I’m that Boleyn girl
And I’m up next, see
I broke England from the Church
Yeah, I’m that sexy
Why did I lose my head?
Well, my sleeves may be green
But my lipstick’s red.
Anne Boleyn - Henry’s second wife (who was queen from May 1533- May 1536) is probably the most well-known and notorious, as she was the victim of a vicious propaganda campaign that has lasted for so long that even well-educated people these days will refer to her as a whore. And honestly, I think you can see a lot of that propaganda even in her song from Six, which characterizes Anne as “just tryin’ to have some fun,” which is in my opinion, tremendously unfair to the brilliant woman she really was. I will write a FULL TED TALK LECTURE worth of opinions for a blog post later, but I should probably give you a brief overview so we can talk about the costumes now, yeah?
Anne Boleyn was Henry’s first English wife, the daughter of a highly respected diplomat and a noble lady from the Howard family (the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk). She was by no means a “commoner,” but she certainly wasn’t a princess like Catherine of Aragon. Anne was considered so precocious and talented that at age 12 (or possibly younger!), she was invited to join the court of Margaret of Austria. In her youth, she also was a maid of honor to Mary Tudor, the new Queen of France, and Queen Claude, the even newer Queen of France (Maids of Honor were young, unmarried noblewomen who attended on women of higher rank). Here, Anne was almost certainly exposed to the ideas of both Renaissance humanism and courtly love (which I’ll explain more in a later post, but didn’t actually involve any physical love), which influenced a lot of her later actions and words.
Anne was recalled to England to marry a cousin to settle a land dispute, but this plan fell through. She went on to the English court to serve Catherine of Aragon and became known as a tremendously charming, intelligent, and quick-witted woman. Henry VIII began pursuing Anne in 1526, but we know from his love letters to her throughout their seven-year courtship that their affair remained unconsummated for a very long time. Both Henry and Anne assumed that his marriage could be annulled fairly easily, as the Pope had granted annulments to several Kings in the past without much fuss. However, Catherine’s connections to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles (her nephew) ensured that this did not happen, and Henry would eventually have to break with the Catholic Church and form the Church of England to get his longed-for annulment. By the that time, most of England and Europe hated Anne and called her a whore. A mob of Londoners actually attacked her during dinner once; she barely got away.
Henry and Anne did eventually get married, after she was already pregnant with the future Princess Elizabeth. By all accounts, she was a doting mother and frequently visited her daughter (and thus, I’m pretty annoyed that Anne’s song in Six literally doesn’t even mention Elizabeth, even though Aragon’s and Seymour’s songs mention their kids). Anne was paranoid for her safety and the safety of her child, and when Henry began pursuing other women at court, she lost her temper at the king publicly several times. Her anger at seeing Henry with Jane Seymour may have led to her final miscarriage.
It’s a bit unclear who actually orchestrated Anne’s downfall - it may have been Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell (although there were numerous sloppy mistakes in the falsified evidence, which seems too careless for Cromwell, IMO). But in the end, Anne would be tried and convicted of high treason due to adultery with five men, including her own brother. All six of the accused were arrested and executed in late April- mid-May 1536. There’s really no evidence supporting any of the charges and historians widely believe that the charges were completely manufactured.
In a final fuck you from the grave though, Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I would ultimately become one of England’s greatest monarchs. She reigned for over 40 years in a golden age of progress and led England to becoming a great world power.
Historical Inspiration: The historical inspiration for this costume is more subtle, but you can still see a few touches. The beading in Anne’s dress is reflected in the silver grommets in the modern costume. The actress also has Anne’s famous dark hair and eyes. Her blush even looks like it might be applied to match Anne’s? And of course, there’s the giant “B” necklace. The green of the costume appears to be tied to the legend that Henry VIII wrote “Greensleeves” about Anne, which is referenced several times in the musical’s soundtrack.