Modern history



Anne and Henry could never have envisaged in May 1527 that it would be nearly six long years before they were able to marry. Henry always argued that his conscience was troubled by his marriage to his sister-in-law and that he believed that his lack of surviving sons was due to the fact that the Bible, in the Book of Leviticus, stated that a man who married his dead brother’s wife would be childless. While the couple had a surviving daughter, the eleven-year-old Princess Mary, in Henry’s eyes, the lack of a son was effective childlessness. The fact that, through his sexual relationship with Mary Boleyn, he had placed himself within the same degree of relatedness (the first degree of affinity) with Anne as he was with Catherine, was immaterial to Henry, although it did not escape the eyes of some of his contemporaries. To be on the safe side, Henry did, in fact, ask the pope for a dispensation to marry a woman within the first degree of affinity, while at the same time disputing the validity of the earlier dispensation obtained for his first marriage.

In spite of the absurdity of his position, Henry knew that he had a good chance of succeeding if his church council of May 1527, which was convened by Cardinal Wolsey, could give sentence quickly. Unfortunately for Henry and Anne, news of the court quickly leaked out, with Catherine and the ambassadors of her powerful nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, learning of the proceedings within hours. Catherine, not surprisingly, immediately asked her nephew to alert the pope, forcing Wolsey to adjourn the court on 31 May. With the adjournment, it became clear to Anne and Henry that they would have to seek the divorce directly from the pope. Unfortunately for them, news arrived that, on 16 June 1527, the Emperor had sacked Rome and was holding the pope as a virtual prisoner. With family honour at stake, Charles, who hardly knew his aunt, had no intention of allowing her to be discarded, ensuring that, while Henry had the upper hand in England, it was Catherine who held sway in Rome. Henry did not fully appreciate this at first, apparently hoping that the Emperor’s support could be bought. In this he was to be disappointed, with Charles unequivocally informing Henry’s ambassadors that

he was sorry to understand of the intended divorce, adjuring the king (for the rest) by the Sacrament of Marriage, not to dissolve it or, if he would needs proceed therein, that the hearing and determining of the business, yet, might be referred to Rome, or a General Council, and not be decided in England. Adding further, that he would defend the Queen’s just cause.1

Charles’s own wife was the daughter of a man who had married two sisters and then their niece in turn (who were in fact Charles’s two aunts and his sister respectively) and it was certainly not in his interests to allow his aunt to be discarded as Henry wished.

Anne, who was resident at court during the summer of 1527, must have found herself in a very difficult position as news of the king’s desires began to leak out. As a member of Catherine’s household, she was constantly in her mistress’s presence, something which must have been uncomfortable for both women. According to George Wyatt, Catherine was able to find ways to subtly attack her opponent, for example often insisting that her rival join her as she played cards with the king so that Anne would be forced to display her deformed fingertip to Henry as she held her cards. During one game Catherine finally confirmed that she knew full well what Anne’s ambitions were, with Wyatt recording:

And in this entertainment of time they had a certain game that I cannot name then frequented, wherein dealing, the king and queen meeting they stopped, and the young lady’s hap was much to stop at a king; which the queen noting, said to her playfellow, My lady Anne, you have good hap to stop at a king, but you are not like the others, you will have all or none.2

By 1527, Catherine had been married to Henry for nearly twenty years, devoting her life to him. She had tended to ignore Henry’s affairs in the past, but she recognised Anne as a dangerous rival from the beginning. For her part, Anne was hostile towards Catherine and her daughter, with the records of her conduct not showing her in a very good light. According to the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, for example, Anne supposedly declared at Christmas 1530 to one of Catherine’s ladies that ‘she wished all the Spaniards in the world were in the sea’.3 When her companion upbraided her, Anne continued, saying that ‘she did not care anything for the queen, and would rather see her hanged than acknowledge her as her mistress’. In her defence, Anne was sorely tried by Catherine’s supporters at court, with Chapuys for one always referring to her in his despatches as ‘the Lady’ or ‘the Concubine’, even after she had become queen. Anne was also furious to find that, some years into her relationship with the king, Catherine still performed the traditional wifely duty of making his shirts.4 The three were forced to live in close proximity to each other until 11 July 1531, when Anne and Henry secretly left Windsor with a small retinue, leaving Catherine behind. In spite of the queen’s protestations, the separation proved permanent and she and Henry never met again. Anne continued in her antagonistic relationship with her predecessor, at one stage requesting that Catherine’s jewels be sent to her for her own use.5 To this, Catherine gave the cutting response that ‘it was against her conscience to give her jewels to adorn a person who is the scandal of Christendom’. On being expressly asked by the king, she was forced to relinquish them.

