Taking these things together, and there is nothing to be placed beside them of a definitely pleasing kind, except beauty and accomplishments, we form, with the assistance of her pictures, a tolerable conception of this lady; a conception of her as a woman not indeed questionable, but as one whose antecedents might lead consistently to a future either of evil or of good; and whose character removes the surprise which we might be inclined to feel at the position with respect to Queen Catherine in which she consented to be placed. A harsh critic would describe her, on this evidence, as a self-indulgent coquette, indifferent to the obligations of gratitude, and something careless of the truth. From the letter referring to her, preserved by Cromwell, it appears that she had broken a definite promise at a time when such promises were legally binding, and that she had really done so was confirmed by her subsequent confession. The breach of such promises by a woman who could not be expected to understand the grounds on which the law held them to be sacred, implies no more than levity, and levity of this kind has been found compatible with many high qualities. Levity, however, it does undoubtedly imply, and the symptom, if a light one, must be allowed the weight which is due to it.
It is a miserable duty to be compelled to search for these indications of human infirmities; above all when they are the infirmities of a lady whose faults, let them have been what they would, were so fearfully and terribly expiated; and, if there were nothing else at issue but poor questions of petty scandal, it were better far that they perished in forgetfulness, and passed away out of mind and memory for ever. The fortunes of Anne Boleyn were unhappily linked with those of men to whom the greatest work ever yet accomplished in this country was committed; and the characters of a king of England, and of the three estates of the realm, are compromised in the treatment which she received from them.
THE PARLIAMENT OF 1529
No Englishman can look back uninterested on the meeting of the parliament of 1529. The era at which it assembled is the most memorable in the history of this country, and the work which it accomplished before its dissolution was of larger moment politically and spiritually than the achievements of the Long Parliament itself. For nearly seven years it continued surrounded by intrigue, confusion, and at length conspiracy, presiding over a people from whom the forms and habits by which they had moved for centuries were falling like the shell of a chrysalis. While beset with enemies within the realm and without, it effected a revolution which severed England from the papacy, yet it preserved peace unbroken and prevented anarchy from breaking bounds; and although its hands are not pure from spot, and red stains rest on them which posterity have bitterly and long remembered; yet if we consider the changes which it carried through, and if we think of the price which was paid by other nations for victory in the same struggle, we shall acknowledge that the records of the world contain no instance of such a triumph, bought at a cost so slight and tarnished by blemishes so trifling.