Today is Mother’s Day in Australia, and as such, I wanted to write about Anne Boleyn as a mother who fought to protect her daughter til the very end.
When Elizabeth I had not long ascended the throne, Matthew Parker, her mother’s chaplain, recalled in a letter to Sir Nicholas Bacon how Anne, shortly before her arrest, had charged him to watch over Elizabeth:
‘…my heart would right fain serve my sovereign lady the Queen’s majesty, in more respects than of mine allegiance, not forgetting what words her grace’s mother said to me of her, not six days before her apprehension…’
Though we don’t know what actions Parker was able to take to protect Elizabeth during Henry’s life, once she became Queen, Parker served her faithfully until his death—clearly, Anne knew this was a man she and her daughter could trust.
It is possible that Anne acted to protect Elizabeth during a very interesting meeting with Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. A letter that William Kingston wrote to Cromwell on the 16th May has some very interesting implications:
‘The King told me that my lord of Canterbury should be her confessor, and he was here today with her…Yet this day at dinner the Queen said she would go to “anonre” (a nunnery), and is in hope of life.’
Of course, we have no idea what passed between Anne and Cranmer that gave her ‘hope of life.’ Given that the very next day Cranmer pronounced the marriage between Henry and Anne null and void, it has been suggested that Cranmer was instructed to offer Anne the choice that if she agreed to an annulment, her life would be spared and she’d be allowed to enter the nunnery she spoke of. We cannot know whether Anne was offered a deal or not, although it should be noted that, in the end, Katherine of Aragon’s consent was not needed for the annulment of her marriage. However, something clearly made Anne believe that she could survive, and the timing is certainly suggestive that it was to do with the annulment.
If this was the case, Anne was agreeing to the bastardisation of her own daughter. Anne was a devoted and doting mother to young Elizabeth. So why would she agree to the denigration of her own daughter, her own legacy? Was it simply desperation to survive?
I recently had the privilege of reading and reviewing Tracy Borman’s latest book ‘Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Changed History,’ and one of the suggestions Borman makes is that perhaps Anne believed that her daughter would be better served with a mother to guide her. Anne may have hoped that she would have eventually been allowed into her daughter’s life, even if she had to wait for Henry to die. In her own way, Anne was fighting to protect her daughter just as fiercely as Katherine of Aragon famously fought to protect Mary.
Although Anne was not able to save herself, I believe her actions did still pay off in regards to Elizabeth. It is commonly believed that Henry ignored and neglected his youngest daughter following his repudiation of her mother, showing the child a similar disfavour that he had previously shown her older half-sister. However, as I discussed in an earlier article, there is no evidence to suggest that Henry treated Elizabeth poorly, and in fact, there is reason to believe that she retained his love and care. You can read more about this here.
If Anne had made an attempt to assert her daughter’s status as a legitimate princess, it is possible that Elizabeth would have been much more poorly treated, just as Mary had suffered for her mother’s stance. Anne’s ultimate legacy was her daughter, who went on to become one of the most renowned monarchs England has ever seen. Elizabeth remembered her mother, and cherished her memory. To read the latest research on the relationship between Anne and Elizabeth, I encourage you to pre-order Tracy Borman’s ‘Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Changed History,’ which will be released on the 19th May.