6 May 1536 – From the Lady in the Tower

Posted By on May 6, 2013

Letter from the Lady in TowerOn 6th May 1536, it is said that Anne Boleyn wrote the following letter to her husband, King Henry VIII, from the Tower of London:

“To the King from the Lady in the Tower” [Heading said to have been added by Thomas Cromwell]

“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.”1

The letter first appeared in Lord Edward Herbert’s 1649 book The Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth”.2 Herbert was sceptical, believing that the letter may have been a fake penned in the reign of Elizabeth I, but Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salibury,3 writing in 1679, believed it to be genuine. It was claimed that the letter was found with Sir William Kingston’s letters in Cromwell’s papers and, like Kingston’s letters to Cromwell, it had been damaged during the Ashburnam House fire of 1731.

This letter has often been considered a forgery, mainly due to the handwriting which differs from other authenticated letters by Anne. However, at the time of publication, the claim was made that the letter found was a copy made by Cromwell. This would explain why it was not in Anne’s handwriting. Although Burnet and Victorian historian J.A. Froude4 believed that the letter was authentic, historians such as Agnes Strickland and James Gairdner thought it to be a forgery, with Gairdner5 believing it to be written in an Elizabethan hand. Other historians, like Paul Friedmann and P W Sergeant, also thought it to be a forgery. Modern day historian Alison Weir6 makes a further point when she draws our attention to Henry Savage’s view. Savage states that the difference in handwriting could be due to this letter being written a decade later than Anne’s other authenticated letters, which date from the 1520s, and also the fact that she was imprisoned and living in fear of her life. Weir also cites Jasper Ridley, editor of The Love Letters of Henry VIII,7 as pointing out that the letter “bears all the marks of Anne’s character, of her spirit, her impudence and her recklessness”.

There are, however, anomalies which suggest that the letter is a forgery:

  • The signature “Anne Bullen” rather than the usual “Anne Boleyn”, “Anne de Boulaine” or “Anne the Queen”.
  • The fact that Cromwell kept it rather than destroying it.
  • The heading at the top: “To the King from the Lady in the Tower” – wouldn’t Cromwell have referred to her as the Queen or as Anne Boleyn? “The Lady in the Tower” is rather poetic and romantic.
  • The style, which is not consistent with Anne’s other letters.
  • The reproving tone and provocative content – The writer is claiming that the King instigated the plot so that he could marry Jane Seymour. Would Anne risk angering and insulting Henry in this way?

BUT these anomalies can be thrown out of the window:

  • If the letter was a copy then this could have been Cromwell referring to Anne.
  • It wasn’t discovered until the 17th century so it was obviously kept hidden and not made public.
  • Perhaps Cromwell no longer saw her as Queen and nicknamed her “The Lady in the Tower”.
  • Anne was not writing a normal letter, she had the shadow of the axe (or rather, sword) hanging over her.
  • Anne could be provocative when she wanted to be. It may have been a huge risk to take but perhaps she wanted this one opportunity to tell the King what she thought of him and his plot.
  • The handwriting issue and the use of “Bullen” can also be explained away. The letter could have been a copy made by Cromwell. It could be, as argued by Jasper Ridley,8 a late 16th century copy of the earlier original, or Anne may have been so distraught that she dictated it to one of her ladies.

Ultimately, there is no way we can be certain one way or the other, but I hope that Anne did write it or something like it. Anne’s execution speech stuck to the usual rules, in that she accepted her sentence and praised the King, but I’d like to think that Anne had some opportunity to let the King know what she really thought.

(From The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway)

Notes and Sources

  1. Smeeton, G (1820) The Life and Death of Anne Bullen, Queen Consort of England.
  2. Herbert, E (1649) The Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth.
  3. Burnet, G (1865) The History of the Reformation of the Church of England.
  4. Froude, J A (1891) The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon: The Story as Told by the Imperial
    Ambassadors Resident at the Court of Henry VIII.
  5. LP x. 808
  6. Weir, A (2009) The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, 173.
  7. The Love Letters of Henry VIII, ed. Ridley, Jasper (1989)
  8. Ibid.

33 thoughts on “6 May 1536 – From the Lady in the Tower”

  1. Globerose says:

    Hi Claire – In brief, is this letter saying there has been a coup against her by her enemies and she begs him not to let his affair with Mrs Semel (let not any light Fancy) sway his judgement of her? Do you think that’s a good enough interpretation and did she write it?

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, Anne is stating her innocence, asking for a “lawful trial” where her enemies won’t be chosen to pass judgement on her, and suggesting that the King has brought her down so that he can marry again.

