Multiple Histories: Cultural Memory and Anne Boleyn in Actes and Monuments and Henry VIII
Allison Machlis Meyer, Seattle University
This essay examines Shakespeare and Fletcher's appropriation of varied intertextual sources for their depiction of Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII. Through attention to the play's intertextual relationship with John Foxe's Actes and Monuments as well as early modern historiography, poetry, and popular literature about Anne, I show that some of Henry VIII's distinguishing characteristics — including its consideration of audiences and privileging of multiple perspectives — cue early modern readers and audiences to remember contrasting histories gleaned from diverse cultural memories. In spite of their divergent representations of events from Henry VIII's reign — Henry VIII avoids depicting Anne's death in favor of the spectacle of her coronation, while Actes and Monuments emphasizes eyewitness accounts of Anne's trial and execution and represents her death as Protestant martyrdom — the play conjures Anne's Foxean ghost through audience awareness of alternative intertexts, and intertwines Anne with her rival, Katherine, and the Duke of Buckingham, so that Anne's off-stage history permeates the play's account of the falls of Katherine and Buckingham as well as the births of the English Reformation and the monarch Elizabeth I.
Intertextualities and Infracontexts
Shakespeare and Fletcher's 1613 Henry VIII
is a history play haunted by the intertextual ghosts of its seemingly victorious characters, conjured by audiences' cultural memories of these characters' unrepresented tragic deaths.1
In staging the ascendancy of Anne Boleyn (called Anne Bullen in the play) and Thomas Cranmer as well as more minor characters such as Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, the playwrights invite audiences "to view these characters from comparatively recent times and with an implicit awareness of subsequent events" (Cespedes 1980, 419)
. The "subsequent events" that audiences are prompted to remember include the deaths of Henry VIII's queen and Elizabeth I's mother, Anne Boleyn, beheaded on charges for adultery and incest; the Catholic martyrdom of the Lord Chancellor More and the political downfall of Cromwell, both executed by Henry; and the burning at the stake of Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, by Mary Tudor. The weight of these off-stage executions hangs so heavily on the play that critics nearly always mention them, calling attention to the numerous ironic allusions throughout Shakespeare and Fletcher's language as exhortations to the audience to remember the dead (Slights 1991, 59-69
; Rudnytsky 1991, 43-57
). Most obvious in the play and most frequently attended to by its critics are reminders about Anne Boleyn's death when the ill-fated second wife laments the plight of the first, Katharine of Aragon:
Anne's word "divorce," used to imagine Katherine's life without the rank of queen consort, functions as a metaphor that encapsulates the play's represented action, reminding audiences that Katherine will in fact be divorced from her majesty on stage. Anne's whole speech, in its equation of "divorce" to the severing of soul from body, also recalls the play's unspoken history: Anne's own trial and beheading, which will remain unstaged but are clearly summoned here. That Anne's language asks — or even demands — that audiences remember her history outside the staged events of the play is a commonplace of contemporary criticism: as Peter L. Rudnytsky notes, "these lines cannot fail to evoke Anne Boleyn's own fate" for either contemporary or modern audiences (Rudnytsky 1991, 52)
's unique linguistic attentiveness to Anne's execution is, like its general interest in unrepresented future events, part of the play's interrogation of historical perspectives (Bliss 1975, 1-25
). As Ivo Kamps has astutely posited, the play's troubling episodic structure and sometimes puzzling arrangement of historical material are actually part of Shakespeare and Fletcher's thoughtful rejection of any single view of history or endorsement of one specific historical "truth" (Kamps 1996, 91-139)
. The current Arden editor of Henry VIII
, Gordon McMullan, has similarly defended the play's form and historiography, arguing that it presents "history as the product of testimony that is by its very nature varied, contradictory and irresolvable" (McMullan 2000a, 7).
In these recuperations of the play from detractors critical of its form, Kamps and McMullan both identify Henry VIII
's subtle engagements with contingent historical knowledge as the play's most important legacy.
What these critics have paid less attention to is how this interest in multiple historical perspectives — including those perspectives that emphasize Anne Boleyn's off-stage history — relies on the play's appropriation and adaptation of a wide range of historical sources. By examining the intertextual relationship between the play, its sources, and the wider discursive field of audiences' cultural memories, we can better understand not only the play's complicated appropriation of its sources but also the multiple historical perspectives audiences might have brought to the play. Claes Schaar's work outlines a theory of intertextuality particularly applicable to the relationship between Henry VIII
, its narrative source texts, and perceptions of Anne Boleyn in early modern culture. Schaar posits that certain kinds of surface contexts (a poem, a play) include allusions and semantic echoes of other works, which he calls infracontexts. Recognition of infracontexts creates particular effects in readers, changing the meaning of the surface context so that it is inextricably bound up with the additional meanings generated by the recollection of another text (Schaar 1982, 17
). This emphasis on reader and audience awareness acknowledges potentially diverse receptions to texts and what Lori Humphrey Newcomb calls the "compound literacies" — including oral storytelling, formal humanist training, and recognition of religious iconography, among others — of the early modern period, thus enabling a historically-grounded and audience-centered intertextuality that includes diffuse cultural memories, combining the textual with the memorial, as infracontexts (Newcomb n.d., 7
). The overlap of oral and print tradition in the early modern period suggests that intertextuality can usefully include a written text's infracontextual relationship not only with additional texts but also with oral traditions that produce compound literacies.4
While intertexuality as imagined by Schaar is a helpful starting point for Henry VIII
's relationship with its sources, the more inclusive view of a historically-specific intertextuality that acknowledges diffuse cultural memories can uncover the infracontexts of the play most widely available to its audiences.
Certainly audiences watching the actor playing Anne Boleyn describe Katherine's divorce with the metaphor of a beheading are reminded of the infracontext that is both a textual and cultural memory of Anne's subsequent execution. But which
memories of Anne's life and death might be called to mind in this and many other moments within the play, which texts might they have come from, and what do they mean for an audience experiencing Shakespeare and Fletcher's ghostly remembering and forgetting? Henry VIII
relies most prominently on Raphael Holinshed's 1587 Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Ireland
and Edward Hall's 1550 The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancaster and Yorke
as sources for the majority of the events it depicts, and thus they likely would have functioned as its key infracontexts.5
This essay suggests a narrative source the authors used less extensively, John Foxe's 1583 Actes and Monuments
(called The Book of Martyrs
), as an important alternative infracontext. In doing so, I propose that audiences of Henry VIII
had an active intertextual awareness of many infracontexts including but not limited to Foxe's Actes and Monuments
and diverse cultural memories of the politically resonant events of Henry VIII's reign. Through a focus on the play's Foxean infracontext, as well as additional infracontextual narratives about Anne Boleyn, I show how some of Henry VIII
's key features — its valuation of multiple historical perspectives and attention to audiences — cue readers to remember contrasting histories about Anne Boleyn gleaned from varied, complex infracontexts.
