Anne Boleyn (Blickling Hall or Hever Castle, 1501
The Boleyn family
Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, from 1529 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard, herself the daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The Boleyn family originally came from Blickling, Norfolk, not far from Norwich. It boasted noble origins only from the 13th century onward; however, its ancestors include a Lord Mayor of the City of London (Godfrey Boleyn, who prior to that office was a wool merchant), a duke, an earl, two aristocratic ladies and a knight. In addition, on her mother”s side, Anne could boast of being a member of the Howard family, one of the most prominent families in the kingdom and with its origins in Thomas of Brotherton, one of the sons of King Edward I of England.
Anne, along with her brother George and sister Mary, spent her childhood at the family castle in Hever, Kent. She had at least two other brothers, Henry and Thomas, who did not survive childhood.
Date of birth hypothesis
The lack of parish records prevents the establishment of a precise birth date for Anne Boleyn. According to a seventeenth-century Italian writing, the year would be 1499, while according to English biographer William Roper Anne would have been born after 1512. However to this day the academic debate focuses on two key dates: 1501 and 1507. Eric Ives, a British historian who is an expert on the Tudor period, favors the year 1501, while Retha Warnicke, a U.S. scholar who has also written a biography on Anna, prefers 1507. In particular, the comparison on the support of either hypothesis is based on a letter Anna wrote in 1514 from Malines, Belgium-where she was completing her education-to her father in England.
The letter was written in French, and based on the style and mature handwriting demonstrated in the missive, Ives argues that Anna must have been about thirteen years old at the time, while-according to Warnicke-the numerous spelling and grammatical errors in it would, on the contrary, demonstrate a younger age. As proof of his thesis, Ives argues that that of twelve to thirteen was the minimum age to be a bridesmaid (moreover, a late 16th-century chronicler wrote that Anna was in her twenties when, having completed her education in France, she returned home.
Supporting the year 1507 are two independent sources:
To this day there is no certain evidence to support either hypothesis. Just as with Anne, the date of birth for the other two siblings also remains uncertain, and consequently there is some doubt as to which of the two Boleyn sisters was the eldest. Some evidence suggests that the eldest was Mary (whose generally accepted birth year today is 1499), either because she was the first to marry (and at the time it was customary to have the eldest daughter contract marriage first), or because in 1596 Mary”s nephew claimed to Queen Elizabeth I of England the title of Earl of Ormond precisely on the basis of Mary”s primogeniture, an argument that Elizabeth accepted; finally, George would have been born around 1504.
Education in the Netherlands and France
Thomas Boleyn, Anna”s father, was a dutiful diplomat with a good command of foreign languages; he soon entered the circle of favorites of King Henry VII of England precisely because of the numerous diplomatic missions he carried out abroad on behalf of the English king.
In 1512 Thomas was one of three envoys assigned to the Netherlands, an appointment he obtained because of his ability to speak French and his family connections. There he made his mark with the regent Margaret of Habsburg (daughter of Maximilian I of Habsburg), forging a friendship with her that enabled him to obtain a prestigious commission for her daughter Anna, who was appointed maid of honor in her very service. At the Flemish court Anna stayed from the spring of 1513 until the fall of 1514, where she benefited from an education then reserved for very few women.
In October 1514, on the occasion of the marriage between Mary Tudor (sister of Henry VIII of England) and Louis XII of France, her father arranged her transfer to the French court, where she remained until 1521. There she was the lady-in-waiting first to Queen Mary Tudor of France herself and, beginning on January 1, 1515, to 15-year-old Claudia of France, queen consort of King Francis I.
During her stay at the French court, Anne was able to learn the French language, while also developing interests in art, illuminated manuscripts, literature, music, poetry, and religious philosophy, as well as acquiring knowledge of French culture, dance, etiquette, and courtly love, thanks in part to her probable meeting with Marguerite d”Angoulême (sister of King Francis I of France), a patron of humanists and reformers, as well as a poet and writer herself (among her works were some dealing with the theme of Christian mysticism, tending toward heresy). The quality of the education Anna received was demonstrated upon her return home, when she inspired new thoughts and fashions among the ladies of the English court.
At the court of Henry VIII of England (1522-1533)
In January 1522 Anna was called back to England to marry her Irish cousin several years her senior, James Butler, who was living at the English court.
This marriage arose out of the need to settle a family dispute involving the county of Ormond and the related title of nobility. The dispute arose when Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond, died in 1515 leaving his inheritance to his two daughters, Margaret (Anna”s paternal grandmother) and Anna. However, in Ireland, Sir Piers Butler, great-grandson of James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond and already in possession of Kilkenny Castle-the ancestral seat of the earls-disputed the decedent”s will and claimed the inheritance himself. Thomas Boleyn, being the son of the eldest daughter Margaret, believing himself to be the legitimate heir, sought support from his powerful brother-in-law, Thomas Howard, III Duke of Norfolk, who, in turn, informed the king himself of the matter. In order to prevent a trivial family dispute from sparking civil war in Ireland, an attempt was made to resolve the matter by arranging a marriage between the children of the two disputants-James, son of Piers Butler, and Anna, daughter of Thomas Boleyn, who would bring the earldom of Ormond as dowry, thus ending the dispute.
However, the plan failed and the marriage was not celebrated, perhaps because Sir Thomas hoped for a more illustrious marriage for his daughter, or perhaps because he himself aspired to the title of Earl of Ormond. Whatever the reason, the negotiations fell apart and James Butler married Lady Joan Fitzgerald, daughter and heiress of James Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Desmond, while Anne, still unmarried, became lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Spanish queen consort of Henry VIII, King of England.
Meanwhile, Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne, had been recalled from France as early as late 1519, returning home with a dubious reputation because of her relationship with King Francis I and some courtiers. It is said that, for the rest of her life, King Francis I spoke of Mary as the “English filly he and others had often ridden” and “a very great ribald, infamous above all.” In 1520, Mary married courtier William Carey in Greenwich, in the presence of King Henry VIII; shortly thereafter she became the ruler”s mistress. During that same period Mary had two children, Catherine and Henry; many doubts have been raised by historians about their real paternity. According to some scholars, in fact, King Henry VIII would be the father of both, or at least of Henry; however, the king denied any official recognition, as he had done with Henry Fitzroy (born of a previous relationship with his mistress Elizabeth Blount), the only child born out of a recognized marriage.
