Top Five Suggestions for Movies About Queens (Who Are Not Anne Boleyn)


It’s just been announced that someone named Claire Cooper has been cast as Anne Boleyn in a three-part miniseries about Henry VIII’s six wives, and I honestly cannot summon any enthusiasm about this. Why? Because I am totally Anne’d out. I will not be surprised in the least if this new docudrama turns into The Anne Boleyn Show, and the press for this miniseries is already confirming this assumption, since none of the other actresses cast in the rolls of the other wives have been mentioned. And even though 6 Wives (ugh, that title) is allegedly about them all, it’s giving me a chance to air some issues I have with the amount of over-exposure Anne’s been getting for basically centuries.

It boils down to this: the world does not need another Anne Boleyn-centric television show or movie. We have plenty of Annes to choose from, thank you very much. We’ve got the feisty fighter Anne played by Geneviève Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days  (1969), and we’ve got the alpha bitch Anne brought to us by Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). You want the mentally unhinged Anne played by Claire Foy in Wolf Hall (2014)? What about the trying-too-hard Anne played by Natalie Dormer in the The Tudors (2007-2009)? There’s the rarer Annes, too, like Jodhi May’s attempt at Anne in the other The Other Boleyn Girl (2003). Or how about the haughty Anne played by Dorothy Tutin in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) or Helena Bonham Carter’s sulky seductress in Henry VIII (2003)?

We’ve got the whole set, and I am here to tell you, I am bloody sick of Anne already. Don’t mistake me, I am a dedicated Anne Fangirl, and I have even explored some of the reasons surrounding why we continue to be so fascinated with this woman, but I think it’s time we all admit to ourselves that Anne Boleyn needs to be retired from film and TV. In light of that, I have prepared a handy list of my top five suggestions for some of the overlooked queens of Henry VIII whose lives are virtually untapped for potential screenplays.


1. Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow, 1514, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the portrait of a woman who endured and survived and crushed it for the first 35 years of her life. Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow, 1514, via Wikimedia Commons

We have already pointed out that Catherine of Aragon needs her own movie, but seriously, Hollywood people, how has she been so overlooked? Of all of Henry’s queens, Catherine of Aragon’s story is practically fairy-tale perfect. It stars an intelligent and headstrong female lead, has a tragic death that upends her life, and a long period of suffering over which she finally triumphs in the most brilliant way possible.

Catherine of Aragon as the Magdalene by Michael Sittow, Detroit Institute of Arts.

This painting of Mary Magdalene by Michael Sittow is thought to be a portrait of Catherine of Aragon in her late-teens. You will all note the golden hair. Thank you. Catherine of Aragon as the Magdalene by Michael Sittow, Detroit Institute of Arts.

The fair Catherine was born in the exotic Kingdom of Castile, the baby of the House of Trastámara; her parents were Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the power couple of the late 15th century. When she was barely 16, she was sent to cold, dreary England to marry the English crown prince, Arthur. For a young woman who grew up here, England had to have seemed startlingly primitive in comparison. That said, Catherine adapted and married Arthur. It was considered a brilliant match for both countries, uniting England and Spain and made mutual enemy France really, really worried. But this match made in diplomatic heaven was not to be … Arthur died in 1501, five months after they wed and without consummating the marriage, leaving his young widow a political prisoner in his controlling father’s grasp. Henry VII didn’t want to return Catherine to Spain because he had another son he thought he could marry her off to, but for the pesky question of consanguinity that required a Papal dispensation, and the fact that Prince Henry was still a few years away from being able to legally wed.

Portrait of Henry VII of England (1457-1509), 1505, National Portrait Gallery

Henry VII was not a fun guy to be around. Yes, he did unify England, and he did rebuild England after the Wars of the Roses and make it one of the richest kingdoms in Europe at that time … But his charm ended there. Portrait of Henry VII of England (1457-1509), 1505, National Portrait Gallery.

Complicating matters, Ferdinand tried to shirk the notoriously stingy Henry on paying out Catherine’s dowry from her marriage to Arthur. This pissed off Henry VII, who then took it out on Catherine by forcing her to live in penury for six painful years; a harrowing experience for anyone, but especially so for a foreign princess with limited resources to begin with. Ferdinand then astonished everyone and named Catherine his Ambassador to England, creating her the first female ambassador in European history (#GirlPower). This gave Catherine a huge boost in prestige that was denied her through more conventional avenues, and since Henry VII had no choice but to deal with Spain, he had no choice but to deal with Catherine. As the great Isabella of Castile’s daughter, Catherine proved herself every bit as capable as her mother, and in time, the English king begrudgingly began to respect her as a skillful diplomat.

As Catherine’s life started to improve, Henry VII fell ill and was revealed to be dying. What would happen to her now?

Prince Henry enters stage right.

