13 May 1536 – The Breaking up of the Queen’s Household, and Percy Gets Cross

Anne Boleyn NPGOn 13th May 1536, four days before her trial, Queen Anne Boleyn’s royal household at Greenwich Palace was broken up and her servants were discharged. Some of her servants would be back at court in just a few weeks serving the new queen, Jane Seymour. Those who served both Anne and Jane included William Coffin, Anne’s master of the horse; Sir Edward Baynton, Anne’s vice chamberlain; John Smith, Anne’s surveyor; Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister-in-law; Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche; Bess Holland and Margery Horsman.

While Anne’s household was being disbanded, an exasperated Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was writing a letter to Thomas Cromwell regarding the alleged pre-contract which was said to have existed between himself and Anne Boleyn before she married Henry VIII:

“I perceive by Raynold Carnaby that there is supposed a pre-contract between the Queen and me; whereupon I was not only heretofore examined upon my oath before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, but also received the blessed sacrament upon the same before the duke of Norfolk and other the King’s highness’ council learned in the spiritual law, assuring you, Mr. Secretary, by the said oath and blessed body, which afore I received and hereafter intend to receive, that the same may be to my damnation if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me.”

Percy had already denied the existence of a pre-contract in 1532 when his wife, Mary Talbot, had sought an annulment of their unhappy marriage. Back then, Percy had sworn an oath on the sacrament in front of the Duke of Norfolk and the King’s canon lawyers, and the matter had been settled. It was being brought up again now in teh hope that it could be used to annul the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Notes and Sources

  • Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, 37.
  • LP x. 764

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One thought on “13 May 1536 – The Breaking up of the Queen’s Household, and Percy Gets Cross”
  1. Poor Harry Percy; even if he had been in love with Anne; there was no real evidence that they had been promised to each other; officially or otherwise. Anne and he may have been in love and had hopes, but according to the story in Cavandish’s life of Wolsey; Percy who was in the Cardinals household was informed that his father and te King did not approve of his so called romance with Anne and had broken off the engagement. Anne reacted according to this same account with anger and the traditional tale is that she held this break up against the Cardinal and was his enemy ever after because of it. Other than this there is little that points to anything more than a hopeful romance between Percy and Anne, broken off by the marriage to Mary Talbot, daughter to the Earl of Shrewsbury and Henry Percy. But there is another clue: a prayer book belonging to Anne is in Alwick and has both of their initials in it. They must have had something more than a hopeful romance and may have hoped to marry, but did not get so far as to consumate the union or enter into an agreement that could be construed as a contract.

    I say poor Percy as he was married to an heiress with whom he was clearly unhappy, faced with the prospect of having to have children with her he apparently did not relish a sexual relationship with a woman he came to hate. His wife, Mary Talbot obviously had no love for her husband and wanted out of the marriage. Did Percy carry a flag for Anne for the rest of his life and did this anger his wife who now used the so called contract with Anne against him. The poor Earl was forced to make an oath, a sacred oath before high born witnesses and churchmen; before the Duke of Norfolk of all people; the future Queens fearsome uncle; and on the Blessed Sacrament. And now, having believed that the matter was settled three years earlier, he is being asked to confirm again if he had a contract that would look as a marriage with Anne. His word, made on the Sacraments being questioned; I do not blame him for being angry. This was a sacred word, his immortal soul is in peril if he swears falsely, he would have been a pius person, in a deeply religious age; to question his honesty in this is a slur on his honour. I think he would be more than a little afronted and upset and I feel sorry for him having to go through this, not once but twice. And to make matters worse, he was even forced to sit in judgement on Anne as a peer of the realm: no wonder he was faint and ill as he gave the verdict.

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