Modern history



Although Anne and Henry finally felt secure enough to marry in January 1533, they were both aware that, in the eyes of the world, Henry was still married to Catherine of Aragon. While Henry preferred to secure his divorce through a sentence given by the pope, at Anne’s urging he was prepared to look at other solutions.

Although Chapuys referred to Anne and her father as ‘more Lutheran than Luther himself’, it is more correct to say that both shared the humanist ideals of promotion of the scriptures in the vernacular.1 While both were interested in religious reform, this does not necessarily equate them with Protestantism, which, in any event, was still in its infancy during Anne’s lifetime. Anne owned a French Bible and, as queen, kept an English version on display for her household to read.2 She was also, not surprisingly, anti-papal. As well as owning a copy of Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man, which she had shown Henry, Anne possessed Simon Fish’s anti-clerical work, The Supplication of Beggars, which criticised the cult of purgatory and the payment of ecclesiastical fees.3 More pertinently for Anne, Fish argued that the king’s laws could not be enforced against the pope’s as the chancellor was generally a priest. Few others would have dared to show Henry such ‘heretical’ works and he began to take an interest.

In 1531 the king made his first move against the pope, insisting that the English clergy, in order to avoid a charge of praemunire (i.e. prioritising papal law above the king’s) recognise him as sole protector and supreme head of the Church of England.4 The value of this title was limited by the qualification that Henry was only supreme head ‘as far as the law of Christ allows’, but it was the first step towards the break with Rome. Henry also instigated an attack on church revenues levied in England and was presented, in August 1532, on the death of the conservative Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, with the perfect opportunity to secure his annulment.

Warham’s death cleared the way for a more reform-minded successor, with Henry’s choice falling on the unknown Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer had been appointed as one of the king’s chaplains in January 1532, almost certainly on Anne’s recommendation. He had previously been a member of Thomas Boleyn’s household. He held strong reformist views and was already secretly married when he accepted the post of Archbishop of Canterbury early in 1533. As soon as he was appointed, a request was made to the pope for the bulls confirming Cranmer’s appointment and the pontiff, anxious to do anything to appease Henry, unsuspectingly dispatched them in March 1533.5 Soon after they arrived, Cranmer repudiated his oath of loyalty to the pope. Already, the groundwork had been laid for the divorce with the Act in Restraint of Appeals, which was passed by Parliament in February 1533 and stated that matrimonial cases should not be tried by appeal to Rome, instead remaining within the jurisdiction of the Church of England.6

As a result of this, in early May 1533, Cranmer travelled to Dunstable, close to Catherine’s residence at Ampthill. Not surprisingly, the queen refused to attend a Church court to try the validity of her marriage. Cranmer pressed on regardless, giving sentence on 8 May 1533 that Henry’s first marriage had been invalid from the start.7 Cranmer informed Henry and Anne personally of the sentence, hurrying back to London in order to prepare for the new queen’s Coronation.

Anne had found it impossible not to drop hints of her marriage even before it was officially recognised, for example informing stunned observers that she had a craving for apples which the king had assured her meant that she must be pregnant. The official announcement was finally made on Easter Saturday 1533, by which time Anne must have been visibly pregnant. According to Chapuys, she made a grand statement of her new status:

On Saturday, Easter Eve, dame Anne went to mass in Royal state, loaded with jewels, clothed in a robe of cloth of gold friese. The daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, who is affianced to the duke of Richmond, carried her train, and she had in her suite 60 young ladies, and was brought to church, and brought back again with the solemnities, or even more, which were used to the queen. She has changed her name from marchioness to Queen, and the preachers offered prayers for her by name.8

For Anne, it was the culmination of all her hopes and she adopted the motto ‘the Most Happy’. Although she was secure in the king’s love, Anne’s queenship was not accepted by everyone in England and there was a good deal of muttering among the people. It was perhaps in retaliation to this that Anne could not resist a further attack on her predecessor, ordering her chamberlain, Lord Burgh, to seize Catherine’s barge and remove and mutilate her arms and badges.9 It was this barge that Anne used to make her ceremonial procession to the Tower of London on the first day of her Coronation festivities.

