Hillary Boleyn: Has Anything Changed in Half a Millennium?

By Robin Maxwell

Posted January 30, 2008 | 02:54 PM (EST)

As a writer of historical fiction, spending half my time in the present and half in the sixteenth century affords me an excellent platform for comparing two of my favorite female titans -- Anne Boleyn and her twenty-first century counterpart, Hillary Clinton.

Of course, the most obvious connection that the two women share is their attraction to rascals. Bill Clinton and Henry VIII (in the days before bloodlust got the better of him) were both big, handsome and brilliant. They were politicians extraordinaire, show-offs, charismatic and sexy, and adored by the masses. Henry wrote Greensleeves while Bill went on late night TV and played his sax. And both had the propensity for flinging away their codpieces the moment the "cod" beneath them stirred.

Shortly after Londoners realized their dear monarch, Great Harry, was taking counsel about marriage, foreign policy and religion from Miss Boleyn -- wrapped around Anne's proverbial sixth finger -- six thousand of them, armed with pitchforks and clubs, stormed the house on the Thames where she lived. Anne escaped with her life in a river dinghy. But that was the end of the young lady's reputation.

Her crime? Holding heavier sway over Henry's opinion than anyone else alive. Daring to go toe-to-toe with the English establishment. Blatantly flaunting her influence with the king. And this at a time when women were considered frail, inferior human beings who gave into lewd temptations -- entirely unfit by their very physical nature to hold power over men.

Shortly after moving into the White House with her man, Hillary Clinton walked straight into a hornet's nest reminiscent of Lady Boleyn's. Her husband deeply respected her opinions and gladly took her counsel, which she was only to happy to give.

And exactly like Anne, Hillary would not keep her mouth shut. She refused to bake cookies. She dared to be bold. She put the full brilliance of her mind on display. And God forbid, she dared to be ambitious.

The offense that garnered Anne Boleyn the most enemies in high places was her liberalism. In this case, religious liberalism. She was sick of the Catholic Church's chokehold on every soul in England and believed there was a better way to commune with God -- directly, without the necessity of priests.

So she did the unthinkable. In a country where Henry's title was not only "King" but "Defender of the Faith," she tucked into his meaty hands Lutheran tracts -- heretical books that were best read under the covers by candlelight, whose discovery could get a person burned at the stake.

She even went so far as to mark certain relevant passages with her fingernail, passages that showed her man he had every right to wrest the tall hat off the Holy Father's head and set it down on his own. That's exactly what came to pass. Henry crowed himself the Pope of the spanking new Church of England.

The Protestant Reformation was off and running.

It was good for England to finally have a choice. But Anne Boleyn became the most despised woman in her country's history.

Like Anne, Hillary took on a greater cause than her own personal betterment. She confronted America's "Megachurch with Two Heads" -- the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. In her case, reprisal was swift. The press and the Republican Party descended on the White House like Anne's pitchforked rabble of six thousand. The First Lady was villainized, excoriated, lampooned and pilloried -- "Hilloried," if you will -- for that most dastardly of desires -- that all Americans receive universal health care.

Bring on the executioner!

Mrs. Clinton was cut off at the knees. Told in no uncertain terms to shut up. Anne Boleyn's fate was far darker than Hillary's. The once-proud Queen of England fell victim to her many jealous enemies and had a blind date with the swordsman from Calais.

Political muckrakers and spin doctors five hundred years ago had their way with Anne and her "legacy," saddling her for all posterity with the vilest of charges -- adulterer, traitor and perhaps most damaging, "witch." But using the "w" word could never happen in twenty-first century America. Could it?

A few weeks ago when our first female presidential candidate shed a few emotional tears on camera, one TV newscaster blithely reported that Hillary "melted like the Wicked Witch of the West." A cute turn of phrase, I wondered, or a premeditated choice of words meant to subconsciously fix a hateful image in the minds of millions of television viewers... and voters.

The "swiftboating" of an uppity woman in Tudor England worked then, and its influence continues today around the world. Most people don't recall Queen Anne for having given us Elizabeth, perhaps the greatest monarch of the last millennium, or her help in providing England its first taste of religious freedom.

No. She is most often remember as described in the refrain from the Kingston Trio's song: "With `er `ead tucked underneath her arm, she walks the Bloody Tower." And as recently as a few years ago, the nastiest of the rumors were revived as Anne sashayed through the pages of the mega-bestseller The Other Boleyn Girl, as an evil, brother-humping child-stealer who deserved her fate.

The modern day press and spin doctors have been having a ball spinning the "Hillary as Harridan" story to the outer limits of sensibility. Despite being vindicated in her early health care initiative -- with all the major Democratic candidates claiming some version of it for themselves - Hillary Rodham Clinton is "polarizing," "unelectable," "the Robo-Candidate."

For having the audacity to be a bold and ambitious woman, Anne Boleyn suffered the final indignity of burial in an arrow box so short that her severed head ended up in her lap.

If Hillary survives and receives the Democratic nomination, in November she may become the victor. As history is said to be "written by the victors," her presidency will no doubt be given a fair shot.

Heaven help her if she loses.

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