wedding Anne Boleyn and Henry VIIIAccording to Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn on St Paul’s Day, the 25th January 1533. 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! Of course, the reason why it was kept secret was because Henry VIII was still married to Catherine of Aragon.

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:-

“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!

As I have said in previous posts, some sources actually give St Erkenwald’s Day 1532, the 14th November, as Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s wedding date. The chronicler Edward Hall wrote:-

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

This was straight after their return from Calais, from a trip where Anne Boleyn had played the part of Henry VIII’s consort and where she had been accepted by Francis I. We know that they started co-habiting after this trip and that Anne was pregnant by the time of the ceremony in January 1533, so a marriage or a betrothal in November 1532 does make sense.

Click here to read more about the possible St Erkenwald’s Day wedding.

Why Get Married Before the Annulment?

As I have mentioned above, both the November and January wedding dates were before Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer did not make the declaration of annulment until the 23rd May 1533 so Henry was still legally married to Catherine of Aragon BUT an annulment isn’t like a divorce, it doesn’t just bring a marriage to an end, it declares that a marriage was never valid. Cranmer’s ruling in May 1533 meant that Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon had never been valid, there had never been a marriage, so his marriage to Anne, regardless of when it had taken place, was thereby legal – complicated!

So, in my opinion (and it’s a very humble one!), Henry and Anne knew exactly what they were doing in the autumn and winter of 1532/1533. Anne had been accepted as Henry’s consort by Francis I in October and Cranmer was on the case, Henry and Anne were sure that Henry’s marriage to Catherine would be annulled shortly so they made the decision to start living together as man and wife. I believe that they became betrothed, consummated that betrothal and then ‘rubber stamped’ that commitment with a marriage ceremony in the January. They had to make sure that if Anne got pregnant, as she did, that the baby would be seen as legitimate and Anne was obviously pregnant months before the ruling on the annulment. A marriage before the annulment was therefore imperative as their legal union would be ‘back dated’ to that and Anne’s baby would be legitimate. That’s how I see it anyway! Protestants in Elizabeth I’s reign emphasised the St Erkenwald’s Day marriage date so that Elizabeth was seen as definitely being conceived during a legal marriage.

Notes and Sources

  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 – see Wyatt’s Rebellion 1554
  • 1559 – Elizabeth’s first Parliament was inaugurated
  • 1586 – Robert Dudley accepted the title of Governor-General of the Netherlands

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18 thoughts on “25 January 1533 – Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn”
  1. A couple of months after the marriage, when he had found out about it, Chapuys wrote that Anne’s parent’s, brother and two favourites were in attendance.

  2. I agree with your opinion, a betrothal in November (which we know that if consummated was almost as good as a marriage in Tudor times) and then when the pregnancy came a more official marriage in January.

  3. Just think of it: the pre-dawn light,Anne shivering in her furs, the wavering candles, the babe in her womb and the king at her side looking down at her with eyes burning with love and passion…whew! Sorry! I got carried away for a minute…

    1. Oh, I an really picture this scene!! Must have felt like a dream coming true, during those 7-8 months everything was perfect.

    1. Gwenne,

      By all means, jump in! We could creat quite the bodice-ripper here. Since “lol” is not quite the thing, as Henry used to say, why don’t we use “ckl” for chuckle?

      Pardon me, Claire, I have an extreme case of the sillies today!

  4. Oh, I can go for a bodice ripper! or a bodies ripper I guess. Thanks, Claire. I like your idea that they were betrothed in the fall, some time around Calais, then enjoyed all the fruits of that betrhothal. Then, the secret, silent wedding–that must have added to the allure of the whole thing. I love Linda’s shivering Anne in the predawn light! Woo-hoo! And then, away we go!

  5. I noticed that Norris was a witness to the wedding. Is that possibly why Henry had him executed along with Anne when he turned against her? I don’t know what happened to the other witnesses.

    So many questions, so little time!

    This piece, like all your others Claire, is readable, thorough and I know you’ve done your research. I appreciate that the most.

    Keep up the great work! Can’t wait for the next article.

  6. OOOh Kim, what a great theory aout Norris!!!! I could never figure out and real reason Henry would have him executed… allways wondered if there was some other personal thing? THAT makes perfect sense.

    Claire, thank you for explaining the dates and reason for secrecy as it did NOT make sense to me…
    Question… so if the first marriage to Catherine was annulled, what about Mary?? I don’t ever remember her being reffered to as a bastard, but as his first legal heir, before it was changed to Elizabeth during Ann’es short reign. Did I miss something?

    Thank you for all the work you do here to feed our passion for these events 500 years later!

    I’ll add my vote for a bodice ripper too… ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ portrayed Henry that way… (ok, make it frustrated, demanding, cruel and just taking force and weilding his Kingly and male power after all he’d done for her with little return?) but was he?? Is there any rumor or evidence of this?? or just active and imaginations??

  7. I am sure it was very precisely planned out as you say Claire, it had gone too far now for there to be any ‘cock ups’ made.
    I like this mini ‘bodice ripping romance’ novel that has begun on this post, do you think if we all added a bit we could get it published, and have one of those headless Tudor ladies on the front cover…. 🙂

  8. I just discovered this site! I have been reading books about Anne for 30+ years. I continue to believe that Anne was Henry’s great love. Yes she failed to give him a son, but never again with any of his wives do you see the love letters, the breaking of the laws of religion and realm, or the years spent together. Of course this marriage seems romantic! Though I am more of a history buff about Anne, I have always hoped that someone would write a novel having Anne giving birth to a son and continue their love story. How history would have changed!

    1. There is a novel called the Boleyn Boy about Anne having a boy and how England would be different. But for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name, sorry. Hope this helps.

  9. In reply to Mary’s comment about rewriting that Anne had a boy and all would be well, and as much as I LOVE Anne Boleyn and have since I was a 7th grader (meaning a few decades), and have read much about her, if she was as haughty and argumentative with the King BEFORE she had kids, just think how she’d be IF she had a son. I don’t think Henry could of/ would of lived with her if she had a son, not with that sharp tongue of hers. He’d love her, sure, but he was already souring of her for awhile, according to what I’ve read. That is why from then on after she was executed, he angrily rebuffed his next wives for talking back to him or what he perceived as them talking back to them, and that’s why he loved Jane Seymour (barf) so much, because she was silent, either by shrewdness or by nature, we will never know with her being such an enigma. Henry’s nerves were shot with Catherine and Anne. He was burned out on women with intelligence and a mouth on them, to boot. I wish Anne would of had a son first and that it would of lived, like Elizabeth did. I sometimes wonder what history would of been like had she gave him his heir. But in the end, Anne got her last laugh with Elizabeth being the better monarch then the other two, and despite her mother, the most beloved to the people of England.

  10. Don’t know if anyone has a copy of their marriage contract? I remember if there is a pre contract and consummation, then marriage if automatically justified.

    Still, I don’t get it why they keep it so privately and controversially, because in this case, public recognation matters.

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