Anne Boleyn, c.1501/1507 – 19 May 1536 was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of Henry VIII of England and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right.
Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the start of the English Reformation. A commoner, Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, and was educated in the Netherlands and France, largely as a maid of honour to Claude of France. She returned to England in early 1522, in order to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond; however, the marriage plans ended in failure and she secured a post at court as maid of honour to Henry VIII's queen consort, Catherine of Aragon.
In 1525 Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne and began pursuing her. She resisted his attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress as her sister Mary had. It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry's desires to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine so he would be free to marry Anne. When it became clear that Pope Clement VII would not annul the marriage, the breaking of the power of the Catholic Church in England began.
In 1532 Henry granted her a peerage in her own right; and that one of the highest in England, the Marquesate of Pembroke.
Henry and Anne married on 25 January 1533. On 23 May 1533 Cranmer declared Henry and Catherine's marriage null and void; five days later, he declared Henry and Anne's marriage to be good and valid. Shortly afterwards, the Pope decreed sentences of excommunication against Henry and Cranmer. As a result of this marriage and these excommunications, the first break between the Church of England and Rome took place and the Church of England was brought under the King's control.
Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533. On 7 September she gave birth to the future Elizabeth I of England. To Henry's displeasure, however, she failed to produce a male heir. Henry was not totally discouraged, for he said that he loved Elizabeth and that a son would surely follow. Three miscarriages followed, however, and by March 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour.
Henry had Anne investigated for high treason in April 1536. On 2 May she was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where she was tried before a jury of peers and found guilty on 15 May. She was beheaded four days later on Tower Green. Modern historians view the charges against her, which included adultery and incest, as unconvincing. Following the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth, as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe. Over the centuries, she has inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works. As a result, she has retained her hold on the popular imagination. Anne has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had," since she provided the occasion for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, and declare his independence from Rome.