Acting on Foxe
Literary critics repeatedly attest to the immense cultural influence of Foxe's Actes and Monuments
: Jesse M. Lander notes that it is now "routinely, and no doubt appropriately, invoked by modern scholars as one of the central documents of Elizabethan Protestant culture" (2006, 58)
. The text enjoyed a wide popularity encouraged by Elizabeth I, who was interested in promoting Foxe's presentation of England as a Protestant nation and his conception of her as a monarch protected by God. John N. King claims that Actes and Monuments
exerted "a greater influence on the consciousness of early modern England than any other book aside from the English Bible and Book of Common Prayer" (King 2006, 276)
and by 1571, when the upper house of convocation of Canterbury ordered every Archbishop to have a copy of Actes and Monuments
alongside the bible in England's cathedrals, "the work was publicly acknowledged as the official history of the true English church" (Lander 2006, 58)
. D. R. Woolf even assigns Foxe's text the lofty status of "the vehicle of Elizabethan and early Stuart protestant consciousness" (2000, 79)
and Megan L. Hickerson more recently described it as "one of the most widely disseminated and influential texts of the sixteenth century and beyond, surpassed in importance only by the Tyndale Bible as a formative text of English Reformation" (2005, 6)
Actes and Monuments
reached an unusually wide segment of the population, including the illiterate, the middling sort, and women, since it was often read out loud in homes and at godly gatherings and included woodcut illustrations (Robinson 2002, xiv
; Woolf 2000, 279
; Felch 1997, 58
; Hickerson 2005, 6
). Woolf argues for its influence even in "the lower-literacy climate of the pre-civil war era" through its numerous woodcuts and state-sanctioned dissemination through the Church (2000, 279)
. While James Knapp cautions against assuming that the striking woodcut illustrations of Actes and Monuments
were intended to target an illiterate audience, King's compelling evaluation of responses to the woodcuts indicates that both literate and non-literate audiences of the texts learned from the pictures (Knapp 2003, 127-29
; King 2006, 230-42
). Scholarship on early modern literacy and reading practices reveals that written material, such as Foxe's book, reached both the illiterate and those who could not afford to buy printed texts through the common practices of reading out loud and to groups and sharing expensive texts among friends and parishioners (Robinson 2002, xvi
Heidi Brayman Hackel notes that early moderns who couldn't read "still inhabited a world with many opportunities for both seeing print and manuscript and hearing books read aloud,"
and "might even own printed books themselves" (2004, 178)
. Foxe himself records traces of how important books, like his own Actes and Monuments
, could be important to non-readers as well as readers; he celebrates "bookish piety in John Maundrel, who was never 'without the New Testament about him, although he could not read himself'" (Hackel 2004, 178)
. Hickerson argues that Actes and Monuments
' readership included women, as it was "appropriate instructive and edifying reading for women and girls during the sixteenth century and after" (2005, 6)
. Foxe's text was recommended reading for women and children in a number of publications and found in the libraries of gentlewomen of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (King 2006, 320
; Felch 1997, 58
; Robinson 2002, xvi
; Loades 1997, 4
; Woolf 2000, 279
; and Hickerson 2005, 6-7
). King examines the autobiographical writings of women who recorded their engagement with Foxe's text and concludes "women made up an important constituency among those who read the book" (2006, 320)
. The diversity of Foxe's readers — and listeners — unsurprisingly indicates a diversity of response: King notes that the "reception of this book was anything but uniform and monolithic,"
as early modern readers of varying religious and political backgrounds "read competing attitudes and opinions both into and out of its ever shifting and malleable texts" for widely different reasons (King 2010, 133)
Evidence for a degree of popular ownership can be found in the varying prefaces of the texts' numerous editions; Susan Felch notes that the 1563 prefaces were directed toward scholars while subsequent editions' prefaces changed in tenor "toward a lay readership" (1997, 58)
. While David Loades notes that Actes and Monuments"was never a popular book in the sense of widespread ownership,"
he claims that it was "generally available, and its vivid and gruesome stories entered into the public imagination" (1997, 4)
. According to King, Foxe's text "was widely available to an intellectually stratified audience of learned and unlearned readers, and hearers, whose numbers ranged from royalty and nobility to more lowly individuals within the social order" (2006, 283)
. Huston Diehl asserts that Actes and Monuments "appealed to the same broad spectrum of people as the drama of the commercial London stage,"
an explanation of the reach of Foxe's text that is particularly useful for understanding its relevance as an infracontext for Shakespearean drama (1997, 23)
Such cultural prominence and widespread dissemination suggests that while Foxe's narrative is not the most direct source for much of Henry VIII
, it is an important infracontext for early modern audiences of the play. Holinshed and Hall provide the bulk of the play's historical source material, but critics usually attribute some of the play's action to events described in Foxe's narrative. R.A. Foakes notes that Shakespeare and Fletcher drew on Foxe for the historical material of Thomas Cranmer's rescue from his scheming enemies in act 5 of Henry VIII
, and Frances Yates argues that much of the play's plot is indebted to Foxe (Foakes 1964, xxxvi
; Yates 1975, 70-71
). Foakes and Yates also see the play's view of Reformation history emerging from Foxe's source material; according to Foakes, Archbishop Cranmer's vision of an Elizabethan future is entirely Foxean in its ideology. More recently, Thomas Healy has found Actes and Monuments
a useful context for Henry VIII
's participation in "a Reformation debate about the uses of history,"
and his reading implicitly claims Foxe's narrative as an infracontext for the play's investigation of historical truth (Healy 1999, 174
). While she does not see the play embracing Foxean perspectives, Robinson likewise sees Henry VIII
as centrally concerned with unfolding a historiography of prophetic Protestant redemption similar to that promoted by Foxe, and she unequivocally argues for Foxe's contributions to Shakespeare and Fletcher's "impartial
" version of history (2002, 24
This emphasis on the value of Foxe's text to early modern culture, popular drama, and Henry VIII in particular has not extended to examining the play's intertextual appropriation of Actes and Monuments in its characterization of Anne Boleyn, perhaps because the two texts diverge so strongly in the events of Anne's life that they choose to depict. Henry VIII shows Anne's first meeting with Henry at Wolsey's ball, her intimate conversation with the Old Lady, and her coronation procession. In addition, the play stages other characters' reports of her relationship with the King, her religious faith, the private scene of her coronation inside Westminster Abbey, and her labor and delivery of Princess Elizabeth. Foxe, on the other hand, structures his narrative around the circumstances of Anne's death. He reproduces her scaffold speech, discusses her trial for alleged adultery, and provides vignettes about her faith and her alms-giving in order to support his portrayal of her as a wrongfully executed "godly" figure. In spite of focusing on different events, these texts' shared investments in English Protestantism promote similar views of what Anne Boleyn means for England: they both position the problematic queen as a somewhat mysterious vehicle for that shining symbol of the Reformation, her daughter Elizabeth I. There are strong intertextual connections, however, between Henry VIII and Actes and Monuments even in those places where the play and narrative show disparate events from Anne's life: as Henry VIII stages one history of Anne's life, its repeated evocations of her death elicit her alternative histories from Foxe's work and other infracontextual narratives, inviting audiences to recall contrastive cultural memories of Henry VIII's reign during early modern performances of the play.
Foxe and the Death of Anne
Foxe attempts to recuperate Anne's reputation by describing her in multiple editions of Actes and Monuments
as an upstanding Protestant queen who maintained scholarship students, kept her household safe from idleness by sewing clothes for the less fortunate, and distributed large sums of money to the poor. However, the centerpiece of Foxe's story about Anne's life — as the marginal gloss of the section, "The death of good Queene Anne,"
suggests — is her trial and death.7
Foxe first reproduces the eyewitness account of Anne's execution found in Edward Hall's Union
in the 1563 edition of Actes and Monuments
; the 1570, 1576 and 1583 editions are similar, adding to the existing material a stronger defense of Anne's innocence and a more critical account of Henry VIII's treatment of her. In these editions, including the 1583 edition Shakespeare and Fletcher turned to for Henry VIII
, he uses the following direct transcription from Hall to reproduce the words "of this worthy and Christian Lady at her death" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
|Good christen people, I am come hether to dye, for according to the lawe, and by the lawe I am iudged to death, and therefore I will speake nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speake any thing of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to dye, but I pray God saue the kyng, and send hym long to raigne ouer you, for a gentler, or a more mercifull Prince was there neuer: and to me he was euer a good, a gentle, and soueraigne Lord. And if any person wyll medle of my cause, I require them to iudge the best. (Foxe 1583, 1082)|
While reproduced from other accounts, Anne's scaffold speech fits into a larger Foxean pattern of description for women's executions. Frances Dolan suggests that Foxe's descriptions of the executions of women such as Anne Askew and Lady Jane Grey in Actes and Monuments
suppress "the actual process"
of execution by fire, hanging, or beheading, and disavow the tortured female body even as the scaffold functioned as a space for women's transgressive speech and subjectivity (Dolan 1994, 160-62
). Anne's own words and Foxe's commentary adhere to the pattern of bodily disavowal that Dolan finds in Foxe: he describes Anne kneeling down and commending her soul to Christ "till at length the stroke was geuen, and her head was stricken off" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
. While the authoritative agency Dolan sees paradoxically created by women's physical self-effacement through their scaffold speeches may well be found in Anne's words, Foxe's evaluative frame emphasizes obedience rather than resistance.
The version of Anne's scaffold speech that Foxe has chosen to reproduce allows him to construct her as an obedient subject while also using her own careful language to subtly suggest her innocence. Within Foxe's narrative frame, this speech exemplifies a process whereby women constructed as martyrs actively express "private and passive virtues"
in a public domain "without challenging sexual ideologies that dictated their piety and docility" (Dolan 1994, 159)
. Her speech is important to Foxe in part because her vows to say nothing against the law or her husband's judgment identify her as a devoted wife and subject who is physically subject to the laws of the state but spiritually subject only to the laws of God. Nadia Bishai's assessment of twelve accounts of Anne's execution identifies Anne's scaffold speech as a deviation; by not confessing her guilt and only acknowledging that the law of the state has condemned her, Anne "refuses to unambiguously support the powers temporal," a refusal that is consistent in each account but reported differently by each writer (Bishai 2009, 180)
. As Bishai notes, Anne avoids both a confession and an explanation of her crimes, and requires her audience "to judge the best,"
thus possibly "intimating the corruption of those who formed the court and the illegality and injustice of the sentence they passed" against her (Bishai 2009, 182
; see also Martin 2010, 121
Foxe's narrative further shapes Hall's oft-reproduced script of Anne's words at her death into evidence of her innocence by supplementing her words with interjected evaluations of her piety and virtue. This supplemental frame distinguishes Foxe's account of Anne from those of other chroniclers; Holinshed's Chronicles
also reproduces Anne's speech, but then refers readers to Actes and Monuments
for more information: "Now bicause I might rather saie much than sufficientlie inough in praise of this noble queene . . . I will refer the reader vnto master Fox his volume of Acts and Monuments" (Holinshed 1587, 3.935; emphasis in original
). Holinshed professes a Protestant perspective generally sympathetic to Anne, informing his readers that they can find in Foxe a defense of her lawful marriage, her mild nature, and her "faith and trust in Christ"
as well as a challenge to "the sinister iudgements, opinions, and oiections of backebiters"
against her (Holinshed 1587, 3.935
). Holinshed's account is most significant in its deferral and referral, which sends readers to his own Foxean infracontext for more information.
