On this day in history, early in the morning of 25th January 1533, the feast of the conversion of St Paul, Henry VIII finally married the woman he had waited nearly six years to marry, Anne Boleyn, daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire.

Henry VIII had applied for a dispensation to marry Anne back in August 1527 and had assumed that the Pope would annul his first marriage, which he believed to be contrary to God’s law, without any problem. Royal annulments were not unusual. In recent history, King Louis XII had had his marriage to his first wife, Joan, annulled without too much problem, so Henry would have had no idea that he would encounter opposition. The trouble with Henry’s request for an annulment was that it was opposed by his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and she was the aunt of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Pope couldn’t make one powerful leader happy without upsetting the other; it was an impossible situation.

Henry’s Great Matter, as his quest for an annulment from the Pope became known, came to nothing and his marriage was finally annulled by a special court presided over by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in May 1533. In the meantime, Henry had married Anne, so his marriage to her was also proclaimed valid following a special enquiry.

The secret marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was performed by Rowland Lee and took place at Whitehall, formerly known as York Place and the property that the couple had refurbished following the fall of its previous owner, Cardinal Wolsey. Nicholas Harpsfield, the Catholic apologist writing in Mary I’s reign, recorded that the king and queen were attended by Henry Norris and Thomas Heneage, of the King’s Privy Chamber, and Anne Savage, Lady Berkeley. Eustace Chapuys, reporting on the marriage a month later, recorded wrongly that Thomas Cranmer had officiated and went on to say that the royal couple married “in the presence only of her father, mother, brother, and two intimate female friends of the Lady herself, besides a priest of the diocese of Canterbury”.

According to Harpsfield, although the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon had not been annulled yet, Henry assured Rowland Lee that “he had gotten of the Pope a lycence to marry another wife”. When Lee asked to see the licence on the day of the marriage, the king said he had one “but it is reposed in another sure[r] place whereto no man resorteth but myself, which, if it were seen, should discharge us all.” Lee either had to take the king at his word or risk upsetting him by asking to see the licence. Lee chose to go ahead with the ceremony.

As I’ve said before, chronicler Edward Hall gives a different date for the marriage, writing that the couple married on St Erkenwald’s Day 1532, 14th November, on their return from Calais. The couple did begin cohabiting after their trip to Calais and Anne became pregnant so it would make sense that they became betrothed or married at that point. All it took in those days for a marriage to be legal was a promise between a man and a woman and then consummation, the promise didn’t even have to be witnessed or made in front of a priest. So perhaps this 25th January ceremony was simply an official ceremony in front of witnesses to ‘rubber stamp’ that earlier promise.

Notes and Sources

  • Harpsfield, Nicholas (1878) A Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon, Camden Society, p.234-235.
  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 2, 1531-1533, 1053.
  • Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s Chronicle, printed for J. Johnson; F.C. and J. Rivington; T. Payne; Wilkie and Robinson; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme; Cadell and Davies; and J. Mawman; London. p.794.

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11 thoughts on “25 January 1533 – Henry VIII finally marries Anne Boleyn”
  1. Obscure historically, an initial marriage date of 14 November 1532 could be rationalized. Henceforth Anne would consent to intercourse but if pregnancy did not result, Henry could deny the marriage took place. I don’t believe Henry would marry a 31-year old woman before her fertility was proven. Then again, I lean towards a younger Anne, likely born in 1507.

    1. Many historians have put her birthdate at around 1500 – 1 as they take into account her being attendance on Queen Mary of France in her youth which would not have gone to a younger girl and there is the letter she wrote her father which is in a very fine hand and suggests she was a teenager when she wrote it, this whilst she was in service to Mary, historians believe she was in her thirty’s when she died and in fact there is a painting in Nidd Hall which does bear this out, she has the tell tale signs of middle age encroaching round the eyes mouth and jaw line, in fact I think she looks prematurely aged in this portrait due no doubt to the stress she was under, it was always assumed she was born in about 1505 – 1507 but the evidence I have mentioned does not bear this out and now shes generally considered to have been older when she died, still too young to die though and in such a horrible way.

    2. Gail, I tend to agree with you. The Nidd Hall portrait is not contemporary, it was painted in the reign of Elizabeth I, probably not by someone who knew Anne personally. Historians often say that Anne cannot have been born as late as 1507, because she was sent to a foreign court in 1513. However, the children of the aristocracy were often sent out of their homes by seven or so. And we know that Anne served as a maid of honour but we do not actually know when that was. It could have been in 1519 or 1520, when she would have been thirteen or so.

