26 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn asks Matthew Parker to watch over Elizabeth

Apr26,2014 #Matthew Parker

Matthew Parker Archbishop of CanterburySometime around 26th April, Queen Anne Boleyn met with her chaplain Matthew Parker and asked him to watch over her two year-old daughter. We don’t know what was said, but when he was offered the post of Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury in 1558, a post which he did not believe that he was right for or fit enough for (he’d had a nasty fall from a horse), Parker wrote to Sir Nicholas Bacon:

“though my heart would right fain serve my sovereign lady the Queen’s majesty, in more respects than of mine allegiance, not forgetting what words her grace’s mother said to me of her, not six days before her apprehension, yet this my painful infirmity will not suffer it in all manner servings…”

In 1572, in a letter to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Parker wrote of how he had only accepted the position of Archbishop of Canterbury because of his promise to Anne Boleyn:

“Yea, if I had not been so much bound to the mother, I would not so soon have granted to serve the daughter in this place…”

As Eric Ives wrote, “That charge, and the debt he felt he owed to Anne, stayed with him for the rest of his life.” It was enough of a promise for him to take a job that he didn’t want.

Did Anne Boleyn know that there was a plot against her? Was it just a coincidence that she spoke to Parker about this just days before her arrest? Was it just Elizabeth’s spiritual welfare she was talking about? We will never know because Parker does not give any more detail about the conversation.

Matthew Parker was a member of an influential group of men who were responsible for the future Elizabeth I’s education and for aiding in her subsequent rise to power, so Anne was putting her daughter in good hands. You can read more about these men and their influence in Robert Parry’s article The Cambridge Connections.

Notes and Sources

  • Parker, Matthew The Correspondence of Matthew Parker, D.D., Archbishop of Canterbury:
    Comprising Letters Written by and to Him, from A.D. 1535, to His Death, A.D. 1575 (edited for the Parker Society by John Bruce, and Thomas Thomason Perowne, 1853), p59 and 391
  • Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, p267

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9 thoughts on “26 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn asks Matthew Parker to watch over Elizabeth”
  1. By the 26th of April Anne must have suspected something was brewing against her. Certainly Henry and Cromwell had their inner-circle informers and Anne was too smart not to have her own. If she was beginning to feel uneasy and impotent as to her destiny, looking to secure her daughter’s future welfare would become an urgent priority.

  2. After commenting, I got to thinking that Mark Smeaton would have made a fine candidate for informer. Maybe he was? He was a musician, a nobody in the eyes of the courtiers, almost invisible, yet present during nights of drunken reveling and at the ready to overhear injudicious chatter.

    1. How well did she know him, though? He didn’t belong to her household, and she said herself that he “was never in her chambers but once” — which doesn’t mean she didn’t see him around on other occasions, but really, there were hundreds of people running in and out of the king’s and queen’s household all the time. No doubt a lot of servants passed on information but there’s no reason it had to be him.

      1. From Wikipedia (where I understand the info cannot always be trusted) – “Smeaton was a handsome musician and dancer in the King’s household and later transferred into the Queen’s, and was famed for his talents as a singer.”

        I didn’t mean to imply that Smeaton was an informer, I know nothing of the sort and it was only my personal speculation. However, as a talented musician/dancer/singer Smeaton would have an entrée to palace galas and in a position, unlike most household servants, to eavesdrop on courtiers.

  3. I see that Matthew Parker would only have been 31 at the time of Anne’s death, quite a responsibility for him to take on. I think Anne must have been a little desperate, because, of course, whatever was to become of Elizabeth was in the revolting henry’s hands. Just as the absurd ending of “the Other Boleyn Girl” presents Mary Boleyn somehow taking Elizabeth(kidnapping-no less!) and bringing her up. Ridiculous fiction. I feel, that Anne had some idea of some kind of conspiracy against her, she would also have known Henry’s ruthlessness from his treatment of Katherine of Aragon and his own daughter Mary and anyone else who stood in his way or upset him. Too much is made of Anne’s role in this. Henry was responsible for his own cruelties an while Anne might have had some responsibility, it is ridiculous to imagine that she in some way manipulated Henry to do anything that he didn’t want to do- unless of course , you believe in the charges of witchcraft (convenient bad PR put out about Anne).

    1. I just want to point out that the ending of the movie version of “the Other Boleyn Girl” was completely different from the book. That was Hollywood doing what they do best and messing up something that was perfectly fine the way it was. The book by Philippa Gregory that the movie is (very loosely) based on was entirely different.

  4. Eerily similiar to the premonitions that Princess Diana appears to have had about her own death, and the exact nature of how she would die too. Ummmm……of course, they don’t cut off exwives’ heads nowadays. Here’s to creativity.

  5. Am I the only one who wonders if Parker was embroidering this in retrospect? I’m not saying she didn’t talk to him or say something along the lines of what he reports, but I don’t know, the story just comes across as benefiting from hindsight somehow, and of course he was trying to butter up a now-powerful Elizabeth as well. She may well have had a feeling that something was up — considering what the political life was like then, something was *always* up, though. She wasn’t arrested until May 2, and a week was a very long time to leave someone free if you were definitely determined to arrest and kill them. Anne had probably felt trepidation on many previous occasions, but considering how absolutely unprecedented her fall was, I can’t believe she really had a premonition of her death. If anything, she’d be worried about an annulment and separation from her daughter, the way Catherine of Aragon was separated from Mary.

    1. I’m wondering about a different, though related, point.

      What did Parker actually say that meant he’d been asked to watch over Elizabeth?

      The quotes from his letters don’t say that. They just refer to “words her grace’s mother said to me of her, not six days before her apprehension” without saying anything about what those words were or whether they even mentioned Elizabeth. The other quote, the one that says he had been “so much bound to the mother”, tells us even less. It doesn’t mention a promise to Anne Boleyn.

      So what is the basis for inferring that he’d been asked to watch over Elizabeth? Is there something else in his letters that’s the key?

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