In late 1532 the relationship of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn reached a fever pitch. Sometime after their trip to Calais from October – November 1532, Anne, Marquess of Pembroke, discovered she was pregnant. Since Elizabeth was born in September 1533, Anne must have become pregnant with her in December 1532…this would explain the secret marriage in January after Anne realized she was with child. Her pregnancy was the catalyst in a speedy secret wedding on 25 January 1533. If the King were to have a legitimate heir he needed to be married to his son’s mother.
The wedding in 1533 was so secret that not even Cranmer was invited. Nobody knew except those who were witness to the event. Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys also was unaware, we know this because he wrote a letter to his master, Charles V dated 23 February 1533 shows that the marriage was still secret. Chapuys wrote:
The rumour is afloat, and increases every day, that in order to achieve his marriage the King is only waiting for the bulls of the said elect to come [from Rome], and that the more to authorize the case he has commanded those who have charge of convoking provincial synods, whilst the See is vacant, to assemble them for the 17th of next month.
Those who were present at the secret ceremony must have been much regarded and trusted by both Henry and Anne. Henry Norris, Mr. Heneage and Lady Berkeley. Mr. Rowland, the King’s chaplain performed the ceremony.
“The first whereof was that the King was married to [the] Lady Anne Bulleyne long ere there was any divorce made by the said Archbishop [of Canterbury]. The which marriage a was secretly made at Whitehall very early before day, none being present but Mr Norris and Mr Henage of the Privy Chamber and the Lady Barkeley, with Mr. Rowland the King’s chaplain, that was afterward made Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. To whom the King told that now he had gotten of the Pope a lycence to marry another wife, and yet to avoid business and tumult the thing must be done (quoth the King) very secretly ; and thereupon a time and place was appointed to the said Master Rowland to solemnize the said marriage.” - Ridgway, Claire; TheAnneBoleynFiles.com – 25 January 1533 – Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
We already are familiar with Henry Norris because he was one of the unfortunate souls that was executed in May 1536 just before Anne Boleyn was unjustly beheaded. I’m not familiar with a “Mr. Henage” other than what it says – that he was a member of the “Privy Chamber.” The Wikipedia page for “Privy Chamber” lists a Sir Thomas Heneage as a “Groom of the Stool” for Henry VIII from 1536-1546, after the execution of his predecessor, Henry Norris. Prior to that he would have been employed in some position in the Privy Chamber which may have been as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Regardless, his position must have been one that allowed him to be near the King often, otherwise why would Henry have trusted him enough to keep his wedding secret. A Gentleman of the Privy Chamber would have been responsible for things like dressing and undressing the King – quite intimate if you ask me.
Anne Savage, Lady Berkeley:
Next we have Lady Berkeley. After a little research I realized this refers to Anne Savage, Baroness of Berkeley. Anne Savage during the secret wedding was not quite married to Baron Berkeley because they didn’t marry until April 1533. This would explain why, when it was discovered she was a witness, they referred to her as Lady Berkeley. It was at the Eve of Easter mass in 1533 when Anne attended mass as Queen.
Anne Savage was the daughter of Sir John Savage (Sheriff of Worcestershire) and his wife Anne Bostock. She married Sir Thomas, Lord Berkeley in April 1533. Their marriage was short-lived since he died in 1534.
Lord Berekely had been a ward of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk when he was a minor and had been originally betrothed to Anne Grey, daughter of the Marquis of Dorset. That betrothal was broken and Berkeley married Mary Hastings. Mary Hastings was the daughter of Anne Stafford and George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon. Anne Stafford is best known as the sister of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and for being discovered in an affair with a young Henry VIII ( in 1510). When it was discovered Anne Stafford was removed from court by both her brother and husband and sent to a convent.
Eventually Mary died and Lord Berkeley married Anne Savage.
Anne Savage, Lady Berkeley served in the household of Anne Boleyn at the time of her secret wedding. To have been asked to be a witness at the wedding must prove to us that she had a very close relationship with Anne Boleyn.
