Monday, October 21, 2019

Witch: Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'

Rick Wakeman: Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'

Today, we are going to debunk two myths.

First, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife and Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, was not a witch, although she has been accused of being one in popular culture. In fact, her execution was based on (probably false) claims of adultery, incest, and high treason designed to get her out of the way so that Henry could move on to wife III. But she was an incredibly divisive figure in English life of the day, ascending to the throne after the controversial end of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and otherwise contributing to the move of England from Catholicism to Protestantism. The politics of this period is fiendishly complex, with lots of players and shifting alliances, so, I’m not going to even try to explain all of this. I do recommend reading Hilary Mantel’s novels about this period, Wolf Hall, and Bring Up The Bodies, or watching the PBS adaptation of them, Wolf Hall, in which Claire Foy portrays Anne (before being cast in The Crown as the young Queen Elizabeth II, who was a descendant of Anne’s older sister Mary, a mistress of Henry VIII before her sister took her place. Like I said, complex.).

It seems that the witchcraft allegations stemmed from two main sources all derived from basic misogyny—first, if you were a powerful woman, and had enemies (and Anne fit that bill perfectly), it was likely that you would be called a witch. For example, while many contemporary commentators remarked on Anne’s beauty, brilliance and charm, one Catholic writer, long after her death, described Anne as having a “protruding tooth,” a “large wen (growth) on her neck,” and six fingers. You know, sort of like a caricature witch. There is no claim, however, that she wore a pointy hat, rode a broom, or weighed as much as a duck.

The second basis for the claim that Anne Boleyn was a witch is based on a comment reportedly made by Henry VIII, not the most reliable of narrators, to be sure, that he had been “seduced and forced into his second marriage by means of sortileges and charms.” “Sortilege,” however, appears to have been used to mean “bewitched or enchanted” in both the supernatural and non-supernatural sense, and there is significant evidence that Henry was smitten by Anne’s beauty, intelligence, charm, and expertise in flirting, and not so much by witchcraft.

If you are really interested in delving more into this question, check out this page.

Myth 2—Rick Wakeman’s 1973 album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, is a terrible example of the worst excesses of progressive rock. Yes, it was a concept album about historical figures, and yes, it is mostly Wakeman showing off his talent on various keyboards and synthesizers, and yes, there are moments of pomp and excess (which, to me, can have their place, anyway). But overall, the album contains beautiful music and great musicianship. And there are many, many worse examples of over the top prog pretension, so I think that, in retrospect, at least, the album holds up reasonably well.

The album was inspired by Wakeman’s dissatisfaction with his playing on his first tour with Yes, and his attempt to find a personal style. In an airport in Richmond, Virginia, Wakeman bought a copy of The Private Life of Henry VIII by Scottish writer Nancy Brysson Morrison, and the chapter on Anne Boleyn reminded him of a musical idea he had previously recorded. Wakeman decided to focus on each of the wives, “interpreting the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments.”

Listening to his take on Anne Boleyn, can I hear “a tribute to her feisty temper and valiant courage that she maintained while standing up to her husband,” as the Allmusic reviewer heard? Maybe, but overall, it is a nice piece, and not, to my hearing, excessive or bombastic. Plus, it has Bill Bruford on drums, which to me is always a positive.

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