she also is deeply concerned about what posterity will believe about her. Whitehead’s Anne has no such worries; she’ll be vindicated one day, and in the meantime she’ll be in Heaven so it doesn’t matter much. Both Annes are deeply concerned about Henry’s spiritual wellbeing to the point of being willing to suffer anything if it will ultimately save his soul. I want to do a more in-depth comparison soon, but to demonstrate the different emotional states of the two Annes, I present to you the passages in both poems describing Anne’s sleepnessness and her dreams of Henry VI and Edward V.


Nay ev’n when Sleep shou’d ev’ry Care allay,
And softly steal th’imprisoned Soul away,
Quick to my Thoughts excursive Fancy brings
Long visionary Trains of Martyr’d Kings.
There pious Henry recent from the Blow,
There ill-starr’d Edward lifts his Infant Brow.


Such is my Day; but when the Night succeeds,
What Horror Solitude in Darkness breeds!
Still, vacant Hours, whose solemn, sad Return
Invites the wakeful Soul to muse and mourn!
What tedious, woeful Vigils then I keep!
Or if my weary Eyes submit to sleep,
Soon start aghast, with shrill-resounding Screams,
From all the Terrors of presaging Dreams;
Nor so reliev’d, the Terrors all remain,
Trac’d in too lively Colours on my Brain;
And imag’d stronger than they were before,
All seems a Vision now, a Dream no more.
The dire Idea by Reflection frights:
Now murther’d Innocents and royal Sprights
Glancing all pale, before my Curtains glare,
Grizzly with gaping Wounds and upstart Hair;
Or Forms of Fancy, or embody’d Air.
Now to my boding Fears the Spectres tell,
How pious Henry, how young Edward fell:
Come then! or calls a Voice, or seems to call
Increase the Number destin’d here to fall!

These passages are one reason I’m inclined to believe that Tollet’s poem may have been inspired by Whitehead’s. It’s hardly a foolproof find; it’s hard to imagine a queen imprisoned in the Tower not having passing thoughts of Henry VI and Edward V, or two writers independently arriving at the idea of it. But Tollet’s description of Anne’s state of mind and her visions read like a dramatic expansion of Whitehead’s original, terse text. And since I have her whole poem here now, why not read and judge for yourself?


Amid the Joys of this auspicious Hour,
When Fame exalted and extended Pow’r,
With mingled Rays your Sov’reign Head adorn,
Permit unhappy Anne at least to mourn:
Permit one Object to disturb the Scene,
An injur’d Lover and a captive Queen.
That Hand which late the regal Sceptre bore,
And which, when join’d to yours, was honour’d more,
Scarce to its Task the trembling Pen constrains;
So much is Grief a greater Weight than Chains.

Irresolute I sit; alike ’tis vain
Or to suppress my Sorrows, or complain
Of Woes that Language never can contain.
What Nature most to Womankind endears,
Whate’re the best and justest Value bears
By universal Voice, demands my Tears.
With Fear my Bosom beats, and sinks with Shame,
When the Debate is Life, and Love, and Fame.
O! how can I proceed, to fast arise
The crowding Images, and stream my Eyes!

Or whence, my Liege! shall my Complaint begin
To move Compassion, or Belief to win?
When now the Series of a blameless Life
Is found too weak to vindicate your Wife,
To prove that Truth requir’d by your Command,
Let all my Actions be severely scan’d;
To you my Virtue makes a bold Appeal;
Cou’d of[?] your Greatness, or your Pow’r prevail?
Or cou’d your Person, grac’d above Compare
With manly Beauty, and an awful Air?
Or all the Charms that Learning cou’d impart
To native Eloquence, with soothing Art,
To charm the Frailty of a female Heart?
While rival Princesses aspir’d in vain
To share your Empire, or your Heart to gain,
While jealous France her utmost Efforts try’d
To buy your Friendship with a royal Bride,
Cou’d any Arts my Innocence surprize?
For guarded Virtue sees thro’ other Eyes.

Let ev’n that jealous France my Deeds report;
A daring Challenge to a partial Court!
There pass’d my early Years, and thence I claim
The Debt of Justice, to defend my Name.
Wou’d two great Queens, by Virtue plac’d as high
In spotless Fame, as beauteous in the Eye,
Among their honourable Maids retain
Suspected Boleyn, touch’d with guilty Stain,
Dear to their Breast, and foremost of their Train?