Henry VIII by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1520, National Portrait Gallery

I have no good explanation as to why there aren’t any portraits of Henry between 1510 and 1520, so here’s the best I can do. At least it comes somewhat close to portraying the strapping, athletic demi-god that Henry was reputed to have been in his heyday. Henry VIII by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1520, National Portrait Gallery

See, when Prince Henry was a child, he was so isolated by his father, that often times the only person even remotely close in age to him that he was able to interact with (aside from his minders and tutors) was his sister-in-law. With Catherine being five years older, their difference in age meant that Henry saw Catherine as a caring older sister at first. However, when Arthur died, and Henry VII clamped down further on young Henry’s life now that he was crown prince, the two were separated for several years. In that time, Henry grew into a gorgeous 6’4″ god-among-men, and when they reconnected during the last years of Henry VII’s life, suddenly that five-year age gap didn’t seem like much. There was beautiful Catherine, barely 25 and still in original factory condition (i.e., a virgin, verified by the Pope who had granted the dispensation settling the issue of consanguinity), daughter of a powerful ally, and Prince Henry had seen for himself how masterfully she had done the job of Spanish Ambassador — and to Henry VIII’s credit, he was attracted to strong, smart women. When Henry VII revealed on his deathbed that he regretted treating Catherine so poorly, he instructed his heir to do the right thing by her and make her the queen she always should have been. The newly created King Henry VIII almost immediately ran to Catherine and proposed, and…

End Scene.

We already know Anne Boleyn screws it all up for Catherine 20 years on down the line, so let’s just focus on the happier parts of her life for a change. No more the withered old Spanish crone, clinging to Henry’s robes, begging for him to return to her, no more religion-obsessed Catholic martyr-in-progress … Let’s see her in her prime, with her golden hair flying free, before her world imploded on her and she became a tragic speed-bump in Anne Boleyn’s rise to supremacy.


2. Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein, 1536-37, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Everyone accuses Anne Boleyn for being a home-wrecking bitch and ignores the fact that Jane Seymour was every bit the same. Jane Seymour, painted by Hans Holbein in 1536-37. Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Oh Jane, you sneaky little minx. Yeah, sure, you look innocent and pure on the outside, but we know what’s up. We know you’re a member of the ruthlessly ambitious Seymour family who has no problem hanging you out like bait on a fishing line for a king who has grown tired of his walking liability of a wife, Anne Boleyn. You’re younger, prettier, and even though no one gives you credit for your brains, you actually are quite capable of being as shrewd and calculating as your predecessor when it comes to catching the greatest matrimonial prize in Christendom. All you have to do is follow Anne’s lead … First, say no to the man who gets everything he wants. Second, keep saying no to him no matter how he wheedles and begs. Third, only say yes when he has become so maddened by you withholding yourself from him that he basically straight up murders, by proxy, his wife just to have you. Off with Anne’s head! You’re in like flynn, Jane. And as if to prove the point, you actually manage to deliver Henry a son! A living, breathing boy-child who will carry on the Tudor dynasty! You did it, girl!

Edward VI as a Child by Hans Holbein, c. 1538, National Gallery of Art.

Baby Edward wants to give you a high-five for managing to carry him to term. Edward VI as a Child by Hans Holbein, c. 1538, National Gallery of Art.

Too bad about that whole puerperal fever/retained placenta/deadly bacterial infection that killed you three days after Edward was born. That said, you will go down in Henry’s life as his one “true” wife, so you’ve got that going for you, which is nice.


3. Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1539, Louvre Museum.

Easily one of the most obsessed-over portraits for historical costumers. Many have attempted to recreate it, few have succeeded. Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1539, Louvre Museum.

No one gives Anne of Cleves any credit for actually pulling off the greatest win in Tudor history. Mostly she’s just known for a really fabulous Holbein portrait that was so flattering that when the real Anne arrived in England to marry Henry, he reportedly chewed the artist out for selling him a bill of goods. But Anne was a smart girl, regardless of how she looked in reality … She realized pretty damn quick that she was in dangerous territory with Henry, who had already disposed of two inconvenient wives; one by a very messy divorce and the other by a slightly less messy execution, and she knew that her new husband most definitely did not want to stay married to her.

Needless to say, Anne had a real problem on her hands. She was an unwanted foreign princess in a land far away from her family and connections and was basically without a friend in her time of need. How would she manage to save her neck? Well, turns out, if you just give the King what he wants, he’s actually pretty nice to you. Henry wanted an annulment, Anne agreed, and Henry was so stoked that, rather than pack her off back to B.F.E. Cleves, he invited her to stay in England, lavished her with property and money, and basically treated her like a, well, queen. She outlived Henry by a decade, happy and well-cared for, which is far and away a better deal than any of his other wives got.

