The completion of this degree was certainly a group effort. First, I would like to thank my colleagues and peers within the Department of History. My advisor, Victor Stater, has been an exceptional guide from his encouragement during my time as an undergraduate student taking his courses, to his guidance through the completion of my master’s thesis. I am enormously grateful for his lectures, seminars and discussions, which have made me a better writer and historian. My committee members Leslie Tuttle and Christine Kooi have been an invaluable source of advice and critique. I greatly appreciate their guidance throughout this process. I have also made many new friendships throughout my graduate study. I would like to sincerely thank all of my classmates for their comradery.
The world’s best mentor, Mary P. Woods: My work at your side inspired this thesis. Your friendship, support, mentorship, and demands for excellence are invaluable to me. You are the definition of a consummate professional.
A huge thank you also goes to my friends Candice Isbell, Emily Smith, Ericka Quick, Miles Baquet and many others who have supported me, laughed with me, complained with me and stuck by me during this race. You are valued. I appreciate you.
To my family— Lisa, Lamont, Logan, Laci and Lexi Lewis—thank you for your unending support, encouragement, comfort and humor. My parents have spent their lives working to give me this opportunity. I can never thank you enough. For my family’s unconditional love and support, I dedicate this work to them.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Henry VIII ruled England from 1509-1547, producing some of the most identifiable and enduring figures and events in English history. This was largely due to the king’s skill at image manipulation and communication. This thesis focuses specifically on the period from 1509-1536, during which the whims of the king led to the rise and fall of two queens, the destruction of three ministers, and arguably the most significant religious and political controversies of the sixteenth century. It was the age of humanism, reformation, and the birth of modern political theory and practice. In the midst of this upheaval, the crown used primitive forms of public relations theory to justify the king’s divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon in favor of his mistress, to break with Catholicism, and to establish supremacy of the newly created Church of England.
Henry would have five other wives throughout his reign, but none is more notorious than Anne Boleyn. She was at the heart of the conflict in this period. This thesis examines the rise and fall of Queen Anne as an example of Henry VIII’s use of systematic image communication to destroy those who threatened his image as king. This work argues that the fall of Anne Boleyn was a crisis in gender relations that facilitated a larger-scale public relations crisis. It was this public relations crisis that fundamentally threatened Henry’s honor and authority, ultimately leading to Boleyn’s undoing. This thesis will use Boleyn as a framework for understanding Henry VIII’s championing of his honor and authority above all and his use of public relations to communicate this right to the throne of England.
If the arrest was sudden, the execution was long expected and cruelly overdue. Following several weeks’ imprisonment and four more days’ delay awaiting the arrival of the executioner from Calais, Anne Boleyn, former queen of England, prepared for the final scene in the closing act of a remarkable life and career. Like every other aspect of her infamous life, she rose brilliantly to the occasion. Dressed in a gown of resplendent grey damask with a crimson kirtle underneath, the color of martyrdom, and a mantle trimmed in ermine, she presented a somber and dignified figure on the morning of May 19, 1536. This was all in stark contrast to her former persona. Gone were the vivacious, witty flirtations, seductive glances, and extravagant fashions that had carried her to the throne of England and then down to these final moments. The picture of grace and modesty, Boleyn beseeched the eager crowd of exclusive witnesses gathered inside the Tower of London to honor and obey her one-time husband, Henry VIII. Even in utter disgrace she charmed and fascinated.
Boleyn knew all too well that adoration was fleeting and the public fickle. Dubbed “the scandal of Christendom” by her rival and Henry’s deposed first wife, Catherine of Aragon, her much-maligned six-year affair with the king had shaken England to its political and religious core. More importantly it established Boleyn as the worst sort of “she-devil” in the eyes of most English people. In pursuit of their marriage, Henry brought the country through years of religious strife and political upheaval, having broken with Rome and established the reformed Church of England when they finally wed in January 1533. Many of her contemporaries and historians alike credit Boleyn with encouraging and furthering the English Reformation. She is either villain or saint depending upon who is asked. Over the course of her career Boleyn collected an impressive list of enemies and allies who were at times interchangeable; as they were on the morning of her arrest on May 2 by the order of her husband and with the cooperation of one-time ally Thomas Cromwell, the king’s secretary. The queen soon found herself accused of adultery, incest and plotting to kill the king. Her own brother, George Boleyn, was named among her alleged lovers. She was tried on May 15 by her uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, against damning testimony from her sister-in-law, Jane Parker, Lady Rochford. Abandoned and betrayed, the queen was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death by beheading.