Anne Savage did not remain long at the new Queen’s court. In Apr 1533, she married Thomas, 6th Baron Berkeley. Anne was a Lady of a masculine spirit, over-powerful with her husband, seldom at rest with herself, never wanting matter of suit or discontent to work upon. Of complexion she was of a comely brown, of a middle stature, and most tender-hearted to her children, whom should would scarcely allow out of her site, so much so that, as they afterwards complained, it interfered with their education. (TudorPlace.ar - source unknown)
Lady Berkeley and her husband had two children together, in quick succession, prior to his death in 1534. – Elizabeth and then Henry. Their son Henry was born after the death of his father and was named for the King, his godfather.
On May 15th, 1536, because Anne Boleyn was supported in that trial, the only thing she could do, was to keep a low profile. She had to face the twenty-six peers who were there on that day to judge her. Among them, her own uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland to whom Anne Boleyn had supposedly been betrothed.
On May 16th, 1536, Sir William Kingston, her Guardian in the Tower of London said to Thomas Cromwell that “yet to this day at dinner, the Queen said she would go to a nunnery and is in hope of life”. The date of the letter is problematical as on May 15th, Thomas Howard enunciated the verdict to Anne Boleyn: ” that you shall be burnt here within the Tower of London on the Green, else to have your head smitten off, as the king’s pleasure shall be further known” If Anne Boleyn was as malevolent as she was described, she would have surely fought to remain Queen of England. Why didn’t she stand up for herself ? The fact that she accepted the situation did not mean that she was guilty but proved on the contrary that since the king was not on her side anymore, there was no reason for going over what could be decided about her fate. And since the king must have known about what happened during the trial and everything that she declared when being a prisoner in the Tower of London, did he need to put her on the scaffold ? In fact, as being the Supreme Head of the Church of England, he could have surely be content with only getting an annulment like he did with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.
Actually, Anne Boleyn herself admitted that she was not blue-blooded when at the end of her trial since “she was degraded from all of her titles – countess, marchioness and princess – which she said she gave up willingly to the king who had conferred them”. She submitted herself to the king’s decision and by doing so, emphasized the fact that only the king had the power to ennoble someone as well as to deprive them. And if we take a close look at those reports, Anne Boleyn did not either rebel when she was taken to the Tower, nor did she when she was declared guilty of everything she was accused of. On June 2nd, 1536 a report of the trial said “in the end, the judges said she must resign her crown to their hands, which she did at once without resistance”.
Along with Anne Boleyn, the defendants were her brother George Boleyn, titled Lord Rochford, Mark Smeaton, a musician, Francis Weston, Steward of the King’s Chamber, William Brereton, Steward of the King’s Privy Chamber and Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool. William Brereton was thrown in prison on April 27th, 1536 whereas George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton were imprisoned on April 30th, 1536. A joust organized on May 1st, 1536 marked the obvious reason why Anne Boleyn was not faithful to King Henry VIII as the king along with his advisers had to find a reason why they should imprison them. In fact, Henry Norris picked up Anne Boleyn’s handkerchief as would have done a lover during a tournament to claim that the lady was his in front of everyone. Was it an act of arrogance on the part of Henry Norris to assert that Anne Boleyn and him were involved in a love affair knowing that the tournament would be attended by a large audience and by the king himself? Or was it a way for Henry Norris to leave Anne Boleyn with no choice but to reveal their commitment to each other? Those hypotheses seem to be far-fetched if one considers that the lady implied was the king’s wife. As a matter of fact, nobody would want to risk their life acting so boldly. Nonetheless, that was enough for the authorities to justify the other men’s imprisonment a few days before as far as Anne Boleyn’s supposed seductive behaviour was concerned. On May 12th, 1536, the men where tried.”Smeaton pleaded guilty of violation and carnal knowledge of the queen. […] Norris, Brereton and Weston pleaded not guilty.” It is interesting that Norris pleaded not guilty since we know that his accusation was based on the fact that he was seen picking up the queen’s handkerchief. In my opinion, that episode did not imply any affair. Actually, like I said above, Norris was also accused of having suggested the king’s death through his reported conversation with Anne Boleyn. It seemed like Norris was largely blamed. He knew that being tried and accused of treason meant that he was doomed to be executed. Was it worth lying? As far as Mark Smeaton was concerned, my theory is that unlike the others, he was not a member of the king’s privy circle. Was he more impressionable as to claim that he did the horrible crime that he is accused of when he did not? On May 18th, 1536, when Anne Boleyn was still in prison and approaching death, she reportedly said that as soon as ”the king [had] a mind to divorce her, he [would] find enough of witnesses.” That suggested that the defendants had to undergo a lot of pressure that would lead them to the needed confession. To that extent, Mark Smeaton might have thought that he had no choice but to say otherwise. Eventually, on May 12th, 1536, ”the jury returned a verdict of guilty and the men had no lands, no goods, or chattels.” Being deprived of all their goods, the king was also depriving their families. That supposed that the family of the defendants were also held responsible for the crime supposedly committed by thosemen. To top it up, a sentence of death was decided. Actually, ”Mr Norris, Weston and Brereton [had been] arraigned and judged to be drawn, hanged and quartered.” On May 16th 1536, their death sentence was commuted. Actually Lord Rochford, Francis Weston and Henry Norris were beheaded. William Brereton and Mark Smeaton were beheaded and quartered.
