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Anne Boleyn: A Tale Of The Sixteenth Century by Anonymous (1843)

August 1, 2019

I found this short story in an old newspaper database — while it appeared in only one paper, the databases are obviously not complete, and from the note I imagine it was the sort of story which was widely reprinted (a lot of similar stories also appear in December and January, I would guess as filler entertainment for the Christmas and New Year’s season). The moral of is clear, and fairly standard for the time — how quickly fortune can change and how little people can rely on it. And while the story itself is a fairly standard narrative — the young Anne divided from her true love, Henry Percy, by the King’s lust for her — there are a few intriguing aspects.

The first is that it’s one of the earliest stories that I know of to give any detail about Anne’s coloration — namely, that she has blue eyes. Most early stories will describe her as beautiful, and occasionally mention sparkling eyes or beautiful tresses, but few go so far as to specify the color of these superb physical features. This isn’t the first story to describe her color —“Two Scenes In The Life Of Anne Boleyn” (1837) gives her light auburn hair which sometimes appears to be gold — but it is nonetheless quite early. (Interestingly, both stories give Henry Percy “dark eyes” — by way of contrast, perhaps?) Since this was written before Strickland’s books came out, Anne has no wen or hint of a sixth finger. Her age is given as twenty-two, but since time is telescoped, as usual in early narratives, it’s impossible to say what birth year the author intended her to have.

The second is the change in perspective from the first portion — when Anne rejects Percy and is crowned — to the second, when she’s imprisoned and executed. While it’s clear that Anne’s division from Percy has been engineered by the King (who decrees that Percy should marry Mary Talbot forthwith to make sure he’s no longer eligible) it’s also made clear that Anne has, as far as she can, chosen this. Like her eighteenth-century predecessors, and unlike her later nineteenth century successors, she isn’t so much unwillingly torn from Percy so much as deliberately chosen the glittering path of becoming royalty — “Vanity and ambition was stirred up in her bosom.” When Percy comes to her secretly, on the day before his forced wedding, and urges her to elope overseas with him, the author presents this as a genuine, if difficult, solution to their problems. Even as Anne protests that it’s impossible for her to escape, the author admonishes her: “Ah! proud girl, true love would have risen superior to difficulty, and had it reigned in thy heart, would have escaped a thousand guards, and crossed seas and mountains; but vain ambition swelled there in its place, and the love of Edward Percy was obstructed by a mole-hill.” (Yes, Percy has a new first name, whether to distinguish him from the King or because the author didn’t know what it really was is unclear.)

However, by the time Anne is imprisoned, and has nobly defended herself against the spurious accusations hurled at her, she has become much more like her later nineteenth century sisters — even the narrator seems to have forgotten that she once had at least something like a choice. The King is described as “the stern, unfeeling monarch, who had torn her from the arms of a young and ardent lover — the companion of her younger days — and raised her from humble life to queenly honors.” Everything in that description is true, but it elides the part of the story where Anne consciously chose to encourage him, and rejected Percy’s offer to go abroad. This is not, of course, to say that she was responsible for her own death, but it makes the two halves of the story sit somewhat awkwardly with each other. One would think that a moralist would underline the fact that Anne’s choices led to this, however, the anonymous author clearly admires Anne too much — and may have too much sense of justice, in modern terms, refusing to victim-blame — not to do this. All in all, it’s an intriguing little narrative, which gives us at least a hint was to what a rural American reader was likely to learn about Anne Boleyn when she picked up the Christmas edition of her local paper. Here is the whole story, as she would have read it.

From the Bloomington (Iowa) Herald, published weekly, Vol. IV No. 6

December 15 1843

From the Cincinnati Message

ANNE BOLEYN

A Tale Of The Sixteenth Century

BY A RETIRED EDITOR

THE LOVERS

Within one of the deep dingy windows of an apartment of the royal place [sic] of England sat one of the ladies of the Court — Her beautiful proportioned head reclined in sadness on her hand, and the light of those brilliant eyes, now fixed and downcast in meditation, was now hid by long silken lashes. Ah! how dangerous to the Cavaliers of those days, was the raising of those pencilled lashes, and the melting softness of the deep blue orbs beneath! — It was Anne Boleyn, the loveliest and most graceful damsel of Henry’s court. Twenty-two summers had passed lightly over her head, many of which were spent in the sunny climes of France; and those childish beauties which had gained her the favor of two successive queens, had now bloomed and ripened into a degree of personal loveliness which had won for her a more flattering — but more dangerous favor.

