The argument scene from "The Tudors" series.
The scene from “The Tudors” series – in reality, Henry VIII was talking to Anne from an open window

According to Alexander Alesius, the Scottish theologian, it was on 30th April 1536 that he witnessed Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn having some kind of argument. Years later, he gave an account of the event to Elizabeth I, who he describes as being in her mother’s arms while Anne tried to placate the king.*

“Never shall I forget the sorrow which I felt when I saw the most serene queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a baby, in her arms and entreating the most serene king your father, in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard, when she brought you to him. I did not perfectly understand what had been going on, but the faces and gestures of the speakers plainly showed that the king was angry, although he could conceal his anger wonderfully well. Yet from the protracted conference of the council (for whom the crowd was waiting until it was quite dark, expecting that they would return to London), it was most obvious to everyone that some deep and difficult question was being discussed.”1

We have no way of knowing what the king and queen were arguing about, and Alesius obviously didn’t hear. Was Anne Boleyn trying to explain her encounter with Sir Henry Norris, in which she had mentioned the King’s death? Had Anne heard that the King was trying to set her aside and was she pleading with him to keep her as his wife? She surely must have realised that something was going on with Henry having long council meetings and Jane Seymour being in favour. It really is impossible to know what this argument was about, but at 11 o’clock that night the King and Queen’s upcoming visit to Calais was cancelled and arrangements were made for the King to travel there alone a week later.2

Historian Eric Ives wrote that in Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s relationship “storm followed sunshine, sunshine followed storm”, but this storm was not going to blow over.3 There was no passionate reconciliation, Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2nd May.

Notes and Sources

*There is no other source for Elizabeth being at court at this time so we don’t know whether Alesius got the date wrong or if she was there for a short visit that wasn’t recorded. It is hard to believe that Alesius would have got it wrong though as he would have known the dates that he was in London and he was certainly in London on 19th May as he visited Archbishop Cranmer on the day of Anne’s execution.

  1. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1 – 1558-1559, 1303
  2. LP x. 789
  3. Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p195

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25 thoughts on “30 April 1536 – Henry VIII is angry with Anne Boleyn”
  1. Do we know what their demeanor was together at the joust? Or would they both have put on a good face in public?

  2. I always felt so sorry for Anne Boleyn. She’ s always portrayed as the “Scarlet Woman” but I do genuinely believe that theirs was a love story. It just didn’t go the way they planned unfortunately

  3. Henry could have heard about the conversation with Norris and Anne was trying to play it down trying to persuade him that it was just nonsense but he was so fed up with her anyway I think it was the straw that broke the camels back, then when Cromwell came to him on May Day with Smeatons so called confession he probably knew then there was no turning back, he was resolved to get rid of her and probably even in his heart of hearts he realised she was innocent he made himself believe the accusations because they suited his purpose, the conversation with Norris about dead men’s shoes did sound suspicious but he knew that Anne was reckless and as with so many reckless people, their mouths speak before their brain goes into gear, but Smeatons confession probably made his mind up about her then.

  4. Claire, I always get chills when you post about the events leading up to Anne’s execution. Sometimes the events of 1536 feel so close, it’s almost as if the past and the present exist alongside each other. I always look forward to your posts because they bring Anne’s memory that much closer to us.

    1. I agree that it does give me chills as well …kind of reminds me of Charles and Diana in more ways than one

  5. When Henry VIII, began to believe his own power came from God and no longer required the Pope and Rome to further his divorce actions he just could not be contained. There is the Church of England, but it did give us Elizabeth I and the Gloriana period. I always feel so sorry that Anne could not save herself and is one of many innocents that was sacrificed during the Tudor reign.

  6. Never felt sorry for Anne. What goes around comes around. Or you reap what you sow. She had no mercy for Henry’s first wife.

    1. And Henry himself played no part in that? Ignorance abounds when it comes to Anne. She surely was no saint but she was not the bloodthirsty succubus popular culture likes to turn her into. Henry had been considering leaving Catherine of Aragon ever since it became clear she wouldn’t be able to provide him with a male heir. Anne purely served as the catalyst that made Henry decide to finally put action in motion. Anne may have pushed to have Catherine removed from court but it was always Henry in the end that made the final decisions, including separating Catherine from Mary. I don’t see you putting blame on Henry but somehow Anne reaped what she sowed? What blind ignorance!

