Henry and Anne: What Went Wrong?

Henry VIII set Europe in a roar and broke a thousand years of religious tradition to marry Anne Boleyn. Three years later, he killed her. For seven years, he had sought the hand of this woman, and yet their happily-ever-after lasted only a thousand days.

What happened? How could their story end in such a horrific and tragic way?

At one time, Henry thought he was passionately in love with Anne. Perhaps he was - as much as Henry could love anyone, that is. When she refused to become his mistress, he didn't drift off to more promising targets as he had done in the past. He continued to pursue Anne, showering her with gifts, and heaping honors and titles on her family. He wrote her numerous love letters in his own hand, significant for a man who was known to hate writing. Around a year after Anne first came to his attention, Henry decided he wanted to marry this woman and make her his queen.

Henry VIII believed his actions were guided by God. If he wanted something, it was because God wanted it for him, or for his kingdom. Henry was the kind of guy who could say with a straight face that "God and my conscience are perfectly agreed." He believed God was guiding him to marry Anne Boleyn, and she would give him the heir he needed for his dynasty. Reinforcing this belief, the soothsayers and fortune tellers the couple patronized also predicted Anne would give Henry sons. Anne, too, believed that God was raising her to the throne for a purpose. Not only to give England an heir, but also to reform the Church.

After nearly seven years of trying to get the pope to annul his marriage to Katharine of Aragon, Henry decided to take charge of his destiny. He broke England away from the Catholic Church. Henry wore the title Defender of the Faith with pride - a title he won after writing a book strenuously defending the pope's authority - but he now declared the Vatican had no authority over the church in England.

In November, 1532, he married Anne Boleyn quietly and finally attained what he had desired for so long.  It must have seemed like God was bestowing His seal of approval on the union when Anne became pregnant within only a couple of months. They married again in January, 1533; the first wedding had stayed too secret.

Henry's heir was on his way! The doctors and soothsayers who examined Anne all agreed the baby she carried was a boy. They were paid lavishly by the delighted father. Only one, William Glover, dared to predict the baby was a girl. This prognostication was not received quite as well.

The king scurried to make preparations. There were still those who denied his marriage to Anne was legitimate, and so Henry decided first to counter their opposition with a monarch's coronation. Anne was crowned and anointed as a queen in her own right, not as a mere consort. Later, Henry instituted an oath that all of England was required to swear - that his marriage to Anne was valid and his children with her would be England's only lawful heirs.

Jubilant celebrations were planned for after the birth and triumphant christening of the prince. The announcements were drawn up, ready to be sent out as soon as the prince arrived - only the date left blank. Anne entered seclusion in August, and was surprised when the birth occurred only a few weeks later.

It was a girl.

Henry must have been stunned when he was told. In public, he put on an impassive face and said the next one would be a boy, but this was the first crack in Henry and Anne's relationship. Henry's faith in its divine sanction was shaken to the core. Where was his promised son? Had God not been blessing him after all? All of this - risking war and shaking England's ties with its traditional allies, uprooting a thousand year old Church - all of it had been for nothing but a dynastically useless girl.  He knew all of Europe would be laughing at him.

The Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, could barely contain his glee as he wrote:

[O]n Sunday last, the eve of Our Lady (7 Sept.), about 3 p.m., the King's mistress (amie) was delivered of a daughter, to the great regret both of him and the lady, and to the great reproach of the physicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and sorceresses, who affirmed that it would be a male child. But the people are doubly glad that it is a daughter rather than a son, and delight to mock those who put faith in such divinations, and to see them so full of shame.

The couple put on a brave face. They named the girl Elizabeth, after Henry's mother or Anne's - perhaps in honor of both. The jousts were canceled - princesses weren't celebrated that expensively - and a tiny letter "s" was inserted in the announcements before they were sent off.

Anne loved her daughter, and Henry seems to have been fond of her, carrying her around at various events at court to show she was healthy and intelligent. But Henry never forgot the soothsayers had promised Anne would bear him a son.

