Trailer for The Boleyns A Scandalous Family
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Tudor England’s most controversial Queen is returning to our screens again tonight with a new TV show called ‘The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family’. The first of a three-part series that will document the rise and fall of the Boleyn family is broadcasting on BBC Two at 9pm tonight. Told from the family’s unique perspective, the story covers love, sex and betrayal.
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived; it’s a mnemonic taught to children to remember the fate of the six wives of Henry VIII – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr.
King Henry considered every last detail of his second wife’s death, making a unique decision in the process.
Anne Boleyn was the only victim of the Tudors to be beheaded with a sword rather than the traditional axe, a question that has remained unanswered for generations.
Like Catherine of Aragon before her, Anne could not provide the son and male heir to the throne that Henry wanted.
According to the Spectator, after her miscarriage in January 1536, he “lost hope that she would”.
This comes towards the beginning of the then Queen’s rapid downfall, spanning just five months.
Henry began to “show a growing interest” in maid of honour Jane Seymour amid his discontent at the complexities surrounding dissolving the marriage.
Anne, meanwhile, was by no means sitting quietly. Her own anger became increasingly evident in the weeks and months that followed the miscarriage, according to historian Leanda De-Lisle.
Ms De-Lisle wrote in The Spectator: “Her brother, George, had let slip that she had complained Henry had ‘neither talent nor vigour’ in bed.”
“Some wondered if she had a lover, a view encouraged by her sometimes outrageous flirting — and it was to be this that triggered her downfall.”
When King Henry’s body servant, Sir Henry Norris, came to visit her household in late April 1536, Boleyn took the flirting up a notch.
Upon asking why the servant had not yet married the maid of honour he kept visiting, Ms De-Lisle wrote Anne joked: “You look for dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.”
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Ms De-Lisle explained that imagining the death of the King was a treasonous offence.
Mr Norris apparently replied, agast, that if he should have any such thought, he would wish his head were off.
The following day a young court musician, Mark Smeaton, who had been seen “moping around” the Queen, was hauled in for questioning.
Within hours, Henry had been informed that Mr Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the Queen.
Mr Norris was also quizzed by the King on whether he had committed adultery with the Queen, and was promised a pardon if he confessed.
Pleading his innocence, did Mr Norris no good. He joined Mr Smeaton in the tower that very same night.
Anne Boleyn was found guilty of treason, accused of having extramarital affairs with five men, including her own brother.
All five were executed for treason.
Ms De-Lisle said: “As Henry’s sexual inadequacies were paraded during the trials, he responded by advertising his virility, staying out all hours, banqueting with beautiful girls.
“In private, however, he comforted himself in a different way, obsessing over the details of Anne’s coming death.”
Beheaded in 1536 at an estimated age of 35, Henry’s choice to execute Anne Boleyn with a sword reflects one certain fact, according to Ms De-Lisle, “Henry’s overweening vanity and self-righteousness”.
The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family airs on BBC Two tonight. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer.
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