Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Question from Laurie - Anne's mental state


Has anything been written about Anne Boleyn's mental state during her years with the king and after she'd fallen from favor. I've read the she would laugh hysterically at times near the end and wondered if experts today might call her manic?



3 Comments:

Anonymous PhD Historian said...

I know this will not answer your question and may be only frustrating, but I think it is very risky to speculate about the mental state of anyone who has been dead for over four centuries and for whom we have very little (if any) real evidence of their innermost thought processes. Men and women of the Tudor period did not keep diaries and did not write down what they were thinking. The best evidence we have available is often very poor quality indeed, at least as far as determining the person's inner mental state. It is usually limited to the written observations made by third persons (e.g., courtiers and ambassadors), all of which are highly subjective impressions and not objective assessments of the individual's mental state or capacity. Where one person might describe a laugh as "hysterical" (a word that today carries strong implications regarding mental health), another might characterize it as "nervous" and/or "anxious" (two mental states experienced at one time or another by most people). And a "hysterical" laugh might today be a perfectly "normal" coping mechanism when faced with extreme stress, such as the possibility of imminent execution.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that mental illness was not yet conceived of in the Tudor period, expect for such broad and catch-all categories as "melancholic" or "lunatic." Precise psychiatric and psychological diagnoses were simply unknown. And it is almost always considered risky, at best, to apply modern concepts to cultures and societies that had no notion of those concepts. "Manic" is a very precise psychiatric diagnosis, usually associated with bipolar disease, and should certainly not be used in a 16th century context. In my opinion, we should make do with whatever limited descriptions or insights we may have for a person's actions or utterances, accepting them "as is" and without attempting to deduce from them an assessment of the person's mental wellness, however tempting it may be to speculate about the mental state of the long dead.

September 30, 2008 3:21 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

It's true you can't positively categorize historical people's mental state and you have to be very careful about psychologizing them, but you can perhaps identify a pattern of behavior - again, relying on third-party testimony and impressions.

Anne is described by Ives as the consummate female courtier - proficient at the socially approved skills required to successfully make one's (female) way at court. What is interesting is that her reported remarks and behavior are often at odds with this image of a controlled, discreet and disciplined professional. She was given to very extravagant speech, saying she wished all Spaniards were at the bottom of the sea; she would sooner see Catherine hanged than acknowledge her mistress; "even if I were to suffer a thousand deaths, my love for you would not abate one jot"; "she is my death and I am hers," etc.

Her behavior throughout her career was eccentric enough to attract continual comment: as Queen, examples include her laughing so as to offend the French envoy when Henry was momentarily distracted by a beautiful lady; indulging in "scratching and byblows" with another of Henry's conquests; active involvement with the reform; joking with Kingston about her execution (with the laughter).

Her behavior and speech have been attributed to either her "commoner" background - not a royal princess, Anne would not know how to properly behave (but she'd spent most of her life around royalty and been trained by them) - or to a streak of hysteria or even madness, either personal or the inevitable result of being female, which can be countered by the fact that she used a great deal of patience and craft to achieve her goal, not usually the signs of a disordered mind.

There is an interesting parallel between Anne and Joanna of Aragon, Catherine's sister, who is traditionally described as mad. Joanna seems to have begun picking up the label soon after her arrival in Brussels for her marriage, as her behavior began to attract unfavorable comment. Her religious duties were apparently neglected; she made extravagant statements of her devotion to her husband; she physically attacked one of his mistresses; and of course there is her famous attachment to her husband's coffin after his death. Modern historians are beginning to reevaluate Joanna's behavior in an effort to determine whether she was really mad or whether her unconventional conduct provided a convenient excuse to have a "madwoman" removed from power.

So perhaps Anne can be framed by us or her contemporaries as "mad" or "manic" based on her behavior and speech, but I think most people would hesitate to describe her as such. Her eccentricity helped make her vulnerable, however, when the king turned against her, as Joanna's did when her father and husband colluded against her.

October 03, 2008 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Olivia said...

i agree with PHD historian, you can never really tell of the true facts of anyone's leginimate mental state. but i do beleive that once anne was in the tower, she'd become a little mad. screaming one minute, happy the next, your average bipolar, i suppose. but can we ever truly tell? we don't even truly know if elizabeth, her daughter, WAS leginimate (she most likely was, i beleive she was, but will we ever really know?) anything we know, considering the lies and gossip of the tudor court, could be real or false. i'm not saying all the facts we have are false, but i'm saying we can never be 100% certain of tudor life.

October 14, 2008 2:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home