10 Fascinating Facts About Anne Boleyn

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Anne Boleyn was one of England’s most controversial queens. In 1533, King Henry VIII annulled his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) and was in the process of breaking with the Catholic Church to wed the charming noblewoman. But their happiness was not to last: Just three years later, Anne was executed. It’s a compelling story, one that’s been dramatized in plays, novels, movies, and TV shows. But today, we’re setting the pop culture depictions aside to take a look at the real Anne Boleyn.

  1. Anne Boleyn’s formative years were spent in France and Belgium.

Born in the early 16th century (possibly in 1501 or 1507), Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, an English diplomat. As a child, she went abroad to study in Margaret of Austria’s court, located in present-day Belgium, and later continued her education as a member of Mary Tudor’s elegant household in Paris. By the time she returned to her native England in the early 1520s, Boleyn had mastered the French language—and she carried herself like a Parisian, too. “No one,” wrote one of Boleyn’s contemporaries, “would ever have taken her to be English by her manners, but [instead] a native-born Frenchwoman."

  1. Anne Boleyn played the lute.

Even Boleyn’s harshest critics had to admit that she was a good dancer. She was also fond of music, and reportedly played the lute (a guitar-like instrument popular at Tudor gatherings) quite well. A songbook that bears her inscription can be found at London’s Royal College of Music. It’s unclear if Boleyn ever owned this book, but its selection of tunes is historically significant.

  1. Anne Boleyn almost married someone other than King Henry VIII.

In 1522, Thomas Boleyn and his cousin, Sir Piers Butler, were both trying to claim some Irish land holdings that had belonged to one of their mutual ancestors. To settle the dispute, Anne's uncle suggested marrying Anne to Butler’s son, James, so that the factions could be unified in the future. By the time Anne returned to England, the marriage was already in the works. King Henry VIII—whose mistress at that time was Anne's sister Mary—supported the match, but the marriage never went through. Anne also had a romantic relationship with one Henry Percy, a future Earl of Northumberland who wound up marrying the Lady Mary Talbot.

  1. Anne Boleyn was pregnant at her coronation.

King Henry VIII’s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was annulled on May 23, 1533. He’d been courting Anne Boleyn for years; many of his love letters survive to this day. As the king’s infatuation grew, so did his desire for a healthy male heir—which Catherine never gave him. But Pope Clement VII refused to dissolve the royal marriage. So the Archbishop of Canterbury went ahead and annulled it. Henry VIII would soon be declared “Supreme Head of the Church of England,” severing its ties with the Vatican. Boleyn was crowned queen on June 1, 1533. Her first child, Princess Elizabeth, was born a little over three months later.

  1. Anne Boleyn’s emblem was a white falcon.

The Boleyns took a white falcon from the traditional Butler family crest. For Anne’s coronation ceremony, poet Nicholas Udall wrote a ballad that likened the new queen to this elegant bird of prey. “Behold and see the Falcon White!” declared one verse. “How she beginneth her wings to spread, and for our comfort to take her flight” [PDF]. The new queen also used a white falcon badge as her personal emblem; at some point, a graffitied version of this was carved into the Tower of London.

  1. Anne Boleyn’s religious views are hard to pin down, but she appeared to sympathize with reformers.

At a time when Latin-language Bibles were the norm in Catholic Europe, Boleyn consistently supported the publication of English translations—a controversial notion at the time. As queen, she and her husband arranged for the release of Nicholas Bourbon, a French humanist whose criticisms of saint-worship and other theological matters had landed him in jail. Bourbon went to England, where he tutored Boleyn’s nephew (at her request).

  1. Anne Boleyn was the first of Henry VIII’s queens to get beheaded.

Like Catherine before her, Anne Boleyn failed to deliver Henry VIII’s long-sought male heir. In 1536, she found herself on trial, accused of high treason, adultery, and incest. (Rumors circulated that she was having an affair with her brother, George.) Though many historians dismiss these allegations, they sealed her fate nevertheless. Boleyn was beheaded on May 19, 1536. Henry VIII wed his third wife, Jane Seymour, that same month. Two spouses later, history repeated itself when the king had queen number five—Catherine Howard—decapitated in 1542.

  1. It has been claimed that Anne Boleyn had 11 fingers.

When you replace a popular monarch and spur the change of the religious fabric of an entire country, you're bound to make enemies. One of Boleyn’s detractors claimed that she had a “devilish spirit,” while another famously called her a “goggle-eyed whore.”

And then there’s Catholic propagandist Nicholas Sander, who wrote an unflattering description of the former queen many years after she died. According to him, Boleyn had “a large wen [wart or cyst] under her chin,” a “projecting tooth under the upper lip” and “six fingers” on her right hand. But his claims are highly suspect. There’s no proof that Sander ever laid eye on Boleyn—plus, her contemporaries didn’t mention any of these physical traits in their own writings about the queen. At worst, she might have had a second nail on one finger—which is a far cry from saying she possessed an extra digit.

  1. Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, ruled England for decades.

Coronated at age 25 on January 15, 1559, Queen Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada, promoted exploration, and foiled multiple assassination plots during her 44-year reign. She held the throne right up until her death in 1603.

