25 April – God will send unto Us heirs male – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Apr25,2021 #fall of Anne Boleyn

On 25th April 1536, King Henry VIII wrote letters to his ambassadors abroad and the content was very interesting, and rather bizarre, for the king suddenly seemed very hopeful of a Prince of Wales. What was going on? Did he know something that everyone else didn’t?

Find out more about what the king wrote in this video from my Fall of Anne Boleyn series, or read the transcript below.

Yesterday, I told you about Lord Chancellor Audley setting up two commissions of oyer and terminer on 24th April 1536, the commissions that were used to try Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton in May 1536 for sleeping with Queen Anne Boleyn and plotting with her to kill her husband, King Henry VIII.

Yet, on 25th April 1536, the king wrote letters to his ambassadors abroad: Richard Pate in Rome, and Stephen Gardiner and John Wallop in Paris. In these letters, he referred to Anne Boleyn as “our most dear and most entirely beloved wife the Queen” and wrote 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[…].”

Taking that at face value, his words suggested that Henry VIII was still committed to Anne, but historian John Schofield, whose biography of Thomas Cromwell I would highly recommend, wonders whether Henry was actually referring to his hope of a son with a new wife, with Jane Seymour. Henry had, after all, reacted to Anne Boleyn’s recent miscarriage by saying “I see God will not give me male children” and he had been wooing Jane Seymour since at least January 1536. Was this “great likelihood” of a son and heir due to the fact that the king knew that Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Audley were turning his wish into reality, that Anne would soon be removed and replaced with a new, and hopefully more successful model. Perhaps so.

My own opinion, and it is just opinion, is that Henry VIII’s jousting accident in January 1536 had reminded him of his mortality and the fact that he did not have a surviving legitimate heir. Then, Anne miscarried a few days after his accident, and he could see history repeating itself. He’d been through all this with Catherine and he NEEDED a son. Perhaps God wasn’t blessing him with a son because this marriage was contrary to his will too, Henry had, afterall, slept with Anne’s sister, Mary.

And then there was the fact that Jane Seymour was one of ten children, including six sons, she came from fertile stock.

On this day in Tudor history, 25th April 1544, an English translation of John Fisher’s Latin work, “Psalms or Prayers”, was published. It had been translated by none other than Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife.

It was published anonymously, but there’s rather a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing towards Queen Catherine as the translator. Find out more…

Also on this day in Tudor history, 25th April 1557, Tudor troublemaker Thomas Stafford, grandson of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, proclaimed himself “Protector of the Realm”. It didn’t go down well! Find out what happened…

Happy St Mark’s Day!

How as St Mark’s Day celebrated in Tudor times?

Find out in this #TudorHistoryShorts video…

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7 thoughts on “25 April – God will send unto Us heirs male – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. Anne boleyn was unfortunately on her way out and Henry didn’t want the international community, his enemies in France and Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, to know that he was about to discard another wife, this time in the most violent of ways. I agree that his mortality was catching up to him, his lack of sons and repeated patterns were getting to Henry, but he had other issues with Anne as well and he admitted that. He warned Jane to stop meddling when all she was doing was her job as a Mediatrix, the traditional role of Queens to plead for prisoners and rebels. He reminded her of the fate of her predecessor who was killed because she meddled too much. Henry wss being deceptive here and playing a political game, while a plot was afoot to get his wife and he knew about it.

    Anne wasn’t pregnant as some people have suggested or she wouldn’t have been executed. She could claim her belly to prevent it. Henry would have waited and maybe a son save her life. Henry wasn’t still committed to Anne, the wording here was used in all Royal letters regarding their wives, even if the King couldn’t stand the sight of them. Its the same as monarchs calling each other brother or cousin. They were at war the next day and still brothers. It was merely a convention. I entirely agree that the idea that Henry was hoping for a son with his future wife, Jane Seymour.