Foxe's interjected evaluations praising Anne's godliness and defending her virtue immediately follow her scaffold speech; he provides a numbered list of defenses labeled by a marginal gloss as a "Commendation of Queen Anne." Foxe reports: "And this was the end of that godly Lady and Queene. Godly I call her, for sundry respectes, what soeur the cause was, or quarell obiected agaynst her,"
suggesting that unnamed accusations and their hidden causes cannot tarnish her status as good Christian, a sentiment that proposes her innocence and denies any legitimate cause or quarrel to be had with the Queen (Foxe 1583, 1082
). Foxe's first piece of evidence for this assessment are the piety of her last words and her modest demeanor in dying: "Fyrst, her last wordes spoken at her death, declared no lesse her sincere fayth and trust in Christ, then dyd her quiet modestie utter forthe the goodness of the cause and matter, whatsoeuer it was" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
. Foxe then argues that Henry's immediate marriage to Jane Seymour "may seeme to geue a greate clearing unto [Anne]"
and identifies her principal reason for commendation, her promotion of Protestantism (Foxe 1583, 1082
|Certaine this was, that for the rare and singular giftes of her minde so well instructed, and geuen toward God, with suche a feruent desire unto the trueth and setting foorth of sincere Religion, ioyned with like gentleness, modestie, and pitie toward all men, there hath not many suche Queenes before her borne the Crown of England. Principally this one commendation she lefte behinde her, that duryng her lyfe, the religion of Christ most happily floryshed, and had a right prosperous course. (Foxe 1583, 1083)|
Foxe describes, in greater detail than any other chronicler, Anne's gentleness, modesty, pity toward others, and a desire for true faith. He finds vindication for Anne in her modest demeanor as well as her promotion of religion, and associates her with the flourishing of Protestantism in England during her lifetime by retroactively reading causation into the simultaneous current of the prosperous course of Reformation and her own faithfulness. Finally, Foxe defends Anne directly against "priuy backbyters":
This key defense of Anne, her participation in England's Reformation through the birth of her daughter Elizabeth and the favorable judgment of God, fits Anne into the Protestant framework of an unjustly punished martyr whose contributions to the faith can be demonstrated to readers through historical hindsight.
The providential framework Foxe employs in Anne's defense is certainly not new, nor can its impact on Henry VIII
be understood without a consideration of additional infracontexts contributing to this sympathetic cultural memory of Anne Boleyn. Some popular literature from the early years of Elizabeth's reign makes even stronger claims for Anne as a martyr for Protestantism than Actes and Monuments
. John Aylmer's 1559 reply to John Knox's famous indictment of "the monstrous regiment of women" aims to please Elizabeth I by defending a female monarch's right to govern with the model of the Queen's own mother. In An Harborowe for Faithfull and Trewe Subiectes
, Aylmer identifies Anne as a key "example of a woman
" with the marginal heading "Quene Anne the instrumet of reuiuing the gospel
," and asks his readers: "Was not Quene Anne the mother of this blessed woman, the chief, first, and only cause of banishing the beast of Rome, with all his beggerly baggage?" (Aylmer 1559, B4)
. Aylmer gives Henry VIII and Edward VI "due praise
" for their roles in "forward[ing]
" English Protestantism, but concludes that "the croppe and roote was the Quene, whiche God had endewed with wisdome that she coulde, and gyuen hir the minde that she would do it" (Aylmer 1559, B4)
. Anne's success in banishing Catholicism from England, according to Aylmer, is an example of God's ability to work wonders through "the most base meanes
," including women (Aylmer 1559, B4
). Aylmer's Anne is God's vessel, endowed by Him with wisdom and action, and through Him alone able to serve as the "croppe and roote
" of English Protestantism. Nowhere, though, is her trial or her good death on the scaffold mentioned; Aylmer's Anne produces the Queen, the true religion, and a justification for Elizabeth's female rule, and then she fades from view.
Later texts that identify Anne as an important vehicle for Protestantism begin to obliquely deal with the tricky subject of her death. Ulpian Fulwell's The Flower of Fame
, a 1575 compendium of vignettes in prose and verse about Henry VIII's life, included verse poetry and "A treatise of iii. noble & vertuous Queenes" who were Henry's Protestant wives (Fulwell 1575, B2r)
. Fulwell positions Anne as a penultimate exemplar of English womanhood and a glass for virtuous ladies. He emphasizes the lawfulness of Anne's marriage to Henry, calling her "King Henries lawfull mate" and "A gracious Queene and lawfull spowse
" held back from "wedlockes lawe / By shewe of Romysh toyes" (Fulwell 1575, 40).
Fulwell praises Anne's "virtuous mynde and Godly harte"
and celebrates her piety, intellect, and beauty. She is sent from a "heaunly throne" and "fedde with heauenly foode / And knowledge of his truth,
" attributes that make her noble name deserving of a place in "Bibles tome" (Fulwell, 1575, 40)
. She also becomes, in Fulwell's commendation, the sole producer of Elizabeth I:
The formulation of Anne as a phoenix who creates Elizabeth from her cinders before she leaves the world acknowledges and gives meaning to her death, finding in it the necessary mechanism for the production of Elizabeth and sidestepping Henry VIII altogether. This conception of Anne's death as giving life to Elizabeth is fleshed out in Fulwell's "Epitaph on the death of Queene Anne Bullayne," which laments her death without looking directly at either the scaffold or its causes. The loss of Anne is figured as a collective calamity for the nation, who offer "wayling woes
" to win her life again and volunteer their own lives to restore hers:
The grieving subjects of Fulwell's poem are only able to tolerate the pain of Anne's death because of the "royall Impe
" she leaves behind and the surety that Anne's "blessed soule is lodged with God" (Fulwell 1575, 42)
. Speaking for an English public certain of Anne's place in heaven and her role as a mirror for virtuous ladies, Fulwell's poem indirectly exonerates her from unmentioned crimes. It also structures her death as an active leave-taking: she "sent" Elizabeth from her cinders before "she from the worlde went
," and this act of raising her royal daughter from her own ashes suggests that no other explanation for her death might be necessary.
The Protestant John Bridges is even more hyperbolic than Alymer and Fulwell in his 1573 Supremacie of Christian Princes
, identifying Anne as a "sacrifice to God and a most holy martyr" (Bridges 1574, 853)
. Bridges finds, like Aylmer, cause to celebrate the disastrous second marriage of King Henry: to Henry's subjects, "this maryage was most fortunate"
because God "so blessed [it] with such a fruit"
as Elizabeth I (Bridges 1574, 853
). But unlike Aylmer and Fulwell, Bridges calls direct attention to Henry's culpability:
Henry is guilty of being easily beguiled and too readily crediting slanderous Papists who see the godly Anne as a threat to Catholicism. While some infracontexts about Anne, such as those written by Aylmer and Fulwell, carefully excise Henry's responsibility, and others like Bridges blame Henry's foolishness, Foxe threads the needle. He neither directly implicates Henry as Bridges does nor ignores the circumstances of Henry's role in her death as Alymer and Fulwell do.9
Instead, Foxe circumspectly alludes to Henry's participation, creating self-conscious absences in his narrative that make room for readers and listeners' infracontextual knowledge of other conflicting historical memories of Anne's life and death.
This representational strategy is perhaps clearest in Foxe's text where he devotes significant narrative space to Anne's trial by an inconstant Parliament, which to his surprise — "this I can not but meruayle"
— repealed the marriage they had previously contracted and charged the Queen with "carnall desires of her bodye, as to misuse her selfe with her owne naturall brother the Lorde Rochford, and others, being so contrary to all nature that no naturall man will beleue it" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
. He concludes that the actions of Parliament were driven by "some great mysterye"
generated by the "secrete practicing
" of Anne's Papist enemies "considering what a mightie stoppe she was to their purposes and proceedings, and on the contrary side, what a strong Bulwarke she was for the maintenance of Christes Gospell and sincere religion, which they then in no case could abide" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
. Foxe describes the forces behind Parliament as a "mysterye
," a term that mobilizes not only the secular definition, of "something inexplicable or beyond human comprehension,"
but an additional ironic religious connotation: "A religious truth known or understood only by divine revelation; esp
. a doctrine of faith involving difficulties which human reason is incapable of solving" (OEDsb
. "mystery"). "Mystery" implies "an ordinance, rite, or sacrament of the Christian church," particularly "the consecrated elements used in the Eucharist," but was also used to signal additional rites of the church that remained current under Protestantism, and the OED
's example appears in Thomas Cranmer's 1549 Book of Common Prayer (written under Edward VI) in reference to matrimony. Emphasizing the incapacity of human minds to understand the forces behind Anne's undoing and the larger providential schema at work in her fall, Foxe also relies on the term's connotation of Catholic ritual to subtly implicate Parliament alongside the "Papist enemies
" he directly blames.