      1. I agree with you Lauren. Catherine could have accepted that her inability to provide an heir posed a danger for England. If she had the best interests of England at heart she could have stepped aside and lived the same sort of comfortable life Anne of Cleves did.

        I do not believe that she refused to step aside purely on the religious grounds of believing her marriage was valid. I think she was, in fact, determined that Mary should come to the throne, be married to the Spanish king and England created a vassal to Spain. Which may well have succeeded if Mary and Philip had ever managed to reproduce.

        1. First, there are records that, Catherine of Aragon and her best friend Lady Margaret Pole discussed a potential match between Mary and one of the Pole sons (probably Reginald — the future cardinal). Among the international plans launched by Henry and Wolsey, Catherine preferred Charles to the French Dauphin, but nothing more.

          Second, I do agree that it wasn’t just religious grounds for Catherine’s refusal. I think a good chunk was due to her inability to face the idea that she slept with a man who wasn’t her husband. More importantly, as the daughter of Isabella of Castile Catherine also had a strong personal reason for believing that Henry was wrong and that a woman could rule.

          Third, I don’t think that Catherine of Aragon can be blamed for failing to step aside when asked, unless you want to say that Anne Boleyn can be blamed for her fate and the fate of 5 innocent men because she didn’t get out of the way (by admitting to a pre-contract and annulling the marriage first, before any accusation could be made). After all, under Henry’s belief that a male heir was necessary for England’s safety, Anne failed as much as Catherine.

          Furthermore, Catherine was first asked to go into a convent in 1527 or 1528 — when she had no reason to believe that Henry would attack his own family, let alone his friends (as of that date, his ruthless- had been limited to executing his father’s ministers and cousin the Duke of Buckingham); by the time she realized what she was dealing with, it would be too late. Anne, by contrast, should have been aware at a much earlier date of the lengths that Henry would reach to get his own way.

          IMO, neither Catherine nor Anne are blameworthy; Henry is responsible for all. However, if Catherine is to be blamed for failing to foretell the future, so should Anne.

        2. Katherine was in love with Henry so maybe it’s not really fair for anyone to just expect her to give up on her marriage, it’s easy for other people to say that but it’s awful when your husband leaves you for another woman, especially when she’s younger and considered sexy it does nothing for your self esteem, there were dynastic issues at stake here too, of course she wanted Mary to remain Henrys heir, the three people involved in this unhappy scenario did not find lasting happiness anyway, Katherine died miserable and lonely, Anne was killed and Henry sunk into an obese old tyrant, to say Anne reaped what she sowed is unfair she didn’t ask for Henry to persue her and offer her marriage she was caught in the middle of Henrys desire for her and for a son, she merely made use of her situation, any woman who condemns her for that should ask what they would have done in her shoes? She didn’t want to be his mistress and that was her right, it was her body, her life Henry offered her marriage and she accepted, it was not her fault he was already married and had a child, although it was tragic for Katherine and Mary it wasn’t Anne’s fault he fell in love with her, neither was it her fault she couldn’t give him a son, both Katherine and Anne were at the mercy of a King whose power was absolute.

        3. Spare me the St. Katherine routine. A Princess of Castile y Aragon make way for one of her ladies in waiting?!?! Her daughter pushed aside for another woman’s child? Not going to happen.

          That said, with her mother as an example Katherine may well have believed her daughter should and could reasonably be the next monarch. She wasn’t really wrong, as Mary, in time, succeeded without too much difficulty(setting aside that nine days thing), but in the mid 1520’s, with a load of men still floating around with Plantagenet blood, and before the persecution of the Princess which engaged for her the good will of so many, maybe not so much.

          Katherine came to England to serve the interests of Spain, and this was always her first priority, until her marriage was threatened. At that time, Katherine really started to work for herself, whatever she may have told herself.

          She would have been happy to see England made a satellite of Spain. No doubt of that. She almost succeeded. She held on long enough that Anne was likely past her best childbearing years by the time Henry actually married her. In fact, her actions just about guaranteed that if Henry had a legitimate son, there would be a Regency.
          Henry was 41 when he married Anne-already an older man by Tudor standards, and the Tudors themselves were not long lived. His father was only 52 at his death.

          Unfortunately, her death in 1536 paved the way for Jane Seymour and a legitimate heir, who lived just long enough for Mary to be at the outer edge of her childbearing years.

