anne boleyn portrait by john hoskinsOn this day in 1536, Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, reported to Thomas Cromwell what Anne Boleyn had said to him over dinner:

“Yet this day at dinner the Queen said she would go to “anonre” (a nunnery), and is in hope of life.”

This was following a visit from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been sent to the Tower of London that day to act as Anne’s confessor. It is not known what Cranmer said to Anne, but he was able to obtain her consent to the annulment of her marriage to Henry VIII. Did Cranmer offer Anne some kind of deal in return for her consent? It is impossible to say, but something caused Anne to have renewed hope.

While Cranmer was visiting Anne in the Tower, Henry VIII’s new flame, Jane Seymour, was receiving guests at her lodgings in Chelsea – courtiers who were there to curry favour with the woman who was sure to be their new queen. As for the King, he was signing death warrants, one of them his wife’s.

Notes and Sources

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33 thoughts on “16 May 1536 – Anne Boleyn is “in hope of life””
  1. It’s nice to see that Anne wasn’t a martyr a la Catherine of Aragon. She probably saw a chance to save her life and took it, even if meant making her daughter a bastard. Oh well!

  2. Seems Cranmer was as much real help to Anne as Warham was to Catherine; probably spouting the same scripture: “The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will appease it.” KJB, Proverbs 16:14. Ira principis mors est.

  3. I can never see why Henry had Anne executed, she was no longer his wife and Elizabeth was named a bastard, why could he not exile them and let her live, she could do no harm to him?

    1. I personally think he executed her because he knew deep inside he still loved her but if she lived there was always going to be that chance of her coming back to him, and henry was not a man to let his people see him as a feeble man.. Also, if Anne lived, she was not one to let things go so easily and she would have used her daughter to get back with him!

    2. Just goes to show how much he had grown to hate her over the years. He could have been merciful and spared her life. Anne was no threat, she had no royal or foreign connections to back her. Elizabeth was a girl, again with no powerful relations except her father, and she had been bastardised by both her parents’ consent. Anne was even compliant to the annulment so it’s not as if she would have raised an army against him, not that she was even capable of that.

      No, Henry already had what he wanted but he still kicked her in the teeth and actively sough to punish her further. That sounds like pure and utter hatred to my ears. Don’t understand how people can delude themselves into thinking he was still in love with Anne despite that he was actively responsible for her pre planned, calculated and cold blooded murder.

    3. Catherine of Aragon had been a thorn in his side for years and I expect he didn’t want history repeating itself. He wanted a completely clean break, no other wife stirring, causing trouble or being a figure head for rebellion.

      1. But Anne complied, and as said before, Anne had no major allies like Catherine did. I don’t think she was much of a threat. It was probably the plain fact that she wasn’t a threat that allowed him to execute her so easily in comparison to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves.

        1. She and Elizabeth could have been used as figure heads by Reformers though and compliance now did not mean that she would stay silent for ever. I think Henry had learned the hard way that it was not good to have an ex in the shadows. Even with the compliant Anne of Cleves there were rumours that she’d given birth to the King’s child and that Henry wanted to take her back.

        2. How so? Whilst Anne was a champion of reforming the Catholic church she wasn’t a Lutheran and was still quite a conservative Catholic, believing in pilgramages and the final sacrament etc. I don’t think she would want to have been the figurehead of a Reformation uprising and I believe people would have known to have used Cromwell or even Cranmer, who were more ‘enlightened’ as their rallying point. It was known that Anne believed Cromwell was corrupt and self serving due to the sermon she had preached on her behalf. I don’t think even Cromwell would have wanted to have used her as a rallying point after this snub.

        3. I didn’t say that she was a Lutheran but she was seeking reform within the church. In the 1530s, her faith was shaped by French reformists, but it’s not to say that it would have become more ‘Protestant’ in style as time went on and ideas developed. Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I didn’t want to be figure heads for Wyatt’s Rebellion but it doesn’t stop people using you for their own ends. At the end of the day, though, I’m not really talking about Reformers using Anne and Elizabeth, I’m talking about Henry believing that they could have done. Mary never actively sought to bring Anne Boleyn down but it didn’t stop Catholic conservatives using her to rally others. Even in a nunnery, Anne wouldn’t be forgotten by some people.

