The Emergence of Anne Boleyn as a Proto-Feminist Figure within Historiography Produced During First, Second, and Third-Wave Feminism
The Emergence of Anne Boleyn as a Proto-Feminist Figure within Historiography Produced During First, Second, and Third-Wave Feminism
by Emrys Keim
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my supervisors, Ellie Woodacre and Simon Sandall, for their unconditional support and guidance throughout the entire process of historiographical research and assessment. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Susan Bordo for challenging my ideas and for introducing me to a thousand-and-one variations of Anne. A heartfelt thank you to my parents and family, for actively instilling a passion for research and an appreciation for hard-work. Above all, it is important for me to thank the woman herself - Anne Boleyn. For being elusive enough to have me pursue the truth of her story for eight years.
The creation of ‘Anne Boleyn’ as a proto-feminist figure has reached peak visibility in the backdrop of ‘third-wave’ discourse. As a result, this dissertation aims to assess the degree to which interpretations of Anne have been subjected to cultural assimilation within the periods of ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘third-wave’ feminism. Specifically, the extent to which models of ‘Anne Boleyn’ have internalised feminist theory and practice. This will be approached by examining predominant socio-political themes within each ‘wave’. An additional objective is to determine overriding conceptualisations and misconceptions regarding Anne during each period.
Introduction: A Cultural Re-imagining: Who was Anne Boleyn?....................1-4
Chapter 1: Challenging the “Cult of Domesticity”: Anne Boleyn and the Liberation Politics of First-Wave Feminism………………………………………………….5–13
Chapter 2: ‘The Personal is Political’: The Re-imagining of Anne Boleyn with reference to Women’s History, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and Identity Politics of Second-Wave Feminism.’………………………………………………………....14-23
Chapter 3: ‘“Universal Womanhood”: Anne Boleyn as a Model of Sexual Liberation, Weaponized Femininity, and Post-Modern Ideology within 'Third-Wave' Feminism.’………………………………………………………………………….24-32
Conclusion: ‘The Rise of the ‘Proto-Feminist’: The Anachronism of Anne Boleyn……………………………………………………………………………….33-34
A Cultural Re-imagining: Who was Anne Boleyn?
In the opening statement of her biography, Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen, Joanna Denny readily declares that “No English Queen has made more impact on the history of the nation than Anne Boleyn, and few have been so persistently maligned.” Although this may be regarded as an accurate observation by Tudor specialists, Anne Boleyn’s legacy is not merely one of divisive historiography. Above all, Anne is an enigmatic figure within English history. As a result of limited primary-source documentation, the study of Anne Boleyn is one that has mainly produced theory and speculation. Reactively, this situation has lent itself to an on-going schism; namely the polarization of Anne’s cultural profile. Depictions of Anne Boleyn commonly manifest within ‘saint’ and ‘sinner’ stereotypes; portraying her as either tempestuous and calculating or as exceptionally well-educated, ambitious, and philanthropic. The nature of her character, early upbringing, royal ascension, and dramatic downfall has remained a source of long-term historiographical debate. For example, the question of her appearance and personality remains widely assessed until the present-day. The destruction of contemporary portraits depicting Anne, as well as the loss of her correspondence to Henry (VIII) is evidenced to the fact that Anne is an individual shrouded by history. For many, evaluating Anne’s physical characteristics is of high importance; whether to denounce Nicholas Sander’s description of Anne as having “[...] a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand six fingers” or to critically analyse Lancelot de Carles’ depiction of her as “[...] never have taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born”. Even so, the “real” Anne Boleyn continues to elude historians; even within present-day historiography.
Certainly, this was a factor that motivated cultural historian, Susan Bordo to examine the overriding images of Anne within historiography. In her assessment, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen (originally published in 2014), Bordo aimed to analyse both academia and popular history’s treatment of Anne; proposing that constructs of Henry’s second wife have been subject to personalised and politicised narratives. Furthermore, that interpretations of Anne are reflective of overarching social, political, and cultural issues within each period of historiography. This is established in Bordo’s own words; to which she advises the reader to recognise that Anne is not a figure of certainty but rather a blend of socio-political discourse:
Anne has been less the perpetual victim of the same old sexist stereotyping than she has been a shape-shifting trickster whose very incompleteness in the historical record has stirred the imaginations of different agendas, different generations, and different cultural moments to lay claim to their “own” Boleyn. In cutting her life so short and then ruthlessly disposing of the body of evidence of her “real” existence, Henry made it possible for her to live a hundred different lives, forever.
With regard to Bordo’s judgement, it is essential to acknowledge that Anne’s role within history has experienced a multitude of posthumous revisions. Moreover, it is important to recognise that this characteristic does not exist solely within modern historiography. Within Catholic propaganda, Anne has been painted as a “six-fingered, jaundiced-looking erotomaniac who slept with butlers, chaplains, and half of the French court.” During the Elizabethan period, Anne was recognised - if not celebrated - as a Protestant heroine; exemplified within works such as George Wyatt’s, Extracts from the Life of Queen Anne Boleigne (compiled during the latter half of the sixteenth-century) and John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (first printed in 1563). The remodelling of historical women within ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘third-wave’ historiography have noticeably embodied the respective values of each period. An observation made of ‘first-wave’ interpretations of Anne is that her characterisation is largely combative of traditional and restrictive values of womanhood. Progressing from this, ‘second-wave’ successfully created an opposing figure of the 1950s domestication of women; an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that was passionately defiant and rebellious in the face of patriarchal limitations. Finally, ‘third-wave’ representations of Anne primarily encompass “mean girl”, “power feminist”, and “seductress” conceptualisations; promoted by the introduction of sex-positive ideology and the ‘Riot Girl’ movement of the 1990s.
The study of Anne’s introduction into historiography as a ‘proto-feminist’ figure is one that possesses a variety of objectives. Therefore, an analytical approach is utilised throughout the dissertation. The methodology of which is as follows: (1) to identify key characteristics within first, second, and third ‘wave’ historiography that have built an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that has become synonymous with gender equality and women’s liberation, (2) to produce a contextual assessment (inclusive of cultural, social, and political histories) in order to successfully ascertain the historiographical debates that introduced selective models of Anne into the mainstream consciousness; such as the historiographical preoccupation with an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that feverently defied gender-socialisation, and (3) to examine the extent to which historiography has incorporated feminist theory and debate within its depictions of Anne. For the purpose of research, it is essential to emphasise that this historiographical study does not aim to inaccurately assert that the texts engaged with are inherently or intentionally feminist. Additionally, this study does not presume that the authors involved had subscribed to feminist theory or practice. The investigation of Anne’s profile as a ‘proto-feminist’ figure is largely a cultural assessment. The aim of this is to analyse the degree to which feminist theory and practice is visible within representations of Anne during each period.
With regard to the initiation of ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘third-wave’ ideologies, there are numerous arguments as to the arrival of each period. However, the timescale applied within this study asserts that ‘first-wave’ feminism took place throughout the nineteenth-century, ‘second-wave’ feminism from the early 1960s until the early 1990’s, and ‘third-wave’ from the 1990’s until present-day.  In order to appropriately determine the extent to which Anne was formulated within feminist convention, it ought to be recognised that feminism is not a monolithic form of opposition; rather it is composed of a range of ideologies that support and contradict one another. For this, the dissertation has aimed to cover a wide-range of feminist history, theory, and discussion. In brief, the investigation within first-wave historiography seeks to address whether Anne had been constructed as an opposing figure against the cult of domesticity; the intention of evaluating ‘second-wave’ depictions of Anne is to discern the extent to which ‘identity-politics’ had been incorporated into revisioned attitudes toward her; the focus of ‘third-wave’ assessments is to highlight the method by which historiography has constructed an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that is representative of the sex-positive movement. An additional factor taken into account is that these ‘waves’ of feminism strictly encompass Western experiences of the movement. With reference to this, assessments of feminist activity used in this study have been narrowed to solely include case studies within the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
Challenging the “Cult of Domesticity”:
Anne Boleyn and the Liberation Politics of First-Wave Feminism.