      It’s impossible to say whether Anne wrote it. I don’t believe so, because I don’t believe that Anne would have risked angering the King or risked her daughter’s status by being so inflammatory. I also have problems with Anne signing it “Anne Bullen” rather than “Anne the Queen”.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Claire,Anne was the Queen,would there be her’ Royal Signature’ on this letter??Is there any profe Henry evev read this letter by the Queen? By the way Claire ,that letter was really touching,you can feel her dispare! Great Day Baroness x

        1. Claire says:

          It is signed “Anne Bullen” which doesn’t tally with her usual signature. No, there’s no evidence that Henry ever read it or that it was written by Anne. Very frustrating!

        2. Baroness Von Reis says:

          Thanks Claire indeed fustrating!!!! THX Baroness x

        3. Lady Brooke says:

          Yes, it is indeed very frustrating. I guess the reason I would like to think it was Anne that wrote it, or dictated it was because of her behavior in the beginning of hers and the kings courtship. Anne was very modest, and thought herself undeserving. Didn’t she sign her first letters to him your loyal servant, or something like that? Anne thought herself very undeserving, and unworthy of his affections. Part of me wants to think Anne went back to writing like that, this signing Anne Bullen, but the other part of me agrees with you guy’s, that she would never have signed that letter like that. I keep thinking back to the movie Anne of a Thousand Days where she says that to Henry that if she dies a queen, then Elizabeth will one day rule and her blood will have been well spent. Wether that was Hollywood hype or she really said that, that was closer to Anne’s personality as we have come to know her.
          Lady Brooke

      2. Lady Brooke says:

        Hello,
        I would like to think that Anne wrote the letter, or dictated it to her lady in waiting. Cromwell hadn’t fallen from favor yet, but it was kinda the beginning of the end for him. I can see him taking her letter, and possibly stashing it within his stuff, since Anne was such a huge supporter of the reformation, and i think that Cromwell knew that. Both him and Cranmer really rose to unimagined power, because of Anne.
        She was the soul of the reformation. Again, it is another great Tudor mystery. But, I would like to believe that Anne did write it. Because she had such a powerful and reckless voice, I think she would feel like Henry had to hear the truth, in private in a letter. Since, she knew that her execution speech would be fairly basic as Claire said; “pray for me, God bless the king, etc”.
        Lady Brooke

        1. Baroness Von Reis says:

          Hi AB Frieand Lady Brooke,As Claire pointed out it was signed Anne Bullen,she was a Royal and I don’think shae would have sign any letters Bullen?Just my thoughts,as it would be really nice if she did write the King,not that it would have saved her?? THX Baroness x

  2. Sonetka says:

    It’s a good letter, but considering that the writer is going in with guns blazing and referring to herself repeatedly as his loyal and faithful wife, it’s hard to imagine why she wouldn’t sign herself “Anne the Quene”. Not to mention that the “Anne” of the letter doesn’t look terribly similar to Anne’s real signature, though of course I’m no handwriting expert. As for its provenance — where did the information that it was found among Cromwell’s papers come from? Since the historian who first published it was skeptical, had he perhaps not found it himself but been given it by someone else who said he had? Its provenance sounds sketchy at best. I must confess myself a skeptic as well. It sounds like the perfect letter for the wronged yet defiant and noble wife to have written, but under the circumstances it goes well beyond provocative; it’s suicidal. And wasn’t Anne said to be hoping that she would be banished? This would not be the way to make that come about.

    As for who else could have written it — any number of people, I imagine. By the time the letter was unearthed, Anne had gone from discarded, forgotten wife to the Mother of Gloriana, and the view of Henry VIII had gone from a situation where even George Cavendish (who hadn’t exactly seen him at his best) could unironically write a paean to the noble king after his death to one where Henry was popularly regarded as at best an embarrassment and at worst a monster. (Consider Walter Raleigh’s assessment of him, and Robert Naunton’s). The difference in reverence that a few generations can make is pretty staggering. Someone could have written it for amusement, or out of a wish that Anne had left more information behind (an early novelist, basically), or because they wanted to sell it to someone who was willing to pay. Forgery of letters that other people really *want* to exist has a long and interesting history; the Casket Letters, the Ireland letters, John Payne Collier … if people want to find these things and they just aren’t out there, there’s usually someone willing to manufacture them.

    1. Claire says:

      Sonetka,
      Here is the link to read the letter in Herbert’s book – http://archive.org/stream/lifeandraigneofk00herbrich#page/382/mode/2up. Before transcribing the letter in his book, Herbert writes:
      “After which another Letter in her name, but no Originall coming to my hand, from more then one good part , I thought fit to Transcribe here, without other Credit yet then that it is said to be found among the Papers of Cromwell then Secretary, and for the rest seems antient and consonant to the matter in question.” He does not say where he heard that it was in Cromwell’s papers. He concludes:
      “But whether this Letter were elegantly written by her, or any else heretofore, I know as little, as what Answer might be made thereunto : Onely I cannot omit to tell, that the King was so little satisfied with her Actions or Letters, that not content to have gotten proof enough to put her to death, he would
      further be divorced from her.”

