2 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn as Queen Esther

Posted By on April 2, 2018

On Passion Sunday 1536, the fifth Sunday of Lent, which fell on 2nd April, Queen Anne Boleyn’s almoner, John Skip, preached a rather controversial sermon in the presence of King Henry VIII.

The sermon’s topic was the Old Testament story of Queen Esther saving the Jews, as told in the Book of Esther. In a nutshell, King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) had been convinced by his wicked minister Haman to issue a command killing all of the Jews in his kingdom. The Jews were, however, saved because Queen Esther went before the king and petitioned him to spare her people. Her husband granted this request and Haman came to a rather nasty end.

I agree with historians Eric Ives and Diarmaid MacCulloch that this sermon was not just a simple Bible story, it was an attack on the advice that King Henry VIII’s advisers were giving him and it was a petition from Anne Boleyn (Queen Esther) to Henry VIII (King Ahasuerus).

Click here to read more.

Picture: Detail of Queen Esther from a painting by Edwin Long; Anne Boleyn by John Hoskins.

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10 thoughts on “2 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn as Queen Esther”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    Although I’m sure Henry initiated Anne:s downfall in May, after that sermon Thomas Cromwell was more than happy to do whatever the King wanted against her. (And more)

  2. Esther says:

    In an article entitled “Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation”, historian Eric Ives says that the Council spoke with Skip about this sermon — totally ignoring the “Cromwell as Haman” analogy and concentrating on another part of the sermon where Skip spoke against the further dissolution of the monasteries. This last opposition would have infuriated Henry … who wanted the money for war on France. According to Schofield’s biography, Cromwell had tried to get a poor relief bill through Parliament that called for public works projects for the unemployed, as well as schools … If so, I don’t think he would object to Anne Boleyn wanting to help the poor with the proceeds of the monasteries, but Henry didn’t care about the poor.

  3. Christine says:

    I agree with Esther that Henry did not think the poorer of his subjects were a priority, he loved the adulation of his subjects but preferred I think to be a feared and respected monarch than a much loved one, he always wanted glory in France and had tried unsuccessfully to conquer that country in his youth, he did not bother himself much with domestic matters, indeed that was what queens did, Anne had always tried to help the poor and needy and maybe part of the reason was to gain their love after supplanting Katherine, Cromwell was Anne’s nemesis and although he did help a lot of people in lots of ways he had intended the money from the monasteries to go in the treasury, over this he quarrelled with Anne according to many of her biographers, she wanted the money to go to charities and other worthy causes, women had often petitioned Anne seeking her help and she had tried her best to help them, often stitching with her ladies garments for the poor, maybe he wouldn’t have minded some of the money going to the poor but Henry as we have seen had other ideas to, Anne thought Cromwell was getting above himself and he was no longer her champion but was allying himself with the Seymour’s, Anne herself must have noticed and they often argued publicly, Anne never cared wether people heard or not and this latest sermon on Lent Sunday has been seen as a reference to Cromwell as Haman, the evil minister of the old bible King Ahasuerus, in the documentary ‘The Last Days Of Anne Boleyn’, it showed Anne’s almoner John Skip delivering the sermon, Cromwell glowering in his seat as Skip seemed to stare directly at him and Anne smirking above, had she contrived this sermon as a direct attack on Cromwell it appears so, ruthless in the extreme when dealing with those she purported as her enemies it is not unlikely the sermon was deliberately chosen for its similarities between Cromwell and Haman, I cannot see Anne as Queen Esther however as this queen had tried to save the Jews from a bloody death and I do t think Anne saw herself as Esther either, but I believe she definitely saw Cromwell as Haman and was insinuating to her arch enemy that he too could well end up the same.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    I think Anne was taking a big chance with this sermon, which obviously irritated Cromwell more than the King, to whom the appeal was meant. It was a direct attack on the development of extreme policies which were more about making people rich than reform, which could have gone wrong. I think it merely fell on deaf ears, although from then on Cromwell was open to orders or implications which brought Anne down, without any fuss he did the royal dirty deed.

    I know it is off topic but do you think Anne ever played Esther in a masquerade or was just familiar with the story?

    1. Christine says:

      She could have, very pious as she was she would have revelled in playing biblical women, however I think the role of Delilah would have suited her more, I wouldn’t be surprised if her enemies had cast her in that role and of Jezebel also.

