I’ve read several books on the subject of Anne Boleyn – each are very similar with slightly varying take of her, and each I have read with an open mind. It is important for me to understand who she was as a person, whether or not she loved Henry or power, and what is her legacy.
Understanding Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard – the fact that her mother came from the very noble Howard family was impressive, but the fact that it was her mother and not her father diminished her total nobility slightly since the Boleyn name did not carry as much clout.
As a teenager, Anne was sent to the household of Margaret of Austria where she was educated. Not only was she taught French while in the regent’s household but she became familiar with the power that a woman could yield near the throne. Margaret was very open-minded when it came to women’s rights which must have been refreshing for Anne since early 16th century England was not friendly to women yielding power.
When Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor was sent to France to marry King Louis XII, both Anne and her sister were to serve the new French queen. At both courts Anne would learn the importance of her behavior with others and interactions, or flirtations with men. She became aware of how to get what she wanted in a discreet way. This would become useful to her in the future.
My instinct tells me that Anne was like any other girl, or woman of her time – she understood her duty as a daughter but she also wished to find love, marry and have children. Her early years, those before Mechelen, would not have had her wishing to be queen of England. The Anne I have discovered is one who wanted a “normal” life, at an early age. It was after she was sent to Mechelen and France that her ideal future began to change.
Upon her homecoming to English court around 1522, Anne returned to a country that she had left nearly a decade earlier. She was in her early twenties and ripe for marriage to a family who would increase the standing of the Boleyn family.
While serving Katherine of Aragon she met Henry Percy, who was a servant of Cardinal Wolsey. It was common practice that Percy would visit the queen’s chambers and visit with her ladies, just as other young men would. This was normal for the time. Court was a great place to make a noble marriage. Over time, Anne and Henry Percy grew affection for one another. It is said that they fell in love and formally, in front of witnesses, became betrothed. Anne Boleyn had found true love and would get the happy ending she had wished for as a young girl.
All of Anne and Percy’s joy came to an end when Wolsey discovered the betrothal – he was quick to tear the couple apart. Wolsey declared that Percy was already betrothed to Mary Talbot and had been for years, but some believe there was never a proposal and Wolsey fabricated the entire thing just to tear the couple apart. Was it Henry VIII that pushed Wolsey to tear apart the couple? It’s possible. It was in 1522 that Henry first had first set his eyes on Anne when she played Perseverance at Chateau de Vert.
Regardless of who was responsible for breaking apart the couple, it happened, and Anne must have been crushed. Anne would have been left heart-broken and filled with angst against the man, or men responsible for her misery. We don’t know for certain whether it was solely Wolsey or if the king who had ordered it so he could have Anne to himself. What I feel confident in is that Anne definitely blamed Wolsey and that she would make sure that he eventually paid for destroying her great love with Henry Percy.
When Henry VIII eventually began to pursue Anne she had no choice but to let it happen, but did she do it willingly? After everything that I’ve read I believe that she decided to use any power that would be gained from Henry and use it to her advantage. If she was unable to have the glorious love story that she had wished for then she would make sure that she got something out of her new arrangement.
Anne did not love Henry. That is my opinion. Anne got what she wanted by making promises to a man who was unhappy in his marriage and looking for a way out. She was willing to make her bed and lie in it. When she gave birth to a daughter she was devastated – this jeopardized her whole operation. Anne knew that if she fell out of favor with the king that she would end up in the same situation as her predecessor. Like Katherine of Aragon, she held a power over Henry that he was unaware of – a power of manipulation with words and actions. At the beginning of their courtship, Henry was infatuated with Anne and would do anything to have her – she learned how to play on his emotions to get exactly what she wanted, and it worked. It worked for nearly a decade.
Thomas Cromwell was the was the man who changed everything for Anne. His new-found favor with the king was thanks to Anne and her family, unfortunately, that influence would eventually grow greater than that of Anne’s with the king. And that, my friends, is when Anne fell from Henry’s good graces.
Anne wasn’t a bad person. She was a woman who cared about her country and the subjects of her king. She wanted the best for them all. That is the truth. Anne was smart. Anne was brave. Anne was the mother of the greatest monarch in English history – Gloriana.
Ives, Eric; The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
Weir, Alison; Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession
Dunn, Wendy J.; The Light in the Labyrinth
Richards, Natalia; Falcon’s Rise – The Early Years of Anne Boleyn
Gristwood, Sarah; Game of Queens - The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe
From these love letters we should be able to determine whether Henry VIII was infatuated with the idea Anne Boleyn, or if he was actually head over heels in love with her.
