6 May 1536 – A letter from the imprisoned Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII? – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

An interesting letter, said to have been found in Thomas Cromwell’s papers and dated 6th May 1536, is the subject of this Fall of Anne Boleyn video.

It had been inscribed “To the King from the Lady in the Tower” and was said to have been written by the imprisoned Queen Anne Boleyn. But what did it say and is it authentic?

Here is the link I mention to Sandra Vasoli’s article on the letter – 6 May 1536 – Anne Boleyn’s Letter to Henry VIII from the Tower. Sandi has also written a book on her research into the letter and you can find out more about her book by clicking here.

Here’s a transcript of my video:

On this day in history, 6th May 1536, four days after her arrest, Queen Anne Boleyn may have written a letter to her husband, Henry VIII.
She was of course imprisoned in the Tower of London at this time and the letter has been given the title, possibly added by Thomas Cromwell, “To the King from the Lady in the Tower”.

In this letter, the queen emphasises her innocence and asks the King to “let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me”. She also asks for a “lawful trial” and puts her present predicament down to the King’s affection settling on another, i.e. her own lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.

Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.

You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, Good your Grace, let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain, that unworthy Stain of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter.

Try me, good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yes, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure; and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not, (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only Request shall be, That my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the Innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing to your Ears, then let me obtain this Request; and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions.
Your most Loyal and ever Faithful Wife, Anne Bullen
From my doleful Prison the Tower, this 6th of May.

Some historians believe it to be a forgery, whereas others believe it rings true. Sandra Vasoli, author of “Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower”, believes that Anne did indeed write it.

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5 thoughts on “6 May 1536 – A letter from the imprisoned Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII? – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. I think she well may have written such a letter. Anne, at this point, had few whom she could truly trust. To whom she entrusted the letter to be given to the King either willingly gave it to Cromwell or Cromwell discovered it and it leaves me to wonder if the King ever saw it or was he so determined to be rid of her he dismissed it out of hand.

  2. This beautiful and moving letter reflects the emotional state that Anne was in and it doesn’t matter if it was authentic or not, but what is in her letter. I personally believe that the letter is authentic, if not the original. The problems with the letter are easily addressed, especially the nonsense that its not in her handwriting. Really do these critics not know that Queens and nobles didn’t write their own letters a lot of the time. They used scribes and secretaries half the time, they dictated, which in these circumstances, is most likely what Anne did. The letter was found among the papers of Thomas Cromwell and that’s not that unusual either. He was the King’s no one and he would have kept the papers together and made copies of them. He also had letters from Kingston. The letter from Anne was probably sent in a letter from Kingston, some are damaged, then taken to the King who decided if he would accept it or not. It was most probably then returned to Cromwell or the archives and notes made afterwards. The original has vanished but there are early records of that and the Cotton document. Even if Henry decided to destroy the letter, refusing to open it, a copy would still have been made. Its just like one making a photocopy or digital copy of an important letter today. The original may vanish but you may have the copy for evidence or memorial. The original and copy of these letters were all damaged in a fire in the eighteenth century so we are lucky here because its preservation means we can see into the mind of Anne at this desperate time.

    There are also other arguments which are really ridiculous, like Cromwell wouldn’t have dared to show this letter to Henry in case he changed his mind. This is one of the most ridiculous arguments I have read in many comments over the years because it shows very little understanding of Cromwell as a person or his relationship with the King. Even if Cromwell was completely behind the coup against Anne, he wasn’t acting without the consent or knowledge of the King. Henry was receiving regular reports on the investigation and the events in the Tower. If Cromwell didn’t tell him that his wife had written to him, Kingston possibly would or Fitzwilliam. Cromwell would just have to take the risk that Henry would pardon his wife. He would have been more at risk holding the letter back, Henry might suspect a plot. Cromwell had no reason to withhold such a letter or to refuse the Queens request to write it. Prisoners had the right to write to the King for mercy and nobody had the authority to refuse that right. She couldn’t see Henry, but she could write a letter for mercy or justice. That’s exactly what she did.

    What might be possible was to control the production of Anne’s letters, restrict her to one letter, restrict the contents and approval might have been given for the content. Anne seems to have written the letter at a time of stress and she seems to be exceptionally anxious as she dictated this letter. There are some odd things about it, but this wasn’t like any other letter, this was not like any other letter, it was an appeal for her life and for a legal trial. It was an appeal that Anne’s enemies do not try her and are not listened to. Anne said that she knew who the real enemy was, the real reason she has been put out of the way and is from a very aware, if distressed woman. The postscript is very tender and full of humility and love and Anne has used the most humble form of her name. There was no correct way to spell Bullen, but here, Anne also spoke of her humble origins, submitting to the King, so maybe we should not be surprised at her choice of signature.