The aristocratic focus in historiography produced during ‘first-wave’ is demonstrative of the elitist narratives inserted into the writing of history during this period. A key characteristic to this is that female historical figures were often analysed within a strict moralistic framework; an approach that their male counterparts were not commonly afforded. Publications of material concerning Anne Boleyn increased dramatically after the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. It has been theorised that this may be reflective of the formal release of Wyatt’s, Life of Queen Anne Boleigne in 1825; two centuries after it had been written. Therefore, the prevailing images of Anne Boleyn within ‘first-wave’ historiography concerned her (questionable) position as a Protestant martyr; the assumption of an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that rejected sixteenth-century practices of femininity; her upbringing and access to aristocratic and humanist education; the degree to which she embraced her French exoticism and sexual allure; and the nature of her ambition. As a result of the eruption of liberation and equal-opportunist ideologies within ‘first-wave’, models of Anne were either utilised to project the successes of female emancipation or as a cautionary tale against it. For example, in Selina Bunbury’s work, Star of the Court, or, The Maid of Honour and Queen of England, Anne Boleyn (published in 1844) it is determined that Anne’s story ought to function as a warning:
The true character and position of woman, from the moment of her exile from Eden, is to be found briefly but uniformly described in the sacred Scriptures. Her position is one of retirement and meekness; her true and natural source of happiness is found in forming that of others. Ambition is the deadliest, the strongest foe that can enter a female heart.
In summary, ‘first-wave’ liberalists aimed to defy, reform, and - in some cases - expel patriarchal restrictions on women’s physical, emotional, and sexual expression. For the purpose of contextualising facets of ‘first-wave’, the social and political factors of nineteenth-century feminist theory and practice are as follows. Firstly, an observation presented by social historians suggest that the period between 1820 and 1860 initiated domestic duties of womanhood. The opposition against the cult of domesticity (formally known as the ‘culture of domesticity’) has continued to be regarded as historically pivotal; revered by gender and women’s history as a landmark of significant cultural, political, and societal alteration. Secondly, the politicisation of womanhood led to the push for women’s right to an education. Interestingly, it had been one of the earlier demands within ‘first-wave’. An explanation for this had been one of economic value; for this would further women’s accessibility to decent employment. Moreover, women sought to achieve the level of autonomy permitted to men during the period. An access to education determined that women’s domestication was “[...] wholly against the grain of women’s experiences” Thirdly, an additional institutionalised factor that had been challenged by ‘first-wave’ activists regarded the repression of female sexuality. Each of these components will be examined more closely in relation to representations of Anne within the nineteenth-century.
In order to thoroughly evaluate Anne’s historiographical role as a figurehead of opposition against the ‘cult of domesticity’, it is essential to elaborate on the history of it. From the nineteenth to the early twentieth-century, women and men were expected to inhabit ‘separate spheres.’ An observation advanced by modern historian, Lynne Abrams advocates that the introduction of the ‘separate spheres’ was not created in isolation, but was rather a result of pervasive socialisation; by which men were systemically expected to inhabit the public sphere, whilst in contrast women were instructed to occupy positions within the private sphere. Within the paradigm of the ‘cult of domesticity,’ the ‘household’ was the private, feminine sphere and the public was the economic and political sphere of men. The dichotomy produced by these ‘spheres’ established a gendered power-dynamic; one that aimed to heavily disadvantage women in society. The effect of this maintained that “[...] the private feminised space of the home both infused and bolstered the public male arena of the market [...]” Constructively, gender-roles afforded to women were largely based on biological assumptions of ‘natural womanhood’; a widespread consensus that women’s biological makeup and function determined their capability in running the household. The patriarchal demand for nineteenth-century women to aspire to domestication was openly challenged by ‘first-wave’ ideology. The principal focus of this resistance had been to reform the institutionalised framework by which women were expected to fulfil domestic duties. In her book, The Suffragette; the History of the Women's Militant Suffrage Movement, notable first-wave activist Estelle Pankhurst wrote that the underlying combative measures made against the political and social restrictions on women were born of “A passionate love of freedom, a strong desire to do social service and intense sympathy for the unfortunate, together made the movement possible in its present form.”As such, the introduction of liberal politics into mainstream social narratives produced the first example of wide reaching groupthink activism. Previously noted by Pankhurst, the militaristic reaction to the fervent domestication and repressive state of womanhood is demonstrative of overarching anger. Certainly, this is an element highlighted by Judith Foster; a highly regarded figure within the social sciences during the nineteenth-century.
Women are everywhere in the industrial world :
the cook, the washwoman, the seamstress, the dressmaker, the milliner, and the
teacher have been joined by the army of factory women, clerks, shop-girls,
stenographers, typewriters, and professional women, so that now there are few
business houses of any description where women are wholly absent. Nevertheless,
the notion prevails, or at least lies dormant, in the minds of most persons,
that men are the breadwinners and women are the sheltered home-keepers.
Reflectively, the widespread rejection of domesticated womanhood evidences a shift in attitudes toward gender during the nineteenth-century. More importantly, it is demonstrative of the gradual politicisation of the female figure. With reference to this, ‘first-wave’ conceptualisations of Anne are provided a militarised re-assessment; particularly in the latter half of the nineteenth-century during the peak period of the suffragette movement. As previously discussed, interpretations of Anne within ‘first-wave’ historiography is illustrative of systemised polarity; either formulated in opposition to patriarchal restrictions or exemplified as a source of caution in defying them. With regard to the Anne’s deviation from traditional values of womanhood, this has been approached from varying narratives; inclusive of positive and negative approaches. Positive assessments of Anne’s embodiment of female emancipation emphasise her access to education, her push to practice a degree of political independence, and her high-level of ambition. For example, author of Lessons from Women’s Lives (1877), Sarah Hale is thorough in her praise of Anne’s accomplishments; declaring that, even at a young age, Anne’s beauty and conduct had “[...] attracted great admiration in the French court.” This is further pronounced by Richard Storry Deans, author of The Trials of Five Queens: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette and Caroline of Brunswick (1910); in which he had provided a brief summary of Anne’s allure at the English Court. In reference to Anne’s introduction to the English Court, Deans declared that Anne’s incorporation of ‘provocative characteristics’ was an anomalous feature within sixteenth-century womanhood. Furthermore, he affirmed that this rejection of gendered conditioning had been a key component to the nature of her successes; ascertaining that Anne’s “[...] beauty of face and form, her graceful carriage, her ready wit, and her exhaustless spirits ensured that she should not pass through the world unnoticed.” This is illustrative in his description of Anne’s introduction to the English Court:
In March, 1522, soon after Anne's return from the Court of Francis I., there was a masque and revels at Greenwich. The girl of fifteen appeared amongst the revellers. She danced; she talked; she displayed the pretty airs and graces taken on by her in France; and such was her daring, her beauty, her abandon, that the king's grace could not help but noticing the new beauty. He found her as witty as she was charming.
In reference to ‘first-wave’ theory, a narrative that had encouraged emerging proto-feminist characteristics was introduced by Mary Howitt in her publication, Biographical Sketches of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest to the Reign of Victoria: or, Royal Book of Beauty (1866). Howitt’s removal on the emphasis of Anne’s appearance whilst reviewing her accomplishments is a distinguished factor of her work, particularly during a period that projected contrasting pressures on women. Throughout ‘first-wave’ publications, Anne is often praised for her unique beauty (typically if descriptions are aligned with accounts provided by Wyatt, Brantôme, or de Carles) or aggressively criticised for her unattractive appearance (a facet within historiography that often draws from Sander’s, Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism). Albeit Howitt’s incorporation of Sander’ imagery, her advancement of Anne’s qualities as a well-educated, exceptionally ambitious, and fashionably attired woman does inspire a re-assessment of femininity. Even in the present-day, the patriarchal demand of performative womanhood ascribes a woman’s success to the male validation of her physicality. As a result, marketable femininity has tied women’s accomplishments to their physical attributes. Therefore, Howitt’s decision to formulate an ‘Anne Boleyn’ whose successes were based on her intelligence is demonstrative of nineteenth-century progressive attitudes. Clearly, Howitt is not alone in conceptualising Anne in this manner. Nineteenth-century British historian, William H. Dixon has also referenced Anne as an example of successful ‘self-fashioning’: “Flat bust, long neck, stain, patch, and second nail, were all forgotten in a moment when the girl, so sage, and yet so elfish, smiled and spoke.”