At the same time that he dispatched his ambassadors to the Emperor, Henry also sent agents to speak to the pope himself. While the pope met with Henry’s ambassadors, there was little he was actually prepared to do and, after the first embassy failed, Henry sent Edward Foxe and Stephen Gardiner to the pope at Orvieto to further press his claims. Anne followed Foxe and Gardiner’s progress with interest, expecting them to keep her in touch with events directly. In a letter written by Anne to Gardiner on one of his journeys to Italy in April 1529, for example, she expressed the hope that this mission would be more pleasant to her than his first which had come to nothing and which ‘for that was but a rejoicing hope, which causing the lie of it does put me to the more pain, and they that are partakers with me, as you do know, and therefore I do trust that this hard beginning shall make a better ending’.6

On their first visit to Italy, Foxe and Gardiner found the pope in a pitiful state, protesting his loyalty to Henry but begging for more time. Foxe returned to England in April 1528 and rushed straight to Greenwich, arriving on the evening of 28 April. On his arrival, Henry commanded him to go straight to Anne’s chamber where Anne, eager to hear his news, made ‘promises of large recompense’ to the diplomat.7 While they were talking, Henry entered the chamber and Anne left the room, allowing them to speak privately for a few minutes in which Foxe informed the king that the pope had privately told him that he might be prepared to confirm a sentence of divorce given in England. This was excellent news for the couple and Henry called his fiancée in to tell her himself. Overjoyed, the couple kept Foxe with them for most of the evening. Even better news followed a few weeks later when the pope, after considerable pressure from Gardiner, finally agreed to send a papal legate, Cardinal Campeggio, who was Bishop of Salisbury and known in England, to hear the case in Henry’s own kingdom.

Both Anne and her mother kept abreast of news of the divorce. Elizabeth was resident with her daughter at court in March 1528 while the king was engaged in daily hunting expeditions. On 3 March Thomas Heneage, a former servant of Wolsey’s who had recently joined the king’s household, was intercepted by Anne and her mother at dinner time.8 Anne immediately complained to Heneage that she felt that the cardinal had forgotten her since he had failed to send her a token with his most recent messenger, a man named Forest. Heneage sought to reassure her that the cardinal had had his mind on other matters and had simply forgotten, something which is unlikely to have pleased Anne. Elizabeth, who was listening to the conversation and had evidently been in a position to speak personally to Forest, then stepped in, complaining that she had asked Forest to request a ‘morsel’ of tuna from the cardinal and that she had not yet received it, therefore requesting it again through Heneage. Although couched in civil language, it is clear that both women considered themselves to have been slighted by the cardinal and it is not at all impossible that Elizabeth was also opposed to the cardinal’s dominant position in England. The pair appeared together again in the depositions of Elizabeth Barton, the nun of Kent, following her arrest. She claimed that Anne had desired that she remain at court and that Elizabeth had sent to her personally to ask her to attend Anne herself.9 Whether this means that Elizabeth actually gave credence to the nun’s claims is debatable and it appears more likely that she, like Anne and Henry, was trying to ascertain whether the nun could be persuaded to slip quietly back out of public notice. There can be no doubt that Anne and her mother were emotionally very close. We have Anne’s own testimony for her affection for her mother, with a letter from Anne to her friend, Lady Wingfield, written at some point between 1529 and 1533, stating, ‘Assuredly, next mine own mother, I know no woman alive that I love better.’10

