If the past is another country where they do things differently, we may well ask whether we are abroad if we visit the England of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. In September 1528, Henry wrote to Anne: 'No more to you at this present, mine own darling, for lack of time, but that I would you were in mine arms or I in yours, for I think it long since I kissed you.' This doesn't sound much like another country. (There are 17 such love letters, preserved in the Vatican of all places.) Thus Eric Ives writes of 'perceptible hints of modernity' in the affair of Henry and Anne. But when Henry passed a note to Anne in the middle of Mass in the Chapel Royal ('I am yours'), he chose to do it on the leaf of a richly illuminated prayer book. Anne replied on another leaf: 'By daily proof you shall me find/To be to you both loving and kind.' This was written below a miniature of the Annunciation. If we find the reference to the expectant Virgin tasteless, even blasphemous, we are missing the pregnant point that Anne's message was meant to convey. And perhaps we are on the far side of that watershed which Eliot called the dissociation of sensibility. As queen, it would be the merest commonplace to identify Anne with the Virgin Mary or, alternatively, with her mother, St Anne. Yes, another country.
LRB 18 November 2004 | PDF Download