Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas, 2011

Whilst it's famously called "the most wonderful time of the year," Christmas can also be a difficult time for people. It can bring up painful memories of those no longer with us. Unfortunately, it can also add a great burden to those struggling either emotionally or financially. More often, though, Christmas is a combination of both sad and happy feelings, particularly as we get older, which reminded me of a lovely anecdote about the first Christmas. The story is told in an early Christian text, The Infancy Gospel of James, one of the earliest of the biographical hagiographies inspired by Christianity's leading figures.

"And Joseph  saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed. And when they had come within three miles, Joseph turned and saw her sorrowful; and he said to himself: Likely that which is in her distresses her. And again Joseph turned and saw her laughing. And he said to her: Mary, how is it that I see in thy face at one time laughter, at another sorrow? And Mary said unto Joseph: Because I see two peoples with my eyes; the one weeping and lamenting, and the other rejoicing and exulting."

I hope everyone reading has a safe and blessed Christmas. And thank you so very much for reading Confessions of a Ci-Devant throughout 2011.


  1. Merry Christmas! I hope you had a lovely day!

  2. Not at all related to the article, Gareth, but I'm currently reading Professor Warnicke's 'The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn', having read both Ives' and Bernard's biographies of Anne. I had heard a lot about this controversial take on Anne, yet Warnicke's arguments on Anne's date of birth, childhood and role in the court are in many ways very interesting and at times convincing. I was swayed towards the 1507 birth date and it is entirely possible. However, I disagree with her claim that Mary Boleyn was the younger sister of Anne. Warnicke herself claims that Mary could not have been born before 20 April 1508, yet she was married on 4 February 1520, when she would not even have been the 12 years old girls were required to be at marriage.

    Anyway, I wanted to ask you about your opinion on the cause of Anne's fall. It seems that the three main historians' - Ives, Warnicke, Bernard - arguments for her fall are all so wide-ranging and yet so complicated. Ives asserts it was entirely political and Anne was brought down in a faction struggle, Warnicke claims it was because of Anne's deformed baby and the suspicion of witchcraft, while Bernard believes that the charges had some truth and Anne was guilty of some of the accusations.

    Call me simple, but could it just be likely that, in April 1536, Queen Anne was still in a strong position, despite having lost her child, and instead of being involved in a faction battle with Cromwell, accusations of the Queen's immoral behaviour came to light, perhaps from her ladies-in-waiting such as Bridget Wiltshire and Lady Wingfield, which led Cromwell to instigate an investigation into her conduct? To me this seems the likeliest turn of events. I don't believe necessarily that Cromwell was trying to oust Anne from power, or was commissioned to do so by Henry, but from reading Ives, Bernard and Weir's takes on Anne's fall, the accusations of her ladies seem instrumental in leading to the investigation of her conduct which led to her death.

  3. Thanks, Conor. I've actually just finished my dissertation on the role the ladies-in-waiting played in Catherine Howard's downfall and I have to say from that research, I think the role of Anne Boleyn's ladies have been completely exaggerated. The Countess of Worcester's allegations against her and the deathbed testimony of the 5 year-dead Lady Bridget Wingfield rest on VERY flimsy evidence. There's no conclusive proof that Wingfield's husband was telling the truth, nor actually that the countess ever testified against her. What's most revealing in fact is that Anne's vice chamberlain, Lord Baynton, reported that NO maid or lady in waiting would testify against Anne and there 'is much communication here that no man will confess anything against her.' He resorted to trying to bully a maid of Anne's called Margery Horsman into providing evidence, which she wouldn't. For reasons which still aren't clear, although it's my hunch that it's because there wasn't any. Ives has done excellent research and, actually, so has Warnicke to show that Lady Worcester never offered evidence against Anne. Above all else, Conor, what's most striking is that in 1541 there are lengthy and detailed records surviving showing the investigation's interrogation of Catherine's ladies, but none for Anne. Furthermore, one of Catherine's ladies died with her and Anne's didn't. Unfortunately, having spent the best part of a year studying the queen's household, I'd have to say that it played an enormous, even pivotal role, in Catherine Howard's downfall but absolutely none whatsoever in Anne's. There is ZERO evidence beyond a French poem that Bernard uses as if its eyewitness, which it isn't, and any attempt to suggest the household women were key to Anne's downfall is, unfortunately, nothing more than unsubstantiated supposition. Catherine's on the other hand - another, equally fascinating story.

  4. That's very interesting Gareth! I have to say both Ives and Weir picked up on that unlike Katherine Howard, no lady was apprehended with Anne Boleyn, which is telling after what you've written.