      Burnet, however, writes:
      “Yet, in a letter that she wrote to the king from the Tower, she pleaded her innocence in a strain of so much wit, and moving passionate eloquence, as perhaps can scarce be paralleled: certainly her spirits were much exalted when she wrote it, for it is a pitch above her ordinary style. Yet the copy I take it from, lying among Cromwell’s other papers, makes me believe it was truly written by her.”

      So he seemed convinced of its authenticity. It’s a bit of a mystery! It needs a handwriting analyst to compare it to Anne’s other letters and also the heading to Cromwell’s writing, although the letter could have been dictated.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Claire,Maybe Q’Anne had someone else write this letter???Do we no, it’s a women begging the Henry for mercy, AND THE SIGNATURE??Is sign Anne Bullen and if it was, Q’Anne did’nt she take Henrys last name Tudor??Henry also signed his name Henry Rex what does that tell us???I would think being of the ,Royal family they would have the proper signage on all documents and letters?As I go to paper and letters foriegen and domestic ,and read them they our all true copies yes or no?? Kind Regards Baroness x

        1. Claire says:

          She could well have dictated it, we just don’t know. Anne tended to call herself Anne the Queen or Anne Boleyn, not Bullen, plus if you compare the signature to the ones at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/resources/anne-boleyn-words/writing-of-anne-boleyn/ they don’t look at all similar. The Tudors actually never referred to themselves as “Tudor” – see http://www.theweek.co.uk/uk-news/47166/oxford-historian-claims-tudor-era-never-happened – Henry called himself Henry Rex, Henry the King, and his wives were “- Regina” or”- the Queen”.

          The online versions of Letters and Papers are abridged, i.e. not complete. I paid for more complete transcribed editions of LP, the Calendars, Privy Purse Expenses etc. from Tanner Ritchie. The original domestic state papers are in the National Archives.

        2. Baroness Von Reis says:

          Thanks Claire,for the info!!! Have a Great Day Baroness x

  3. TudorQueen says:

    Where is the letter now? it would be really interesting to see it

  4. Esmeralda says:

    What an amazing letter.

    I, too, am a little sceptical as to whether it is genuine. It seems odd to me that Anne would be standing up for herself to such a degree and then not sign it ‘Anne the Quene’.

    Having said that, perhaps she was humbling herself a little, tying in with her repetitions that she is dutiful to him and also making it more personal – she is not adamant that she is queen at this point, merely his faithful and dutiful WIFE.

    Whether it is genuine or not, it is nice to think that Anne did write it, or something like it!

  5. Dawn 1st says:

    If she did write the letter, I am surprised there is no record of Henry’s reaction to it.

    Also would it have been delivered to the King? intercepting of mail was nothing new, kept from the King for what ever reasons Cromwell thought fit…

    1. Esmeralda says:

      That’s a good point. Even if she did write it, did Henry see it? How would he have reacted? Would things have gone differently for Anne? Somehow I doubt it would have changed anything, but we’ll never know…

      1. Monica says:

        My persoanl view is that Henry never saw it as why would it be have been found in Cromwells papers and not Henry’s personal comuniques? Also the word transcribed makes me curious. Could the origional have been written in french? as she was known to do at times. Especially for privies sake? Thus the signature(isn’t that how she signed while in Frace ? Really curious :

  6. Ingrid says:

    I used to almost believe in this letter – at least some parts. But for now, I can say that it’s almost impossible that she could write so. After the other post I’ve read from Anne asking if she would be judge without ‘justice’ and then a laugh made me not believe in a letter so different from her temper. I know she could be distressed, but indeed she always acted as a queen and she died as one. This image of beloved and servent wife over the queen Anne doesn’t match.

    For every line I’ve read I couldn’t imagine her.

    1. Claire says:

      I can imagine Anne thinking all of these things but not actually putting them down for the King to read.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Claire,Know matter whom wrote this letter,Q’Anne or another to the King,it’s someone,begging for the King to give,Fair Trial,there was really no such thing!!if Henry wanted you gone you were going,fair trial or not!! Would anyone be brave enough to stand up too Henry V111,once his mind was made up??But with that said, I wonderd why Norris did not take a pardon,one day the ,King and Norris are at the, May Day Joust ,and the next Norris is accused of crimes against the KING?? Regards Baroness

      2. Ingrid says:

        Claire,

        Yes. I believe she could have thought so. And I also agree ( even more )with you in the point she would not write this to the king. I am half sure she knew what was to happen ( not death, but an unfair judgment) when she was aware about the king’s knowledge of her case.

