Anne Boleyn: Was She Really a Witch? Plus the Ghostly Sightings
Probably the most controversial female figure in English history, Anne Boleyn’s name is ever-present in books, movies, and TV shows. Her life and death paints a vivid picture of the Tudor dynasty and its crucial (and often bloody) part in the English Reformation. Every time we think we have Anne figured out, we quickly realize we don’t. Was Anne Boleyn a witch or simply a misunderstood woman with a rebellious streak? Let’s dig into her origins, explore her short time as queen as well as her death and ghostly appearances over the years.
Queen Anne Boleyn’s Origins
Anne Boleyn was born sometime between 1501 and 1507 to Earl Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard. Both parents came from wealth and held positions of power in English politics at that time. Anne was born in Blickling but grew up at the Boleyn home of Hever Castle in Kent. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of information is known of Anne Boleyn’s childhood, but we do know that Anne Boleyn spent some time in France (approx. seven years) in her teens, as an attendant to the French Queen. She acquired this job through her older sister, Mary Boleyn. Some claim that it was in France where Anne Boleyn first crossed paths with King Henry VIII. Apparently, this is where he was having a rendezvous with the French King Francis I when Anne first laid eyes on him. At this point, supposedly, King Henry VIII was young, fit and handsome (unlike his later years, might I add).
Eventually, Anne’s sister went back to England and left her to attend to Queen Claude for some time. In 1522, Anne Boleyn returned to England as well, in preparation for a marriage to the Earl of Ormonde. This marriage didn’t work out as planned, and Anne Boleyn ended up flirting with another handsome man named Henry Percy. At this point, she had come to be an attendant in the court of the Queen of England, Catharine of Aragon.
The Two Begin Courting…
When King Henry VIII started courting Anne, it is believed that he asked her to be his “mistress”, but Anne wasn’t having it! She wanted to be his Queen or nothing at all…so she denied his advances until Henry had split permanently from his then-wife, Catharine. Of course this caused a big uproar with the Church, as annulments (or divorces) were not a thing that the King was supposed to be doing. Eventually this would lead to the English Reformation.
Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII were married in secret, as Anne was “with child”…Henry’s child. Anne became Queen of England, despite many members of the court holding sort of a grudge against her and many people in England spreading nasty rumors about her. Then Anne Boleyn gave birth to a little girl – Queen Elizabeth I. King Henry VIII was disappointed that he didn’t have a male heir to the throne, and so Anne Boleyn knew that she must give birth to a son for Henry or she’d eventually be given the boot, too (just as Henry’s last wife had). After at least two more un-viable pregnancies, Anne knew her life was in danger be it physically or financially. And to this point, I’d like to add that her miscarriages may have been due to her genetic closeness to Henry IF the rumors that they were father and daughter were true.
“For her behavior, manners, attire, and tongue…she excelled them all.”Lancelot de Carles
Anne’s Contributions to Society
Before we go into the accusations and the downfall of this lovely woman, let’s take the time here to talk about the beneficial things that Anne did for society. Anne is often called a feminist and women’s rights activist who was clearly before her time for a couple of reasons. Inadvertently, her relationship with Henry caused the King to split with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church refused to annul his marriage to Catharine (his wife before Anne), and so led to King Henry VIII establishing the Church of England. This led to annulments and divorces being an acceptable mode of exiting or ending a marriage from either party.
As we’ve already mentioned, Anne refused to just be a mistress to Henry VIII, which may seem typical today but for that time period and their status was unheard of. Women in court were expected to be mistresses for powerful men, and keep their mouths shut about it. They had no right to demand anything from a man of power. Yet Anne did just that – she wasn’t going to be just a mistress and demanded the respect she felt she deserved.
Anne was also a philanthropist – it was customary for the Queen to give alms to a charity, but Anne went above and beyond what was expected. According to Pomeus.com, “Anne gave frequently and generously to the poor, often in the form of coins she handed out herself.”
Henry’s Mistress & The Accusations Against Anne Boleyn:
During Anne’s most trying times, King Henry VIII took a keen liking to one of Anne’s attendants…Jane Seymour. In 1536, Anne Boleyn was accused of horrible things, crimes which anyone who was close to her knew were false accusations. Adultery, witchcraft, incest and treason were the charges. The adultery was said to have been between Anne and five other men, one of which was supposedly her own brother. She was said to be a witch and carried marks of a witch – a “sixth finger” (though this has never been proven) and a “wen” on her neck for which she covered with a necklace or high collared dresses. They also said she had enchanted and enspelled Henry VIII into the marriage in the first place and gave birth to monsters.