The significance of constructing an ‘Anne Boleyn’ whose accomplishments were a result of her exposure to a Humanist education was widely influential. As formerly determined, the nineteenth-century demand for women’s access to education was a driving issue within ‘first-wave’ activism. Therefore, historiographical portrayals of an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that had relied on her intelligence may be argued to reject prevailing sexist narratives. Namely, a predominant attitude within the initial half of the nineteenth-century was the idea that women did not have the rational makeup to partake in political and scholarly professions. In disagreement with this, ‘first-wave’ activists asserted an educated woman held a beneficial – and productive place in society – as is established by the following excerpt:
The college woman is just a little in advance of the average woman; she beholds the knowledge of all lands and all ages; she absorbs much and becomes not only an educated woman, but holds strong opinions and is moved by deep convictions; she moulds the ideas of men, and greatly influences public sentiment.
With regard to the varying approaches made concerning Anne’s education, this strikes as remarkably familiar. For example, a leading description of Anne within nineteenth-century historiography is Dixon’s affirmation that Anne’s skill as a poet and musician “[...] lay open to these intellectual spells.” Moreover, Dixon does repeatedly establish the importance of these components; as a reflection of Anne’s maturation during her foreign upbringing:
[...] Francois established his new College de France; an institute that was to give his country her most eminent lawyers, thinkers, and divines. Anne Boleyn had been trained amongst these liberal men, and in their liberal school. The girl was widely read. Her French was perfect, and her English of a style which few, except the poets, either spoke or wrote.
In observation, it is a confident assumption to propose that Dixon’s descriptions of Anne hold ties to Wyatt’s biography. Indeed, Wyatt actively praised the accomplishments and successes that Anne’s education afforded her. This is clearly illustrated in a contemporary description provided by Lady Wyatt; granting that Anne had been “[...] graced still more by gracious education [...]”. Conclusively, Anne’s deviation from traditional womanhood and femininity does fit within the paradigm of ‘first-wave’ feminist progression. Moreover, it is a combative statement against the domestication of women; actively determining that a woman’s role is within the public sphere.
Women’s prohibited access to political and legal rights had not been the sole factor motivating ‘first-wave’ theory during this period. An additional facet concerning ‘first-wave’ activists had been the issue of “oppressive sexual morality”. Notably, the repression of female sexuality was not entirely rejected by ‘first-wave’ feminists. British political scientist, Valerie Bryson has argued that - in comparison to the sex-wars of ‘second’ and ‘third-wave’ - ‘first-wave’ was not eager to deconstruct attitudes toward sex. Instead, the predominant notion was not “[...] that women should be freed from repressive sexual morality but that men should submit to it too; unlike the early socialists, the goal for most feminists was chastity for both sexes.” The construct of an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that is performative of liberal suspicion toward sexual enjoyment (equating it with animalistic self-indulgence) is widespread throughout ‘first-wave’ historiography. Firstly, there is the embodiment of an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that was cautious of sexual licentiousness; with many ‘first-wave’ historiographers determining this to be an acknowledgement of the repercussions this had caused her sister, Mary Boleyn. In her collective biography, Lives of Celebrated Female Sovereigns and Illustrious Women (published in 1870), British writer Anna Jameson aimed to firmly construct a version of Anne that was wary of sexual involvement. With regard to Anne’s nineteenth-century position for producing cautionary narratives, Jameson formulated an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that recognised the danger of female sexual expression. This is exemplified by Jameson on two fronts: (1) Anne’s upbringing at the French Court, which continues to be regarded by historians as one of the least moralistic courts in Europe during the period and (2) Anne’s observation that to become the king’s mistress would accentuate a high level of dishonour on her part; ascertaining that “[...] the more elevated dishonor is, the more clearly it is perceived.” However, this is not to disregard the nuances of Jameson’s ‘Anne Boleyn’. Indeed, it is imperative to recognise that - despite Jameson’ insistence on Anne’s reservations - she had demonstrated the lesser qualities of her character. This is emphasised in the following description:
Though never calculated to become a great queen, Ann Boleyn had nevertheless many good and amiable qualities, which more than compensate for the silly vanity and thoughtlessness of a young and beautiful woman, conscious of her personal attractions, and continually beset by flatterers.
Stylistically, Jameson’s version of Anne is well-versed in the practice of courtly behaviour. By this, Anne is naturally flirtatious in a manner that is demanded of her gender. The Petrarchan qualities of Anne’s interaction with male courtiers were common practice within the Early Modern period. For this, it may be argued that Jameson’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ acts as a figure of sexual caution within the paradigm of sixteenth-century court rituals. Jameson’s approach is certainly not unique within ‘first-wave’ interpretations of Anne’s character. A similar approach conducted by Hale determined Anne’s resistance of Henry as a mark of “[...] either principle or policy.”
However, an image contrasting this throughout ‘first-wave’ historiography is an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that functioned as a figure of sexual impropriety. For example, nineteenth-century biographer, Paul Friedmann is infamous for detailing an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that was openly vain and prideful; a woman who had relied heavily on her “French education” to obtain admiration within the English Court. Concurring with this is the aforementioned Deans. However, it is clear that Deans had taken Friedmann’s conclusion a step further; proclaiming that Anne’s sexual allure had played a key-role in her downfall. His proposed argument ascertained that Anne’s conduct with male courtiers, albeit within the performance of ‘courtly love’, ought to have been suppressed: “Norris, Brereton and Weston were three hopeful sparks who had undoubtedly paid court to Anne. [...] They sighed, they ogled, they posed; and Anne did not discourage them.” Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that Deans does proclaim a degree of innocence on Anne’s part.
With reference to ‘first-wave’ attitudes toward gender and sexuality, it was widely believed that the nature of sex between men and women had originated biologically. This is illustrated by American suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had readily supposed “[...] that women were more able than men to control their sexual desires.” Interestingly, Friedmann had recognised this facet of gendered conditioning; determining that Anne was able to keep Henry VIII at a distance and that the “[...] position which Henry offered her had nothing very tempting to an ambitious and clever girl.” Additionally, this element of Anne’s story is emphasised by Deans; proclaiming that Anne had found herself “[...] in a situation she could not escape, if she would, she was compelled to marry the king.” In reflection to the arguments discussed, it is difficult to ascertain the degree to which Anne’s varying roles in terms of female sexuality and expression had been initiated nineteenth-century disputes regarding female sexual suppression. However, components of this issue are visible within ‘first-wave’ interpretations of Anne’s character. More importantly, ‘first-wave’ historiographical schisms regarding Anne’s deviation of characteristic womanhood, as well as her embodiment of sexual expression does continue throughout historiography; particularly with the introduction of a far more sexually pronounced and politicised ‘Anne Boleyn’ during ‘second’ and ‘third-wave’.
‘“The Personal is Political”:
The Re-imagining of Anne Boleyn with reference to Women’s History, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and Identity Politics of Second-Wave Feminism.’