    Henry probably was the instigator of all this in that he asked Thomas Cromwell to fix it for him, but the real genius behind the plot was Cromwell himself. He had plenty of reasons to get stuck in to his task with relish and several historians go further and believe he was even the instigator. Tracy Borman certainly does, as do Robert Hutchinson and Maculloch. Alison Weir can be added to that list as can Hilary Mantel and the later is practically in love with her subject. John Schofield disagrees as does Gareth Russell and Greg Walker and Susanna Lioscomb has a completely different theory altogether. Claire also sees Henry as the instigator. I think its much more complicated than that and see a faction involved with Henry and Cromwell in unison with their scheme to remove the Queen.

    Henry was hoping for a son but not with Anne and he probably hadn’t even slept with Anne since the tragedy of her miscarriage of his son at the end of January 1536. Things were not the same afterwards and he had consulted several canon law scholars on the possibility of an annulment. With that in mind he was certainly aware of the difficulties a second annulment would cause and it would be a PR disaster. Henry’s Supremacy and pride wouldn’t allow him to look a fool and so Anne had to go. His new wife came from a family of many fertile children and of plenty of sons. His expectations of a son with Jane was a real possibility. This is what Henry refers to in this letter.

    1. see David Starkey’s interpretation of this letter in his book on the six wives of Henry.
      i think his interp. is one of the best

  2. Interesting theory on the translation of the Prayers of Cardinal John Fisher, especially the last two prayers, which are believed to be by Queen Katharine Parr and she must have had something to do with the translation, probably ordered it to be done. Its also interesting that the prayer book and Psalms were written by Saint John Fisher because she was an ardent Reformer and he was a Catholic Martyr. One theory is that these last two prayers are by Katherine and were added to the translation. They appear very Protestant in nature. The translation was most probably ordered by the Queen as there’s enough circumstantial evidence to support this such as one being read for Henry’s departure to war in France and the Queen was billed for the production of the Book. Katharine had several special copies set aside and personal gifts made of two of them. She was later an author in her own right and this was a typical show of female piety.

  3. Regarding the failed and rather stupid rebellion of Thomas Stafford, the grandson of Margaret Pole, it was a flash in the pan. He had obviously lost his mind and had been spared by Mary previously. He sounds as if he got what was coming to him.

    The war with the French wasn’t a great disaster for England at first because it resulted in the often overlooked victory at Saint Quentin in 1557,_the greatest victory on French soil for quite some time. The loss of Calais was not the great loss either as it was a financial burden, but it was sentimental because it had been in English hands for 600 years and was the last stronghold there. However, for Mary it felt like a personal tragedy and the Pope wasn’t too pleased either and there had been trouble with the Holy See over Cardinal Reginald Pole and his beliefs all mixed up in that. People always blame Mary for this, forgetting it was at the end of her reign and it was one of those things. Calais itself wasn’t even formally captured, it was the outlying castles which were taken, with the city being evacuated on the arrival of Henry ii. Here’s the good bit. It remained formally an English procession because of the treaty between France and Spain until it was purchased for half a million gold crowns in mid 1559. Somehow the English always seem to find a way to make money out of a defeat. Henry Viii held onto Boulogne for six years, agreeing to sell it back to France through a treaty in 1546 of one million pounds four years later. After his death the treaty was still honoured. He sold the two towns he had captured in 1513 back to them in 1522 for a huge sum of money as well. The French King paid him thousands every year afterwards. It was far more profitable to get money out of them during peace time than to hold on to bits of a country we had no hope of conquering again.