      After the Henry Percy fallout in 1523, there is no evidence that Anne’s father sought a marriage for his daughter. And by the spring of 1527, it was known that Anne was being pursued by the king. Why, if Anne was born in 1500-1, would the ambitious and successful Thomas Boleyn not have sought to get his daughter married? She would, by this logic, have been 22 in 1523 and about 26 in 1527. Tudor aristocratic women tended to marry by the age of twenty, and many married in their teens. Anne’s own sister and mother had married by the age of twenty; it is likely that her sister-in-law Jane Rochford was also married at nineteen or twenty. I simply cannot believe that Thomas would have left his daughter unmarried even at the age of twenty-six, when she was by all accounts sophisticated, intelligent and attractive, and of excellent birth.

      But then again, Jane Seymour was still unwed in the spring of 1536, at the age of twenty-six or twenty-seven, when Henry VIII began courting her, so it is not impossible that Anne was a more mature woman when she caught the king’s eye. However, we have two pieces of contemporary evidence that Anne was born in 1507. William Camden, who wrote a biography of Anne’s daughter in the seventeenth-century, specifically noted that 1507 was her birth date. And according to Clifford, the duchess of Feria, a favourite of Mary I, reported that Anne had not yet reached her twenty-ninth birthday when she was beheaded in 1536.

      Some historians who believe that Anne was born in about 1501 argue that Henry actually preferred more mature women – ie. those in their late twenties and early thirties. However, this is simply not true. The only mature woman (aside from Anne, possibly) who was involved with Henry was Katherine Parr, who married him at thirty-one. Katherine of Aragon was twenty-three and Anne of Cleves was twenty-four when they became queen. Jane Seymour was probably twenty-seven. Katherine Howard’s birth date is disputed, but she was likely not born before 1523 and was possibly born as late as 1525, so she was between fifteen and seventeen. Henry’s mistress, Bessie Blount, was in her teens, while Mary Boleyn was about twenty-one, if we accept that Henry became involved with her in around 1522. And even Katherine Parr, who married Henry at thirty-one, had already been twice married.

      I find it hard to believe that Anne, who was from a similar social standing to Katherine Parr, would still have been single in 1527 if she was twenty-six or twenty-seven. Chapuys, who was hardly favourable about Anne, wrote in 1534 that she was of a condition to have ‘many’ more children – if she was thirty-three or thirty-four, this was a somewhat questionable statement by the standards of the age. And why did others at court, when she was a maiden to Katherine, describe her as ‘a fresh young damsel’ and a ‘young girl’? I think 1507 is a safe bet but I would not rule 1501 out entirely.

      1. Norfolk and Boleyn were trying to betroth Anne to James Butler Earl of Ormonde in 1522.

        He was a cousin of hers and they were hoping to secure the Ormonde title in an undisputed fashion as Thomas Boleyn had a claim to it.

        1. Anyanka is correct. Anne was recalled from France in late 1521 because of negotiations for her to marry James Butler, son of Sir Piers Butler, to bring to an end the dispute over the earldom of Ormond. These negotiations went on for several years until they eventually fizzled out, so would explain why Anne was still not married at the age of 26, if she was born in 1501.

          There is evidence for 1501 and 1507, so we can argue either of them. For me, the the most compelling argument for 1501 is the fact that Anne was retained by Queen Claude in 1515 and that she is later described by Francis I as serving his wife and by Renée of France as having served her sister, rather than as being a member of the nursery or being a companion to Renée. If Anne had been born in 1507 then she would only have been 8 years old when she was retained by Claude, that just doesn’t make sense to me.

        2. I meant aside from the Butler negotiations. I thought that these negotiations had fizzled out by the time of the Percy affair in 1523. I have never read anywhere that Anne’s father was still hoping that she would marry her cousin as late as 1526.

          Of course, it is possible that neither 1501 nor 1507 are correct. Contemporary authors tended to be confused about Anne’s age, and dates ranging from 1499 to 1512 have been suggested. The earlier historian, Friedmann, suggested that Anne may have been born in 1503 or 1504, and this is also possible.

          The reason I struggle with the 1500 birthdate is because Anne’s contemporaries, of a similar social level, simply did not get married that late. As mentioned, Katherine Parr had been married three times by the age of 31. Henry VIII was determined to have a male heir, and if Anne was born in 1500-1, she would have been 32-3 when they consummated their relationship and she became pregnant for the first time. And there are so many contemporary remarks about Anne’s youth, her aptitude for bearing children, I cannot square those with a woman in her late twenties or early thirties.

          Jane Seymour only married the king when she was 26 or 27 (if one takes the 1509 date), but she was not as wellborn as Anne or Katherine Parr. By the time the Butler negotiations fizzled out presumably in 1523, coupled with the Percy fallout, Anne was destined to remain single until the king made public his intent to marry her in the spring of 1527 – three and a half years.

          Regarding the maid of honour question, I agree but at the same time, George Cavendish specifically said that Anne was ‘very young’ when she travelled abroad.

