Posted By Claire on January 25, 2017
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.