Something to keep in mind is the fact that Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey had broken up Anne and Henry Percy – they had decided to marry and when they asked permission of Wolsey he had to inform them that they could not wed. Why? Henry VIII’s feelings towards Anne – he was already interested in her and wanted her for himself.
Both Percy and Anne were upset and angry over the decision, but what could they do? Not long after their betrothal was declined Henry Percy married Mary Talbot. Any hopes of the two love-birds reuniting dwindled. I often wonder how long Anne pined after Henry Percy once the King started to pursue her.
While reading these letters please keep this in mind. Anne probably had strong feelings against the King at the beginning because she still loved Henry Percy. As we know, one cannot turn off the faucet of love overnight.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #1 (Written sometime after May 1527, after Anne had retreated back to Hever)
In turning over in my mind the contents of your last letters, I have put myself into great agony, not knowing how to interpret them, whether to my disadvantage, as you show in some places, or to my advantage, as I understand them in some others, beseeching you earnestly to let me know expressly your whole mind as to the love between us two.
It is absolutely necessary for me to obtain this answer, having been for above a whole year stricken with the dart of love, and not yet sure whether I shall fail of finding a place in your heart and affection, which last point has prevented me for some time past from calling you my mistress; because, if you only love me with an ordinary love, that name is not suitable for you, because it denotes a singular love, which is far from common. But if you please to do the office of a true loyal mistress and friend, and to give up yourself body and heart to me, who will be, and have been, your most loyal servant, (if your rigour does not forbid me) I promise you that not only the name shall be given you, but also that I will take you for my only mistress, casting off all others besides you out of my thoughts and affections, and serve you only. I beseech you to give an entire answer to this my rude letter, that I may know on what and how far I may depend. And if it does not please you to answer me in writing, appoint some place where I may have it by word of mouth, and I will go thither with all my heart. No more, for fear of tiring you. Written by the hand of him who would willingly remain yours, H. R.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #2
Though it is not fitting for a gentleman to take his lady in the place of a servant, yet, complying with your desire, I willingly grant it you, if thereby you can find yourself less uncomfortable in the place chosen by yourself, than you have been in that which I gave you, thanking you cordially that you are pleased still to have some remembrance of me.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #3
Although, my mistress, you have not been pleased to remember your promise when I was last with you, to let me hear news of you and have an answer to my last, I think it the part of a true servant to inquire after his mistress’s health and send you this, desiring to hear of your prosperity. I also send by the bearer a buck killed by me late last night, hoping when you eat of it you will think of the hunter. Written by the hand of your servant, who often wishes you in the place of your brother.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #4
My Mistress and Friend, my heart and I surrender ourselves into your hands, beseeching you to hold us commended to your favour, and that by absence your affection to us may not be lessened: for it were a great pity to increase our pain, of which absence produces enough and more than I could ever have thought could be felt, reminding us of a point in astronomy which is this: the longer the days are, the more distant is the sun, and nevertheless the hotter; so is it with our love, for by absence we are kept a distance from one another, and yet it retains its fervour, at least on my side; I hope the like on yours, assuring you that on my part the pain of absence is already too great for me; and when I think of the increase of that which I am forced to suffer, it would be almost intolerable, but for the firm hope I have of your unchangeable affection for me: and to remind you of this sometimes, and seeing that I cannot be personally present with you, I now send you the nearest thing I can to that, namely, my picture set in a bracelet, with the whole of the device, which you already know, wishing myself in their place, if it should please you. This is from the hand of your loyal servant and friend,
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #5 (July 1527)
For a present so beautiful that nothing could be more so (considering the whole of it), I thank you most cordially, not only on account of the fine diamond and the ship in which the solitary damsel is tossed about, but chiefly for the fine interpretation and the too humble submission which your goodness hath used towards me in this case; for I think it would be very difficult for me to find an occasion to deserve it, if I were not assisted by your great humanity and favour, which I have always sought to seek, and will seek to preserve by all the kindness in my power, in which my hope has placed its unchangeable intention, which says, Aut illic, aut nullibi (Either there or nowhere).
The demonstrations of your affection are such, the beautiful mottoes of the letter so cordially expressed, that they oblige me forever to honour, love, and serve you sincerely, beseeching you to continue in the same firm and constant purpose, assuring you that, on my part, I will surpass it rather than make it reciprocal, if loyalty of heart and a desire to please you can accomplish this.