As a result of decreased academic interest in aristocratic women, there was a decline in historiography produced concerning Anne during the ‘second-wave’ period. Nonetheless, the historiography that is available remains highly recognisable, if not largely celebrated within popular culture. This is certainly exemplified in the public reception of Charles Jarrott’s film adaptation of Anne of the Thousand Days (released in 1969). Despite its lack of historical accuracy, Geneviève Bujold’s portrayal remains widely revered as the quintessential ‘Anne Boleyn’. Nevertheless, Anne’s appearance throughout ‘second-wave’ historiography primarily featured in contextual pieces regarding the English Reformation, biographical accounts, revisions of historiography, and historical fiction. Notably, it is interesting to recognise an increase in historical fiction within ‘second-wave.’ Comparatively, there is far more fictional material regarding the life of Anne Boleyn in comparison to first-wave’s predominantly factual focus. With regard to biographical accounts, ‘second-wave’ introduces highly nuanced and in depth assessments of Anne’s life; specifically Eric Ives’ esteemed biography, Anne Boleyn (originally published in 1986) and Marie Louise Bruce’s, Anne Boleyn (1972). Equally important are the narratives presented of Anne as a catalyst of political and social change within studies of the English Reformation. As academic study within ‘second-wave’ altered its focus toward historic models of systemic reform, Anne’s role in the Henrician Reform is far more critically examined. Naturally, it is imperative to determine the primary images of Anne during this period. Firstly, Anne’s introduction in first-wave as a figure of Early Modern heroism persists throughout ‘second-wave’ historiography; a characteristic that remains highly apparent in fictional portrayals of her. Secondly, the politicising of Anne’s identity and role within the English Reformation had become largely evident within ‘second-wave’ historiographical texts. Finally, a prominent image within this period is the adamant revision of Anne’s persona and legacy as a result of the narratives afforded to her within ‘first-wave’ historiography. This particular issue is assessed within the framework of Women’s Studies. The central themes of ‘second-wave’ ideology encompass the politicising of identity, widespread concerns regarding gendered conditioning, and the assessment of femininity as constructed within a capitalist system. For the purpose of historiographical study, it is imperative to understand the effect these debates have had on interpretations of Anne Boleyn during this period. Furthermore, it is necessary to determine the extent to which these themes are incorporated in popularised constructs and narratives of Anne’s behaviour, characteristics, and life events.
In order to engage with evaluations of Anne as an emerging feminist icon within ‘second-wave’, it is necessary to adopt a brief understanding of the socio-political values of the period. The period of ‘second-wave’ feminism saw an introduction to the academic study of class and gender. As a result, there developed a distinct focus on women’s history. It has been argued that ‘second-wave’ political theory and discourse had played a key role in this evolvement. The rise in women’s history is observed as reflective of the thematic qualities of ‘second-wave’ discourse; a motion argued by gender historians, Alexandra Shepard and Garthine Walker, who address the contextual setting of women’s history by suggesting that most women’s historians held political ties to the labour movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Primarily, the aim to studying ‘gender’ within history was to assess its relation to categories of systemic oppression; such as class and patriarchy. As prior ascertained, theories regarding ‘gender’ increased in prevalence during the 1960s within women’s history; continuing until the 1980s. As a result, female historical figures featured in academic revisions during ‘second-wave’.
In alignment with the academic shift toward Marxist history, aristocratic women in history were subjected to historiographical assessments. Despite ‘second-wave’ not producing a wide interest in the study of high status women, increased historiographical analyses is suggestive of ‘second-waves’ desire to review the conceptualisation of women in the writing of history. Reassessments of historical women produced during the period of ‘second-wave’ evolved out of a need to examine prevailing narratives within historiography. An additional intention had been to uncover the origins of pervasive imagery; particularly regarding heavily maligned women or ‘victim queens’. An emerging focus within women’s studies was to re-examine historical figures, as well as provide contextual analyses of their positions within historiography. In relation to Anne, a primary objective had been to investigate - if not confront - the prevalence of misinformation regarding her behaviour and character. As a result, imagery of Anne constructed within eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century historiography had been effectively scrutinised throughout ‘second-wave’. This is exemplified in Eric Ives article, Faction at the Court of Henry VIII: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (1985) in which he emphasises a predominant issue regarding historiography of Anne Boleyn; namely that the only original biography of Anne had been published in the nineteenth-century and was based primarily on the unreliable correspondence of Eustace Chapuys. Indeed, Ives was remarkably open concerning the regressive nature of ‘Anne Boleyn’ historiography; particularly regarding the widespread, uncritical use of Friedmann’s biography. For example, in Miles F, Shores’ piece, Henry VIII and the Crisis of Generativity, his descriptions of Anne are largely restrictive, one-dimensional, and riddled with patriarchal undertones:
Why did he choose Anne? Only nineteen years old, she was neither unusually intelligent nor talented; although petite, dark, and pretty, she was no beauty, and she had learned to hide a rudimentary sixth finger by holding her left hand in the folds of her gown. She was willful, bad-tempered, and giggled when she was nervous. Her family was of the first rank only because of the King's favor. Politically and diplomatically she would offer him little but trouble.
Unsurprisingly, Shore’s antagonistic description of Anne repeatedly utilises Friedmann as a citation. Naturally, this is a concerning element within the practice of historical awareness. Conclusively, it is indicative to the fact that Friedmann’s lack of research and outdated assumptions had yet to be predominantly challenged within twentieth-century research. The act of revision does not necessarily originate from a place of feminist values. However, it was useful in combating sexist undertones within historiography. Indeed, the re-assessment of historical women does showcase a need to re-position historical women outside of contemporary assumptions of gender. The production of evaluative assessments within women’s studies aimed to study historical figures outside of a modern framework of ideals. Reflectively, it was a goal within historiographical assessments of women to identify - and separate - contemporary debate and period socialisation.
The resurrection of Anne as a complex, contradictory, and nuanced individual is introduced in ‘second-wave’ re-assessments of her person. Notable revisionist within Tudor historiography, Retha Warnicke is one of few leading figures studying Anne during ‘second-wave’ feminism. Foremost, Warnicke is combative of the misinformation perpetuated throughout first-wave historiography. This is exemplified in her works that revise the accuracy and nature of Anne’s upbringing, the factors that contributed to Anne’s fall from power, and her supposed relationship with the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt. In comparison to ‘first-waves’ preoccupation with Anne’s personal contribution to her downfall, a clear aim within ‘second-wave’ assessments has been to examine environmental factors. For Warnicke, this had led to evaluations regarding the Seymour faction, Thomas Cromwell’s involvement in the charges made against Anne and her eventual imprisonment, and the patriarchal values that had condemned Anne prior to her arrest. By this, Warnicke naturalises models of sixteenth-century gendered conduct; proclaiming that once a woman’s reputation had been marked, it was difficult (if not impossible) to recover. In Anne’s case, this meant the disinheritance of Elizabeth from the line of succession:
The expectation among Anne's contemporaries that a woman with an infamous reputation must surely be an unchaste female was very high. It followed, then, that a queen whose name had been sullied was a woman whose children's paternity must always be questioned.
Akin to Warnicke, Ives had also subscribed to the theory that Anne’s descent from her position of political authority had been a result of environmental factors and fabricated conspiracies. Moreover, Ives’ had projected a degree of criticism toward the handling of this issue in previous historiography; asserting that “Contemporaries may have found it wiser to see these events as an object lesson in morality, but to explain Anne's fall the historian must inquire into the accusations against her. “ With regard to the previous chapter, Ives’ condemnation is justifiable. In light of material such as Bunbury’s cautionary piece or Deans’ affirmation of Anne’s guilt in her sexual expression, Ives’ remarks are sound. With regard to Deans’ aforementioned comments, Ives’ is open in his observations regarding sexist narratives. Indeed, Ives asserts that historians who are quick to judge Anne based on her interactions with men had not practiced an awareness for Early Modern Petrarchan conventions.
