13 May 1536 – Henry Percy denies a pre-contract

Posted By on May 13, 2016

Henry Percy 6th Earl of NorthumberlandOn the same day that Queen Anne Boleyn’s household was being broken up, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, wrote to Thomas Cromwell.

Here is an extract from my book, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, about his letter…

The subject of his letter was the alleged pre-contract which was said to have existed between himself and Anne Boleyn before she married Henry VIII. From his home in Newington Green, Henry Percy wrote:

“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 such a pre-contract when interrogated by the Duke of Norfolk and two archbishops in 1532. His wife, Mary Talbot, had sought an annulment from their very unhappy marriage by claiming that he had previously been contracted to marry Anne Boleyn who was, at that time, being courted by the King. Percy had denied this by swearing an oath on the Blessed Sacrament, in front of Norfolk, the archbishops and the King’s canon lawyers.

Thomas Cromwell decided to resurrect the issue in May 1536, in an effort to get Anne’s marriage to the King annulled. He sent Sir Reynold Carnaby to exert some pressure on Henry Percy and to try and make him confess that he and Anne had been pre-contracted to marry. Carnaby was a King’s officer in the north of England, and someone Percy knew well, but Percy refused to be bullied into confessing. His letter to Cromwell shows Percy affirming that in no uncertain terms.

Notes and Sources

  • Ridgway, Claire (2012) The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, p. 165-166.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536, 764.
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