Where Virtue fails, what Arguments can move?
Can tend’rest Proofs of undissembled Love?
Such as in Virgin Hearts from Nature spring,
Distinguishing the Lover from the King.
From Pow’r abstracted to yourself be just;
Reflect again, and scorn the mean Distrust.
‘Tis true that never durst my bashful Eye,
Much less my humble Thoughts have soar’d so high;
I well concluded what Event must wait
On Love divided by unequal Fate:
When Passion is the blind Effect of Chance,
The slight Impression of a transient Glance;
When Prudence, Int’rest, and the potent Voice
Of Fame conspire, and all reprove the Choice.
Whate’re of fond, believing Maids I heard,
And Men inconstant, for myself I fear’d:
Too well your Sex weak Woman knows to gain,
With fictious Vows, and a delusive Strain;
‘Till ev’n our Hearts your Artifices aid,
Or by Ambition, or by Love betray’d.
The Conquest won, away the Victor flies,
To seek Variety in other Eyes:
While the forsake Fair beholds him part,
And pines with Anguish of a broken Heart.
Ev’n then, when flatt’ring Stars the Passion bless,
And Hymeneals crown the wish’d Success,
Then stern Ambition points to other Views;
Or some succeeding Flame the past subdues,
And Man the Chace of Novelty pursues.
He looks abroad, and struggles to be freed;
Disgusts and Jealousies, alas! succeed.
He wishes for the Hour that shall divide
The weary Husband from the suff’ring Bride;
Or else prevents it, by some useful Flaw,
Some lucky Turn of misconstructed Law.

Too well I guess’d what must at last ensue:
Too soon these direful Omens struck my View,
When first, my Liege! I heard of Love and You.
But then my unsuspected Soul assur’d
A nobler Mind my Happiness secur’d:
That such a Change in you no Place cou’d find;
Whom Nature had for Royalty design’d,
And pointed out the first of all Mankind.
To Crowns and Sceptres Fortune can advance;
But to deserve them is no Work of Chance.
Rebels and Foes that Valour claims to awe,
That Wisdom, Nations to receive its Law;
(I argued thus) and he who can persuade
The Learn’d and Wife, may well an harmless Maid:
That Princely Aspect and superior Mien,
Which spoke the Monarch, were with Wonder seen.
Witness my Heart from all Ambition free,
No Hope of Greatness ever conquer’d me!
But by your Love encourag’d, I aspir’d:
How easy ’twas to like what all admir’d!
This Truth I now without a Blush may own,
That Love determin’d me, and Love alone,
To tempt the slipp’ry Grandeur of a Throne.

Let these Reflections touch my Henry’s Mind;
Said I my Henry? I the King design’d:
Forgive the erring Pen that yet dares write
The past Endearments Love would still indite.
Husband and Lover now remain no more;
You rise in all the Attributes of Pow’r:
And I, beneath my former Distance thrust,
Can sink no lower till I sink in Dust.
Tho’ from your Throne and Bosom forc’d to part,
I bear your Image in my faithful Heart;
Your Royalty with Ease I can resign;
But never can forget you once were mine.
Witness, ye cruel Tow’rs! how oft I call
The Name of Henry from the ecchoing Wall;
Witness the Glass! which with a dimmer Ray
Thro’ interposing Grates admit the Day;
Where oft the Diamond, of your former Flame
The earliest Earnest, traces Henry’s Name
And Witness Heav’n! If Heav’n descend to hear
The woeful Accents of the Captive’s Pray’r;
Less for myself, tho’ thus distress’d, I sue,
Than that its Blessing all shou’d show’r on you.
No! till I sink into the silent Tomb,
If such your Will, and my impendent Doom,
Shall unextinguish’d burn the sacred Fires,
Which Virtue warrants, and which Love inspires.
Tho’ certain Death be mine, yet ev’n in Death
Shall pious Prayr’s employ my parting breath,
That Heav’n may Henry’s Happiness prolong,
High in Renown, and free from Boleyn’s Wrong.

Why does my Mind so sad a Fate presage?
Preventing Nature, Maladies and Age!
When youthful Blood, with lively Spirit warns,
And roseate Health diffuses all her Charms,
When ev’ry Object smiling, fresh and gay,
Adorns the Prospect, to be snatch’d away!
To grow a stupid Mass of mould’ring Clay!
Whither? Ah! whither must we then remove?
Where must the discontented Spirit rove?
From Pow’r, from Pleasure, all that here below
Enchants our Senses, all Mankind must go:
But whither? that to point our Reason errs;
And only humble Faith relieves our Fears.
How can my Thought the dire Reflection bear?
Yes! conscious Virtue to my Aid is near:
She promises that guiltless Soul shall know
What lasting Bliss celestial Seats bestow;
What blooming Sweets the injur’d Name embalm,
And how the Martyr gains the Victor-Palm.

