On 24th April 1536, Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor, had set up two commissions of oyer and terminer, commissions that would be used to try four of the men accused of sleeping with Queen Anne Boleyn and conspiring to kill the king with her. Yet, on 25th April 1536, King Henry VIII wrote letters to his ambassadors abroad referring to “our most dear and most entirely beloved wife the Queen” and writing of his hope for a son:
“[…] for as much as there is great likelihood and appearance that God will send unto Us heirs male to succeed Us[…].”
We can read this situation in several ways:
- The setting up of the commissions of oyer and terminer was nothing to do with Anne Boleyn’s fall, it’s just coincidence that they were later used for the men.
- Thomas Cromwell was plotting against the queen without the king’s knowledge and had Thomas Audley set up these commissions. Henry VIII was still committed to his marriage.
- Henry VIII knew that Anne would soon be gone and was thinking ahead to life with a new “beloved wife” who he had high hopes would bring him sons.
- Henry VIII thought that Anne Boleyn might be pregnant.
We will never know what exactly was going on at this point in 1536, but I’m inclined to go with point 3, particularly as Henry had said after Anne’s miscarriage in January 1536 “I see God will not give me male children”. I think he’d become convinced that his marriage with Anne was as contrary to God’s will as his first marriage. This is my personal view and you can read more about my view in my article Why I think Henry VIII was ultimately responsible for Anne Boleyn’s downfall. It’s an interesting topic to debate.
Notes and Sources
- Letters to the ambassadors, catalogued in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January-June 1536, 725 and 726; letter to Pate published in full in State papers, published under the authority of His Majesty’s Commission. King Henry the Eighth, Volume 7, p.683-688.