Anna made her official court debut on March 4, 1522, by participating, along with her sister Maria, in a ball organized in honor of the imperial ambassadors. The dance was a masque, a kind of theatrical performance very much in vogue at the time, in which a theme was chosen on the basis of which each participant was given a role. In the Chateau Vert it fell to Anna to play the part of “Perseverance.” On that occasion everyone wore white satin dresses embroidered with gold threads. The grace and beauty displayed by Anna during the ball were such that she was considered one of the most elegant women in the court.
Estranged from young Percy, Anna was sent to her father”s Hever Castle-the family”s country estate-for an indefinite period of time, while Henry was made to marry Mary Talbot, a young noblewoman to whom-thanks to the intermediary of Cardinal Wolsey-he had long been betrothed. Still ten years later, Percy tried unsuccessfully to have his own marriage annulled, appealing to the promise of marriage he claimed to have had with Anna. After the period of forced estrangement, the young Boleyn returned to court, again as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon.
There were also rumors of a relationship between Anne and the English poet Thomas Wyatt, who had grown up in Allington Castle, Kent, in close proximity to Hever Castle. This was claimed by George Wyatt – the poet”s nephew – who expressed in some of his writings his conviction about how several of the noted poet”s most passionate sonnets took inspiration precisely from their relationship, also claiming that the woman featured in the sonnet Whoso list to hunt (a translation and reinterpretation of the Petrarchan sonnet Una candida cerva sopra l”erba) was indeed the Boleyn, described here as unattainable and belonging to the king:
In 1520, however, Thomas Wyatt married Elizabeth Brooke although, according to many, it was a forced choice. In 1525 Wyatt accused his wife of adultery and, having separated from her, it was around this time that his interest in Anne seemed to have intensified.
In the spring of 1526 King Henry VIII fell in love with Anne and began to court her insistently to become his mistress, but Anne refused all attempts at seduction. The ambitious young woman must have seen in the king”s infatuation a great opportunity to make the most of: she knew that if she acceded to his request, she would simply be one of his many mistresses. (Better then to push Henry VIII to separate from his wife Catherine so that, free of all marriage ties, he would propose to Anne to marry her, making her the new queen of England.
To achieve her goal, Anna knew that she had to keep the king on his toes by pushing him to speed up the timing of the separation, which, at the same time, would allow her to intervene fully in the political affairs of the kingdom as well.
About the actual physical extent of their relationship has long been conjectured; it seems that throughout the entire courtship period, which lasted about seven years, their relationship was never consummated, or at least this would result from the correspondence the two kept over this period.
The annulment of the marriage to Catherine of Aragon: the “Great Question”
It has often been thought that Henry”s infatuation with Anne was the sole reason for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine, but another reason may have pushed the king in that direction: the queen”s inability to give him a male heir. After many miscarriages, stillborn children or surviving only a few months, Catherine had only managed to give him one daughter, Mary I of England. By the time of the affair with the Boleyn, Catherine, in increasingly poor health, was no longer fertile, which meant that it was now impossible to perpetuate the Tudor line (which Henry VII of England had started when he won the War of the Roses in 1485), risking the destabilization of the kingdom.
When King Henry VIII, not yet 18 years old, married Catherine, six years older, she was the young widow of Arthur Tudor, the king”s older brother, who died within four months of the wedding, just 16 years old, in 1502. At that time both England and Spain were vying for a merger of the two kingdoms, so already shortly after young Arthur”s death the rulers of the two kingdoms agreed on a new marriage between their heirs. However, the wedding could not be celebrated until 1509 because of a purely theological impediment involving a controversial passage from a book of the Bible, Leviticus. Here, in fact, a man is forbidden to enter into marriage with his brother”s widow on pain of a curse on both: “If any man take his brother”s wife, that is a bad thing; he hath uncovered his brother”s shames; let him be childless” (Leviticus, 20:21). Being, that of Henry and Catherine, a very special circumstance (concerning royal dynasties) and having been assured that the first marriage had not been consummated because of Arthur”s untimely death and the very young age of the bride and groom, Pope Julius II decided to circumvent the prohibition by issuing a special dispensation, by which the two could finally marry.
Yet years later, faced with the need to contract a new marriage to a fertile woman from whom to have a male heir, Henry VIII challenged the validity of the dispensation, arguing that not even a pope had the power to circumvent the Bible. He also revealed that he had always had doubts about the queen”s actual virginity, convinced that her marriage to her brother had been consummated. This meant that he had lived in sin throughout the marriage (triggering divine punishment that had denied him sons) and, even more, implied the illegitimacy of his daughter Mary. Henry”s plan was simple: to question the queen”s virginity in order to invalidate the papal dispensation, thus forcing the new pope Clement VII to admit the error committed by Pope Julius II and annul the marriage. The queen vehemently opposed this, vehemently shouting her innocence and virginity at the time of her marriage to Henry. The affair of Henry VIII”s wedding annulment soon became known, euphemistically, as The Great Matter.
In May 1527 Cardinal Wolsey, as papal legate, against all legal procedure opened a secret preliminary investigation (of which he did not even inform the queen) to certify whether indeed the marriage to Catherine could be considered null and void. The situation soon turned out to be much more complex than it had seemed at first; for the text of Leviticus was opposed by Deuteronomy, another biblical text (subsequent to Leviticus) where it is stated that a brother-in-law has a duty to marry his deceased brother”s wife if no children were born of the marriage: “when some brothers dwell together, and one of them dies childless, let not the wife of the dead man marry out to a strange man; let her brother-in-law come to her, and take her for his wife, and marry her for reason of brother-in-law” (therefore – according to this text – King Henry had acted in full compliance with the Bible by marrying Catherine of Aragon. Faced with the new developments, the only possible solution for Wolsey was to convene an extraordinary bishop”s assembly where the invalidity of the marriage would be unanimously ruled. This was not possible, however, because of the dissenting vote of only one bishop, John Fisher (bishop of Rochester), who expressed his full conviction about the validity of the marriage.
