Anne Boleyn: Life and Legend
Anne’s Family: A Tudor Legacy
Extraordinary in her own right, Anne also reflects the Tudor era, full of a colorful cast of characters. At left is a simplified and hand-drawn family tree, created by Boleyn family historian Mark Noble. Depicting Anne next to her husband Henry VIII and daughter Elizabeth I, the image emphasizes what is perhaps Anne’s greatest legacy: her daughter. Reigning for almost fifty years and considered one of Britain’s greatest monarchs, Elizabeth would never wed, earning the moniker of “the Virgin Queen.” While Anne would find a path to political influence through marriage, Elizabeth would hold her power by rejecting it. As foils, the paths of the powerful mother-daughter duo, and the respective challenges they would face, speak to both constraints and paths to agency for early modern English women.
In the painting titled An Allegory of the Tudor Succession: The Family of Henry VIII seen below, the composition is fixated around Henry’s heirs. It depicts Mary I (1516–1558) and her husband Philip II (1527–1598), along with Elizabeth I and Edward VI (1537–1553), notably leaving Anne, or any of Henry’s wives, out of the family portrait. While Anne would in many ways be expunged from Tudor court after her death, without her, neither British history nor the Tudor succession would have unfolded as it did.
Finally, at the bottom of this section lies a detailed map of the Boleyn family lineage, a notable court family whose influence both peaked and declined with the life of Anne. Noble’s family tree starts in the 1200s, and ends with the children of Anne and her sister Mary. Noble writes how “many pedigrees of the Boleyns” are “not only defective but very contradictory,” with some details that “I [Noble] think they err.” He further adds: “There seems to have been a wish in Elizabeth’s reign not to have the genealogy much known.” While Noble dates Anne’s birth to 1507, scholars have generally been unable to reach a consensus on her year of birth. These complications suggest general challenges to historical reconstruction.