    This is a very open question, but what do you believe caused Anne Boleyn's downfall? Was it, as Ives and Weir suggest, Cromwell engineering her fall because she was becoming a dangerous threat to his power and because they differed in terms of religion? Having read Warnicke's critique of Ives' theory which states that this was the likely reason she fell, I have to admit that Warnicke is right in saying we should be careful not to believe too hastily that it was a politically engineered coup because this will only further obscure the facts. Yet Warnicke's claim that 'the sole reason' Anne fell from power was because of a deformed foetus seems unbelievable and, I feel, this has even less credibility than Ives' theory of a faction battle.

    Bernard's theory I also disagree with, in that I believe Anne went too far in that she was too flirtatious, perhaps, yet if we discard Bernard's theory that the queen was guilty of at least some of the charges, having also discarded Warnicke's assumptions and perhaps not giving too much weight to Ives' political theory, what, then, did cause the downfall of the queen?

  5. Also, out of interest, I have written an article or two before on Katherine Howard's birth and would love to write some more on her childhood, perhaps, marriage, and the nature of her fall. Do you think it'd be possible to ask some magazines such as HistoryToday to publish them if academic enough?
    I'm not desperate Gareth, don't think I am - it's just I really want to write my theories and let people read them and I just feel I have to wait so long as I'm not even at uni yet!

  6. Conor, I absolutely don't think you're desperate! No. And good for you for spending your time working on these properly - I was your age when I wrote my first 'independent' research papers on Anne Boleyn's date of birth and her portraiture. If I'm honest, a magazine is UNLIKELY to publish them if you don't have at least some form of academic credentials (i.e. a university degree.) However, that being said, it is always worth trying and I'm certain your theories are interesting ones. I just spent six months (as it were) 'living' in Catherine Howard's household, writing about her downfall, as that was my postgraduate thesis and certainly, it's a fascinating topic in which the more I looked at it, the more I realised how much has been taken for granted and how it's always useful reading the primary sources, rather than their secondary one. I felt at the end that I could say with some degree of confidence that Catherine's downfall was essentially a fusion of spectacular bad luck, her own poor judgement and sixteenth century suspicions of feminity. But I was also more interested in studying the institution of the queen's household as an organisation - who made it up, their past careers in royal service, attitudes towards the household and the examples of previous queens - so I'll admit in 'Catherine Howard and the Queen's Household 1540-1541' I wasn't studying Catherine's downfall specifically, but rather the household on a wider front.

    Very interestingly the theory you're suggesting about explaining 1536 - that Anne was flirtatious and undone by unguarded gossip rather than her own alleged immorality - is one that has been expressed by yet another historian weighing in on the reasons for her death. In 2002, Greg Walker wrote an article called 'Re-thinking the fall of Anne Boleyn' in which he argued exactly that.

    My own opinions on Anne's downfall, right now, are that there are merits in every major assessment of her downfall - except, unfortunately, Bernard's. Not simply because of his view on her guilt, but rather that I think his source work was fairly one-sided and a bit sloppy (which I mentioned in my review of 'Fatal attractions' on this blog.) I don't think Anne was in a strong position at Easter, so, no, I don't think it's totally political, but equally I don't see any evidence that she miscarried a deformed foetus in January 1536 or that she was the victim of a gossiping campaign. I don't even see much evidence to suggest, actually, the oft-repeated charge that she was 'too fliratious,' which is something that both Ives and Warnicke query properly and which I think Walker, Bernard and, especially, Weir, rely on far too much with almost no contemporary evidence. I discussed a bit of my views on why I think Anne fell in May 2010 on this site, on the "May 9th 1536" post. But in a nutshell, the closest approximation I can find is J.J. Scarisbrick's view in his 1997 re-edition of his amazing biography of Henry VIII that we have to resist resorting to 'conspiracy theory' views of Anne's death, which is what I think Warnicke, Bernard and even Ives sometimes do. By 1536, Henry's obsessive love had turned into obsessive hatred; as obsessions often do. Scarisbrick argues Henry's attitude to her had always been basically unhinged and obsessive and that it was Henry's hatred of her - not anything that Anne or even Cromwell had done - which led to her being hounded to death on Henry's command. And I do think Professor Scarisbrick, who's still considered Henry's finest academic biographer, is right in saying 'no subject would have dared invent' the charges against Anne, unless Henry had already authorised them to do so. So, in the end, I think it was a confusing and terrifying mixture of royal absolutism, obsessive possessiveness and a deeply, deeply unpleasant man.


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