How accurate is Channel 5's Anne Boleyn?
2nd June 2021

After THAT kissing scene, how much of new drama Anne Boleyn can you trust? From a party to mark Catherine of Aragon’s death to tricking Henry VIII into marriage by witchcraft, FEMAIL separates historical fact from fiction

  • Anne Boleyn debuted last night with Jodie Turner-Smith in the eponymous role
  • Racy opener featured sex scenes and a kiss between Jane Seymour and Anne
  • But how accurate is the Tudor biopic? Here FEMAIL fact checks the story

Channel 5’s Anne Boleyn debuted last night to mixed reviews, with some praising the diverse casting and impeccable acting while other complained of boring and metaphor-heavy writing.

The very racy series opener – which saw several sex scenes and a kiss between Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour –  claims to be  ‘inspired by truth and lies’ but how historically accurate is it? 

Set in January 1536 at Greenwich palace,  the episode shows the last five months of Anne Boleyn (played by Jodie Turner-Smith) life, opening with King Henry and Anne throwing a party, 24 hours after the death of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

It goes on to document Henry’s courting of his third wife Jane Seymour, his jousting accident and journey into a tyrant and Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage. 

So, how much of the first episode is fact and how much is simply royal fiction? Here FEMAIL fact-checks just how accurate Anne Boleyn really is… 

The claim: Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII threw a party 24 hours after Catherine of Aragon’s death

The show is set in January 1536, and opens on a party being thrown by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn ‘less than 24 hours after the death of Catherine of Aragon’.

Henry VIII’s first wife – and mother of Mary I – had passed away aged 50 after being banished from court following their divorce three years earlier.

Jodie Turner-Smith is pictured in yellow dress and famous ‘B’ necklace, at court celebrating, while Henry (played by Mark Stanley) is pictured in black and yellow robes.

The couple drink and eat with courtiers, with a pigs head being served, and Anne describes Elizabeth as ‘a perfect little monarch in the making’ while Henry rebuffs ‘our boy will be a great ruler, one for the history book,’ gesturing towards her baby bump.

Afterwards, Anne is seen playing cards with ladies in the court, referring to Jane Seymour as a ‘spiteful little b****’. 

The show is set in January 1536, and opens on a party being thrown by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn ‘less than 24 hours after the death of Catherine of Aragon. Henry VII’s first wife – and mother of Mary I – had just died aged 50 after being banished from court following a divorce three years earlier. Jodie Turner-Smith is pictured in yellow dress at court celebrating

How accurate is Anne Boleyn? FEMAIL fact checks the Channel 5 biopic 

The claim: Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII threw a party 24 hours after Catherine of Aragon’s death: MOSTLY TRUE

 The claim: Anne Boleyn kissed Jane Seymour and told her to ‘stay away from Henry VIII’l FALSE

 The claim: A jousting accident turned Henry VIII into a tyrant. PROBABLY TRUE

 The claim: Anne walk ins on Jane Seymour sitting on Henry VIII’s lap and slaps her and pulls her necklace off, leading to a miscarriage. PARTLY TRUE

The claim: Thomas Cromwell plotted against Anne Boleyn. TRUE

 The claim: Henry believed he’d been tricked into his marriage by witchcraft. FALSE 

 The claims: Anne Boleyn was responsible for the first English language bible. MOSTLY FALSE

The facts:  Anne and Henry had festivities following the death, but may have privately mourned

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn did have festivities following Catherine of Aragon’s death – but historians believed they may have both privately wept. 

Anne, who had worked as a maid for Queen Catherine wore yellow following Catherine’s death but historians re divided on the significance of this.    

Many believe it was a show of joy, as yellow was a symbol of celebration in England. This would mean the King and Queen were blatantly celebrating the death of a former monarch – perhaps showing relief at the passing of a perceived enemy. 

Eustace Chapuys, who served as the ambassador to England in Henry VIII’s court  wrote that ‘Henry dressed in yellow, stuck a white feather in his cap and went dancing with Anne Boleyn’s ladies.

However some believe it was a sign of sombre as yellow was a colour of mourning in Spain – where Catherine was born. 

Anne’s biographer Eric Ives says that the news of Catherine’s death was met ‘by an outburst of relief and enthusiasm for the Boleyn marriage’. He added that Anne was said to be ‘overjoyed’  and rewarded the messenger who brought the news to Greenwich a ‘handsome present’ 

Ives also believed Henry exclaimed  ‘God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!’