By her supported, I resign my Fear:
But wounded Honour! — ’tis too much to bear!
Honour both Sexes have agreed the best,
The noblest Passion of a virtuous Breast:
To fighting Fields she calls the Hero forth,
To prove his Valour, and attest his Worth;
By martial Toils the glorious Prize to buy,
With Honour conquer, or with Honour dye.
In Womankind she wears a diff’rent Dress,
Frailty to guard, and Passion to suppress:
She forms the Manners with exactest Care;
Of each ambiguous Action, bids, beware!
And regulates the Motions of the Mind,
By her conducted, and to her resign’d.
‘Tis all, alas! that Woman has to boast:
And all that Woman has in her is lost.
By wretched Anne how can the Load be born
Of private Censure, and of public Scorn?
And harder yet to bear, when disapprov’d
By you, a Lover once, and still belov’d.
Think then what Sorrow I must undergo;
Here Sense of Virtue but augments the Woe:
For her, my Cheeks the glowing Blushes dye;
For her, whole Oceans gather in my Eye.
In vain the Passion strives in Words to break;
The Cause too odious and too great to speak:
If in Disgrace my tragic Scene must end,
And I dishonour’d to the Shades descend.
O! had I perish’d but obscure, unknown!
Far from the envy’d Splendors of a Crown!
Then had at once expir’d my Breath and Name;
As safe from Slander as remote from Fame.

But now, alas! while each succeeding Age
Shall of your Annals turn the shining Page,
To learn how warlike Scotland felt your Arms,
And England triumph’d free from all Alarms,
How potent France your valu’d Friendship fought,
And how beneath your Standards, Caesar fought;
In other Combats how from Rome you gain’d
The glorious Stile for sacred Faith maintain’d,
There still must I be read; while Times to come
Renew my Suff’rings, and repeat my Doom:
As wayward Humor governs ev’ry Breast,
Judg’d by the Bad, ev’n doubted by the Best.
For, from the Malice of degen’rate Wit,
‘Tis easier far to sentence than acquit.
Where shall my question’d Innocence appeal,
When partial Spleen assumes the Mask of Zeal?
Hard Fate! for ever that I must engage
The various Insults of injurious Rage:
My own misjudging Sex, who, loath to blame
Their own Defects, imagine mine the same;
Or Men who triumph in a prostrate Fame.
And scare among the Herd of Readers find
One pitying Tear, to speak a gen’rous Mind.

Unhappy Beauty! of our Woes the Spring!
Of all our Vanities the vainest Thing!
Fondly by our unthinking Sex desir’d;
The more endanger’d as the more admir’d!
But for a certain Fall to Greatness rais’d!
But lov’d for Change, and but for Censure prais’d!
Here my Reflections cease; and turn to more
On what my Soul had prophesy’d before.

How miserable is the Pris’ner’s State
Who lingers in the slow Suspense of Fate!
Is there a greater Ill? — Yes! one remains;
The doubted Fame which foul Suspicion stains.
The obviate this, undaunted I demand
That at the Bar of Justice I may stand:
Nor there, O King! your helpless Wife expose
To the fell Rage of her relentless Foes;
But let the World decide, on what were built
The base Surmises of objected Guilt.
Or I absolv’d shall vindicate from Stain
Your Royal Infant and your glorious Reign,
Or sink in Ruin, nor my Fame survive:
‘Twould then be Cruelty to bid me live.
Nor shall I then, to your Delight a Bar,
Retard the Influence of a fairer Star;
I cou’d have pointed to the Name before,
But Love is timorous, and I forbore.
Yet if Ambition urge, and publick Good
Best by the Monarch’s Will be understood,
She too may Fall, whose now too potent Eyes
Enthral your Heart, herself your Sacrifice.
Unhappy she, whoe’re like me must prove
The dire Disaster of superior Love!

One only Instance yet remains behind
To plead my Cause, and touch your royal Mind:
When in our common Pledge yourself you view
Believe me loyal then, believe me true.
Oft on your Knee has she, with infant Play,
Amus’d your Soul, and chac’d your Cares away:
Then let the darling to your Thought recall,
That her Disgrace attends her Mother’s Fall.
How can you doubt me, when in her design’d
You see the strongest Features of your Mind?
So just, so masterly describ’d they stand,
That Nature’s Work surpasses Holben’s Hand,
O! may she still survive! — I ask no more!
Tho’ Fancy augurs greater Things in Store;
To vindicate, tho’ late, my injur’d Name;
And emulate, perhaps, her Father’s Fame.

If in your Bosom to Conclusion draws
My Fate determin’d, and prejudg’d my Cause,
Yet think, on one impartial Day shall come
The Judge and Pris’ner to receive their Doom:
‘Tis certain that my Innocence shall clear,
However runs the Voice of Rumor here.
Yet no revengeful Wish my Breast shall stain,
Nor from the Seats of Bliss my Soul detain:
Be all the Authors of my Wrongs forgiv’n,
And you absolv’d before the Throne of Heav’n!
Yet, if I ever to your Breast was dear,
Your dread Displeasure let me singly bear:
‘Tis but a poor Request to fall alone,
For her whom Fortune tumbles from a Throne.

