Friday, 30 April 2010
A short critique of G.W. Bernard’s views on Anne Boleyn and Mary’s relationship
Two days ago my copy of G.W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (New Haven and London, 2010) finally arrived. Taking advantage of the pleasant change in weather, I decided to read it in Greenwich Park situated near the former palace where Anne, according to Bernard, got up to a lot of extramarital fun. I could write at some length on the study, which I have mixed views about, but this is a blog on Mary and arguably not the place for such a review. But there is one chapter I do wish to discuss and I promise it specifically concerns Mary. The chapter in question, '6. She ‘wore yellow for the mourning’: Anne against Catherine’ (pp. 79-91) deals with Anne Boleyn’s relationship, or more precisely treatment of, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter. I’m going to be more specific here and try to overlook the discussion regarding Anne’s treatment with Katherine in order to observe Bernard’s views of Anne and Mary’s relationship. This is not difficult given that the chapter tends to favour this issue above Katherine’s treatment.
Firstly, I applaud Bernard for being one of the few current historians to actually make the trip to Vienna to consult the original dispatches of Eustace Chapuys and others kept at the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv. Bernard has evidently been diligent in his research.
What then of his comments regarding Anne and Mary’s relationship. According to Bernard, Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII probably encouraged one another in their poor treatment of his former wife and daughter. Mary was always a threat to Anne. Her insistence on her own legitimacy obviously challenged the legitimacy of Anne’s marriage and her daughter’s right as heir to the throne. If Anne berated the girl – if she threatened to have her physically admonished, even threatening her with death – this cannot be seen as a product of pure maliciousness. Behind all such threats was fear and a defensive position. If Anne, Bernard summarises, threatened the girl, ‘it is easy to understand why she did’ (p.90). For it is ‘quite plausible such angry measures sprang not from malevolence but from self-defence’: at the least, Anne’s behaviour was readily comprehensible’ (pp. 90-91). But if she did threaten to kill Mary then this, Bernard argues, was stepping over the mark, with the implication that Anne was capable of lacking pragmatism and was rather unable to understand political affairs. For threatening to remove Mary and Katherine would undoubtedly provoke the Emperor and worsen Henry’s position. This would have been disastrous.
One of the major problems I had with Bernard’s discussion was his reluctance to state boldly what he believed to have occurred. Does he truly credit Chapuys’s constant claims that Anne wished to remove Mary? Bernard will not say so, perhaps because he does not know whether to or whether not to see Chapuys as that credible. Perhaps his unwillingness to affirm such accounts outright is sensible, and shows a necessary cautious approach.
Bernard’s account of Anne’s attitude towards Mary is based largely on Chapuys’s writings. Chapuys, as we know, was hardly an impartial observer. And in fairness to Bernard, he mentions this. But he still chooses to frequently use Chapuys’s comments without referring to others. Possibly because other accounts are often rather silent on Anne’s alleged behaviour. But this silence is important, for it prompts us to ponder the validity of Chapuys’s claims. The fact that Chapuys was at times the only writer to mention such acts of maliciousness does not necessarily make these claims false. But just because he states them does not make them true either.
For Bernard, Henry VIII was the main instigator of his annulment from Katherine, and his involvement in the direction of this affair (and synonymously ecclesiastical affairs) is more noted than Anne’s. Anne obviously supported her husband’s actions, though Bernard’s Anne is often a woman with rarely acted independently and was the initial advocate of views that Henry would adopt. She did not advance herself to be queen – for Bernard believes Anne never refused Henry sexually in the beginning and demanded marriage or nothing. Bernard’s Anne adopted stances on issues that evidently favoured her cause – for instance becoming stridently anti-papal. Ultimately she was not the influential figure that others have advanced. Yet we are supposed to credit the probability that Anne may have been capable of ‘independently go[ing] beyond what Henry would have been prepared to accept’, with her hatred of Katherine and Mary (p. 91). Would Anne, who Bernard at times regulates to little importance, be bold enough to declare that if she became regent upon a proposed trip the king might make to France, that she would execute Mary or at the very least starve her to death? (p.83) Was Anne capable of constantly acting 'without the king’s knowledge’ as Chapuys reports, a line which Bernard includes in his account? (p.87) 
But, perhaps most importantly, did it really take Anne Boleyn to ‘egg on’ Henry concerning what to do with his daughter? My answer would be no. I think it is quite clear that Henry VIII was personally affronted with his daughter’s actions and enraged that not only would she defy him but she would side with her mother. It may be true that Henry had tears in his eyes when he spoke of his daughter’s defiance to the French ambassador who subsequently replied that Mary had nonetheless been granted an excellent upbringing (p. 81). But these were not tears for his daughter. For Henry, it was he who was the injured party here. It is quite clear that he was astonished by his daughter’s actions; angered and hurt. Though I do not suggest for one minute that we share his outlook, it was, nonetheless, his approach. Even Chapuys came to realise this. For after Anne’s execution, when many around the king were calling for Mary’s return to court, Chapuys noted that Henry had responded by stating:
"As to the legitimation of our daughter Mary...if she would submit to our Grace, without wrestling against the determination of our laws, we would acknowledge her and use her as our daughter; but we would not be directed or pressed herein". 
Henry’s message was clear. If Mary would not help herself by recanting her position then she should expect the treatment that she was already receiving. And this was Henry being polite. The other Henry was encouraging the lords visiting Mary to convince her to give into his demands, to be as ruthless as they could in their dealings with her. As Chapuys also commented, ‘the King got into a great anger against the obstinacy and disobedience of the said Princess, showing clearly that he bore her very little love or goodwill’. 
