17 May 1536 – The Annulment of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s Marriage

Posted By on May 17, 2013

Genevieve Bujold Richard BurtonOn 17th May 1536, at Lambeth, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in the presence of Sir Thomas Audley, the Duke of Suffolk, the Earl of Oxford and others, declared that the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was null and void.1 This sentence of “nullity” meant that it was as if the marriage had never happened and automatically rendered the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, illegitimate. The King could now forget the woman waiting for her death in the Tower and move on with his life and marry again.

We do not know the grounds for the annulment. The Archbishop simply said that it was “in consequence of certain just and lawful impediments which, it was said, were unknown at the time of the union, but had lately been confessed to the Archbishop by the lady herself.”2 Charles Wriothesley3 took this to mean that the Queen confessed to a pre-contract with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. However, the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, believed that “the said Archbishop had pronounced the marriage of the King and Concubine invalid on account of the King having had connection with her sister, and that, as both parties knew of this, the good faith of the parents cannot make the said bastard legitimate.”4 Thus, the impediment referred to here was that of consanguinity. In other words, the marriage was deemed incestuous because the King had had a previous sexual relationship with Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary Boleyn.

(Taken from The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway)

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 896
  2. Wriothesley, Charles. A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, 41.
  3. Ibid.
  4. LPx. 909

25 thoughts on “17 May 1536 – The Annulment of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s Marriage”

  1. margaret says:

    it might have been to do with something no one knows about in this day and age and possibly not recorded ,maybe something to do with Katherine of aragon and henry deciding he was lawfully married to her all along and not ever married to anne ,who knows with this man and what he might convince himself was true.

  2. Tudor Addict says:

    I can only wonder how Mary Boleyn would have been affected by this scandal had she not fallen out with her family. Her banishment from court may have saved her from further damage to her reputation… maybe it even saved her own life. Who knows? Still, regardless of her estrangement, I think she must have been truly devastated by these proceedings and I can’t imagine the depth of her grief.

    And Elizabeth… still a toddler and already demoted in status when she was about to lose her mother! And she knew something was different; the record of her asking why she was addressed as a princess one day and as a lady the next day is just heartbreaking.

    1. Tudor rose says:

      It was “Heartbreaking” I agree…but everything that happens in life happens for a reason you have to remember that! Be it for a good or bad reason right or wrong!

  3. Tudor rose says:

    Marriage annulled five men executed all within the same day!

    1. Peter Morgan says:

      It was a busy day at the office for poor Henry, he must have been exhausted.

  4. miladyblue says:

    IF it is true that the marriage was declared null and void based on Henry’s previous relationship with Mary Boleyn, how handy that must have been to Henry! If the marriage to Anne produced a son, well, that was a vile rumor in the King’s past. If the marriage did NOT produce a son, well, he was TRICKED!! Poor, sweet innocent Henry was lured into an incestuous and unlawful marriage!

    Pardon me while I find a bucket so I can throw up. Henry truly makes me sick.

    1. margaret says:

      send that bucket my way when you are finished with it ,he makes me sick too.

    2. Tudor rose says:


  5. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Henry V111,Made his own rules up,and he did not care what they were,Q’Kate was already Gone,how convenent for him and his next bride The Lady Jane Seymour,too make Q’Anne a NOTHING and his child a BASTARD.He was lawfully married to ,Queen Anne!!! and Elizabeth was his child.Henry was not a hard man too figure out,he board fast,when he did’nt get what he wanted he moved right over anyone or anything in his path,no matter who or what.He cared about Him and Him alone,he wanted a SON at any exspence!So kill off 54 or more people,at one time was nothing to this King!! Regards Baroness x

    1. Peter Morgan says:

      Baroness, thInk about it, ‘He wanted a son at any expense’ … which would include wanting another lawfully married wife if Anne failed to produce such a son and heir. Anne did not produce Henry’s wanted son and heir to the throne and it was then time for Henry to move on to find another wife in the hope to have the legitimate son he so wanted as any expense.

      So what’s my point? Henry’s personal commitment to Anne in marriage was not complete It was conditional … ‘give me a son’ or I will find someone else who will.

      He was not committed to the marriage to Anne, and THERE is the ground for a lawful annulment.

      A ground for annulment in the a Catholic a Church is a Defect in Contract: If it was not a marriage that was contracted, such as if there was a defect of intent on either side. This can occur if either party lacked the intent to enter into a lifelong, exclusive union.

      Your own words have given Henry the lawful grounds for an Annulment!

      That is not to say that. Henry was anything other than a cad ( or much much worse) but because he was a cad that is his ground of annulment!!! He didn’t really want to marry Anne for life he just wanted to marry her to have a legitimate male heir!

      I am not saying that was the actual ground relied for the annulment but it was a legitimate ground for the annulment.

      Of course, the most obvious ground for annulment was the view of the Pope and the rest of Christendom outside of England …. at the time Henry married Anne he was then lawfully married to Catherine his first wife and that the declaration of annulment of that marriage was invalid.

  6. M'lady says:

    I’ve often wondered what would have happened had Anne bore him a son. Would it have changed anything? Would he have still wanted to be rid of her? I assume Jane still would have taken his attention. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t dwell on the ‘what if’s’ because it just upsets me and makes me so angry with Henry.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      M’Lady,I too had wondered the same thing?I do think had Anne, gave him live healthy sons,and not just one many, perhapes History would have changed.But he still most likely he would have messed around,that was Henrys MO.Although I don’t think ,Jane Seymour could have won over the King.But who knows look at what happend to ,The Princess Of Wales,she was just an incubator to give ,Charles hiers too the Throne as Camilla ,was far to old too give him children. Kind Regards Baroness x

  7. M'lady says:

    Hi Claire, just out of interest, where was Elizabeth being kept at this time and who was caring for her? And did Anne ever get to see Elizabeth one last time?