There were periods of "sunshine and storms" in the relationship as Eric Ives puts it. At times, Henry seemed he was still passionately in love with Anne. At others, there were fights, tears, and stony indifference. Slowly, everything that had drawn Henry to Anne in the first place began to annoy him.

Henry was no longer the supplicant lover, eager to please her lest she threaten to leave him and go home to Hever. The moment the ring slid on her finger, Henry had all the power ... and he knew it.

He had been attracted to Anne's bold, bright spirit. What made Anne stand out was that she was very intelligent, charming, and would speak her mind to the king in an era of women trained to be humble in the presence of men - let alone a king. Now that Anne was his wife, Henry expected her to become one of those women with downcast eyes and soft voices.

He began to resent her bright political insight as "meddling" in his affairs. Whereas he had once sought her advice, and met with ministers and ambassadors in her chambers, he began to drift away from her politically. Anne favored the French, Henry began to seek to reunite with the Emperor. Anne also had conflicts with Cromwell. She wanted the money from the dissolved monasteries to be used to fund schools, whereas Cromwell and the king wanted it to go into the royal treasury. Guess who won that particular argument?

Anne appears to have become pregnant again in early 1534. In April, Henry ordered an elaborate silver cradle for the impending heir to be made by his goldsmith.

A silver cradle, price 16l. For making a silver plate, altering the images, making the roses underneath the cradle, the roses about the pillars, and new burnishing, 13s. 4d. For the stones that were set in gold in the cradle, 15s.; for fringes, the gold about the cushions, tassels, white satin, cloth of gold, lining, sypars and swadylbands, 13s. 6d. Total, 18£. 1s. 10d. The silver that went to the dressing of the Adam and Eve, the making of all the apples, the gilding of the foot and setting of the currall, 33s. 4d. To Hance, painter, for painting the same Adam and Eve, 20s. A silver and gilt dial, 16£. 4s. The garnishing of two books with silver-gilt, 66 oz., at 6s. For the books and binding, 4£. To Mr. Loke, for the velvet that covered the books, 43s. 9d. Total, 62£. 18s. 11d., whereof 20£. is received.

In July, Anne's brother wrote to the French to postpone a meeting Henry intended to have with King Francis because of Anne's pregnancy, but it seems the child was lost sometime in late July or early August. We have no record of Anne preparing a lying-in chamber, or entering the expected seclusion, so it appears there was a miscarriage, not a full-term stillbirth. In any case, it was kept somewhat quiet, because Chapuys was speculating in September that the king thought Anne's pregnancy had been feigned.

Chapuys writes that during this pregnancy, the king's attention had strayed to an unnamed young woman of the court. Sex during pregnancy was considered not only sinful, but dangerous for the child, and so Henry seems to have been testing the waters for a new mistress. According to Chapuys, Anne tried to have the young woman removed from court. The king was infuriated, and his retort had a horribly derisive tone, "You will shut your eyes as your betters have done."

We know from other sources that Jane Parker was temporarily banished from court for conspiring with Anne to get rid of one of her rivals - this may be the same incident.

Chapuys reports:

King has been very angry, telling his said lady (dame) that she had good reason to be content with what he had done for her, which he would not do now if the thing were to begin, and that she should consider from what she had come, and several other things.

However, Chapuys attaches little importance to the fight, saying that Henry was mercurial, and Anne knew well how to manage him.

Chapuys was intensely biased against Anne and cannot be trusted to be accurate with his reporting because he often related rumor as fact. However, if this exchange really did occur, it shows how badly the king's respect for Anne had deteriorated. "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't marry you," is a powerful thing to say.

Anne reacted to the stress as she always did, with her dark sense of humor. In January 1535, Chapuys related the following story:

[A]nd still worse what occurred at the feast the King gave him on the eve of his departure, when he, being seated next the Lady, while they were dancing, she burst into a fit of incontrollable laughter without any occasion. The Admiral frowned, and said, "What, madam, do you laugh at me?" On which she excused herself by saying it was because the King had told her he was going to ask for the Admiral's secretary to amuse her, and that the King had met on the way a lady who made him forget the matter. I don't know if the excuse was accepted as satisfactory.

