Thursday, 2 Feb 2023

Mystery behind Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s two secret weddings

Anne Boleyn conspiracy theory discussed by expert

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King Henry VIII is one of the most famous English monarchs, instantly recognisable through his sheer size and bearded face, and known for the establishment of the Church of England and his tumultuous love life. During his reign, Henry had six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Each marriage had its fair share of scandals, but perhaps the most notorious was the union between the King and his second wife. From the very beginning, Henry and Anne Boleyn’s romance was deemed controversial.

The monarch was absorbed by his desire to marry Anne and secure a divorce from Catherine, so much so that Henry split from the Pope, who was unlikely to give the King an annulment, and began to break the power of the Catholic Church in England. A five-year legal battle ensued as Henry wrangled to divorce and remarry, ultimately resulting in a religious revolution and international controversy.

On January 25, 1533, Henry and Anne got married, not knowing whether it was lawfully permitted or not. According to the Royal Book, they wed in the Private Chapel at Whitehall Palace before the sun had risen. There were just a handful of witnesses at the clandestine ceremony and even the name of the officiating priest remained cloaked in mystery.

The bride and groom kept their nuptials a secret until Thomas Cramner, who had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury not long before, dispensed with the dilemma of Henry’s first wife. Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine null and void on May 23, and days later, he deemed the King’s second marriage good and valid.

Cranmer’s declaration simply served as a mark for the start of public recognition for a marriage that had already taken place. However, when Henry and Anne’s actual marriage did begin has been up for debate. Some historians have claimed the couple had gotten married unlawfully months earlier, and only held the second service because the Queen was pregnant and therefore the union had to be legalised.

By autumn 1532, Anne had been made Marquess of Pembroke in her own right and had accompanied the King on an official mission to France. Her role as Queen Consort was recognised in all but name and upon her and Henry’s return to England, it is thought the couple married in secret.

The exact date of Henry’s marriage to Anne is a matter of dispute: a Milanese envoy in France thought the couple had married during their visit to Calais in October 1532, but the chronicler Edward Hall claimed: “The King, after his return, married privily the Lady Anne Boleyn on Saint Erkenwald’s Day, which marriage was kept so secret that very few knew of it.”

Speaking to Express.co.uk, historian and author Claire Ridgway described Mr Hall as a “very accurate” source.

The feast of St Erkenwald fell on November 14, 1532, the day Henry and Anne arrived in England. “Henry and Anne had landed at Dover that very morning after a successful trip to Calais, where they secured Francis I’s blessing for their union and his promise of intercession with the pope,” Ms Ridgway said. “Although Henry had promised Francis that he wouldn’t jump the gun and marry Anne immediately, I think the success of the trip gave them confidence to move ahead and make promises to each other. All that was needed was the exchange of promises and consummation to make a marriage legal and binding, witnesses were not even required.”

Though Anne and Henry’s secret nuptials cannot be confirmed, from that day on “Henry and Anne began living together as man and wife”.

“The reason I believe the couple did exchange promises on November 14 is the fact that they began living together as man and wife after their Calais trip,” the historian explained. “The couple’s behaviour suggests that at least some promise was made between them.”

November 14 already held particular significance within the Tudor dynasty. Exactly 31 years earlier, in 1501, Catherine of Aragon married Arthur, Prince of Wales, at the old St Paul’s Cathedral, with her loyal brother-in-law — the future King Henry VIII — accompanying her to the church.

That wedding was widely seen as the beginning of a new era for the Tudors, with Catherine and Arthur’s union seemingly guaranteeing the continuation of Henry VII’s dynasty.

However, just months after the marriage, Arthur died. In another bid to seal a marital alliance with Spain, Henry VII arranged for his second son to marry Catherine, a union that took place two months after Henry VIII acceded the throne — in June 1509.

According to Lydia Starbuck, associate editor at Royal Central and author of A History of British Royal Jubilees, the date for Henry and Anne’s secret wedding had been “chosen by his father all those years before”.

