29 May 1533 – Day 1 of Queen Anne Boleyn’s Coronation Celebrations – A river procession

On 29th May 1533, just the day after her marriage to Henry VIII had been proclaimed valid, Queen Anne Boleyn’s coronation celebrations began in earnest.

The River Thames transformed into a spectacle for a special river pageant! Over 300 barges, a fire-breathing dragon, and Anne’s falcon badge were just some of the highlights of this grand coronation river procession…


On this day in Tudor history, 29th May 1533, the celebrations for Queen Anne Boleyn’s coronation kicked off with a spectacular river pageant on the Thames. Anne was due to be crowned on 1st June at Westminster Abbey.

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. Let me give you a few more details based on an article that I originally wrote a few years ago for the Anne Boleyn Files…

The pageant started at 1pm on Thursday 29th May, when the London livery companies’ fifty barges set off from Billingsgate. These sixty to seventy foot long barges, escorted by small boats, were decorated with banners displaying the arms of the companies, streamers, bunting and cloth of gold. Minstrels entertained the fleet with music and in front of the Mayor’s barge was a “foyst”, or wherry, bearing a great dragon which was was “continually moving and casting wildfire”. This dragon was surrounded by “terrible monsters” and “wild men” also casting fire and making “hideous noises”.

After them, came the Mayor of London’s barge and the bachelors’ barge, which was full of musicians playing trumpet and other instruments. The bachelors’ barge was hung with cloth of gold and silk, and bore two huge banners displaying the arms of the King and Queen, along with streamers and bells. It also bore the arms of the company of “Haberdashers” and “merchant adventurers”, and on the starboard gunall were thirty-six “scochyons”, or metal shields, showing the King and Queen’s arms impaled (the King’s colours on the right and the Queen’s colours on the left). These shields were fastened to hangings of cloth of gold and silver.

Another feature of this river procession was a wherry carrying Anne’s falcon badge. This crowned, white falcon stood on a gold tree stump surrounded by white and red roses, and “virgins singing and playing sweetly”.

The procession arrived at Greenwich Palace at 3pm to pick up the pregnant Queen and take her to the Tower of London. Anne appeared, dressed in cloth of gold, and boarded her barge. Anne’s ladies boarded a second barge and the King’s guard boarded the King’s barge – the King was not part of the procession. These three barges were joined by the barges of bishops and of courtiers. Noblemen in attendance that day included the Duke of Suffolk, the Marquess of Dorset, the Earls of Arundel, Derby, Rutland, Worcester, Huntingdon, Sussex and Oxford, and Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire. By this time there were “some 120 large craft and 200 small ones” on the Thames.

Letters and Papers describes how gun salutes heralded the Queen as she made her way along the Thames and that “when she came over against Wapping mills the Tower ‘loosed their ordinance’ most triumphantly, shooting four guns at once.” Anne landed at Tower Wharf and was greeted by dignitaries lined up across the King’s bridge to the Tower’s private royal entrance, the Court Gate of the Byward Tower. Among the dignitaries were Sir Edward Walsingham, Lieutenant of the Tower, and Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower. When Anne entered the Tower, she was received by her husband, the King, “who laid his hands on both her sides, kissing her with great reverence and a joyful countenance”, before leading her to her chamber. The King and Queen then supped together.

It is sad to think that Anne entered the Tower that day in the very same way that she did after her arrest in 1536 and that she stayed in the very same royal apartments that would serve as her prison in 1536. Just under three years separated these very different events.

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