Once upon a time, Anne had been the focus of Henry's world. Now he could not walk across a room without forgetting her.

Anne does not seem to have gotten pregnant again until late 1535. Jane Parker supposedly later said that Anne had told her Henry was having trouble in the bedroom. Based on what we know of Henry's
personality, he likely blamed these problems on Anne. Was he disappointed to discover she was - after all - just a woman? During the seven years he had sought to marry her, did he build her up in his mind into a son-dispensing Venus? Did he expect the perfect union, blessed by God, fertile and eternally happy?

Henry began to have a very modern reaction to his dissatisfaction. To his contemporaries, this reaction was bizarre. Kings and nobles married for dynastic or business reasons. Henry had married for love, and now he was unhappy. And when Henry was unhappy, he felt God was unhappy with the situation as well, and that the Lord was using Henry's emotions to point him in the right direction.

That direction was Jane Seymour, who was everything Anne was not. Placid, submissive, conservative, and prim. Like Anne Boleyn before her, she refused to become Henry's mistress and Henry began thinking of her as wife material.

Anne's miscarriage in January 1536 on the same day as Katharine of Aragon's funeral seems to have been the final straw. The child she lost was a boy, and historians would later say that Anne had "miscarried of her savior." If the child had lived, none of the terrible events of 1536 would have happened.

Chapuys claims that when the king visited Anne in her sickbed, Henry said he saw that God would not give him male children. He told her he would speak to her again when she was on her feet, and ordered the court to depart for another palace. Anne was left behind with her own servants for her long recuperation. Left behind as Katharine of Aragon was once left behind when Henry trotted off with Anne. Anne was too intelligent not to have drawn the parallels.

A few days later, Chapuys says that the king stated that his marriage had been predicated on "sortileges" - the predictions of those soothsayers that Anne would give him a son - and thus Henry felt his marriage to Anne was invalid. By the early spring of 1536, things began to move in an ominous direction for the Boleyn family.

Henry's feelings toward Anne seem to have soured into outright hatred. Her strong personality, the constant conflict with those who refused to accept her as queen, his problems in the bedroom and his own sense of impending mortality ... all of these things were wearing at him, eroding his once great passion for this woman who had once meant everything - but in the end had given him nothing like what he expected.

Chapuys was always quick to spot any potential troubles in the king's marriage, but some of his words take on an ominous tone when seen in retrospect. On April 1, he reported a meeting he'd had with Cromwell:

I told Cromwell that I had for some time forborne to visit him that he might not incur suspicion of his mistress [Anne] for the talk he had previously held with me, well remembering that he had previously told me she would like to see his head cut off. This I could not forget for the love I bore him; and I could not but wish him a more gracious mistress, and one more grateful for the inestimable services he had done the King, and that he must beware of enraging her, else he must never expect perfect reconciliation; in which case I hoped he would see to it better than did the Cardinal, as I had great belief in his dexterity and prudence; and if it was true, and if it was true, what I had heard, that the King was treating for a new marriage, it would be the way to avoid much evil, and be very much for the advantage of his master, who had been hitherto disappointed of male issue, and who knows quite well, whatever they may say or preach, that this marriage will never be held as lawful, for several reasons which he might sufficiently understand; and that although a more lawful marriage should follow, and male issue from it would be to the prejudice of the Princess, yet the affection I bore to the honor and tranquillity of the King and kingdom, and towards him particularly, made me desire another mistress, not for hatred that I bore to this one, who had never done me any harm. 
Cromwell appeared to take all this in good part, and said that it was only now that he had known the frailty of human affairs, especially of those of the Court, of which he had before his eyes several examples that might be called domestic, and he always laid his account that if fate fell upon him as upon his predecessors he would arm himself with patience, and leave the rest to God; and that it was quite true, as I said, that he must rely upon God's help not to fall into mischief.
He then began to defend himself, saying he had never been cause of this marriage, although, seeing the King determined upon it, he had smoothed the way, and that notwithstanding that the King was still inclined to pay attention to ladies, yet he believed he would henceforth live honorably and chastely, continuing in his marriage. This he said so coldly as to make me suspect the contrary, especially as he said so, not knowing what countenance to put on. He leaned against the window in which we were, putting his hand before his mouth to avoid smiling or to conceal it (ou pour lencouurir), saying afterwards that the French might be assured of one thing, that if the King his master were to take another wife, he would not seek for her among them.