Anne of Cleves by workshop of Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, c. 1570s, via Wikimedia Commons.

#Winning. Anne of Cleves by workshop of Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, c. 1570s, via Wikimedia Commons.


4. Katherine Howard

1540 miniature by Hans Holbein thought to be Catherine Howard Royal Collection.

Kate’s about to have that smirk wiped off her face. Actually, she’s about to have her entire head removed… 1540 miniature by Hans Holbein thought to be Catherine Howard, Royal Collection.

Katherine Howard should have spent more time studying her cousin Anne Boleyn’s tragic lesson, because unfortunately for the 16-year-old queen, it turned out there would be a test. Henry was 32 years older than Katherine, but hey, who is going to turn down the King of England, even with that festering gouty leg? Katherine wasn’t really a bad kid, but she was just that … A kid. A kid who made a lot of stupid mistakes before she crossed paths with Hal, such as carrying on a completely non-secret affair with one of her guardian’s valets in her early teens. Like her cousin before her, she was pushed into Henry’s bed by ambitious relatives, who were aware of Kate’s extracurricular activities, but figured that a shot at being the in-laws of the King of England was worth the risk. It paid off, for Katherine was married to Henry in 1540, and by all accounts the King was utterly besotted with his child-bride. She, however, could not keep it in her farthingale. Whereas the charges of treason against Anne Boleyn had to be essentially fabricated from whole cloth, when the evidence was presented to Henry that not only had his wife Katherine not been a virgin when they married, she was also “entertaining” other men while Queen, Henry flew into a rage and had Katherine locked down in her rooms immediately. She is said to have run screaming down the halls of Hampton Court Palace, begging to see Henry, but the King’s officials — most of them in the anti-Howard faction — were well aware of Henry’s tendency to capitulate in the face of a weeping woman and successfully managed to prevent her from pleading for mercy directly before her husband.

If there’s nothing that Henry hated more, it was an assault to his masculinity, and Katherine’s indiscretions were a real blow to Old Hal’s ego. It is said that he became deeply depressed at discovering the extent of Katherine’s infidelities, but not so depressed that he couldn’t have charges brought up against her for treason and sign the execution warrant. The number of people who witnessed and/or participated in Katherine’s promiscuity before and after her marriage to Henry was startling. When all the evidence was brought forward, it was basically a foregone conclusion that Katherine would meet the same end as her cousin after barely one year of marriage to the King.


5. Catherine Parr

Katherine Parr, late 16th century, National Portrait Gallery

Katherine Parr, late 16th century, National Portrait Gallery

Catherine Parr was attractive, twice widowed, blazingly smart, and quite adept at handling Henry at the end of his life. She was independently wealthy and had no scheming relatives trying to shove her into Henry’s arms, so at least on the surface, it appeared like Catherine was just there because she actually wanted to be. Whether Catherine was calculating, or if she was just a compassionate human being, she soothed Henry’s wounded ego after it had suffered at the hands of Katherine Howard. She tended Henry’s festering leg, changing the reeking dressings daily without a hint of disgust. She bantered with Henry, debated with him on all manner of topics that he was passionate about, and basically was Hal’s gal pal at the end of his life. Which is not to say that she was perfect … See, Catherine had a taste for the bad boys, and one in particular had managed to capture her attention — Thomas Seymour.

Portrait of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley (c.1508-1549) by Nicolas Denisot, 1547-49, National Maritime Museum.

Hey … Seymour … Doesn’t that name ring a bell? Oh, right! He was the brother of Henry’s third queen, Jane Seymour. Portrait of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley (c.1508-1549) by Nicolas Denisot, 1547-49, National Maritime Museum.

Seymour had a reputation for being a real ladies man. He came into Catherine’s life right as Henry was dying, and what’s the richest widow in the kingdom, who had three very practical marriages not at all based on love, going to do? She fell head over heels for Thomas. He saw this golden opportunity to swoop in and control the two heirs-apparent to the throne, Lady Jane Grey and Princess Elizabeth, who were the brilliant wards of the brilliant dowager queen. The stories told of Thomas’ meddling, with Elizabeth in particular, are disturbing … He certainly pushed the envelope as to what a healthy relationship with a parental figure should be with a young girl, and accounts of him rising early in the morning to “surprise” Elizabeth in her bed with tickle fights are downright creepy. And poor Catherine at first thought this was just all in good fun, and even joined in — on one occasion she held Elizabeth down while Thomas cut her dress to ribbons, which doesn’t at all sound like healthy family behavior. I’d like to think that with any other man, Catherine would have put an end to it immediately, but with Thomas, the love of her life that she had earned by enduring three perfectly nice but totally loveless marriages, she seemed blind to the fact that he was grooming the 13-year-old Elizabeth like the creep he was.

1547, portrait of Elizabeth I when she was princess, attributed to William Scrots, Royal Collection.

