14 November 1532 – The first secret marriage?

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIIIAccording to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, King Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn on St Paul’s Day 1533, i.e. 25th January 1533, in a ceremony that was so secret that even Cranmer did not find out about it until several weeks after the happy event.

However, this may not have been the first secret marriage ceremony for the couple. Chronicler Edward Hall records:

“The kyng after his returne, maried priuily the lady Anne Bulleyn, on sainct Erkenwaldes daie, whiche mariage was kept so secrete, that very fewe knewe it, til she was greate with child, at Easter after.”

Hall is saying that the couple married on St Erkenwald’s Day, 14th November, on their return from Calais in 1532. We know that Henry and Anne landed at Dover, on the south coast of England, at 5 am on 14th November 1532 so it is possible that they got married or formally betrothed on that day. They certainly didn’t rush back to London, with the King spending a few days in Dover and the surrounding area “for the purpose of having harbours constructed in the said town, or at least of creating a spacious plea for asking money from his subjects for the said works” and not arriving back at Eltham Palace until 24th November.

It is impossible to know whether Edward Hall is correct – we don’t know where this information came from – but, as historian Eric Ives pointed out, it is at this point that the couple started co-habiting and therefore risking pregnancy, and Anne Boleyn appears to have been pregnant by the time they went through the marriage ceremony on 25th January 1533. As I said in a previous article, following the couple’s successful trip to Calais, With King Francis I pledging his support, “I think that Henry was confident that his ‘great matter’ would soon be resolved and so entered into some kind of betrothal or marriage with Anne. Once his marriage to Catherine had been annulled, this marriage would be the legal one.”

What do you think?

Also on this day in history…

  • 1501 – Catherine of Aragon married Arthur, Prince of Wales, at St Paul’s Cathedral. Click here to read more.
  • 1541 – An inventory was taken “of the goods and chattels, lands and fees of Thos. Culpeper, the younger”, the alleged lover of Queen Catherine Howard. Click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

  • Ed. Cox, Rev. John Edmund (1844) Miscellaneous writings and letters of Thomas Cranmer, edited for the Parker Society, Cambridge University Press, p.246.
  • Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, printed for J. Johnson; F.C. and J. Rivington; T. Payne; Wilkie and Robinson; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme; Cadell and Davies; and J. Mawman; London, p.794.
  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, 1531-1533, p.556-557.

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9 thoughts on “14 November 1532 – The first secret marriage?”
  1. Hi there, does anyone know the actual name of the priest who performed the marriage ceremony…? I’m curious because the tale told at Christchurch Priory in Dorset is that our priory was saved intact from Henry’s rage against the Catholic Church as Prior Draper was supposedly the marriage celebrant…! Is there any proof anywhere to support this? I live in the borough of Christchurch and would be very interested to know. Kind regards, Shiona

    1. Hi Shiona,
      There are no details at all about this wedding apart from the bit I’ve shared from Edward Hall’s chronicle, so no, I’m afraid not, but that’s an interesting story. Rowland Lee was recorded as being the one that married the couple in January 1533.
      Best Wishes,

    2. One didn’t need a priest. The couple only had to make their promise to one other and have an intercourse and before law they were married. Not even wittnesses were needed.

      Of course, in such a case it was very easy to one party to deny that they were married. So Anne would have never trusted only on Henry’s word but would have insisted on wittnesses.

      1. Yes, which is why Catherine Howard and Francis Dereham may actually have been married in the eyes of the law. They certainly called each other husband and wife, and had sexual relations. It’s such a grey area.

        It would also have been important to Henry to have witnesses to any promise-making so that in the future this marriage (and any child Anne was to carry as a result of it) was seen as legal. I wonder if that’s why they had the January wedding too, because they needed a more formal ceremony with witnesses, and that this one had been a more personal one.

  2. Not that it is without precedent in royal marriage, but as the annulment did not happen until May 1533, Henry was certainly a bigamist at whatever point he married Anne, whether it be Nov or Jan.

  3. What goes on in the mind of this King?
    He does not believe himself ‘married in the site of God’ and knows that he has purchased sufficient intellectual backing to prove this to be the truth. Politically, he believes he has paved the way to ‘check mate the Pope’ with his alliance with Francis. So, in this new marriage, which has problematic problems of it’s own of course, he asserts himself as a Master Tactician – game, set and match. To Henry, this is ipso his First, Legitimate, long overdue, Union, and he will back it with the full force of the English Law, and make all English men and women subscribe to it and to it’s heirs. He believe Anne is carrying his son. All will be well. D.W.
    Do you feel, even a little bit, sympathy for this King, at this point? Is he Human, all too Human? Or has another one flown over the cuckoo’s nest?