  8. Kim says:

    I thought there was a papal dispensation given at the time of the marriage of Henry and Anne specifically for the consanguinity issue.

    Also, Cranmer was Anne’s “man” I thought, yet he seems to have turned on her. I guess that’s how fortunes fell in those times.

    Another well written, well documented article, Claire.

    1. Tudor rose says:

      Even today they still can in certain circumstances!

  9. Conor Byrne says:

    It’s interesting that Retha Warnicke disagrees with these theories for why the marriage was annulled, and suggests it was annulled on grounds of witchcraft – Henry had not consented to marrying Anne as she had bewitched him. Not sure the evidence really supports this.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Conor,Henry as I said made up anything too wiggle his way out of what ever was in his way,no matter what,that was just one of 17 charges against ,Queen Anne,But the biggest and best was she,was found guilty of adultery,and he used that against the first ,Queen Kate too.You have to think like Henry V111,if one thing won’t work then he had too have a back up plane,hence the witch charges,and a long list of other charges against Queen Anne. Did you have a chance too read Claires books? It really explaines how this whole mess went down. Kind Regards Baroness

      1. Baroness, if I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that Henry also accused Katherine of Aragon of adultery. That is simply not true. Indeed, he declared publicly that Katherine was a true and faithful wife to him. His grounds for ridding himself of Katherine was that she had previously been married to his brother.

        Given that, I find it unlikely that he would have disposed of Anne on the same grounds (i.e. his affair with Mary). He secretly married Anne in November 1532, before he had any annulment from Katherine, and again in January 1533. It wasn’t until after both these dates that Cranmer declared his marriage to Katherine null and void.

  10. maryrose says:

    But if there was no “proper” marriage between Henry and Anne in the first place, then how can she be accused of adultery, when adultery is impossible without a marriage…?
    Not sure about the exact terms of the annulment though.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      maryrose,Like I stated, Henry made his own rules,first is was a true marriage,and when, Henry did not get his way ,it was not a true marriage.If we all could go back into time,at the court of Henry V111,who’s going too tell him no not me?well mabe I would have ,and then my head would not be on my person,,or worse burned at the stake? Racked,peeled and quarterd,disenbowled. I’d pass on all of that.As for the terms, they were Henrys terms,that it and thats all. Regards B x

  11. BanditQueen says:

    Having done it once: got rid of a Queen of England and replaced her with a commoner as Queen; a lady in waiting, an English subject, it was now of course easy to do the same again. Henry this time, however, did not have to go through all of the messing around by going through the legal courts and having the decision made by Rome or a commission appointed by Rome here, as he had with Katherine. He had put the works in place to have his marriage declared null and void by a court in England, by the Church in England or by Convocation in England, or a simple Church commission. This allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury to find grounds to annul the marriage and to declare those grounds before selected witnesses. Ironically it was much easier for Henry to get rid of Queen Anne as it was Queen Katherine.

    But why announce the marriage as null and void and have her killed for treason and adultery?

    The only reason to do so would have been to ensure that no impediment at all to both his marriage to Jane and to their children as being the true legal heirs to the crown of England. Had he a wife living, his marriage to Jane, as his marriage to Katherine may have been doubted. Henry needed to be certain. He needed to annul the marriage in order to make his child by Anne, Elizabeth illegitimate in the eyes of the world and the law, and he needed to go ahead with the execution of Anne, once she was found guilty, in order to make sure that no living wife came between himself and Jane. Henry needed a clean break with the past and this was it. It may seem from our point of view over the top having the marriage annulled and to execute her as technically had the marriage not have existed as legal, then how could Anne have committed adultery?

    This is the sixteenth century and they saw things in quite a different way, and Henry’s way was his own. We may not understand his logic, but in the thinking of the time it all made perfect sense. So poor Cranmer was put to work to find an excuse, a pre contract of some nature, true or false in order to free Henry from Anne, free him from their past, and then her death put a seal on the whole gory scheme.

    1. Peter Morgan says:

      Hi Bandit Queen. I think you have slummed up the situation correctly. Plus think of the carrot he could offer his next wife, “Marry me and your child will rule England.” Such children would not have to wait in turn after Mary and Elizabeth as they had now been declared illegitimate and being no longer entitled to the Thrown of England. The annulments were icing on the cake and a deal breaker for his next bride to be.

      However, it surely must be recorded somewhere the precise grounds that gave some justification for Cramer’s annulment announcement. The fact that Henry bonked Anne’s sister would not have been an ‘unknown’ secret … at least Henry knew that for a start! So on what grounds did Cramer rely upon to attempt to justify his annulment decision?

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  13. So here we go again!!!! What a bore this man could be. Having to get rid of yet another wife, so I will turn to my friends & colleagues & have them try to fashion another story. All for HIS benefit of course. And…oh, my, would you look at that!!!! We were never truly married in the first place. In this particular instance, why could he not just say, he married Anne while he was still married to Katherine of Aragon, instead of going on about, well, I cannot be truly married to Anne, because I slept with her sister!!! Really!!!!

  14. Peter amorgan says:

    Henry, upon your deeds I shall build my Church of England.

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