Anne of the Thousand Days

From Academic Kids


Anne of the Thousand Days is an Academy Award-winning 1969 costume drama, directed by Charles Jarrot. The film tells the story of Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn. Richard Burton stars as King Henry VIII and Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn. Irene Papas portrays Catherine of Aragon.

The screenplay is an adaptation of a 1947 play by Maxwell Anderson; Anderson's blank verse format was not retained for the screenplay.

It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won the award for best costumes.

The Plot

The film begins in 1527 when Henry VIII (Richard Burton) reveals his dissatisfaction with his wife, Katherine of Aragon (Irene Papas). He is currently enjoying a discreet affair with Mary Boleyn, a daughter of one of his courtiers; but the King is bored with her too. At a court ball, he notices Mary's 18-year-old sister Anne (Genevieve Bujold), who has just returned from her education in France. She is engaged to the son of the earl of Northumberland and they have achieved their parents' permission to marry. The King, however, is enraptured with Anne's beauty and informs his Prime Minister, Cardinal Wolsey, to break them up.

When news of this decision is carried to Anne, she reacts furiously. She blames the Cardinal and the King for ruining her happiness. When Henry makes a rather clumsy attempt to seduce her, Anne bluntly informs him that she finds him "spoiled, vengeful and bloody. You make love as you eat - with a great deal of noise and no subtlety."

Henry brings her back to Court with him, whilst she continues to resist his advances out of a mixture of repugnance for Henry and her lingering anger over her broken engagement. However, she becomes intoxicated with the power that the King's love gives her. "Power is as exciting as love," she tells her brother, "and who has more of it than the king?" Using this power, she continually undermines Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle), who at first sees Anne as just a passing love interest for the King.

When Henry again presses Anne to become his mistress, she repeats that she will never give birth to a child who is illegitimate. Desperate to have a son, Henry suddenly comes up with the idea of marrying Anne in Katherine's place. Anne looks stunned, before accepting. Wolsey begs the King to abandon the idea because of the political consequences of divorcing Katherine. Henry refuses to listen.

When Wolsey fails to persuade the Pope to give Henry his divorce, Anne points out this failing to an enraged Henry. Wolsey is dismissed from office and his magnificent palace in London is given as a present to Anne. In this splendour, Anne realises that she has finally fallen in love with Henry. They sleep together and, after discovering that she is pregnant, they are secretly married. Anne is given a splendid coronation, but the people jeer at her in disgust as "the king's whore."

Months later, Anne gives birth to a daughter - Princess Elizabeth. Henry is disgusted at this and their marriage begins to cool. His attention soon travels to Jane Seymour, one of Anne's maids. Once she discovers this liaison, Anne banished Jane from court. "She has the face of a simpering sheep," she informs Henry, "and the manners, but 'not the morals. I don't want her near me."

During a row over Sir Thomas More's opposition to Anne's queenship, Anne refuses to sleep with her husband unless More is put to death. "It's his blood, or else it's my blood and Elizabeth's!" she cries hysterically. More is put to death, but Anne's subsequent pregnancy ends in miscarriage.

Henry demands that his new Prime Minister, Thomas Cromwell, finds a way to get rid off Anne. He tortures a servant in her household into confessing to adultery with the Queen; he then arrests four other courtiers who are also accused of being Anne's lover. Anne is taken to the Tower and placed under arrest. When she is told that she has been accused of adultery, she laughs. "I thought you were serious!" she says, before being informed that it is deadly serious. When she sees her brother being brought into the Tower, Anne asks why he has been arrested. "He too is accused of being your lover," mutters the embarrassed jailer. Anne's face shudders with horror before she whispers, "Incest?... Oh God help me the King is mad. I am doomed."

At Anne's trial, she manages to cross-question the tortured servant who finally admits that the charges against Anne are lies. Henry makes an appearance, before visiting Anne in her chambers that night. He offers her freedom if she will agree to annul their marriage and make their daughter illegitimate. Anne refuses, saying that she would rather die than betray their daughter. Henry slaps her before telling her that her disobedience will mean her death.

A few days later, Anne is taken to the scaffold and executed by a French swordsman. Henry rides off to marry Jane Seymour and the film's final shot is of their young daughter, Elizabeth, toddling alone in the garden as she hears the cannon firing to announce her mother's death.

Historical Accuracy

  • Henry's infatuation with Anne did not cause the end of his marriage to Katherine. He had been considering a divorce for some years.
  • Mary Boleyn's children probably weren't fathered by King Henry, despite the rumours
  • Anne Boleyn wasn't 18 in 1527. She was probably a few years older.
  • Henry's interest in Anne began after he had ended his affair with her sister.
  • The film suggests that Anne may not have been a virgin when she met Henry, but this is unlikely. Sources revealed in France and the research of historians like Eric W. Ives and Retha M. Warnicke suggest that Anne remained a virgin until her secret marriage in 1532/1533
  • Anne did not set out to destroy Cardinal Wolsey. She turned against him in 1529, but only after she felt he had betrayed her cause
  • There is no evidence to suggest that Henry and Anne's marriage fell apart after Elizabeth's birth in 1533. The decay of their royal marriage began much later.
  • Anne did not beg Henry to execute Thomas More. This black legend about Anne was concocted a generation after her death. More had never refused to acknowledge Anne as queen; in fact he had sent a letter to Henry in 1533, praying that Anne would have royal children and pledging loyalty to his new queen. He died because he would not accept Henry as Head of the Church, instead of the Pope
  • Anne's marriage was annulled and she was never offered her life in return for agreeing to it. The wisest course for Elizabeth's safety was to accept Henry's demands, although it is not known if Anne co-operated fully or if her enemies simply said she did
  • Henry never intervened in Anne's trial and she was never given the opportunity to question any witnesses. Henry and Anne met for the last time at a joust, the day before she was arrested.
  • The film stated that Anne was innocent of all charges and this is historically correct. Recent biographies of her by Eric W. Ives, R.M. Warnicke and Joanna Denny; as well as the work of Tudor specialist, David Starkey, have all proved that Anne was innocent on all charges - adultery, incest and witchcraft.

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