    1. Maybe it is a bit ridiculous to think that Cromwell would have hidden the letter from the king, after all as Bq said, Cromwell would have angered him if he hadn’t produced any message from the queen, it was his duty to tell the king everything and yes daily reports of Anne, what she said, and how she acted were all noted by her women who informed Kingston, there is a strange comment though in the letter in which Anne says to the king, he has raised her far beyond her desert or desire, as Weir noted this is strange because Anne did set her heart on being queen, and both she and the king were increasingly frustrated when the pope refused Henry the longed for dispensation, so that comment really goes against what we know about Anne and her relationship with the king, many historians don’t even mention this letter dismissing it like yesterday’s newspaper, Lacey Smith in his biography of Anne, is rather sarcastic towards Weir because he says she wants it so much to be genuine, but Weir noted several inconsistencies in it, I do not think even Norah Lofts mentioned it in her book and I cannot recall if Eric Ives did and he really was the expert on Anne, but we are all entitled to our opinions and this letter really has baffled many, and if it is indeed genuine it would be like gold dust, Anne was in this letter if it was indeed dictated by her pleading for justice, a fair trial and as she said, ‘let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers’, sadly her judges were her enemies they were chosen by the king, he was determined they bring in a guilty verdict, and before the sham of the trial had begun, the swordsman from Calais was on his way to the channel, we only have to look at the difference between Anne Boleyn and how she was treated to Catherine Howard, Anne was obliterated so swiftly, yet Henry’s fifth queen was still much loved by him, and the slow investigations were to get to the heart of any slander against the queen, Henry did not wish it to be true and when her past was uncovered, and her trysts with Culpeper disclosed, his behaviour during that bleak time was of one in the deep throes of misery and depression, unlike his shameful almost joyous behaviour over his second queen.

  3. I cannot decide if this letter is false or genuine, but it is a beautiful articulate and poignant letter from a wounded and distressed wife to a husband she feels has clearly abandoned her, the tone of the letter is full of pleas for justice, she mentions often her enemies and reproaches her husband that his heart has settled on another, and that is the reason she is behind bars at that moment, the only two things wrong with this letter is the title, From The Lady In The Tower, supposedly written by Cromwell, Anne was still queen and was deferred to as such, Kingston and her ladies still bowed and curtsied to her, so why should Cromwell unless he was being malicious about Anne, not give her her proper title? The way she signed herself also is strange, not the spelling because as we know, people spelt words in a number of ways, it is the way she leaves out her correct title, she always signed herself on correspondence Anne The Queen, which was her correct title, and it was something that meant a great deal to her, so all I can think of why she did not refer to herself as such, was she meant to humble herself before the king, maybe she was trying to remind him of the halcyon days before she was his wife and he had loved her so passionately, he had once years before when she had lain close to death of the sweating sickness, declared he would gladly endure half her suffering if he knew it would heal her, there were days when he could not bear to be parted from her for an hour, those thoughts must have been prevalent in her mind every waking moment, and it is only natural she would try to reach out to the king by reminding him of those evergreen days, suddenly locked up as she was in the Tower, it was the only way she could reach him, but if it is indeed genuine, why was it found amongst Cromwell’s documents after his fall, did it actually find its way to the king, Kingston would have been handed it from Anne and his duty was to hand it straight to Cromwell, who should have delivered it to the king, so did Henry V111 actually read it, or did Cromwell just decide not to hand it to his master, maybe fearing Anne’s influence over the king and that he would soften and crumple, one historian noted that the style of writing was not quite the same as Anne’s, from the remaining few pieces of correspondence we have from her, but she would not have written it herself merely dictated to one of her ladies, one supposes, there are good arguments for and against this letter being genuine, and really it would be absolutely marvellous if it was known to be genuine, but I believe we will never know, if it is a forgery then it is a very clever one, and maybe it was written by a champion of Anne’s, who wished the world to know she was a deeply wronged woman, she did have her sympathisers and people were shocked at the way she was treated, at court and on the London streets, it is only natural that they would wish to fight her corner, no one else had dared knowing the wrath of the king, to speak in her defence, only her friend and admirer Thomas Cranmer, not known for being particularly brave he had written hastily to the king after the queens arrest, ‘he was fair amazed’ he had said, ‘for he never had better opinion of woman as he had of her’, the queen was his patron and he had annulled the kings first marriage to Katherine of Aragon, we do not know Henry’s response to this letter which must have annoyed him, but he was fond of Cranmer and he ever lost favour with him, but apart from Cranmer we know of no one else who pleaded with the king for her, her family may have tried hopelessly but if they did, their attempts were futile, this letter is all we have if it is genuine, a clear insight into the torment of the queen, I myself would love it to be genuine, Anne was a courageous woman what she felt in her mind she would put down on paper, one minute she was a free woman, a queen, the next a prisoner in the Tower not allowed to see her husband. not aware of what was going on, it is only natural she would try to reach out to him, as I said I really cannot decide if it is fake or genuine, but I really would love it to be the latter.

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