I beg, also, if at any time before this I have in anyway offended you, that you would give me the same absolution that you ask, assuring you, that henceforward my heart shall be dedicated to you alone. I wish my person was so too. God can do it, if He pleases, to whom I pray every day for that end, hoping that at length my prayers will be heard. I wish the time may be short, but I shall think it long till we see one another.
Written by the hand of that secretary, who in heart, body, and will, is, Your loyal and most assured Servant,
H. aultre A.B. ne cherse R
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #6 (July 1527)
To my Mistress, Because the time seems very long since I heard concerning your health and you, the great affection I have for you has induced me to send you this bearer, to be better informed of your health and pleasure, and because, since my parting from you, I have been told that the opinion in which I left you is totally changed, and that you would not come to court either with your mother, if you could, or in any other manner; which report, if true, I cannot sufficiently marvel at, because I am sure that I have since never done any thing to offend you, and it seems a very poor return for the great love which I bear you to keep me at a distance both from the speech and the person of the woman that I esteem most in the world: and if you love me with as much affection as I hope you do, I am sure that the distance of our two persons would be a little irksome to you, though this does not belong so much to the mistress as to the servant.
Consider well, my mistress, that absence from you grieves me sorely, hoping that it is not your will that it should be so; but if I knew for certain that you voluntarily desired it, I could do no other than mourn my ill-fortune, and by degrees abate my great folly. And so, for lack of time, I make an end of this rude letter, beseeching you to give credence to this bearer in all that he will tell you from me.
Written by the hand of your entire Servant,
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #7 (February 1528)
Darling, these shall be only to advertise you that this bearer and his fellow be dispatched with as many things to compass our matter, and to bring it to pass as our wits could imagine or devise; which brought to pass, as I trust, by their diligence, it shall be shortly, you and I shall have our desired end, which should be more to my heart’s ease, and more quietness to my mind, than any other thing in the world ; as, with God’s grace, shortly I trust shall be proved, but not so soon as I would it were; yet I will ensure you that there shall be no time lost that may be won, and further can not be done; for ultra posse non est esse (One can’t do more than is possible). Keep him not too long with you, but desire him, for your sake, to make the more speed; for the sooner we shall have word from him, the sooner shall our matter come to pass. And thus upon trust of your short repair to London, I make an end of my letter, my own sweet heart.
Written with the hand of him which desireth as much to be yoursas you do to have him.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #8 (16 June 1528)
There came to me suddenly in the night the most afflicting news that could have arrived. The first, to hear of the sickness of my mistress, whom I esteem more than all the world, and whose health I desire as I do my own, so that I would gladly bear half your illness to make you well. The second, from the fear that I have of being still longer harassed by my enemy. Absence, much longer, who has hitherto given me all possible uneasiness, and as far as I can judge is determined to spite me more because I pray God to rid me of this troublesome tormentor. The third, because the physician in whom I have most confidence, is absent at the very time when he might do me the greatest pleasure; for I should hope, by him and his means, to obtain one of my chief joys on earth — that is the care of my mistress — yet for want of him I send you my second, and hope that he will soon make you well. I shall then love him more than ever. I beseech you to be guided by his advice in your illness. In so doing I hope soon to see you again, which will be to me a greater comfort than all the precious jewels in the world.
Written by that secretary, who is, and for ever will be, your loyal and most assui’ed Servant,
H. (A B) R.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #9 (20 June 1528)
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 chambres and your brother, master-treasurer, 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. For which reason I beg you, my entirely beloved, not to frighten yourself nor be too uneasy at our absence; for wherever I am, I am yours, and yet we must sometimes submit to our misfortunes, for whoever will struggle against fate is generally but so much the farther from gaining his end: wherefore comfort yourself, and take courage and avoid the pestilence as much as you can, for I hope shortly to make you sing, la renvoyé. No more at present, from lack of time, but that I wish you in my arms, that I might a little dispel your unreasonable thoughts.
Written by the hand of him who is and alway will be yours,
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letters #10 (22 June 1528)
*Note – During this time:
June – Anne contracted the Sweating Sickness while at Hever Castle. Henry VIII sent his personal physician, William Butts, to care for Anne at Hever.
Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey died of the Sweating Sickness
The cause of my writing at this time, good sweetheart, is only to understand of your good health and prosperity; whereof to know I would be as glad as in manner mine own, praying God that (an it be His pleasure) to send us shortly together, for I promise you I long for it. How be it, I trust it shall not be long to; and seeing my darling is absent, I can do no less than to send her some flesh, representing my name, which is hart flesh for Henry, prognosticating that hereafter, God willing, you may enjoy some of mine, which He pleased, I would were now.
