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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

You probably know her as the woman who was beheaded by King Henry VIII. You may not even know her full name. Since her death in 1536, her life story has been manipulated to become something far from the truth. With a powerful man at the center of her story, many have belittled her and have created a narrative that makes her death, her own fault. Here you can read about the real Anne Boleyn and take this as a reminder to take a critical look at women throughout history and present day to ensure you are not being taken advantage of by the larger narrative crafted by our patriarchal society.

Historians do not know exactly when Anne was born but they guess it was around 1500. Both her parents were respected nobles, and she lived a quiet life throughout her early years in Kent, about 50 miles away from Tudor court. Anne didn’t spend much time in England as she was moved to the Netherlands to serve in the court of Margaret of Austria in 1513. Then in 1515, she was again moved to serve King Henry’s sister, Mary, in her marriage to King Louis XII of France. In France, she excelled and remained there for seven years. Upon her return to England, she was sought after for her education in both French and English. With her, she brought back knowledge of the French language, how to play fashionable French instruments and new fashions from the continent. Additionally, her experience in the Dutch and French courts gave her skills and knowledge that would translate well to the English court and advance her family’s status.

In 1522, Anne returned to England where her sister Mary had been mistress to the king for two years. Anne was then named to serve in the court of Queen Katharine of Aragon whose marriage notably ended in divorce and led to England separating from the Catholic Church. It wasn’t until Anne’s participation in a play at court that she caught Henry’s eye. However, from the start, their “love story” was driven by Henry. Anne fell in love with a nobleman by the name of Henry Percy but when they became engaged, the marriage was stopped by the notorious Cardinal Wolsey who was acting on orders from the king. Anne was then banished to Hever Castle where she lived for peace for four years. That is, until King Henry began writing her extensive love letters expressing his immense love for her. Eventually, King Henry broke away from the Catholic Church to marry Anne which he did in 1533. A short three years later, Anne was taken to the Tower of London to be beheaded for her crimes of adultery.

Since her execution, history has put the blame onto Anne for her own death. Until recently, the general consensus was that Anne seduced King Henry and withheld sex to manipulate the King of England to marry her. It has been assumed that Anne had been scheming since the day she stepped foot in English court with the goal of worming her way into the king’s bed. After all, most of history makes women out to be uncontrollable in their lust and passion and that men were the ones who had to keep them at bay. Even the popular show “The Tudors” plays into this idea that Anne was the one who seduced Henry and trapped him in their marriage. Rarely is King Henry indicted for his crimes of murdering an innocent woman. Such claims are met with justifications, stating Anne didn’t give him what he wanted, a son, so his actions were justified, or that it was her fault for getting involved with him in the first place. Seldom has Anne been given the relief of being purely classified as a victim of a power-hungry king.

Looking back through history, it can be difficult to not cast our current standards onto the people being examined. The misconstrued case of Anne Boleyn may be a result of this fault. If they were to exist today, it could be plausible that a woman who saw an opportunity to marry the king, raise her family’s status in society and become the one of the richest women in the world, would go to many lengths to make such a thing happen. However, in the 16th century, there was a significant power imbalance between men and women. Anne was a rarity in that she could read, something most women of the time could not and were not allowed to do. Women were at the mercy of their fathers and their husbands once married. They were used as political pawns to create alliances and raise a family’s status. The thoughts and considerations of women were not given any weight in 16th century England. So why then, has history given one singular women, Anne Boleyn, all this power to persuade a King to not only lust for her but to divorce his wife and break off from the entirety of Europe by creating a separate church. It is just not realistic and any amount of thought put into the twisted history of Anne Boleyn would reveal the truth about her unfortunate time in English Court.

You may be wondering why any of this is important; Anne is dead and has been for 500 years, so what is there to possibly fix about this situation? While there is nothing more society can directly do for Anne, we can change how she, along with all women from history are remembered. Anne’s legacy should not be a reminder that all women want to do is manipulate and that they deserve what they get. Rather she should remind us how easily history can be manipulated, especially the vulnerable majority of history including women, people of color, people with disabilities and more. Men have and continue to run our society and therefore have control over the narrative, so it is up to us to be critical of the things we read and learn. Stories from 500 years ago are easily manipulated so it is important to give these “lesser” members of society the power they deserve through learning about and spreading their true stories.

Anne Boleyn serves as just one example of a woman who has been inaccurately and unjustly portrayed by the patriarchy throughout history. A single woman had the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and King of England working against her and now most of history as well. Anne deserves to be remembered as someone who did her best in the circumstances she was placed in and someone who was taken advantage of by not only a king, but his entire court as well. Her life was brutally cut short due to false accusations that she was sleeping with her brother. And while she paid the ultimate price, leaving behind a daughter, Henry simply saw her as a disposable pawn, a small blip in his reign ordained by God. And so too has history diminished her to be a cunning and manipulative woman, blaming her for her own demise. It is far time that people are exposed to the true story of Anne Boleyn and take it as a lesson to look at history through a different lens in an attempt to have all people’s stories told in the most accurate and just manner.

Class of 2025 Bachelor of Health Science Student at UF I am a pre-med student who loves learning about science, but also enjoys being creative and connecting with others. I want to be a surgeon one day but currently enjoy learning about the human condition and I am exciting to write about it and share my perspectives. I am involved in the Undergraduate American Medical Womens Association, UF College Democrats, and Phi Delta Epsilon on campus. I also do research in pediatric cancer and volunteer with kids at Shands. Outside of school, I love traveling and want to live in Europe for a year after I graduate. I am also a big Harry Styles fan and enjoy movies/shows like Pride and Prejudice (2005), Gilmore Girls, Greys Anatomy, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and the list goes on.