Damien F. Mackey
“In 1532 a priest named William Peto preached an Easter sermon in which he asserted that that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who were in the congregation listening, were just like the Old Testament tyrant Ahab and his painted queen Jezebel”.
Kyra Cornelius Kramer
We read about a new book, The Jezebel Effect, at:
To celebrate the release of her new book The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters on Kindle, Kyra Cornelius Kramer has written this thought-provoking guest article on Anne Boleyn for us here at The Anne Boleyn Files. I do hope you enjoy it. Over to Kyra…
In 1532 a priest named William Peto preached an Easter sermon in which he asserted that that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who were in the congregation listening, were just like the Old Testament tyrant Ahab and his painted queen Jezebel.1 Ahab was considered to have been a king who had turned his face from the correct path of worshiping God, and it is was clearly an insult to Henry and a jab at his break from Catholicism. However, Jezebel was considered WORSE because she was seen as the harlot who had used sex to enslave Ahab and turn him from the Lord. Anne, like Jezebel, was therefore the scheming temptress who had dragged a formerly-good king down into the muck with her womanly wiles. In spite of the historical evidence to the contrary, Anne Boleyn’s reputation as a jezebel and harlot has clung to her name like the stench of skunk spray for five centuries.
Anne Boleyn is, in the opinion of many, “the most controversial woman in English history. She is shaped by preoccupations with the mystery of female power, described as a witch, bitch, temptress, cold opportunist… a woman whose power is feared, her gender mistrusted”.2 She has been castigated as “a whore, a home wrecker, [and] a soulless schemer”.3. In novels and plays, on television and in the movies, Anne Boleyn continues to slink about as the ultimate femme fatale. Even today history buffs online comment that Anne was “a piece of work” who “deserved to die” because she poisoned Henry’s first queen, calling Anne a “sociopath”, “cruel and crazy”, a “wack-job”, a “horrible person” who “stole someone’s husband”, and “sly” … all before declaring Anne did things she patently and provably did not do.
In her book The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Susan Bordo talks about how many media representations of Anne, “inevitably led to recycling the image of Anne Boleyn as the seductive, scheming Other Woman. That’s the classic soapy element of the story, after all: sexpot steals husband from mousy, menopausal first wife. [Michael Hirst, the creator of the Showtime series The Tudors] says he never intended this, and attributes it less to the script than to “deep cultural projections.” He had initially seen Anne … as a victim of her father’s ambitions, and believed he was writing the script to emphasize that. He was surprised when “critics started to trot this line out: ‘here she is, just a manipulative bitch.’ Well, actually I hadn’t written it like that. But they couldn’t get out of the stereotypes that had been handed down to them and that’s what they thought they were seeing on the screen. It didn’t matter what they were actually seeing. They had already decided that Anne Boleyn was this Other Woman, this manipulative bitch”.4
Even some academic historians have jumped on the slut shaming bandwagon. In 2010 historical biographer G. W. Bernard wrote a book about Anne Boleyn in which he said, “it remains my own hunch that Anne had indeed committed adultery with Norris, probably with Smeaton, possibly with Weston, and was then the victim of the most appalling bad luck” of having her actions come to light.5 This led to tabloids and newspapers trumpeting headlines such as, “Anne Boleyn DID have an affair with her brother: The poem that ‘proves’ the adultery of Henry VIII’s queen”.6
Even Henry’s actions were her fault. Inasmuch as Henry “frequently made a public fool of himself in his fervor for Anne and his love for her”,10 Anne has been blamed for “making” the king act like a buffoon. Much of the hatred of Anne Boleyn in her own time stems from the fact that a “love-struck middle-aged man was an unsettling sight. When that ageing man was a king… the uneasiness grew, for here was an all-powerful being in thrall to a woman… the obvious way to absolve that feeling of unseemliness in the spectator was to blame Anne”.11
Everyone blamed Anne. Katherina blamed Anne for Henry’s desire for a divorce. Wolsey blamed Anne for his political and economic losses, not the king and certainly not his own actions. Chapuys blamed Anne for the schism between Catholicism and England, not the actions of the Holy See that had inspired an entire reform movement throughout Europe. Princess Mary blamed Anne for the king’s emotional cruelty toward his once pampered eldest child. A large chunk of the population blamed her for Henry’s lusts. It must have been very hard for the English when Anne was dead, because she took the ultimate scapegoat with her to the grave.
Anne’s true crimes were not those of sexual impropriety, but those of gender inversion. She was too “masculine” to be a good girl. A man — a king no less — fell in love with her and acted “feminine” in his adoration, which had to have been her fault somehow. She was too smart to be discounted, and she was determined to bring about religious reform that would flout the existing conventions. Like other evangelical women she was outspoken about her religious opinions. She made a mockery of the status quo. Everything that was supposed to mark the attributes of a “good girl” – that she be passive, demur, humble, effacing, docile, and dominated – were reversed in the bold and determined Anne Boleyn.
Mackey’s comment: Mmmmm, sounds a lot like Queen Jezebel if one substitutes, for Anne’s Protestant evangelism, Baalism!
“If Henry didn’t listen to Friar Peto’s prophecy, or the holy mother church, he would suffer the same fate as King Ahab and have his blood licked by dogs”.
Friar Peto’s Vicious Attack against Anne Boleyn
On Easter Sunday 31st March 1532, Friar William Peto, Princess Mary’s confessor, preached a controversial sermon at the Franciscan Chapel of Greenwich Palace. The sermon was aimed at the King and his intended bride Anne Boleyn. The Friar, being the Princess’ confessor and head of the Franciscan Observants, was a staunch supporter of the Princess and her mother. In his sermon he compared the King of England to the biblical King Ahab whose refusal to listen to Elijah’s prophecies led to his divine punishment, dying in agony from the wounds inflicted to him during a battle. In addition, the King had sinned by marrying the pagan Jezebel who brought with her, her pagan priests and the adoration of her many gods.