Meet the Wives Handbook: Anne Boleyn

Love Life

Throughout their six-year courtship, Anne had always had the advantage over the king. She knew well how to play the role of mistress and secure Henry's interest. But once married, Anne Boleyn failed to become the obedient wife the king expected and ignore his infidelities -- as had Catherine of Aragon. Instead, the three affairs Henry had during their marriage sparked wild fits of jealousy. The first, with an unnamed lady-in-waiting, occurred after Anne's first stillbirth in 1534. Relationships with Anne's maids-of-honor, Madge Shelton and Jane Seymour, soon followed. Ironically, Anne now found herself in the same position as the queen she herself had supplanted as maid-of-honor.

Henry's Mistresses

Lady Margaret "Madge" Shelton

Lady-in-waiting and first cousin to Anne Boleyn, Lady Margaret Shelton (or Madge) became Henry's mistress for a period of about six months starting in February 1535. Madge was fair-skinned, soft-spoken and pretty. Anne was jealous of the affair, but also of the attention Madge received from gentlemen of the king's Privy Council. The queen also disliked the girl's frivolousness and scolded her for writing "idle poesies" in her prayer book. But the affair did not last long. Madge began to be courted by Sir Henry Norris whom she would later marry, while the king moved on to another maid-of-honor, Jane Seymour.

Jane Seymour

The antithesis of Queen Anne, Jane Seymour was demure, docile and discreet. Henry had grown tired of Anne's argumentative and aggressive personality and was charmed by this beguiling maid-of-honor. Anne's enemies, seeking to displace her, pushed the king and Jane together.

Nicolas Carew, the king's longtime friend and a member of the conservative Catholic faction that wanted Anne eliminated, coached Jane on how to further attract Henry. Game for the attention, Henry began showering Jane with presents, including a locket with his miniature. When Jane showed it off in front of the queen, Anne violently ripped the locket from Jane's neck. Jane had played her part so well so that once her mistress, Anne Boleyn, was executed, she would become Henry's third wife.

Courtly Love & Queen Anne

Although Anne would be convicted of adultery, historians have never accepted her guilt. After years at court, she well knew the price of adultery by a queen. Anne indulged in so-called "courtly love" flirtations in which a man worshipped an unattainable woman, but in 16th century England, this was accepted behavior for a woman of rank. However, the men who would later be accused of adultery with the queen were implicated because of these very flirtations. Sir Thomas Wyatt was just one of those that were arrested.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, estranged from his unfaithful wife, began courting Anne around 1525, the same year the king took notice of her. According to Wyatt's grandson George, who wrote a biography on Anne Boleyn, Wyatt fell for the queen's "witty and graceful speech." Henry, still uncertain of his target, was jealous of his competition. In one reported instance, the king snapped at the poet when he saw Wyatt wearing a jewel snatched from Anne. To cool the king's temper, Anne reassured him that the trinket was taken without permission, but Henry was not appeased. Wyatt was sent on a diplomatic mission to Italy. When he returned in May 1527, he recognized the intensity of the king's feelings for Anne, accepted defeat and expressed his emotion in a poem:

There is written her fair neck round about ; 'Noli me tangere ; for Cæsar's I am

Sir Thomas Wyatt would later be arrested for his relations with the queen, but would escape execution because of his friendship with Cromwell, the king's advisor.

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