This is the face of a girl who is destined for greater things than a slimy chronic philanderer with delusions of grandeur. 1547, portrait of Elizabeth I when she was princess, attributed to William Scrots, Royal Collection.

When she finally caught the two in some kind of “embrace” (historical accounts are vague), Catherine cut both Elizabeth and Thomas off. Elizabeth was appalled at herself — the only mother figure she had ever had, the one stable influence on her life through all the ups and downs and legitimacies and illegitimacies, the one person who was basically her only true friend and champion during the uncertainties of the last years of Henry’s life, and she had been the cause of Catherine’s greatest pain. Some theorize that this is when Elizabeth made up her mind to never marry, having witnessed first hand how a husband could ruin a wife’s life in any number of ways (and make no mistake, Thomas had tried them all on Catherine). Elizabeth immediately distanced herself from Seymour, but the damage had been done; Catherine died giving birth to a daughter shortly after her rift with Thomas, and step-mother and step-daughter never were able to reconcile. A year or so later, after Seymour’s ploy to marry Elizabeth himself had failed (she refused to acknowledge him), and his plot to have Lady Jane succeed Edward VI lasted only nine days before Mary I swooped in and claimed the throne for herself, Thomas was executed by the new queen.

Elizabeth is said to have only made one passing comment about his death, “This day died a man of much wit, but very little judgement.”


Which non-Anne Boleyn wife of Henry VIII is your favorite? Tell us in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

76 Responses

  1. Val

    I’ve just finished the Alison Weir novel on Katherine of Aragon. Someone needs to do a movie of that much maligned lady. And Anne of Cleve’s would be brilliant as well.

  2. opusanglicanum

    I agree that Catherine of aragon was a far more interesting person, but perhaps in the movie makers eyes she has the disadvantage of never being rumoured a witch?

    • Sarah Lorraine

      All I’m sayin’ is that she has Grrl Power written allll over her. You’d think someone would have leapt on that ages ago… A movie about a beautiful and smart princess who gets yanked around for a few years and then basically crushes everyone who stood in her way?

      I would pay serious money to see that movie.

  3. Laina

    Anne of Cleves. Loves me some Anne of Cleves – there she is, in a country where she doesn’t know anybody and they mock her for her backwards Continental ways, and she just decides to stick around for the rest of her life after the annulment. Just how bad was life back in Cleves for her? Or rather, that lady was smart – she found the golden ticket out of being used as a pawn in arranged marriages for the rest of her life!

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Oh, I’m certain she took one look at the options and said “Where do I sign?”

      Her story is so underrated of all the other wives. She’s the one who got away! Isn’t that worth some mad respect?

    • Matilda

      apparently she was really scared of her brother the Duke- as a “rejected’ bride, she would have been a prime target for some honor killing…or forced into a convent…either way, she apparently was TERRIFIED of going back to Cleves

    • Roxana

      Anne’s first reaction to the news Henry was calling their marriage into question was understandably fear, followed by a determination to fight for her life. Then she realized Henry wanted to make a deal…
      Henry was more than ready to pay for a quiet life and was very generous when Anne showed herself willing to be bought off. In addition to Richmond Palace, Hever castle and assorted other Manors and the income to keep up a royal state she got got the official status of a member of the royal family and ranked after the current queen and the King’s daughters making Anne the fourth ranking lady in the land.
      She seems to have been afraid to go back to Cleve’s, she is reported to have actually said she feared her brother would kill her. But if so they eventually made it up and Anne corresponded with her brother in her later years.

  4. Susan Pola

    I also would like films on both Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves. Also Parr. Leave the bimbo, Howard at home.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      She’s honestly tied for least interesting to me, between her and Jane. Partly is because she was so young, but also because she was SUCH a nitwit.

      Jane was just bland. Room temp milk. Great for washing down the bitter taste of Anne Boleyn, but really not at all interesting in her own right.

  5. Kathleen Norvell

    Gotta go along with Anne of Cleves. The so-called “Flemish mare” did herself proud and outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted them all.

    An SCA friend of mine made a decent replica of the red portrait gown some years ago. I wish I had a photo to post. It was impressive.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      I saw one AMAZING replica of the dress about 10-15 years ago, and I think it was also an SCA person (coronation garb maybe? For some reason Lochac comes to mind…). The other attempts I’ve run across can’t seem to get it right for some reason. I even attempted it back in the early 2000s and quit pretty quickly because I was just not up to the task at the time.

      • Matilda

        Adelhait Fuchs (Atlantia) had a STUNNING Cleves-esque dress in blue and gold for Atlantia Coronation last year…go find it its amaaaaaaazing

    • MoHub

      Historically, Henry never called Anne the “Flanders mare”; that was a bit added by 18th-century historians to spice up the story.