    2. Esther says:

      The masques I have read about, such as the “chateau vert”, seemed to involve fiction more than Bible stories. I’m curious, though, Banditqueen, why you think Cromwell was more irritated than Henry. After all, for the reasons I already cited, it wasn’t Cromwell who disagreed with poor relief but Henry.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    Morning Esther, yes Thomas Cromwell had a workable idea for the unemployed, which was not poor relief as we might think of it but a public works scheme much as has been put into action in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with different types of success and from both private and public money (not the Poor Law). His main concern was to get people back to work, which is a reasonable method of helping people to help themselves and certainly would be a practical solution to a growing problem. Tudor policies had created this problem in the first place with land enclosures, the start of moving people from monastic land, which was now being valued for the first Dissolution Bill and new farming advances had the inevitable effect of movement of people to look for work as the start of technology led to less stable work on the land. Monastery farms and tenants would find themselves a thing of the past, so it is no surprise Cromwell is planning ahead. He did have a personal project in the City as he regularly fed hundreds of people from his own pockets.

    Anne’s quarrel with Cromwell wasn’t over this scheme which she no doubt approved of, as I have said in an earlier post on Maundy Thursday, but because of the way he was also planning to use the money from the sale and because along with the King, he wanted the religious houses gone altogether. Henry proposed that all monastic property under £200 be dissolved and the monks pensioned or sent to the larger houses, which then should be reformed. However, Cromwell and those sent out fiddled the books and undervalued many houses thus more were dissolved. Cartmel is one which was undervalued in this way, for example. Cromwell was criticised by Anne for promising the land or proceeds to choice courtiers, rather than using them for schools and hospitals. This was the advice he and others were giving the King, who agreed. The Bill had not even gone to Parliament yet and the money was already being used for ungodly purposes and property being claimed. Cromwell was also taking bribes to ensure who got what and would continue to do so for the next couple of years. Anne was furious because she had hoped that most houses would be given a programme of reform as in Medieval times, not just closed down but even ‘good’ monastic houses were closed. The report said not all were even in need of reform and even those who were had reforms recommended. Few were actually corrupt and few needed to be closed. Cromwell and Cramner had gone ahead and recommended all of the smaller monastic houses to be closed, not reformed. Anne also wanted the money and buildings used for community based hospitals, schools, alm housing and so on, not being promised to the King’s cronies. This is what they had quarrelled about.

    The sermon was aimed at Cromwell, not the King, who took no action, which was both embarrassing for the King’s minister and he was his first minister, his viceroy of religion, and many other things, was clearly aimed at him and it made him look corrupt. Henry did and said nothing, but Cromwell referred back to this later on and although it is not what led to his attack on Anne, it certainly didn’t help. It was his own change towards foreign policy which caused him worry that Anne may be a growing problem, in the way, which also left him publicly rebuked by the King, that persuaded him to cook up a way to remove Anne for good, or at least historians who blame him for Anne’s downfall point to these things as his reasons for doing so.

    As to the above, it is more likely that a set of circumstances fell into place which allowed Henry to authorise the arrests and the initial investigation of Mark Smeaton over Anne’s conversation with Henry Norris that led to her downfall, but Cromwell was certainly more than a passive participant taking orders and his own letters indicate he also wanted Anne out of the way. Historians vary from Alison Weir who believes Cromwell was the architect of a conspiracy after his two public rebukes and Claire who places Henry as the mover and shaker of everything. Most people are somewhere in the middle, as Cromwell could cook up anything he liked, but he could not and dare not act without the King’s orders. Susanna Lipscombe thinks an unfortunate set of circumstances is to blame, that Anne looked guilty, but it takes people to create circumstances, so I believe Cromwell and Henry were both waiting for their moment to strike. Henry at this stage does not appear to be out of love with Anne, he is not offended by this sermon, he is still publicly being the good husband, he makes noises to get her recognised by the Emperor and he is looking at a marriage for Elizabeth. However, behind the scenes everything is not as it seems and he has made noises about annulment. This sermon, however, would have made Cromwell uneasy, and I believe he was maybe advising something more permanent as a solution but needed to bide his time.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I forgot to mention you are quite right about Henry and poor relief which was typical of the way things were, especially during Tudor times as secular authority became more and more responsible for this. First of all we have to say deserving and undeserving poor as different people were treated differently by the law. If you were able bodied and fit you had to work, not beg, end of story.

