6 May 1536 – To the King from the Lady in the Tower
Posted By Claire on May 6, 2019
A letter said to have been found amongst Thomas Cromwell’s papers was written on this day in 1536, 6th May, and was given the title “To the King from the Lady in the Tower”.
What did it say and was it written by Queen Anne Boleyn?
I read this letter in today’s video.
I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.
You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.
If you prefer reading articles to watching videos, you can click here to read more about this letter. It’s the article I mention in the video.
10 thoughts on “6 May 1536 – To the King from the Lady in the Tower”
I’ve read Sandra Vasoli’s book twice and she makes a very strong argument for the letter being authentic. She does point out that it is not in Anne’s own hand and was probably dictated. She also points out that it is not in Cromwell’s hand or that of her jailer Kingston.
The provenance of the letter goes back to it being among Cromwell’s papers. What really stood out to Ms Vasoli was that the letter was not written from Queen Anne Boleyn to the king but from a wife to her husband. Who would forge a letter like this from that point of view and why? Sandra Vasoli also points out the sentence structure and grammar are correct for this time period. Why in Cromwell’s possession? According to Ms Vasoli Cromwell probably allowed Anne to dictate s letter to her husband but once he read it he was afraid that it may turn Henry’s mind against executing her so never let the king see it. I agree with her conclusions. I recommend her book. It’s a quick read, only 61 pages.
IT was found amongst Cromwells papers and letters after his execution which does tend to make one believe its authenticity, and ever since its discovery, this letter has divided opinion, I’m not so sure myself but I find myself leaning towards the fact that it could be a very clever forgery, many historians point out the all too obvious facts that make it look more like a fake than real, for one thing, the heading which is strange, to the King from the lady in the tower, Anne was still queen and whilst she was in prison she was still treated as such, Cromwell surely would have written, to the King from the Queen, unless of course he was being disrespectful, but could not foresee how the King would react to being his wife, hated though she was, referred to as just a lady, she was an anointed queen, and her signature at the end is strange to, for she does not use her correct title which was Anne the Queen or Anne R, but merely Anne Bullen, when she was a young girl in France in a letter to her father she signed her name Anne Bouillan, the French way and although as the video mentions, there was no standardised spelling in Tudor times, her letters those which have survived from when she became Henrys wife are all signed proudly with her correct title Anne the Queen, it was something she had wanted for so long and had to wait seven years before she became Henrys wife and queen, therefore why drop it now? There is one sentance where she writes, you have raised me from a low estate, far beyond my desert or desire, as we know Anne was not low born, she was a descendant of the Earls of Ormonde and her mother the daughter of the Earl of Surrey, the Howard’s which were one of England’s noblest families along with the Staffords and Nevilles and Percy’s, her use of the words far beyond my desert or desire which we also know to be untrue, she revelled in being queen she revelled in the power, what she had not wanted was to be a Kings mistress and once offered marriage she must have gladly accepted, her frustration over Katherines refusal to go into a nunnery and appeal to the pope over the annullment of her marriage, shows all too clearly her burning desire to be Queen of England therefore that line does not make sense, I feel there are too many flaws in this letter to make it ever be possible that Anne wrote it or as has been suggested dictated it, I have always thought that Cromwell would never allow her to have writing materials, where it was possible she could smuggle notes out to her supporters or even maybe the King himself, I think Cromwell still feared the hold she could still have over the King and any letter might soften his attitude towards her, Conor Bryne also remarks that anything Anne requested she had to ask pwrmission of Cromwell for, somehow I cannot see him allowing her to have writing materials, if we analyse the letter properly from top to bottom any evidence for its authenticity is sadly lacking, however that said I still feel the letter is beautiful and very sad, full of anguish and hurt and a very deep sense of injustice, Weir thinks the letter is a bit over bold and does not feel Anne would have dared to express herself so, but she also adds that she had never been afraid to speak her mind which