Later, in the same letter, he explains the reason for that little smirk Cromwell concealed, describing the king's interactions with Jane Seymour:

At this instant the Marchioness has sent to me to say what Mr. Gelyot (qu. Elyot?) had already told me, viz., that the King being lately in this town, and the young lady, Mrs. Semel, whom he serves, at Greenwich, he sent her a purse full of sovereigns, and with it a letter, and that the young lady, after kissing the letter, returned it unopened to the messenger, and throwing herself on her knees before him, begged the said messenger that he would pray the King on her part to consider that she was a gentlewoman of good and honorable parents, without reproach, and that she had no greater riches in the world than her honor, which she would not injure for a thousand deaths, and that if he wished to make her some present in money she begged it might be when God enabled her to make some honorable match.
The said Marchioness has sent to me to say that by this the King's love and desire towards the said lady was wonderfully increased, and that he had said she had behaved most virtuously, and to show her that he only loved her honorably, he did not intend henceforth to speak with her except in presence of some of her kin; for which reason the King has caused Cromwell to remove from a chamber to which the King can go by certain galleries without being perceived, and has lodged there the eldest brother of the said lady with his wife, in order to bring thither the same young lady, who has been well taught for the most part by those intimate with the King who hate the concubine, [possibly Nicholas Carew] that she must by no means comply with the King's wishes except by way of marriage; in which she is quite firm.
She is also advised to tell the King boldly how his marriage is detested by the people, and none consider it lawful; and on the occasion when she shall bring forward the subject, there ought to be present none but titled persons, who will say the same if the King put them upon their oath of fealty. And the said Marchioness would like that I or some one else, on the part of your Majesty, should assist in the matter; and certainly it appears to me that if it succeed, it will be a great thing both for the security of the Princess and to remedy the heresies here, of which the Concubine is the cause and principal nurse, and also to pluck the King from such an abominable and more than incestuous marriage.

By the middle of April, the plot to bring Anne down had already been hatched. Henry spent hours closeted with his ministers. On April 18, Cromwell was reported to be ill and not seeing visitors. When he emerged to the public on the 23rd, he had a "case" to present to Henry. The Oyer and Terminer commission was formed on the 24th at Winchester.

Anne knew something dark was stirring. On the 26th, she asked her chaplain to watch over her baby daughter if anything happened to her. Another courtier later told Elizabeth he had seen her mother standing behind Henry at a window, pleading with him with her baby in her arms. Henry, with a stony and angry expression, ignored her.

Henry seemed to take delight in snubbing Anne, and began heaping presents and honors on Jane's family and supporters. Chapuys crowed about it in a letter to the Emperor on April 29.

The Grand Ecuyer [Exchequer], Mr. Caro, [Nicholas Carew, an avowed enemy of Anne] had on St. George's day [been given the] the Order of the Garter in the place of the deceased M. de Burgain (lord Abergavenny), to the great disappointment of Rochford [Anne's brother, George], who was seeking for it, and all the more because the Concubine has not had sufficient influence to get it for her brother; and it will not be the fault of the said Ecuyer if the Concubine, although his cousin (quelque, qu. quoique? cousine) be not dismounted. He continually counsels Mrs. Semel [Seymour] and other conspirators "pour luy faire une venue," and only four days ago he and some persons of the chamber sent to tell the Princess to be of good cheer, for shortly the opposite party would put water in their wine, for the King was already as sick and tired of the concubine as could be.
[T]he brother of lord Montague told me yesterday at dinner that the day before the bishop of London had been asked if the King could abandon the said concubine, and he would not give any opinion to anyone but the King himself, and before doing so he would like to know the King's own inclination, meaning to intimate that the King might leave the said concubine, but that, knowing his fickleness, he would not put himself in danger. The said Bishop was the principal cause and instrument of the first divorce, of which he heartily repents, and would still more gladly promote this, the said concubine and all her race are such abominable Lutherans. 