Acting this time in secret from Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry decided to make a personal appeal directly to the Holy See. In 1527 he sent his personal secretary William Knight to the pope in Rome, both to ask for the annulment of the marriage dispensation, claiming that it had been issued on the Queen”s false testimony, and to obtain a new dispensation that would allow him to marry any woman, even those with close family ties. But meeting the pope was not an easy matter. Following the sack of Rome in May 1527, Pope Clement VII was being held captive by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor as well as ruler of Spain and, more importantly, nephew of Catherine of Aragon. Having met the pope and reported the English king”s appeal, Knight succeeded only in obtaining a dispensation for a new marriage (issued in December 1527), but not an annulment of the marriage. In doing so, the pope prevented the king from availing himself of the dispensation granted, at least until the marriage to Catherine was judged null and void.
In late May 1528 London was hit by the sweating sickness (also called English fever) that did not spare even the court. The death rate was very high and the population decimated. To escape the epidemic Henry VIII fled London taking care to change residence frequently, while Anne was taken to the Boleyn family residence in Hever where, however, she contracted the disease, as did her brother-in-law William Carey; the king took care to send his own personal physician to treat her and she soon recovered, while William Carey died. Once cured, and once the epidemic was over, the young Boleyn was able to return to court. Calm having been restored, Henry resumed the bitter battle to have his marriage to Catherine annulled.
The “Great Question” was returned to Cardinal Wolsey, who sent two of his men (Edward Fox and Stephen Gardiner, the latter his secretary) to lobby the Holy See for permission to settle the matter in England. The request was granted, and the pope gave permission for an ecclesiastical tribunal to be set up in England to examine the case carefully, but with a very specific prohibition against issuing a verdict on the matter, which rested solely and exclusively with Rome. In order to monitor the fairness of the proceedings, and at the same time to have a trusted referent, the pope decided to flank Wolsey with an Italian papal emissary, Lorenzo Campeggi, who arrived in England on October 7, 1528.
The trial took place at Blackfriars, where it officially began on May 31, 1529, and ended on July 23 of that year. Among the defenders of Catherine of Aragon were the Bishop of Rochester John Fisher (the one who a little less than a couple of years earlier had voted against the annulment of the marriage in the extraordinary bishop”s assembly called by Cardinal Wolsey), two canon law experts brought in from Flanders, and the queen”s Spanish confessor. Catherine showed herself to be very strong and combative throughout, refused several attempts by Cardinal Wolsey (at the king”s suggestion) to persuade her to enter a convent (so that she would no longer hinder the sovereign in his plans) and was always able to stand up to Henry, confident as she was of her own innocence and the legitimacy of her marriage. A foreign queen in a foreign land, knowing that she could trust no one – least of all the king”s men – Catherine of Aragon repeatedly asked to have the trial transferred to Rome, which was not granted until mid-July.
Anne Boleyn, meanwhile, had managed to obtain a room next to the king”s and to be assigned court ladies. She was treated with exactly the same honors as a queen, in private as well as in public.
Although the trial had concluded, the verdict was postponed so that the records could be reviewed by the Roman Curia and thus allow the pope to make the final decision. This was seen as yet another failure on the part of Cardinal Wolsey and, worse, as demonstrating his loyalty to the pope rather than to the English king. Accused of praemunire, and thus of treason, in the fall of 1529 the king agreed to Anne”s request to dismiss Wolsey from his public office as lord chancellor, appointing Sir Thomas More in his place. The cardinal was well aware of how much influence Anne had over the king and asked for her help in having his office restored, but Anne did not agree, so Wolsey began plotting, along with Queen Catherine of Aragon and Pope Clement VII, a plan to force Anne into exile. When King Henry learned of this, he had Cardinal Wolsey arrested, banished him from court, and confiscated his property, some of which was transferred to Anne. Summoned to appear at the trial, Wolsey fell ill en route and died on November 29, 1530, in Leicester, never reaching the Tower of London.
In December of that year, the pope wished Anne Boleyn away from the court, and only a month later, noting the sovereign”s growing impatience, he ordered King Henry not to commit to a new marriage before the verdict was issued.
In July 1531, Queen Catherine was banished from the court and exiled for the next two years to various country residences: first to The More (former residence of Cardinal Wolsey placed near Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire), then it was the turn of Bishop”s Hatfield, later she resided at Hertford Castle, and in the spring of 1533 she was sent to Ampthill (Bedfordshire). At the same time her rooms at the royal court were granted to Anne.
With Wolsey”s disappearance from the political scene, Anne Boleyn became the most powerful person in the English court, to the point that she had a very strong influence on granted audiences and political matters. Her exasperation over the Holy See”s refusal to grant the annulment of the marriage encouraged her to suggest to King Henry that he follow the example of religious reformers such as William Tyndale, who denied the authority of the pope and argued that only the monarch should lead the Church. When William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, died, Anne had the Boleyn family chaplain Thomas Cranmer appointed his successor and the king”s new favored adviser.
In 1532 Thomas Cromwell, a politician and trusted man of King Henry VIII, presented several acts in Parliament including the Supplication against the Ordinary Bishops, which accused the clergy of imposing too many tithes on the English people, and the Submission of the Clergy, which stipulated that future ecclesiastical laws would be issued by the king, while those hitherto in force were to be subject to review by the sovereign and understood as issued by him and not by the pontiff. The Submission of the Clergy, enacted on March 15, 1532, recognized the supremacy of the English king over that of the Church and the pope, marking a significant departure of England from the Roman Church. Not recognizing the validity of these acts and refusing to betray the pope, Thomas More resigned as lord chancellor. Also in the same year, Thomas Cromwell became prime minister to the king, without any formal act, but only because of Henry VIII”s mere trust in him.
During this period Anne also played a cardinal role in England”s international position, fostering the consolidation of relations with France. She was able to establish excellent relations with France”s ambassador Gilles de la Pommeraie and, with his help, organized an international conference in Calais in the winter of 1532, where King Henry hoped to gain the support of the French King Francis I so that he would favor a marriage with Anne.