A Story Based on Hearsay
When she was in prison, Anne Boleyn supposedly reported a conversation that occurred on April, 30th 1536 between herself and Henry Norris, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool to Mistress Coffin, one of the two ladies along with Lady Boleyn, Anne’s cousin, who were appointed to supervise Anne Boleyn, held in the Tower of London. The queen apparently said to Norris “then you would look for dead men’s shoes. If aught come to the king but good. You would look to have me.” To which Norris replied “if I should have any such thought, I would my head were cut off.” This conversation was reported to the king and Henry Norris was arrested. That comment cannot be proved to be true. Actually, that report was considered serious at the time since the king had signed a commission to incriminate Anne Boleyn. In addition to that, Anne Boleyn was already in prison when the conversation came out, and even though not tried yet, she was already regarded as guilty. It was then easy to manipulate Anne Boleyn’s mind and make up new stories in order to corroborate the charges pressed against her. It would give the king another justification to the fact that she was not a good woman and that she had to be tried. What is more, one can note that it is based on hearsay as even though that conversation was said to be told by Anne Boleyn, Mistress Coffin was the one who related it.
Now if we pay attention to the date, namely April 30th, 1536, it is the very same date Henry Norris was sent to prison. If we pay attention to the statement, one wonders why Henry Norris was arrested since in his reported answer, he made it clear that he knew that imagining the king’s death was an act of high treason for which he would surely risk torture and face an execution.
It is clear that even though Anne Boleyn was in prison, which should be enough in order to try her and find her guilty, Henry VIII’s men, especially Thomas Cromwell, looked for more evidence of her guilt. One could wonder why the king did appoint one of Anne Boleyn’s family to attend her while she was in prison. In fact, Lady Boleyn and Anne Boleyn did not get on well. For that matter, one can wonder if all the reported confessions are true but also if it was not biased by the fact that both women did not like each other as Lady Boleyn ”engaged her [cousin] into much discourse and studied to draw confession from her.” Of course, that was the expected strategy and who else could take that despicable duty at heart more that an enemy of Anne Boleyn?
However, one should not take all the rumours for granted. As Eustache Chapuis put it in his letter on January 29th, 1536, “I heard some days ago from various quarters, though I must say none sufficiently reliable” and then saying “though coming from sufficiently authentic quarters” when respectively talking about Anne Boleyn’s reaction to the death of Catherine of Aragon and then about the king’s request for a divorce from Anne. As the report was based on hearsay, it is not obvious whether the facts were accurate. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the envoy asserted that the rumours about the king’s request for a divorce were “sufficiently authentic” since Chapuis never recognized that marriage and was only content to learn the news of a divorce.
The End of Anne Boleyn
In April 1536, the king wanted Anne Boleyn to be recognized as queen of England and more especially as his lawfully wife. Then, why did Henry VIII request a marriage annulment which would be granted by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer a month later, on May 17th, 1536? That annulment put a definite end to their marriage. What is more, Eustache Chapuis wrote that the day after, ”the Archbishop of Canterbury declared by sentence that the Concubine’s daughter was the bastard of Mr Norris, and not of the king.” That made Elisabeth another bastard, just like her half-sister Mary, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter. As history would prove it, Elisabeth would become queen in 1558. Would she have been restored in the succession if she had been the daughter of a commoner? The real reason for that declaration was to insist on the fact that Anne Boleyn was not a lawful wife and that neither she, nor her descendants should have the privilege to have a role in the royal lineage. In that case, was Anne Boleyn’s death justified? What was the message behind her beheading? After all, the king had put his first wife to exile until her death at Kimbolton Castle on January 7th, 1536. As I said before, Anne Boleyn herself thought that she would go to a nunnery. Unfortunately, according to the Bill of Attainder, she was accused of having committed high treason and had to be sentenced to death. In fact, that Bill was used ”to punish those who had incurred the king’s displeasure”. Again, here one can note that Henry VIII’s wishes had to be fulfilled whether the fact that the subject was guilty or not.
