13 May 1536 – A cross Henry Percy and a queen’s household broken up

On this day in history, Saturday 13th May 1536, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and a man with whom Queen Anne Boleyn had been romantically involved in the 1520s, wrote a rather exasperated letter to Thomas Cromwell.

It appears from the letter that the matter of an alleged pre-contract between the earl and Anne Boleyn was once again being talked about, yet the earl denied the existence of such a pre-contract in 1532.

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On the very same day that Northumberland was writing to Cromwell, Queen Anne Boleyn’s household was broken up and her staff discharged. Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but she had not stood trial yet. However, four men had already been found guilty of high treason for sleeping with her and conspiring to kill the king with her, so she couldn’t exactly be found innocent, could she?

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8 thoughts on “13 May 1536 – A cross Henry Percy and a queen’s household broken up”
  1. At this point why even have a trial. They are no longer even putting on a facade of legitimacy. Henry was so preoccupied with his legacy. Did he realize that also included his reputation? What was going on in England would be reported all over Europe and I’m guessing most people weren’t as stupid as Henry seemed to think his own people were.

    1. Hi Michael why indeed have a trial, yet it had to be seen that the queen had a fair trial (even though we know she didn’t) but she was Queen of England and had to be treated as such, Henry couldn’t just banish her from court after the dreadful charges she was accused of, no it had to be shown to England and the world that Anne received the correct treatment thus this sham of a trial by the peers of the realm, her household too was being disbanded and her grumbling servants sent home, one was James Boleyn her fathers younger brother, this other act along with the headsman from Calais as you mention also, did not portend well for the queen as it showed she was bound to be found guilty, why have the executioner ready to travel to England and why her household disbanded otherwise? It was Henrys way of saying she must have a trial but she will be found guilty anyway so get all the necessities out of the way, events were moving so swiftly that people were suspicious, all this did not bother Henry he was busy making wedding plans with Jane Seymour, but there was a sense of wrong being done and although Anne had never been popular people were not happy with their Kings complacency over his wife’s miserable affair, news of his meetings with Jane had got out and there were ballads being written about them, Henry was irked and told Jane not to worry as if he got his hands on him he would suffer. but he never did and he must have suspected that whilst his imprisoned wife was gaining in sympathy, his reputation was having a bit of a nose dive, Annes daughter, safely esconced in the quite leafy beauty of Hatfield Palace as a child a little under three played with her toys blissfully unaware of what was happening to her mother, she would later endure the change in her status in her own household, her remark is recorded for posterity as she asks why today she is my lady Elizabeth, and yesterday my lady princess, Anne must have been beside herself with worry for Elizabeth as she knew what affected her affected her daughter, she had Katherines daughter Mary as a grim example, there is a tale that she sent for lady Kingston and she knelt before her and bid Lady Kingston did likewise before Mary and beg her forgiveness for the wrongs she had done her, this tale sounds a bit dramatic but Anne knew her days were numbered and with death so near certain characteristics come out in human nature.

  2. On the April 29 post Destinee Amber mentioned reading somewhere that in order for the French swordsman to be available for Anne’s execution he would have had to be hired before Anne’s trial. I seem to recall reading that also. Can anyone enlighten us?

    1. Yes, the Swordsman was ordered before the trial ( crumbs that sounds like ordering a cake or something)which has raised suspicion that Henry had already decided on Anne’s fate, but unfortunately I have never seen any real explanation, so too would love to know more. The Swordsman took a few days to come, but surely 21 days was not required. It gives more weight to the idea that this was a conspiracy made well in advance and that there was only one fatal outcome.

  3. Hi Michael! Google your question will lead you to …The Anne Boleyn Files and Claire’s post, ‘Why was the Swordsman ordered before Anne’s trial’? Surprise. Well worth reading or re-reading, so I won’t spoil it for you.

