3 May 1536 – Archbishop Cranmer Writes to the King
Posted By Claire on May 3, 2013
On 3rd May 1536, a very shocked Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote to King Henry VIII regarding his patron Anne Boleyn’s arrest. Here is his letter:
“Have come to Lambeth, according to Mr. Secretary’s letters, to know your Grace’s pleasure. Dare not, contrary to the said letters, presume to come to your presence, but of my bounden duty I beg you ‘somewhat to suppress the deep sorrows of your Grace’s heart,’ and take adversity patiently. Cannot deny that you have great causes of heaviness, and that your honor is highly touched. God never sent you a like trial; but if He find you no less patient and thankful than when all things succeeded to your wish, I suppose you never did thing more acceptable to Him. You will give Him occasion to increase His benefits, as He did to Job.
If the reports of the Queen be true, they are only to her dishonor, not yours. I am clean amazed, for I had never better opinion of woman; but I think your Highness would not have gone so far if she had not been culpable. I was most bound to her of all creatures living, and therefore beg that I may, with your Grace’s favor, wish and pray that she may declare herself innocent. Yet if she be found guilty, I repute him not a faithful subject who would not wish her punished without mercy. ‘And as I loved her not a little for the love which I judged her to bear towards God and His Gospel, so if she be proved culpable there is not one that loveth God and His Gospel that ever will favor her, but must hate her above all other; and the more they favor the Gospel the more they will hate her, for then there was never creature in our time that so much slandered the Gospel; and God hath sent her this punishment for that she feignedly hath professed his Gospel in her mouth and not in heart and deed.’ And though she have so offended, yet God has shown His goodness towards your Grace and never offended you. ‘But your Grace, I am sure, knowledgeth that you have offended Him.’ I trust, therefore, you will bear no less zeal to the Gospel than you did before, as your favor to the Gospel was not led by affection to her. Lambeth, 3 May.
Since writing, my lords Chancellor, Oxford, Sussex, and my Lord Chamberlain of your Grace’s house, sent for me to come to the Star Chamber, and there declared to me such things as you wished to make me privy to. For this I am much bounden to your Grace. They will report our conference. I am sorry such faults can be proved against the Queen as they report.”1
Cranmer’s shock at Anne’s arrest is clear in the letter but his support of the Queen is tempered with a fear of offending the King. We can also see that Cranmer is worried that the events will affect the King’s “zeal” for reform. Although people often criticise Cranmer for his cowardice, in not supporting Anne at this time, Cranmer’s biographer, Diarmaid MacCulloch2 points out that Cranmer’s action of writing this letter and the way he handles the situation show his wisdom and courage. At the end of the day, his allegiance lay with the King and he had to support him.
Also on this day in 1536, Sir William Kingston reported to Thomas Cromwell that Queen Anne Boleyn had told her ladies in the Tower that “she more feared Weston”.3 She elaborated, explaining that she had reprimanded Weston, a gentleman of the privy chamber, for loving her relative, Mistress Shelton, and not his wife, and he “made answer to her again that he loved on in her house better than them both”. When Anne asked who, he replied “It is yourself”. The Queen then “defied him” (ignored him). This was to be Sir Francis Weston’s undoing and he joined Sir Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton and George Boleyn in the Tower the following day.
Notes and Sources
- LP x.792
- MacCulloch, Diarmaid (1998) Thomas Cranmer: A Life, p157
- Cavendish, George (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Vol 2, p219
25 thoughts on “3 May 1536 – Archbishop Cranmer Writes to the King”
I’m not sure how will Cranmer handle it if he knows what’s happening weeks before Anne’s arrest. But I guess at this very moment the only thing he could do is to take the disgrace of the queen as a fact and try to control the loss.
Claire, I’m wondering if someone actually tried to save Anne from her disgrace, or at least from her death. She has been ruling England as the queen for the past three years and showered favor to a lot of people. There are so many tried to defend Catherine of Aragon several years ago. I know Anne is not so popular among the commoners, but what about those who around her?