On 29 May the Mayor of London and representatives of all the crafts arrived by water at Greenwich, travelling in barges decked with colourful banners. Anne may have reflected on just how far the Boleyns had risen since her great-grandfather had fulfilled the office of mayor himself less than a century before as she watched the company assemble. At 3 p.m. she walked out to her own barge, sailing down the river in procession to be met, at Tower wharf, by a great gun salute, louder than anyone could remember. Henry also came out of the Tower to greet his wife ‘with a noble loving countenance’ and the couple retired inside to the royal apartments.10 An enormous crowd had come out to watch Anne’s procession and, while Chapuys claimed that the crowd ‘showed themselves as sorry as though it had been a funeral’, this was not the majority verdict.11 In general the mood was one of celebration. The couple spent the next day quietly at the Tower.

The ceremonies recommenced on 31 May when Anne set out for Westminster in a grand procession. She sat in a litter of white satin with a canopy of cloth of gold carried above her head.12 Immediately after her rode twelve ladies on horseback dressed in cloth of gold. Anne’s mother, Elizabeth, followed with her stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, in a chariot covered in cloth of gold before a further twelve mounted ladies followed dressed in crimson velvet, with the remaining ladies riding in three golden coaches. Anne wanted her family around her, and both her sister and sister-in-law are likely to have been among the ladies in the procession. Jane, Lady Rochford, was certainly present in London, with one member of the court writing to George Boleyn, who was then in France, to inform him that Anne’s Coronation had honourably passed and that he could shortly expect a letter from Jane containing news from the court.13

Anne’s route through London on 31 May took her past a number of pageants designed to demonstrate the glory of Anne and the Tudor dynasty.14 One displayed a castle. As Anne watched, a white falcon, representing her own falcon emblem, descended from the sky. As the bird landed, a child stepped forward to recite a poem on the glory of the falcon and, by analogy, Anne. An angel then descended to crown the falcon, before another child praised the queen, declaring, ‘Honour and grace be to our Queen Anne!’ The crowd was not entirely positive, with Anne apparently complaining to the mayor that few members of the crowd uncovered their heads or cried God save the Queen.15 However, in the main, the ceremonies went well. The following day Anne was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Cranmer.

Once the ceremony was over Anne and Henry began to prepare for the birth of their child. That summer, the annual progress was curtailed due to Anne’s advancing pregnancy and, instead, she and her ladies spent much time enjoying entertainments in her chambers.16 Anne’s rivalry with Catherine of Aragon had not ceased with her predecessor’s banishment and she asked Henry to send to his former wife to demand a rich triumphal cloth which she had brought from Spain to be used as a christening robe.17 Not surprisingly, Catherine refused to hand over her personal property, declaring that she would not grant such a favour ‘in a case so horrible and abominable’. Anne must have been angered by her predecessor’s refusal, but she can hardly have been surprised. She soon had other things to worry about when it emerged that Henry had taken advantage of her pregnancy to take a mistress, as he had so often done before during his first wife’s pregnancies. Unlike Catherine, Anne was not prepared to ignore Henry’s indiscretion and ‘she used some words to the king at which he was displeased’, to which he responded that ‘she must shut her eyes, and endure as well as more worthy persons, and that she ought to know that it was in his power to humble her again in a moment more than he had exalted her’.18 Anne had held Henry enthralled for six years and must have been shocked at his anger towards her. The couple were quickly reconciled and it was with great ceremony that Anne took to her chamber at Greenwich on 26 August 1533 to await the birth of the expected prince.

Henry’s grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, had created a set of ordinances for a royal birth, which Anne would have been at pains to follow. Margaret decreed that, a month before the birth the queen should retire to a female world. Anne relied on her sister to attend her after the premature end of her final pregnancy in January 1536 and it therefore seems likely that her mother, sister and sister-in-law would have been present with her in 1533. If so, they would have attended Anne when she went into labour, giving birth to a daughter at 3 p.m. on 7 September 1533. The sex of the child was a blow for both her parents and was greeted by them with ‘great regret’.19 Henry’s initial reaction was to cancel the grand tournament that he had planned to celebrate the birth of his son, although after a few days the couple accepted their daughter more happily. The baby was healthy and was proof of Anne’s fertility. In spite of rumours that the child was to be named Mary in order to fully usurp the place of her elder half-sister, she was instead christened Elizabeth, probably primarily after Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, although by happy coincidence also the name of her maternal grandmother.20 In the few brief years that she had with her, Anne proved to be a fond mother, regularly visiting the child in her own household and taking decisions in relation to her education.21 In spite of her fondness for the child, however, Anne knew that she would quickly be expected to conceive again and bear the king a son.

