Who was Anne Boleyn and how many children did she have? History of second wife of Henry VIII explained

A three-part Channel 5 show depicting the life of Anne Boleyn, with Jodie Turner-Smith as the female lead, will begin at 9pm on Tuesday (1 June)

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.

But who was Anne Boleyn, how many children did she have and how did she die?

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Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Who was Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn was born sometime around 1501 to Sir Thomas Boleyn, who was a respected courtier, and Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of Sir Thomas Howard, one of the most powerful men in the country.

She spent her childhood at Hever Castle in Kent and her teenage years at the French court.

Boleyn returned to England in 1522 and soon established a residence at King Henry VIII's court as a maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife.

By the mid-1520s, Boleyn had become one of the most admired ladies of the court, with Henry VIII beginning to write love letters to her.

Henry VIII’s long marriage to Katherine of Aragon had produced only one surviving child, Princess Mary, and by the mid-1520s the King was becoming increasingly desperate for a legitimate son and heir to secure the future of the Tudor dynasty.

However, in the Tudor period, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) explains, “not even a King could simply decide to get a divorce”.

In 1527, the King began searching for a way to dissolve his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, even going so far as to tell the Pope that the marriage had never been legitimate because “he had sinned in taking his brother’s widow, which some scholars believed to be prohibited by the Bible”, HRP says.

However, although the Pope refused to bend to King Henry’s demands, in 1531 King Henry defied the Pope and dismissed Katherine.

The King and Boleyn were married in January 1533, and she was crowned Queen in Westminster Hall on 1 June that same year.

Henry VIII broke from the church when he married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony, and was excommunicated by the Pope. This then began the English Reformation, which changed England’s official religion from Catholicism to the new Protestant faith.

How many children did Anne Boleyn have?

On 7 September 1533, Boleyn gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth I, who later became Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was Henry VIII's only child with Boleyn to survive infancy.

Boleyn fell pregnant in 1534 and 1536, but both pregnancies resulted in a stillbirth.

How did Anne Boleyn die?

Boleyn was executed on 19 May 1536. Following the loss of her pregnancies in 1534 and 1536, and King Henry’s growing interest in Jane Seymour, King Henry Boleyn comitted to the Tower of London on 2 May 1536 on charges of treason, adultery and incest.

Boleyn was convicted unanimously and was beheaded on 19 May 1536. King Henry remarried with Seymour less than two weeks later.

The final resting place of Boleyn is the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, where she is buried.

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