      2. Henry also had a lot of ghosts regarding Katherine. He believed that while his wife still lived, he could not marry and conceive a male heir. THAT was why he had her executed despite her agreement to the annulment… tying up loose ends, making sure all was square with God, no living wives = no reason to think his next wife would not conceive his much longed for son. Yes he made himself head of the church, but he said time and time again words like “I see God will never allow me a son” why? Because he’d remarried while his first wife still lived. Kill off both wives, problem solved! That’s also why he had to do it legally and by the book (pah, we all know Anne was innocent, so did he probably) so that his conscience would allow him to believe she was a traitor and therefore he’d done the right thing so would God and he was therefore free to remarry. This was Henry’s driving force, his fixation on getting a son. That’s why he decided Anne had to go after she miscarried a boy AND why he put off marrying Jane until Anne was actually dead. After the annulment, he could have married her straight away. But he didn’t, he waited till she was dead then got betrothed ASAP! He must have felt VERY justified when Jane had Edward. He must have thought “Ahh, see, I was right! God allowed me to have this boy because I was free to marry Jane properly. God must also know Anne’s guilty otherwise Edward would not be here” little did he know, his bastard daughter Elizabeth would grow to be the best ruler of his 3 heirs. Stupid, evil man!

        1. But Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth were sought as figureheads when Protestantism had taken hold in England and was slowly becoming a majority after the reign of Edward VI, the first truly Protestant King of England. Any rebellion around Anne would have been a minority ‘Reformation’ in a majority Catholic country around an ex Queen (who had admitted herself she was never legally married to the King) and the daughter she herself had admitted was a bastard.

          And I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth that Anne was a Lutheran, I was merely pointing out she was a reforming Catholic who still supported Catholic doctrine she just wanted to end the corruption within the churc and Papacy, where as others such as John Frith actually attacked transubstantiation etc.

        2. I think you’re misunderstanding me, I’m talking about what was going on in Henry VIII’s head, what he would have worried about regarding Anne being still alive, rather than what could really happen.

          As an aside, Anne may well have moved on with her faith, as Cranmer did, had she been allowed to live. Anne and her brother George imported religious books from the Continent and kept “current” with religious thought and theory.

        3. By the way, I’m only sharing what I think, my opinion, nobody knows what was going on in Henry’s head and others will say that it was actually Cromwell who wanted Anne completely out of the way.

    4. because henry was a cruel,selfish king who cared for no one but his big obese self ,,I so feel for Anne .God bless her soul

    5. Henry wanted a fresh start with Jane Seymour and he did not want the shadow of another living wife in the background over his third marriage as Catherine had been a throrn in the marriage with Anne. He had to both declare his marriage to Anne invalid and legally bar Elizabeth from the throne and he had to go ahead with the execution as she had been found guilty of treason as well as adultery. Henry did not want anything to show that his new marriage had a question mark over it. Had he simply now that Anne had agreed to the annulment released her and sent her to exile; there was always the possibliity that she could cause some sort of trouble; she could not come back to him; she would have been banished and imprisoned in a nunnery or sent abroad and could have been kept from court on pain of death. Had he simply accepted that the marriage was now null and void; he would have doubted his third marriage. Under canon law you cannot be free to marry if you have a wife still alive and that I think would have haunted Henry. No he needed a double strike: end the marriage end the taint on his next marriage; and still rid himself of Anne through her execution. This time the King was taking no chances; Anne had been condemned and the ending of the marriage through her consent also barred her daughter from the crown. Remember in Henry’s mind at this point he now doubted that Elizabeth was his child and was making everything neat and tidy in law.

    6. I think a lot came together. First, having Anne dead ensured there would be no neverending story a la Katherine. Anne, annulment or not, was a crowned queen of England. Stripped of her titles, but still anointed. Having her executed meant no supporters of Anne could use her as a figurehead or a reason to rebel.
      Also, he might have honestly convinced himself that Anne was quilty and doled out the, to him, according punishment for it. (The only thing bigger than his waist was his ego after all..)
      With Katherine and Anne dead, no one could say that he wasn’t absolutely free to marry Jane.
      Lastly, how do you justify to your subjects breaking with Rome because your first marriage is not lawful even though the pope says it is, then marry wife no #2 claiming that this marriage is right and lawful in God’s eyes and then, only a few years later be like “Oh, I was wrong, my bad, I’ll just get me another wife and let this one go”. Anne had to be the guilty party for the marriage not working beyond any doubt and the only way to achieve that was to slander and accuse her the way she was. And those alleged offences were too severe to spare her life. Commuting from being hanged, drawn and quartered to beheading or, in Anne’s case, to beheading with the sword, was probably the biggest concession Henry could make after that mock trial.