  4. I’m not surprised Percy was annoyed at having the old pre contract blown up under his nose again, he must have wrung his hands with despair, once years before ha and Anne had met fallen in love and planned to marry, then they were cruelly it must have seemed to them forced to part as he was already promised to the Earl of Shrewsburys daughter, Anne was not considered good enough for him and Wolsley sent fot his father who hurried down from his family seat Anlwick Castle and there he was castigated quite harshly by both men, Noethumberland was just a young lad and fearing the Kings displeasure of which he must have been aware of, he sorrowfully took his leave of Anne, married Shrewsburys daughter and had a most unhappy life with her, Anne hated Wolsley with a vengeance and this is the reason some historians have said was at the heart of her animosity with him, he had referred to her as a foolish girl and merely the daughter of a knight, whatever thoughts Percy harboured of him for ruining his love affair with the now Queen of England, he had his revenge when he was sent to arrest him years later for high treason, Anne was queen and she was the mother of the heir to the throne, but now Henrys fickle fancy had centred on another woman and typical of this King, she was in complete contrast to his dark overbearing wife, said to be plump but she looks slender to me in Holbeins masterpiece of the King and his family, and meek with a quiet voice and very pale, the sort of woman you would not notice at a party, in fact she seems like the wallflower type, but Henry wished to make her his wife so now once again it was raked up and Percy received a visit from one of Cromwells men to try to coerce him into admitting there had been a pre contract, it must have seemed to him that all his life he had been haunted by Anne, first they had not been allowed to wed, their dreams made even stronger by the heady rush of first love had been destroyed and they had married other people, Anns being persued by the King turned it to her advantage and chose ambition over love, the King offered her marriage, Lady Mary Shrewsbury argued bitterly with her husband and once left him complaining he did not treat her as a husband should, no doubt he was comparing her to Anne, they possibly did not sleep together as they had no children and their marriage appears as ill fated as Annes, then he swore on the sacrament and some men of the church that he was never contracted to her, this was made to enable the King to wed Anne, but now having wished to end his cursed marriage he wanted Percy’s signature to say he had been contracted to her all along, it was too much and I’m glad Percy refused and wrote that indignant letter to Henrys crooked lawyer, why should he play ball, hadnt the King ruined his life enough by taking Anne from him in the first place, and making him marry a woman he hated, the sheer hypocrisy must have made Percy’s blood boil, this time he was no youth to be intimidated but a man in his thirties who happened to be one of the most powerful, the Duke of Northumberland, Cromwells bully boy left Percy and made his way back to his master his attempts had failed, Percy must have gained some quiet satisfaction in that.

  5. At least one person had some integrity in all of this mess, Anne’s former boyfriend, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. He had already been confronted about his former relationship with Anne Boleyn back in 1532 when his wife, Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, tried to sue for an annulment because she believed he and Anne Boleyn had a contract of marriage or betrothal together and cited Anne thus. As this was a contract or promise to marry, possibly followed by sexual relations, it was binding unless formerly dissolved. It is called a pre contact because it refers to a live agreement between a couple to marry, an actual marriage or a betrothal, usually one that has been consummated or blessed which has not been legally broken before another marriage or betrothal is made. However, in this case, which caused a bit of a flap, Northumberland had taken a solemn vow that no such contract with Anne Boleyn existed and the plea from his wife was dismissed.

    Now Henry revisited this contract because he wanted to annul his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Henry wanted an annulment on top of a trial and even if Anne was executed, there was an outstanding matter which demanded his marriage to be invalid. Henry now wanted his only legitimate children to be with his new wife to be, Jane Seymour, so he had to make Elizabeth illegitimate and for that he needed an annulment to be able to ask Parliament to pass a Bill on this matter. Yes, Henry would be a widow and free to marry anyone he wished after Anne’s execution, which was now a fore gone conclusion, but Elizabeth would remain his legitimate heir, unless a son came along. Henry was being vindictive, yes, but he had a clear vision and he saw Anne as no longer his legal wife, but could he get a case to prove it.

    Northumberland refused to play ball. He stated again everything he had done back in 1532 and he had made a holy vow before witnesses and on the Holy Sacrament(Real Presence of Christ in Communion) and Henry had been a witness to this. He now wrote to Cromwell and swore again that no promise of marriage or formal understanding had taken place between himself and Anne Boleyn. There was a relationship between them but it had been broken up before Percy married Mary Talbot and what he is saying is that they had made no vows and not had a sexual relationship, which could constitute a contract of marriage under Canon Law. He refused to be bullied and the subject was dropped.

    Henry did go on to get an annulment, either through agreement from Anne or by using his own relationship with her sister, Mary Boleyn, who had been his mistress before Anne and may have had children with the King, in order to get his annulment from Anne. This was cited in the actual documents made up by Thomas Cranmer. Henry was obviously taking no more chances. He couldn’t have Anne alive or his honour would be insulted, he couldn’t allow her to die his legal wife or his first annulment would be a lie and he would look a fool. This may in fact be the entire crux of the matter. Anne had made Henry look a fool, because he had declared his wife of 24 years invalid to marry her and get a son, he had made himself head of the English Church and broken from Rome to marry Anne and he had done so because he believed she would give him a son. Anne, through no fault of her own had not been able to give Henry a son, just as Katherine hadn’t either, so now he saw this marriage as cursed as well. He had faced censure and war and rebellion and executed friends in order to uphold the legitimacy of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Now everything had gone wrong, with the birth of another useless daughter, two or three failed pregnancies, he had not won over the support at Court for his marriage that he hoped and people still spoke out and Anne was not the perfect wife either. Henry looked foolish at home and abroad and now the rumours of her sexual bad behaviour as far as he wanted everyone to believe had come true. Finally, Anne had in his mind betrayed him. Henry’s reputation as a man was ruined. Anne, as far as he could see, was the cause of all this and to maintain his honour she had to go and the people had to see just what an evil woman had beguiled their King. The only way to regain that reputation and honour was to bring Anne and her co conspirators to the full rigour of justice and to show them no mercy. This was how Henry framed his own justification for these trials and executions and with Anne also declared not to be his true wife, he had his excuse to also dismantle her memory and dismiss her child.

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