        To be honest I agree with Gairdner view. Maybe it is one letter at Elizabethan time trying to change the Anne’s image. In this version Anne was “kind, wife and innocent.” Maybe someone did this to Elizabeth eyes. Who knows?
        Or maybe someone wrote in her favour and the letter was lost. ( Maybe intentionally )

        It’s a real mistery.

        1. Baroness Von Reis says:

          Ingrid,The more things that we find about Q’Anne and Henry V111 will still be a mistery,as none of us were there,but it is facinanting too find all these documents and letters ect; So we can at least try too sdedd some light on what happend. Kind Regards Baroness x

        2. Baroness Von Reis says:

          spellin sorry It morning in the states and I’m on my first cop oo joe, malfunctions Shed. B xxx

      3. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Claire ,what do you make of this letter?? is it a fraud by someone later done the road ,of histor perhapes forged?? Thanks Baroness x

  7. Anne Barnhill says:

    Hi Claire,
    Oh, I love the idea of this letter–to me, it sounds like the Anne I imagine–courageous, bold, proud and calling it like it was! I have no idea if the letter is genuine but I choose to believe it is–just because it so suits her and him and the situation. Is it reckless? Yes! Is it daring? Yes! A little foolish? Yes! I think Anne was all of those things, and, given her circumstances, those qualities might have been heightened. She had persuaded Henry in the past; this was her one chance to sway him once again. I don’t think she ever dreamed Cromwell would not have given him the letter. It was a chance she had to take. But then, I am FICTION writer, so….:)

  8. mlady says:

    I really believe she would have signed it ‘Anne the Quene’, even if she had dictated it to one of her ladies or keepers in the Tower. I think in these frightening days when she didn’t know what was going to happen, I don’t think she would have risked angering the King any further, no matter how desperate she was. Does anyone know where the letter is kept now?

  9. HollyBerry says:

    Hello, quick thought: This letter is so inflammatory, I almost could believe an enemy of the queen penned it. “You have chosen me, from a low Estate,” sounds so grovelling, I can hardly believe Anne would have thought, let alone written, something that would have been patently untrue in her own mind. Proof? Reminding the king that their daughter, Elizabeth, was of a lowly estate? Never.

  10. Tudorrose says:

    I would have liked for her to have written the letter but it is hard to say with out any exact accurate evidence as to wether it is an original, a copy of an original or just a creation at a later date. “Sighs” If only there was a way of proving it one way or another but her handwriting with that of other letters that she has written would have to be checked for comparison.

  11. Mary the Quene says:

    This letter sounds to me like a satire, written by men who today would buy Mad Magazine and giggle over it. The signature seals the deal for me, as the Boleyn spelling of the name was to distance the family from their more humble roots and the Bullen spelling. “That whore, Nan Bullen’ was a scathing reference to Anne Boleyn (painting her with the same brush used to for her sister, ‘that whore, Mary Boleyn’) and meant, I believe, to deliver the ultimate insult: no longer Queen, and back to the rabble. I can almost hear the echoes of Cromwell’s laughter now – “It was a joke, don’t you get it?”

  12. Heidi Bullen says:

    I’m in two minds over this letter.
    For one, i don’t think Anne would have gone down without a fight and she did vent her anger at the king for all those accusations. Also, Anne’s mind was all over the place, going through the emotions of shock, fear and anger, all of those you go through in a really troubling time. Maybe she did get one of her lady maids to write it, as she was pacing around in the tower, trying to figure out what on earth was happening to her.
    Her original family name of Bullen, like someone else has said she may have tried to calm the rantings down in the letter by showing after all she is a lady, wife and servant. I have sort of done this myself, with past accusations, voice out strongly and then i calm down trying to defuse the strong words i have used to state why they were wrong.
    I think that’s what makes her life so interesting even still. Not knowing what truly happened in some degree in her last days. But i hope she got the rest and peace of mind eventually.

  13. Tara says:

    I don’t think is was her that wrote it although I do wish she had. I wonder if she had the opportunity, would she do it all again? Most likely she would for Elizabeth came of the union. But would Anne go through everything again out of her love for Henry alone?

  14. I believe that writing a letter to Henry probably never even crossed Anne’s mind. It would be pointless and groveling. And Anne was not of that particular personality. She was proud and she was stubborn. And most certainly would have put her childs’ welfare above anyone elses, including her own. Had Anne written a letter to the King, she no doubt would have trusted very few people to see that it actually reached him. Perhaps Cranmer. It probably is not her letter. She WAS the Queen, and she would hardly have signed the letter Anne Bullen.

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