“If any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best,” Boleyn charged those gathered to witness her death. “And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all,” she continued. But Boleyn has never truly left us. She lives on defiantly in the pages of historical fiction, plays, television, movies and most importantly, in the works of scholarship. With her death came the new life of her enigma, a rebirth into historical prestige. The severing of her “little neck” forged earthly ties that have persisted beyond the grave and across centuries. She has been vilified and maligned in popular culture and for an unfortunately significant portion of history. Since the sixteenth century, her reputation has been marred by the bias of her contemporaries and historians alike who have touted the image of the ambitious, social-climbing and power-hungry shrew that led Good King Harry to religious and political disaster. Later, during her daughter Elizabeth I’s reign, her image was resurrected and enshrined as the Mother of the English Reformation. In reality, Boleyn was neither saint nor villain, but rather the co-conspirator in and later victim of an early, yet sophisticated, form of Tudor public relations and branding. The true Boleyn lies somewhere between exaltation and denigration, beneath the slander and defamation that have dominated her historical legacy for more than five centuries.
Even before her execution, Henry VIII began the systematic process of erasing Boleyn from the recorded legacy of his reign. Dozens of seamstresses, carpenters and stonemasons were employed to blot all traces of her queenship from the royal residences of England, no small task as Henry had been vigorous in symbolically enthroning her in almost every inch of his homes during their courtship.1 Boleyn’s initials, emblems, mottos, portraits and the innumerable entwined H’s and A’s that adorned the walls and ceilings were all made to be as if they had never existed. This leaves modern historians with only trace evidence of the true woman beneath the scandal. With no primary sources from Boleyn herself, rumor has run rampant over the centuries. Theories range from her guilt in hundreds of alleged affairs to the miscarriage of a deformed fetus, which led to charges of witchcraft, as explanations of her downfall. Many have posed the question, “How could he do it?” What would motivate a king to order the execution of an anointed queen for the first time in English history? More importantly, what would make that same king attempt to systematically purge all records of her existence from the history books after the great lengths he had gone in order to make her queen in the first place?
This thesis will attempt to answer these questions. The basis of this work is inspired by the theories of two Tudor historians whose research focuses on very different, yet as this analysis will argue, closely related aspects of the period. Kevin Sharpe’s Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England examines with newly ascribed intentionality and complexity, the Tudors’ self-branding and public relations savvy in negotiating their legitimacy and authority after scooping the crown of England from the battlefield. Sharpe’s chronicle details the numerous and sophisticated ways with which each monarch developed and maintained his public image, which was closely linked to his honor and authority. He suggests that the court was the arena in which rulers “sought to establish and sustain their authority, enhance their standing and reputation and refute and neuter criticism and opposition.”2 This was most often done through words and images in art of various forms and through ritual and performance. Sharpe’s analysis suggests that the business of Tudor government was the art of securing compliance. He places less merit on patronage than on imagery and perceptions of authority as essential to maintaining this compliance. No Tudor mastered this more effectively than Henry VIII. Most scholars agree that Henry’s reign ushers in new emphasis on and new attempts to control ideas of power through the royal word, images, buildings, festivals and other displays. Nowhere did he negotiate this power more effectively than through Tudor politics.
An inescapable part of human life, politics has certainly evolved and grown in complexity in the modern age, though its core functionality remains the same. Its foundation has always centered on image manipulation, modes of representation and media of communication.3 But is it anachronistic to refer to Tudor “public relations,” a term that only arose in the twentieth century, to discuss the politics of the sixteenth? This thesis argues “no.” The idea of image manipulation and rhetoric aimed at presenting a favorable self-representation is hardly novel. In fact, the origins of public relations reaches back to ancient times if the work of Cutlip, Center and Broom is to be believed. They suggest “the genesis of public relations actually dates to ancient civilizations.”4 Kings of ancient India used royal spies to test public opinion and spread positive rumors about the crown while Iraqi farmers in 1800 B.C. used pamphlets to communicate best practices for issues ranging from how to sow crops to dealing with mice.5 Much as modern-day politicians are more concerned with “political campaigns, elections and broadcasts…emphasizing appearance and image more than substantive issues,” the rulers of early modern Europe employed the best artists to depict their majesty and the most notable scholars and intellectuals to communicate the prestige of their courts and produce the written records of their reigns—essentially helping them to construct their authority.6As Sharpe points out, historians writing about politics of the past often do their subjects a disservice by failing to explore them in these
early-twentieth and twenty-first century terms.7 By dismissing these modern theories and their definitions as imsplausible in application to the politics of the past, we limit our understanding and insight into what actually happened all those centuries ago. Scoffing at the idea that Henry VIII and his government could have ever possibly employed something as modern as political public relations campaigns, no matter how rudimentary their semblance to present day, places limitations upon the field of historical study.