Treason was a charge brought up for Anne’s supposed plot to murder Henry. Anne Boleyn, alongside her brother, were tried and convicted of the charges. You can guess that Anne was distraught. Scholars and historians all agree the charges brought against Anne were unfounded. Many of the dates presented for her affairs were erroneous: she was accused of having extramarital affairs with a man who was in a different region of England at the time that Anne was recovering from childbirth elsewhere.
In addition to her husband wanting to be rid of her, there are also some theories that her political stance may have fueled the indictment. A man named Thomas Cromwell reportedly didn’t like Anne because she disagreed with his plans for monasteries and she had a pro-French diplomatic way of thinking – against his Roman Catholic agenda. It is believed he may have been responsible for the initial accusations.
Was Anne Boleyn Truly a Witch?
Knowing her background and what she stood for, do you believe Anne Boleyn was a witch? Or was this just a plight crafted by King Henry VIII and his minions to be rid of her for good? Truly, I could go either way with this theory. While there’s definitely evidence to suggest Anne could have been guilty for the affairs she was accused of, what evidence do we have that she was practicing witchcraft? We don’t have any evidence to confirm this, BUT we do know that she exhibited some pretty “common signs” of witches in that day and age. She was supposedly “ugly”, might have had a sixth finger and a cyst on her neck. The extra digit and “wen” on her neck would have been signs that she was a witch. For the record, I don’t think these things make her a witch, I’m just looking at this from the lens of society at that time.
So, if Anne Boleyn was as homely as they say, how did she work her way into the heart of Henry VIII? Might she have used a little magic to gain entrance into the Tudor dynasty and onto the throne? As a witch myself, I can say that may be a possibility. In addition, she was a big fan of music and dancing, had a “silver tongue” and frequently spoke out against her husband and the men of the court. Sounds like a POWERFUL witch to me! In addition, her royal emblem was a white falcon. A bird of prey such as the falcon is a symbol of power, liberation, and dominance. Witches use symbols such as these to manifest their will over others. Was Anne Boleyn a witch? I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible.
Anne’s Tragic Death
It’s said by Anne’s confidants and friends that she went boldly, calmly and joyfully to her death. “Anne prepared herself to die that day, making her last confession and celebrating the Mass in front of Sir William Kingston, constable of the Tower of London. Chapuys reported to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V “that before and after her receiving the Holy Sacrament, she affirmed, on peril of her soul’s damnation, that she had not misconducted herself so far as her husband the King was concerned” ~ Quote from History Extra.
Anne was killed by beheading at the Tower of London on May 19th, 1536 (just three years after marrying Henry) though the details are, once again, muddy. Similar to her birth. She is thought to have been about 35 years old at the time of her death. Sources claim Anne’s remains were placed into a chest (because no one had to be bothered to provide a coffin) and then laid to rest in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.
“Oh Death Rock me asleep Bring on my quiet rest Let pass my very guiltless ghost Out of my careful breast Ring out the doleful knell Let it sound My death tell For I must die.“A Tudor Era Poem attributed to Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn’s Ghost Is Seen In Many Places…
Is it any wonder so many people have seen the ghost of Anne Boleyn for centuries following her tragic death? The most famous Anne Boleyn haunting occurs at the Tower of London…the place where she was beheaded. Many documented sightings of Anne Boleyn’s spirit have taken place there. Guardsmen are the usual witnesses and have reported seeing the headless ghost of the Queen roaming the tower and the Chapel since the early 1800’s. Two guardsmen claim that Anne Boleyn has walked right into their bayonets, after one guard told a story of thrusting his own weapon through a headless ghost. Her white image has been seen walking between the Tower and into the Chapel…and eventually sinking back into her grave under the Church.
On Christmas Eve, the sorrowful ghost of Anne Boleyn is said to haunt Hever Castle in Kent. (Hever Castle is where Anne Boleyn grew up). The ghost of Anne Boleyn has been sighted many times here and she is said to take walks, stopping to stand under an oak tree where she and King Henry VIII supposedly courted. Legend also has it that the ghost of Anne Boleyn likes to walk across a bridge and drop a sprig of holly into the water during the Winter holidays.
On the anniversary of her death, the headless ghost of Anne Boleyn is said to ride towards one of her supposed childhood homes in Norfolk, England on a carriage pulled by headless horses. Her head sits in her lap…looking outwards…trying desperately to find her home and family. Unfortunately, her home in Norfolk has since been destroyed and a new building has been placed over the site where her home once stood. It’s known that powerful witches sometimes come back to haunt those who wronged them…
Learn more by listening to our podcast duology on Anne Boleyn below:
In this Heroes and Villains episode, we look at Anne Boleyn through the eyes of benevolence. We identify and convince our listeners of her heroic actions:
And in this episode, we dive into the darker aspects of the controversial queen and try to determine if she was indeed a hero or a villain: