The love story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is an iconic one. This love story quite literally changed the fate of a nation! Henry fell in love with Anne likely sometime early in 1526, and at this point he had already become determined to divorce his current wife Katherine of Aragon. Katherine had not been able to give Henry the son he desired, and she was now barren.
Anne was young enough to still give the King the sons he wanted so badly. The issue was that Henry needed a divorce or annulment, and the Pope was not willing to give that. Mainly the fact that Katherine of Aragon’s nephew was Holy Roman Emperor made a papal sanctioned divorce highly unlikely. Another reason that “The King’s Great Matter” as it was known was not going to sway the Papacy was that a Papal Dispensation had already been given in order to allow Henry and Katherine to marry (given she had been his sister-in-law).
Anne Boleyn meanwhile had been rejecting the offer of becoming the King’s mistress. She did not want her children labelled bastards. Even the offer of the title maîtresse-en-titre (official mistress) did not convince her. Moreover, as Henry fell more in love with her, he happily desired her to be his bride!
It would take between six and seven long years for Henry to be able to divorce Katherine and marry Anne! Throughout many trials and tribulations they had to overcome together, they grew closer. Anne gave Henry books that were heretical, and he loved Obedience of the Christian Man by William Tyndale. This book spoke of how Kings should not be made to bow down to Papal authority, and this appealed greatly to Henry! Tyndale had also done an English translation of the Bible. Likely because of the principles in this book Henry decided to created the Church of England, making himself head of the Church.
In November of 1532 Anne accompanied Henry to visit Francois I, King of France. He had newly made her Marquess of Pembroke, on a side note Marquess is the male title and could be passed on to children (Marchioness, the female title is not passable). It is very likely that during this trip Henry and Anne officially consummated their relationship. Some have argued that they were possibly intimate early in the relationship, but practiced coitus interruptus. This theory was mentioned by Antonia Fraser in her book The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
On January 20, 1533 Henry and Anne married in a private ceremony conducted by Archbishop Cranmer. There could have been some small ceremony in France prior to them consummating their relationship, but there is nothing to confirm this. By their January wedding, Anne was already pregnant with what they both hoped to be a prince.
In June of 1533 Anne as coronated, and Henry used St. Edward’s crown. This crown was usually only used for the sovereign, not the consort. Anne is the only of Henry’s wives to be crowned with this crown!
On September 7, 1533 Anne Boleyn gave birth to a healthy daughter that she named Elizabeth in honor of Henry’s mother (and her mother was also named Elizabeth). This was obviously a disappointment, but contrary to popular belief, Henry simply told Anne they were young and sons would come. Anne adored Elizabeth, and in fact argued that she wanted to feed her from her own breast. This request was denied, as Queens never breast fed, they used wet nurses. Henry was also beginning to force nobles to sign documents declaring him head of the Church of England, Anne as his rightful Queen, and Elizabeth as his rightful heir (until the birth of a son).
Those that refused to sign this document were imprisoned in the Tower. In the case of Bishop Fisher and Thomas More, they would also go on to be executed for this act of defiance!
Over the next years Anne became pregnant multiple times, and each time would end in tragedy. The final miscarriage happened in January of 1536, and was right after both the death of Katherine of Aragon, and Henry’s famous fall during a jousting match!
The year 1536 is the one that would change everything for Anne, and for Henry as well. Following his jousting injury, from which he never fully recovered, he was told of Anne’s supposed infidelity. I in no way believe that Anne was unfaithful, and I also do not believe that Henry was behind the accusations. Henry VIII was very concerned with his own image and virility. Anne’s accusation, and the subsequent trials, made him look like a fool and a cuckolded husband.
On May 2, 1536 Anne was taken to the Tower of London. Five men were arrested with her, including musician Mark Smeaton, courtier Sir Henry Norris, and her own brother George. Of the five only Smeaton confessed, and that was under torture! On May 19, 1536 Anne Boleyn was executed on Tower Green. She was beheaded by the swordsman of Calais, a famous executioner who was known to never miss! Her legacy was her daughter Elizabeth, who was considered a bastard for years (because Henry had annulled his marriage to Anne just before she was executed).
While in the Tower Anne made several comments that show her mental state. She went between conviction of Henry not going through with the execution, to fear for her life. She made jokes about her having “but a little neck.” Anne even joked about her going to be remembered as “la Reine Anne sans-tete.” That literally means Queen Anne who lost her head! It is believed that Anne is the one who wrote the poem “Death Rock me to Sleep” while in the Tower.
I hope this post has made you interested in the beautiful and tragic love story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn!
Note: The image at the top of this post is Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn by Arthur Hopkins. I found this image on onthetudortrail.com . (By the way that website is an excellent Tudor source, as is theanneboleynfiles.com !)
- Henry VIII:His Life and His Court by Alison Weir
- The Lady of the Tower by Alison Weir
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
- Anne Boleyn by Amy License
- Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History (2014) ~This two part television mini-series was hosted by Suzannah Lipscomb. Her theories about the relationship between Henry and Anne are very lovely, and I totally agree with her!