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Publicado el día: 13 Abr 2024

The internet is abuzz with stories about her, as if everything were happening today

The internet is abuzz with stories about her, as if everything were happening today

So much close scrutiny, and none of it much help to posterity

Anne Boleyn, in particular, is a figure who elicits a deep response, born out of ignorance often enough but also out of empathy. Her real self is hidden within the dramas into which we co-opt her. There is a prurient curiosity around her, of the kind that gathered around Wallis Simpson. Henry didn’t give up the throne to marry her, but he did reshape his nation’s history. So what was her particular attraction? A special trick? Was she beautiful, or ugly? The six fingers with which she was credited were not seen during her lifetime, and the warts and wens and extra nipple that supposedly disfigured her were witches’ marks produced by the black fantasy of Catholic propagandists. Her contemporaries didn’t think she was a great beauty. ‘She is of middling stature’, a Venetian diplomat reported. A ‘swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the English king’s great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful’. It was said, though not by unbiased observers, that after her marriage she aged rapidly and grew thin. If this is true, and we put it together with reports of a swelling in her throat, and with the description of her by one contemporary as ‘a goggle-eyed whore’, then we’re looking, possibly, at a woman with a hyperthyroid condition, a woman of frayed temper who lives on the end of her nerves. It often surprises people that there is no attested contemporary portrait. Just because an unknown hand has written ‘Anne Boleyn’ on a picture, it doesn’t mean it’s an image from the life or even an image of Anne at all. The most familiar image, in which she wears a letter ‘B’ hanging from a pearl necklace, exists in many forms and variants and originates at least fifty years after Anne’s death.

Did she have a sexual secret?

Anne was a mercurial woman, still shaped by the projections of those who read and write about her. Royal bodies do change after death, and not just as a consequence of the universal post-mortem changes. Now we know garota britГўnico quente the body in the Leicester car park is indeed that of Richard III, we have to concede the curved spine was not Tudor propaganda, but we need not believe the chronicler who claimed Richard was the product of a two-year pregnancy and was born with teeth. Why are we all so pleased about digging up a king? Perhaps because the present is paying some of the debt it owes to the past, and science has come to the aid of history. The king stripped by the victors has been reclothed in his true identity. This is the essential process of history, neatly illustrated: loss, retrieval.

To return to Henry VIII: almost the first thirty years of his reign were shaped by his need for a male heir. Religious and political activity cluster around the subject. Not all the intelligence and diligence of his ministers could give Henry what he most needed. Only a woman could: but which woman? Neither of Henry’s first two wives had trouble conceiving. Royal pregnancies were not announced in those days; the news generally crept out, and public anticipation was aroused only when the child quickened. We know Katherine of Aragon had at least six pregnancies, most of them ending in late miscarriages or neonatal deaths. She had a son who survived for seven weeks, but only one child made it past early infancy, and that was a daughter, the Princess Mary. Anne’s first pregnancy was successful, and produced another girl, the Princess Elizabeth. Then she miscarried at least twice. It was not until his third marriage that Henry had a son who lived. Both those daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were women of great ability, and in their very different ways were capable of ruling; but I don’t think this means that Henry was wrong in his construction of his situation. What he feared was that his bloodline would end. Elizabeth found the puzzle of whom she could marry too difficult to solve, so that her reign was dominated by succession crises, and she was indeed the last of the Tudors. The line did end: just a lot later than Henry had imagined.