25 January 1533 – Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn at Whitehall


wedding Anne Boleyn and Henry VIIIOn 25 January 1533, St Paul’s Day, Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony at Whitehall.

In a letter to Archdeacon Hawkyns, written in June 1533 and recording Anne Boleyn’s coronation, Cranmer wrote:

“But now, sir, you may not imagine that this coronation was before her marriage; for she was married much about St Paul’s Day last, as the condition thereof doth well appear, by reason she is now somewhat big with child.”1

Cranmer went on to challenge the rumours that he had performed the ceremony:-

“Notwithstanding it hath been reported throughout a great part of the realm that I married her; which was plainly false, for I myself knew not thereof a fortnight after it was done.”2

So secret was the marriage ceremony that even Cranmer had been kept in the dark until a couple of weeks afterwards and Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, was still writing to the Emperor at the end of March about rumours of a wedding being planned before Easter. Little did he know that Anne and Henry were already married. The marriage was kept secret because Henry VIII marriage to Catherine of Aragon had still not been annulled.

The Catholic apologist, Nicholas Harpsfield gave more details of the wedding in his “A Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon” written in Mary I’s reign, and confirmed that it had been Rowland Lee who had officiated at the ceremony:

“The first whereof was that the King was married to [the] Lady Anne Bulleyne long ere there was any divorce made by the said Archbishop [of Canterbury]. The which marriage a was secretly made at Whitehall very early before day, none being present but Mr Norris and Mr Henage of the Privy Chamber and the Lady Barkeley, with Mr. Rowland the King’s chaplain, that was afterward made Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. To whom the King told that now he had gotten of the Pope a lycence to marry another wife, and yet to avoid business and tumult the thing must be done (quoth the King) very secretly ; and thereupon a time and place was appointed to the said Master Rowland to solemnize the said marriage.”3

Harpsfield goes on to describe how when a troubled Lee asked to see the licence so that it could be read to all present “or else we run all and I more deep than any other into excommunication in marrying your grace without any baynes asking, and in a place unhallowed, and no divorce as yet promulged of the first matrimony”, the King replied, “I have truly a lycence, but it is reposed in another sure[r] place whereto no man resorteth but myself, which, if it were seen, should discharge us all. But if I should, now that it waxeth towards day, fetch it, and be seen so early abroad, there would rise a rumour and talk thereof other than were convenient. Goe forth in God’s name, and do that which appertaineth to you. I will take upon me all other danger.”4 Lee had two choices: ask for the licence, showing that he did not trust his King, or get on with the ceremony, and I don’t think he can be blamed for going ahead with the marriage.

This wedding ceremony may not have been the first that Henry and Anne went through. Chronicler Edward Hall records that the couple got married secretly on St Erkenwald’s Day 1532, i.e. 14 November:

“The kyng after his returne, maried priuily the lady Anne Bulleyn, on sainct Erkenwaldes daie, whiche mariage was kept so secrete, that very fewe knewe it, til she was greate with child, at Easter after.”5

Hall is the only contemporary source to record this secret wedding, but it is plausible that the couple went through some kind of betrothal or marriage ceremony on their return from Calais because they began co-habiting then and Anne was pregnant with Elizabeth by the ceremony on 25 January.

(Based on an extract from On This Day in Tudor History)

  1. Miscellaneous writings and letters of Thomas Cranmer, edited by Rev. John Edmund Cox, p246
  2. Ibid.
  3. A Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon, Nicholas Harpsfield, p234-235
  4. Ibid, p235
  5. Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall (d.1547), p794

Also on this day in history…

  • 1554 – Thomas Wyatt the Younger raised his standard in Maidstone and other rebels in Kent made simultaneous proclamations in Rochester, Tonbridge, Malling, and Milton. It was the start of Wyatt’s Rebellion.

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One thought on “25 January 1533 – Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn at Whitehall”
  1. I have a high respect for Thomas Cranmer as a person who would have wanted the status of Anne and Henry’s marriage to be done by the book, to ensure that all was in order when they married; he would have absented himself from any marriage that could have been used to place the shadow of illegitamacy over the heirs of the throne from this marriage or to challenge the legitamacy of the union itself. I believe Cranmer would have wanted to make sure that all was done correctly; that nothing impeded the marriage or the coronation; so he would only take part in the annullment once he was certain all the dots and ts were crossed. I also believe that Henry did not invite him to give his blessing on the wedding day as he would be compromised. There were also problems in that Cranmer had not been formally made Archbishop and the permission from Rome Henry asked for had not yet been received. Having said this, no publically known figure like an Archbishop could afford to give consent to a marriage that made Henry a bigamist. Only when his marriage to Katherine was formally annulled could his marriage to Anne be declared valid.

    Anne and Henry, however had to get married as it is likely that by this time she was well and truly carrying what she believed to be Henry’s son. His cause needed to be brought forward and his annullment fastracked; or Anne would end up giving him a child out of wedlock or would be almost full term by the time she was crowned. Either way, Henry and Anne had to marry in secret as they were not legally free to marry, no matter what Henry believed his bachalar status to be. He was not a fool; he knew that he could only be annulled by a church court and he could not declare his marriage publically until he had been through this process. That process took place in April 1533 when a group of bishops and other churchmen and lawyers under the leadership of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer as he now was met in Convocation and declared after four weeks of evidence and argument that the marriage of Katherine of Aragon and Henry was invalid and the new marriage of Anne and Henry valid. Henry, technically was no longer a bigamist and Anne his new lawful wife; the child she carried his lawful heir. Acts of Parliament would confirm this act and it was death to say anything against this marriage.

    However, was the marriage lawful? Well that depends on your point of view. If you believe that the marriage of Henry and Katherine, made valid by the Holy Father, had a sound basis and that Katherine was correct in stating that her marriage to Henry’s brother Arthur was not consumated, then he was still married to Katherine on 25th January 1533. If you believe that Thomas Cranmer and the Convocation did not have the legal authority to make its ruling in April 1533 because only Rome could rule in this case as the Queen had made an appeal to the Pope and that decision from the Curia had not yet been made; then the marriage of Henry and Anne was never legal. If you accept that the only true ruling was that made in May that same year by the Curia that the marriage of Katherine and Henry held canonical and lawful, then Henry and Anne’s marriage was not legal. If, however, you hold to the view of Henry, and this was not mere convenience; Henry had been troubled for a long time about the validity of his marriage to Katherine, that he had not been lawfully married to his brother’s widow; then this marriage to Anne was his first and was indeed now legal and as the break from Rome had begun, Cranmer had the right to declare it as such.

    Whatever your view, even Henry reasoned that he took a great gamble and that public opinion counted when he married Anne in January 1533, because he cared about his public image and was not going to act until his first marriage had been declared invalid by Parliament and by Convocation the authorities that he saw as now having the only real authority to rule on his marriage. This was partly to do with his own insecurity; as all the Tudors were insecure, for they had no right to the crown in the first place; they were desperate for sons to keep it and they were also desperate to do anything that would increase their power and enable them to legalize their rule in future. Henry did just that; he had Parliament pass a series of rules that made many things treason that had not been so before, also legal statutes made it treason to write or say anything against his marriage to Anne or their heirs. He also made himself Head of the Church of England and it was treason to deny any of the Kings titles or to say the Pope was head of the Church. This act had terrible consequences for the people of England and Wales for the next 300 years. Henry’s personal power grew from these statutes and as a result he became a King that could not be challengd and who would put down anyone who did. This was the origin of his latter alleged tyranical rule; the result of this marriage, not merely the accident of 1536.

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