The Secret of Our Obsession With Anne Boleyn
Apart from the familiarity, there is also something arrestingly avant-garde about Anne Boleyn. She could not fit neatly into the script of her time. She wandered off the page, chastising her overlord and cracking sardonic jokes from her prison cell. She seems a person of flesh and blood, brimming with thoughts and emotions generally erased in the flattened visages that greet us in the portrait line-up of Henry’s six wives.
Women, in particular, may see a glimpse of ourselves in the figure stretched on the rack of the insuperable contradictions of femininity that still torture us. Virgin and temptress. Mother and lover. Wise woman and witch. Dependent and dominatrix. We might identify with her plight, every arrow poised against her as she plays high-stakes poker in a man’s world, her intelligence always read as conniving, her ambition as manipulation. We shudder at the unceasing demand that she be, above all things, a reproductive Superwoman, birthing children of the correct sex under unimaginable duress. Never mind the hormones. The grief for the lost babies. The knowledge that her husband was execution-happy as no English monarch before or after.