A young man dressed in the quaint fashion of the times, and of noble bearing, had entered the apartment, and now stood within a few paces, unperceived by the pensive beauty. He gazed upon her with evident admiration, and the mute eloquence of his dark eye, told of deeper feelings not unmingled with sorrow. Edward, Lord Persey, was a youth of much promise, and one of the haughtiest, and yet most polished and elegant of the courtiers who surrounded Henry in the earlier years of his reign, when the monarch’s character was that of a martial Prince; and his court was employed in achieving those elegant gaities, and gallant enterprises, which long after lived in the memory of his people, and served partially to obscure many of those dark spots which dishonored his later years. Percy was the son of the earl of Northumberland, one of the most powerful nobles of England, and afterwards, when he came to be earl on the death of his father, was the person chose to arrest the celebrated Cardinal Woolsey.

At the time our story introduces him, he was the lover of Anne Boleyn, and his merits were not unappreciated by the courtly maid. She had promised to become his wife, but other and higher prospects had opened to her vision, vanity and ambition was stirred up in her bosom, and crowns and thrones and queenly dignities won upon her fancy. Her attractions had gained her a noble lover, and for him was she about to sacrifice the affections of her youth. She disclosed to Henry her engagement to Percy, and the royal jealousy was only to be quieted by Percy’s hurried marriage with a daughter of Lord Shrewsberry. The morrow had been fixed for that sacrifice to be consummated, and the unhappy youth sought a last interview with the mistress of his heart, who was thus to be rudely torn from him by the hand of power.

When Anne raised her eyes and met his ardent gaze, a deep blush suffused her neck and face and brow. He sat down beside her, and taking her hand in his, he raised it to his lips. Then followed a tide of burning language, a recalling of happier hours, a refreshing of sweet memories, the gushing of a heart full of tenderness, and a bitter complaining of his hard lot.

“Dear Anne,” said he, in the enthusiasm of the hour, “let us fly from this tyranny to a lovelier land, where we may cull the flowers of life together. You always loved France, sweet Anne, and we can find a happy home among her bright valleys.”

“No, Edward, it is impossible. The watchful jealousy of the king is like a triple guard around me — I never could escape. There is no hope, no remedy — we must part.”

Ah! proud girl, true love would have risen superior to difficulty, and had it reigned in thy heart, would have escaped a thousand guards, and crossed seas and mountains; but vain ambition swelled there in its place, and the love of Edward Percy was obstructed by a mole-hill.

“Then farewell, Anne,” said he, “and shouldst thou ever become the queen of this realm, to that which the king’s hasty passion may lead, remember there is none whose allegiance to thee can be more true than Edward Percy’s.”

He stalked proudly from the apartment, and Anne remained to indulge a while in the golden visions his last words awakened.

Three centuries have rolled away since that interview, the actors for more than two hundred years have reposed in the silence of the grace. Their very monuments have long since crumbled; the busy hand of time has been silently sweeping away all memorials of their existence, and their story lives only in deathless history. In brushing away the cobwebs of antiquity in search of its mysteries, the inquirer passes and ponders over it a while, with that deep and silent awe, or those cold and stately feelings with which thou, dear reader, wouldst gaze upon a monument, or mayhap listen to a tale of those times. — But there he is led astray. Hearts beat as wildly, love was cherished as warmly, and disappointment as keenly felt three hundred years ago as now.

THE CORONATION

Henry the Eighth of England, seems to have been a man not easily turned from his purpose, particularly when it involved some churlish passion. Morality, religion and law, were “trifles light as air,” when they stood between him and his desires. With untiring perseverance did he pursue his object of being divorced from his wife, Catharine of Castile, and overcome all opposition and delay, finally effected his purpose, through the instrumentality of Cranmer, and drove the ex-queen into retirement.

”In days of old her Amphile towers were seen
The mournful refuge of an injurd queen.”
Old Ballad.

In that spacious hall were gathered the lords and ladies of England, surrounding a space occupied by the great officers of State, the dignitaries of the church, and municipal authorities. Elevated high were two vacant thrones; ranged along the walls on either side stood the royal body guard, and far down that hall to the great entrance, was one waving sea of heads. — Thousands were there to add to, and witness, the pomp and pagentry [sic] of the scene. Score of bustling officials, with their wards and batons, were hurrying from place to place, to order and direct the crowd. An hour passed in anxious expectation, when the king advanced from behind the splendid hangings leading Anne Boleyn, whom he placed in one of the vacant thrones and himself occupied the other. They were attended by a numerous train of maidens, who ranged around the queen. At their entrance the assembled nobles and churchmen all rose and suddenly a shout burst from the crowd at the other end of the hall, “Long live Henry and Anne.” which was caught up by the dense multitude outside of the building, and echoed from ten thousand throats. Proclamation was made by a herald, preceded by a flourish of trumpets, and the archbishop of Canterberry [sic] in his sacred robes, placed a crown upon Anne’s head, and proclaimed her Queen of England. The surrounding nobles bowed their heads and kissed her hands in token of their allegiance; and the assembled multitude waved plumes and scarfs, and cried “Long live Queen Anne.”

