Women Composers: Anne Boleyn


“…Viscount Chateaubriant writes in his 1522 memoirs that “Anne Boleyn, singing like a syren [and] accompanying herself on the lute …harped better than King David and handled cleverly both flute and rebec [fiddle]”….”

Four hundred and eighty-two years ago today, Anne Boleyn was executed. Legend has it she wrote this the day before she was beheaded by her spouse, Henry VIII, who was fooling around with her short-lived successor Jane Seymour. She had one surviving child, Elizabeth. Her husband was disgusted because he wanted a son. He felt a daughter would not be a proper successor and would be powerless as a monarch. She showed him!

“…Henry VIII had Anne investigated for high treason in April 1536. On 2 May she was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where she was tried before a jury of peers – which included Henry Percy, her former betrothed, and her own uncle, Thomas Howard – and found guilty on 15 May. She was beheaded four days later. Modern historians view the charges against her, which included adultery, incest and plotting to kill the king, as unconvincing. Some say that Anne was accused of witchcraft but the indictments make no mention of this charge. After the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe. Over the centuries, she has inspired, or been mentioned, in many artistic and cultural works and thereby retained her hold on the popular imagination. She has been called “the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had”,[ as she provided the occasion for Henry VIII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declare the English church’s independence from Rome…”

Legend is, she wrote this the night before she was beheaded.  To date, no additional compositions have been discovered, yet it is known she was a patron of the arts, and even put together a songbook, of the music she liked.

She was either a patron of, or admirer of Josquin des Prez, a Flemish composer of the day.  This piece was in her songbook.

There is also Jean Mouton’s ‘Tota pulchra es

This was the music she liked the most. It tells us something about the woman, her tastes, and maybe the fact that she had quite a bit of depth within her soul. This is not shallow music. It is very inspirational.

No discussion about music and Anne Boleyn could be complete without a discussion of the song written for her by Henry VIII. It may be one of the most famous songs in history.

Greensleeves has been used as the score for another piece of music. I am using the Welsh language recording of a certain by Bryn Terfel. After all, he is Welsh, and the Tudors were Welsh.