Henry VIII's intelligent and charismatic second wife, Anne Boleyn, was a significant female historical figure, and not just because she was one of the King's legendary six wives. It was Anne's religious beliefs and her attraction to Protestantism that provided a solution to Henry's "Great Matter" -- his divorce from the devoutly Catholic Catherine of Aragon. Some historians believe Anne's religious beliefs contributed to the plot against her that led to her execution.
One of Anne Boleyn's closest confidantes was her brother George, with whom she spent many hours debating Martin Luther's new theological ideas. George was an ardent reformer, and the Boleyn children were encouraged to question the theology of the Catholic Church by their father, Thomas. In the early 1500s, questioning Catholic doctrine was a dangerous thing to do because the King and his powerful courtiers supported the pope. However, if, like George Boleyn, you were a member of a powerful family and your sister was being pursued by the king, you had a better chance than many of accessing illegal books.
George Boleyn traveled abroad regularly in the 1530s and obtained banned Protestant theological works, which Anne read with great interest. After Anne and George were executed, a number of evangelical works were found among the siblings' possessions, including a translation of a Lutheran text on salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. According to Clare Cherry, an expert on the Boleyn family, this translation, made by George Boleyn, shows the commitment both he and Anne had to Lutheran doctrine. Anne also had a Book of Hours, "The Epistles and Gospels for Fifty-two Weeks of the Year," which stresses a similar Reformist doctrine of faith that contradicted Catholic teachings.
Anne's Personal Faith
Anne's personal faith divides expert opinion. Biographers Joanna Denny and Eric Ives both think she was a zealous reformer and a Protestant martyr, while G.W Bernard claims she was a conventional Catholic. Bernard states that the claims for Anne's devotion to Protestantism were political propaganda during the early days of her daughter Elizabeth I's reign: Anne Boleyn had been accused of witchcraft, incest and adultery, and there was a need to rehabilitate her image to support Elizabeth's own religious reforms. However, Denny points out that Anne read the Bible daily and believed everyone should be able "to read God's word in a language they could understand." This is a fundamental belief of Lutheranism.
The Will of God
Joanna Denny's account of Anne Boleyn's faith includes the claim that Anne saw God's will working in her life. She believed that as Queen of England, she had the power and position to support the Protestant cause. Clearly, she believed Protestantism had divine approval, and she also believed that it was divine will that made Henry fall in love with her. Eric Ives states that much of her personal importance comes from her role in the English Reformation, although he describes her beliefs as "evangelical with a French twist," as he says that she embraced Luther's ideas too early on in the Reformation to be simply called a Protestant. Nevertheless, it was her influence on Henry and her beliefs which led to his break from Catholicism and the eventual establishment of England as a Protestant country.
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