I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to find out what today’s poem will be. Don’t worry, there are only a few days of April left!
Anyone who knows me knows that one of my great intellectual interests is sixteenth-century England. The Tudor monarchs, the art, music, literature, and fashions… it’s all fascinating. In spite of the numerous liberties taken by the Showtime series, The Tudors does brilliantly capture the inherent soap opera qualities of the Tudor court with its religious, political, and sexual melodramas.
Anne Boleyn’s story has been told over and over and over and over and… you get the point. The figures involved have been studied and fictionalized to death and as a result, no longer feel quite real. Yet to take the time to read the nonfiction allows even amateurs to appreciate the ways in which the retellings capture and distort the primary-source narrative.
Nearly all historians today agree that Anne Boleyn was almost certainly framed. However, if she was not guilty of adultery, she was certainly not a paragon of ideal Renaissance royal behavior. As one of my favorite authors notes, the complete lack of personal space or privacy, especially for royals, enhanced the opportunities for the popular courtly love behavior to be misconstrued as declarations of passionate sexual love. So though Anne was almost certainly innocent of the charges laid at her feet – adultery, incest, plotting the king’s death – her behavior was not as discreet as it should have been. Furthermore, her relationship with Henry was always explosive, feeding on passions and heightened emotions. Her end was tragic and Henry’s behavior repulsive, to put it mildly, but with the benefit of hindsight I find it hard to believe that the marriage would have lasted. Two such magnetic, charismatic personalities can be a powerful combination, but they are probably more likely to consume each other than a pairing of complementary personalities.
It is a horrible irony that one of the men imprisoned on suspicion of an inappropriate relationship with Anne was someone who at the time and ever since has been suspected of an actual physical/romantic relationship with her. And yet, Sir Thomas Wyatt was not charged or convicted. Instead, he was released from the Tower to slink away, shaken and distressed, to watch as the Boleyn ascendancy collapsed into pools of blood.
During the years when Anne was in favor, Wyatt was a favored court poet, and one of his most famous sonnets is frequently read as his longing from afar for Anne, though she is now as untouchable as those ancient deer belonging to Caesar and bearing collars engraved with the message “Touch me not; I am Caesar’s.” A brief analysis may be found here.