29 May 1533 – A spectacular river procession for Queen Anne Boleyn

Just ten days ago I was paying my respects to Queen Anne Boleyn at the Tower of London on the anniversary of her execution and now I’m writing about what must have been a happy and exciting time for Anne. Just three years separated these anniversaries.

After around six years of waiting, Anne Boleyn was preparing for her coronation and she was pregnant with her first child. Not only that, but the previous day Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had proclaimed the validity of her marriage to Henry VIII. She was the rightful Queen of England!

On 29th May 1533, the celebrations for Anne Boleyn’s coronation kicked off with a spectacular river pageant on the Thames. The procession of barges began at Billingsgate and the queen was picked up at Greenwich and escorted to the Tower of London, where she would reside before her coronation procession on 31st May. The pageant must have been a wonderful sight as it comprised over 300 barges, a fire-breathing dragon, monsters and wild men, and a representation of Anne’s falcon badge.

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Picture: Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge, copyright The Anne Boleyn Files. This was recreated from the badge depicted in a manuscript prepared for Anne by her brother George.

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9 thoughts on “29 May 1533 – A spectacular river procession for Queen Anne Boleyn”
  1. For those at court and the general populace who loved Katherine this must have been a low point to witness the annointing of another queen. I’m sure there was a lot of resentment towards Henry.

  2. ‘Lucks my fair falcon and your fellow’s all’ … The first line of the poem titled My Fair Falcon by Sir Thomas Wyatt, was this poem like his other said to be ‘Whosoer To Hunt’ written in honour of her? The falcon that most beautiful and graceful bird of prey chosen as her personal emblem surely it resembles Anne who like the bird is hard to tame and who was also known for her grace and elegance, the water pageant was in honour of her and the Londoners although they disliked her rich and poor alike, this dazzling spectacle would have excited the hardest of hearts, I can see the vendors leaving their stalls and the bakers and pie man and the laundry girls, the tailors and the men in the ale houses and taverns, the butchers, the merchants and their apprentices, the very poor some homeless all rushing down to the banks of the Thames and gazing in awe on the beautiful barges, the music and the mythological creatures enacted especially for this event, the great dragon a reference to the Tudors Welsh blood perhaps? all this in honour of a woman who was their new queen, it was not before an angry mob of women had tried to seize her when news had filtered through that she was dining at a home that was situated on the river and she had had to flee, they had grumbled about good queen Catherine whom they had loved since she had arrived as a charming young infanta of Spain, riding through the city with her long golden auburn hair loose around her shoulders, they had immediately taken to this shy young princess and wept with her when her children had died, they did not want this nobody, Nan Bullen as they called her, this goggle eyed wh*re yet as they gazed at the beautiful pageant they must have enjoyed it all and there was more to come, in the shape of the coronation three days later, this event must have been planned well in advance as we know it had taken seven years for Henry to finally get what he wanted, how I wish Holbein had captured it all in oil so that we could see what it really looked like, we have many paintings of the famous men and women of the age, kings and queens and the important people who served them, sombre looking in their canvas frames, but none of beautiful occasions like this, the little ale houses and buildings with the crooked oak beams, the intricately carved chimney pots of the more grander dwellings, smoke curling from them, the little cobbled alley ways with washing hung between them, the donkeys trudging along pulled by young lads and old, the gingerbread man and the muffin man, the old crones selling their corn dollys and sprigs of lavender, the very poor in their rags and street urchins running about with no shoes, the middle men, mostly merchants and tradesman who could live more comfortably, and in the wealthy area the rich in their carriages, calling upon friends in their beautiful palaces with carefully tended gardens that reached to the edge of the Thames, the sights sounds the hustle and bustle, colour and drabness, poverty squalor and luxury, none of this is captured in Henrys day, in the reign of his daughter Elizabeth the queen is shown in a handsome carriage carried by her servants through the city, she is not a young woman her face is aged and she wears a sumptuous white gown, it is like the gown she wears in the Armada portrait but I cannot recall the title or the artist, but it is famous and around her are her adoring subjects, the difference between Elizabeth and her ill fated mother is that she was adored whearas Anne was reviled, there were no booing and hissing wherever she went, quite plainly the Londoners adored her and she made many journeys to see her subjects around the country, Kenilworth was a favourite retreat but for her mother she had to endure quite often open hostility, only her family and the King and her selective friends loved her, Anne that day quite possibly chose not to think of these people who were now her subjects, she was later to try to win them over become patron of many charities, she and her ladies would stitch clothes for the poor and she must have hoped after time, when she had given them a prince that the memory of Katherine would fade from their hearts and minds and they would learn to love her a little, she was young she was pregnant time was on her side, as she stepped into her gaily caparisoned barge with her ladies and heard the fanfares the music and saw the sun glinting on the Thames, she must have been full of hope and joy, this wonderful event was in honour of her and it was a symbol of a Kings love, that mighty monarch King Henry V111, they say some things are captured in time, that events that hold great joy or sadness can be caught in a kind of time warp, so one special observer years later can see those same scenes being enacted before their eyes, how I wish it were possible to capture that enchanting scene that took place hundreds of years ago in that long forgotton city of Tudor London.

