The lake was still and so were the trees. The air was chilly and the sky an eternal, gloomy grey. It was only the brick-red colour of the turrets that had some cheer to it. The Hampton Court Palace had been on my list for a while. I’d wanted to walk through 16th century Tudor history ever since I’d read about King Henry VIII and his six wives, and there I was. The palace itself didn’t seem too big or grand, but it was really the stories within its walls that I was there for.
It was just a short walk away from the Hampton Court Train Station. I walked through the gates, bought my ticket and headed straight to the Great Hall known for its decorated hammer-beam roof. It’s supposedly among the last such grand halls ever to be built. The ceiling was ornate and the hall colossal, but my eyes were searching for Anne Boleyn’s presence in the room. With the help of the audio guide, I found her initial ‘A’ entwined with her king’s—‘H’.
They say King Henry VIII had the builders remove Anne’s initial from all the decorations just before he married his third wife Jane Seymour. But they had missed a few, and I was very glad they had. Anne was one of the few queen consorts to have wielded their power shrewdly. When a besotted Henry asked Anne—then a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine—to be his mistress, she declined saying she’d only ever be a lawful wife, nothing less. Anne’s refusal of the king’s advances triggered some of the most transformational events in England’s history. Henry demanded for his marriage to his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, be annulled. When the Pope declined, stating that a king’s marriage to his queen is holy and can never be undone, Henry separated the Church of England from Rome and declared himself the ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’.
Later, Henry annulled his marriage to Catherine and took Anne for his wife and queen. Shortly before their wedding, he had raised Anne to the title of Marquess of Pembroke, the first hereditary peerage ever to be granted to a woman. After seven years of courtship, the daughter of a mere English diplomat (later made an earl), had not only risen in status, but had become the Queen of England.
All was well with the royal couple, even after the birth of their first child Elizabeth. But two years into their marriage, King Henry grew restless with Anne, when she miscarried a male child.
Anne even helped nurture a protestant reformation in a largely Catholic country. Unlike any queen England had ever seen, Anne had an active place by Henry’s side in the affairs of the state, long before she even became his wife.
All was well with the royal couple, even after the birth of their first child Elizabeth. But two years into their marriage, King Henry grew restless with Anne, when she miscarried a male child. Desperate for a male heir, Henry had Anne accused of adultery, incest and treachery; he wanted to be free to remarry again. In May of 1536, Anne was publicly executed at the Tower of London. A few days later, King Henry married Jane Seymour, who was a lady-in-waiting to Anne. Though she bore him a son, she died soon after. Henry went on to marry three more women thereafter. But none of his other wives enjoyed the equal status Anne had; the ambassadors of Milan and France are known to have written in their letters to their kings that they’d need Anne’s favour just as they’d need King Henry’s permission for their causes.
During the later years of his life, Henry had to come to terms with his lack of further male issues. And so, he was forced to add his daughters Mary (from Catherine) and Elizabeth (from Anne), preceded by his son Edward (from Jane), to the line of succession. Upon Henry’s death, Edward succeeded to the throne, but died prematurely at the age of 15, owing to a sickness. Mary succeeded him, but her extreme Catholic views and her violent ways led to her downfall.
Clearly, King Henry’s marriage to Anne marked a shift in power dynamics, not only in the affairs of the state but also of England’s Christendom.
In 1558, Elizabeth—Anne’s daughter—succeeded Mary and ruled with good counsel. She went on to stabilise a kingdom fraught with religious animosity and divide, and ruled for 44 years. King Henry might have snubbed his daughter from Anne. But it was that very daughter who brought glory to the Tudor Dynasty. Elizabeth’s reign is, to this day, known as ‘The Golden Age’.
The Hampton Court Palace had originally belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, the Bishop of York, and a trusted advisor to King Henry. When Wolsey fell out of favour with the king, on account of his failure to have the first marriage annulled, he gifted the palace to Henry. The king and Anne had great many plans for Hampton Court; they immediately started renovating the place to accommodate Anne’s apartments. Today, the gatehouse, which once led to the cardinal’s apartments, still contains the entwined initials of Henry and Anne. It’s even called ‘Anne Boleyn’s Gate’. And when I saw that a portrait of Anne—whom the cardinal is said to have despised—now hangs in one of the rooms that had once been Wolsey’s, I couldn’t help but smile rather vindictively.
Clearly, King Henry’s marriage to Anne marked a shift in power dynamics, not only in the affairs of the state but also of England’s Christendom. I found it only fitting that Anne lives on in spirit, despite Henry’s attempt to have all traces of her removed from the palace. She lives on in those initials, she lives on in her portrait, she lives on in her daughter’s legacy. To me, Hampton Court Palace is a reminder of Anne’s significance, not only in King Henry’s life as a wife, but also as a shrewd and bold queen of England, whose name couldn’t be forgotten easily.