Anne used her position as queen to further the religious reform movement in England. According to her chaplain, William Latymer, as soon as she became queen, she called her chaplains to her, telling them that she had ‘carefully chosen you to be the lanterns and light of my court’. She continued,

I require you, as you shall at any time hereafter perceive me to decline from the right path of sound and pure doctrine, and yield to any manner of sensuality, to await some convenient time wherein you may advertise me thereof: the which I promise you to accept in very thankful part, addressing my self wholly to reformation and yielding good example to others, for the discharge of my own conscience. And as to the rest of my court, I straightly charge you vigilantly to watch their doing, curiously to mark their proceedings, lives and conversations, diligently to advertise them of their duties, especially towards almighty God, to instruct them the way of virtue and grace, to charge them to abandon and eschew all manner of vice; and above all things to embrace the wholesome doctrine and infallible knowledge of Christ’s gospel, aswell in virtuous and undefiled conversation as also in pure and sincere understanding thereof.

Given Anne’s notoriously fiery temper, it seems unlikely that any of her chaplains would have dared admonish her for any perceived sin. However, there is no doubt that Anne wanted to preside over a household at the forefront of religious reform and that she wanted her chaplains to ensure that everyone within her household followed her lead.

As well as promoting the reading of the scriptures in the vernacular, she also sought to dispel religious superstitions. For example, sending commissioners to Hailes Abbey to investigate the relic of the blood of Christ held there. On it being discovered to be either red wax or duck’s blood, she had it removed. Anne was charitable, distributing alms to the poor people of towns that she visited. Both she and her brother paid to maintain scholars at Cambridge. Anne’s patronage was not always welcomed, with a letter from the queen to a Dr Crome complaining that she was ‘marvelling not a little that, albeit heretofore we have signified unto you at sundry times our pleasure concerning your promotion unto the parsonage of Aldermany, within the city of London, which we have obtained for you, yet you hitherto have deferred the taking on you of the same’. Dr Crome was a little less eager than Anne that he should take the post, but the queen was prepared to accept no protests. She wanted him there and there he must go, ending her letter by stating that ‘our express mind and pleasure is that you shall use no farther delays in this matter’.

Anne conceived a second child early in 1534 and, by April, she was visibly pregnant.22 The birth was expected at some point in the summer with Anne sending her brother to France in July to request that a proposed meeting between Henry and Francis could be delayed until after she had delivered her child so that she could also attend.23

While Anne was awaiting the birth of her second child at court, a family drama was taking place in the countryside involving her sister, Mary. By 1534, Mary had been a widow for nearly six years. She had spent much of the intervening years in the company of her sister, although it is clear that she had not entirely abandoned her own interests as, in the spring of 1534, she secretly married a servant, William Stafford, who, while a gentleman, was far beneath her socially. Mary herself provided an account of her reasoning for the match, declaring in a letter to the king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell,

Consider, that he was young, and love overcame reason; and for my part I saw so much honesty in him, that I loved him as well as he did me, and was in bondage and glad I was to be at liberty: so that, for my part, I saw that all the world did set so little by me, and he so much, that I thought I could take no better way but to take him and to forsake all other ways, and live a poor, honest life with him.24

Mary knew that Stafford was no match for the queen’s sister and that he was poor, with little income of his own, but she touchingly believed that, with only the opportunity to prove himself, he could indeed become a success:

For well I might have had a greater man of birth and higher, but I assure you I could never have had one that should have loved me so well, nor a more honest man; and besides that, he is both come of an ancient stock, and again as meet (if it was his grace’s pleasure) to do the king a service, as any young gentleman in his court.

Unfortunately for Mary, her family were not inclined to see William Stafford’s virtues, focussing only on the disparity of rank. There is some suggestion that Mary came to regret her hasty match to some extent, in spite of the fact that she later protested that ‘and seeing there is no remedy, for God’s sake help us; for we have been now a quarter of a year married, I thank God, and too late now to call that again’. Although Mary stated that she would not change her conduct, it is perhaps telling that she was unable to find a way to tell her family of what she had done, instead letting them find out in the worst possible way.