Marriage to King Henry VIII
Before leaving for Calais, by virtue of his upcoming marriage to Anne, King Henry decided to elevate the rank of his future bride. On September 1, 1532, the title Marquis of Pembroke was created in her honor, making Anne the richest woman in the kingdom. The Boleyn family also gained numerous privileges from its relationship with the English king: her father Thomas, formerly viscount of Rochford, became earl of Wiltshire, while his Irish cousin James Butler became earl of Ormond. In addition, thanks to Anne”s intervention, her sister Mary received an annual pension of 100 pounds, while the latter”s youngest son, Henry Carey, was educated in a prestigious Cistercian monastery.
In October 1532 King Henry VIII and Anne traveled to Calais to attend a meeting with French King Francis I, gaining his approval for the wedding. Soon after their return to Dover, the two were married in a secret ceremony, and in the first week of December 1532 Anne Boleyn discovered that she was pregnant, making the king confident that he would finally have the longed-for male heir. So, knowing that the secret wedding ceremony was legally invalid and unable to wait any longer for a trial verdict, Henry VIII had a new law passed that would allow the two to marry legally under the law of the new English Church.
On January 25, 1533 King Henry married Anne in London in a second wedding ceremony. Again, a degree of secrecy and secrecy was maintained, to the point that to this day it is not known exactly where the wedding took place, probably in Whitehall Palace (and more precisely in the Queen”s Study) or in the Palace of Westminster. In any case, the wedding was not made public knowledge until April, shortly before Anne was crowned queen of England.
On May 23, 1533, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, at a hearing of the Special Tribunal of the Priory of Dunstable (in Bedfordshire), concluded the process (although he had no authority to do so, since the final decision rested with the pope) by declaring the marriage between Catherine and Henry invalid, and therefore null and void; in contrast, five days later – on May 28, 1533 – Cranmer declared the marriage between King Henry and Anne Boleyn valid.
Following this decision Catherine of Aragon decided to appeal to Rome. To avoid further obstacles King Henry VIII had a new law passed making matters concerning England the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts (thus preventing any foreign interference, especially from the Holy See).
Queen consort of England (1533-1536) and the Act of Supremacy
Following the annulment of her marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the title of queen consort of England passed rightfully to Anne. On June 1, 1533, six months pregnant, Anne was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. The coronation was marked by the hostility of the people: people refused to take off their hats as a sign of respect for their new queen; indeed, much mocking laughter and insults were heard against her. When asked what impression she had of London during the coronation, Anne would reply, “I liked the city well enough, but I saw few hats in the air, and heard few tongues.” The people also used the royal couple”s initials, “HA,” meaning Henry (Henry) and Anne (Anne), repeating it several times to form a laugh and thus cover the newlyweds with ridicule.
The people, who had loved Catherine of Aragon, with equal fervor despised Boleyn to the point of trying to kill her through riots (e.g., one autumn evening in 1531, while dining at her home on the banks of the Thames, Anne was attacked by a mob of angry women, only to be saved by an escape by boat). Boleyn was hated for many reasons: first, she had publicly humiliated her beloved Queen Catherine of Aragon, a symbol of moral integrity, humility and the Christian faith. Moreover, Henry”s having pushed her to separate from the Church of Rome and the pope could only have been the result of a powerful and evil spell; this made Anne, in the eyes of the people, a cruel and ruthless witch. This hypothesis was also supported by the rumor that Anna had a sixth finger and a large mole on her neck, considered at the time to be marks of the devil. Several soothsayers and seers, driven by superstition or a desire to reaffirm the old Catholic religious current, would claim to have seen beside Queen Anne the devil speaking to her.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons had banned any appeal to Rome and threatened praemunire charges against anyone who introduced papal bulls into England. In response, on July 11, 1533, Pope Clement VII issued a bull invalidating the annulment sentence issued by Archbishop Cranmer; he also asked Henry to remove Anne and declare any children born of the union between them illegitimate. The pontiff also issued a provisional sentence of excommunication against the king and Archbishop Cranmer. In March 1534 the pope declared the marriage to Catherine valid and urged Henry to return to her.
As a result of the affair, the English Parliament passed a series of acts including the Act of Succession, by which King Henry recognized Anne as the legitimate queen of England, shifting the dynastic line of succession from that of Catherine of Aragon to that of Boleyn (and thus recognizing the children she had from the latter as legitimate). At the end of 1534 the most important act was enacted: the Act of Supremacy, by which King Henry recognized himself as supreme head of the Church of England (thus assuming spiritual as well as temporal power), thereby disavowing papal authority and making the rift between the Roman Church and England (Anglican schism) final. From then on, the Church of England would be under the direct control of King Henry and not Rome. Following the enactment of the Act on Treasons those who refused to accept the Acts, such as Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, would be locked up in the Tower of London and then executed.
The birth of Elizabeth I of England
After her coronation Anne settled for the last months of her gestation at Greenwich Palace, the king”s favorite residence. In that very building on September 7, 1533-between three and four in the afternoon-Anne gave birth to a baby girl: the future Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Born slightly premature, the child was named Elizabeth probably after the mother of one or both parents (from Elizabeth Howard, Anne”s mother, or Elizabeth of York, Henry”s mother). Having had another female child greatly disappointed Henry, especially on account of the fact that everyone from royal physicians to astrologers had predicted the birth of a male child. The king had already taken steps to ask the French king Francis I to be the heir”s godfather and had had letters prepared in advance announcing the prince”s birth (letters that had to be hastily corrected to the feminine), as well as having already organized the traditional tournament to celebrate the birth of the heir prince (later cancelled).
With the birth of little Elizabeth, Anne feared that Mary I of England, the eldest child Henry had had by Catherine of Aragon, might strip her of the title of princess. Henry, to appease Anne, then separated the two daughters and sent Elizabeth to Hatfield House where, assisted by personal servants and frequent visits from her mother Anne, she spent her childhood.
The court presided over by the new queen consort Anne Boleyn was marked by luxury and magnificence. Anne could count on a larger servants than Queen Catherine had been able to dispose of. More than 250 people worked in her employ, from priests to groomsmen, and more than 60 maids of honor. Among the priests, who also served as confessors, chaplains and spiritual assistants, was Matthew Parker, one of the co-founders (along with Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker) of Anglican theological thought during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Anne invested significant sums of money in gowns, jewelry, headdresses, peacock feathers, riding gear, equipment, furniture and furnishings, flaunting the opulence demanded by her status (at the time, in fact, members of the royal family were required to make a continuous display of pageantry, apt to proclaim the power of the monarchy). Numerous palaces were renovated to suit the extravagant tastes of Anne and her consort. The new queen”s motto became “the happiest,” and a falcon was chosen as her personal emblem.