Throughout the years of the divorce, Anne largely appears to have remained on good terms with her parents, with her father’s accounts from the last months of 1526 recording that he had paid over £3 to settle a bill she owed.11 By this time Thomas lived in some style at court, with his accounts showing a payment of £4 to the king’s goldsmith. He purchased black satin for a doublet for himself, as well as making payments to his sister, Lady Shelton, brother, William, and his wife. That the couple remained close to Elizabeth’s family is clear from the gift of a hogshead of Gascon wine to her stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. As the years dragged by Anne’s mood became more tense, leading to quarrels with both Henry and members of her own family. She fell out with her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, in early 1530 and also made an enemy of her aunt, Norfolk’s estranged wife, who was a staunch supporter of Catherine of Aragon, requesting that the duchess be sent home ‘because she spoke too freely, and declared herself more than they liked for the queen’.12

Anne also quarrelled with her father in the summer of 1532 when she refused to intercede for the life of a young priest who had been condemned for clipping coins.13 Anne, in typically outspoken manner, ‘told her father that he did wrong to speak for a priest as there were too many of them already’. The disagreement was not lasting, although there is evidence of some continuing bitterness in comments made by Thomas during Anne’s first pregnancy in 1533. Anne had a particularly fiery character, at one point publicly quarrelling with Henry over Cardinal Wolsey and threatening to leave him, something that caused the king to burst into tears.14 Henry did sometimes become frustrated with Anne, complaining privately to Norfolk that Anne was ‘not like the queen, who had never in her life used ill words to him’. Norfolk certainly agreed with this, having already privately commented that Anne would be the ruin of all her family. Henry was always the one to make amends, with a report reaching Rome early in 1531 that the king had desperately summoned some of Anne’s relatives to court to beg them in tears to help him make his peace with her after one quarrel. It would seem likely that these unspecified relatives included Elizabeth. Both Thomas and Elizabeth benefited from their daughter’s position: in 1529 Thomas was finally created Earl of Ormond, as well as receiving the English title of Earl of Wiltshire, which had once belonged to his great uncle. It is telling that, at the banquet to celebrate the ennoblement, Anne took the place of the queen. At the same time, Anne’s brother took the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford, while Anne began to style herself as ‘Lady Anne Rochford’.15

Anne’s brother, George, and his wife Jane Parker Boleyn benefited from her relationship with the king. As the king’s prospective brother-in-law, George naturally acquired a certain status at court. He was in receipt of royal favour, receiving an annuity in 1528, as well as being appointed as keeper of the palace of Beaulieu in Essex. Jane gave the king a New Year’s gift in 1532 when she made him the present of four caps.16 Henry reciprocated with gold plate. While lists of the king’s New Year’s gifts are fragmentary, Jane is known to have given Henry a shirt with an embroidered silver collar in 1534, suggesting that she was enough in the king’s thoughts to be regularly included in his New Year’s gift lists. Jane and George lived in some style. A short list of some of Jane’s possessions compiled in 1536 records that she possessed a rich wardrobe, including a pair of sleeves of crimson velvet decorated with goldsmith’s work and another of yellow satin.17 She owned a pair of knitted stockings of white silk, decorated with gold, kept specifically for masques. At the time of her death Jane had some fine plate, such as a pair of silver flagons and a ewer of silver parcel gilt.18 Her jewels included a black enamelled brooch with six small diamonds and a gold brooch decorated with a cameo. At some point during their marriage George and Jane also acquired a rich bed of painted wood, which was decorated with burnished gold gilt and furnished with hangings of white satin, decorated with tawny cloth of gold and George’s devices as Viscount Rochford.19

Although the pope bowed to Henry’s demands to some extent in the summer of 1528, he was still in the Emperor’s power and had no intention of offending Catherine of Aragon’s nephew. Unbeknown to Henry and Anne, Campeggio was under strict instructions to delay matters as much as possible and his progress towards England was painfully slow. He had still not set out by the end of June, some weeks after it was first agreed that he would be sent, when Henry and Anne suddenly found that they had greater problems to contend with. Throughout the Tudor period, there were a number of sudden outbreaks of sweating sickness, which was a highly contagious disease that struck down people suddenly, particularly attacking the young and healthy. In June 1528 there was an outbreak in London, which quickly infected much of the city. The sweating sickness was a terrifying disease, with the French ambassador commenting that ‘one has a little pain in the head and heart; suddenly a sweat begins; and a physician is useless, for whether you wrap yourself up much or little, in four hours, sometimes in two or three, you are dispatched without languishing’.20 Henry, who was always terrified of disease and conscious of his lack of a male heir, was in a state of high anxiety as the sweat began to ravage the city. Even his love for Anne was not enough for him to brave infection and practically, although hardly romantically, he sent her away when she was exposed to the disease, while he fled to safety.21

