Did Henry Drive Anne Boleyn Crazy?

I was recently reading some fascinating new information about the brain. Recently, a group of  “University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that may explain why people suffering chronic stress are prone to mental problems such as anxiety and mood disorders later in life … conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, depression, suicide, ADHD and PTSD”.

My first thoughts when I read it were, egocentrically, about myself.  I am overweight and have some of the “cluster” issues (like PTSD and anxiety) that come as a side dish with the entrée of my Asperger’s syndrome. Both obesity and the “cluster” issues  are strongly effected/increased by cortisol, a hormone released when you feel stress. Having Asperger’s is REALLY stressful. Could Asperger’s syndrome be giving me belly fat and anxiety on top of a general air of dorkiness?

I also thought about how poverty makes kids stressed, as early as preschool.  It hurts their mental and emotional development, and since cortisol makes weight gain more likely, may be contributing to the higher rate of childhood obesity for children in poverty as much as the poor nutrition disadvantaged kids typically get. I though about how important school lunch programs are, and how crucial it is not to shame kids in poverty, lest it hurt them even more.

Then I thought (because my train of thought zips around like a UFO when the little green man flying it is on meth) that things must have been REALLY stressful on Anne Boleyn.

Think about it. From the moment Henry VIII decided she would honored with his intentions, Anne was either in hiding, dealing with a no-way-out decision to marry her stalker, responsible for charming her stalker while also appeasing relatives (The Duke of Norfolk leaps to mind) and court members who were wretched and ill-mannered to her, hearing herself called a “goggle-eyed whore” by the populace who loved Katherina of Aragon, and being the target of hatred from Katherina’s faction at court. Oh, and she was constantly on display and every word out of her mouth was subject to a conspiracy of misrepresentation and misinterpretation.

That seems hella stressful to me.

I know she remained ever-slim, but some people remain slim even when eating 5,000 calories a day so that doesn’t mean there was no cortisol pumping into her system. What if the stress hormones were bathing her brain in a chemical stew of fight-or-flight most of the time for years?

How would that effect her personality?

I don’t find any reports of her being “high-strung” or “temperamental” or “willful” or anything like that before she was targeted by Henry. It is only after she took a Soviet vote and discovered she had “won” the right to be his next lady love that she is recorded as being anything other than charming. Both Queen Claude of France and Margaret of Austria thought Anne was the bee’s knees. She had the lads at court hanging on her every word, but there is no evidence she wasn’t also popular with her fellow ladies-in-waiting. Henry Percy, the future Earl of Northumberland, fell head over heels for her. The poet Thomas Wyatt immortalized her in verse. Where was her “foul temper” then?

Anne only started throwing fits and falling in them while she was trapped as a shadow queen waiting for the finalization of Henry’s divorce. She only became “shrewish” when she had been pushed to the limits, if not of human endurance, than at least to the limits of acceptable feminine docility. She even tried, from all appearances, to end things with him. Henry is recorded having  pleaded with her not to talk of leaving him and in January of 1531 she had such a big fight with the King that Henry VIII went begging to her relatives to help him gain a reconciliation.

She must have been juggling torches in a room full of TNT the entire time she was with Henry.

No wonder when she was told the date of her execution, “she was more joyful than before”.

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