  4. Wasn’t it because she was found guilty of treason and treason was punishable by death in those days? Great site by the way – love it

  5. It is clear to me henry believed she had commuted treason against him and broken
    His laws. Even if his pain and rage had diminished by the time of her death, no
    sonless king under stress could let it just pass and remain in complete control.

    The idea that Anne would be a threat by virtue of leading reformers is silly; the
    majority of the country hated the reforms and wanted their church back, as events
    not long after prove.

    However, as Henry was always a catholic and needed to make sure he was not excommunicated which would put him at personal risk, I say again as I have said
    Before, he could have made a case that she was a threat to himself and his kingdom.

  6. i think henry became very disillusioned with anne and believed she was guilty and actually ended up hating her ,i do not belive henry loved anne ,if he did truly love ,her not producing a son would not have affected his love for her,he became obsessed with the son and heir bit and anne actively encouraged this by foolishly promising him a son BUTonly if she was married to him,anne and henry played to each others egos and both had big egos .i don’t get the “they were supposedly very religious”they both commited adultery ,had no thought for Katherine of aragon literally pining away with grief and hurt because of what they had done to her.

  7. I think, all anyone can do, is guess. No one will ever know what was said to Anne that night. It would have been kinder of Henry to let her go to a nunnery; however, why would he do that when he already had the guilty plea in his hand and the reason to be rid of her forever.

    I wish that she had been allowed to go to a nunnery or back to France. I wonder if Cranmer was trying to show the king that she would be willing to go to a nunnery if he would give her the opportunity. I think Claire is right and he just figured he needed her gone…..period.

  8. IMO, Henry wanted Anne dead because the failure to have a son showed that G-d frowned on the marriage, and he blamed Anne for his being in a second, sinful marriage. Also, he probably felt like a fool, considering that he tore the country apart to avoid a marriage that had produced nothing but a daughter and miscarriages or dead sons, only to get another daughter and miscarriages. Making Henry look or feel foolish was another problem. Getting Anne’s consent to the annulment wouldn’t be a problem … I’m sure she was y frightened that Henry would treat Elizabeth the same way he treated Mary if she resisted as Catherine did.

  9. I think that Henry was in two minds at one point over what to do with Anne but clearly by now he just wants to end this whole mess. He cannot move on with Anne alive; she had too much to say for herself and could have caused him trouble. Henry could not have executed Katherine of Aragon; she was a Spanish Princess and not his subject; she had the power of the Emperor behind her and he probably did not have any reason to execute her. Anne had a growing number of in court enemies who gathered around and got behind Cromwell to bring her to ruin. But Henry had another little problem: Elizabeth. He may have dotted on her but now he was not sure that she was his child; although the golden red hair may have been a slight give away; and he wanted a legal avenue to bring the marriage to an end to declare her a bastard.

    Sadly for Anne this device to declare her marriage null and void was not an alternative way out; it was part of a double edged attack. Henry had seen her condemned for treason and adultery and was not going to go back on that. But with his marriage to Jane coming up and the promise of another chance of a son and heir; he could not afford a stain on this new marriage. It was not enough for him to have Anne executed; his legal ties to her had to be broken for him to be free to marry again and for him to move on. That was how he saw things.. Anne seems to have been taken in by this trick and sadly thought that it would save her. I think had it been any other woman than Anne Boleyn there may have been a chance of a reprieve but there is something about Anne that made her dangerous, too dangerous to keep alive. Something about their relationship seems not to have quite sat right with the King after they were married and I think Henry was actually aftaid of her. That may sound crazy but this woman had driven him mad with passion for seven years; changed his whole life; led him to break with Rome and the consequences of their marriage had been terrible. Henry blamed Anne for all sorts of things and I think he imagined that with her safely and completely out of the way; he could breathe again and that life would be more balanced and he would be a better King. I think he wanted to turn the clock back and thought that if he acted as if she had not existed then everything would be sweetness and light again. He could not forsee the turmoil that was still to come: he just wanted out of disasterous marriage and Anne out of him life for good.

