According 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
- Miscellaneous writings and letters of Thomas Cranmer, edited by Rev. John Edmund Cox, p246
- A Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon, Nicholas Harpsfield, p234-235
- Ibid, p235
- 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