The Archetypal Heroine

A Comparison of Anne of the Thousand Days to Historical Information

By Christopher W. Taylor

The characterization of Anne Boleyn conveyed in the film Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) is unequivocal to most critics. Paul Andrew MacLean, for example, says that Anne is “undoubtedly [a] remarkable woman” (par. 1). Vincent Canby adds that she “is gifted with the sort of foresight favored in second-rate hindsight dramas” (par. 8). The treatment of Anne in Anne of the Thousand Days, however, misses some key historical aspects of her demeanor and appearance. In this paper, I will contend that these aspects of Anne are hidden to establish a heroic characterization of her.

According to a contemporary Italian envoy, Anne came to the court of the King with a swarthy complexion, a prominent mole, and a deformed fingernail (qtd. in Hibbert 5). Indeed, some believed that, notwithstanding the King’s confidence, she had little to extol in herself. It is not surprising, however, that the Anne portrayed in Anne of the Thousand Days loses these qualities: she has a fair complexion, no prominent mole, and no deformed fingernail.

Historical information has also shown that after Anne’s downfall, the King became romantically involved with one of Queen Anne’s maids of honor, Jane Seymour; this, along with her inability to produce a male heir, caused Anne to lose her once prevalent sensuality and sophistication (Hibbert 16). She began to follow the King around “like a dog its master” (15). The King was dissatisfied, and she was falling out of his grace. People who were once enemies of her began to have compassion for her, “with her sunken cheeks, her apprehensive eyes, her long hair concealed within the folds of her cap” (16). Although Anne of the Thousand Days does show her in a state of grief with her hair in the folds of a cap, it does not show her with sunken cheeks or apprehensive eyes. In addition, she does not passively bear the King’s bitter attacks. Instead, she boldly exclaims, “My Elizabeth will be a greater queen than any king of yours!” In actuality, however, before her execution Anne begged the King to care for Elizabeth for her (18).

The same bold statement is revisited over an image of baby Elizabeth bravely trudging alone in the manner her mother instructed her to do in an earlier scene. This is a metaphor for the heroic qualities Anne passes to her daughter. Instead of being the King’s child, she is Anne’s child. Historical information, nevertheless, points to a view of Elizabeth as “King Henry’s daughter,” although she did not disown her mother (18).

These changes were made in order to sate the desires of the intended audience of the film. The people of England and the United States can relate better to a heroine who is more like themselves. Feminism and the civil rights movement were social events that influenced England and the United States at this time. People who were a part of this movement could have easily related to a bold heroine like Anne. In part, Anne of the Thousand Days has evoked sympathy in the minds of the audience via an pathos that is akin to what is used in the literary genre that Aleksandr Isaakovich Nikiforov termed the “innocent persecuted heroine,” which involves tales about the sufferings of a woman who is unjustifiably mistreated (qtd. in Jones 13). John Foxe was also guilty of this in his Rerum in ecclesia gestarum (1559), in which he staunchly advocates Anne, indicating that “[t]here were given to this queen, beyond her beauty, many gifts of well instructed spirit: gentleness, modesty, and piety towards all” (qtd. in Freeman 799).

The heroic characterization of Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days, while interesting and inspiring, is not completely accurate when juxtaposed with historical information. I conclude that the aspects of Anne’s demeanor and appearance that are masked in the film are done so to confirm the central thesis of the film: Anne was a heroic queen who conceived the great Elizabeth I, “Genius of the Golden Age.”


Works Cited

Anne of the Thousand Days. Dir. Charles Jarrott. Prod. Hal B. Wallis. Perf. Richard Burton, Geneviève Bujold, Anthony Quayle, and Irene Papas. Universal Pictures, 1969.

Canby, Vincent. Rev. of Anne of the Thousand Days, Dir. Charles Jarrott. New York Times 21 Jan. 1970: 9 pars. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.

Freeman, Thomas S. “Research, Rumour and Propaganda: Anne Boleyn in Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs'.” The Historical Journal 38.4 (1995). Cambridge University Press. 8 February 2007 <>.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age. Cambridge: Perseus Books. 1991.

Jones, Steven Swann. “The Innocent Persecuted Heroine Genre: An Analysis of Its Structure and Themes.” Western Folklore 52.1 (1993). Western States Folklore Society. 8 Feb. 2007 <>.

MacLean, Paul Andrew. Rev. of Anne of the Thousand Days, Dir. Charles Jarrott. Renaissance Magazine 1999: 6 pars. 5 Feb. 2007 < movies/anne.html>.