  6. hsc

    Excellent posting, lots of details I’d never heard before on “the other five”.

    I started reading this thinking, “What’s the big deal? Anne Boleyn is the most interesting of the bunch– the woman that caused Henry to convert England to Protestantism so he could marry her, mother of QE I, falsely accused and beheaded, etc,” but you’ve definitely changed that opinion.

    After reading your rundown on the real Catherine of Aragon, I definitely want to see THAT movie get made. Anne of Cleves as well.

    “6 Wives (ugh, that title)”

    Hey, if the thing does turn out to be “The Anne Boleyn Show,” at least they didn’t call it “6 Fingers”.

  7. Readerly

    I’m sick of the same old Anne story, too – I’d like an Anne story based on the less credulous (Catholic-propagandistic, misogynistic) historical evidence used by Susan Bordo in her recent book. That Anne wasn’t a witch, or an adulteress, or an incestuous whore – but a gifted, ambitious Protestant activist who threatened religious and political rivals, so they took advantage of her reproductive failures to kill her by judicial murder.

    Also, I would like a feminist treatment of Catherine Howard – was she a victim of her own “juvenile delinquency,” “nymphomania,” sex addiction, thrill-seeking, decadent court environments? What could have motivated her to take such risks when her cousin Anne had already been pushed down that path? OR was she another victim of slander and false testimonies like Anne had been? There are even some of the same players in her downfall!

  8. Susan Pola

    I don’t believe Katherine Howard was much maligned, but I feel she was poorly raised and most of wanton behaviour stems from that. And/or she was a complete nitwit.
    Despite whatever your stand on the ‘divorce’ is, wasn’t Henry a bit naive believing the Pope would grant it and piss off the most powerful man in Europe, Charles V, who just happened to be Catherine of Aragon’s nephew?

    What I found admirable about Catherine of Aragon is that she was smart, intelligent and refused to lie on the matter. She made a better monarch than her husband and I’m Team Anne Boleyn and Team Elizabeth.

  9. Clara

    Oh, I think I happened to see a casting call for the Catherine of Aragon in that documentary (they were calling for Spanish actresses with a good level of English) And superbly naive of me, I thought that maybe she was finally getting the spotlight she deserves.
    Turns out this is another Anne-centered piece. *sighs* don’t get me wrong, I love Anne, as I do love all the wives, who were waaaaay better IMHO than the man they were married to (yeah even Catherine Howard, poor dear) but my fave has to be Catherine of Aragon, and not only because I am a Spaniard too. She was my idol in my teen years (I had suffered tremendous amounts of bullying, but her example taught me to keep going and never renounce to myself) and I would love to see a film or series centered on her.

  10. Theresa Chedoen

    A very brief comment on all the Annes–my favorite was always the one brief scene in “A Man For All Seasons”, in which she was played by a young and dazzling Vanessa Redgrave.
    But since my choice for Henry VIII films is still “The Private Life of Henry VIII,” I have to put in my vote for Anne of Cleves. Smart, funny, and able to drive a good bargain.

  11. Trystan L. Bass

    I wonder if the second part of Wolf Hall will have more actual Jane Seymour? Granted, that’s still thru Cromwell’s eyes, so it wouldn’t give her much agency. And I haven’t read the books so no clue how Jane comes off in it at all (& Mantel is still writing the last book, so no idea when we’ll see the TV adaption!). Her part in the first series was itty-bitty.

    Catherine Parr gets a bigger role in Young Bess, which I have a half-written TBT post on. But again, that movie isn’t about Catherine, it’s about young Elizabeth (& Thomas Seymour). But Parr was played by Deborah Kerr, which is pretty awesome!

    Oh & weirdly enough Anne of Cleves comes off best in The Tudors — she’s given space-alien costumes, but the series actually does portray her & Henry as pals who hang out & play cards & chat after the divorce. (Yeah, I know, nobody else actually watched far enough into that shitshow to realize this fact! I took one for the team!)

    • Marie McGowan Irving

      I’ve read Wolf Hall, but not ‘Bringing Up The Bodies’. It sets Jane up nicely as someone who has ambition, and intelligence, and kindness, and although it’s through Cromwell’s eyes he has sympathy for her because of some scandals in her family that are nothing to do with her but taint her anyway. I think she’s much more complex than people give her credit for, and that she did indeed follow Anne Boleyn’s pattern.

      I think I’d like to see the Catherine of Aragon film most, followed by a feminist reading of Katherine Howard, who has always seemed like the most tragic to me. I really dislike the misogynistic interpretation of her as ‘the sexy teenager’ and the marriage itself just sounds creepy as all hell.

    • Kaite Fink

      I watched all of The Tudors, and yes, Anne of Cleves was probably one of the best portrayals of all. I pushed through it to see her part as she’s one of my favorite of the ladies of this time period. Thankfully they did well with Joss Stone.

