My friend Dana is at it again. And today you are in for a treat. For the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's beheading, Dana Tuttle has put together a mini history lesson to show us how God uses imperfect people to accomplish his sovereign will. Enjoy!
I admit it! I’m obsessed! The Tudor era: Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Anne Askew, Katherine Parr, Bloody Mary, Queen Elizabeth. They all share something in common. They were key women during the Reformation. They all play a part in the Christian history of our church, and you should know who they are.
Anne has a special soft spot for me. I’m not sure why. She loved God, The church, the cause of the Protestant reformation, and well…she had a bad reputation, wrong motives and lost her head. Sounds just like me (checking to see if my head is still there). I can relate to this gal. I would aspire to have the clean record that Lady Jane does, but that is not the case. This amazing woman resonates with me and I love her dearly. Like Anne, I have seen God use me despite my mistakes in life. As so many other men and women in scripture and history have also proved, God uses imperfect people to accomplish his sovereign will.
If you don’t have a personal love for a historical figure, you are missing out. Who is that one person that you would wish to dine with, hang out with, and ask a million questions? Who is the person in history that influenced a pivotal change in the part of history that you care most about? For me, it was Anne Boleyn.
On the anniversary of her execution, May 19th 1536, I would like to honor her as an influential Christian woman who deserves to be remembered. I could write pages about Anne, but for my purpose here I will focus on her Christian influence and a bit of interesting facts about her execution.
I can’t say that Anne was a Protestant Reformer. She was a Catholic and practiced that way up till the moment of her death. Had the circumstances been different and she had lived longer, I think that she would have fully embraced the reformist views. She was learning and growing in that direction, but mixed with wrong motives to gain her desires. Historians still argue today over whether she was Catholic or Reformed Protestant. You can safely say that she did want reform within the Catholic religion, but not to break free from it completely.
The break that she did want was for King Henry VIII to be free from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In order to do so, he had to convince the Catholic Church that his marriage was invalid. Anne went further reaching into her personal library (as any good librarian would do) and according to Stephanie A. Mann
, recommended her copy of “William Tyndale’s book, Obedience of a Christian Man
. Tyndale argued that the monarch should have control in his land – and Henry liked Tyndale’s argument, adopted it, and proceeded, through Convocation and Parliament to gain that control.” Henry’s pursuit of Anne caused him to be excommunicated by the Pope and caused him to establish himself as the head of the Church of England.
In Anne’s defense, it was Henry who pursued her to be his mistress. She refused, especially seeing how her sister, Mary, was treated and cast aside. Knowing that her reputation and hopes of a future marriage would be jeopardized, she held out for the crown! She got the crown and would also lose the head it sat on.
One of the historians that argue for her reformist beliefs is Diana Lynn Severance in her book, Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History
. There is no doubt that Anne is in the tapestry. Severance argues that “Anne was attracted to the evangelical ideas of the reformation” and interestingly, refers to her personal library as proof of that. "The books of Anne’s which survive today give evidence of her evangelical faith: a 1534 Lefevre bible in French, inscribed with Romans 5:12-18 and John 1:17; William Tyndale’s English New Testament (Anne’s copy of this banned book is now in the British Library)” (164).
Severence reminds us of John Foxe’s words, “Without all controversy was the private and open comforter and aider of all the professors of Christ’s gospel…her life also being directed according to the same” (165). She writes that “Anne patronized Protestant publishers and writers and protected merchants involved in the importation of English bibles and evangelical works…Historians recognize that the impact of the ecclesiastical appointments made under Anne’s influence was crucial to the future of the Reformation” (166).
Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and sparked the beginning of her fall. Henry desperately wanted a male heir, but Anne wasn’t given another chance. He had already set his eyes on Jane Seymour. It wasn’t long after Elizabeth’s birth that Anne was accused of adultery with 5 men, including her own brother! While it is true that Anne is not a saint or innocent of wrongdoing, it is unlikely that she could be guilty of these charges. Most historians today recognize that there was no truth to it and that her death was orchestrated to relieve Henry of yet another marriage.
Arrested and held in the tower, she awaited execution by a French swordsman. She gave her last confession and received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the Catholic fashion. It should be noted that she never confessed to any of the charges. Allison Weir is another historian specializing in the Tudor era. In her Biography of Anne, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn
, she quotes recordings of eye witnesses who claim that she wore “a beautiful night robe…trimmed with fur, showing a crimson kirtle beneath, with a low neckline” (274). Another witness said, “Never had the queen looked so beautiful” (279). As Aimee Byrd would say, “Anne went out with a capital A!”
Severance also includes, “John Foxe recorded Anne’s last words: Good Christian people, I come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law, I am judged to death; and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come hither to accuse no man, nor anything of that where of I am accused and condemned to die…to Christ I commend my soul, Jesus receive my soul…Foxe added…Her last words declare no less the sincere faith and trust that she had in Christ…I know not by what unhappy destiny, it is given unto this world, that those things which are most excellent are soonest violently taken away as unworthy for the world” (167-168).
Weir details the final moments, “The Queen was beheaded according to the manner and custom of Paris, that is to say, with a sword, which…had been hidden under a heap of straw…the headsman turned to the scaffold steps and called to the assistant, ‘Bring me my sword’…he had removed his shoes and come up stealthy behind her…he brought it down and swiftly divided her neck at a blow” (285).
Ironically, Anne’s daughter Elizabeth would rein as a Reformed Protestant Queen of England and bring peace and prosperity to the land for 40 years, but that is another story. And that my friends, is how God uses imperfect people to accomplish his sovereign will.
Dana Tuttle is a housewife theologian who is obsessed with headless queens. She is the mother of 6-year-old twin boys, and the wife of King Henry, ahem, she meant to say Troy. She daydreams about owning a pub, but is happy with her role as the crazy theme mom and scrapbooking fool. Dana is an over-achiever in Book Review Club, and can often be found hiding in her closet reading books written by dead theologians while eating the latest leftover holiday candy.