In Channel 5 psychological thriller Anne Boleyn, the series paints a portrait of a queen desperate to keep her husband Henry VIII’s favour and affection.
In the three-parter, Anne Boleyn (played by Jodie Turner-Smith in the Anne Boleyn cast) will go to any lengths to secure her future, and the safety of her only child, Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth I).
Although we only meet the couple five months before Anne’s death by beheading in 1536, the viewer sees flashes of the passionate relationship between Anne and Henry VIII (played by Mark Stanley) prior to her downfall.
But what was their marriage like in real life, and what is the true story behind their relationship?
When did Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn marry?
Anne Boleyn accepted Henry VIII’s proposal of marriage in the summer of 1527, after refusing to become his mistress.
Henry hoped to annul his marriage to first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne, and a papal dispensation (which was never granted) was applied for in August 1527.
However, the wedding between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII did not take place until January 1533 (possibly on the 25th), when Anne was already over a month pregnant. She was formally recognised as queen later that year on Holy Saturday, 12th April 1533.
The couple were convinced that their child would be a boy, but in September 1533 Anne’s daughter Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth I) was born.
Post-conquest, Anne was only the second daughter of an English aristocrat to be named queen.
What was Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s marriage really like?
Anne Boleyn wielded a great deal of influence over Henry VIII. Even before her marriage to Henry, Cardinal Wolsey called her “the nyght Crowe”, describing Anne’s access to the king’s ear when the couple were in private.
It was Anne who introduced Henry to the text ‘Obedience of a Christian Man,’ in which William Tyndale suggests that a king’s authority takes precedence over the church. Henry would later go on to break away from Rome and the Catholic Church, and take control of the Church of England, in order to marry Anne.
It’s also clear from the nature and number of Henry’s letters during their courtship that he was deeply attracted to her. Historians note that, although Henry famously disliked penning letters, over two years Henry wrote at least 17 letters to her.
In the TV series Anne Boleyn, Anne is reimagined as dominant in the marital bedroom.
“I think that they [Anne and Henry] had a deep sexual desire for one another,” Mark Stanley (who plays Henry VIII) exclusively told RadioTimes.com. “And I think that was probably made bigger by the fact that, you know – she was such an impressive person. And someone who really could dominate at times, which I think for him was a bit of a rarity. Yeah, so we went down the route of her being really quite powerful in those [sexual] situations.”
In real life, things began to go downhill for the couple after Anne miscarried for the first time in August 1534.
Henry was under pressure to produce a male heir, and Anne would not conceive for a third time until the autumn of 1535. She had a second miscarriage sometime at the end of January 1536. (There’s no evidence to the popular belief that the premature child was deformed or monstrous.)
It was the same month that Catherine of Aragon died (on the 8th January 1536). A month later, in February 1536, Jane Seymour (one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting) refused a present of money from Henry, which in turn further sparked his interest in Jane. She would go on to become Henry’s third wife, marrying him 11 days after Anne’s execution.
However, arguably the real cause of Anne’s downfall was when Anne’s former ally Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister, turned against her, partly over their opposing views on the Dissolution of the Monasteries.