The Death of Anne Boleyn

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If Anne Boleyn is known for one thing it is being one Henry VIII’s beheaded wives. Indeed, the rhyme goes: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Her death has become so synonymous with her reputation that it’s difficult to comprehend how shocking it was when the whole tragedy unfolded in 1536.

Kings didn’t execute their queens, not even when infidelity was suspected. Certainly a queen had never been tried in a court of law, found guilty of treason and executed in English history. But for that matter, Anne was many “firsts” for the English – the first queen to oust her predecessor via divorce, the first queen whose rise was tied to religious reformation, the first queen whose sister was widely believed to have been the king’s mistress.

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The Guilt of Anne Boleyn

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Today in 1536 Anne Boleyn, Queen of England and second wife of Henry VIII, was charged with adultery, incest and high treason. Four days later she was beheaded at the Tower of London. During her life, Anne was a creature of fascination – a woman that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and inspired the King of England to turn Western Europe upside down. In death, she has continued to nag historians by posing as many questions as answers – did she love Henry? Was she motivated by ambition? Was she as chaste as she claimed? What were her methods for keeping him interested? Why couldn’t she deliver a son? Was she guilty? Who was the cause of her downfall?

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The Second Man in Elizabeth I’s Life

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For some figures in extended royal history, it’s easy to capture them in a single post. With others that’s less true simply because of the wealth of information out there. I’m never going to write a post that’s a straight up and down summary of the life of Henry VIII, for example, or really any monarch. Instead, aspects of their life will be written about over time…unless I suddenly find myself able to knock out 20,000 words in a sitting.

This is certainly true of Elizabeth I as well, which is why she hasn’t been written about too much here so far. But she will be, little by little, and today we’re going to take a beat to consider her relationship with Thomas Seymour.

I refer to him as the second man in Elizabeth’s life since the first would obviously be her father, Henry VIII. But perhaps a more accurate summation would be that Thomas was the second man in Elizabeth’s life that makes it seem less unusual that she never married, because let’s be honest, these really weren’t top notch examples of men were they?

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Edward Despard Was a Traitor

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As a gift to my roommate who is one of the worst people you’ll ever meet I am writing up a quick post on his ancestor, Edward Despard. Despard, a debtor, rabble rouser and traitor, clearly passed those underwhelming characteristics along to said roommate. To be honest, the more research I do on Despard’s failed hijinks and generally dissolute ways, the more I’m reminded of my roommate, who has demanded that I write this up to please him even though I have a cold and would rather take a nap. He is literally the worst.

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The Case Against George, Duke of Clarence

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Let’s talk about George, Duke of Clarence. And why wouldn’t we? Talking about him gives us the first and second parts of the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, the Neville family, the Woodville family, the Princes in the Tower, a dramatic (if not suspicious) execution and the fate of his York children well into the reigns of the Tudors. Today, of course, marks the anniversary of George’s execution in 1478, a death ordered by his older brother, King Edward, when he was only 29 years old. Did he deserve it? Yes, absolutely. To be honest, it’s shocking that George lived as long as he did given his propensity for treason.

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The Case of Katherine Howard

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While Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn loom the largest of Henry VIII’s wives, all six women have provided controversy and prompted debate centuries after their deaths. Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, is no exception. Married to the King on July 28, 1540 and executed on February 13, 1542, her reign was brief but littered with misinformation and its legacy shaped by evolving views of female sexuality and abuse.

Katherine first joined court and met Henry in 1539 when she became a lady-in-waiting to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. At that point, Henry had been a widower for two years following the death of Jane Seymour, and his marriage was masterminded by his councilor, Thomas Cromwell, who was determined to find another queen consort who would complement the Protestant Church of England and the ongoing dissolution of the monasteries. Unfortunately for Cromwell, Anne failed to please Henry and he instead fell for the adolescent Katherine Howard, niece to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of his deceased second wife, Anne Boleyn.

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The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

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The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots on February 8, 1587 was a landmark moment in the reign of Elizabeth I and history  has often given the English queen a bit of a side eye for her handling of it.  Likely there would be more sympathy for Elizabeth’s position if Mary hadn’t, at face value, appeared so sympathetic – a beautiful woman, a mother, a widow, a deposed queen, a Catholic punished for her faith.

But Mary certainly isn’t without detractors. Though she ascended the Scottish throne as an infant after the premature death of her father, James V, she would only directly rule Scotland from within its confines for less than seven years. Raised in France as a Catholic, Scotland and its increasingly Protestant people were wholly foreign to her when she returned to it as an adult in 1561. Her rule was clumsy, her government fractured, her personal life scandalous and she continued to make herself a thorn in the side of England and her cousin, Elizabeth. What helped to solidify Mary’s legacy as a martyr-like figure is, in fact, her behavior during her execution.

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