Conflicting relationship with the king and the struggle for a male child
The marriage relationship between King Henry and Anne was tempestuous: periods of tranquility and happiness alternated with periods of tension and quarrels, mostly due to Henry”s repeated infidelities, which led Anne to violent fits of weeping and rage; on the other hand, Anne”s marked intelligence and political acumen were considered by Henry to be very irritating.
Following Elizabeth”s birth, despite severe disappointment, Henry and Anne believed they would have more children, including the coveted male heir, but the second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in the summer of 1534. The king then began to believe the gossip about Anne”s inability to bear him a son and discussed with Cranmer and Cromwell the possibility of separating from her without having to return to Catherine. The royal couple, however, reconciled, and in October 1535 Anne discovered that she was pregnant again. Unfortunately for her, this pregnancy also ended in a miscarriage.
The death of Catherine of Aragon and the last abortion
Shortly before Elizabeth”s birth, Catherine of Aragon resided in the bishop”s residence at Buckden (Huntingdonshire), only to be transferred to Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire, her final residence. Here, on January 7, 1536, Catherine, who had been ill for some time, died. Upon learning of the inauspicious news, which did not reach the royal court until the following day, Henry and Anne, who was pregnant again at the time, proceeded to wear yellow robes. Many interpreted the gesture as a public show of joy and celebration, but in the missing queen”s homeland, namely Spain, yellow-as well as black-was considered the color of mourning, and wearing it was a sign of respect for the deceased.
During the embalming process to which Catherine”s body was subjected, it was noticed that the queen”s heart was of an unusual dark color, as if blackened. Rumors then began to circulate about possible poisoning, and the first suspicions fell on Henry and Anne. Today, doctors agree that the unusual color was due to heart cancer-a disease, little known at the time, that caused the Spanish queen”s death-although there is no firm evidence to attest to this.
After Catherine”s death, Anne tried to make peace with her daughter Mary, but she rejected all attempts at rapprochement, probably because, lending credence to the rumors circulating, she accused Anne of poisoning her mother. On the same day of the queen”s funeral and burial in Peterborough Cathedral, January 29, 1536, Anne had another miscarriage, resulting in her giving birth to a dead fetus. According to reports by Eustace Chapuys (ambassador of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Habsburg to the English court) the fetus was about twenty weeks old and male.
There is much speculation as to the causes that led to yet another miscarriage, such as the fright that Boleyn got only five days earlier when King Henry fell from his horse during a tournament at Greenwich and was unconscious for two hours, or when, upon entering a room, he saw one of his ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, sitting on the king”s lap. Much speculation was also made about the actual number of pregnancies: according to author Mike Ashley, Anne would have had two miscarriages between Elizabeth”s birth in 1533 and the miscarriage of the dead fetus in 1536, but most sources attest only to Elizabeth”s birth in September 1533, a possible miscarriage in the summer of 1534, and the miscarriage of a male child-after nearly four months of gestation-in January 1536.
The news of yet another miscarriage, moreover of a male child, caused an irreversible deterioration of the marriage with the king who, convinced beyond doubt about Anne”s inability to give him an heir, began to consider his marriage the result of a spell, and therefore, cursed by God. Thus, as early as March 1536 Henry VIII began courting the lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour, the one who would become his third wife. It seems that the king had given his new mistress a locket with a miniature portrait of himself inside, and that Jane, in the presence of Anne, began to open and close it over and over again until Anne snatched it from his hand with such force that she injured herself.
Seymour was given the most prestigious apartments, while the title of knight of the Order of the Garter, to which Anne aspired for her brother George, was instead awarded to chief squire Nicholas Carew, an enemy of the Boleyns and Jane”s trusted adviser. Anne knew by now that she would soon be repudiated by the king and that the same fate awaited her as Catherine of Aragon.
The arrest and trial
With the death of Catherine of Aragon, Anne found herself in an even more precarious situation. During her rise to power and short reign she had made many enemies at court; moreover, the English people continued to see her as a usurper deserving of hatred and contempt, while she remained loyal to her beloved Queen Catherine.
Beginning in April 1536 Anne was investigated for high treason. A secret commission had gathered enough evidence on behalf of the Crown to convict her of treason, and the list of her crimes was long and ignominious: “despising the marriage bond and harboring ill will toward the king,” the indictment read, “as well as daily indulging her fickle criminal desire, she has by deceit and treachery, by vile conversations and kisses, groping, gifts and other infamous solicitations, drawn to herself more than one of the king”s servants and maids to make them her adulterous lovers and concubines.”
On May 2, 1536, around noon, she was arrested and taken to the Tower of London (Tower Green) by boat, where she was placed in the custody of her jailer, Constable William Kingston. According to historian Eric Ives, it is likely that Anna entered the building through the Court Gate of the Byward Tower, rather than through the Traitors” Gate. In the tower Anna wanted to learn details about the fate of her family and the charges against her.
In those same days, on charges of having been lovers of the queen, they were arrested: Lord George Boleyn (Anne”s brother, now Viscount George Rochford), Mark Smeaton (court musician of Flemish origin, notably organ and virginal player), poet Thomas Wyatt, Henry Norris (courtier of the Privy Chamber and friend of the king since childhood), Francis Weston (a young gentleman who was part of the queen”s circle of intimates), William Brereton and Richard Page (both courtiers of the king”s Privy Chamber).
