Study Guide

Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl

By Philippa Gregory

Anne Boleyn

Born: Between 1500 and 1509, Died: 19 May 1536
Known for: Inspiring Henry VIII to basically invent divorce; being beheaded by Henry VIII after being accused of adultery by a man who committed adultery with her. (Source)

The One and Only

There must have been only about six names to go around in 16th-century England, because this book introduces us to two Marys, two Henrys, two Janes, and two Williams. But there's only one Anne.

Anne Boleyn is one of a kind, and that's a good thing. She's ambitious, driven, and ruthless. She's the type of woman you want on your side, because if you go up against her, things won't end well for you.

No one is safe from Anne. Although she's usually aligned with her own family members, the keyword here is "usually." She will turn against them on a whim: "We're supposed to be on the same side" (14.351), Mary says during one of Anne's mood swings. But Anne is all "ice and ambition" (14.367), and to her, the only thing she is "supposed to be" is Queen of England.

Anne is so focused and so determined, she has her game face on 100% of the time. It's hard to know how she might actually act if she weren't so hungry for the throne. Whatever personality traits she may have once possessed are taken over by her ambition. As Mary observes: 

Only Anne could get through the day being fascinating and charming and challenging and always look as if she were being nothing be herself. (13.68)

You've heard the phrase fake it 'til you make it. Anne makes it, but she actually becomes her ruthless persona in the process.

Headstrong, She'll Take You On

Here a few things Anne Boleyn does from 1521 to 1536: she steals her sister's lover; she seduces the king of England away from the queen; she adopts her sister's son against her sister's wishes; she plots the death of a cardinal; she (maybe) poisons a few people; she (maybe) sleeps with her own brother in the hopes of getting pregnant and passing the baby off as the king's heir; she buries one stillborn child; she burns another stillborn child.

These things are as typical for Anne Boleyn as eating and breathing. The woman creates drama wherever she goes. If she feels bad about it, she never shows it.

Like all drama queens—the Kardashians, Iggy Azalea, Taylor Swift—Anne is a polarizing figure. Some people love her: 

The triumph of Anne, the mistress who had become a wife, was an inspiration to every loose girl in the country. (37.270)

Many hate her. When Anne travels around, some villagers literally taunt her and throw rocks at her.

Again, if any of this gets to Anne, she shakes it off. She has the remarkable capacity to never let any cracks in her façade show.

Black Magic Woman

Because Anne appears indestructible, people try super hard to destroy her. The royal court is ruled by gossip, and Anne is the queen of it, so it's strangely appropriate that it's a that rumor brings Anne down.

The rumor is:

...that she is a witch and has enchanted the king by sorcery. That she is a murderess and would poison the queen if she could. That she has made him impotent with all other women so he has to marry her. That she blasted the children in the queen's womb and put barrenness on the throne of England. (33.13)

Yikes.

These particular rumors are hard to refute, and they're nasty, so they have Anne cornered. All of these rumors serve to counteract Anne's ambition. She used all her wit and beauty to seduce the king, so superstitious, jealous, and jealous superstitious people see her actions as sorcery.

Also, in case you hadn't noticed, Anne is a woman. Women in 16th-century England weren't supposed to have power (boy, are they gonna be surprised in a few years), so clearly, Anne must have achieved her status by evil means. She did help cause a divorce and a rift in the Church, after all. The witch rumors, of course, are totally misogynistic, and so is the rumor that Anne made the king impotent. The public has a short memory, and they seem to have forgotten that Henry never had a son with Katherine, either.

The Other Boleyn Girl is almost like a fairy tale, since Anne is a commoner who becomes a queen. But the moral of this story is to be wary of the consequences and be careful what you wish for, especially when you are ruthless and when you almost literally step over others to achieve your goals.