Another View of Anne Boleyn

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Byline: Carol Herman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Did Anne Boleyn commit adultery? This is the question at the heart of a new biography of

the woman who won King Henry VIII's affections, was a key figure in his break with Rome and paid for her alleged affairs - including an incestuous one with her brother - on the executioner's block.

Over the centuries, one version of history has steadfastly upheld the young queen's virtue, pointing to her refusal to sleep with Henry (unlike her sister Mary) until he made an honest woman of her. That version denies any adulterous affairs and celebrates her as a martyred heroine of the English Reformation.

Now, however, in a generally persuasive book, British historian G.W. Bernard argues that it was not Anne who resisted a sexual union for years, but it was Henry who held back until he could be assured that his offspring would be legitimate. Moreover, in a matter of more stunning consequences, Mr. Bernard argues that the allegations of adultery were probably true.

Mr. Bernard builds his case and his narrative chronologically, returning to Anne's girlhood and her time spent in the Netherlands in the household of Archduchess Margaret of Austria and at the French court where she was a maid of honor, first to Queen Mary, then to Queen Claude of France. Patiently, with exhaustive detail and probing questions, Mr. Bernard charts a trajectory of the woman who would become queen in her own right at a tumultuous crossroads in European history.

In an early chapter titled Who was Anne Boleyn? Mr. Bernard writes, Anne Boleyn is often presented as a 'self-made' woman rising from lowly origins to the top before her dramatic fall. But that is nonsense. Anne was not 'a poor knight's daughter' as one Nicholas Delanoy allegedly said to a skinner of St. Omer Calais. Such talk was and is highly misleading. Anne was born into the English social and political elite. Her father was Thomas Boleyn, who as Anne was growing up was an increasingly prominent courtier-administrator at the court and in the government of Henry VIII.

She was born in the early 1500s, most likely 1501, and she spent the most formative years of her adolescence at the French court. As Mr. Bernard sums up this period of her life: In the early and mid-1520s, then, Anne Boleyn .. had been talked of as a wife for James Butler, and had very likely been pursued by Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt, but had not yet made a marriage Once again the historian might envy the historical novelist who can present Anne unperturbed and liberated or as desperate and unhappy. No surviving sources can help us.

Yes, that pesky no surviving sources caveat has given us the popular, if factually challenged television series The Tudors and countless other books and films that leave conflicting impressions of the doomed Anne. …