          Katherine had many fine qualities, but she was short sighted, and she was proud. She wanted to keep her husband and her crown. She wanted the crown for her daughter. The result was a catastrophe for England and the Church she professed to love.

          She lived with Henry for nearly twenty years and did not understand him at all.

          There were no saints in this scenario, nor demons. Henry needed a son, and a divorce. He wanted Anne. Many a monarch has been in a similar situation and had his needs met by the Pope. (Louis XII anyone?) Even his sister managed a divorce.
          And Brandon’s marital escapades took years to sort out, but it got done in his favor.
          Henry was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he wasn’t going to take it lying down. Kings have a way of getting ugly when they don’t get what they want. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t nice, but power politics seldom are.

          Anne got the worst of it, all around. Her reputation still remains in ruins, while the architect of the mess is generally treated as a saint. Had Katherine accepted the reality, and retired to a convent, Henry might have been a much gentler king. We’ll never know.

      2. Sometimes the “ignorance” comes from people who are pro-Anne though. Yes Henry was awful. But do you know Anne pressured Henry to execute Katherine and Mary ? That she did. And wanting Mary to act as a servant to Elizabeth was rather unpleasant. None of these people are truly wonderful or perfect. Not even Elizabeth, if you read enough about her.

      3. Lauren,

        Excellent post. I totally agree. It always amazes
        me how people blame Anne and seem to obsolve
        Henry. Also Henry’s marriage was really over
        before Anne came along. People always forget
        also that Henry chased Anne. She wasn’t interested
        Yes eventually she gave in. Now interesting how
        after less than 3 years of marriage, Jane Seymour
        went after Henry, And as has been said, Jane
        walked through Annes blood to to marry him
        yet somehow she’s a saint.

    2. We can not judge the dead and we cannot know for sure what was going on between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Since we do not know what the conversation was that Ales did hear, we can only guess it could have been something entirely from has been said. It was a very tumultuous time, no one could be trusted, not even the King himself. We need to show a little sympathy for Anne, remember Henry was not a saint.

  7. I genuinely believe Henry regretted not allowing this storm to pass and beheading Anne.

    I don’t think it was a coincidence he later married her cousin Katherine Howard. She must have resembled her and I suspect in some ways Henry fell for her as he was trying to recreate his relationship with Anne.

    I always think Henry’s ‘rose without a thorn’ comment about Katherine is telling. It rather implies he’s experienced roses with thorns before and that he viewed Katherine as a softer more pliant version of Anne who wouldn’t meddle with religion or politics or lose her temper.

    Karma got him though, because his ‘new Anne’ really was all the things he had falsely accused Anne of being.

    1. Iv often wondered if he ever regretted beheading Anne to, a remark he made about Elizabeth wanting to meet Anne of Cleve’s is quite telling, he said Elizabeth had had a mother so different she ought not to see her, we all know Anne of Cleve’s repelled Henry so was he remembering the passion he’d experienced with Anne years before and after Janes early death and the disappointment which followed his meeting with her successor beginning to regret his hasty action of putting her to death? I think Henry never knew what he really wanted but spent his life searching for the ideal woman not knowing that such a woman doesn’t exist, and yes he did fall for and marry her young cousin so there could have been that yearning to re create the idyll he had first sought with Anne and maybe a family resemblance made her appear all the more attractive to him .

  8. I have always been moved by this story, by this touching letter and by the encounter and find it traumatic that Henry could not have had any compassion on the mother of his child, especially when she held that child in his arms. Did he already believe rumours that Elizabeth was the child of Anne and Henry Norris and felt that he had no option but to reject her as well before men? The scene in the Tudors really captured the passion and the sadness and desperation of that meeting and Anne’s desperate pleas. She holds out Elizabeth and begs for another chance for their love and marriage: she was terrified. I am moved by this letter: it is beautiful and sad and touching.

    1. I think Anne knew she was doomed poor lady, but even she could have had no idea what was in store for her.

  9. Politics is hardball. All the players were playing for their lives and agenda. This includes Katherine and Anne. These ladies played more of a man’s part than most, and they took the risks that went with it. Any surprise Henry ended up with a woman who played a much quieter game? Jane Seymour was the antithesis of Henry’s first two wives, at least in his mind-and he never again permitted a wife much say in affairs. Jane might have had more influence had she lived, but on the larger issues, it’s unlikely. Catherine Parr got a very harsh lesson for interfering in religious matters.
    It is a harsh reality and very sad for the women and their daughters.

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