“What’s more, Henry selecting the same wedding date as his dead brother underlined his conviction that his own union with Catherine had been an illegal error that never really counted,” she continued. “Her own marriage had taken place then and now that he knew he had been free to wed all along, Henry chose it as his wedding day, too.”

It wasn’t long before Anne fell pregnant, and, on January 25, 1533, the Feast of St Paul, Henry and Anne got married in a secret ceremony at Whitehall Palace.

“Was Edward Hall correct in his dating of their marriage? I think so,” Claire Ridgway said. “It seems odd for them to suddenly risk pregnancy from that point on when they had waited so long.”

She told Express.co.uk the couple must have made “enough of a promise for them to risk pregnancy after all those years of waiting. Anne was certainly pregnant by the time of their official marriage in January 1533.”

The King’s love letters to Anne suggest their love affair remained unconsummated for much of their seven-year courtship. Prior to their union, Anne had supposedly resisted the King’s attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress. According to historian Hayley Nolan, in her book Anne Boleyn: 500 Years of Lies, she ran away from the Royal Court for a year starting in the summer of 1526 to distance herself from Henry’s advances.

However, for some historians, Anne’s pregnancy casts doubt on the legitimacy of Edward Hall’s claim. Alison Weir, author of the Six Tudor Queens series, has argued it is unlikely Henry and Anne wed in November 1532.

Writing for History Extra in 2020, she said: “It is highly unlikely that they wed while journeying through Kent towards Eltham Palace, especially in view of the testimony of two people who were much closer to events than Edward Hall.”

She quoted the Imperial Ambassador who, on May 10, 1533, wrote: “The King’s marriage was celebrated, it was reported, on the day of the conversion of St Paul.”

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Ms Weir referenced a letter written by Archbishop Cranmer, “who was much closer to events than Hall, dating the wedding to January 25, 1533.”

The letter said Anne was “married much about St Paul’s Day last, as the condition thereof doth well appear, by reason she is now somewhat big with child”.

“Hall, who revered Henry VIII, would not have wanted to imply that the daughter Anne bore on September 7, 1533, had been conceived out of wedlock,” Ms Weir wrote for History Extra. “His dating of the wedding to the previous November was either based on incorrect information or was a tactful, deliberate error.”

She added: “There can be little doubt that it was the discovery that Anne might be pregnant that prompted the King to pre-empt the Pope and marry her.”

Whenever and wherever Anne and Henry’s marriage took place, its secrecy underlines the extreme controversy surrounding their relationship. It also proved to be one of Henry’s most scandalous romances, however, the second of his many marriages arguably had the biggest impact on history.

Anne influenced Henry’s decision to split from the Catholic Church, pushing England towards the Act of Supremacy of 1534, which confirmed the country’s break with Rome and declared the King the Supreme Head of the Church of England. She was also the mother of Elizabeth I, who is considered one of England’s greatest monarchs having defeated the Spanish Armada and saved the nation from invasion. Elizabeth reinstated Protestantism and forged an England that was strong and independent, making the country a world power.

However, the ruler that his daughter would one-day become was unbeknownst to Henry. As it is well-documented, the Tudor King was desperate for a male heir. After the birth of Elizabeth, Anne had no more children. Miscarriages in 1534 and 1536 led Henry to question his choice to marry Anne, and their marriage grew more and more tempestuous.

In 1536, accusations of adultery and plotting against the King’s life were levelled against the Queen, her brother George and a small group of courtiers. Anne was arrested on May 2, 1536, and taken to the Tower of London. Her protestations of innocence were ignored and a trial filled with the Queen’s enemies found her guilty. She was imprisoned in the Tower and on May 19, she was beheaded on Tower Green.

Her final reported words were: “I am come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it … I pray God save the King … for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never.”

Anne was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower. Henry married Jane Seymour, one of the former Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, a mere 11 days later.

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