Public relations in the past is most often dismissed as propaganda by modern theorists, though modern public relations professionals are still scathingly dubbed “spin doctors” much like their historical counterparts. Merriam-Webster defines propaganda as the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Public relations is defined as the activity or job of providing information about a particular person or organization to the public so that people will regard that person or organization in a favorable way. The argument can certainly be made that modern public relations is essentially a cleaned up, moralized version of its antiquated cousin propaganda. Both aim to present a certain image about what they are selling. Both are carried out by presenting an image to the public, a negotiation of sorts between audience and information provider. The only difference is that projecting a negative image of others is frowned upon in our modern age and more directly defined as defamation.
In the context of this discussion, image is synonymous with authority. Coincidentally, the cardinal rule of modern-day public relations theory argues, “Perception is reality.” Somewhere, Henry VII is applauding. Stay tuned. As Henry VIII demonstrates, when this authoritarian image was threatened, the consequences were often disastrous. Of all the Tudors, he is the most effective at wielding these public relations and marketing strategies against his enemies. Its effects last down to the present day, influencing how towering historical figures such as Richard III, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VII himself are remembered by historians and the general public alike. Without a doubt, Anne Boleyn is the most prominent victim of this Tudor public relations arm.
Suzannah Lipscomb’s chapter, “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Crisis in Gender Relations?” in the collection Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics, and Performance provides the second part of this analysis. Lipscomb’s interpretation of Boleyn’s downfall is strictly gendered in nature, blaming her death on factors related to the relationship between the sexes in early modern England. She argues that Boleyn’s personality caused her to fall victim to gender roles within the culture of courtly love and flirtation. Lipscomb places great merit on the role of courtly love, honor, and a crisis in gender relations as the catalyst for these events. The inner tensions of ideas of masculinity and femininity, and consequently the notion of honor, are at the heart of her interpretation.8 An individual’s honor was an important means by which standards of behavior and social relations between men and women were regulated in early modern Europe.9
Religious beliefs provided the structure of Henrician society and the relationship between the sexes. The “sexual politics of religion” must be analyzed in order to understand the role of religion in society, and therefore women’s place within it. Sixteenth-century English society was one in which religion, as well as all other aspects of life, was influenced by the ideas about the two sexes.10 The notion that women were inferior to men was widely accepted. The Bible provided an age-old blueprint for sexual relations that was taken to heart in the most literal way. Theology permeated society and provided the gender constructs by which the sexes related to each other. When women stepped outside of these clearly defined boundaries, they challenged the fundamentals of social life and threatened the masculine identity that was so dependent upon the established gender code.11 Women who attempted to act independently of these social constructs subverted the gender order and threatened men’s very sense of identity.12Contemporary religious ideas also created a world in which women were seen as the epitome of sexual depravity and sin. At the same time, an essential part of the male identity was having the power to rein in women’s voracious sexual appetites. Society placed a clear link between a man’s sexual potency and his wife’s fidelity. Men whose wives cheated were seen as husbands whose “lack of sexual dominance led their wives to adultery.”13 Being seen as a cuckold was a devastating blow to one’s manhood.