As touching your sister’s matter, I have caused Walter Welze to write to my lord my mind therein, 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.
No more to you at this time, mine own darling, but that with a wish I would we were together an evening.
With the hand of yours,
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #11 (July 1528)
Since your last letters, mine own darling, Walter Welshe, Master Browne, Thos. Care, Grion of Brearton, and John Coke, the apothecary, be fallen of the sweat in this house, and, thanked be God, all well recovered, so that as yet the plague is not fully ceased here, but I trust shortly it shall. By the mercy of God, the rest of us yet be well, and I trust shall pass it, either not to have it, or, at the least, as easily as the rest have done. As touching the matter of Wilton, my lord cardinal hath had the nuns before him, and examined them, Mr. Bell being present ; which hath certified me that, for a truth, she had 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 Broke that was, and that not long ago. Wherefore I would not, for all the gold in the world, clog 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 for many years she could not be as she was named; yet notwithstanding, to do you pleasure, have done that neither of them shall have it, but that some other good and well-disposed woman shall have it, whereby the house shall be the better reformed (whereof I ensure you it had much need), and God much the better served.
As touching your abode at Hever, do therein as best shall like you, for you best know 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. Suche is fallen sick of the sweat, and therefore I send you this bearer, because I think you long to hear tidings from us, as we do likewise from you.
Written with the hand de votre seul,
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #12 (20 July 1528)
The approach of the time for which I have so long waited rejoices me so much, that it seems almost to have come already. However, the entire accomplishment cannot be till the two persons meet, which meeting is more desired by me than anything in this world; for what joy can be greater upon earth than to have the company of her who is dearest to me, knowing likewise that she does the same on her part, the thought of which gives me the greatest pleasure.
Judge what an effect the presence of that person must have on me, whose absence has grieved my heart more than either words or writing can express, and which nothing can cure, but that begging you, my mistress, to tell your father from me, that I desire him to hasten the time appointed by two days, that he may be at court before the old term, or, at farthest, on the day prefixed; for otherwise I shall think he will not do the lover’s turn, as he said he would, nor answer my expectation.
No more at present for lack of time, hoping shortly that by word of mouth I shall tell you the rest of the sufferings endured by me from your absence.
Written by the hand of the secretary, who wishes himself at this moment privately with you, and who is, and always will be.
Your loyal and most assured Servant,
H. no other A B seek R.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #13 (21 July 1528)
Darling, I heartily recommend me to you, ascertaining you that I am not a little perplexed with such things as your brother shall on my part declare unto you, to whom I pray you give full credence, for it were too long to write. In my last letters I wrote to you that I trusted shortly to see you, which is better known at London than with any that is about me, whereof I not a little marvel; but lack of discreet handling must needs be the cause thereof. No more to you at this time, but that I trust shortly our meetings shall not depend upon other men’s light handlings, but upon our own.
Written with the hand of him that longeth to be yours.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #14 (August 1528)
Mine own sweetheart, this shall be to advertise you of the great elengeness that I find here since your departing ; for, I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last, than I was wont to do a whole fortnight. I think your kindness and my fervency of love causeth it ; for, otherwise, I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me. But now that I am coming towards you, methinketh my pains behalf removed ; and also I am right well comforted in so much that my book maketh substantially for my matter; in looking whereof I have spent above four hours this day, which causeth me now to write the shorter letter to you at this time, because of some pain in my head; wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys (breasts) I trust shortly to kiss.
Written by the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his own will,
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #15 (20 August 1528)
Darling, Though I have scant leisure, yet, remembering my promise, I thought it convenient to certify you briefly in what case our affairs stand. As touching a lodging for you, we have got one by my lord cardinal’s means, the like whereof could not have been found hereabouts for all causes, as this bearer shall more show you. As touching our affairs, I assure you there can be no more done, nor more diligence used, nor all manner of dangers better both foreseen and provided for, so that I trust it shall be hereafter to both our comforts, the specialities whereof were both too long to be written, and hardly by messenger to be declared. Wherefore, till you repair hither, I keep something in store, trusting it shall not be long to; for I have caused my lord, your father, to make his provisions with speed; and thus for lack of time, darling, I make an end of my letter, written with the hand of him which I would were yours.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #16 (16 September 1528)
The reasonable request of your last letter, with the pleasure also that I take to know them true, causeth me to send you these news. The legate which we most desire arrived at Paris on Sunday or Monday last past, so that I trust by the next Monday to hear of his arrival at Calais: and then I trust within a while after to enjoy that which I have so long longed for, to God’s pleasure and our both comforts.