  12. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I would love to see a Catherine of Aragon done right! Not a 20 year older tall, dark haired, and swarthy complexion woman but the petite, pale, and red haired young woman she was. I hate the way she is portrayed. Even in the travesty that is the Tudors, Maria Kennedy Doyle is too old and too “Spanish”.
    I do agree that Anne of Cleves did come off the best in the Tudors, especially since Joss Stone played wide eyed innocent trying her best to navigate a court of vipers.

  13. Karin

    Agree… Catherine of Aragon or Anne of Cleves (I hung on to the Tudors just long enough to see her too… crazy headgear!). I really liked the book on Catherine by Giles Tremlett – if you’re looking for a good bio of her.
    Oh yes, “Young Bess” – one of those historical flicks I watched over and over on TNT as a kid – but somehow I can’t remember much of it…

  14. Charity

    Bless you and this post.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Anne, but I am SO SICK of Katharine of Aragon being shoved to the background to make way for Anne’s “steamy” relationship with Henry. Katharine was one of the most intelligent, cunning, resourceful, influential queens that ever lived, and to regulate her to “old, boring, and no fun” is a tremendous disservice to her memory. This is the woman Henry YELLED AT because in the midst of their great divorce — she was throwing a party.

    As someone who has spent two years of her life reading / researching / writing a novel about this very period in Katharine’s life, it’s encouraging to me to know people would actually… care and be interested in seeing more of her story.

      • Susan Pola

        Catherine of Aragon Tees. Comment could be the one she gave about her soul and lying.

        This was not only the woman who yelled at Henry but bettered him militarily. It was her fast thinking that sent English forces under Surrey (future Duke of Norfolk) to beat Scots at Flodden.

        Furthermore, she knew a woman could rule. Her mother was the prime example of good rule by a woman. I even believe she was better educated than him, too.

        Team Catherine of Aragon!!

  15. Charity

    (I do have one last comment: I theorize all the emphasis on Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth out of all the wives / daughters has to do with England’s preference for Anglican / Protestant history. There’s such an extreme bias against Catholicism, dating back from Elizabeth’s reign, that all the emphasis is continually placed on the “mother” of English Protestantism — Anne Boleyn.)

    • Kendra

      Well yes, and Elizabeth I is so revered that I think Anne is by extension, especially when you have the whole “did you know the wife that was executed for being a witch/hooooor was Elizabeth I’s mother??!!” thing.

      • Charity

        You’d think, though, that in “revering” Elizabeth, they’d try and not depict her mother in such a negative light. Usually, they take a serious reformist, who wound up marrying the man sexually harassing / stalking her, and turn her into a seductive trollop who is only after the throne from the start. It’s a… sexist, demeaning portrayal of a woman who had far more interesting things about her than the trumped up adultery charges that got her head lopped off. Hundreds of years later, Hollywood still wants the bitchy sex icon, rather than the genuine article. =P

        (I might as well add here, I think the most accurate version of Anne Boleyn is “Anne of the Thousand Days.” Her temperament, her not wanting anything to do with the king, etc., is much closer to the story than the slew of “Anne the Conniving Pawn of the Boleyn Family’s Bid For Power” depictions.

        (Who me, have strong opinions on these women? Not at all! ;)

  16. Emily R

    Love this post. I’m definitely an Anne Bolyen fan girl, but I can understand where the “Anne Exhaustion” comes from. But a bit of a correction to your history of Katherine Parr. Thomas Seymour wasn’t executed by Mary. He was executed by Edward VI after an attempted to kidnap the young king. This was shortly before his brother Edward Seymour would also find his head on the block and the Duke of Northumberland took control as Edward VI’s Regent. He was the one who arrange Jane Grey and his son Guilford Dudley’s marriage and manipulated Edward into changing his will to disinherit Mary and Elizabeth in favor of Jane.

    • Susan Pola

      For years after seeing Elizabeth R my motto was ‘Never Trust a Seymour’.

  17. Janette

    My number one vote would be for Catherine Parr. A very interesting woman who really does appear to be the one “wife” who might actually be likeable. Cartherine of Aragon lost my sympathy over her callous treatment of the Scots. I would also vote for Anne of Cleves but mostly because I lived just down the road from the site of one of her palaces, now completely vanished sadly.

  18. Lyn

    Count me in for Catherine of Aragon and Ms Cleves (I loved how she was portrayed in The Tudors). And thanks for hunting down all those pix — most of these were new to me so I appreciate the education :)

    Just a nit but would you please correct the spelling of “rolls” to “roles” in your first paragraph. “the rolls of the other wives” Thx :)

  19. Adina

    I know this is totally missing the point (we don’t need more Anne), but I’m reading this really interesting book called “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” by Susan Bordo. It’s not a straight biography, it’s actually talking about the creation of “Anne Boleyn” the pop culture figure. It’s really cool!