Although Henry was not prepared to risk infection for Anne, he quickly wrote to her to reassure her of his continuing love for her and his concern for her health:

The uneasiness my doubts about your health gave me, disturbed and alarmed me exceedingly, and I should not have had any quiet without hearing certain tidings. But now, since you have as yet felt nothing, I hope, and am assured that it will spare you, as I hope it is doing with us. For when we were at Walton, two ushers, two valets de chamber, and your brother, fell ill, but are now quite well; and since we have returned to our house at Hunsdon, we have been perfectly well, and have not, at present, one sick person, God be praised; and I think, if you would retire from Surrey, as we did, you would escape all danger. There is another thing that may comfort you, which is, that, in truth, in this distemper few or no women have been taken ill, and, what is more, no person of our court, and few elsewhere, have died of it.22

Anne heeded Henry’s advice and returned home to Hever. However, reports that she had escaped the fever were premature and, soon after, Henry wrote anxiously that

there came to me suddenly in the night the most grievous news that could arrive, and I must need lament it for three reasons: the first being to hear of the sickness of my mistress, whom I esteem more than all the world, and whose health I desire as my own, and would willingly bear the half of your illness to have you cured; the second, for fear of being yet again constrained by my enemy absence, who until now has given me every possible annoyance, and so far as I can judge is likely to do worse, though I pray God rid me of a rebel so importunate, the third, because the physician in who I most trust is absent at a time when he could do me most pleasure; for I hoped through him, and his methods, to obtain one of my chief joys in this world, that is to say, that my mistress should be cured.

Henry sent his second-best doctor to Hever, something which, given that he was concerned about infection himself, is testament to his deep love for Anne: he desperately wanted her to recover. Thomas Boleyn also contracted the sweating sickness that summer at Hever and it must have been a relief for his wife, who was almost certainly present, when they both recovered. The family did not escape unscathed, with Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey, succumbing to the sweat that summer.

The death of her young husband was a shock to Mary Boleyn and left her financially exposed. Anne promised her sister that she would do something for the family following Carey’s death, approaching the king about her ‘sister’s matter’, which the king faithfully promised in one of his letters ‘to write to my lord my mind thereon, whereby I trust that Eve shall not have power to deceive Adam; for surely, whatsoever is said, it cannot so stand with his honour but that he must needs take her, his natural daughter, now in her extreme necessity’.23 It appears from this that Anne had sought Henry’s assistance in ensuring that Thomas Boleyn would take on financial responsibility for his eldest daughter in her time of necessity.

William Carey’s sister, Eleanor, was a nun at the aristocratic convent at Wilton which, in the summer of 1528, was without an abbess due to the death of its previous head. Anne approached Henry to request that he appoint Eleanor Carey as abbess. Anne’s promotion of Eleanor placed her in direct and open conflict with Cardinal Wolsey for the first time, as he instead supported the candidacy of the prioress, Isabel Jordan. Nonplussed at the king’s support of Eleanor, Wolsey carried out an investigation into her conduct, evidently aware that there was a scandal to be found. He then reported his findings to a shocked Henry who, in spite of his six wives and break with Rome, was a deeply pious man, and who wrote immediately to Anne to inform her that he could no longer support her sister’s kinswoman:

As touching the matter of Wilton my lord Cardinal hath had the nuns before him and examined them, Master Bell being present, which hath certified me that for a truth she [Eleanor Carey] hath confessed herself (which we would have had abbess) to have had two children by two sundry priests and further since hath been kept by a servant of the Lord Brook that was. And that not long ago; wherefore I would not for all the gold in the world cloak your conscience nor mine to make her ruler of a house which is of so ungodly demeanour, nor I trust you would not that neither for brother nor sister I should so destain mine honour or conscience; and as touching the prioress or dame Eleanor’s eldest sister though there is not any evident case proved against them, and that the prioress is so old that of many years she could not be as she was named, yet notwithstanding, to do you pleasure I have done that neither of them shall have it; but that some good and well disposed woman shall have it.