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE 

The claim: ‘Bastard’ Mary mourns Catherine of Aragon’s death, Anne Boleyn offers to become a ‘second mother’ to her

In a later scene Anne Boleyn asks a lady-in-waiting to take her to Hatfield with her daughter Elizabeth. While in her bedchambers Anne asks the assistant: ‘Tell me, the bastard, is she behaving herself’ to which she replies ‘Mary is the same as ever, consistently ungrateful for all the luxuries afforded to her’. She added that the King had sent her a ‘generous sum’. ‘You may pass my deepest sympathy to Mary on your return to Hatfield. Tell her if she wishes to come to court we would welcome her, I would happily be her Queen and second mother,’ Anne says.

In a later scene Anne Boleyn asks a lady-in-waiting to take her to Hatfield with her daughter Elizabeth. 

While in her bedchambers Anne asks the assistant: ‘Tell me, the bastard, is she behaving herself’ to which she replies ‘Mary is the same as ever, consistently ungrateful for all the luxuries afforded to her’. 

She added that the King had sent her a ‘generous sum’. 

‘You may pass my deepest sympathy to Mary on your return to Hatfield. Tell her if she wishes to come to court we would welcome her, I would happily be her Queen and second mother,’ Anne says.

The facts: Mary was deemed a bastard after Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth was annulled and Anne Boleyn invited Mary to court  

Mary – Henry VIII’s first child that lived past infancy – was born declared a bastard and demoted from ‘Princess Mary’ to ‘Lady Mary’ after her parents marriage was annulled, with her younger half sister Elizabeth taking her place in the line of succession. 

As a teenager, she was sent to live at Hatfield House to work as maid for Elizabeth (who had been sent to live there at just three months old) and not allowed to see her mother.        

While Anne often visited her daughter at Hatfield, she is believed to only have met Mary on a handful of occasions – although the tension was been said to be extreme. 

In 1534 – two years before the show is set  – Anne attempted to reconcile with Mary, inviting her back to court and promising better treatment,  if she would accept Anne as Queen.

But Mary responded with, ‘she knew of no Queen in England except her mother, but if Madame Anne Boleyn would speak to her father on her behalf, she would be much obliged’. 

Following Catherine of Aragon’s death, Anne tried again to make amends with ‘inconsolable’ Mary -to no avail, although it’s unclear if she went as far as offering to be her ‘second mother’.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE 

The claim: Anne Boleyn kissed Jane Seymour and told her to ‘stay away from Henry VIII’

In the opening episode of the racy drama, Anne Boleyn asks Jane Seymour to go for a walk with her. Jane is alleged to be Henry’s mistress at the time. In an earlier scene Anne refers to her as a ‘spiteful little bitch’. On the walk, Anne asks Jane is she’s in love and says it’s ‘difficult to love a man’. ‘Remember who you are, don’t betray yourself and you won’t live to regret’ she says before kissing her and declaring ‘yes, I can see the appeal’.

In the opening episode of the racy drama, Anne Boleyn asks Jane Seymour to go for a walk with her. 

Jane is alleged to be Henry’s mistress at the time. In an earlier scene Anne refers to her as a ‘spiteful little bitch’.

On the walk, Anne asks Jane is she’s in love and says it’s ‘difficult to love a man’.

‘Remember who you are, don’t betray yourself and you won’t live to regret’ she says before kissing her and declaring ‘yes, I can see the appeal’.

The facts: There is no evidence the pair kissed  

While Jane worked as a servant in both Catherine of Aragon’s and Anne Boleyn’s courts, there is no evidence that Anne and Jane ever kissed – although historians believe there was tension between the pair after Henry began courting Jane following Anne’s third miscarriage. 

VERDICT: FALSE 

 Henry has an accident while jousting and Anne comes running back to his bed. While still in his sickbed Anne and her brother George discuss what would happen to them if Henry died. But he wakes up and shortly after, he snaps at Anne after she offers to visit bedchamber, saying: ‘What would be the point? Until that boy is born you have but one job. Concentrate on that if your so concerned about being a good wife.

The claim: A jousting accident turned Henry VIII into a tyrant 

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second wife whose historical significance is often overlooked due to her brutal death

Though perhaps best known in English history for the brutal way in which she met her end, Anne Boleyn’s mark on the country’s history is far more significant.

Anne Boleyn 

Born the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, in 1501, she first came into the eye-sight of Henry VIII in 1522 when she secured a post at court as maid of honour to the king’s first Catherine of Aragon.