    (Off track, I know, but I’m really enjoying it, so I wanted to recommend it)

  20. Shawna Spiteri

    All of them! I’m greedy!! Can there ever be too many historical dramas feature female protagonists?

  21. I want more Anne and I'm not sorry

    Soooo…. I’ll never get tired of Anne Boleyn, and I know I’m going to want more portrayals of her until they get it *right*.
    Let us see the clever girl that impressed royals from the age of 6, let us see the teenager that refused the king of England even when he sexually harassed her. Let us see the pious lady that wanted to use the money from the monasteries on the poor. Let us see the mother that wanted to have her daughter close by her at all times, and seated her on a pillow next to her. Let us see the honest Queen, that spoke against the King and Cromwell publicly on religious matters. Sure, Anne was hot-tempered, and could be cruel to her enemies, but she was not the hateful woman we see in most portrayals.

    I’m still hoping for someone to make a movie out of “Mademoiselle Boleyn” by Robin Maxwell. It’s about Anne, but in a way, she is also the eyes and ears for us to see the courts of Europe. As a child she shares a classroom with a young Charles V and his sisters at the court of Margaret of Austria. Then she is at the french court, with Louis XII, Mary Tudor, Francis I, Queen Claude, Margaret, of Angoulême, Louise of Savoy, Leonardo da Vinci etc. I don’t understand why that period of her life is not explored more:/

    I know this post was about how we have too many Anne portrayals, but in most of the movies you mentioned she is simply a supporting character… She has only one movie/series that’s about her, and that is Anne of the thousand days.

    From those you mentioned:
    The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) About Mary Boleyn
    Wolf Hall (2014) About Thomas Cromwell
    The Tudors (2007-2009) About Henry VIII, she is not in the last two seasons
    The Other Boleyn Girl (2003). Agreed, it’s about both Mary and Anne
    The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) The wives got an episode each, the series is about Henry VIII
    Henry VIII (2003)? Also about Henry, Anne is only in the first episode

    I get why you may be upset, but she really isn’t the central figure in a lot of movies. It’s mostly that The Great Matter is the starting point for a lot of these movies/series, and that will make it seem like it’s more about Anne than it really is.

    To answer your last question, I’d like to see more of a younger Catalina. Let us see the battle of Flodden Field.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Your point is taken, but it’s hard to argue that Anne doesn’t overwhelm the narrative of any story she’s in. She gets the most attention, the most character development, the biggest plot lines… The Other Boleyn Girl is a good example of how nominally everyone else in Henry’s live was other than Anne. The Tudor’s is also… Two of the four seasons were ALL ANNE ALL THE TIME. In fact, viewership tanked after the character was killed off and the show had to scramble to keep people interested in it post-Anne. The six part Six Wives also spent more time on Anne than the other queens, devoting two eps to her story arc; the condensed feature length version had an almost myopic focus on Anne as the main driver of the plot. Look at the film marketing, too, and it’s obvious that Anne is the centerpiece in any film that she’s in.

      My real issue is that the film industry has defaulted to Anne as either the main villain or the main heroine, to the exclusion of the other wives. CoA gets a tad more attention paid to her in the sense that her story is frequently used to set up the action surrounding the Great Matter/Anne’s ascendency. The rest of the wives are almost footnotes.

  22. Julia

    I would be all about a movie about Katherine of Aragon or Anne of Cleves. Those are two badass women who deserve some recognition more than just the “pushed aside wife” and the “pretty German one”.

  23. ladylavinia1932

    I didn’t realize this was merely about Henry VIII’s wives. I thought it was about numerous European queens during the 16th century.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      That’s the joke. Obviously there are dozens of other interesting queens in the sixteenth century, but this was meant to poke Hollywood’s eye about the fact that Anne has been overdone when there’s five other wives they could be mining for script ideas.

  24. Emmy Lou Hawkins

    I would like to make a point here about Catherine of Aragon. I think its extremely likely that Catherine was NOT a virgin when she and Henry married. I realize that this goes against the catholic martyr thing but it was clearly in her best interest to lie about whether or not her marriage to Arthur was ever consummated than suffer the consequences of being sent back to Spain as a Dowager Princess of Wales.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Well that would be an interesting thing to explore — but nobody ever looks into her whole story on film!!! All we get is tired old crone Catherine & Henry’s divorce trial of her, w/his version of was she / wasn’t she a virgin. We never get Catherine’s POV, we never see her as a young first-time bride w/Arthur. Hollywood, BBC, ITV, PBS, c’mon, tell us about THAT.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      It certainly is a possibility that she wasn’t a virgin, but we run into the massive roadblock of Catherine’s faith and piety. Would someone who fully believed that a lie of that magnitude would have condemned her to Hell still lie? Maybe, but…