Foxe's indictment of Anne's Catholic enemies is straightforward, but his critique of Henry's Parliament is not, relying as it does on the multiple definitions of "mystery" as well as a larger interpretative framework that expresses surprise, uncertainty, and the inaccessibility of knowledge. This framed explanation contrasts Holinshed's understated description of her trial, which reports briefly that Anne vindicated herself but was convicted anyway: she "made so wise and discreet answers, that she seemed fullie to clear hir selfe of all matters laid to hir charge: but being tried by hir peeres . . . she was by them found guiltie" (Holinshed 1587, 3:935)
. Holinshed chooses to simply state Anne's innocence and the contrary judgment against her before referring readers to Foxe for interpretations of these events, which Foxe produces through a projected sense of bafflement and a rhetoric of mystery and impenetrability. While Retha Warnicke argues that Foxe's references to the "mysterious circumstances
" of Anne's death are the result of his inability to satisfactorily explain the truth rather than a representational strategy, Foxe in fact employs a skillful navigation of political history akin to the "functional ambiguity" Annabel Patterson finds "exploited by authors and readers alik
e" within the "hermeneutics of censorship"
visible in the work of many sixteenth and seventeenth century writers (Warnicke 1995, 47
; Patterson 1984, 18
). Elsewhere Patterson argues that Henry VIII
demonstrates a "skepticism about truth," (1996, 161
) and an indifference to religion assimilated from Holinshed's Chronicles
, a narrative she sees at odds with Foxe's "Protestant polemic" (Patterson 1994, 37)
. I see Shakespeare and Fletcher's exploration of contingent historical perspectives, however, as indebted to both Holinshed's skepticism and Foxe's rhetoric of uncertainty.
Alec Ryrie, in his analysis of Henry VIII's cultural memory under Elizabeth, likewise notes "the careful ambiguity of Foxe's stance"
toward the late king's historical errors (2009, 89
). Foxe's explanations cloak Henry VIII's politically expedient removal of his second wife with mock surprise at hidden, unknowable human action and the mysteries of God's will, allowing Foxe to profess Anne's innocence and the unjustness of her execution without vilifying Elizabeth's father. Actes and Monuments
ultimately gives us an innocent, godly Anne mysteriously undone not by an unwise king but by his wicked counselors and fickle Parliament, and he adds to this depiction an assertion of providential mystery that effectively navigates the problem of representing the story of Henry and Anne to their queenly heir. Such an account actively invites readers and listeners to draw on wider cultural memories of Anne's life and death to fill in the blanks, and carves out space for the recollection of other popular infracontexts with both similarly sympathetic perspectives and alternatively negative assessments of Anne. As I will show, Henry VIII
, in its appropriation of Foxe's intertext and its thematic engagements with multiple historical perspectives, extends this invitation to playgoing audiences.
Fertility & Heresy, Coronation & Execution
ends with the birth of Anne's daughter, Elizabeth I, and thus avoids depicting Anne's trial and death, even though Foxe's narrative provides a useful template for negotiating the thorny fact of Anne's execution. Henry VIII
celebrates Anne's coronation and labor as the most spectacular signs of her contributions to favorable historical change and national progress.10
These moments praise Anne's involvement in the creation of a Protestant England under Elizabeth I by depicting her as "a symbol of beauty and fertility"
valued for her reproductive capacity (Carney 1995, 195
). Thus, the play generally represents her, as Kim Noling argues, as "the object of male perusal and male desire,"
and she is commented upon more than she speaks in most of her appearances on stage (Noling 1988, 291
). In her first appearance at Wolsey's banquet, Anne is nearly silent but is kissed by two men, including Henry, and she immediately inspires the desire of the King, who remarks: "The fairest hand I ever touched. O beauty / Till now I never knew thee" (1.4.76-77)
. Henry VIII's sexualized portrait of Anne has led some critics to conclude that the play is critical or strongly ambivalent in its treatment of her (Richmond 1979, 14
; Leahy 2003, 140-42
; Hodgdon 1991, 215
Even in the bawdy conversation between Anne and the Old Lady, however, which is frequently identified as a moment where Anne's sexuality and ambition are simultaneously (and negatively) exposed, Anne's eroticized body is positively linked to reproduction (see Noling 1988, 195
). The scene in fact draws attention to Anne's reproductive promise, promotes her piety, and ultimately evaluates Henry's behavior in ways reminiscent of Foxe's recuperative depiction of Anne. The Old Lady responds to Anne's protestations that she couldn't bear the burden of royal titles with a reminder of Henry's reproductive goals in his promotion of Anne to Marchioness: "If your back / Cannot vouchsafe this burden, tis too weak / Ever to get a boy" (2.3.43-44)
. The conversation also characterizes Anne's response to Henry's treatment of Katherine and links the sexual and reproductive promise at the root of Anne's social elevation to his later mistreatment of her. At the scene's start, Anne proclaims Katherine "so good a lady that no tongue could ever / Pronounce dishonor of her,"
and laments the trajectory of her predecessor's fall: "after this process / To give her the avaunt! It is a pity / Would move a monster" (2.3.3-4, 9-11)
. Both of these assertions position Anne as a kind and gentle figure, as she pronounces sentiments that audiences, too, might appropriately feel toward Katherine. She speaks convincingly of Katherine's honesty and the rightness of her cause, and demonstrates her kindness and sympathy for a fellow queen given "the avaunt
" by her husband.
Underneath this positive characterization of Anne, which distances her from any responsibility for the good Katherine's fall, these words also register a critique of Henry and his counselors that hints at the dangerous position of queen consorts in general and at Anne's fate in particular. Only a "monster" could fail, as Henry and his advisers do, to pity Katherine's case, and no tongue should speak, as they do, to dishonor her. Anne, in veiled terms, calls all those casting sexual dishonor on Katherine liars, and deems those incapable of pitying her wrongs monstrous. These charges against the court, spoken by Anne on behalf of Katherine, are apt to evoke Anne's death and the evaluative apparatus available in Actes and Monuments, which describes the members of Parliament who accuse Anne as monstrous in their unnatural imaginings of her sexual conduct. Thus the scene's emphasis on Anne's sexuality and Henry's treatment of his wives seems framed to ironically remind audiences of the accusations of adultery for which Anne is put to death, but to do so in ways that invite recollection of Foxe's particular vindication of her.
Anne's desirability and beauty, which indicate her fitness for producing an heir to the throne, are primarily depicted in positive terms throughout the rest of the play (see Carney 1995, 194-96
). When the Lord Chamberlain interrupts Anne and the Old Lady to bring word of the King's continuing favor, he ties her sexuality to her production of Elizabeth I:
The play's attention to Anne's reproductive potential in these lines constructs her sexuality as the honorable source of Henry's heir. Retha Warnicke sees Anne depicted here as "an innocent object of the affections of the king, who hoped to realize his desire for a male heir in her" (Warnicke 2003, 241
). This portrait, according to Warnicke, is "undoubtedly influenced"
by Foxe's own "moving description" of her (2003, 241)
. Foxe's description indeed includes a strong precedent for a view of Anne as a vessel for Elizabeth, "In whose royall and flourishing regiment we haue to behold, not so much the naturall disposition of her mother's qualities, as the secrete iudgemente of God in preseruing and magnifieng the fruite and offspring of that godly Queene"(1583, 1082)
. Elizabeth's providential Protestant rule is, for Foxe, evidence of God's secret and positive judgment of Anne. Like Aylmer, who identifies Anne as an "instrument" for Protestantism, and Fulwell, who sees her as the fertile ash producing an Elizabethean phoenix, Foxe nearly always describes Anne in relation to her "fruite and offspring." Thus Foxe — and Aylmer, Fulwell, and Bridges — provide Shakespeare and Fletcher with important precedents for their emphasis on Anne's function as a reproductive vessel for Tudor offspring.
Shakespeare and Fletcher's portrait of Anne's reproductive power is perhaps most legible as a directive pointing audiences at these additional "Anne-as-vessel" infracontexts when it is contrasted with other oppositional memories that would have been part of the larger cultural imagination about Anne's sexuality. These alternative precedents for depicting Anne abound in early modern cultural memory, and even as Henry VIII
invites audiences to recall Foxe's particular depiction of Anne, the presence and power of condemnatory cultural memories of Anne Boleyn function as "contrastive infracontexts
," which generate audiences' recognition, not just of those additional infracontexts that share a Protestant view of Anne with Foxe, but of competing histories (Schaar 1978, 285
). These contrastive infracontexts contribute to a polyvocal intertextual historicizing that never fully subsumes one competing cultural memory to another. Perhaps the most salacious of these contrasting infracontexts was Nicholas Sander's The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism
(De Origine ac Progressu Schismatis Anglicani
), written in the 1570s, published posthumously in Latin on the continent in 1585, and reprinted in 1877 (Sander 1877
). Christopher Highley finds that "Sander's book had an enormous effect in shaping European views
" of the Reformation, and Retha Warnicke claims that Sander's "tales
" about Anne Boleyn's role in the downfall of the Catholic Church in England "generally were so compelling they filtered into the intellectual frameworks of writers
" about Anne from the early modern period until the present day (Highley 2005, 152
; Warnicke 1995, 47
). While this Latin continental text written by an exiled English polemicist certainly did not have the reach of Foxe's work, it was quickly translated into six different languages; according to Highley, it "was no obscure work of Catholic apologetics or scholastic theology
" but a text that was "immediately accessible to a general readership
" and according to Warnicke it became "extremely popular" (1995, 155)
. Copies of Sander's text were smuggled into England, and frequent refutations written by English Protestants and authorized by Elizabethan authorities "suggest that, by the early seventeenth century, the Schismatis Anglicani was familiar, if only by reputation, to a broad readership in England" (Highley 2005, 170).