An additional issue featured in the theoretical, political, and social debate within ‘second-wave’ places a focus on the construction of ‘identity’; practicing a degree of critical assessment as to the expression, and restrictions of gendered socialisation. As such, ‘second-wave’ sought to address the development of gender and the study of it as a performative aspect of self. An observation proposed by radical historian, L. A. Kauffman, regards the fundamental purpose of ‘identity’ within ‘second-wave’ discourse; arguing that “Identity politics express the principle that identity - be it individual or collective - should be central to both the vision and practice of radical politics.” For this, ‘second-wave’ feminism saw a rise in what is determined as ‘the personal is political’. Indeed, the conceptualisation of ‘identity politics’ sought to address the performance and suppression of ‘identity’ within systemically marginalised groups. Additionally, it was largely combative of the individualistic equal opportunities model; a system of equal treatment that often disregarded intersectional modes of oppression against entire groups. For example, the discrimination against class, race, sex, and gender. Subsequently, the key objective to politicising the personal was to contribute to institutional reform; shaping public and personal foundations to liberate oppressed identities in both their social and personal lives. For women, this meant entering a dichotomic sphere within feminist discourse. The ‘second-wave’ embodiment of assertive, politicised womanhood is highly recognisable in biographical accounts; such as Ives’ Anne Boleyn. Complementary to this are wider assessments made toward Anne’s role within the Henrician Reform during this period. Although it is difficult to ascertain whether - and the degree to which - historiography concerning Anne had been affected by “the personal is political”, it is undeniable that her position in history met a politicised remodelling during ‘second-wave’. With regard to the community aspect of ‘the personal is political’, it is evident to recognise Anne’s ascension in historiography for her contribution to the Henrician Reform. It is primarily within this context that Anne’s ‘second-wave’ treatment is politicised. For example, Eleanor Hibbert’s novel, The Lady in the Tower (originally published 1986 under the pen-name ‘Jean Plaidy’) had formulated an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that was far more politically engaged.
Popularised topics of debate within ‘second-wave’ encompassed sexuality, sex-work, and the issue of conditioned heterosexism. In brief, it is undeniable that ‘second-wave’ feminism introduced the basis to which third-wave ‘sexual liberation’ politics had built its theories and practice on. Certainly, the enactment and pursuit of ‘sexual liberation’ does grow more visibly within third-wave activism. Naturally, this is a facet of feminist theory that shall be addressed within the third chapter. Coinciding with second-wave’s ‘identity politics’ was the additional theme of deconstructing enforced gender-roles. Betty Friedan’s widely renowned, The Feminine Mystique (first published in 1963) advocates for women’s right to self-determination. Primarily, Friedan’s argument focused on the extent to which women had been manipulated and conditioned by patriarchal models of behaviour; examining the isolating circumstances of asserting that women’s happiness and fulfilment coincides solely to domesticity. Indeed, first-wave’s aim of promoting women’s access to education, positions of social and political importance, and personal freedoms lay dormant after the Second World War. As a result, traditional values of women’s domestic roles were reinstated. In active opposition to this, Friedan asserts that women’s liberation from gender performative bonds will be found within patriarchal recognition of women’s individual potential; “[...] the individual affirming his existence and his potentialities as a being in his own right; it is the courage to be an individual.” More importantly, the influence of Friedan’s message resonated within the cultural and social struggles of the 1960s; in which women gradually recognised the restrictions to their personhood as a result of gendered power-dynamics. Noticeably, this was widely apparent within the 1950s; as many narratives still acknowledge this period for its egregious gendered expectations. This period sought to assert a strict, binary code of separation in the performance of gender between men and women; by which men were required to embody the role of “successful, capitalist breadwinner” and women “dutiful, obedient, and submissive housewife”. Moreover, it is imperative to recognise that the female aspiration of ‘housewife’ was feverently conditioned. In the 1950s, the expectation for young women to settle into the role of ‘housewife’ was marketed within the structure of capitalist intake. Television commercials and newspaper articles advertised the role as an “American Phenomenon” that firmly claimed the role to be an enjoyable one: “[...] Having too good a time...to believe that they should be unhappy.” Undoubtedly, performative gender-norms were heavily reinforced by functionalist sociology, women’s magazines, and the advertising industry. Friedan’s chief objective in writing The Feminine Mystique (other than pronouncing the issues of enforced roles and restriction) was to promote the idea that women’s happiness would originate from gender equality. More importantly, that achieving gender equality would not erase the construct and practice of ‘femininity’.
With regard to Friedan’s push for the ‘self-determined’ woman, depictions of female characters and historical women were given a degree of autonomy that had not been afforded to them previously. The heroine featured in most nineteenth-century historiography and fiction was posed to partake in melodrama; a tragic figure whose story had been advanced by the constrictions of her gender. Conversely, the female heroines of ‘second-wave’ remain prominent in present-day popular culture for their defiance of patriarchal limitations. This is highly illustrative in the characterisation of ‘Anne Boleyn’ featured in producer Hal Wallis’ film adaptation of Anderson’s Anne of the Thousand Days. Comparatively, alterations made to Anderson’s original script dramatically transformed the focus of the story. These key changes ensured that the film centered around Anne rather than Henry. Undoubtedly, the decision to prioritise Anne challenged prior gendered dynamics of cinema. As an observation, the 1960s had begun to install a platform that permitted leading female characters to drive plot and narrative. Importantly, Bujold’s portrayal of Anne is exceedingly fierce, passionate, sprightly, and - in recognition with Friedan’s contention of restrictive womanhood - remarkably assertive. Bujold’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ is often remarked upon for its proto-feminist narratives. This is exemplified in the cinematically iconic scene featuring Henry visiting Anne in the Tower of London during her imprisonment; to which Bujold’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ produces a speech that has continued to be admired for its feminist qualities:
Yes. But Elizabeth is yours. Watch her as she grows; she’s yours. She’s a Tudor! Get yourself a son off of that sweet, pale girl if you can - and hope that he will live! But Elizabeth shall reign after you! Yes, Elizabeth - child of Anne the Whore and Henry the Blood-Stained Lecher - shall be Queen! And remember this: Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours! She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built! Yes - MY Elizabeth SHALL BE QUEEN! And my blood will have been well spent!
Despite this scene’s extreme deviation from historical accuracy, it is treasured for encapsulating Anne in a distinctly fiery and independent manner. Certainly, it is important to note that Henry had never visited Anne during her imprisonment. Even so, the use of creative freedom to construct an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that was actively forthcoming and rebelliously pronounced resonated with the feminist undertones of the period. Susan Bordo, author of The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen (2014), emphasises the significance of Bujold’s performance; in that this ‘Anne Boleyn’ “[...] recognizes cowardly, self-serving bull when it’s thrown at her, and will have none of it.” For the purpose of cultural assessment, the public reception to Bujold’s Anne functions as a zeitgeist; providing an insight into the importance of and response to constructing an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that was combative of 1950s models of behaviour. Certainly, there is evidence to suggest that this characteristic had an impact on its audience; particularly with the adolescents of the period. During the 1960s, the United States saw numerous liberal protests; a response to the pervasive refusal to “[...] deliver to women the promises of independence, self-expression, and fulfilment that seemed central to the ‘American Dream’.” Importantly, the expression of feminist values during this period had not originated from formalised political theories. Instead, the opposition shown against systemic misogyny was regarded as a demonstration of ‘common sense’. Ultimately, the strength to which women rallied against restrictions placed on their gender was reflective of a social and political shift. The domestication of womanhood was actively challenged throughout second-wave. As such, it is imperative to recognise that self-assertive female heroines (such as Bujold’s ‘Anne Boleyn’) would not have only made an impact on female viewers, but was reflective of this widespread opposition. This is exemplified in Bordo’s experience; to which she recognises the influence Bujold’s performance had on her as a young woman:
I was not a feminist in anything but the most inchoate sense of the word. While friends of mine were joining consciousness-raising groups and attending demonstrations, I scorned and was made anxious by what I thought of as “groupthink.” My personal rebellion was to drop out of school, have a lot of mindless sex, marry someone I didn’t love, and then suffer a nervous breakdown that made me unable to leave him. But I did manage to make it to the movies - and Anne of the Thousand Days was one of them. It was my first introduction, since the boring, sexless Tudor history I’d read in school, to the story of Henry and Anne. I had no idea what was invented and what was historically documented, but it made no difference. I loved fiery, rebellious Anne. I loved the way she bossed Richard Burton’s Henry around like a surly twentieth-century teenager.