Bernard certainly does not suggest Henry was innocent in all this. He notes that the direction of blame on Anne was ‘another example of Henry’s political skill at directing policy while allowing others to shoulder public responsibility for it’ (p.90). But this statement is at odds with his then acceptance of Chapuys’s accounts – for he uses Chapuys enough to make it appear as if he should be listened to – which seeks at times to diminish Henry’s responsibility.
There is one concept absent in the chapter yet needs to be examined. To what extent was Chapuys embellishing aspects, not only to demote Anne’s reputation further but also to strengthen Katherine and Mary’s stances against her? Now we may argue that Anne was already regarded badly from Katherine and Mary’s perspectives, and this undoubtedly and understandably was true. But Chapuys’s constant allegations against Anne which he readily reported to Katherine and Mary had a further impact on their views. I turn here to the arguments of David Loades in his biography, Mary Tudor: A Life, one of the finest studies on Mary. For Loades, Chapuys has falsely been portrayed as an excellent supporting presence for Mary during these years. Instead we should perceive him as an individual who worsened an already bad situation by encouraging Mary to become more strident in her opposition. ‘He did not invent, or even encourage, her uniquely abrasive style, but he did offer her all the support and encouragement in his power’. We may pause to question what was wrong with this; surely supporting her was better than berating a girl already tormented. Mary had already her father and Anne to contend with and she lacked the physical presence of her mother, yet Chapuys was able to see both and act as an intermediary. The problem though, as Loades indicates, is that the ambassador did not just offer her moral support. He was, instead, encouraging her to openly rebel. Coupled with his enthusiasm for Katherine and Mary to reclaim their positions by force, his actions were dangerous. If Mary was seen to wilfully support his plans her position would have worsened considerably. For Loades, Chapuys’s advice often proved more useless then it did useful and his constant contradictions and hopeful yet empty promises only sought to confuse Mary about the reality of the situation than assist her emotionally throughout all this.
If we accept this interpretation of Chapuys’s motives and character – as, in the words of Loades, a ‘deeper and more devious’ Chapuys than some have wished to present (p. 84) – then Bernard’s frequent use of Chapuys as a source here is misleading. Earlier on in the book, Bernard has already cast doubt on Chapuys’s claims in regards to the alleged constant instability of Henry and Anne’s marriage; this causes the reader to then question why we should so willing accept Chapuys’s remarks about Anne’s relationship with Mary. If he could exaggerate about one, then why not the other?
This post will probably appear as some attempt to rehabilitate Anne’s character. I do not, however, doubt that Anne truly feared Mary and perceived her as a threat. I do not doubt that she spoke out against her. Till her death Mary always perceived Anne as a wicked woman and we cannot blame Chapuys entirely for enforcing this view. Mary’s perception of Anne was understandable. Anne’s rise meant her own downfall and her mother’s. Mary, I believe, regarded her mother as almost saint-like figure and this view was primarily formed when Mary gave into her father’s demands, for Katherine never did relent, never did compromise on her position. Katherine once told her daughter that the path to paradise was not an easy one; one had to serve God faithfully in order to receive His acclamation. Do not give in, she told Mary; remember what ‘you do owe unto God and unto me’. But Mary of course did ‘give in’ – very understandably so – and thus her mother, I believe, became a figure which Mary regarded with a mixture of filial love, admiration and awe for her own staunch stance on the matter of her marriage and Mary’s legitimacy. Consequently her mother’s perceived usurper could not be regarded with mercy. But, as even Bernard admits, Anne’s actions were equally understandable. We may sympathise with Katherine for upholding her daughter’s rights, though we often overlook Anne’s efforts in doing the same for Elizabeth. And given that Anne’s position was far more precarious than Katherine’s, for she did not have the powerful relations abroad to intervene on her behalf and as she had successful replaced one queen she unwittingly gave another the precedent to do the same, verbal threats were the tools she had. Not admirable but, to repeat Bernard again, ‘understandable’.
I stated at the beginning of this post that Bernard’s consultation of original source material was admirable, and this, I think, is one of the leading features of the work. But occasionally we lose the ‘ifs’ and ‘perhaps’ in context to Chapuys and he becomes once again the central figure. Retha Warnicke, who has also written extensively on Anne Boleyn, has questioned why we over rely on Chapuys. ‘These biased documents, which Freidmann considered “of the greatest value”, still shape how some modern historians approach her [Anne’s] life’, she complained. Certainly. But then Warnicke is not guiltless of endorsing the accounts of certain of Anne’s critics in the formation of her own theories on this figure. Like Chapuys, we can all be guilty of being inconsistent.
 There is also the subject of the royal households; did Anne exert a large say in how Mary was to be treated within Elizabeth’s household? Jeri McIntosh’s study, From Heads of Household to Heads of State: The Preaccession Households of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, 1516-1558, implicates Henry as the main instigator. Though she believes Anne wished ‘to drive home the distinctions between her daughter, the real princess, and the now illegitimate Lady Mary’ (p. 40) by, for instance, ensuring Elizabeth was dressed sumptuously, McIntosh designates responsibility to Henry when discussing the actions committed against Mary.
 Cited from David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life (Oxford, 1990), p. 99.
 James Gairdner (ed.), Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X: January-June 1536 (London, 1887), 1069.
 Loades, Mary Tudor, p.83
 BL Arundel 151, fol. 195.
 Paul Friedmann was the author of a two volume biography on Anne Boleyn published in 1884. The work relied extensively on Chapuys’s dispatches. Retha M. Warnicke, ‘Reshaping Tudor Biography: Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves’, in Lloyd E. Ambrosius (ed.), Writing Biography: Historians & Their Craft (Lincoln and London, 2004), p. 60.