You bring up an excellent question. I get so caught up in the process of her destruction and the identification of those who had her destroyed. You briefly ponder the question “why doesn’t someone intervene”, but then the overbearing political climate overshadows. Her family, Thomas Wyatt, etc. deserted her. Again, looking at a 16th century event through the eyes of a 21st century scholar. It had to be a “kill or be killed” mind set at court. Her sister Mary survived in the country away from court.
There is a unmistakable sinister thread running through this letter, as it reveals the almighty power and majesty Henry held as absolute monarch. It’s frightening.
It was indeed a very skilful diplomatic written letter. Which I imagine many of his council and nobles had become adept in doing concerning the King…
I was wondering that too,there must have been someone around who could have helped her or was everyone so terrified of henry and getting implicated themselves ,I mean the court must have been a hotbed of gossip by this stage so people were aware of it ,and im still wondering where was Thomas Boleyn?
why,why, was this tyrant allowed on the throne ,im talking about henry here,by the way,not Cromwell or the rest of them they were nothing but “yes”men and spineless .
Nothing to do with being allowed, I’m afraid Margaret, it was his rightful and divine inheritance after his father, no one would question it, though there were some who did have more royal blood in them than the Tudors, and a better claim to the throne it seems.
But he was a welcomed and loved King as a young man, no one could predict what he would become. I often wonder if the all the sons that he and Katherine had lived, things would have been so different, there’s a possibly he would have been so different too…
But what ever the differencing opinions there are of this Gargantuan monarch and his ‘collection’ of wives and courtiers, without him this era of history would not have been the outstanding colourful period it was. it amazes me how it continues to gather an ever increasing fascination about it.
No Anne, no Wolsey, no Cromwell etc…..what would we talk about…. 🙂
he really did abuse his power though and was out of control.
The “power” went to his “head”.
Yes, and removed everyone else’s…..sadly
DId Cromwell interrupt Cranmer when he was writing this letter so that the tone changed? Or am I imagining that? In any event, I love the fact that he at least said – “I am clean amazed, for I had never a better opinion of woman.” Bottom line though – Cranmer didn’t want to “go down with the ship”.
It’s based on the postscript, I think — the “Since writing, my lords Chancellor etc” bit. Being taken to the Star Chamber to be told “such things as you wished to make me privy to.” Whatever was said, we can guess that it was frightening enough. Anyway, whatever Cranmer’s obligations to Anne, I think his real priority comes before the postscript, when he writes that “I trust, therefore, you will bear no less zeal to the Gospel than you did before, as your favor to the Gospel was not led by affection to her.” He definitely did not want himself — or the new religion — to go down the drain along with her. Understandable if not exactly Horatius At The Bridge.
Claire, I think Cranmer’s biographer, Diarmaid MacCulloch does support a more heroic view of Cranmer than how we see things today. He was open about his feelings for Anne, yet acknowledged that if she were guilty, he would have to denounce her. He was the only one who dared recognize her virtues. It would have been difficult to stand up against “trumped up” charges already designed to destroy her. Even Anne’s testimony at her trial could not save her, though the consensus was that she defended herself well.Thomas Wyatt, if this is true, saves his own neck by writing to the king, reminding him of his warning about her before he (the king) married her.
Very diplomatic letter indeed. The subtext certainly leaves the reader knowing that underneath his diplomacy, Cranmer knew of Anne’s innocence. Even after he writes at the end that he was visited and …”They will report our conference. I am sorry such faults can be proved against the Queen as they report.” “As they report” is still a clever way of saying “I don’t believe it, but it has been said”. Allegedly, if you will.
What at times baffles me is why Anne was saying things in the Tower that would further implicate her and others. I know she must have been shocked/terrified, and who knows what would be said in this situation, but I still cannot fully understand why she would continue to fuel the fire. Sometimes I wonder if these things weren’t made up by the ladies attending her there, who were not her true friends/supporters. Kingston could have reported whatever he wanted at that point. Or, maybe Anne was clearing her conscience of any/all situations that could have been deemed negative before her death as a result of her religion?