Whether the revelations about Eleanor Carey were a surprise to Anne or not is unclear: Wilton had long been used by noble families as a convenient place to house daughters who, for some reason or another, had proved unmarriageable, something that meant that many of the nuns had little or no vocation for the religious life. Anne was further infuriated when Wolsey ignored the king’s commands regarding Wilton, appointing Isabel Jordan to the position in spite of Henry’s prohibition. This was a dangerous game for the cardinal to play and Henry immediately wrote to admonish him, declaring his fury at Wolsey ignoring his express commands and then trying ‘to cloak your offence made by ignorance of my pleasure’ when, as Henry pointed out, he had told the cardinal himself that ‘his pleasure is that in no wise the Prioress have it, nor yet Dame Eleanor’s eldest sister for many considerations’.24 Although matters were soon smoothed over with an apology from Wolsey, the damage had been done in spite of Henry writing to assure his minister that ‘seeing the humbleness of your submission, and though the case were much more heinous, I can be content for to remit it, being right glad, that, according to mine intent, my monitions and warning have been benignly and lovingly accepted on your behalf’.

During the early years of the divorce, Wolsey and Anne had always taken great pains to appear friendly towards each other due to the fact that both were aware of the great influence the other had over the king. A number of Anne’s letters to Wolsey survive, demonstrating that she was prepared to flatter and work with him if necessary, for example in one letter writing, ‘After my most humble recommendation, this shall be to give unto your Grace, as I am most bound, my humble thanks for the great pain and travail that your Grace doth take in studying by your wisdom and great diligence how to bring to pass honourably the greatest wealth that is possible to come to any creature living.’25 In spite of the pair’s politeness towards each other, there was significant underlying hostility. Wolsey’s servant, Cavendish, claimed that the cardinal referred to Anne as ‘the Night Crow’ and as a ‘continual serpentine enemy about the king’, complaining of her influence over Henry and her ability to limit his access to the king. For example, on one occasion Anne arranged a hunting trip and picnic for the king to ensure that he would not be available to see the cardinal on a day that he came up to court. For his part, Wolsey was also looking for ways to bring Anne down, at one stage reporting her to the king for her possession of William Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man, which was banned in England as heretical.26 On hearing that Wolsey intended to denounce her for this, Anne rushed to the king to inform him that she had marked out points that she thought would interest him, heading off the cardinal’s complaints that the work should not have been in her possession in the first place. Due to her regular presence beside the king at court, to which Wolsey was only a visitor, it is no surprise that Anne soon gained the upper hand. It was the failure of the Blackfriars trial of his marriage that truly brought about the cardinal’s ruin.

Anne remained at Hever throughout the summer of 1528, evidently recuperating from her illness, with Henry writing unhappily that ‘as touching your abode at Hever, do therein as best shall like you, for you know best what air doth best with you; but I would it were come thereto (if it pleased God), that neither of us need care for that, for I ensure you I think it long’.27 While away from court she continued to keep abreast of news, particularly seeking details of the progress of Cardinal Campeggio’s journey towards England.

Campeggio finally arrived in London in October 1528 and immediately retired to his bed with gout. This was a major disappointment to the couple and Anne, who had been intending to remain in the background during the legate’s visit, returned to London for Christmas. This time she had her own apartments at court as she did ‘not like to meet with the queen’, an arrangement which must have been something of a relief for all three parties involved in the divorce.28 Campeggio finally rose from his sickbed in early 1529 and set about trying to fulfil his secret orders from the pope to ‘persuade the Queen to a Divorce; and dissuade the King from it, as having either way the end he proposed: yet he failed in both’.29 Campeggio then tried to persuade Catherine to become a nun, a solution that actually had a good deal of merit as it would both have allowed Henry to remarry and ensured that Catherine retired with her honour and the legitimacy of her former marriage to the king and her daughter unchallenged. However, Catherine was a pious woman and could not bring herself to feign a vocation that she did not have. She was also in love with her husband and desperately hoped that he would return to her, something which could never permit her to retire and to allow her position to be taken by Anne Boleyn. Campeggio found both husband and wife unshakeable in their respective beliefs, commenting of Henry that he was so convinced that his marriage was void that ‘if an angel was to descend from heaven he would not be able to persuade him to the contrary’.30 It quickly became apparent to Campeggio that the matter would need to be tried.