Anne Boleyn is central to Sander's explanation of the Church schism: she is a heretical, whorish, and physically deformed figure who incites dangerous, lustful desire in Henry and instigates the events that will lead to England's break with Rome. Highley notes that "Sander's Anne is a highly sexualized figure"
whose "monstrously productive body [. . .] gives birth metaphorically to Protestant error" (2005, 163-64)
. Sander, who accuses Anne of incest not just with her brother but with her own father by claiming that title for Henry, abhors Anne for the very same reasons that Protestant writers such as Aylmer, Fulwell, Bridges, and Foxe idealize her: "The child must sin with the father, the sister with the brother — for Anne Boleyn sinned with her brother, as we shall soon see — in order to give birth to that evil thing which banished out of the land [Catholicism]" (Sander 1877, 101)
. While, as William Camden notes, Sander is the author of this lie, Warnicke concludes that this incest charge was "an enlargement of rumors current during Anne's lifetime that her mother had been the king's mistress" (1991, 244)
. Sander's doubling of the incest claim against Anne immediately found its way into printed and popular texts, most notably in exiled Cardinal William Allen's An admonition to the nobility and people of England
, written in English and published in Antwerp in 1588 to incite rebellion amongst English Catholics during the Spanish Armada's invasion of England. Allen accuses the "wicked
" Henry VIII of "incestuous copulation with Anne Bullen"
in order to declare Elizabeth an "incestuous bastard, begotten and borne in sinne, of an infamous curtesan Anne Bullen" (1588, A5)
. Allen is also most likely responsible for writing a broadsheet "declaration of the sentence and deposition of Elizabeth, the usurper and pretensed queen of Englande"
attributed to Pope Sixtus V, which condemns Elizabeth "for that she is a Bastard, conceyued and borne by incestuous adultery" (Sixtus V 1588)
. Writers who adopted Sander's assertion that Anne was Henry's daughter as well as his wife see in this possibility a final repudiation of Elizabeth's sovereignty, and perceive Anne's trial for adultery with her own brother as a fulfillment of the wickedness of Henry and Anne's depraved sexuality and false faith.
Like Foxe, Sander and his adopters understand Anne's sexuality and fertility, which Sander translates into the source of a depraved and monstrous religion as well as incest, as the means by which England births Protestantism. According to Sander, "all English Protestants [. . .] honour the incestuous marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn as the wellspring of their gospel, the mother of their Church, and the source of their belief" (1877, 100)
. Highley finds that in most Catholic polemics, including Sander's, "Anne Boleyn's role in promoting heresy accorded with a cross-confessional view of the female body as a threshold through which heresy enters the body public" (Highley 2005, 164)
. Anne's depiction as a fecund female body central to the birth of Protestantism remains stable in the contrastive infracontexts of Shakespeare and Fletcher, Aylmer, Fulwell, Bridges, Foxe, and Sander; it is the perception of her as either a providential vessel of the true gospel or a corrupt incestuous body introducing heresy to England that shifts from one textual depiction to the next. Henry VIII
's audiences would likely possess cultural memories of the divergent value ascribed to Anne's reproductive body by these two oppositional narratives, and the play's direct attention to Anne's sexuality and fertility would have invited audiences to remember not only Anne's frequent infracontextual representation as a vessel for Elizabeth and Protestantism but its vociferous mirror opposite, which hinged upon the same understanding of the value of Anne's reproductive body.11
The play invites audiences to consider more directly Foxe's particular infracontext in its spectacular coronation scene, which further emphasizes her sexuality and fertility as positive precursors to both Elizabethan and Jacobean monarchy.12
The play's depiction of Anne's coronation is, of course, at odds with the most famous extant description of the event, the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys's letter to Charles I. Chapuys, writing to Katherine's nephew, reports that the crowd refused to remove their hats and "the coronation pageant was all that could be desired, and went off very well, as to the number of the spectators, which was very considerable, but all looked so sad and dismal that the ceremony seemed to be a funeral rather than a pageant" (quoted in Warnicke 1991, 125)
Chapuys's biased letters about Anne, not published until the late nineteenth century, were private royal correspondence, and thus would not have formed part of audiences' cultural memories, but they do remind us that the coronation event itself was an important interpretive moment in the construction of polyvocal cultural memories about Anne. As a carefully-orchestrated portrayal of royal spectacle, the four-day long procession and coronation were essential for their "psychological impact"
on the English public, solidifying Anne's position as queen and serving as a "sacrament of loyalty"
for a court torn between Anne and Katherine (Ives 2005, 178, 181
). Eric Ives identifies the Venetian ambassador's report of "great pomp
," "enormous crowds
," and "the utmost order and tranquility of the occasion"
to be the most objective eyewitness account of spectatorship and suggests Londoners were "more curious than either welcoming or hostile"
to the new queen (2005, 178
Two printed versions of Anne's coronation would have been a significant part of English cultural memories about this key event in Henry's reign: Edward Hall's lengthy description, included by Fleming in the 1587 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles
and thus constituting one of Shakespeare and Fletcher's key sources for the coronation in Henry VIII
, provides details about the four day long festivities that runs to five folio pages of his chronicle account, while the anonymous account printed by Wykyn de Worde in London in 1533, The noble tryumphaunt coronacyon of queen Anne wife unto the moost noble kynge Henry the viij
, offers a briefer account of the action but reproduces the structures and the verses of the civic pageants. Hall's description speaks to both the "evident overkill" and the potential for psychological impact that Ives highlights (2005, 181
). Hall closes his account of Anne's procession to the Tower on the first day of her coronation festivities with a comment that seems to encompass both the crowds of Londoners thronging the shores of the Thames and the procession those crowds witnessed: "But for to speake of the people that stode on euery shore to beholde the sight, he that sawe it not would not beleue it" (Hall 1550, 214r)
Careful analyses of Anne's royal entry by Alice Hunt and Gordon Kipling argue that the procession, pageants, and coronation of Henry's second wife all emphasize Anne's conspicuous pregnancy as a key visual component: "virtually all of the pageants stress both Queen Anne's central virtue, chastity, and point out the fact that she is manifestly pregnant as she rides to her coronation" (Hunt 2008, 59)
. In the three pageants that diverge most strongly from prior queens' processional pageantry, their creators self-consciously emphasize a classical theme that positions Anne as Astraea, the restorer of a Golden Age, through the promise of her pregnancy, a prophecy which "in fact defines the golden gift which the citizens demand of Anne: a new son of the king's blood who will bring a Golden World to his people" (Kipling 1994, 63)
. The pageants devised for Anne's royal entry into London justify her accession as queen through her obvious fertility and present her "as the hoped-for mother of a future Protestant king,"
which Kipling reads as "evidence of a certain amount of sympathetic acquiescence"
to Anne's queenship in contrast to Chapuys's account but nevertheless offering "only restricted and heavily qualified acceptance"
predicated upon the son she must deliver:
Hunt also finds that "Anne's coronation is represented as contingent upon the succession"
in the processional poetry she examines, so that "the legitimacy of the supremacy that has enabled Anne's marriage and her coronation rests precariously on the unborn child that she carries" (2008, 72)
. The pageants, processional poetry, and iconography of Anne's most public moment were engineered within a larger discursive field of polyvocal and frequently contrastive infracontexts around the hoped-for male heir she never produced, and her position as queen consort and Protestant instrument were justified only in terms of the unknowable outcome of her pregnancy.
I clearly appropriates this pervasive coronation story and image as a contingently sympathetic infracontext, taking up popular depictions of Anne as the fertile mother of a divinely-sanctioned harbinger of Protestantism. The Second Gentleman's description of Anne in Henry VIII
mingles together religious sensibility and bawdy image: "Sir, as I have a soul, she is an angel. / Our king has all the Indies in his arms, /And more, and richer, when he strains that lady" (4.1.44-46)
. Anne is heavenly, but she is also a symbol of material wealth and earthly sexuality, both riches that Henry capitalizes on when he "strains that lady
." The Third Gentleman simultaneously testifies to Anne's attractions and acknowledges her sexual activity with the King, calling her "the goodliest woman / That ever lay by a man" (4.1. 71-72)
, and he contextualizes this characterization with an account of the crowd's jubilant response to seeing "the full view" (4.1.73)
of her: "Such joy / I never saw before" (4.1.77-78)
. Henry VIII
's emphasis on the coronation as publicly sanctioned by citizens is an extension of its general use of the English people's response to historical figures to cue play audiences' sympathies; Anne, Katherine, and Buckingham are all given the special and important sanction of England's subjects. Finally, the Third Gentleman adds to this portrait of Anne as a sexual, fertile beauty an account of her piety and devotion:
This account of Anne's conduct at the altar adds to the play's positive eroticization of her a description of the holy attributes many Protestant writers include and that Actes and Monuments
highlights. While Holinshed and Hall both provide a number of details for other parts of the coronation scene in Henry VIII
, this evaluation of Anne's behavior at the altar is not part of either historiographer's account (Hall 1550, 212r-217v
; Holinshed 1587, 3:932-34
). Hall simply says "she dicended doune to the high Alter and there prostrate her self" (1550, 216v)
Anne's relationship with the English people, established by their joy at her presence and her reciprocal care for them, as well as her saintly conduct in this description are more reminiscent of Fulwell's ten thousand grieving subjects and Bridges' "holy martyr" (1574, 853)
than of either Hall's coronation account or the provisional acceptance of Anne as a holy mother of male princes that critics have seen in the text of the coronation pageants.
