Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 713
Anne Boleyn, the mistress and, later, wife of King Henry VIII. She was executed in 1536. Anne is first seen in the Tower of London, awaiting death. Her life with Henry is then told in flashbacks. Anne, in 1526 a not altogether innocent girl, is passionately in love with Lord Percy, Duke of Northumberland, to whom she is engaged, but she has attracted the attention of Henry, who separates the lovers. Embittered by his actions, she denounces the king’s person and talents. With her world empty following the loss of her lover and with her parents applying pressure, Anne allows herself to be drawn to Henry, although she arrogantly refuses to go the way of her sister, whose reputation was stained and whose children were illegitimate. Anne demands marriage, believing that Henry cannot meet this demand because he already is married to Katharine of Aragon. When Henry seeks an annulment for that marriage, Anne is flattered by the length to which Henry will go to win her. When Henry makes her his queen, she surrenders completely, denouncing her new power and status and pleading only for Henry’s love. This causes Henry’s love for her to wane; he increasingly turns his attention to Jane Seymour, who, like Anne earlier, is not easily won. Threatened and insecure, Anne grows more strident in her demands. Before she will try to have another child with Henry, she insists on the death of Sir Thomas More and those others who will not accept Henry as the supreme religious authority in England and who deny the legitimacy of their marriage. Henry meets this final demand, but their son is born dead, and Anne thus loses her hold over Henry. He allows false charges of adultery to be brought against her, and Anne falls victim to the bloodshed that she herself, as she recognizes in the Tower, has let loose upon the land.
Henry VIII, king of England from 1509 to 1547. Henry has been attracted to all three Boleyn women: Elizabeth, later the mother of Anne and Mary, and both daughters. Elizabeth remembers him as innocent and naïve; Mary recalls him as insecure, unwilling to court any woman who might reject him. By the time Henry pursues Anne, he has been corrupted by his own power, mistaking his own will for God’s. He speaks of courting favor among his people but, in reality, derives pleasure from imposing his own will, whether upon his courtiers, his populace, or an unwilling woman. For Henry, the chase and capture are everything; to his courtiers, he admits that he sees no difference in this respect between deer and women. When Henry first courts Anne, this brutality is only latent within him, but her defiance and the challenges she sets him bring his brutality to the surface. Once Henry has proven capable of murdering friends such as Sir Thomas More to acquire Anne, he proves equally capable of murdering Anne to acquire a new love. Henry’s excuses (England’s need for a male heir and God’s wrathful judgment on his marriages to Katherine and Anne) are merely that, excuses that only superficially conceal the profound desire for power that, in middle age, is the core of his character.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor. Wolsey compromises his religious duties to keep himself in Henry’s favor and to enrich himself at the expense of the church. He arranges Henry’s liaison with Anne but is horrified at their proposed marriage. He is undermined by Thomas Cromwell, who has learned amorality from him, and fails in body and spirit when he turns his palace over to Anne.
Thomas Cromwell, an adviser to Wolsey and later to Henry. Admittedly without scruples, Cromwell acquires Henry’s favor by arranging the marriage with Anne but is equally willing to arrange her death, obtaining evidence against her through torture.
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More, a statesman, author, and, later, saint. More dies rather than renounce his allegiance to Rome, confident in the faith that, in the long run, an ultimate justice governs the universe, bringing men and women the destinies they merit. His faith is validated by the fall of Wolsey and the death of Anne.