The brother and sister who changed the course of history

The school textbook version is that Henry VIII was desperate for a son and the only way forward was England’s first Brexit – the break with Rome.

But a new BBC docu-drama places Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, at the centre of the action.

According to The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, Anne persuaded Henry to read William Tynedale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man and how Christen Rulers Ought to Govern.

Tynedale’s book was banned in England at the time. It claimed the Pope was usurping the King’s authority and that kings could do what they wanted.

In February 1531, Anne’s brother, George, addressed church leaders trying to convince them to break with Rome.

“Churchmen at this stage really didn’t understand what was happening,” explains Diarmaid MacCulloch, one of several historians contributing to this mini-series.

“They could not believe that the King wanted to break with the Holy Father in Rome.”

However, the next day, those church leaders declared King Henry Supreme Head of the Church of England. Now Henry was free to make ecclesiastical decisions and, therefore, could grant himself a divorce from Queen Catherine.

And, within two years, Anne was married, crowned and had given birth to her daughter, Elizabeth.

So was the Reformation simply because a King was desperate for an heir, or was it the result of the Boleyn family scheming to get to the top? And, of course, Thomas Cromwell was behind every strand of the plot.

“The Boleyns definitely changed the course of English history,” says, McCulloch, “through love, through passion, through talent.”

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family starts on BBC two at 9pm on Friday, 13 August, and is repeated on Sunday. All three episodes are available now on BBC iPlayer.

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