      The Church had been the great provider of welfare and help for those in need and it was a Christian duty to give to the poor. Shelter was provided for the elderly and sick and disabled and you were encouraged to provide food and clothing. We know Anne Boleyn increased the official charitable giving by over twice as much and personally she gave and had a concern which was genuine. All Kings and Queens founded schools, hospitals and religious building. Henry had founded many schools and Cardinal Wolsey had founded two colleges, which ironically were partly funded by three religious houses being closed by Thomas Cromwell and money used for the local guild who had troubles by a dodgy deal he did as his secretary. It was also a religious duty to give alms regularly and to support people who genuinely could not work. However, all able bodied people were meant to work and idleness was seen as a sin. It was also punished as a crime and the many acts against beggars are brutally increased during the Tudor period. In 1494 the first licence for begging is passed, which means you have to be genuine and not able to work. In 1531 and then onwards, during the 1530s and 1540s and in 1552, 1553, 1555 and 1570, there are notable acts to license begging for the infirm, disabled, elderly and others considered worthy, but otherwise the penalty is flogging and then for a third offence, hanging. The 1555 act is notable as it suggests the identification badge for begging. This was standard practice. The Act Cromwell proposed wasn’t helped by the King’s reluctance to support it through Parliament. Poor Relief does not see a change until the Great Poor Relief Act of 1601, after an earlier Act in 1563 wasn’t successful. The increased need to do something was brought home to Tudor monarchies in rebellion after rebellion which were relentlessly crushed but without them getting the point. Henry was one not to get the point and go on to dissolve all of the religious houses by 1541, after the Pilgrimage of Grace. He did, however, get the point on education. He personally refounded several schools and colleges closed down and founded several new ones. His children continued this with a vast increase in formal grammar schools by the Elizabethan era. The Tudors just didn’t get it. The Church had made much of these provisions and when you dismantle an entire system you need to replace it with new institutions and a new system to support those left unemployed and without homes by ending this system. Most rebellions had both a religious and a social cause and it took several more before the Tudors woke up and did something to address the root cause, poverty.

      1. Esther says:

        Thanks for explaining. I just give greater weight to the earlier Ives article than to the later biography … in the earlier work, he makes it clear that Cromwell didn’t do anything immediately after the Skip sermon — and the Council (who I believe would have been sent by Henry, not by Cromwell) ignored the “Haman” analogy in their questioning. I think it was Henry who sent the Council because if others could have made it look like Cromwell was trying to cause trouble for Anne and if Henry was really still willing to stay with the marriage, they would have used Cromwell’s request to get him into trouble.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          No, Cromwell didn’t do anything at once and I agree the Council certainly would overlook the analogy. Of course, they could have been as thick as too short planks and missed the analogy, but Henry probably guessed whom it was aimed at which is why the Council would question Skip in the first place. He certainly would have been on his guard, however, as would anyone else. Anne wasn’t beyond firing a warning shot and I wouldn’t want to underestimate her influence with Henry at this moment, even though she was vulnerable still. She must have been hoping that the message would be understood by her husband, if not Cromwell and things may change. Unfortunately they carried on but it was a brave effort and one which showed Anne had principles, even if nobody else at court did. She wasn’t shy of stating that she believed that such and such should be done for the causes of reform or aiding people. The Council would certainly want to keep off the topic because it would not look good for them either if it even appeared that Cromwell and the Queen were not on the same page.

          I haven’t read the article for a long time, the earlier one that is. I really doubt this particular breach was as serious by itself as historians claim, but taken with his later rebuke over an issue of his own making, foreign policy, it is much easier to see why he is a candidate for getting rid of Anne. The other problem that he became entangled in at the same time was the promotion of Mary back to the succession, which has to do with his almost unilaterally talking to Chapuys as this was something the latter wanted as part of his negotiation with Henry. When it all blew up week or so before Anne’s fall, some historians put it all together and see Cromwell as now being an enemy and Anne is in the way. Of course it’s much more complex than that and Henry is in charge after all and it was Henry who heard the talk about Anne’s conversation with Henry Norris and Henry who has wife no three on speed dial by the end of the month and it’s Henry and only Henry who can tell Cromwell what to do. It can only be Henry who gives the nod for an investigation into his wife’s alleged behaviour, even if it is Cromwell who comes up with the evidence and the goods and fits it altogether. Even if Cromwell did want Anne out of the way, he couldn’t put the unfortunate set of circumstances and conversations that passed between Anne and Norris or the fact that Smeaton was doe eyed in her apartment when she rebuked him into place. He could arrest and question and invent the rest, but Henry would still need to approve, because Henry was in charge, even if his ministers did act behind his back from time to time. An investigation into treason had to be given royal authority. Cromwell may have been motivated by his recent experiences to find or invent evidence, but he was conspiring with the King to find that evidence as Henry wanted out of his marriage at the end of April 1536, and he didn’t care how it was done as long as it was quick and permanent. The Sermon marked a turning point, but it was not the thing which ultimately made Cromwell see Anne as in the way.

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