I really can’t imagine how she must have felt. I do understand her laughter. She must have thought the whole situation (being held as prisoner in her coronation apt, accused of incest) incredibly perverse.
Every body was scared of Henry it seems! No one had the courage or the bravity or was strong enough to stand up to him!
I know it has been touched on later on in his life, but I’m sure King Henry had to be slipping into mental illness. To have believed in these stories and lies just because of convenience is an outrage. It’s a hard man to stand by these beliefs as true and correct. Anne had no chance.
I am in total agreement with you M’lady, that Henry had begun in slip deeper into mental illness/personality disorder at a high functioning level mostly, and not in a unconscious state of mind. I’ll not ‘rattle’ on about it as I don’t want to bore the pants off everyone. But his actions cannot be excused (now-a-days anyway) because of his ability to decide what he wanted, unlike George III who bouts of ‘madness’ which he had no control of word or action. Though Henry’s type of illness can be manipulated to a degree by others that may want some advantageous outcome for themselves.
There was no mental health acts in those days , psychologists or psychiatrists, to place this dangerous man into a safe unit.
There is a famous quote by George Bernard Shaw it goes:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him,
The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself…..
All progress depends on the unreasonable man….
And I think that be this quote could possibly be applied to one or two more of those who lived in that time as well.
i would say that anne breaking into laughter was her bordering on hysteria at the sheer shock at what was happening to her and possibly the stories carried back to Cromwell was indeed her trying to recall who she had spoken to and what she had said,but the ladies she had with her only had to repeat a name ,ie Weston that anne had uttered and next thing Weston is arrested ,not her fault in the circumstances she was in but she really should have known that these ladies would be reporting all back ,this is how Cromwell worked .
I agree! Maybe!
Claire wrote a piece on Anne’s ladies in waiting back in March 2011, it’s very interesting, and shows that the women there were not ;fans’ of Anne, and were to report her every word to Kingston and Cromwell.
I feel no matter what she said, it would have been twisted to suit their accusations, she really did not stand a chance and was damned from all directions. It is no wonder the poor Lady became hysterical at times.
At least Cranmer didn’t rewrite the whole letter. He let what he had said stand and just added a postscript. I, too, cannot understand why someone did not stand up for Anne. How could a father put career, or even life, before the lives of two of his children.
I see nothing of Archshop Cranmer’s courage in this letter much less concern for ascertaining the truth of the situation. We think of him as Anne’s ally but in the deciding moment he was not. He was her ally when she was in the king’s favror. If allegiance to a king means total agreement with him in state matters, Cranmer is a role model but he is not a role model as a clergyman. What of Henry’s soul? What of his own? He writes that he is “clean amazed”. Would not that amazement stir some doubt as to the charges? Does he actually believe that Anne had any chance of a fair outcome? I am writng centuries after this letter. Would I have the courage to slow down the run away train of doom? I don’t know, but I will not call the Archbishop courageous in this situation.He did not need to be Becket but he did need to seek to communicate meaningfully with the king because he is a pastoral care giver. I do thank the Archbishop for his great courage at his martyrdom, and apologize as a Catholic, for that great sin committed in the name of my religion. He turned out to be heroically brave and true.
It is outraging and incomprehensible to us all to see those who declared loyalty to Anne as friends, and most of all to see her family (the ones that weren’t under arrest, that is), stand back in the shadows and do nothing, but what could they do, this path had been decided and nothing would have changed the course of it.
These times, as in all previous reigns before, and long after there was only one life that was the most important to those who lived then, and that was their own, even when it was their closest kith and kin that were in the firing line. Life was cheap, and to hang on to your own it seems the thought was, others lives were cheaper and better spent.
A social conditioning, hammered home by fear.
Sadly our sense of morals, justice, love and commitment had no place there, and to think that us as parents would lay down our lives for our children without question, it drives home even harder the brutality of the time.
well said and very true.