Most striking about this moment, however, is how strongly Henry VIII
's coronation scene seems cued by Foxe's unique account of Anne at the scaffold. While Edward I. Berry does note that Anne's coronation makes audiences "think of Anne's tragic future,"
critics have generally overlooked this scene's strong evocation of her Foxean death scene (Berry 1979, 240
The narrative report of a visual spectacle demonstrating Anne's devout prayer and care for Henry's subjects mobilizes the iconography of Foxe's account of her execution as well as the positive evaluations of her modesty and pity toward all men that inform his narrative of her death. Her modesty, devout prayer, and deference to the English people are the same behaviors and attitudes that marked her death as a further sign of her godliness in Foxe's work. Anne appears at her coronation as a fair-eyed penitent, and in this "saintlike" comparison the play invites audiences to see her not just as beautiful, fruitful, and godly, but also as a soon-to-be martyred soul. Thus the play might generate for audiences a link between her coronation and her execution, two moments of state spectacle that were accessible through historical narrative and drama to a fairly large segment of the English public. Anne's execution was restricted from the general public and mediated primarily through written account; however, it was, like her more public coronation, one of the most accessible events of her queenship. Ives estimates approximately one thousand spectators — all English, as foreigners were prohibited from attending — surrounded the scaffold for the unprecedented execution of an English queen (2005, 357
). Henry VIII
's staging of Anne's first state-sanctioned spectacle in specific iconographic and evaluative terms similar to Foxe's (and no other writer's) descriptive account of her execution seems likely to generate contrastive memories of the only other widely available spectacle from her short time as queen consort.
While Shakespeare and Fletcher select alternative historical moments than those chosen by Foxe to construct a nevertheless similar vision of Anne as a vehicle for Elizabeth and Protestantism, Henry VIII
also evokes strong associations with Actes and Monuments
beyond the substitutive iconography of its coronation scene. One seemingly unlikely event that, like her coronation, both recalls Anne's martyr-like death and
its mode of representation in Foxe is the arrest, trial, and execution of the Duke of Buckingham. As Foxe does with Anne, Shakespeare and Fletcher navigate the historical fact of the popular Buckingham's death by attributing his fall to large historical forces and evil enemies rather than to King Henry. He is found guilty of treason by his peers and King through the indictment of damning but suspect witnesses reputedly encouraged by the wicked Wolsey. Buckingham's death is, like Anne's in Actes and Monuments
, made into something of a mystery intended to absolve Henry, pass blame onto the King's counselors, and leave open the possibility of the Duke's innocence. Berry calls Buckingham's fall a "deliberately ambiguous
" tragedy, and Patterson traces this ambiguity to the play's use of Holinshed's Chronicles
(Berry 1979, 232
; Patterson 1996, 160
). More recently, Fiona Martin has argued that the unresolved conflicting testimony contributing to Buckingham's downfall is "part of the play's wider concern with issues of truth and shifting historical perspectives (2010, 113)
. In the case of Henry VIII
's Buckingham, the ambiguity acknowledged by Berry, Patterson, and Martin might be more precisely identified as an intertextual process that not only "invites reinterpretations of specific events
," but also points, through a shared methodology of strategic ambiguity, to resonant intertexts like Foxe's as a source for audiences' reinterpretations (Martin 2010, 127)
As with much of Anne's representation in the play, including her Westminster coronation, Buckingham's trial by his peers is described by report. The First Gentleman describes Buckingham's reaction to the final judgment against him without conveying the content of his words:
The First Gentleman's evaluation of Buckingham's words calls audiences' attention to a deep absence of knowledge. Audiences are denied the content of Buckingham's brash and angry words, and left with the interpretation of an unnamed character who sympathizes with the condemned Duke but reports that Buckingham has spoken potentially treasonous words that once exposed might settle the ambiguity generated by the play's navigation of Buckingham's history. Holinshed provides a report of the Duke "brought to the barre sore chafing, and swet marvellouslie"
which Shakespeare and Fletcher clearly take up in these lines, and while Holinshed notes that in this state Buckingham "made his reverence
," the playwrights have added to Holinshed's cue a much stronger reminder that Buckingham has spoken words we can never access (1587, 3:865
This withholding, reminding, and then forgetting employs a strategy that Foxe mobilizes in Actes and Monuments
to describe those historical figures, like Buckingham and Anne, who have fallen mysteriously and unjustly at the hands of his sovereign Queen's father. Repeatedly, Foxe narrates Anne's life and death by professing, and then foreclosing, information about her. For example, his discussion of her virtuous works includes the caveat that "Many things might be written more of the manifold virtues, and the quyet moderation of her mylde nature,"
and he continues to insist that more might be said about Anne even while he offers an explanation for his foreclosure of her history:
Foxe refers to his own intertexts, his previous 1570 edition of Actes and Monuments
and the other sections of his 1583 narrative about Anne, in announcing "we haue sayd something before"
about Anne's memorable virtues. In addition, he cues readers to look for additional, forthcoming intertexts to be written by other historians, whose recuperations of Anne will be bolstered by the eyewitness accounts of "others who then were about her."
Foxe provides a glimpse into his historical rigor here, but in his referrals to fellow historiographers he also indicates anxiety about his own interpretation and ultimately claims that it is up to God to allow further testimony about Anne's virtue. Even in his account of the wicked Parliament responsible for convicting Anne of adultery, Foxe hints at machinations beyond his knowledge and forecloses tantalizing information: "But in this Acte of Parliament did lie (no doubt) some great mysterye, which here I will not stand to discusse" (1583, 1082)
. Henry VIII's Buckingham episode stages a similar rhetoric of mystery and foreclosure of history. Kamps' description of Henry VIII
as a play where "largely inscrutable forces drive historical events"
helpfully captures, in its use of the term "inscrutable
," the strategic representation of mysterious events and the withholding and forgetting of history that Henry VIII
shares with Actes and Monuments
). Kamps, however, finds that Actes and Monuments
exemplifies narratives' inferiority to drama as a medium able to provide "a simultaneous presentation of multiple historiographies
," while I argue that Henry VIII's effectiveness in scrutinizing historical perspectives emerges from its narrative infracontexts, including Actes and Monuments
). The functional ambiguity evident in these respective accounts of Buckingham and Anne produces a unique, two-fold invitation to playgoers: to remember intertexts with shared methodologies, and to construct, in the absence of historical knowledge foreclosed by such a method, cultural memories of specific events through the recollection of many alternative and sometimes contrastive infracontexts.