Ye Angel Guardians! who the Throne defend,
And hov’ring Light in Air, unseen attend;
If heav’nly Minds can hear a Mortal’s Pray’r,
From threat’ning Danger guard your sacred Care;
From foreign Wars, and from seditious Strife,
From dark Conspiracy preserve his Life.
Nor ever, ever let the faithless Wiles
Of perjur’d Beauty drest in gaudy Smiles,
The conflict of the Royal Breast renew;
And by the false One justify the True.
If ever Boleyn to Remembrance brought
Too late shou’d Pity gain, suppress the Thought:
Ev’n Pity I renounce, if it must bring
But an uneasy Moment to the King.

And whence, O sad Reverse of prosp’rous Fate!
Must these unhappy Lines receive their Date?
Not from fair Greenwich’ ever-pleasing Bow’rs;
Not from the painted Roof of Woolsey’s Tow’rs:
But from the Gothic Structures, whence on high,
Far, far Beneath I cast my distant Eye,
And see your subject River rolling by.
Alas! How diff’rent from the shining Court
Is this Abode? debarr’d of all Resort?
A band of Goalers, [sic] not a Guard of State,
With surly Aspect here observes the Gate:
Where in its Fall the massive Barrier clangs,
And threat’ning Ruin the Portcullis hangs.
Here scarce the checquer’d Grates permit to pass
Eternal Twilight thro’ the darkned [sic] Glass:
While that imperfect Day that steals between
But heightens, not relieves the gloomy Scene.

Amid that gloomy Scene behold me spread;
See! On my Arm sustain’d my languid Head:
See! now with gushing Tears my Eyes o’reflow,
Now roll the wafted Orbs in pensive Woe;
Now rais’d to Heav’n, from thence demand Relief;
Now on the Ground are fix’d in stupid Grief.
See! on my Cheek the with’ring Roses dye;
See! now a rising Blush their Place supply!
See! how my Hands my scatter’d Hairs have torn!
See! how with heaving Sighs my Breast is worn!
This Image may perhaps your Pity move:
‘Tis now no Object to revive your Love.
How slowly wears the melancholy Day!
No friendly Talk to pass the Hours away!
No sage Discourse to fortify my Heart!
No soft assuasives to appease its Smart!
At least an Interval from Thought to win!
All comfortless! — but only from within!
Such is my Day; but when the Night succeeds,
What Horror Solitude in Darkness breeds!
Still, vacant Hours, whose solemn, sad Return
Invites the wakeful Soul to muse and mourn!
What tedious, woeful Vigils then I keep!
Or if my weary Eyes submit to sleep,
Soon start aghast, with shrill-resounding Screams,
From all the Terrors of presaging Dreams;
Nor so reliev’d, the Terrors all remain,
Trac’d in too lively Colours on my Brain;
And imag’d stronger than they were before,
All seems a Vision now, a Dream no more.
The dire Idea by Reflection frights:
Now murther’d Innocents and royal Sprights
Glancing all pale, before my Curtains glare,
Grizzly with gaping Wounds and upstart Hair;
Or Forms of Fancy, or embody’d Air.
Now to my boding Fears the Spectres tell,
How pious Henry, how young Edward fell:
Come then! or calls a Voice, or seems to call
Increase the Number destin’d here to fall!

Here too my poor Remains must rest unknown,
No Name inscrib’d, no monumental Stone:
No weeping Servant must my Hearse attend,
No pious Kinsman, no afflicted Friend.
They fly me all! how barb’rous! how ingrate!
All but the faithful Few who share my Fate!
Deterr’d by their Example, who shall dare
Compose my lifeless Limbs with decent Care?
Who from polluting Gore my Body lave?
Or lay me peaceful in an humble Grave?
Who then shall interdicted Pity show?
Permit a Sigh to breath, a Tear to flow?
Or whisp’ring soft, my mounting Spirit aid?
Light lye the Earth, and rest the gentle Shade!
Such fun’ral Rites alone must I receive
As Enmity confers, or Chance can give.

Pity, the meanest boon a Queen can claim,
Is due at least to Boleyn’s once lov’d Name:
That Name had yet my noblest Boast remain’d,
Had not your Will another Fate ordain’d.
But you advanc’d me to an higher Sphere,
And Pembroke glitter’d with the Brightest there;
With more conspicuous Lustre next I shone,
Declar’d the Partner of your Heart and Throne:
Earth has no more to give, — but you supply
Her Poverty, and lift me to the Sky;
Thither, where Amaranths eternal grow,
To wreath the Chaplet for the Martyr’s Brow.

From → Book Overviews

  1. jen permalink

    thank you i like poems stories from 18th century

  2. jen permalink

    and also to read about Anne boleyn from female narrator

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: