18 April 1536 – Chapuys Bows to Queen Anne Boleyn

Apr18,2014 #Eustace Chapuys

Eustace ChapuysOn Tuesday 18th April 1536, the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, met Anne Boleyn in the chapel of Greenwich Palace. He had refused the offer of visiting Anne and kissing her hand, claiming that such “a visit would not be advisable” and begging Cromwell to excuse him, but the King had other ideas.1 George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, conducted the ambassador to mass and manoeuvred him behind the door through which Anne would enter. As Anne entered with the King, she turned, stopped and bowed to Chapuys. Chapuys had no choice but to bow in return. Chapuys recorded this event in a letter to Charles V:

“I was conducted to mass by lord Rochford, the concubine’s brother, and when the King came to the offering there was a great concourse of people partly to see how the concubine and I behaved to each other. She was courteous enough, for when I was behind the door by which she entered, she returned, merely to do me reverence as I did to her.”2

Paul Friedmann, in his 1884 book “Anne Boleyn”, writes that “a good many people who had hoped that Chapuis would be rude to his former enemy were grievously vexed, and Mary herself was astonished when she heard that the ambassador of the emperor had bowed to ‘that woman’.”3 Friedmann cites a letter from Chapuys to Granvelle, in which Chapuys writes:

“Although I would not kiss or speak to the Concubine, the Princess and other good persons have been somewhat jealous at the mutual reverences required by politeness which were done at the church.”4

Chapuys downplays the event as a show of mere politeness, but it is clear that he was manipulated into the display.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 699
  2. Ibid.
  3. Friedmann, Paul (1884) Anne Boleyn: A Chapter of English History 1527-1536, Volume II, p231
  4. LP x. 720

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10 thoughts on “18 April 1536 – Chapuys Bows to Queen Anne Boleyn”
  1. Thanks for the post. I find the timing odd — do you have any ideas or guesses as to why Chapuys wasn’t manipulated into bowing to Anne at an earlier date? If the bow alone was sufficient to show that the Emperor was recognizing the marriage, I would think that Henry night want to do it when Catherine of Aragon could be demoralized by it. Also, what would have happened if Chapuys had not bowed to Anne?.

    1. I’d be interested to know this as well. Probably a combination of factors — among other things, securing the Emperor’s recognition might have been both higher-priority and considered more attainable now that Catherine of Aragon was dead; manipulating Chapuys into a confrontation while Catherine was still alive had the risk of backfiring badly if he decided to make an issue of it.

  2. In researching Chapuys for my book, I discovered that many myths have become entrenched as fact. A close reading of this event shows that Chapuys wasn’t tricked or manipulated, in the sense that he wasn’t forced to bow. Chapuys is clear: he was already “paying reverence” but Anne chose in this instance to acknowledge it. So in fact, after all this time, Anne was paying her respects to the Imperial ambassador, and through him, Charles V himself. The sources go around in circles, repeating incorrect information, but the original documents tell us exactly what happened.

    1. Lauren, I don’t agree and my interpretation is not based on secondary sources, it is based on primary sources.
      Chapuys describes how Henry VIII wanted him to meet and kiss Anne, but that he refused, so George Boleyn took him to mass and placed him where he would come into contact with Anne. Chapuys was the forced to react in some way, and he knew that his reaction could cause problems, which is why he he is careful to not make a fuss of the incident. He comments that Mary was not happy with what happened:
      “Although I would not kiss or speak to the Concubine, the Princess and other good persons have been somewhat jealous at the mutual reverences required by politeness which were done at the church.”
      I think it was down to Henry VIII, not the Boleyns. Chapuys had refused Henry’s offer of meeting Anne and kissing her hand, but Henry was not going to let him get away with a refusal.
      That is my intepretation of it and it is based on my reading on the primary sources. Obviously we disagree!

  3. Chapuys’ letter makes it clear that the bow isn’t a reaction, he’s already bowing, or making reverence, but she turns to acknowledge it.

    I should also note that his letter, in the original, doesn’t completely tally with the translated Letters and Papers. This event doesn’t happen when Anne and Henry enter, it happens when they come out from the Chapel Royal. He’s very clear about proceedings. If we look at the meeting that takes place later that evening, her acknowledgment makes sense.

    1. We’ll have to agree to disagree. Chapuys is quite clear in explaining to Charles V how he came to be in that predicament, and I think it can be interpreted in various ways – including that Chapuys was bowing to the King, and then Anne acknowledged him, turning his reverence to the King into reverence to her too.

  4. Curious that only a month after the Chapuys incident Anne Boleyn was executed. Did Anne fear her downfall was coming and schemed with her brother to confirm her bona fides?

  5. Chapyrus may not have been manipulated into doing reverence to Anne but he was going to extra lengths that he did not have to make a formal acknowledgement of her. By excusing himself from kissing Anne’s hand or cheek as he was invited to do so; he got out of a difficult situation by advising Cromwell it was not a good idea. I would have loved to be a flie on the wall when Cromwell told the King the ambassador was going to get out of this presentation. A pity that was not recorded!

    But I agree with Lauren there is no forced response from Chapyus. Anne and the King came down to take the sacraments and he was in a place that they would have to pass; he could get away with a simple nod or polite bow as the went by and no-one would have throught anything of it. He was making a poilte reverence and Anne turned to bow to him. He bowed in respons: most likely a brief bow; not a formal courtly bow. He also makes it clear how he sees the incident. He is not upset by it and he sees it as making the same reverence as to anyone who is important; I think that is what he is going and Anne appreciates him. Anne could be gracious when she wanted to be; and as Queen it was required. She is being gracious to Chapuys and he is being polite: it is not him publically acknowledging her as Queen. I do not believe he was tricked either: he was meant to be escorted to Mass; he then did not dine with the royal couple and the charade continued.

    A lot happened in these couple of days: Henry also had an audiance with Chapuys in which he listened to proposals to reinstate Mary to the succession, as hoped by Cromwell who had hoped that he could engineer an alliance with the Emperor, but did not bank on Henry putting his foot in it. Henry unleashed a torrent of frustration and anger in the meeting stating that he resented the way Charles had treated him and at some point demanded he apologise and first achnowledge Anne as Queen before he would treat further. The plan had failed, Cromwells attempts at foreign policy behind his masters back had failed and I think it was partly at this point that he decided that poor Anne was an obstacle to be set aside. Anne was no longer an effective conduate for what Cromwell saw as a desirable foreign policy: that old alliance with France was not an option any longer; and he needed someone that could promote his interests with the King, who blew hot and cold in such matters. In other words; with Cromwell’s foreign hopes in tatters; the person he believed was most likely to harm it needed to be neutralised: Anne had to go.

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