Her uncle, Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, announced her sentence, which would be either being burned or beheaded according to the king’s will. As she had been stripped of all of her titles, she was not to be considered a noble and yet the king decided to have her beheaded. Actually, ”beheading was confined to those of noble births” and ”was less dishonourable”. By signing the Royal Commission that would prove her unfaithful, the king had already dishonoured her. This is not intelligible as Anne Boleyn had been convicted of high treason and should not have been spared. Did all of a sudden, the king feel any regret? Why show mercy? What is more, Anne Boleyn was a woman and burning was the capital punishment for women accused of treason. Was it another strategy of the king to show his subjects that he could act like God on Earth? Or did he want to bypass the old prophecy of Merlin that claimed that around that time, there would be a queen who would be burned at the stake? It was Anne Boleyn herself who mentioned it to the king before their marriage. This is a far-fetched hypothesis but again, the king’s ultimate desire was to be considered as the Supreme Head of his country. As a matter of fact, he wished that his subjects saw that he was in control of any action. By doing so, Henry VIII might have wanted Anne Boleyn to see that the prophecy had nothing to do with her death.
I live in France and french is my mother tongue. I am in love with the History of England ! Whenever I go there, visiting castles is my top priority ! My favourite period is the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. So it came as no surprise that when I had to decide the dissertation topic for my Master’s Degree, the English monarchy was my first choice. And so I talked about the ennoblement of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s race for supremacy. I am very curious and always have to make some researches when I learn about a new historical event! I have found it to be very enriching to do so because it always leads to another fact. This is the magic of history I guess!
Anne Boleyn creates strong reactions when her name is brought into conversation. Whether you believe she “deserved what she got” or you believe she was a “victim” of Henry VIII, it all comes down to the fact that she was a woman. A woman in 16th century England was generally at the mercy of her father’s ambitions. Whether Anne Boleyn acted on her own fruition, or was at her father’s bidding, I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure. What we do know are the major events of her life.
Upon creating this timeline for Anne Boleyn I didn’t believe I’d have much to put into it. It wasn’t until I started to dig deeper into her life that I started realizing there were more events than at first thought.
I’ve included the combined Kent and Middlesex Indictments as well, you will see them noted as (Alleged Offenses). Included in these are links to the Anne Boleyn Files webpage where I gathered the information. If you click on the date it will bring you to the page.
I’m certain I’ve missed some events. If you notice a major event that I’ve missed please let me know.
Anne Boleyn was born at Blickling, Norfolk, to Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth Howard.
Anne is appointed a maid-of-honour at the court of Margaret, archduchess of Austria. Anne later leaves to serve Mary, queen of France, wife of Louis XII (and Henry VIII’s sister).
January 1 – King Louis XII of France died. Anne remained at the court of the new French queen, Claude for almost 7 years.
Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn wed her first husband William Carey.
Anne is recalled to England by her father, Thomas Boleyn. At this time Anne’s sister, Mary is the King’s mistress.
Anne had returned to England to marry her cousin, James Butler. The marriage proposal was agreed upon by their fathers to settle the claim of the family Earldom of Ormond. The proposal was eventually dropped.
March 1 – Anne made her first (recorded) appearance at Henry VIII’s court while playing the part of Perseverance in a Shrove Tuesday pageant at York Palace in London.
Anne was secretly betrothed to Henry Percy
January – Cardinal Wolsey broke the betrothal of Anne and Henry Percy. Anne was sent back home to Hever Castle, and Percy was married to Lady Mary Talbot, to whom he had been betrothed since adolescence.