  1. There’s only one surviving portrait of Anne Boleyn (that we know of).

When Henry VIII executed her, most Anne Boleyn likenesses were intentionally destroyed—and now, there's just one contemporary image of the queen known to exist: a lead disc—crafted in 1534—with Boleyn’s face etched on one side, which is held at the British Museum in London. It’s the only verified portrait of the former queen that was actually produced during her lifetime.

But there may be at least one more image of the queen out there: In 2015, facial recognition software was used to compare the image on the disc to a 16th-century painting currently housed at the Bradford Art Galleries and Museums. The picture’s subject, a young woman, has never been identified, but according to the program, the figure looks an awful lot like Boleyn’s portrait in that lead disc—though the researchers cautioned that their results were inconclusive due to insufficient data.

Scientists Just Created 3D Digital Replicas of John F. Kennedy’s Assassination Bullets

NIST
NIST

Part of the National Archives and Record Administration’s duty is to provide the public with access to its billions of pages of texts, maps, photos, film, and other artifacts of American history—but some of them aren’t so easy to view. The bullets from John F. Kennedy's assassination, for example, have long been considered too fragile for anything but sitting in a climate-controlled vault in Washington, D.C.

However, they recently took a field trip to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where the ballistics team there used advanced microscopic imaging techniques to create breathtakingly accurate 3D digital replicas.

jfk bullet 3D replica
NIST

According to a press release from NIST, the collection includes two fragments from the bullet that killed Kennedy, the so-called “stretcher bullet” that hit both Kennedy and then-governor of Texas, John Connally; two bullets from a test-fire of the assassin's rifle, and a bullet from an earlier unsuccessful assassination attempt on Army Major General Edwin Walker that might have come from the same rifle.

As you can probably imagine, the two fragments from Kennedy’s fatal bullet are the most affecting pieces of the collection. They also give you a pretty good understanding of how difficult it must have been to recreate them—the bits of metal are twisted into gnarled, asymmetrical shapes that look different from every angle.

jfk bullet 3D replicas
NIST

To replicate each miniscule mark, ridge, and divot, NIST physical scientists Thomas Brian Renegar and Mike Stocker spent hours rotating the artifacts beneath the microscope, capturing images from all perspectives, and then combining parts of the images to create full 3D versions of them.

“It was like solving a super-complicated 3D puzzle,” Renegar said in the release. “I’ve stared at them so much I can draw them from memory.”

Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, has generated no small number of conspiracy theories over the years, but NIST and the National Archives made it clear that the project to replicate the bullets was “strictly a matter of historic preservation,” and not in any way a reopening of the case. But once the complete 3D scans are made available in the National Archives’ online catalog in early 2020, members of the public are free to analyze them however they like.

“The virtual artifacts are as close as possible to the real things,” Martha Murphy, the National Archives’ deputy director of government information services, said in the release. “In some respects, they are better than the originals in that you can zoom in to see microscopic details.”

And while Kennedy’s case is closed, the cutting-edge technology used on his bullets will be used in the future.

“The techniques we developed to image those artifacts will be useful in criminal cases that involve similarly challenging evidence,” NIST forensic firearms expert Robert Thompson said in the release.

12 Fascinating Facts About Queen Victoria

Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

Much like Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria was never expected to ascend to the British throne. Born on May 24, 1819, the young royal known as Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent defied all odds when she became Queen Victoria on June 20, 1837, less than a month after her 18th birthday.

Victoria ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for more than 60 years, and in 1876 she adopted the title of Empress of India. Victoria didn’t oversee her empire alone, though. In 1840 she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and together they had nine children (including Victoria’s successor, King Edward VII). Here are 12 things you might not have known about Queen Victoria.

1. Queen Victoria was born fifth in line to the throne, which made her an unlikely ruler.

Princess Victoria and her mother in 1834
Princess Victoria and her mother in 1834.
George Hayter, The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, just behind her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who was fourth in line behind his three older brothers (none of whom had any living children—or at least no legitimate issue). Victoria's position in the line of succession placed her ahead of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, her father's younger brother, which proved to be problematic.

When Victoria's father died on January 23, 1820, the future queen was barely eight months old. And when her grandfather, George III, died just a week later, the tot became third in line to the throne, which reportedly enraged Ernest Augustus. Fearing for the safety of her daughter, Victoria's mother chose to raise her away from the influence of Prince Edward's family—especially once rumors began to circulate that Ernest Augustus had designs on murdering his young niece to ensure that he, not she, would ascend to the throne. Whether or not there was any veracity to those rumors didn’t matter; on June 20, 1837, following the death of her uncle William, Duke of Clarence, 18-year-old Princess Alexandrina Victoria became Queen Victoria.

2. Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace.

In 1761, Buckingham Palace was not yet a palace—it was simply a house. King George III bought the property for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home. But when King George IV took over, he had bigger aspirations and decided to create an extravagant palace; costs ballooned to £500,000 (or more than $65 million in today's dollars). George IV died in 1830, however, which meant he never even got to live in the palace. When Queen Victoria took over in 1837, she became the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace. In 1851, she was the first recorded royal to appear on Buckingham Palace’s balcony, a tradition the royal family still continues today.