        3. We don’t know when the negotiations fizzled out or whether they were ever intended to go ahead. The theory that they were a decoy to keep peace in Ireland for as long as possible is a compelling one and some believe that the relationship between Anne and Percy was broken up by Wolsey and the king to keep the pretence going. Of course, we don’t know when that relationship was broken up, we don’t have any dating for it, only that Henry VIII appears to have started courting Anne in 1526 or 1527, certainly by summer 1527.

          It is impossible to say when she was born, only that she was born in the first decade of the 16th century. As I said, each date can be argued convincingly and, as you say, even people at the time seem to have been confused about her age. What I would say, though, is that we only know about Percy and James Butler because the Crown was involved, and we do not know whether there were other marriage negotiations between her father and another family. The first we hear of Mary Boley and William Carey is their actual marriage, which the king attended, and we don’t have records of negotiations between the Boleyns and Parkers over George and Jane’s marriage, we don’t even know when they got married. There could have been failed negotiations, things that didn’t pan out for Anne, the same as with Jane Seymour.

          We can debate until the cows come home, with arguments for 1501 and 1507, and we’ll never get anywhere because we simply do not and cannot know. You can’t square comments on her youth and childbearing etc. with a 1501 date and I can’t see her being 6 when she was sent to Margaret of Austria’s court, 7 when she was chosen as an attendant for Mary Tudor and 7/8 when she became a maid of honour to Queen Claude. I can’t understand why a girl of her status would have been picked to be part of these women’s courts/entourages at that age. We’ll have to agree to disagree!

      2. After the deaths of both his children and wife Sir Thomas in conversation with Cromwell said that every year Elizabeth had given him a child, they had married about 1498 thearabouts though it is not recorded and Mary was considered to be the eldest, this is borne out by her children in Elizabeths reign who would have known when she was born, Anne was the youngest so if Mary was born around 1499, that would make Anne 1500 – 1501 and George it is believed around 1504, they had two sons also who died young, Jane Dormer did say Anne was twenty nine when she died yet she was by then an old lady and could have been confused, she was not born till two years after Anne was dead and so was only going on what Mary 1st had told her, Mary possibly could have known how old she was but who knows all we know is Mary hated her stepmother, Mary herself may have made a genuine mistake, there is the exhumation of her bones in Victoria’s reign (if we believe them to be Annes) and the doctor who examined them said they belonged to a female aged between twenty five and thirty of slender build, height about 5 ft 2, Anne was said to be rather tall for her age therefore it could be that the bones they examined were of Catherine Howard’s but she was just a teenager when she died so the bones could not have been hers either, yet the Victorians had not the expertise or the technology for dating old human bones and so they could have made an error in their findings, Anne was exceptionally bright for her age so it could be people took her as much older than she was yet as Claire says she would have been considered too young to become an attendant on Queen Claude no matter how bright she was, I believe she was born in 1500c as what her father said to Cromwell and he after all would know when his daughter was born, Elizabeth Boleyn was very fertile to have produced three children in quick succession all of whom reached adult hood, but it was not unusual for married women to fall pregnant just after they had given birth to their last child, they certainly didn’t believe in having a rest in those days.

  2. That was why Catherine Howard ran into trouble regarding her pre contract with Derham, as they has slept together and called one another husband and wife, she had by doing that made her marriage with the King illegal and bought dishonour on herself and him, even though she had denied it, Henry tired of waiting and Anne possibly being pregnant decided to marry her there and then and the pope could go to hell, they had lived together for some time and Anne was effectively queen in all but name and according to the custom of the day they had effectively sealed their marriage by sleeping together, so all that was needed was this little ceremony in front of witnesses and the deed was done, the deed which had taken six long years to bring about, no wonder Anne had turned into a bit of a shrew, apart from the fact most people loathed her she was also worried about her fertility, the longer she waited to marry Henry the less fertile she became, it’s easy for the man but in those days when girls were married off in their young teens and became mums before their twentieth birthdays Anne was increasingly worried about the relentless pursuit of time, she is generally now known to have been born about 1500c so she was twenty seven thearabouts when Henry first applied for the dispensation, well over the age in the Tudor period to have her first child, no wonder she turned into a raging harpy when obstacle after obstacle was put in their way like the court at Blackfriars when Catherine declared she wanted the case to be heard in Rome, so after six years she must have been so relieved and happy to have finally got her hearts desire, Henry was telling a fib there when he told Rowland Lee he had the marriage licence, I bet he was glowering at the poor man so he dare not make an issue of it, and Cranmer had his first marriage annulled something which Queen Mary never forgave him for, ( tho he was only acting on Henry’s orders) but was Henry and Annes marriage legal, by not obtaining a licence from the Pope had he in fact committed bigamy? It mattered little to him but in the eyes of the law he was still legally married to Catherine, even though Cranmer had annulled it and Henry was calling himself a bridegroom, it did not change the fact that the Pope had not given him his longed for dispensation and he had shocked the whole Catholic world and his Catholic subjects by marrying his harlot, they would never recognise her as his wife and queen but on their wedding day I doubt if either of them cared as they danced and drank their wine, Henry was English and he cared only for England, he didn’t care what the rest of the world thought and Anne was the same, both two strong personality so who changed history, I find it hard to believe that her parents nor brother were at the wedding ceremony but maybe they found it impossible to attend, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall though.