  4. I am of the same opinion of Cromwells biographer here, I to believe the king was referring to the sons he intended to have with his latest love Jane Seymour, but it is strange why he wrote to his ambassadors abroad about it unless the purpose was to deceive them, for they would think it was about the queens sons after all, and Henry wanted no one to guess at what was happening in his court concerning the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry had been bitterly disappointed with his second queen, in three years she had lost two babies the last one a son, and had only given him a useless daughter, she had fared no better than his previous queen, he had declared to her when she miscarried that he could see God did not intend him to have sons, and yes he had nearly died when his horse rolled on top of him, accounts differ as to how long he was unconscious, but it was an extremely worrying time and many had feared for his life, when you have a near death experience, you do evaluate the situation, and Henry by now was middle aged, he was aware he only had two daughters though he hoped the child Anne had in her belly was a son, he feared what would happen to the realm without a son as heir, when he came round he was told the queen had miscarried and they both had a blazing row, both broken hearted and devastated I believe that tragedy ended their short lived marriage, by now we can see he actually disliked her he had broke the kingdom in half and for what? For a useless daughter, he had sent eminent men to the scaffold, he had been excommunicated, he had risked civil war and war with Spain, his reputation had suffered and all for a thin shrewish hag who could not even give him a son! No wonder he wanted rid, but it was not that easy to rid oneself of an anointed queen, that is why everything had to be seen to be done legal and above board, I also agree with Claire I do not think he was swayed into believing Anne had been unfaithful towards him, I do not think it was all his chief ministers doing and Henry had no part in it, as Weir notes in her excellent book the ‘Fall Of Anne Boleyn’, Cromwell would not have dared move against the queen unless he had Henry’s permission, Cromwell after all was his servant and only did his masters bidding, when he wished to rid himself of Katherine he consulted with Wolsey, now he had Cromwell to do his dirty work for him, Cromwell was no friend to the queen now and had allied himself with the Seymours, she had also threatened him, but Cromwell must have felt sure in his position as having the ear of the king, it was the king who would benefit from Anne going more than Cromwell, he did say he had dreamt the whole thing up after the bloody carnage was over, but yes I do not believe he was the sole mover of the plot to being the queen down, Henry must have complained to him of his deep disenchantment with her, and he had been courting Jane Seymour who was the complete opposite of Anne, small and plumpish very white skinned with a very quiet humble demeanour about her, she never yelled at him nor upbraided him, she would not dare, and there was his wife, a dark skinned flat chested hag, with a shrieking voice a harpy who scolded him, any wonder he fled to the quite embrace of Madame Seymour, she treated him with the reverence he demanded as king, and look at her family, fine brothers and daughters, all healthy all grown to adult hood, the precious heirs male he spoke of surely was a reference to the sons born of Jane’s womb not his out of favour queen? But it is chilling and is so often a feature in this kings marital history, that he is thinking of the next queen before he has discarded his current one, but the way he discarded his second queen was to cause shock waves across the world, and inevitably damaged his already tarnished reputation for ever.

  5. I do hope you don’t really think Anne was a flat chested harpy, ha ha. I love your description, you paint a great picture.

    Henry was definitely the master of deception here, using deflection tactics to ensure nobody knew the truth. He had, to be fair explored other options. We think of him waiting four months before he acted against Anne but in fact he had asked Cromwell and others to speak with Dr Sampson who was a canon law expert. Translation, he had explored ways to end his marriage without bloodshed. I think he found out the difficulties, what people were saying and looked for the quick way out.

    Henry could not just poison her, either, nor could she rot away in a dungeon. The young wife of Louis of Orleans, the oldest son of Philip iv of France, brother to Isabel the Fair, who pre deceased his wife, along with two other noble women were imprisoned for alleged adultery and died of starvation. She was a Royal Princess from Bavaria. Louis didn’t order her arrest, his father did. It was horrible. I thought it was made up in Knightfall but it was historically correct. So Anne might have been put away and the same fate but then again, Henry might get trouble from Norfolk. He wasn’t the type just to make people vanish. He didn’t work in the dark. It had to be public or his third marriage might be cursed as well. You can’t have two living wives so you can’t get a divorce and an annulment wasn’t easy to obtain. For all of the reasons above, Henry had to walk away from an annulment and find an alternative.