Anne’s sister Mary Boleyn gives birth to a daughter, Catherine Carey, thought to be the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII.
Historian David Starkey dates the start of Henry’s feelings for Anne to Christmas and New Year 1524/1525, shortly after he had stopped sharing a bed with Katherine of Aragon.
Anne’s brother George Boleyn weds Jane Parker.
The King’s secretary was sent to the Pope Clement VII to request an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.
June – Anne contracted the Sweating Sickness while at Hever Castle. Henry VIII sent his personal physician, William Butts, to care for Anne at Hever – she recovered.
Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey died of the Sweating Sickness
October – Cardinal Wolsey was officially stripped of the office of Lord Chancellor, and was required to return the Great Seal.
November 29 – Cardinal Wolsey died.
January 5 – Pope Clement VII wrote to Henry VIII forbidding him to remarry and threatened excommunication if he took matters into his own hands and disobeyed Rome.
Katherine of Aragon is banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne.
Autumn - Anne was dining at a manor house on the river Thames and was almost seized by a crowd of angry women. Anne just managed to escape by boat. (Source: Fraser, Antonia The Wives of Henry VIII New York: Knopf )
October 25 – Anne is introduced by Henry to King Francis I of France.
November 14 – Anne and Henry secretly wed.
January 25 – Henry and Anne marry in “public.”
April 12 – Anne attended Easter Sunday mass “with all the pomp of a Queen, clad in cloth of gold, and loaded with the richest jewels”. It was her first public appearance as Queen and she wanted to make a statement that she was indeed Henry VIII’s rightful wife and Queen.
May – Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was annulled.
May (a few days later) – Thomas Cranmer declared Henry and Anne’s marriage valid.
December 3 & 8th – Anne “procured” Sir William Brereton “to violate her” at Hampton Court. (Alleged Offense)
Anne’s sister, Mary wed in secret her second husband William Stafford. The secret marriage angered both Henry VIII and Anne because Mary married beneath her station. This resulted in Mary being banished from the royal court.
April 12th – Anne “procured” Mark Smeaton at Westminster (date for Anne procuring Smeaton). (Alleged Offense)
May 8 & 20th – Anne “procured” Sir Francis Weston at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
June 6 & 20th – Anne “allured” and then slept with Sir Francis Weston at Greenwich. (Alleged Offense)
Anne became pregnant again.
April 26th – Mark Smeaton “violated” Anne at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
May 13 & 19th – Anne “allured” and then slept with Mark Smeaton at Greenwich. (Alleged Offense)
October 31st – Anne and some of the men plotted the King’s death at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
November 2 & 5th – Anne “procured” her brother George Boleyn,Lord Rochford, “to violate her” at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
November 27th – Anne gave gifts to the men at Westminster. (Alleged Offense)
December 22 & 29th – Anne “allured” and then slept with her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, at Eltham Palace. (Alleged Offense)
January 7 – Katherine of Aragon died.
January 8 – Anne plotted the King’s death with Rochford, Norris, Weston and Brereton at Greenwich. (Alleged Offense)
Sometime after the death of Katherine of Aragon it’s possible there was a fire in Anne’s bedchamber. There is no definitive evidence to confirm these claims.
January 24 – Henry VIII has his famous jousting accident.
January 29 – Anne miscarried a male fetus.
April 28 – Henry Norris came to Anne’s household – she asked him why he had not yet married the maid of honour he kept visiting. When Norris shrugged that he preferred to ‘tarry a time’, Anne joked: ‘You look for dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.’ Imagining the death of the king was a treasonous offence, and Norris replied, aghast, that ‘if he should have any such thought, he would [wish] his head were off’.
April 29 – Mark Smeaton taken for questioning.
May 1 – May Day: Henry attended a joust with Anne at Greenwich Palace. When the tournament ended, a message was passed to the king. Henry abruptly rose from his seat and left for Westminster by horse. Leaving Anne behind.
May 2 – Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London along with her brother George.
May 15 – Trial of Anne and her brother George where they were found guilty.
May 17 – Cranmer declared the marriage between Henry and Anne was null and void. This sentence meant that it was as if the marriage had never happened. Their daughter Elizabeth automatically became illegitimate with this declaration.
May 19 – Anne was executed on Tower Green inside the walls of the Tower of London.