The alleged Boleyn lovers were tried at Westminster beginning on May 12, 1536. The first to be arrested and tried was Mark Smeaton; at first he firmly denied the accusation, but later confessed, perhaps under torture, or perhaps under the promise of freedom (of all those put on trial he was the only one to confess to having been Queen Boleyn”s lover). During the interrogations the name of Henry Norris, a friend of the royal couple, was mentioned. Norris was arrested at the May Days (at the trial he denied all charges, proclaiming the innocence of Anne and himself, but to his detriment was an overheard conversation between him and Anne in late April, where Boleyn accused him of going to her lodgings too often under the guise of courting one of her ladies-in-waiting (identified as Mary Shelton or Madge Shelton), but with the real intent of seducing the queen herself. Two days later Francis Weston was arrested on the same charge, and so was William Brereton, a Cheshire landowner and already tainted by various scandals. Thomas Wyatt, a poet and friend of Boleyn (and with whom he was infatuated), was also arrested on the same charge, but was later released, probably because of his (and his family”s) friendship with Prime Minister Thomas Cromwell. For Richard Page the charge was dropped when, upon further investigation, he was found to be completely innocent of the facts and thus fully acquitted of all charges. The final defendant was Queen Anne”s brother George Boleyn, on whom there was also a charge of incest with Anne. Tried on May 15, 1536 in the Tower of London, he was blamed for two incidents of incest in particular: one in November 1535 in Whitehall and the other the following month in Eltham. George rejected all charges, proclaiming his innocence; the only testimony regarding the alleged incest came from his wife, Lady Rochford. Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton and George Boleyn were found guilty and sentenced to death; they were executed on May 17, 1536, on Tower Hill, the place in the Tower of London designated for executions. Before they were executed, all the accused swore allegiance to the sovereign; only Mark Smeaton asked for forgiveness for their sins, while George made a short speech to the crowd. It was customary at the time, should the condemned utter any unseemly words, to cover his voice with the roll of drums, but for George this did not happen: “Gentlemen all, I am not here to preach and sermonize, but to die, as the law requires, and to the law I submit,” then exhorting the bystanders to follow the dictates of the Gospel and to believe in God “and not in the changing fortunes or vanities of the court, for if I had done so, I would still be alive among you now.” On the same day that the condemned were executed, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer declared the marriage between Anne and the king null and void and, consequently, their daughter Elizabeth illegitimate.
On May 15, 1536, the same day George was tried, the case against Anne also began, albeit in separate rooms in the Tower of London. Before a jury of Peers, which included Henry Percy-her former betrothed-and one of her maternal uncles Thomas Howard, III Duke of Norfolk, Anne was tried for adultery, incest, witchcraft, and high treason for plotting, with her supposed lovers, a scheme to kill the king so that she could finally marry Henry Norris. One of the heaviest testimonies against the queen was provided by her own sister-in-law, Lady Rochford, who explicitly accused her of incest with her brother and implied that she had received confidences from Anne regarding the king”s alleged impotence, which would have cast doubt on the actual paternity of any children. Anna vehemently denied all the accusations and defended herself eloquently, but to no avail. At the end of the trial she was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed four days later.
It is said that when the verdict of conviction was announced, Henry Percy, sitting on the jury, had a nervous breakdown and had to be carried by weight out of the courtroom. He died eight months later in his early thirties and, having no heirs, his grandson Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, succeeded him.
Today it is generally accepted that none of the charges brought against Anna were reliable.
According to historian Alison Weir, an expert on the Tudor period, Thomas Cromwell would be primarily responsible for Boleyn”s decline: on April 20, 1536, pretending to be ill, he allegedly hatched the dense plot to eliminate the queen from the scene. Historian Eric Ives also believes that Anne”s decline and execution were engineered by Thomas Cromwell; moreover, correspondence exchanges between imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys and Emperor Charles V would report parts of conversations between Chapuys and Cromwell himself from which it would be clearly understood how the latter was the instigator of the plot to remove Anne (there would also be traces of this in the Spanish Chronicle). Anne would have been seen as a threat by Cromwell because of the opposing views the two had on, for example, the redistribution of church income and foreign policy: Anne encouraged a redistribution of income to charitable and educational institutions and also advocated a strengthening of the alliance with France; Cromwell, on the other hand, advocated the need to replenish the king”s impoverished coffers and preferred an imperial alliance. Cromwell”s biographer John Schofield, on the other hand, argues for the nonexistence of a power struggle between Anne and Cromwell, the latter being involved by Henry only because of the royal marital drama.
The last days of captivity
Anne spent the last days of her life locked up in the Tower of London, probably in the royal apartments (demolished in the late eighteenth century) in the Inner Ward, south of the White Tower. Here she lived alternating between nervous breakdowns and states of extreme quiet. Kingston Jailer”s letters to Prime Minister Cromwell reported Anne”s contradictory behavior in those distressing days: at one time she was the haughty reviled queen, at another she was the lost pitiful victim, yet another the exhausted woman on the verge of hysteria; on some occasions she yearned for death, while at others she showed a pronounced vital impulse, or there were moments when she hoped to save her life and take refuge in a convent alternating with others when she was well aware of her imminent and inevitable execution. It is possible that this psychological breakdown was also at least partly due to the aftermath of the abortion she had only a few months earlier. Therefore, the legend (after her death and attributed to an anonymous poet) of the newfound spiritual peace that, by temperament and surrounding events Anna never had in life, was intended to portray Anna as a victim of the king”s lust.
There is a poem, titled Oh Death Rock Me Asleep, which many attribute to Anne Boleyn and which she allegedly wrote during the very last days of her imprisonment in the Tower of London. The poem reveals Boleyn”s feelings while waiting to be executed and shows a person who saw death as a way to end her suffering. Others say the poem was written, however, by her brother George.
As befitted a queen, in the Tower of London Anne was allowed to have the company of four ladies, whom she considered rather “guardians” (in fact, they were entrusted with the task of reporting anything interesting they saw the queen do or heard her say). The four ladies were: her aunt Lady Boleyn, wife of James Boleyn; Mrs. Coffin, whom Kingston counted on to report to him everything Anna said; Mrs. Stonor; and another woman whose name has been lost.
According to the ladies, Anne described all her encounters with her alleged lovers as devoid of anything sinful, and claimed that she always proved herself a virtuous queen, since she rejected all their courtships.
The execution and burial
According to the provisions of the Treason Act (issued during the reign of King Edward III of England), the crimes charged against Anne were among the forms of treason-presumably because of the implications for succession to the throne-for which the death penalty was prescribed: hanging, disembowelment and quartering for men and burning at the stake for women. As a sign of clemency, the king commuted the sentence of burning at the stake to that of beheading, agreeing, moreover, that the sword should be used instead of the common axe-usually used in England for public beheadings-recognizing the sword as a swifter weapon (in fact, the first stroke of the axe did not always kill the condemned man), more efficient and more noble, that is, worthy of a queen. To this end, Henry VIII had an experienced, swift and excellent executioner named Jean Rombaud come from Saint-Omer, France, to carry out the sentence.
