28 April 1536 – Suspicious Meetings

Greenwich Palace
Greenwich Palace

Let’s set the scene a little before I tell you about today’s news from 1536.

Queen Anne Boleyn’s brother lost out to Nicholas Carew for an appointment to the Order of the Garter, commissions of oyer and terminer (legal commissions used to investigate and try serious criminal offences like treason) have been set up, Anne Boleyn has met with her chaplain and made him promise her something concerning her daughter, the Bishop of London has been consulted regarding whether the King can set Anne aside and writs have been sent out summoning Parliament even though it has only just been dissolved.

Do you get the feeling that something’s going on in Tudor England? Well, today’s events will make you even more suspicious.

On 28th April 1536, Thomas Warley wrote to Lord Lisle, Deputy of Calais, to keep him up to date on news at court. In his letter was the following information:

“Dr. Bonner came to Court yesterday, and asked heartily after you and my Lady. The Queen expects my Lady to meet her at Dover, as Mrs. Margery Horsman informed me, and on Tuesday next the King and Queen will lie at Rochester. On Monday I intend to leave for Dover or Sandwich, to await the coming of your Lordship and my Lady. The Council has sat every day at Greenwich upon certain letters brought by the French ambassador, who was at Court yesterday and divers other times.”1

“Dr Bonner” was Edmund Bonner, Archdeacon of Leicester and the future Bishop of London, who had served the King as his agent in Rome when Henry VIII was trying to get his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. His visit to court combined with the King’s council meeting on a daily basis doesn’t seem to have raised Warley’s suspicions, but they raise ours when combined with what we learn from another primary source.

In a letter to Nicholas Perronet, Seigneur de Granvelle, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, wrote that “Dr. Sampson, dean of the chapel, has been for the last four days continually with Cromwell.”2 Dr Richard Sampson, a royal chaplain and the Dean of Lichfield, was an expert on canon law, so perhaps Cromwell was seeking his advice regarding an annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. We don’t know. But what we do know is that Sampson did go on to act as the King’s proctor in the annulment proceedings in May 1536.

By themselves, these meetings aren’t particularly suspicious, particularly as the King and Queen still appeared to be preparing for their forthcoming trip to Calais, but when added to the list of other events it becomes clear that something was definitely going on. We can also add something else to the list. On 29th April 1536, Chapuys wrote to Charles V regarding Nicholas Carew’s appointment to the Order of the Garter and here is what he said about Carew:

“He continually counsels Mrs. Semel and other conspirators “pour luy faire une venue,” and only four days ago he and some persons of the chamber sent to tell the Princess to be of good cheer, for shortly the opposite party would put water in their wine, for the King was already as sick and tired of the concubine as could be […]”3

So, Carew is advising Jane Seymour (Mrs. Semel), and Henry VIII’s daughter Mary (the Princess) is being told “to be of good cheer” because things are going to get better because the King is tired of Anne. Hmm…

Also on this day in history…

  • 1603 – Funeral of Elizabeth I. Click here to read more about the funeral procession and burial.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 748.
  2. LPx. 753
  3. LP x. 752

Picture: 18th century drawing of Greenwich Palace based on a contemporary source.

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5 thoughts on “28 April 1536 – Suspicious Meetings”
  1. IMO, Henry had decided that Anne had to go because the marriage did not please G-d — as shown by a daughter and dead sons, just as with Catherine. However, he left it to Cromwell to figure out how to do it. The meeting between Cromwell and Sampson was a “brain-storming” session about the theological implications of various grounds for annulment on the Royal Supremacy, since everyone knew that Henry claimed the Supremacy just to marry Anne. For example, if the marriage was annulled on the theory that Anne seduced Henry by witchcraft, it could affect the Supremacy because it may be expected that an innocent person compelled by a witch to do something is not allowed to benefit from it, just as innocent people can’t benefit by keeping property stolen from a third party. Alternatively, could the new (and unpopular) Supremacy stand when everyone realized that Henry had doubts about the validity of a marriage to Anne from the outset (he certainly was aware of his affair with Mary Boleyn)? Henry Percy repeating his oath from 1532 that there was no pre-contract, so that theory is out. IMO, once it was clear that the available grounds for annulment would hurt the Supremacy, Henry told Cromwell to go ahead with “Plan B”..

    The idea of exploring an annulment first would explain the need to call a Parliament to deal with the succession if nothing else. The only thing about which I am not sure is whether a Grand Jury would be needed if the idea was to annul the marriage based on witchcraft, but as witchcraft was also a crime, I think one might be warranted.

  2. Hi Esther, where please can we go to read up on Henry’s Plan B? I’ve always found Suzannah Lipscombe’s cock-up theory … appealing. She says: “To this day, historians cannot agree why she (Anne) had to die. Evidence is limited – but there is enough to appear to support several very different conclusions.” (HistoryExtra: Why did AB have to die). Right now I’m reading John Schofield’s “R & F of Thomas Cromwell” (post Wolf Hall) in which he tackles what he calls “conspiracy theories”. Both these historians, Lipscombe and Schofield, refrain from creating ‘bad guys’ and I like that a lot. Just downloaded Tudor Life Magazine with 57 Page Special on Anne Boleyn. About to settle down for a great read.

    1. Sorry I wasn’t clear … I just used “Plan B” to refer to the idea that Anne had to die (so some charge had to be created) because “Plan A” — annulment — would affect Henry’s supremacy over the Church. (i.e., if he declared himself head of the Church and married Anne due to witchcraft, he would have to give up the headship, just as someone who buys stolen property does not take title, and if they made an issue of Henry’s relationship with Mary Boleyn to annul the marriage, he would look like an idiot). I’ve read Schofield’s book; it was his discussion of the meeting between Cromwell and Sampson as being connected to an annulment that gave me the idea. He says that the grounds would be Anne’s pre-contract with Percy, but he omits the fact that Percy’s wife tried — in 1532 — to annul her own marriage on that basis, and at that time, Percy swore repeatedly that there was no pre-contract.

      1. To Esther

        You have an interesting theory but I do not believe it is valid. Although psychologically Henry had to get supremacy over the Church in order to get his marriage with Katherine annulled, legally these matters had nothing to do with another. As the supremacy was a decision of Parliament, it would stand no matter what happened to Henry’s marriage with Anne.

        As for “Plan B”, if Henry consciously wanted Anne dead, why would he not have her murdered? That would have the best method without losing his face. But he could not do it because in his own eyes he was and had to be a good man who always did right.

        Of course Henry’s conscience always was the same what he wanted and he was past master in deceiving himself but nevertheless that meant that he could not choose between annulment or execution, but he had to believe that Anne was guilty.

        1. My theory is not that certain grounds for annulment would affect the law, but it would affect popular opinion; Henry was trying to to avoid rebellion (at first, at least) and trying to sell it as best he could. Think what might have happened if people thought that the Reformation was grounded in witchcraft, for example … more people backing the Pilgrimage of Grace, perhaps, or more willing to accept Mary’s restoration.

          However, I agree with you that Henry had to see himself and try to make others see him as a good and chivalrous knight (things would have been much simpler if he had poisoned Catherine, for example) … this is why Henry had to keep the reason for the annulment secret. Witchcraft or a pre-contract with Henry Percy (hidden from the king, of course) would make Anne look bad, while letting Henry pass as the wronged spouse, but Henry’s relationship with Mary Boleyn made him look bad.

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