Buckingham's "scaffold" speech in Henry VIII
does not just invite recollection of the infracontext of Anne Boleyn's death in Actes and Monuments
through a shared strategy of functional ambiguity; it also directly conjures Anne's Foxean representation through shared features with Anne's own execution speech and its interpretation by Foxe:
Like Anne, who tells the "Good christen people
" about to witness her death that she "will speake nothing against" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
the law condemning her to death, the Duke draws a distinction between the impartial law used to name him a traitor and "those that sought
" his death, who he wishes "more Christian" (2.1.65)
. Buckingham's faint expressions of support for the law that condemns him have no precedent in Holinshed but closely mirror Actes and Monuments
' account of Anne's death. Buckingham's scaffold speech even prompts audiences for Anne's multi-layered metaphoric use of "divorce
" in 2.3, as he asks "you few that loved me"(2.1.72)
Buckingham, like Anne, uses divorce as a metaphor for execution, a connection McMullan argues is "replete with foreshadowings, both for Katherine and, most specifically in the context of a beheading, for Anne" (2000a 272 n.76)
. Perhaps less obvious but equally important for this speech's infracontextual summoning of Anne's death is his rhetorical transformation of witnesses and victim; turning his loyal noble friends as well as the loving public to whom he speaks into angels, Buckingham labels their prayers, and indirectly himself, as a "sweet sacrifice,"
making his execution a martyrdom and pointing, not just to Foxe, but to Bridges' view of Anne as "a sacrifice to God and a most holy martyr" 1574, 853)
Just as Anne, in her execution speech, hopes God will allow Henry "long to raigne over you
" and calls him a "good, a gentle, and a soueraigne Lord" (Foxe 1583, 1082),
Buckingham instructs Lovell to "Commend me to His Grace
" and expresses his wish for the King's continuing rule:
By vowing loyalty and acquiescing to the justice of the realm's law while professing their own goodness and suggesting their own innocence, both Anne and Buckingham represent themselves as godly and honest subjects. Thomas Cogswell and Peter Lake identify Buckingham's lines as a "variation of the condemned traitor's last speech"
whereby the Duke "acknowledges the formal justice of his proceedings, and he forgives those who have condemned him without admitting his own guilt,"
while Robinson labels them the "script of the Foxean martyr"
(Cogswell and Lake, 2009, 269
; Robinson 2002, 47
). Martin argues that Buckingham "challenges the boundaries of the conventional scaffold speech"
through his self-fashioning as a political martyr (2010, 127
). Precisely because Buckingham's execution script skirts the boundaries of convention, it is likely to evoke for its audiences other scaffold speeches, like Anne's, that undermine expectations for a criminal confession. This largely generic Foxean "script," made irregular by Buckingham's self-representation as a martyr, pairs with Shakespeare and Fletcher's repetitive metaphoric use of "divorce" and their strategic ambiguity in depicting his downfall to insistently recall the infracontext of Anne's own irregular scaffold speech and execution in Actes and Monuments
Conjoined Queens & Historical Memory
Memories of Anne's life, trial, and execution as rendered by Foxe are generated even by the trial and death of her rival, Katherine of Aragon, who is given greater stage time and moral force in the play than Anne.16
In a number of paired scenes (Anne's rise to the Marchioness of Pembroke is followed by Katherine's trial and argument with Wolsey and Campieus; act 4 brings Anne's coronation, followed immediately by the dying Katherine's dream vision and final words, which in turn bleed into a report of Anne's labor pains at the start of act 5) the play links Katherine's fall to Anne's ascension and employs linguistic echoes to conjoin the two queens. At her death, Katherine's words foreshadow both queens' passing and evoke Anne's specific fate when she replies to Henry's messenger, sent with the King's good wishes, that "comfort comes too late, / 'Tis like a pardon after execution" (4.2.122-23)
. This echo is an original addition to Holinshed's account of Katherine's death, and yet another reminder of the deaths of both queens. Katherine's own last words include blessings for and obedience to a culpable husband and king that recalls the scaffold speeches of Anne and Buckingham: "Remember me / In all humility unto his highness [. . . ] Tell him, in death I blessed him, For so I will" (4.2.161-65)
. Katherine's sentiments have a precedent in Hall and Holinshed and further the play's sympathetic characterization of her as undeserving of Fortune's fate. They also, like Buckingham's final words, recall the representational strategies of Anne's words at her execution in Foxe and position Katherine as yet another Foxean martyr figure central to the play's polyvocal historicizing.
The play not only creates linguistic links between the two queens through Katherine's final words; it structurally pairs Katherine's death with Anne's labor and delivery of Elizabeth, a celebratory event that Shakespeare and Fletcher nevertheless describe as both life-threatening and death-like. Thomas Lovell follows hard on Katherine's death with a report to Gardiner that "The Queen's in labor, / They say in great extremity, and fear'd / She'll in labor end" (5.1.18-20)
. Lovell's words evoke Anne's actual death for audiences with cultural memories of both events: Anne will not die in labor, but she'll end in this labor, as the delivery of a daughter, rather than a son, is not enough to secure her future with a husband insistent upon a male heir. The possibility of Anne's dying in childbirth forcibly reminds audiences of Anne's real execution, as does Lovell's account to the King "that her sufferance made / Almost each a pang of death" (5.1.68-69)
. Childbirth is not only dangerous in Lovell's formulation; it becomes a metaphor for
death, so that Anne's cries in labor become the laborious pangs of a woman dying. Gardiner's response to Lovell — he prays for the "fruit
" of Anne's labor, but wishes for "the stock
" to be "grubbed up now
" — positions the Bishop of Winchester as an enemy of the queen styled after both Foxe's representation of the King's fickle Parliament and his account of Gardiner as a villain in Actes and Monuments
Gardiner's identification of Anne as a religious and political enemy in the play is underscored by his insistence that "it will n'er be well . . . Till Cranmer, Cromwell — her two hands — and she / Sleep in their graves" (5.1.29, 31-32)
. Of course, all three will
sleep in graves that the play compels audiences to remember. More particularly, Gardiner's villainous fantasy in these lines calls for the deaths of three heroes who are linked together in Actes and Monuments
as examples of martyrs brought to their deaths by insidious advisers, and thus gives the specter of Anne's death that hangs over this scene a specifically Foxean shape. Foxe situates Cromwell's death as an example of "men falsely accused, & wrongfully iudged
" by princes who are led astray by "malicious make bates
," and uses litotes to link the Duke of Buckingham and Anne Boleyn as similar tragic examples: "how was that Parliament incensed, wherein both Queene Anne was false condemned . . . To omit here the attainder of the Duke of Buckingham wrought by the Cardinall of Yorke" (Foxe 1583, 1189
). An audience primed to make infracontextual associations might recall source material that links Anne, Cromwell, and Buckingham together as some of the highest-profile collateral damages of Henry's Reformation-enabling reign.
The play's emphasis on Gardiner as an enemy of Anne aligns with Foxe, who claims that Gardiner "being then abroad in Ambassie, was not altogether asleepe"
when Anne was accused and tried for treason, but differs from Holinshed, who instead identifies Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk as "chief
" among the peers who tried and found Anne guilty (Foxe 1583, 1082
; Holinshed 1587, 3:935
). Instead of following this cue from the Chronicles
, Henry VIII
gives the Duke of Suffolk key lines praising Anne in a providential vein similar to Foxe's understanding of Anne as a godly vessel for Elizabeth:
In direct opposition to Gardiner and to Suffolk's portrayal in Holinshed, Suffolk wishes for Anne's health in childbearing, telling Henry "God safely quit her of her burden, and / With gentle travail, to the gladding of / Your Highness with an heir!" (5.1.70-72)
. Thus it seems the play draws its villains and its heroes from Foxe, and at times ascribes to them lines that evoke those prior histories within Actes and Monuments
In the play's depiction of its supreme villain, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII
more directly links Anne and Katherine together as innocent victims of a common enemy. The earliest murmur of Katherine's divorce, delivered by the report of an anonymous gentleman, demonstrates a representational strategy akin to the "mystery" Foxe finds in Anne's own trial. The slander of separation is laid at the feet of the King's consummate wicked counselor, Wolsey: "Either the Cardinal, / or some about him near; have, out of malice / To the good queen, possessed him with a scruple / That will undo her" (2.1.156-59)
. In Katherine's trial scene, she eloquently maintains the lawfulness of her royal marriage and reminds Henry of her wifely loyalty and obedience, but her defense primarily stems from accusing the Cardinal — "you are mine enemy
" — with the same charge of malicious slander whispered by numerous members of the court (2.4.75
Katherine's own identification of her enemies at court is followed by a similar argument serving opposite ends: the King excuses the Lord Cardinal and explains Katherine's obstinacy by noting, "you have many enemies . . . By some of these / The Queen is put in anger" (2.4. 155,158-59)
. The King later warns Cranmer of a similar threat: "Your enemies are many and not small; . . . You are potently opposed, and with a malice / Of as great a size" (5.1.129, 135-36)
. These examples underscore the play's interrogation of shifting historical perspectives and locate ever-changing enemies as the only constant at court, a malicious threat from all directions that minimizes both the King's responsibility and the King's power.18
Much like Foxe's account of Anne's downfall, the play here blurs Henry's culpability, assigns blame for his problematic decisions to others and favorably constructs England's religious and national progress as the historical byproducts of a monarch's puzzling but divinely sanctioned actions.
The Cardinal frames his dislike of Anne in her heroic resistance to Catholicism — "I know her for a spleeny Lutheran, and not wholesome to / Our cause" (3.2.99-100)
— and blames her for his own downfall: "All my glories / In that one woman I have lost forever" (3.2.409-10)
. Wolsey's labeling of Anne as a Lutheran is drawn directly from Foxe, who reports that "the Cardinal of York perceiued the king to cast fauour to the Lady Anne, whom he knew to be a Lutheran" (Foxe 1583, 1051
; see Foakes 1964, 105 n.99)
. The play heightens parallels between Anne and Katherine by focusing on their shared historical enemy and assigning their struggles with him a religious import that gives both women a similar moral — and oddly, Protestant — authority. Alexander Leggatt argues that act 3 positions Katherine an "honorary Protestant heroine
" through her arguments with Wolsey, which include an original addition to the play's sources in which Katherine insists that the Cardinal and Campieus "Pray speak in English
" rather than Latin (3.1.45
) (Leggatt 1985, 135
's reinvention of Katherine as a proto-Protestant through the foil of the corrupt Wolsey helped recuperate the Catholic Katherine for a Reformation audience and recalls Anne's "papist enemies" in Foxe.