Anne relied on her sister to attend her during childbirth and she recalled Mary to court to attend her in the summer of 1534 with her approaching confinement. Mary received this summons with a heavy heart, travelling up to court with her new husband. Given that she later indicated that she had been married only for three months, it seems likely that they had been forced by circumstances to marry so hastily, with Mary already visibly pregnant when she arrived at court, something which suggests a pregnancy considerably more advanced than three months. Mary perhaps hoped that the publicity of the court would deflect the worst of her family’s anger. If this was the case, she was mistaken. Her parents, brother and uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, were horrified, with Mary later lamenting to Cromwell,

And I beseech you, good master secretary, pray my lord my father and my lady be so good to us, and to let me have their blessings and my husband their good will; and I will never desire more of them. Also, I pray you, desire my lord of Norfolk and my lord my brother to be good to us. I dare not write to them, they are so cruel against us; but if, with any pain that I could take with my life, I might win their food wills, I promise you there is no child living would venture more than I. And so I pray you to report by me, and you shall find my writing true, and in all points which I may please them in I shall be ready to obey them nearest my husband, whom I am most bound to; to whom I most heartily beseech you to be good unto, which, for my sake, is a poor banished man for an honest and a godly cause.

Mary hoped to appease her family by confirming that she wanted nothing more from them than their blessing, suggesting that she hoped that some of their anger was financial.

While Mary was saddened by the response of her parents, brother and uncle to her marriage, she was also deeply worried by the reaction of her sister. For Anne, who was always portrayed as an upstart, the fact of her sister’s marriage to a servant was infuriating and the worst of the anger directed at Mary came from the queen. On seeing her sister, Anne ordered that she and Stafford be banished from the court, refusing to give them the opportunity to plead their case. When she wrote to Cromwell, Mary confirmed that

I am sure it is not unknown to you the high displeasure that both he and I have, both of the king’s highness and the queen’s grace, by reason of our marriage without their knowledge, wherein we both do yield ourselves faulty, and do acknowledge that we did not well to be so hasty nor so bold, without their knowledge.

That it was Anne rather than Henry who was the driving force behind the banishment is clear from Mary’s assertion:

And good master secretary, sue for us to the king’s highness, and beseech his highness, which ever was wont to take pity, to have pity on us; and, that it will please his grace of his goodness to speak to the queen’s grace for us; for, so far as I can perceive, her grace is so highly displeased with us both that, without the king be so good lord to us as to withdraw his rigour and sue for us, we are never like to recover her grace’s favour: which is too heavy to bear.

Henry had, after all, forgiven his own sister her hasty marriage to the Duke of Suffolk and, as a romantic at heart, is unlikely to have been angry for long at his former mistress’s love match.

For Mary, the loss of her sister’s favour was devastating both on a financial level and also personally. Although there is little evidence for their relationship, Mary often appears to have been at court and the sisters were evidently close. Mary herself claimed that a permanent loss of her sister’s love would be ‘too heavy to bear’, something that suggests that she was saddened at the potential loss of her sister. However, Mary’s letter also suggests a tone of defiance and rivalry, which was understandable given the elder sister’s former relationship with the king. Mary made a less than subtle criticism of her sister when she informed Cromwell that ‘if I were at my liberty and might choose, I ensure you, master secretary, for my little time, I have tried so much honesty to be in him, that I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen in Christendom. And I believe verily he is in the same case with me; for I believe verily he would not forsake me to be a king.’ For Mary, love conquered all other considerations, even if it meant her financial ruin and the loss of her family.

Mary’s disgrace lasted for some time after her banishment from court. The records are unfortunately silent on the fate of Anne’s child and it would appear that she suffered a stillbirth that summer. Given that there is no record of Mary’s own child, it would appear that she also lost a baby, something that would have allowed relations to thaw to some extent. There is no record of Mary being back at court until early 1536 when she attended her sister during her third and final pregnancy. It appears that the two had mended their relationship, although it took time for the wounds to heal. According to reports, Mary was the only person that Anne would allow to attend her in her grief at the loss of her miscarried son.25

Mary was not the only Boleyn to find herself in disgrace in 1534, with Jane Parker Boleyn also suffering banishment from court at the time. Although Anne and Henry were reconciled after he first took a mistress in the summer of 1533, Anne, who had been the sole object of the king’s desire for so long, found it impossible to tolerate her husband’s infidelity as her predecessor had done. For Henry, part of Anne’s attraction had been her refusal to yield to him and, therefore, with the consummation of their relationship, an element of her fascination for him ended. Instead, he reverted to his familiar pattern of taking a mistress during his wife’s pregnancies. In September 1534, Chapuys reported that

ever since the king began to entertain doubts as to his mistress’s [Anne’s] reported pregnancy, he has renewed and increased the love which he formerly bore to another very handsome young lady of this court; and whereas the royal mistress, hearing of it, attempted to dismiss the damsel from her service, the king has been very sad, and has sent her a message to this effect: that she ought to be satisfied with what he had done for her; for, were he to commence again, he would certainly not do as much; she ought to consider where she came from, and many other things of the same kind.