The ceremony was over; that little brief moment to which she had looked forward with so much anxiety, and which passed whilst she scarcely realized its presence; so giddy was she with the brilliant scene, the imposing ceremony, and the streams of adulation that poured into her ear from every side. The king and queen withdrew, followed by the ladies and gentlemen of the court, and the numerous spectators gathered themselves up and departed. Thus from a simple maiden of the court, Anne became queen over a great people; the idol of a monarch’s heart and the admired object of the nation’s homage.

THE PRISON

”Of chance, and change, and fate in human life
High actions and high passions most describing.”
Paradise Regained.

Start not, reader, at entering with me, within the frowning walls of the Tower of London. Thrilling tales of dark deeds of blood, of midnight murder, and of human suffering, could those grey stones reveal, if gifted with language. Many a noble fellow has passed within their precincts and never repassed, but his blood has moistened the floor of some lonely cell, flowing to the secret knife, when the forms of law could not be moulded to effect his condemnation. Many a generous heart has been broken there, its agonies unwitnessed and its groans unheard, save by the cold and dripping walls of some solitary dungeon, where it has been immured and left to bear its miseries, neglected, uncared for, and perhaps forgotten. There, at yonder scaffold in the Tower yard is where the righteous and unrighteous sentences are indiscriminately executed. — How many have died there in the assertion of their innocense [sic], who were deemed guilty by their peers on slight and trivial grounds, which in the iron days of English monarchy, and in times of State necessity, were proofs of treason”strong as holy writ.” How many too have laid their heads upon the bloody block for loving their country too well! The blood of England’s best, and wisest, and noblest, has been shed there. Let us pass on.

In a gloomy apartment within these storied walls, sat Anne Boleyn, a prisoner of State, and condemned to die. What a reverse! She who lately occupied so prominent a place of honor and of power, whose smile was fortune, and whose word was law, and at whose shrine was paid the homage of the noble and the gay — was now the tenant of a prison, and doomed to a felon’s death! With no chance of preparation for defence, and none to say aught in her behalf, had she been arraigned and tried within the strong walls of the tower; where the public eye is never allowed to penetrate, and aberrations from justice are concealed; where the victim meets no pitying look, and hears no friendly voice in the trying hour. Her proud spirit rose above all. Calmly and clealy did she, a young girl and inexperienced woman, defend herself before her hoary judges — men

“Of stern mould and moody brow,”

and proved her innocence, “more by the power of a serene countenance, than by the power of language.” But her fate was fixed. The royal affections had changed their object, and she must be removed to make way for their gratification. Such was Henry’s policy, and supple tools enough he had to carry it out. Her own uncle passed sentence of death upon her. She listened to it unmoved, and raising her hands and eyes to heaven, exclaimed, “O, Father of mankind! the way, the life, and the truth, thou knowest whether I have deserved this death;” thus proclaiming her innocence in mild but firm language, she folded her hands meekly on her bosom, and was led back to her cell.


THE EXECUTION

In grim silence, and leaning on his sword, the executioner stood upon the scaffold — The mayor and aldermen of London, with three of the king’s ministers, were there to witness the catastrophe. There stood Anne Boleyn, surrounded by a few of her waiting women. Alas, poor girl, what a fate was thine! She looked around her and saw those who a month before, would have trembled at her frown, now meet her glance with a stern unpitying eye. She saw too the implements of death beside her, but her cheek blanched not, nor did her voice falter. She spoke mildly of her own fate, and of the king in kindness.

“If any person meddle with my cause,” said she in conclusion, “I require them to judge the best; thus I take my leave of the world and of you, and I desire you to pray for me.”

Her speech awakened sympathy in every uncorrupted heart around her, and amongst all those wise heads and bold spirits, she was perhaps the only person whose mind was perfectly composed. She quietly removed her hat and collar, and taking one wild and hasty look at earth and air and sky, she clasped her hands and sank upon her knees. A moment the sword glittered in the sunlight, and next her head rolled upon the sand!

Thus perished in the prime of life, and the bloom of her beauty, the once admired and courted Anne Boleyn; while the stern, unfeeling monarch, who had torn her from the arms of a young and ardent lover — the companion of her younger days — and raised her from humble life to queenly honors, was impatiently awaiting the announcement, that, that bright form he had so often caressed in tenderness, was mutilated and lifeless. Alas! How versatile and uncertain are human affairs. We live, and smile, and hope, and grieve, and in a moment die!

THE END

 

From → Book Overviews

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