13 May 1536 – Henry Percy won’t play ball

Posted By on May 13, 2015

Harry Lloyd as Henry Percy in "Wolf Hall".

Harry Lloyd as Henry Percy in “Wolf Hall”.

On this day in history, 13th May 1536, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, the man Anne Boleyn had hoped to marry in around 1523, wrote to Thomas Cromwell:

“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.”1

It is clear from his letter that Percy has been approached in the hope that he would admit to there being a pre-contract between himself and Anne Boleyn, thus providing grounds for an annulment of the King’s marriage to Anne. Thomas Cromwell had sent Sir Reynold Carnaby to exert some pressure on Henry Percy. Carnaby was a King’s officer in the north of England, and someone Percy knew well, but Percy refused to be bullied into confessing. He was not going to play ball and admit to something that was not true.

Percy had already denied the existence of such a pre-contract in the past, as he states in this letter. According to a letter from Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, to Charles V in July 1532, Henry Percy had to deny, in front of the King’s council, a pre-contract between himself and Anne Boleyn after his wife, Mary Talbot, had reported that he had told her in a quarrel that he was not really her husband because he had previously been betrothed, or legally contracted, to Anne. Mary Talbot had written of the quarrel and alleged pre-contract in a letter to her father, the Earl of Shrewsbury, asking him to tell the King, but, instead, the Duke of Norfolk was informed of the matter and he told his niece, Anne Boleyn. Anne boldly decided that it was best to confront Henry VIII with the matter and ask him to investigate it. Percy had been interrogated and had denied the pre-contract by swearing an oath on the Blessed Sacrament, in front of Norfolk, the archbishops and the King’s canon lawyers.2

There is no reason to doubt Percy. He put his soul in mortal peril by swearing on the sacrament in 1532 and says in this letter “that the same may be to my damnation if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me.” Cromwell was going to have to find another way of annulling the marriage.

Notes and Sources

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X. 873.
  2. Friedmann, Paul. Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History 1527-1536, Volume I, p160-61. Friedmann cites Chapuys’ letter 1532 from Vienna Archives. Eric Ives, in his notes for p166 of his book The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn gives the reference for Chapuys’ letter as Vienna, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, England Korrespondenz Karton 5, Konvolut 1532, ff. 81-2.