It was not until 1526 that Henry began his pursuit of Anne – a pursuit which was initially resisted.

Her refusal to be a mistress sparked Henry to approach the then-Pope to have his marriage annulled.

When it became clear this would not be allowed, Henry began his drive to break the power of the Catholic Church in England – what later became known as the English Reformation.

Henry and Anne formally married in January 1533 – a move which resulted in the Pope excommunicating Henry and him consequently taking control of the Church of England.  

But it was ultimately not a happy marriage after Boleyn failed to produce a male heir. 

In order to marry again he needed a reason to end his marriage to Anne and she was investigated for high treason and sent to the Tower of London.

Her beheading in the tower of London followed the miscarriage of a male child, and increasing clashes with Thomas Cromwell who is blamed for orchestrating the charges against her after engineering the break from the Catholic Church. 

Court rumours also suggested that Boleyn’s forthright manner and intelligence angered courtiers. She was politically astute and allied with Protestant reformers of the church, including Cromwell before he turned on her.  

And her execution immediately followed the death of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. That event legally freed Henry to pursue marriage with Boleyn’s lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour, if his current wife were to die.   

She was convicted on 15 May 1536 and beheaded four days later. 

Henry began courting Jane Seymour in 1536. 

Anne did leave one more mark on English history though, her daughter, Elizabeth, who was crowned as queen in 1558.

During her daughter’s reign, Anne became venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation.

Although he keeps mistresses.  in the early part of the episode Henry is seen as affectionate and kind towards Anne, praising her for being pregnant and looking admirably at his daughter Elizabeth.

But off screen, Henry has an accident while jousting and Anne comes running back to his bed.

While still in his sickbed Anne and her brother George discuss what would happen to them if Henry died.

But he wakes up and  shortly after, he snaps at Anne after she offers to visit bedchamber, saying: ‘What would be the point? Until that boy is born you have but one job. Concentrate on that if your so concerned about being a good wife.

The facts: Historians believed his jousting accident may have been a turning point 

While jousting at Greenwich Palace on 24 January 1536, Henry, then 44, was in full armour when he was thrown from his horse, itself in full armour, which fell on top of him.

He was unconscious for two hours and doctors thought he was fatally injured. 

Historians believe the injury ended his sporting career due to life-long leg injuries, which also caused him to gain substantial amount of weight.

Many believe there many have also been an undetected brain injury which changed his personality.

Historian Lucy Worsley previously told the History Channel: ‘We posit that his jousting accident of 1536 provides the explanation for his personality change from sporty, promising, generous young Prince, to cruel, paranoid and vicious tyrant.

‘From that date the turnover of wives really speeds up, and people begin to talk about him in quite a new and negative way.

‘After the accident he was unconscious for two hours; even five minutes of unconsciousness is considered to be a major trauma today.’

However, there is no evidence the Queen tried to keep Mary away from the king. 

VERDICT: PARTLY TRUE  

The claim: Anne walk ins on Jane Seymour sitting on Henry VIII’s lap and slaps her and pulls her necklace off, leading to a miscarriage  

After gossip around the court that Henry is unhappy with Anne, she tracks him down and walks in on him with Jane.

The pair are flirting with Jane sitting on his lap. 

Anne then swiftly pulls her necklace off – a locket with a picture of Henry inside – and slaps her.

The stress from this leads to her collapsing on the floor and miscarrying for the third time.

Wake up after the miscarriage and see Henry with Jane Seymour, says ‘I won’t allow that whore to take my place’ – 

The facts: Anne DID walk in on Jane Seymour and Henry VIII but the snatching of the necklace was a different incident – and the miscarriage could have been caused by several stresses

Accounts from the time and modern accounts say that Henry did gift Jane a locket with a portrait of himself inside, and that Anne did walk in on Jane while sitting on Henry’s lap – but the show falsely amalgamates these events.

Shortly after Catherine of Aragon’s death,  Henry began courting Jane Seymour – one of Anne’s servants.

Henry gave her a locket with a miniature portrait of himself inside. 

Often, in the presence of Anne, began opening and shutting it to taunt Anne, who  ripped it off her neck so hard it made her fingers bleed.

In another incident, Anne is said to have flown into a rage after seeing Jane sitting on Henry’s lap.

While the drama shows her immediately miscarry after this, it’s likely there was a combination of events which lead to her losing the baby. 