As I have suggested, the structural, thematic, and infracontextual conflations of Anne and Katherine, like those of Anne and Buckingham, may have registered for audiences through the specific intertextual relationship between Henry VIII
and Actes and Monuments
. But these queenly conflations are uneasy and contingent, directing audiences not to one set of stable infracontexts but to a series of contrastive infracontexts that underscore the play's polyvocal approach to historical perspectives. One of the contrastive infracontexts I see recalled by the play's conflations of Anne and Katherine via Actes and Monuments
is not a separate text but Foxe's own account of Katherine. Shakespeare and Fletcher's characterization of Katherine clearly follows the chronicles of Holinshed and Stow, while Actes and Monuments
is typically viewed as part of a competing chronicle tradition in its approach to Katherine (Hansen 2003, 87
; Patterson 1996, 151-60
Foxe repeats Hall's account of Katherine's divorce nearly verbatim, and reports a number of the same events Shakespeare and Fletcher take from Hall and Holinshed. Foxe, however, also directly discusses a core concern of the divorce proceedings that goes unmentioned in the play: the question of Katherine's sexual intimacy with Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's elder brother and Katherine's first husband. Foxe disingenuously professes to "spar[e] the reuerence of chast eares,"
and claims he wants to avoid repeating Prince Arthur's bragging words about his torrid night in Spain by referring readers to "other Chronicles" (Foxe 1583, 1051)
. This intertextual directive, instructing readers to look elsewhere for the unedited salacious description of Prince Arthur's wedding night, works to convince readers that Arthur has confessed to sex with Katherine.
Although he bypasses intimate detail to spare his sensitive readers, Foxe still dwells on the "cleare euidence
" of Katherine's "carnall knowledge"
of Arthur (Foxe 1583, 1051
). In addition to Arthur's confession, Foxe notes a six-month deferral of Henry VIII's elevation to Prince of Wales due to her possible pregnancy, the language of a Papal Bull, a "book of records
" containing the testimony of Spanish ambassadors sent to England to verify consummation, and the age and living arrangements of Katherine and Arthur during their marriage. In his account of Katherine's trial, Foxe insists on the veracity of evidence used to prove Katherine's relationship with Henry was incestuous. Foxe's own defense of Anne, however, rejects the truthfulness of any claim of incest: he describes the similar charge of "carnall desires
" leading to the "misuse of her selfe
" with her brother as "so contrary to all nature that no naturall man will beleeue it" (Foxe 1583, 1082)
. Foxe's assertions of Katherine's guilt undermine his shocked defense of Anne, and his disbelief at the charges against Anne raise questions about those leveled at Katherine. Foxe's narrative thus produces competing historical accounts of the "truth" that recursively recall their alternatives for audiences watching Henry VIII
's manifold conjoining of queens.
Michael Dobson sees Katherine's trial for incest in Henry VIII
and its similarities with Hermione's trial for adultery in The Winter's Tale
as an invitation for conflation that "forcibly calls to mind a third famous legal process, the very one which causes Henry VIII to end where it does so that we won't have to see it: the judicial murder of Anne Boleyn on charges of adultery with, among others, her own brother" (Dobson, quoted in McMullan 2000a, 129)
. Though Henry VIII
never directly describes Katherine and Henry's marriage as incestuous, referring only to Henry's conscience and Katherine's deferral to the "wise council . . . who deemed [the] marriage lawful,"
McMullan and Dobson see the incest charge as a central location of conjunction between Katherine and Anne (2.4.49, 51
; McMullan 2000a, 129
). For audiences familiar with Foxe, the play's depiction of Katherine might produce particularly strong connections: Katherine's trial and death recall not only Foxe's account of Anne's trial and execution, but Foxe's alternative history of Katherine's trial with its dissonant and competing reminders of both sexually suspect queens' incest charges. Foxe's juggling of these two incest charges — one "true" and one "false" — would remind audiences of yet another contrastive cultural memory: the doubled incest charge against Anne, first lobbed by Nicholas Sander's infracontext The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism
. This doubled charge against Anne — of incest with her "real" father, Henry VIII, and with her brother, Lord Rocheford — relies on the same "vessel" metaphor for Anne's sexual body as Protestant tropes that fashion her as the mother of true religion, a pairing that makes either historical perspective difficult to see without conjuring the other side of the coin.
For early modern audiences steeped in the cultural memory of Foxe's account of the Protestant Reformation, Henry VIII
's focus on Katherine includes multiple recollections of her queenly rival. Even at those moments when the play expresses clear sympathy for Katherine and privileges her story as its dramatic center, Henry VIII
still evokes Anne's tragic fate as well as the rhetorical uncertainty about its causes that permeates Foxe's specific retelling. The prologue itself cues audiences for the intertextual possibility of a martyred Queen Anne:
The prologue locates Katherine's tale as the primary source of emotion in the play; it is her mightiness and her misery that take center stage. Yet Katherine's sad story releases other sad stories, and the play's final emphasis on a non-reproductive genealogy passing from Elizabeth to James I fails to obscure the problems of an executed queen and a childless monarch.21
Thus, it is not surprising that the prologue maintains a twin directive: to imagine the very characters of the play "as they were living" and to see how swiftly characters can fall to their deaths. Such a directive suggests that Henry VIII
points its audience toward a schizophrenic experience: see our actors and imagine they are really dead kings and queens, and see our staged queens and remember they will die. Henry VIII
forces the issue, as it presents a parade of persons, particularly Anne and Katherine, who are clearly not "as they were living." The vision laid out by the prologue, of "great
" persons "follow'd with the general throng and sweat / Of thousand friends
" primes audiences for the narrative reports of Anne's coronation, which describe "the crowd i' th' Abbey, where a finger / Could not be wedged in more" (4.1.58-59)
. The press of people watching Anne's public procession, described as a "rich stream / Of lords and ladies" (4.1.62-63)
, even shares the sweat of the prologue's "general throng
"; the Third Gentleman claims he is "stifled / With the mere rankness of their joy" at the coronation procession (4.1.60-61)
. The coronation procession, as I have shown, is highly evocative of Foxe's particular account of Anne's execution as a martyrdom, and the prologue's exhortation to remember the swiftness with which historical personages can move from this public spectacle to another — "then in a moment, see / How soon this mightiness meets misery"
— likewise links its prefiguring of Anne's coronation throng in act 4 to her execution. To do as the prologue asks, then, is to disregard the play's surface representation of Anne Boleyn as a faint shadow and to confront her as a ghost whose life and death appears illuminated by Henry VIII
's many varied infracontexts. In the prologue's generalization of the fall from friends to misery, audiences are reminded that while Katharine's fall is perhaps the source of the play's dramatic power, it is not the only fall we must remember.
Henry VIII self-consciously attends to a multiplicity of historical perspectives and generative of rich associations between dramatic representations of queens, their historical figures, and their living counterparts. The play's valuation of the multiplicity and uncertainty in historical accounts is itself intertextual; its largest themes embrace the methodology through which I have examined the play, but they also demand recognition of the manifold nature of both history and intertextuality. The play reveals no clear truth about Anne or Katherine, their functions in history, or their contrasts and connections to each other: the view of Anne Boleyn provided by reading Henry VIII through audience awareness of Actes and Monuments is just one of those possible histories generated for early modern viewers by a very influential and resonant infracontext.
||I am indebted to the editors of Borrowers and Lenders and the astute comments of one of the anonymous readers for help revising this article. I am also indebted to the 2014 National Endowment for the Humanities Tudor Books and Readers: 1485-1603 Summer Seminar, led by John King and Mark Rankin, for financial and research support. Authorial attribution of Henry VIII is controversial; critical consensus ascribes the play to Shakespeare and Fletcher as collaborative authors (McMullan 2000a, 180-99).
||All citations of Henry VIII come from The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus (Shakespeare 2008).
||See also Frye, who likewise insists that Anne's words "cannot help but recall" the divorces and deaths of both queens (2003, 436)
||See Fox 1999, on the influence of the written tradition — including print — on verbal communication.
||On written history's dissemination through reading out loud to an audience in the early modern period, see Woolf 2000, 82-83.
||Holinshed mentions Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour but does not interpret it as a vindication of Anne as Foxe does (Holinshed 1587, 3:935).
||See Nelson 2009 for a reading that sees Anne's reproductive body represented as a failed, disabled womb that the play distances from Elizabeth.
||On the scene's differences from Holinshed, particularly regarding Anne's relationship with Henry's subjects, see McMullan 2000a, 371 n. 85.
||See Linda McJ. Micheli for the only critical observation that audiences might specifically link the ceremony of the coronation with that of Anne's execution (1987, 465).
||On Buckingham's self conscious employment of the vocabulary of martyrdom, see Martin 2010, 113.
||McMullan also sees Katherine as "a kind of reformer" in the play (2000a, 135). Patterson notes that Katherine's "Englishness" is developed in Henry VIII, though she does not see Katherine made into a proto-Protestant, as Leggatt does, so much as she sees the play "valuing a Catholic queen" (1996, 163).
||On the closeness of Katherine's trial to its source in Holinshed, see Muir 1978, 286-88. On Henry VIII's general indebtedness to Stow as well as to George Cavendish's The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, see Anderson 1984, 124-54.
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