Bordo’s assertion of Bujold’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ as an influential figure for adolescent rebellion is essential toward the overall historiographical assessment of Anne as a proto-feminist figure. For this, it is possible to argue that the film adaptation had assimilated overarching cultural narratives of the period. It is undeniable that the degree to which Anne had been modernised into a figurehead for fiery, feminine independence largely aligns with the critiques and rejection of restrictive womanhood; such as the issues of gendered conditioning featured in The Feminine Mystique. Bujold’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ may not have been intentionally written as a feminist figure but her performance certainly remains revered for its progressive characteristics. Evidently, Bujold’s Anne is not a unique example in this regard. Indeed, second-wave historiography is rife with passionate and lively representations of Anne; particularly during the 1960s. A notable demonstration of this is Norah Loft’s historical fiction novel, The Concubine (1963). Albeit pre-existing Bujold’s performance, Loft has produced a spirited, individualistic, and determined ‘Anne Boleyn’; describing her heroine as “[...] Anne's surprising prudery; surprising because she was so gay, so frivolous, so French, so eager to attract, and having attracted, up to a point so responsive.” Loft’s depiction of Anne is striking and ungoverned; facets of her character that take an active role in Henry VIII’s attraction toward her. However, there is a resolute anger to Loft’s Anne that does not feature as clearly in Bujold’s portrayal. The ‘Anne Boleyn’ constructed by Loft is intensely ambitious and driven by a desire to achieve retribution. This is exemplified by an initial plot point regarding Anne’s relationship with Henry Percy. As a reaction to Wolsey’s intervention - and his success in separating the two - Anne aims to level her emotional pain by harbouring a vengeful objective. This is illustrated in a statement made by her, in which she asserts, “I shall keep alive. Anger alone will do that for me.” However, Anne’s anger is presented from a place of vulnerability and adolescent rebellion. For this, Loft’s piece is often praised for its ability to highlight Anne’s nuances and humanity; actively avoiding the stereotyping of her character as either ‘villain’ or ‘victim’. For this, Anne’s wilful nature and political manoeuvring is effectively purposeful and self-made. An element that features heavily throughout third-wave representations of Anne.
Anne Boleyn as a Model of Sexual Liberation, Weaponized Femininity, and Post-Modern Ideology within 'Third-Wave' Feminism.’
The reigning images of Anne Boleyn during ‘third-wave’ historiography are as follows: the politician, the cunning she-wolf, the mother, and the sexually-liberated seductress. As previously determined, it is essential to have an understanding of the feminist theories involved within this period before assessing Anne’s various conceptualisations. The introduction of sex-positive ideology in the 1990s is widely considered by feminist theorists as a response to the “sex wars” of ‘second-wave’ feminism. As a result, feminist discourse aimed to create a non-judgmental and supportive space by which women could engage in theoretical, social, and political discussions regarding ‘female sexuality’. Significantly, this encouraged the emergence and cultural adoption of third-wave empowerment politics; including the feminist philosophy and practice of ‘sexual liberation’ and ‘choice feminism’. In the 1980s, an argument proposed by pro-sex activists was the idea that “[...] radical feminism's representation of women as disempowered actors fails to see women as sexual subjects in their own right." Countering this, sex-negative ideology favoured the sociological observation that ‘female sexuality’ had been inherently moulded, repressed, and conditioned by ‘the patriarchy’. Naturally, pro-sex feminists regarded this assessment as generalised; accepting that ‘female sexuality’ was repressed by heterosexism and sex-negative ideology. In her article, Sex Positive: Feminism, Queer Theory, and the Politics of Transgression feminist theorist, Elisa Glick aimed to detail the significance of sex-positivity; ascertaining that "[...] both pro-sex and radical feminists reproduce the ideology of personal emancipation within contemporary capitalist society by making the liberation of sex a fundamental feminist goal." Indeed, sex-positive ideology encompasses a range of pro-empowerment theories; namely that the reclamation of sexual expression is combative against patriarchal values. Furthermore, that ‘female sexuality’ may be utilised as a form of political resistance. Judith Butler’s publication, Gender Trouble questioned the benefits of politicising ‘female sexuality’ when “the body” and the societal understanding of sex is shaped and bounded by patriarchal “[...] constituted markers of sex.” Furthermore, an objective of Butler’s was to emphasise the extent to which gendered socialisation and sexuality is inseparable:
If sexuality is culturally constructed within existing power relations, then the postulation of a normative sexuality that is 'before,' 'outside,' or 'beyond' power is a cultural impossibility and a politically impracticable dream, one that postpones the concrete and contemporary task of rethinking subversive possibilities for sexuality and identity within the terms of power itself.
The practice of ‘choice feminism’ - a term coined by Linda Hirshman in her book, Get to Work: . . . And Get a Life, Before It's Too Late: A Manifesto for Women of the World - recognises a woman’s liberty to choose to either align or deviate from gender-performative roles. Furthermore, the enactment of ‘choice’ is intended to function as a social and political freedom. As such, ‘choice feminism’ has centralised itself around reclaiming and politicising ‘femininity’. Primarily, the movement is driven by the desire to market ‘girl power’ as systemically influential. An observation proposed by Claire Snyder is that ‘choice feminism’ seeks to reclaim ‘girlie culture’ from patriarchal social conditioning; ultimately making women’s feminine enculturation - like makeup and fashion - a key component of feminism. The evolution of second-wave’s identity politics from ‘the personal is political’ to ‘the political need only be personal’ shaped the conceptualisation of ‘choice feminism’. Nevertheless, it continues to be a source of feminist discourse; with many suggesting that reclaiming and re-packaging co-erced ‘femininity’ as empowering does not critically approach institutionalised systems of oppression. Hirshman’s approach toward this reclamation of capitalised insecurity is damning - and appropriately so; observing that to reclaim patriarchal values as empowering does not threaten institutionalised power.
“Choice feminism," the shadowy remnant of the original movement, tells women that their choices, everyone's choices, the incredibly constrained "choices" they made, are good choices. Everyone says if feminism failed it was because it was too radical. But we know - and we surely the real radical, Betty Friedan, knew - that it wasn't because Feminism was too radical. It was because feminism was not radical enough. A movement that stands for everything ultimately stands for nothing.
Political theorist, Lori Marso has argued that the internalisation of female social conditioning instructs women to suffer the “demands of femininity”; by this, women experience socially constructed desires that function within the paradigm of traditional femininity. Although the exercising of ‘personal empowerment’ avoids the extent by which sexual expression is developed within a patriarchal system, it remains a primary component of 'third-wave' ideology and feminist practice. An important, thematic feature within postmodern feminism is the necessity to critically approach the concept of ‘naturalised womanhood’. Instead, it has been emphasised that components of the ‘female subject’ are not innately biological but prescribed by binary assumptions of gender performance; such as the formulation of sexual expression. For this, the primary objective is to discern the degree to which this sub-genre of feminist philosophy has incorporated itself within historiographical depictions of Anne Boleyn during this period. The method of analysis is as follows: (1) To what extent does 'third-wave' historiography construct an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that is sexually forthcoming? (2) Assess the degree to which 'third-wave' interpretations of Anne feature weaponised femininity as a contributing factor to her successes? And (3) Examine whether Anne’s politically literate and philanthropic roles are reflective of marketable girl power?
With regard to the aforementioned facets of 'third-wave' ideology, there are a number of prevailing qualities throughout this period’s interpretation of Anne. Firstly, it is undeniable that representations of Anne have experienced a hypersexualised make-over. This is particularly recognisable in fictional portrayals of her; such as the sexually enticing and deeply manipulative ‘Anne Boleyn’ featured in Philippa Gregory’s best-selling novel The Other Boleyn Girl (released in 2001). However, it could to be argued that a certain degree of responsibility ought to be placed on Showtime’s critically acclaimed television series, The Tudors (originally aired in 2007). Head writer of the series, Michael Hirst successfully remodelled Anne into a highly eroticised, politically aware seductress. Most notably, this portrayal of Anne Boleyn has resonated throughout popular culture. Bordo has argued that the popularity of Hirst’s “[...] smoldering, brainy [...]” ‘Anne Boleyn’ has promoted fresh interest in her; particularly among the younger generation. More importantly, it is Hirst’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ that is iconically fashioned by critics as a ‘proto-feminist’ figure. Nonetheless, Hirst’s interpretation of Anne is not alone in earning this title. The sharp-tongued, cunning ‘she-wolf’ characterisation of Anne featured in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies has also been synonymised with proto-feminist qualities. An article entitled Wolf Hall: Why I was lost in admiration for Anne Boleyn, written by Peter Kosminsky (director of the BBC television adaptation - originally aired in 2015), has openly referenced Anne’s personality and plight as characteristically ‘feminist’:
Anne was probably also a proto-feminist. Women, perhaps especially royal women in that era, were little more than merchandise - sold into wedlock for the advancement of the male members of their family. For a woman to be such a player, politically and spiritually, was extremely unusual in the early 16th century.