Both Catherine and Henry were busy in their preparations for the trial of their marriage. Through his examination of the original papal bull of dispensation, Wolsey thought that he had found a flaw in that the wording said that Catherine’s first marriage had been ‘perhaps’ consummated. Henry pounced on this, with his lawyers arguing that if Arthur and Catherine had indeed consummated their marriage then her second marriage to her brother-in-law could never have been valid. Catherine always claimed that she had been a virgin at the time of her marriage to Henry, but the king was able to find a number of witnesses to testify against her. George, Earl of Shrewsbury, for example, was happy to testify that he had been present when Arthur had been conducted to Catherine’s bedchamber on their wedding night and that he had always supposed that the marriage had been consummated.31 A further testimony by Sir Anthony Willoughby was more damaging, with Willoughby claiming that Arthur had spoken to him the morning after the wedding, saying, ‘Willoughby, bring me a cup of ale, for I have been this night in the midst of Spain.’ The teenager had also later boasted that ‘it is good pastime to have a wife’. Given Catherine’s deep religious faith, it seems unlikely that she was lying. Certainly, Henry had originally believed that he had found her a virgin on their wedding night. In any event, Catherine was able to surprise everyone by producing a copy of a papal brief which was held in Spain and which overcame all the difficulties that Wolsey had identified in the papal bull. While Henry made strenuous efforts to obtain the original from Spain, declaring it to be a forgery, Catherine sensibly refused to request it from her nephew. At stalemate, Anne retired from court in the early summer of 1529 with a trial of the marriage finally convening at Blackfriars in June 1529.

Both Henry and Catherine were cited to appear before Campeggio and Wolsey on the first day of the trial on 18 June 1529. To everyone’s surprise, Catherine heeded the summons and sat in her chair on the opposite side of the hall to Henry. As the court was opened, Catherine stood up and walked over to the king, kneeling at his feet. The queen was well aware that the court was not impartial and she immediately appealed to Rome for the case to be heard there, making a long and emotional speech to her husband:

I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less impartial counsel, I flee to you as to the head of justice within this realm. Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved against your will and pleasure - now that you intend (as I perceive) to put me from you? I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, and never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contended with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontent. I loved all those whom ye loved only for your sake whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or my enemies. This twenty years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default of me.32

Catherine continued, insisting that Henry had found her a virgin at their marriage. She begged him to let her remain as his wife. Finally, as a mortified Henry sat watching, she stood and left the hall, refusing all commands that she return with the words that ‘it makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry’.

The trial continued without Catherine and Henry was soon pushing Campeggio to give judgement. Finally, aware that he could delay no longer, Campeggio stood and said that he would give no judgement, instead revoking the case to Rome.33 This announcement infuriated Anne and Henry and caused uproar at court, with the king’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, declaring that ‘cardinals never did good in England’. Anne was as furious as the king and, at dinner one day, spoke openly against Wolsey, turning towards Henry and declaring, ‘Is it not a marvellous thing to consider what debt and danger the cardinal hath brought you in with all your subjects?’ Anne claimed that Wolsey had done enough to warrant execution and, while Henry tried weakly to defend him and declared that he perceived that Anne was ‘not the cardinal’s friend’, she countered that ‘I have no cause to be. Nor hath any other man that loves your Grace. No more has your Grace, if ye consider well his doings.’