3. Queen Victoria survived eight assassination attempts.

Queen Victoria sitting in a carriage car
Culture Club/Getty Images

Being in the public eye has its advantages and disadvantages, and for Queen Victoria that meant being the frequent target of assassination attempts. Over the course of her reign, she survived eight of them. In 1940, Edward Oxford shot at Victoria and Prince Albert while they rode in a carriage; Victoria, who was pregnant at the time, was thankfully not harmed. (Oxford was later judged to be insane.)

Two years later, John Francis attempted to shoot the couple not once, but twice—two days in a row. Again, neither was harmed. Just five weeks later, a teenager named John William Bean fired a pistol loaded with pieces of tobacco pipe at the Queen. In 1850, she was eventually injured when ex-soldier Robert Pate hit her over the head with an iron-tipped cane while she spent time in the courtyard of her home. Pate gave her a black eye and a scar that lasted for a long time.

4. Queen Victoria first met Prince Albert on her 17th birthday.

In May 1836, on Victoria’s 17th birthday, Prince Albert and the future queen—who were first cousins—met for the first time when Albert and his brother visited Kensington Palace with their Uncle Leopold. (Albert would turn 17 years old in August.) “He is extremely handsome,” Victoria wrote of the prince in her diary. But it would take almost four more years for the couple to tie the knot. And because royal rule stipulated that a reigning monarch could not be proposed to, Victoria had to be the one to pop the question. On October 15, 1839, Victoria proposed to Albert, who happily accepted. The couple married on February 10, 1840.

5. Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding dress.

Queen Victoria of England - Her Majesty 's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840
Culture Club/Getty Images

If you've ever wondered where the white wedding dress tradition originated, look no further than Queen Victoria. In 1840, Victoria wore an off-the-shoulder white satin gown covered in lace when she married Prince Albert. Though Victoria wasn’t the first royal to wear a white wedding dress—Mary, Queen of Scots wore white, too—wearing white became a status symbol following Victoria and Albert's nuptials.

6. Queen Victoria ensured that no other bride could replicate her wedding dress.

After Victoria’s wedding, she had the pattern to her dress destroyed so that no one could duplicate it.

7. Queen Victoria had nine children, but had some harsh opinions of motherhood.

Queen Victoria And Prince Albert With Five Of Their Children in 1846
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Nine kids is a lot, and even though the Queen had a lot of help, she at times seemed indifferent to motherhood. In personal letters, she wrote about her children, mainly about their looks. She once wrote: “I am no admirer of babies generally—there are exceptions—for instance (your sisters) Alice, and Beatrice were very pretty from the very first—yourself also-rather so—Arthur too ... Bertie and Leopold—too frightful. Little girls are always prettier and nicer.” She also said “an ugly baby is a very nasty object.”

8. Queen Victoria was fascinated by Jack the Ripper.

In 1888, the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper began brutally murdering women—mainly prostitutes—in London’s Whitechapel district. Victoria received a petition signed by the women of East London urging the Queen’s “servants in authority” to “close bad houses” a.k.a. brothels, and passed it to the Home Office. When final victim Mary Jane Kelly was killed, Victoria contacted the Prime Minister and urged that better detectives be employed.

9. Queen Victoria’s grandson was suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, c1890s
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

To this day, no one knows for sure who Jack the Ripper was. However, some people have theorized that Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor was the killer. In the 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, author Stephen Knight wrote about how Victoria’s grandson might’ve contracted syphilis from a prostitute, which turned him mad. Another theory suggests the grandson secretly married a Catholic commoner and fathered a child, and it was the royal family who murdered the women to cover up the family secret. (Yes, that one seems a little far-fetched.)

10. Queen Victoria served as her grandson’s alibi.

Queen Victoria gave her grandson an alibi in her journal, thus exonerating him from accusations of being one of the world’s most famous serial killers.

11. Queen Victoria is the second longest-reigning British Monarch.

For 51 years, Victoria held the title of longest-reigning British monarch. But on September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II took over the reins, so to speak, and bumped Victoria to second place. Victoria ruled for 63 years, 7 months, and 3 days; Elizabeth—who is Victoria’s great, great granddaughter—has ruled for almost 68 years.

12. Queen Victoria spent 40 years mourning the death of Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria with her great-granchildren at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, 1900
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

A couple of years before his death, Prince Albert began experiencing stomach cramps, and he almost died in a horse-drawn carriage accident. He told Victoria his days were numbered: “I am sure if I had a severe illness, I should give up at once. I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity for life,” he said.

On December 14, 1861, Albert succumbed to typhoid fever, though some people believe that stomach cancer and Crohn’s disease were the more likely culprits. Victoria blamed their son Edward for Albert’s death, as Albert was worried about a scandalous affair Edward was said to be having with an actress in Ireland.

Victoria lived for another 40 years and mourned Albert’s death the rest of her life by wearing black, becoming a recluse (she was often referred to as the Widow of Windsor), and keeping Albert’s rooms just the way he had left them.

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