On the morning of Friday, May 19, 1536, just before dawn, Anne called Kingston, her jailer, to attend Mass with her; on that occasion the queen swore several times-just before and just after receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist-in his presence, on the eternal salvation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the king:
The choice of the place of execution was problematic: it was feared, in fact, that the emotional instability shown by Anne during her detention in the Tower of London would lead her to say words or assume embarrassing attitudes in front of a crowd that would, certainly, have flocked in large numbers to witness her public execution. Tower Hill, therefore, access to which was too free, was excluded, preferring instead the inner courtyard, adjacent to the chapel, access to which was, by contrast, easily controlled. According to historian Eric Ives, however, the gallows would have been erected on the north side of the White Tower, in front of where the Waterloo Barracks stand today.
The Spanish Chronicle contains a detailed account of the event: at 8:00 a.m. the queen was led from the royal apartments to the scaffold, accompanied by her four ladies. For her execution Boleyn chose a crimson petticoat over which she wore a dark green damask robe with fur trimmings and an ermine cloak. Finally, a headdress concealed the cap that wrapped around her hair. During the short journey Anna seemed to have a “demonic appearance” and appeared “as gay as one who is not about to die.” Once on the scaffold, the queen made a short speech to the crowd:
This is a version of the speech transcribed by the French poet Lancelot de Carles in Paris a few weeks after Boleyn”s death, and although he had certainly been in London, he never witnessed either the trial or the execution; however, all the accounts recounting the episode are very similar and agree in several places. It is also said that as he spoke those words, Anne had “a beautiful smiling face.”
At the time of the execution, Anna knelt in an upright position (according to the French style of executions, which did not include a log on which to rest her neck) while repeating the prayer “To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul.” Then the ladies who had accompanied her removed her headdress (but not her bonnet, which held back her hair, leaving her neck free) and necklaces, while another lady tied a blindfold over her eyes. Suddenly the executioner Rombaud brandished the sword with a gesture that amazed the crowd, since no one had noticed the weapon up to that point, almost giving the impression that it had magically materialized in his hands at that instant; in fact, the executioner had hidden the sword among the straw scattered at the foot of the stump, and his gesture was explicable with the intention of catching the condemned woman by surprise, and avoiding her prolonged anguish from waiting, as well as any sudden movements. Moreover, to prevent Anna from instinctively turning her head back at the moment of beheading, the executioner shouted to the crowd in front of the scaffold, “Bring me the sword,” so that Anna impulsively turned her gaze forward, keeping her neck straight. At that exact instant the executioner lowered his sword onto her neck, pulling it off in one stroke. One lady covered the queen”s head with a white cloth, while the others took care of the body.
Due to the secretive nature of the place of execution, the spectators were not many: Prime Minister Thomas Cromwell, Charles Brandon (1st Duke of Suffolk), Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley (accompanied by herald Wriothesley), the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Henry Fitzroy (illegitimate son of the king), the Lord Mayor of London, as well as aldermen, sheriffs and representatives of the various trade guilds. Also present were most of the members of the King”s Council and those who lived within the Tower of London.
It is said that Thomas Cranmer, while standing in the gardens of Lambeth Palace (the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury), upon hearing the cannon shots signaling that the execution had taken place said to the Scottish Reformed theologian Alexander Ales, who was with him, “She who has been England”s queen on earth will today become a queen in heaven”; then he sat down on a bench and burst into tears. Cranmer”s character was controversial: when charges were initially brought against Anne, he had expressed his astonishment to Henry by supporting his belief that Anne was not guilty. However, it was still Cranmer who, feeling exposed to possible charges because of his closeness to the queen, proclaimed the marriage between Henry and Anne null and void the night before the execution. Cranmer made no serious attempt to save Boleyn”s life, although some sources claim that it was he who prepared her for execution by listening to her last private confession, a confession in which the queen allegedly proclaimed before God her innocence.
Anne Boleyn”s deceased body was reassembled with her severed head, enclosed in a rough wooden coffin and buried in an anonymous tomb in the church of St. Peter ad Vincula-the royal chapel in the Tower of London-unaccompanied by any ceremony, alongside her brother George, who had been executed four days earlier. Her skeleton was identified only during renovations of the religious building in 1876, during the reign of Queen Victoria; since then, Anne”s remains have rested under the chapel”s marble floor, now appropriately marked with special identifying markers.
On May 30, 1536, just 11 days after Boleyn”s execution, King Henry VIII married Jane Seymour, making her his third wife.
Many legends and fantastic stories concerning Boleyn have survived over the centuries. According to one of these, Anne”s body was secretly buried in the church of Salle in Norfolk, under a black slab, near the graves of her ancestors, while according to others her remains rest in a church in Essex, on the road to Norfolk. There is also a legend that the queen”s heart, at her express request, was buried in St. Mary”s Church in Erwarton, Suffolk, by her uncle, Sir Philip Parker.
In the 18th century, a legend circulated in Sicily that, according to peasants in the village of Nicolosi, for alienating King Henry VIII from the Catholic Church, Anne was condemned to burn for eternity inside Mount Etna.
The most famous legend, however, is that of her ghost, sometimes sighted with her head under her arm: many claim to have distinguished the figure of the queen at Hever Castle, Blickling Hall, Salle Church, the Tower of London and Marwell Hall. However, the most famous sighting of the royal ghost was described by the scholar of paranormal phenomena Hans Holzer. He recounts that in 1864 a certain J.D. Dundas, a major general in the 60th regiment of the King”s Royal Rifle Corps, was lodged in the Tower of London; looking out the window of his quarters Dundas noticed a guard acting strangely in the courtyard below, in front of the quarters where – centuries earlier – Anne had been imprisoned. According to his account, it seemed that the guard was challenging something, described by the general as “a whitish female figure that ”slid” toward the soldier.” The guard charged the figure with his bayonet and then fainted. Only the general”s testimony at the court-martial saved the guard from a long prison sentence for passing out while on duty.
Finally, in 1960 Canon W.S. Pakenham-Walsh, vicar of Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, reported conversing with Boleyn.
