As mentioned before, last Thursday inaugurated a brand new festival for me: Queen Anne Boleyn‘s Day, to commemorate the anniversary of the death by beheading of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII of England, on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason. (There were mutters about her having “bewitched the king” as well but she was never formally charged of witchcraft.) When I say the charges were “trumped up” I’m being generous; not even her enemies believed them, and ten years later even Henry himself admitted that there was no possibility of a successful defense for a prisoner in the Tower. Anne’s political enemies, and those who saw a way to profit by her removal, engineered her fall, with a little help from her own impetuousness and Henry’s boundless tendency for self-pity. Yet even centuries after her death, Anne still stands out as (in the words of her biographer Eric Ives) a “feminist icon,” a woman who “broke through the glass ceiling by sheer character and initiative”–and who was then brought down, tragically, by the very qualities–passion, assertiveness, magnetic attractiveness–that had brought about her rise in the first place. In the 16th century, Anne was without question a woman before her time.
I first became interested in Anne, her life and her world, several years ago at a very dark time in my own life, when her example of perseverance and bravery (as even her enemy the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys put it, “That lady has the courage of a lion”) helped to inspire me, and the dramatic story of her rise and fall helped distract me from my own (far lesser) problems. At first I thought my interest would be temporary, but instead it has increased, leading to an ever-deepening curiosity about the details of her life as well as a fascination with all the minutiae of the Tudor world, from fashion and jewelry to architecture to cooking. In the past year or so, I’ve had an increasing awareness that there might be even more to my admiration for her than I had thought, that there might be some interest in return on her part, and that she deserved a place among my “chosen ancestors,” my mighty dead. And hence, the birth of Thursday’s festival.
Having reserved the day off from work months ago, I began it by heading for the place in Eugene that most reminds me of Anne and most seems like an environment she would enjoy and feel at home in: the Owen Rose Garden. (Roses are included in one of Anne’s personal badges, and her ancestral home of Hever Castle in Kent boasted a gorgeous rose garden–as did all the palaces she would later share with Henry VIII.) Setting out in the early morning, I walked slowly, allowing my thoughts to dwell on Anne, and stopping along the way at a local bakery (Sweet Life Patisserie) to buy a slice of lemon curd cheesecake to share with her. Unfortunately, there were only one or two actual roses in evidence at the rose garden; it’s been too cold and wet this spring. But I found a bench engraved with a rose which Jo and I usually end up resting at when we’re there, and settled down to focus on Anne.
Opening my mind to her and to whatever she wished to show me or share with me, I entered a trance state not unlike the one I utilize during seidhr, and across the span of years I joined her as she mounted the scaffold, addressing her people as queen for the last time before stripping herself of her jewelry, headdress, and cloak–which was red, the color of martyrdom, as her way of protesting her innocence. In one of the rooms of the notorious Tower of London, where she and those accused with her were held prisoner before their executions, someone had carved a version of the queen’s shield into the wall: a white falcon perched on a tree stump, from which burst forth red and white roses. This badge (which, years later, her daughter Queen Elizabeth I would continue to use) had been meant to symbolize the fertility and new life her marriage to Henry would infuse into the Tudor line. The version carved into the wall of that Tower cell, however, differed from the original in that the bird was not crowned and held no scepter; it stood bareheaded and stripped of its royal finery, like Anne herself in her last moments.
Within moments of her death, word would spread throughout London that she had died “boldly,” that there was never a lady who had such joy and pleasure in death. In fact, Anne loved life passionately, but after the long days of waiting in the Tower, of wondering, each time the execution was put off yet again, whether her husband would have a change of heart and she would be reprieved, death must have come as a welcome release. Melding my mind with hers, I felt sorrow and an immense sense of loss and regret, but also a keen sense of curiosity as she stood on the shadowy threshold between this world and the next, the life she had known and the great unknowable. The Showtime series The Tudors depicts Anne as being distracted, in the moment before the fatal sword stroke, by the Tower’s famous ravens taking to the air. There’s no way to know whether anything like that actually occurred at the time, but I found it intriguing that at the moment the sword swung in my trance, crows called out loudly from a tree across the path from where I sat. The notion of Odin’s carrion birds, guardians of the liminal space between life and death, calling to her in her final moments is a fitting one, to my mind. (Especially considering that Woden is the legendary progenitor of English royalty.) Anne was a woman of faith (though not my own, it’s true), a believer in personal connection with divinity and a leading light in the Reformation. Witnesses claimed that her lips were still moving in prayer for several seconds after her head had been struck from her lifeless body.
The trance abated and my surroundings–the bench, the pathways of the rose garden–swam back into view. I asked Anne for her friendship, for whatever guidance she might choose to offer me, and in return promised her veneration as one of my chosen ancestors. And at that moment a group of people passed by speaking to each other in French. Since Anne had been partly reared at the French court, and was known for exemplifying the style and elegance of the French as no other Englishwoman of her time, I took this as a definite sign that I was not deluding myself, and that the answer was “yes.”
Before leaving the rose garden I arranged the offerings I had brought (the cheesecake, a piece of almond bear claw, flowers I had picked on my walk, and a memorial plaque I had made at home) underneath the tree from which the crows had called. Then I left for home, to prepare the medieval-style feast I had planned, which sadly consisted of only three dishes and not thirty–such as she was accustomed to being served at court feasts during life–but one of them was a real mincemeat pie, with meat, and I’m rather proud of how well it turned out, since this was my first time experimenting with this kind of cooking. (It won’t be my last, by any means.)
On the way home, there were a couple of other incidents (which I won’t share, since they were private) that reinforced my conviction that I had indeed made contact with her, that there was a real connection. It may sound silly, given my involvement with gods and with other spirits, that I questioned myself so much about this, but this is the first time I’ve had an interactive ancestral relationship to this degree, and besides, I don’t think it’s ever a bad things to be skeptical. I strive to remain open to spirits who may initiate contact with me, but when the interest begins with me I always try to be careful to discern actual experience from wish fulfillment. I am satisfied that this is the former and not the latter, yet my interest in Anne would have continued even if she had not reciprocated it. She is–in spirit just as during her life–a woman entirely worthy of honor and admiration, whose life and experiences have much to teach me.