Henry had relied on Wolsey for many years by 1529, but he was furious with the cardinal’s failure to secure for him his greatest desire. Following Cardinal Campeggio’s departure from England, he was surprised to find that his bags were searched at Calais on the suspicion that he was carrying money to facilitate Wolsey’s flight to Rome. On 9 October 1529, Wolsey was charged with taking orders from a foreign power (i.e. the pope) and forced to surrender the great seal and his position as chancellor of England. He was also ordered to retire to his house at Esher, although was not arrested, spending the next few months attempting to engineer a return to court. Wolsey knew that the best way to assuage Henry’s anger was by appealing to the king’s greed and he ordered that accounts should be prepared of all his possessions so that they could be surrendered to the king. Anne and Henry travelled secretly to York Place to view their new possession and Anne must have felt triumphant to see that all the cardinal had once owned now belonged to her and the king. Wolsey on the other hand was forced to make use of borrowed dishes, plate and cloth at Esher. Henry remained unsure about Wolsey and, at Christmas 1529, sent his own physician to attend the cardinal, who had fallen ill. At the same time, he insisted that Anne sent the fallen minister a token of comfort which she complied with, sending a golden tablet. Henry also sent Wolsey four cartloads of gifts at Candlemas.

Anne and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, continued to press Henry to abandon the cardinal and, finally, at Easter 1530 Wolsey was ordered to travel to his diocese of York. Wolsey was staying at Cawood in November 1530 when Henry Percy, who had by then become Earl of Northumberland, arrived to arrest him for treason. This was Anne’s final revenge and, following his arrest, the cardinal was taken towards London with his legs tied to his horse. He was a broken man, stating that ‘had I served God as diligently as I had done the king, he would not have given me over, in my grey hairs’. On 29 November 1530 Wolsey died at Leicester. It was suggested that he took poison to avoid a more shameful death, although he may also simply have died an old and broken man, aware that his fall from grace was to be made permanent. Anne and her family rejoiced in the minister’s fall, and by the end of 1530 it was clear to everyone that she was queen in all but name.

As early as December 1528 the French ambassador had commented of Anne that ‘greater court is now paid to her every day than has been to the queen for a long time. I see they mean to accustom the people by degrees to endure her, so that when the great blow comes it may not be thought strange.’34 As the years wore on, Henry increasingly began to despair of receiving an annulment from the pope and he and Anne instead began to look around for other solutions. In September 1532 Henry felt secure enough to create Anne Lady Marquis of Pembroke with land grants worth 1,000 pounds a year. It is of particular note that in the patent conferring the title on Anne, the title and lands were stated to descend to her male heirs, rather than the more usual specification that it must be legitimate male heirs. This is a clear indication of a change in the nature of Anne and Henry’s relationship and suggests that they had already begun to, or were close to, finally consummating their relationship. In October 1532 the pair visited Calais on a visit to Anne’s old acquaintance, Francis I of France. Although no suitable French lady had been found to greet her (and suggestions that she be met by Francis’s mistress were treated with short shrift by the English) Anne acquitted herself well, dancing before Francis in a masquing costume of cloth of gold and crimson tinsel satin.35 She was accompanied in the visit by both her sister, Mary, and her sister-in-law, Lady Rochford, with the two women dancing alongside the future queen.

By mid-January 1533 Anne would have begun to suspect that she was pregnant and, in spite of rumours of an earlier marriage ceremony, it appears that the couple finally wed in considerable secrecy on 25 January 1533 at Whitehall Palace. Word of the marriage soon began to leak out and, on 23 February 1533, Chapuys wrote to the Emperor to inform him that he had heard that the couple had married privately with only Anne’s parents, brother, two friends and one of the king’s priests in attendance. Chapuys’s sources were not entirely accurate since he asserted that it was Cranmer himself who had performed the ceremony, something which the archbishop himself denied in a private letter to a friend.36 It is not impossible that the Boleyns might have been able to attend the wedding. An alternative account, however, considers that the ceremony was attended by only two members of the king’s Privy Chamber and Anne’s friend, Lady Berkeley, while it was officiated over by Henry’s chaplain, Rowland Lee, who received the office of Bishop of Lichfield for his pains.37 Whoever attended the marriage, it is certain that, by the end of January, Anne was indeed married to the king, with only weeks to wait until she was finally acknowledged as Queen of England.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!