Kosminsky's observations are illustrative of the extent to which Anne’s character is judged within a modern set of ideals. When perceived within a 'third-wave' framework, the attitudes ingrained in sixteenth-century gendered patterns of behaviour may appear exceptionally dichotomous. Moreover, it is imperative to recognise that Kosminsky’s opinions did not originate within a vacuum. As such, evidence of 'third-wave' discourse being assigned to Anne’s narrative is not limited to historical fiction. It is a natural assumption to ascertain that Kosminsky and Hirst were influenced by larger historiographical debate. Undoubtedly, secondary biographical accounts such as Alison Weir’s popularly received, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Norton’s, Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession harbour their respective overarching narratives. Weir’s The Lady in the Tower is among the most widely circulated and celebrated pieces of historiography concerning Anne. For the purpose of establishing connectives within ‘'third-wave'’ historiography, it is imperative to recognise that Weir supplies her audience with a construct of Anne that is distinctly similar to both Hirst and Kosminsky’s interpretations. The version of Anne featured in The Lady in the Tower is one that (albeit not well-received during her own lifetime) defied the patriarchal restrictions placed against her gender. This is notable in Weir’s description, as she firmly states, “She had been one of the most powerful women ever to occupy the consort’s throne, yet her rapid and cataclysmic overthrow illustrates just how fragile was the balance of power at the English court”. Comparatively, Norton presents an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that exudes ambitious cunning and a ruthless nature; a characteristic mirrored in Mantel’s portrayal of Anne in Wolf Hall. Moreover, stylistically Norton is rather less questioning of her interpretation of Anne than Weir; decisively asserting narratives such as Anne’s fervent contribution to the political descent of Cardinal Wolsey. Arguably, this construct of Anne as formidable and power-hungry has been exploited as functioning within the paradigm of feminist values; as illustrated by Kosminsky’s prior comments. In observation, a woman’s ability to embrace masculine qualities and roles is a trait often regarded as feminist. For example, Anne’s ability to exude political confidence and address matters of state. An explanation for this is that many recognise this as a deviation - or outward rejection - of feminine limitations. However, there are numerous critiques to this construct of Anne. Firstly, it anachronistically disregards the components of Anne’s personality that have been distinctly comprised by sixteenth-century demands of gendered performance and womanhood. Secondly, the narrative is highly polarised and ignores variations of Anne’s personality. With regard to the popularised models of Anne throughout 'third-wave', it may be argued that (in terms of accessibility) consumable history and fiction is largely responsible for promoting anachronistic misinterpretations of both her life and personhood.
The ‘second’ and 'third-wave' embodiment of the politicised 'Anne Boleyn' is not removed from feminist sexual-discourse. The concept of ‘weaponised femininity’ largely derives from Hirshman’s ‘choice feminism’. As previously identified, ‘choice feminism’ is driven by the notion that a woman’s ability to choose is - within itself - a feminist act. Similarly, weaponised femininity determines that if reclaimed by women, patriarchal values could be incorporated within 'third-wave' liberalism. The primary line of argument is that if aspects of gendered socialisation are personally accepted and politically utilised by feminists, it will benefit women’s social platform; ultimately contributing to gender-equality. For example, a common focus within 'third-wave' is assessing cultural production, such as standardised beauty. Certainly, the reclamation of beauty culture as a feminist quality has been perpetuated throughout 'third-wave'; to the extent that it is considered combative against the patriarchy. As a result, ‘weaponised femininity’ has continued to feature in the makeup of female figures. For example, the stereotype of the “femme fatale”; a woman who embraces the art of sexual manipulation to further her own prospects. As such, this begs the question, “To what extent has ‘weaponised femininity’ been ingrained into biographical and fictional portrayals of Anne Boleyn during 'third-wave' feminism?”
Firstly, the embodiment of ‘weaponised femininity’ within portrayals of Anne is not strictly apparent. It may even be easily counteracted with the popularised primary and secondary narrative regarding Anne’s physical appearance; specifically her deviation from the ‘Tudor Rose’ aesthetic of the sixteenth-century. Nevertheless - despite its subtlety - Anne as a figure of ‘weaponised femininity’ has manifested within 'third-wave' historiography. One interpretation of Anne that has re-emerged since ‘first-wave’ is her image as “the stylish consort”. Noticeably, where ‘first-wave’ celebrated Anne as an icon of fashion, 'third-wave' interpretations take this further; establishing an 'Anne Boleyn' that incorporated style into her social and political ascension. This observation has been argued by Bordo; suggesting that Anne’s image as a fashionable queen consort is far more acclaimed within popular historiography than Anne as a reformist or intellect. A common explanation given for Anne’s infamous allure was the experience and education she had received whilst at the French court. This is highlighted in Weir’s, The Lady in the Tower, in which Anne is initially depicted as “[...] very graceful, very French - she had spent some years at the French court - and stylishly attired [...]”. In the BBC documentary, The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (originally released in 2013), a shared opinion among the panel of historians largely regarded Anne’s French representation; agreeing that elements of her continental attire and etiquette had illuminated her. Moreover, it was altogether concurred that stylistically, the extent to which Anne self-fashioned herself within the French mould projected her ambitious nature. The accuracy of this observation is highly questionable. The conceptualisation of an 'Anne Boleyn' that utilised French exoticism to ensnare a king is - as previously insisted - a long-endured misogynistic trope. Therefore, it ought to be argued that this opinion openly plays upon the “femme fatale” stereotype; particularly emphasising the oppositional images between Anne and Katherine of Aragon in primary and secondary historiography. In The Last Days of Anne Boleyn, Weir was prompt to reiterate prior opinions; illustrating Anne as “[...] very confident [...]”, “[...] very stylish [...]”, and “[...] very French [...]”. Additionally, British historian, Suzannah Lipscomb described Anne as: “[...] sophisticated [...]” and “[...] cosmopolitan [...]”; terms that one may argue are distinctly anachronistic.
The 'Anne Boleyn' that embodies French sophistication heavily contrasts with popularised descriptions of Katherine; who is often detailed as “obedient” and “hair-shirted”, with an air of stifling piety. Comparatively, where Katherine has been constructed as a deeply religious and sexually repressed figure, Anne continues to be perpetuated as the exotic and bewitching “other woman”. The determination to highlight Anne’s “French characteristics” may not be viewed as historically inaccurate. However, it is possible to observe an unconscious agenda in the widespread assertion of Anne’s “French exoticism”. It appears that 'third-wave' historiography has synonymised “French Anne” with sexual allure, glamour, and seduction. A notable example of this is the aforementioned calculating 'Anne Boleyn' in The Other Boleyn Girl; to which Gregory’s “Anne” declares that, “I shall be dark and French and fashionable and difficult. And you shall be sweet and open and English and fair. What a pair we shall be! What man can resist us?” Similarly, Mantel’s tempestuous and shrewd “Anne” is read as distinctly French. This component of her character is immediately highlighted in the initial exchange between Anne and Thomas Cromwell: “‘Alors’, Anne says softly, suddenly everything is about you. The king does not cease to quote Master Cromwell.’ She pronounces it as if she can’t manage the English: Cremuel.’” Mantel furthers this by engaging the audience with an 'Anne Boleyn' that has a notable preference for French codes of behaviour and conversation; opting to instead communicate with Cromwell in French. Therefore, an important line of questioning is to assess the 'third-wave' preoccupation on Anne’s physical allure. An additional query is to examine the widespread captivation and acceptance of an 'Anne Boleyn' that had utilised sexual attributes to further personal ambition.