      1. Thank you Christine for that wonderful and atmospheric description taking us back to the day of this beautiful pageant for Anne Boleyn’s pre coronation. It brought the scene alive, thank you.

        1. Thank you BQ, I so wish we could travel back in time and look upon the faces of these fascinating people and see London how she used to look, it was a dirty city with refuse in the gutters and the poor in rags, but in the richer side she just have looked quite enchanting with the beautiful buildings especially the palace of Whitehall, and the Tower itself with her crenallated towers surrounded by the green vistas and tall trees.

  3. Thank you from me also Christine. Beautifully said.

    If Katherine had died previous to Henry’s interest in Anne I think she would have been readily accepted but in this case she is supplanting a woman who has been in their lives for over 30yrs and she is adored. From Anne’s point of view this had to be very difficult for her, as no one in a public position wants to be hated by the masses. Anne was tough but she was also human.

  4. The ordinary people came to see this new Queen, to enjoy the food and free wine and it was a good day out. Whatever their reasons, curiosity, duty, loyalty, too good to miss, not wanting to miss anything or because they just wanted to see this new woman who had replaced their beloved Queen Katherine and wondered what all the fuss was about. For seven years they had been witnessing the tavern talk about the King and his new fancy Lady and the scandal of what had become a very public and long drawn out ‘divorce ‘ (annulment) with the case being heard in Blackfriars and then all the rumours of how it was now in Rome. There were probably rumours about secret marriages, that the Princess may be disinherited and oh, poor Queen Katherine has been banished to the countryside. Now suddenly there is a new Queen, the King has married his mistress and this spectacular party is in her honour. I would imagine most people would be totally stunned.

    Anne is now finally come into her own, what Henry and she had wanted for so long. She is his Queen at last and she is now dressed in gold and silver and must have glistened in the May sunlight. She was six months pregnant and hoped that she carried the King’s new son. Anne was triumphant and it was a beautiful and magnificent display of colours and barges, of flags and banners and fireworks and music and even if you didn’t think much of Anne, you would have loved the festival. Henry greeted his sweetheart with pride and devotion and he must have believed this was the accumulation of all he had struggled for during the last seven years. It was the beginning of four or so days of celebrations for the new Queen’s coronation and he was excited.

    However, we must give a thought to Queen Katherine and Princess Mary, the beloved of the people for so long and even of many of the nobles there and in their eyes the true Queen. They had been the centre of Henry’s world for over twenty four years and now they had been set aside. No other woman had achieved this, going from the King’s girlfriend to his wife and replacing a true Princess of ancient Royal Blood. Katherine was once worshipped and adored, not only by the people, but by her attentive husband and then one day, after he had a revelation, she was left defending the legitimacy of their marriage. Tragically the couple had shared the grief of six lost babies and Henry didn’t have the male heir he needed to succeed him. However, Katherine remained as Queen and it was with his love for Anne that led to the annulment and because Katherine had defied him and refused to accept the annulment she was banished and more or less under house arrest. Princess Mary would be declared illegitimate and forced to serve Princess Elizabeth and it was forbidden for them to see each other. The people must have also felt some pity for them this day and marvelled at how it had all come to this.

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