No more to you at this present, mine own darling, for lack of time, but that I would you were in mine arms, or I in yours, for I think it long since I kissed you.
Written after the killing of a hart, at eleven of the clock, minding, with God’s grace, to-morrow, mightily timely, to kill another, by the hand which, I trust, shortly shall be yours.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: Love Letter #17 (Late October 1528)
To inform you what joy it is tome to understand of your conformableness with reason, and of the suppressing of your inutile and vain thoughts with the bridle of reason. I assure you all the good in this world could not counterpoise for my satisfaction the knowledge and certainty thereof, wherefore, good sweetheart, continue the same, not only in this, but in all your doings hereafter; for thereby shall come, both to you and me, the greatest quietness that may be in this world.
The cause why the bearer stays so long, is the business I have had to dress up gear for you; and which I trust, ere long to cause you occupy then I trust to occupy yours, which shall be recompense enough to me for all my pains and labour.
The unfeigned sickness of this well- willing legate doth somewhat retard his access to your person; but I trust verily, when God shall send him health, he will with diligence recompense his demur. For I know well where he hath said (touching the saying and bruit that he is thought imperial) that it shall be well known in this matter that he is not imperial; and thus, for lack of time, sweetheart, farewell.
Written with the hand which fain would be yours, and so is the heart.
Henry Percy was born circa 1502 to Catherine Spencer and her husband, Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland in Nottingham, England. At a young age he was sent to be a page in Thomas Wolsey’s household.
Around 1516 Henry Percy was fated (had a precontract) to wed Mary Talbot, daughter of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury.
In 1519 Henry was knighted.
Betrothal to Anne Boleyn
Sometime after her arrival to court in 1522 Henry Percy fell in love with the young Anne Boleyn. In 1523, while still employed to Thomas Wolsey, Henry Percy became betrothed to Anne. When the betrothal was discovered by Wolsey he absolutely forbade it and scolded Percy in front of his household. I’m
Henry Percy’s status as heir to the earldom of Northumberland, and Anne as a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon, implied the two must obtain permission from both Wolsey and the King of England to wed. Percy’s father also refused permission for the match — he considered Anne Boleyn a mere knight’s daughter, and not an appropriate fit for his son and heir.
It is speculated that Anne Boleyn had already caught the eye of Henry VIII and was the true reason she was forbidden from marrying Henry Percy.
“At this time Lord Percy, the son and heir of the earl of Northumberland, was aide and secretary to Wolsey, the lord cardinal, and whenever the lord cardinal happened to be at court Lord Percy would pass the time in the queen’s quarters where he would dally with the ladies-in-waiting. Of these, he was most familiar with mistress Anne Boleyn, to such an extent that a secret love grew up between them and they pledged that, in time, they intended to wed. When knowledge of this reached the king’s ears he was greatly distraught. Realizing that he could no longer hide his secret love, he revealed all to the lord cardinal and discussed with him ways of sundering the couple’s engagement to each other.”
In a nutshell, Thomas Wolsey broke up the love match — this seemed to be the reason why Anne Boleyn held such a strong grudge towards Wolsey. As with anyone kept from their love, Anne would do everything in her power to take revenge on Wolsey…and, in the end, she was successful.
In early 1524/1525, Percy fulfilled his obligation and precontract by marrying Mary Talbot – surely Mary was aware she was his second choice. The union between Henry Percy and Mary Talbot was not a happy one.
In 1527, Percy inherited the earldom of Northumberland title on the death of his father. In 1528, only four years into their marriage, the couple’s relationship had broken down irretrievably. Percy had complained about his wife’s malicious acts and lies while her father was concerned Henry was abusing his daughter and might even poison her. It is thought that the couple had separated (possibly only temporarily) because Mary delivered a stillborn child at her father’s estate in 1529.
In 1532, Mary accused Percy of having a precontract with Anne Boleyn – she was seeking an annulment from her miserable marriage. Percy, on oath, denied the accusation. They remained unhappily married.
In May 1536, the month of Anne’s execution, she is said to have confessed a precontract with Henry Percy in the hope of saving her life.
When Anne was convicted of treason Percy collapsed and was carried out of the court. Some speculated it was his poor health and some suspect it was his love for Anne.
Was he there that fateful day his first love was beheaded? I can only imagine him weeping for his lost love.