It came just five days after the King was knocked unconscious in a  boating accident, and also on the same day as Catherine of Aragon’s funeral. 

It’s also likely Anne did slap – or have a physical altercation with Jane.

Maid Jane Dormer who served in the court claimed that there was often ‘scratching and blows’ between Anne and Jane

VERDICT: PARTLY TRUE    

Another scene shows Anne walk ins on Jane Seymour sitting on Henry VIII’s lap and slaps her and pulls her necklace off, leading to a miscarriage. Anne Boleyn (Played by Jodie Turner-Smith)Jane Seymour (Played by Lola Petticrew) are pictured

The claim: Thomas Cromwell plotted against Anne Boleyn 

The episode shows Thomas and Anne arguing about the dissolution of the monasteries and Anne confiding in her brother: ‘Cromwell is taking advantage of Henry’s mood to exclude me. He’s taking secret meetings with my husband.

Thomas also tells: ‘Make no mistake, your influence lies in your belly, not your brain’

The episode shows Thomas and Anne arguing about the dissolution of the monasteries and Anne confiding in her brother: ‘Cromwell is taking advantage of Henry’s mood to exclude me. He’s taking secret meetings with my husband.

The facts: Thomas as instrumental in Anne’s downfall

Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII’s chief minister – one of the most ruthless and powerful operators ever to dominate the politics of this country

 In a reign of unadulterated terror against the Church, he masterminded the dissolution of the monasteries and the biggest land grab since the Norman invasion of 1066 – seizing one-sixth of the nation’s wealth and turning it over to his master, the King.

While Catherine of Aragon was Queen,  Cromwell helped end the marriage and install Anne as Queen.

But after Anne’s miscarriage at 14 weeks, Henry believed God’s wishes were for him to not be married to Anne, and Cromwell conspired to get rid of her.  

Eric Ives, Anne’s biographer, said that her fall and execution were primarily engineered by Cromwell despite being a former ally.

VERDICT: TRUE 

Set in January 1536 at Greenwich palace, the episode shows the last five months of Anne Boleyn (played by Jodie Turner-Smith) life, opening with King Henry and Anne throwing a party, 24 hours after the death of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Anne Boleyn is shown in a portrait from the 1500s 

The claim: Henry believed he’d been tricked into his marriage by witchcraft 

After Henry coldly rejected Anne, she then travels into his bed chambers anyway.

She then seduces him, before he stops saying it could hurt the baby before the pair proceed to have oral sex.

The next morning, Anne is expecting Hannah to be in a great mood but is told by her sister-in-law, he’s in a ‘fury’.

Jane Boleyn, the wife of her brother George, says: ‘He’s in a fury apparently, no one can shake it from him, we all know he’s been unpredictable since his fall. I know we shouldn’t believe idle gossip but i’m told..

‘Apparently he was walking with his uncle and he complained of being seduced and bewitched into his current marriage

‘All nonsense i’m sure, there was even talk of sorcery, can you imagine?’

The fact: Anne being charged witchcraft is a common misconception   

The scene here is clearly alluding to Anne later being charged with witchcraft – and beheaded.

But Anne was never charged with witchcraft, and adultery, incest and treason.

Mark Smeaton, a Flemish musician in the court, confessed to adultery after being tortured, while a handful of others were arrested but not charged for their involvement with the Queen. George Boleyn, the Queen’s brother, was also arrest on charges of incest.

Although little evidence any of this was true, Anne was also accused of treason as  adultery on the part of a queen was a form of treason (because of the implications for the succession to the throne). 

George, and three other men accused, were killed on 17th May, Anne was beheaded two days later. 

VERDICT: PROBABLY FALSE

The claims: Anne Boleyn was responsible for the first English language bible 

The episode shows Anne overjoyed as she’s gifted a bible published in English by her brother George.

‘It arrived late last night of the boat from Antwerp, I had the pastor bring it straight to you,’ he says.

‘The first full English language bible, now everyone can read the word of god in their own tongue,’ she says.

‘Thanks to you,’ George adds.

The facts: Anne Boleyn was a supporter of  translation William Tyndale

Anne was an ardent supporter of William Tyndale, the person responsible for translating the bible into English.

Tyndale’s Bible was published at a time where an English language bible would have been seen as shocking as for centuries they were in Latin – but Henry and Anne were sympathetic as they saw this as a support as a step toward independence from Rome.

However, the claim it’s ‘all to thanks so Anne’ is unlikely.

VERDICT: MOSTLY FALSE 

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