    Henry didn’t believe or care that Anne was guilty of adultery. He believed that it was convenient for her to be and probably was very pleased with Cromwell. Of course Cromwell didn’t plot by himself, he had the nod from the King at least to investigate and then to proceed. The details were his and we have his admission. Henry wanted a new wife as soon as possible. He didn’t care about the details. I can just imagine him telling Cromwell get rid of her, I don’t care how you do it, find a way now.

    Elizabeth, sadly, although doted on by Henry, was a useless daughter at the time. She was his legitimate heir in England but the rest of Europe did not agree. He didn’t even have the support of the reformers. Tyndale wrote against his divorce from Katherine of Aragon and Luther did not support him either. Nobody wanted Elizabeth as a bride so he couldn’t even pack her off abroad. Anne had arranged for several Ambassadors to visit from France but they wanted Mary as a bride, not Elizabeth. For one thing she was an infant, for another she wasn’t recognised as legitimate in France, Italy or Spain. No English noble would do. If Elizabeth had brothers or a noble family who cared, then fine but she didn’t. She wasn’t entirely useless as a bride, but the pool of genuine suitors was small. Anne wasn’t in favour of anyone other than France, even if Henry was and by now, in late April 1536, her fertility was suspect. Anne had humiliated Cromwell at least three times that month and Henry had attacked him publicly. He was at the very least, highly motivated to bring her down and Henry was giving him the freedom to do so.

  6. Ha, no I do not believe our Anne was like that, I think that was how Henry came to perceive her towards the end, when the enchantment was gone he came to look at her through different eyes, as does happen when one falls out of love, and that was another reason why he found it easier to get rid of her, no wonder after all the so called evidence had been garnered against her, Henry was noted as being very jovial of course he would be, he now had a way to be free for his third marriage to commence, as you say, he was not really troubled if his queen were guilty or not, although he would rightly feel humiliation and anger if he believed she really had deceived him, but their marriage was now stale and he had no feelings left towards her, Cromwell had given him the key to unlock the door from this cursed union, but all the rigmarole he had created trying to make this second marriage legal, which had never been accepted abroad, and in Henry’s Catholic subjects who only recognised Katherine as his true queen, he now had to undo to make his third marriage legal, and her heirs the only true ones, shockingly death was the only option for Anne, Katherines intransigence had been the major obstacle in marrying Anne, when she was dead no wonder the king and Anne both celebrated, she was the only one true queen now, no shadowy one in the background causing trouble, death really does solve a lot of problems, now unknown to Anne her rivals death really had cleared the way for Henry to make another match, as many still thought she was not Henry’s true wife, although the law said so, and Anne’s influence was waning, her last miscarriage ended her influence I think with the king, he possibly did try to resolve ending his marriage without bloodshed, I like to think he did but alive Anne posed a very real threat to the legality of his hoped for next marriage, yet today we ask ourselves why on earth could he not just send her to a nunnery why take her life? Henry was adept at changing the law to suit his needs, Anne’s marriage was annulled and Elizabeth now a bastard, so how did she pose such a threat, it was not as if she had the support of much of the country behind her, there would have been no uprisings on her behalf, Catholic Europe still thought she was no lawful queen, she had many enemies in England, why not just send her from court to a nunnery or to a nice residence in the country, Henry had plenty, she was no powerful woman with the might of a foreign power behind her and no Emperor Charles like Katherine had had, stripped of her title of queen, she was just plain lady Anne Rochford again, she could cause no mischief for Henry and really I don’t think she would have dared, she would have accepted her situation like Anna from Cleves, alright we know she was a fiery lady and would have been furious on account of Elizabeth, but I believe she would have felt very very relieved to be alive, after having endured the trial and the death sentence hanging over her, she herself talked happily of retiring to a nunnery, but no pardon would ever come, both Henry and Cromwell wanted her dead, this woman once so revered by a king, was now fated to have her brief life ended in a bloody way on the scaffold, her power once absolute was gone, the falcon had ceased to exist.

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