It was obvious to Cromwell the king wanted out of his marriage. Henry was convinced he wouldn't have sons with her. He wanted to reconcile with the Emperor, but couldn't do so with Anne at his side. Much of Europe considered him a single man now, anyway, after the death of Katharine. And Jane Seymour dangled before his eyes like a sweet, chaste plum, ripe for the picking.

But Henry didn't want to go through another lengthy divorce proceeding. Anne Boleyn was every bit as tenacious and learned as Katharine of Aragon, and she would fight to the bitter end to preserve the rights of her daughter to the throne - those same rights every Englishman had recently sworn to uphold. Anne still had powerful supporters in the reformist movement. Henry didn't want an ex-wife muddying the waters and allowing some to claim his marriage to Jane was invalid as long as Anne lived. There could be only one queen, and one true heir. There was only one conclusion ...

Anne must die.

Historians debate how much involvement Henry had with the plot to destroy Anne, but it's doubtful he ever really thought she was guilty. The verdict, after all, was a foregone conclusion, with the swordsman summoned before the trial had even begun. Cromwell later admitted to being the main architect of the plot, and it seems Henry went along with it happily. It would rid him of his hated wife once and for all. He was so eager to accomplish it, it doesn't seem to have troubled him that a man he had counted as his closest friend would become collateral damage.

 Anne was arrested on May 2nd, 1536.

During the few weeks Anne was in captivity, Henry celebrated her downfall in ostentatious poor taste. Anne had never been universally popular, but the people were aghast at the way their king was partying so hard into the wee hours of the morning. Chapuys, certainly no fan of Anne's, wrote about it to the Emperor.

Although the generality of people here are glad of the execution of the said concubine, still a few find fault and grumble at the manner in which the proceedings against her have been conducted, and the condemnation of her and the rest, which is generally thought strange enough. People speak variously about the King, and certainly the slander will not cease when they hear of what passed and is passing between him and his new mistress, Jane Seymour. Already it sounds badly in the ears of the public that the King, after such ignominy and discredit as the concubine has brought on his head, should manifest more joy and pleasure now, since her arrest and trial, than he has ever done on other occasions, for he has daily gone out to dine here and there with ladies, and sometimes has remained with them till after midnight.
I hear that on one occasion, returning by the river to Greenwich, the royal barge was actually filled with minstrels and musicians of his chamber, playing on all sorts of instruments or singing; which state of things was by many a one compared to the joy and pleasure a man feels in getting rid of a thin,old, and vicious hack in the hope of getting soon a fine horse to ride—a very peculiarly agreeable task for this king. 
The other night, whilst supping with several ladies at the house of the bishop of Carlion(Carlisle), he (the King) manifested incredible joy at the arrest of Anne, as the Bishop himself came and told me the day after. Indeed, he related to me that, among other topics of conversation, the King touched on that of the concubine; telling him: "For a long time back had I predicted what would be the end of this affair, so much so that I have written a tragedy, which I have here by me." Saying which, he took out of his breast pocket a small book all written in his own handy and handed it over to the Bishop, who, however, did not examine its contents. Perhaps these were certain ballads, which the King himself is known to have composed once, and of which the concubine and her brother had made fun, as of productions entirely worthless, which circumstance was one of the principal charges brought against them at the trial.

To Monsieur Granvelle, Chapuys wrote with cynicism that echoes through the ages,

There are still two English gentlemen detained on [Anne's] account, and it is suspected that there will be many more, because the King has said he believed that more than 100 had to do with her. You never saw prince nor man who made greater show of his [cuckold's] horns or bore them more pleasantly. I leave you to imagine the cause.

For her part, Anne spent her time in the Tower between hysteria, faith, and hope. Surely Henry wouldn't actually kill her. He had once loved her enough to defy the crowned heads of Europe and set the world in a roar. Surely he wouldn't kill her. No queen of England had ever been executed. Up til the very last moment, Anne Boleyn may have believed the king would pardon her and allow her to go to a nunnery.

On May 19th, she climbed the steps of the scaffold.

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