    Anne was given hope; well she had no reason to think that there was any need for her to be executed now if her marriage had been annulled. I am glad she had one happy lighter sense of hope in this her darkest hours. Even a false hope is better than no hope at all.

  10. IMHO, Henry wanted to show the world he was a widower and able to contract a fully legal marriage with Jane. Katherine of Aragon was dead so in the eyes of the Catholics, Henry was free to mary since the Pope had never recognised a union with Anne

    By Anne’s “death'”, he was a widower in a way that a simple annulment would never have allowed. While the annulment was useful in disbarring Elizabeth form the line of succession, Anne’s undoubtly legal demise ( Obi-Wan Kenobi..From a certain point of view…Jedi hand-wave!) left Henry free to contract a fully legal union with Jane.

    No previous wives cluttering up the child wth a possible legal right to inherit above Jane’s sons…

  11. I know she was in fear of her life but I can’t she Anne, after all the trouble she went through to marry Henry, agreeing to an annulment! As a religious woman would she really have believed in her heart that her vows that she took before god were now invalid? I suppose no, that personally, like Anne of Cleves she would always see herself as Henry’s true wife but would do or saying anything to save her life. But still, a nunnery seems a little extreme. If Henry had opted to send her nunnery, he would never allow her to move freely or see her daughter again… Surely she would have realized that?

  12. I think an important thing to remember as to why Henry needed to get rid of Anne entirely, rather than just sending her away, is that he had no intention of going back to Rome or of ever re-legitimizing Mary as many of Anne’s enemies and religious conservatives hoped/thought he would after Anne was gone. Therefore, England would be staying under the Church of England with Henry as the Supreme Head. It was this church that had granted the divorce and allowed Henry to marry Anne. At this moment it was by no means certain that Henry’s marriage to Jane would produce a son. So, I think perhaps he was worried that if he should die without legitimate male issue Anne and Anne’s supporters might come out of the woodwork again and push Elizabeth as the rightful heir under the newly created religious regime. It’s probably also the reason why he creates the act saying that he can name his heir around this time. Perhaps, he was thinking of naming Richmond or the children of Mary and Charles if Jane didn’t have a boy. Plus, Anne dying as an executed adulteress and traitor would tar her reputation permanently. It’s no surprise that later when Elizabeth is queen that Sander and the like attack her through Anne.

    It would have been an amazing thing if Anne had been sent to a nunnery and lived to eventually see Elizabeth become queen. Would she have been brought back to court? I don’t think Henry would have added Elizabeth back into the line of succession had Anne been alive somehow though.

    This report always makes me sad actually. Anne was a survivor by nature (so was Elizabeth) and to see for whatever reason that she still had some hope makes what happens just three days later even more sad. I do think Cranmer may have implied that agreeing to the annulment may save her life.

  13. It was the job of a king (and queen) to secure the family line through a don, and thus
    protect the safety and wealth of his people and kingdom. Anne had zero to do with Henry
    needing a male heir and he was in process of making his son henry fitzroy said heir
    should a legit son not appear.

    A sonless king was seen as weak, not doing his job to secure the realm, and vulnerable
    to attack by more virility kings; Francis had several sons and Charles had a couple.
    This was no small comparison in Henry’s day. Kings were notoriously paranoid
    about fecund rivals, and Elizabeth I was viciously unfair to Katherine and Mary Grey as
    well as arbella stuart, not to mention Mary Stuart .

  14. I think this was a situation that spiralled out of control !! Ann was so good to smeaton and yet he betrayed Ann as well !! Poor women she was thrown to the lions and ripped to pieces . What courage this lady had and such dignity a women of substance beautiful in so many ways I admire her greatly !!!!

  15. I think Henry believed Anne`s adultery which would explain his spite in her punishment and im not convinced Anne was entirely innocent. I can quite see how she may have tried to get pregnant by some other man to give henry a son,A woman who used her wiles to keep the king at bay for 7 years is surely capable of plotting such a thing when so much was at stake.

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