  3. Weird history. Yesterday three years later Henry had the accident that nearly killed him, led to his wife losing her baby boy and today we are reading of their wedding day. Happy Wedding Day Anne and Henry. Happy Burns Night. Off to party at the match.

  4. What problems there are with Anne Boleyn’s date of birth stems from a lack of formal system that insisted on the registration of dates of birth, baptism, so on, as we have now. We are so used to someone constantly asking for our dob as a way to identify us, proof of age, our birth certificate or and baptism certificate when we get married, open bank account, claim benefits, get a passport..passage of life experiences…that we forget how odd it would be back then, plus it seems odd now never to record your child’s birth date, somewhere. It was normal, if annoying for historians for births not to be formerly registered. I assume that parents knew, the children, hopefully, but other people, formal records, especially for a girl were nit apparently kept, not unless someone went through every parish archive with a cyclone and destroyed them over several centuries. Thomas Boleyn seems to have dropped one hint that his wife gave him a child every year after his marriage, but we know nothing about which order or in what year which baby was born. He and Elizabeth had three living, healthy children who all grew up, but lost two boys in infancy or soon after. He neglected to tell us who was born when and didn’t even tell us when his son and heir, George was born. Unless you were a particularly important peer of the realm or the King, it appears you just didn’t bother to make any formal birth records. All we can go on are personal details, later observations, letters with internal clues, recorded baptism, the latter is also not always recorded, the remarkable finds in a prayer book or recollection of the person involved.

    Examples of the above are John More recorded his son, Sir Thomas More as being baptized and born in 1478. Margaret Beaufort marked down the birth of her grandson, Henry, in his mother’s prayerbook which used to be hers. Jane Grey told a visitor that she was in her fifteenth year. With Anne Boleyn we have clues from the letter she wrote home, which is too advanced for a seven years old child. Was it really likely a seven year old would accompany an eighteen years old woman to France as her maid? No. Even though some girls as young ss nine became maids, it was extremely rare and this would be at home. Princesses and Queens mostly had maids closer to their own age, with older and great ladies near their status and for supervision and advice. There are valid arguments for Anne 1501/2 and others for 1507, but the consensus of most serious historians and other analysts agree on the former. It would be unfair to challenge this without proper alternative evidence.

    Now, how many weddings? Well we have this same debate every year but it is always interesting. If Anne and Henry had a marriage in France, then this says that Elizabeth was definitely legitimate. It also sounds like a nice Romantic name of a saint for their day. Even if they made a promise to be man and wife and then had sex, this was a canonical wedding. It is not a good idea to limit the union that you intend to give rise to a son and heir unwitnessed and without benefit of clergy. The case of Elisabeth Woodville, Edward iv and Eleanor Talbot was a historic example to raise concerns over ensuring that as many people as possible knew that Anne was now Henry’s legitimate Queen.

    The argument for the first one is Hall, but this as above is contradictory as most sources have the secret, but probably correctly done, wedding in Whitehall on 25th January 1533. This would either be a second wedding, but more likely a first with a betrothal in France. This wedding was witnessed, but not without its problems. For one thing, Henry may have believed he was free to marry, a pre-requisite of any marriage ceremony in the Christian tradition, but he wasn’t. Yes, in hid eyes he wasn’t legally married to Katherine, but his annulment was not yet through. He would not get this before April, although a bull from Rome decided in favour of Katherine in May. Technically, in the expert view of most legal people and the opinion of the majority of England and Europe, Henry committed bigamy in this ceremony.

    There seems to have been a problem before Rowland Lee went on with the ceremony, the annulment papers and dispensation to marry was not available as none existed. Henry lied that it was delayed in the post as we say today. The priest then proceeded with the sacramental wedding as above. There are not a lot of details about who attended, but it is believed that William Bretherton was one groomsman, with potential witnesses being Anne’s parents and brother, Henry Norris and a few other trusted people. The reason for the hasty marriage is believed to be that Anne was pregnant. Of course, once the crown was on her head, Anne became sacred, so who but the ardent were going to argue that she was anything but Henry’s new wife. Unfortunately, as some did, new legislation was needed making it treason to speak, write or think against their marriage and Anne and Henry did find opposition willing to die, rather than go along with it, several abbots and Saints John Fisher and Thomas More for one thing. Acts of Succession and Supremacy enforced the legitimate claim of Anne, Henry and their potential children, but also proved a two eged sword in her downfall.

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