Interestingly, 'third-wave' historiography remains largely unquestioning of Anne’s position as a figure of domineering sexual-appetite. Instead, it appears to have adopted it; to the degree of visibility within popular culture that sexual liberation is discernible in iconography of Anne Boleyn. Historian, Josephine Wilkinson is not unique in her description of Anne as a sexual figure; ascertaining that she “[...] was exotic, cultured, with a quick and clever wit; she was intelligent and intellectual, she could hold her own in conversation and, most noticeably, she was tremendously sexy.” Wilkinson furthers this statement by suggesting that “Anne’s sexiness could work either for or against her, arousing desire in some men and hostility in others.” Similarly, Gregory remarks that Anne had not been “[...] the prettiest girl at court [...]” but that she had been “[...] the sexiest girl at court [...]”. With regard to the prevalence of material that focuses on Anne’s supposed sexual expression, it is imperative to assess the sudden cultural preoccupation with it.
It may be argued that ‘third-waves’ construction of a hypersexualised 'Anne Boleyn' is synonymous with a culture that capitalises on sex-positive ideology. This is highly illustrative in the success of The Tudors; as Hirst “[...] wasn’t afraid to make use of - some would say, invent - the sexier side of the story.” Hirst’s characterisation of Anne Boleyn functions within the paradigm of 'third-wave' empowerment politics. Naturally, this particular establishment of ‘Anne Boleyn’ encompassed the full design of femininity: “[...] sexy, but brainy, politically engaged and astute, a loving mother, and a committed reformist.” A common judgment of Hirst’s 'Anne Boleyn' is her attributes that commonly regard her as a femme-fatale. Indeed, this is further emphasised in Bordo’s assessment; stressing that Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Anne is recognisable on the basis of being “[...] exquisite, sensual, curvaceous in her push-up gowns.” This is plainly illustrated throughout the first season. A notable example of Hirst’s seductress 'Anne Boleyn' within the first season is a scene where Anne taunts Henry to find a piece of ribbon wrapped around her thigh. From the onset, the script for the first season of The Tudors sought to affirm strategised power dynamics between Henry and Anne; by which Anne is communicative through passionate - if not inherently carnal - manipulation. As such, the eroticised ‘Anne Boleyn’ depicted throughout twenty-first-century popular culture “[...] entices, provokes, and sexually manipulates her way into queenship.”
The sexualisation of Anne Boleyn is hardly anomalous within 'third-wave' historiography. In her novel, Le Temps Viendra, author Sarah Morris’ does not hesitate to persistently accentuate Anne’s sensuality throughout the story. This is encapsulated in a scene in which Morris’ ‘Anne’ spontaneously dances before Henry with a couple of her ladies-in-waiting:
With my two ladies standing slightly behind me and at either side, I kicked off my shoes, which I knew was a scandalous thing to do in its own right. There was a sharp intake of breath from the elderly Earl of Shrewsbury, who was shocked at my audacity and wanton behaviour. However, Henry’s gaze lingered a moment on my stocking-feet and ankles with only appreciative lust in his eyes. Playing the moment for all it was worth, with great coquettishness, I indicated for the music to begin. My ladies and I began our dance of seduction; the like of which had never been before at Henry’s court. I realised early on that neither Nan nor Mary possessed the same innate acceptance of their sexuality as Anne, whose mastery of the art was surpassed.
Hirst, Morris, and Wilkinson are not alone in injecting a sexually provocative ‘Anne Boleyn’ into popular culture. There are numerous historians and writers of historical-fiction that have contributed to not only pursuing this image but immortalising it. Nevertheless, the cultural reception of Anne’s sexual liberation has been met with both praise and criticism. One argument in favour of Anne’s sexual empowerment is that it openly rejects patriarchal restrictions on women’s sexual expression. However, there are several counter-arguments produced against the enthused hypersexualisation of Anne’s character. Firstly, it is important to stress that Anne’s alluring nature is not a product of 'third-wave' assessment; details of it are visible throughout historiography. Secondly, the rejection of a narrative that hypersexualises Anne does not equate to condemnation of sexual expression. The primary concern is that reducing Anne to a sexualised figure acts to erase her historical importance and excludes the fascinating nuances of her character. The focus on Anne as a temptress leaves no sympathy for her story; as she will merely be regarded as “the other woman”, “the third wheel”, and “the femme fatale”. Notably, the 'Anne Boleyn' that is capable of employing sexual prowess, wit, and intellectual sharpness is easily marketable within the paradigm of ‘third-wave’ empowerment politics.
‘The Rise of the ‘Proto-Feminist’:
The Anachronisms of Anne Boleyn.’
Arguably, the use of the term ‘proto-feminist’ to refer to individuals who had lived prior to the ideologies of ‘first-wave’ is highly anachronistic. Moreover, it actively erases valuable contextual elements within the paradigm of sixteenth-century models of behaviour; such as facets of gendered conditioning and performance. The establishment of an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that embodies ‘proto-feminist’ characteristics has resulted out of prevailing misconceptions regarding Early Modern society. For example, the supposition that aristocratic women were restricted from experiencing the concept of self-fashioning; namely the freedom to construct a private and public image, alongside “[...] a sense that they could be fashioned” A popularised profile of Anne within public history is that of a woman defiant of sixteenth-century gender roles. It is evident that assumptions of Anne’s ‘natural defiance’ has originated within a distinctly modern framework; capable of producing inaccurate and anachronistic ideas of women’s roles during the Early Modern period. To declare Anne Boleyn a ‘proto-feminist’ either exaggerates the restrictions of womanhood during the sixteenth-century or disregards gendered models of behaviour. Additionally, the misuse of the term also plays upon presumptive and perpetuated misinformation regarding sixteenth-century socialisation. A natural assumption that has progressed throughout historiography is to perceive women’s history as a linear development of positive changes. Notably, this fallacy has been observed by renowned women’s and gender historian, Jeanne Boydston, who encourages the reader to assess this judgment; ascertaining that -
[...] the tendency to measure change in terms of either progress or decline, liberation or repression, or alternatively to see these issues as transhistorical; the recognition that the category of ‘women’/’women’ itself collapsed in the face of the plurality of women’s experiences that defied generalisation about ‘the position of women’ and therefore its measurement over time.
As a result, cultural representations of Anne have effectively disregarded - or openly ignored - sixteenth-century codified behaviour. More importantly, the active determination to create an ‘Anne Boleyn’ that actively rejected female conditioning contributes to pervasive inaccuracies of her. Undoubtedly, models of ‘Anne Boleyn’ produced within historiography harbour respective cultural narratives and agendas. For the purpose of historiographical assessment, the nature of this study has proved invaluable. Nonetheless, constructing anachronistic images of Anne - synonymous with narratives that incorporate ‘political prowess’, ‘weaponised femininity’, and ‘sexual liberation’ - further enforces the image of a seductive and scheming “other woman”. As a result, the cultural assimilation of contemporary values further shrouds Anne as an enigmatic figure. The priority in searching for historical accuracy has succumbed to fictionalised interpretations of her; embodying qualities that are comforting to – and supportive of - the public consumer. Moreover, it erases the highly complex and nuanced individual that Anne had been during her lifetime; an observation remarked upon by Natalie Dormer, Showtime’s ‘Anne Boleyn’:
Men still have trouble recognising that a woman can be complex, can have ambition, good looks, sexuality, erudition, and common sense. A woman can have all those facets, and yet men, in literature and drama, seem to need to simplify women, to polarize us as either the whore or the angel. That sensibility is prevalent to this day.
Arguably, this sexualised construct of Anne Boleyn is packaged to appeal to an audience that has internalised a certain cultural narrative; one that ascertains - if not expects - women to embody both scholarly and sexual graces. Conclusively, the emergence of Anne Boleyn as a figure of proto-feminist qualities does not accurately portray the historical reality or evidence available. Furthermore, it merely showcases an issue within historiographical assessment; by which Anne continues to be culturally injected with modern ideologies and misconceptions.
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