The king’s reaction to Anne’s anger in 1534 was worse than that in 1533 and may have been the first indication that Anne no longer fully occupied the king’s heart. She was certainly alarmed enough about the new mistress to attempt to take action against her, enlisting the help of her sister-in-law, Jane Rochford, to help her. Jane was regularly resident at court during the first year of her sister-in-law’s queenship and, with the banishment of Mary Boleyn, may well have found her royal kinswoman coming to rely on her more than usual. Anne and Jane certainly appear to have felt that they had common enough interests to conspire together for Henry’s mistress to be exiled from court. The details of the plot do not survive, with Chapuys speculating that it was to have the rival sent away ‘through quarrelling or otherwise’. Unfortunately, for the two women, the plot was unsuccessful, with Jane bearing the brunt of the king’s anger and being sent home from court in disgrace early in October 1534. The length of Jane’s exile is nowhere recorded, although Chapuys referred to her dismissal on 19 December 1534, implying that she was still kept away from court. This is the last time that the records show Jane acting with her sister-in-law, and Anne’s failure to protect her from banishment may have caused Jane an estrangement, particularly as Anne escaped all censure. Chapuys certainly implied that it was Jane who suffered for Anne’s complaints against the mistress, recording that ‘neither is there any further sign of the king’s ill-humour towards the Lady’s relatives, except that which is naturally connected with their occasional quarrels; though it must be said, Rochford’s wife was dismissed from Court owing to the above mentioned cause’.

Jane Rochford remains a shadowy figure in the sources. However, there is a hint that she may have become publicly opposed to her sister-in-law’s interests by the last months of 1535. Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary, had been denied her title of princess and declared to be illegitimate on the annulment of her parents’ marriage, something which was not widely supported in England. In October 1535, while the court was absent from London, a number of women went to watch Mary as she was moved from her lodgings at Greenwich and, weeping, declared her to be ‘princess’ (and thus, impliedly, heiress to the crown in spite of the Act of Succession which named Princess Elizabeth as heir). This protest, although hopeless, attracted attention, with the ringleaders being imprisoned in the Tower. Not surprisingly, given the fact that Henry did not want to draw attention to support for his eldest daughter over his younger, the incident receives very little attention in the sources. However, the Bishop of Tarbes did briefly record its details in a despatch. Interestingly, a marginal note which relates to the information on the ringleaders states ‘Millor de Rochesfort et millord de Guillame’, something which has been interpreted to suggest that Jane and her kinswoman, Lady William Howard, were the two women imprisoned.26 This evidence has been described as ‘not convincing’, although it is generally assumed that Jane and her husband were estranged by the end of 1535.27 Other evidence also supports the fact that Jane, in spite of her position in the Boleyn family, was friendly towards Princess Mary.

Jane’s father, Lord Morley, remained devoted to the interests of Henry VIII’s eldest daughter throughout his lifetime, dedicating a number of his works and translation projects to her. Mary’s fragmentary privy purse expenses from the late 1530s and 1540s also indicate an association. Lord Morley presented the princess with a New Year’s gift in 1537, 1538, 1540 and 1543 (a year in which a book was presented).28 The princess reciprocated with the gift of a book in January 1544.29 In December 1537 she also made a payment to one of Lord Morley’s servants, suggesting that they had delivered a message or a gift from their master.30 The princess held the family in high enough esteem to stand as godmother to a child born to Jane’s brother Henry and his wife in January 1537, making a payment to Mistress Parker’s nurse and midwife in gratitude for her safe delivery.31 Following the fall of Anne Boleyn there is also considerable evidence that Jane herself was in favour with the princess. Like her father, Jane gave Mary New Year’s gifts in 1537, 1538 and 1540. That she had earlier been in the habit of giving the princess gifts is clear from the sum of 5 shillings paid by Mary in January 1537 for ‘mending of the clock which my lady’s grace had of my Lady Rochford’.32 In February of that year Mary gave Jane 12 yards of expensive black satin for a gown, while that April she rewarded a servant of Jane’s, suggesting that the pair communicated when not together.33 Similar payments to Jane’s servants were made in April 1538 on two separate occasions.

The evidence suggests that Jane sympathised with the king’s eldest daughter, making a public show of support for her while she was still exiled from court and probably still angry with the queen. Although the evidence is tenuous it is generally considered that Jane was estranged from her husband’s family by the end of 1535. Certainly, any show of sympathy for Mary from Jane would not have endeared her to Anne Boleyn.

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