Henry’s court was the height of chivalry, a cultural construct based solely on ideas of traditional gender roles, during Boleyn’s time in power. Within it one’s manhood or womanhood was essential to the overall construction of one’s honor. In a world dominated by the “ritual flirtation” of courtly love, elite women were expected to play the dual role of desired courtly beloved while preserving their sexual purity and chastity. 14 This was especially true for queens, who were to be loved by all their male courtiers. Such a dance was navigated with great care since it was at the center of women’s honor. This model of feminine honor—passive, chaste, obedient—did not fit Boleyn.15 In discussions of female honor, “chastity essentially meant passivity, the avoidance of sin.”16 When women took on characteristics of activity, associated with male honor, as Boleyn often did, they found themselves in danger of upsetting the social equation. Lipscomb suggests that “a vivacious, flirtatious woman” such as Boleyn could easily turn from “the accepted position as desirable but passive into the unacceptable desiring and active.”17 This overzealous play at courtly love made the accusations of multiple affairs brought against Boleyn seem far more probable than they actually were. It also accounts for Henry’s ruthless pursuit of her death after she had so bruised his manhood and therefore his honor. Most detrimental to Boleyn, Lipscomb suggests that news of her alleged infidelities wounded Henry in two crucial ways. It indicated his inability as a man to satisfy his wife and by extension, his prowess as a king.18 This study will carry Lipscomb’s analysis a step further by arguing that this affront to Henry’s manhood and honor projected an image that was not compatible with his carefully cultivated authority as a king, thus Boleyn was eliminated.
Marrying and building upon Lipscomb and Sharpe’s theories, this thesis will demonstrate that a crisis in gender relations threatened Henry VIII’s image and authority as king, thus leading to Boleyn’s downfall. Essentially, the fall of Anne Boleyn came about due to a public relations crisis. The result will provide a more complex and complete picture of not only the death of Anne Boleyn, but also the motivations and methods of the man who gave the order. To do so, a thorough examination of Henry’s use of public relations to first establish himself, and later to create and destroy Boleyn’s image and reputation is essential. A detailed discussion of the ways in which Henry cultivated his image during his early reign, and the motives behind his doing so will help to explain the actions he took in the later years of his involvement with Boleyn. Furthermore, with the intention of being more than a re-evaluation of Anne Boleyn’s downfall, this study has dual functions. The first is to establish that Henry VIII, like all of the Tudors, did in fact use rudimentary forms of what we would call twentieth-century public relations as an essential tool in establishing and maintaining his own image and also wielding it as a powerful political tool against his enemies. Secondly, having established this first aim, this thesis will present the downfall of Anne Boleyn as one of many examples in which a king’s image and authority trumps all—even love, infatuation, title and marriage.
CHAPTER ONE: “PERCEPTION IS REALITY”
Foundations of a Dynasty
Henry VIII is not the lone anomaly in his canny wielding of public relations and branding practices. The entire Tudor dynasty is nothing if not a study in pageantry and camouflage. The spectacles of the Tudors dazzle and distract most modern admirers and their contemporaries alike from the reality of their precarious claim to and hold on the English throne. The epicenter of this political pageantry was the court, which its rulers revolutionized and streamlined for their own purposes and which was the lifeblood of Tudor innovation and power. The Tudors were the users and makers of tradition and their court was one run by monarchs very much like “a shrewd businessman with a keen eye for PR.”19 The first objective of this work aims to establish how Henry VIII “persuaded sometimes reluctant people to follow controversial courses and to not only obey them but regard them as sacred” through various forms of public relations. In order to do this, an understanding of the birth of the Tudor dynasty and its image communication tradition is essential. This tradition is all the more impressive given that it grew out of a dynasty which began with the unlikely triumph of the son of an unlikely English noble family.
As the son of the disinherited Beaufort family descending from John of Gaunt, Henry Tudor should have never legally been king of England.20 By the time of his death in 1509, Henry VII, first of the Tudor kings, had achieved the impossible. He overcame a fragile claim to the English throne and seized power on the field of Bosworth in 1485, extinguished any threat of a return to civil war, and established the first untroubled succession England had seen in almost a century. This was no small feat, and the battles had been hard won. The Tudor family he founded is arguably the most important dynasty to be seated on the English throne. Two major themes defined the Tudor dynasty and influenced the actions and choices of its monarchs during their rule. The paramount issue was the fear, of the early Tudors especially, of a resumption of the Wars of the Roses that ravaged England prior to Henry VII’s conquest. As a result, the early Tudors’ reigns, Henry VIII’s especially, were defined by an obsession with providing an adult male heir, often by extreme measures, to succeed them. The second major theme of the period centers on the persistent question of legitimacy that haunted and at times threatened the dynasty. Ensuring that these fears of illegitimacy and political chaos never came to fruition preoccupied early Tudor monarchs.21 They also heavily influenced their stance in politics, religion and international relations.