  4. It may have been a betrothal in Dover as technically by agreeing to be husband and wife, followed by the sexual intercourse in France, under Canon Law, they were married. Marriage is a self conferring sacrament, you marry each other, and before the law changed, this was all you needed. Couples were encouraged to have a priest present and two witnesses, but clandestine marriage was recognised by the Catholic Church. The problem with Henry and Anne is not how many marriages they had, but that Henry had a wife still alive and his divorce/annulment had not been made, so whether they were married once or twice, it was bigamous. It sounds romantic, in a small church in Dover, but we do know that they definitely tied the knot in Whitehall in January 1533. Oh well, both could easily be marriages, which means that they were well and truly tied together.

    A question….Did Anne and Henry have a more public ceremony in April 1533, as I read somewhere, though I cannot remember where, that they had such a ceremony, small but official this time a few days after the Annulment at Dunstable?

  5. Whilst it is true that Henry married Anne before his marriage was annulled, saying that he was a bigamist might be an bit of a fallacious argument. His marriage was annulled based on some pretext about Catharine of Aragon having been married to Henry’s brother. Therefore the argument for annulment was that Henry and Catherine were never properly married and that Mary was a bastard. Therefore if he was never properly married then he wasn’t being bigamous by marrying Anne.
    I’m not saying I agree. I think Henry found a way to twist the law and religion to suit his own needs. I also think that he really believed his own propaganda. But the argument against bigamy is still there.

    1. I agree that if you look at the argument from Henry’s point of view, he certainly came to believe that he and Katharine had made an error, through no fault of their own, as they had the full backing of the ultimate authority of their day, the Roman Catholic Church and the word of their Catholic Majesties that it was fine as Katharine did not consummate her marriage to Prince Arthur. The couple from their point of view were legally married due to the correct dispensation. There were two of these, one indicated it was not, the other it was and as the testimony in the Legitine court in 1529 claimed, a number of people believed that it was due to the morning boasts of the 15 years old Prince Arthur. Katharine vowed that she was a virgin and her marriage to Henry was lawful, so if you come along with Katharine, then she remained the true wife of Henry Viii and her appeal to Rome meant that they could only be separated by their ruling. The political situation and fact of Katharine being the aunt of the person with the army, Charles v, led to delays and it was clear by 1531/2 that the annulment was not going to be granted, so Henry took steps for an English divorce, from Rome. The Church could also have issued a new dispensation or said you can have a divorce but the Princess Mary is legitimate as the couple married in good faith. Not what a fed up King Henry Viii wanted. By now he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and he changed the rules. He did knowingly commit bigamy, he even asked Rome for permission to do so, via Dr Knight back in 1527/8. Even though he was committed to the belief that his marriage was not valid and he was free to marry, Henry knew that legally, publicly, morally and spiritually he could not marry. He had to argue his case to make himself head of the church before Convocation, he sent George Boleyn for this, he had to seperate from Katherine, he needed King Francis to support his case, he had to promote a new Archbishop as William Warham died, hence Thomas Cranmer, who called a Synod at Dunstable in April 1533, after he had secretly married Anne Boleyn, to annul his marriage and then have Parliament ratify it all. By his own actions, marriage in secret and annulment three months later, Henry feared he was married still and could never be free without legally having his first marriage annulled. As Katherine was waiting on the Curia, who did declare her marriage to Henry valid, in her view he did commit bigamy and adultery with Anne Boleyn. In the eyes of the entire Catholic would, save maybe Francis, he was lawfully married to Katherine of Aragon. In fact, Anne Boleyn was his paramour as far as Charles was concerned and the Church agreed. Even by his own standards, before the annulment granted by Cranmer, for four months, Henry Viii had two wives, no matter how he felt, or it could be argued that he should have waved by by to Katharine and wedded and bedded Anne Boleyn back in 1531. That he still hoped for Papal approval is witnessed in a last appeal at this time. He even wrote again in 1532. That he did not marry Anne before he had to, that he set in motion a number of legislative frameworks to ensure he was properly annulled and to protect his legal heirs by Anne, shows he had a number of concernd he wished to avoid, regarding how his first marriage would impact on this and how it would be opposed for one thing. Could it be that he was also anxious and secretly not as certain about his position as he claimed? Modern authors have claimed that Henry Viii as a person was troubled and insecure. Insecurity in a King obsessed with his public image would certainly lead to extra precautions with his second marriage. Anne’s pregnancy pushed the timetable up a bit, thus Henry may have believed he was free to marry, but the reality was he was not, not lawfully, not until his marriage was declared invalid and his new one valid by Cranmer.

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