      Also, most accounts of Arthur’s last few months (encompassing the totality of their brief marriage) indicate that he was rapidly succumbing to whatever it was that ultimately took him, making consummation a bit harder to believe. Of course, there’s Arthur’s “seven miles into Spain” comment that was dredged up when Henry decided to divorce her, but it was 30 years after the fact. The fact that there was so little evidence, even circumstantial, to indicate that they consummated their marriage says a lot. These were two young people who were surrounded by dozens of close courtiers — sure, silence can be bought, but for 30 years? Even when it would be beneficial to have information that damning brought up against her in divorce proceedings? Anyone with that information would have benefitted handsomely by sharing it with the King.

      It’s extremely difficult to say one way or the other, but the force of Catherine’s conviction in her own version of events and the sheer lack of evidence against her when it all came up again in the divorce, is awfully compelling.

      • Susan Pola

        I agree completely. Besides I always took Arthur’s comment as a boast. No real evidence was brought up for consummation. I really don’t believe Catherine would imperil her mortal soul by lying. She was also protecting Princess Mary’s rights.
        Henry had either way. One of Anne of Brittany’s husband had to annul his previous marriage to marry her. Anne was only woman to be queen of France twice. Eleanor of Aquitaine had daughters with her Louis and marriage was annulled to allow Louis to marry and get sons. Also freed her from a marriage that was no longer to her taste.
        Henry’s Pope wasn’t going to piss off the most powerful person in Europe by granting the divorce, making Charles’s aunt, Catherine a Dowager Princess of Wales. Sack of Rome took place in 1529.

  25. Nit-Picking Badger

    Slightly off-tangent, but I would like a decent movie on Catherine of Aragon’s fascinating sister, Joanna of Castille (and not one of those lurid ‘Juana la loca’ ones), very interesting and political woman.
    And yes, I’m completed Anne-ed out as well. I’m pretty Tudor-ed out as well. But thing I shouldn’t ask for nice things as I was punished by the horror of the miniseries ‘The White Queen’ for the late Yorkists, with the zips and snowy battles in summer….

    • Susan Pola

      Try the Anne Easter Smith novels on the Yorkist. They’re excellent. Better than Ms Gregory’s. She’s an author I find not to my liking. Too little research.

      Re Anne: I don’t believe she was 6 when she was placed in the household of Margaret of Austria (Aunt of Charles V). I believe she was about ten. That would make around 12, when she arrived in France with Mary Tudor.

  26. Susan Pola

    Sounds interesting. I’m still trying to find an English subtitled version of the Spanish series Isabel. YouTube does not have full episodes of season/series one. Or if does, I can’t locate it.


    • Mariana Escobar Gimenez

      I love those series! Sadly I cannot help you because I do speak Spanish

  27. Ella

    Hands down, Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s best wife! I am desperate for a film to be made about her youth and how she coped with the alarming change of society in the English court.

  28. Hana - Marmota

    I must admit to being disappointed by this post. From the title/category, I was actually expecting some 16th century queens who were not married to Henry VIII. Bona Sforza, for example. Now there’s a powerful and interesting 16th century queen for you. (There’s apparently a Polish miniseries, at least.)
    Still, I guess with the proliferation of Anne Boleyn you describe, any of the other five would be good. I also like the story of Anne of Cleves. There’s a woman who can think on her feet, and that’s a quality I greatly admire.

  29. Frannie Germeshausen

    I think the series that started this post is airing on PBS now – “Secrets of the Six Wives.” I thought of all of you because Catherine of Aragon is played by a pale, blue-eyed redhead, which is correct for once!

  30. Maryanne (MrsC)

    I think the Ann Appeal is not her but what she catalysed with Henry, so in other words it’s all about HIM not her. Typical. C of A is interesting in her own right and let’s face it, true female protagonists are not really as yet popular in movies Bah.

  31. Connybryce

    Catherine never said a word about being a virgin during the waiting period between Arthur’s death and Henry being named Prince of Wales, while they waited to see if she was pregnant. And apparently evidence has surfaced that Arthur complained to Rome that her excessive fasting was keeping her from conceiving…so I really doubt they never had sex, considering it was their only purpose in life, basically, getting an heir. Julia Fox’s book Sister Queens, about Catherine and sister Juana, gives a whole new image of C of A, not so flattering. A lot of her letters to Spain have been released in recent decades, and she includes them here. She had no problem lying to her father about some of her miscarriages so I am not so sure she would not lie about the virgin part…anyway I always felt her clinging to the marriage was far more about clinging to the throne than anything to do with Henry. I mean, fine, good dor her, but don’t go on about love and devotions while constantly writing to Spain behind his back.