Anne was described by her contemporaries as an intelligent woman, gifted in the musical arts, strong-willed, proud and often quarrelsome with Henry; Thomas Cromwell himself recognized her qualities of intelligence, wit and courage.
Boleyn undoubtedly exerted a powerful charm on the people she met, although opinions on her loveliness were divergent. The Venetian diarist Marino Sanuto, who saw her in October 1532 in Calais on the occasion of the meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francis I of France, described her as “not one of the most beautiful women in the world; of medium stature, dark complexion, long neck, wide mouth, not prosperous breasts and black eyes”; in a letter written in September 1531 by Simon Grynée to Martin Bucer Anna was described as “young, beautiful and of rather dark complexion.” The coeval French poet Lancelot de Carles described her as “beautiful and with an elegant figure,” while a Venetian who was in Paris in 1528 reported how, according to rumors circulating at the time, she was said to be very beautiful. However, the most famous physical description of Anne, though the least reliable, is found in the Latin work De origine ac progressu schismatis anglicani (i.e., Birth and Development of the Anglican Schism) written by English Jesuit and Catholic propagandist Nicholas Sanders in 1585, half a century after Anne”s death: “Anne Boleyn was rather tall in stature, with black hair and an oval face of a yellowish complexion, as if afflicted with jaundice. She is said to have had a protruding tooth under her upper lip and six fingers on her right hand. She had a large leek under her chin, and so, to hide her ugliness, she wore gathered clothing (…) She was beautiful to look at, with a beautiful mouth.” It should be remembered that Sanders had been entrusted with the arduous task of dismissing Anglicanism in England in order to re-establish Catholicism there, and it was his full belief that Anne was primarily responsible first for King Henry VIII”s estrangement from the Catholic Church and then for the Anglican Schism proper. There are many doubts as to the veracity of the Jesuit”s words: first, if Anne had indeed had a sixth finger (an anomaly that at the time would have been considered a clear mark of the devil), surely King Henry VIII would never have been interested in her, let alone have chosen her as queen of England and mother of his children; second, following exhumation in 1876 no abnormalities of any kind were discovered on the skeleton, indeed it was described as slender, about 160 centimeters, and with finely tapered fingers. However, despite being misleading and entirely mendacious, Sanders” description of Anne had much influence in the centuries to come (so much so that it was cited in some modern textbooks), contributing to what biographer Eric Ives calls the “monster legend” of Anne Boleyn.
Interestingly, no coeval portrait of Boleyn has survived, perhaps because after her execution in 1536 an attempt was made to erase even the uncomfortable memory of her. Only one medallion, dating from 1534 and probably commemorative in nature, in which the queen is portrayed in a half-length figure, has survived to this day. The medallion is believed to have been coined to celebrate Boleyn”s second pregnancy.
Following her daughter Elizabeth”s coronation as queen, Anne”s memory was rehabilitated and, in spite of the charges that led to her death and the ignominious descriptions of her outward appearance, Boleyn became a martyr and heroine of the Anglican Schism, thanks in part to the works of John Foxe. In these writings, in fact, it was claimed that Anne had saved England from all the evils of the Catholic Church and that God himself had provided proof of her innocence and virtue by ensuring that Anne”s daughter Elizabeth ascended the English throne.
Toward the end of the sixteenth century this rehabilitation gave rise, along with the interest of that period in everything related to the kings and queens of England, to a production of a series of portraits on the Boleyn which, however, it is not known how faithful they are to the lost originals.
About the role Anne allegedly played in pushing King Henry toward the Anglican Schism, how much there was of personal ambition or how much of deep conviction, much has been written. In the opinion of some historians, Anne tried to educate her ladies in religious piety and, according to one anecdote, she harshly scolded her cousin Mary Shelton for writing futile verses in her prayer book. George Wyatt, Boleyn”s first biographer as well as a nephew of the poet Thomas Wyatt, wrote that – based on confidences reported to him by one of the queen”s ladies-in-waiting (Anna Gainsford, who died in about 1590) – Boleyn allegedly brought to King Henry”s attention a pamphlet (perhaps William Tyndale”s The Obedience of a Christian Man or Simon Fish”s Supplication for Beggars) in which the authors sobered the king to take the reins against the excesses of the Catholic Church.
Before and after her coronation Anne seemed to sympathize with the cause of wanting to reform the Church; she protected all scholars working on translating sacred texts into English. (She also saved the life of a French philosopher, Nicolas Bourbon, who had been sentenced to death by the Inquisition in Paris. On May 14, 1534, one of the first official acts issued by the new Anglican Church allowed Protestant Reformers to be protected; Anne herself wrote a letter to Prime Minister Thomas Cromwell in an attempt to help a certain Richard Herman, an English merchant from Antwerp, regain his property and business after it had been taken from him five years earlier solely for helping with the English translation of the New Testament. It was said that every reformist bishop in England at that time owed his position to the influence of Queen Anne: in fact, she seems to have been instrumental in influencing, among others, the Protestant reformer Matthew Parker, allowing him to attend court as her chaplain, and to whose care he entrusted little Elizabeth shortly before her death.
Finally, to understand the undoubted role that Anne played in the Anglican Reformation, it is useful to cite a letter, addressed to Queen Elizabeth I of England, in which the Scottish theologian Alexander Ales – referring to Anne Boleyn – wrote, “Your most holy mother was designated by the evangelical bishops among those scholars who favored the purest doctrine” (i.e., Anglicanism).
Over the centuries, Anne has inspired numerous artistic and cultural works. It may well be said that her figure has remained firmly rooted in popular memory, to the point that she has been described as “the most important and influential queen consort England has ever had.”
A largely fictionalized biography of Anne Boleyn was written by author Philippa Gregory in the historical novel The King”s Other Woman, and she appears as a co-star in the first two books of Hilary Mantel”s Wolf Hall trilogy.
Famous is Gaetano Donizetti”s opera Anna Bolena (Milan, Teatro Carcano, Dec. 26, 1830), one of the Bergamo master”s best-known operas, written in just 30 days. This opera after 1870 was forgotten, but was rediscovered in the mid-20th century, after a staging directed by Luchino Visconti, and with Maria Callas in the title role, still one of the greatest interpreters of Donizetti”s difficult role.
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