13 May 1536 – A pre-contract denied and a household broken up

Posted By on May 13, 2017

On this day in history, 13th May 1536, we have two significant events in the fall of Anne Boleyn.

Firstly, we have the breaking up of the queen’s household. Queen Anne Boleyn had not even been tried yet, but four men had been found guilty of high treason for having sexual relations with her and plotting to kill the king with her, so there wasn’t much chance of the queen being found innocent. So on 13th May 1536, Sir William Fitzwilliam, Treasurer of the King’s Household, and Sir William Paulet, Comptroller of the Household, broke up Anne’s royal household and discharged her staff.

Some of Anne’s staff would only be out of a position for a few weeks. William Coffin, Anne’s former master of the horse and the husband of one of her attendants in the Tower; Sir Edward Baynton, Anne’s former vice-chamberlain; John Smith, her surveyor; Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, her sister-in-law; Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche; Bess Holland, mistress of the Duke of Norfolk, Anne’s uncle, and Margery Horsman all went on to serve Jane Seymour following her marriage to King Henry VIII on 30th May 1536.

Our second significant event of this day in 1536 is the writing of a letter. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, wrote a letter on 13th May 1536, from his home in Newington Green, to Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s principal secretary. In this letter, he 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.”

This alleged pre-contract with Anne Boleyn was something that Percy had had to deny before, as he states in this letter. In 1532, before Anne’s marriage to the king, Percy had been interrogated by the Duke of Norfolk and the Archbishops of York and Canterbury after his wife, Mary Talbot, had claimed that her husband had previously been pre-contracted to Anne Boleyn so there marriage was not valid and could be annulled. Anne denied this and Percy swore on the Blessed Sacrament in front of the duke, the archbishop and the king’s canon lawyers that there had never been a pre-contract between himself and Anne. Percy must have been exasperated and worried that this matter was being brought up once again.

Sir Reynold Carnaby, an officer of the king in the north of England and someone Percy knew well, had been sent to the earl to try and convince him to confess to a pre-contract. Why? Well, it would have served as grounds for an annulment of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn as it would have invalidated their marriage. Percy wasn’t playing ball though.

Notes and Sources

  • Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, p. 37. The notes in Wriothesley’s chronicle name Sir Edward Poynings as Comptroller, which is why I have always stated that, but after further research, I found that Poynings served in this position until 1519 and died in 1521.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536, 764.