is true, on one occasion when Anne was upbraiding Henry over Katherine, one observer said she was as brave as a lion,and her tremendous courage is something which Anne Boleyn was noted for, personally I feel that she would have felt the need to tread very very carefully at this traumatic moment in her life, soft words and a need to tell the King of her absolute devotion towards him were what was needed, not a letter like this in where she actually says her enemies are the cause of her fall and she dares to mention the imperil of his soul when he meets his maker, surely not even Anne as she was now, imprisoned in the Tower would have dared say such things? Always reckless she must have known that absolute diplomacy was essential now, she could not afford to risk angering him anymore than he was already, she knew she was in danger of her life and she must have feared for her daughter as well as her family, her mother was uppermost in her thoughts, desperately she wanted to be free, to have written a letter like that would have been foolhardy to say the least, some time ago I said I think the letter could well have been written by a supporter of Annes, someone who quite rightly burned with indignation at her unjust trial and death, if that were so I think Anne would have been heartened by such devotion, the trouble is this burnt piece of parchment has caused controversy down the centuries and quite possibly we will never have the answer to that which we long for, is it genuine was it actually written in Annes own elegant hand or did she dictate it, and if she did not who did? It is in a way a Tudor whodunnit.!
I’m sorry, but I can’t buy the idea that Cromwell prevented the letter from reaching the king. It rests too much on the idea that Cromwell persuaded Henry that Anne was guilty — and I don’t believe that at all (Cromwell’s evidence didn’t persuade Chapuys — Anne’s enemy — of her guilt, so the idea that it would persuade Henry depends (IMO) on a really warped view of love.) That Henry VIII did not believe Norris’s face to face denial (when Norris was a good friend), why would anyone think a letter from Anne would make a difference? Also, wouldn’t Cromwell have destroyed the letter if he wanted to make sure the king never read it? Finally, if the letter really was discovered in Cromwell’s papers, the fact that Henry regretted Cromwell’s death more than he regretted Anne’s (instead of blaming Cromwell for the wrongful execution of Anne) indicates to me that the letter wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.
There are many historians who do not even mention this letter in their books, and the ones who do dismiss it as a fake, one noted that the handwriting seemed more Elizabethan and could stem from that period, Agnes Strickland the Victorian author observed that the writing was somewhat dissimilar in style to that of the fallen queen, Lacey Smith and Ives both conclude it a forgery and I am currently reading Amy Licence’s biography of Anne, so am interested to see what she makes of it when I get that far, however just because so many believe it to be a forgery does not mean that it is, but there does appear to be more evidence for it being false than genuine, and yes I do agree with Esther that had Cromwell seen this letter, I believe that unscrupulous first minister of Henry V111 would have destroyed it completely.
Michael has said it well: ‘Who would forge a letter like this from that point of view (ie from a wife to a husband) and WHY? This is the question. Can you pull all of your wits together and imagine someone, anyone, forging this document? Can you ever think of a single reason why Thomas Cromwell should come across it (in the middle of this coup) and decide to ‘file it’ as a thing of ‘value’ is filed? This document is an enigma. I would love for AB to have written it, to be it’s author and originator, even if someone else penned it for her. It says volubly to me, in her voice, “I have not the slightest idea why I am here, or how to respond to you. I know you want shot of me and that you will replace me with this maid of mine but look here, you listen to the whispers of my enemies because it suits your heart’s desire and has nothing whatsoever to do with truth, and God is with me, and knows my innocence and will hold you to account for it. Just don’t do this. Don’t.” Think it fits with the voice of the woman and queen I somehow recognise, or want to recognise.
Thank you. You defended much better than I could. I recommend reading Sandra Vasoli’s book. She goes into much more detail than I can including the letter’s provenance from it’s finding until today there are also photos of the damaged letter front and back.
When I posted my first comment today, for the first time ever I did not receive an email from WordPress confirming my subscription so I’m not getting other’s posgts in my email. Anybody else?
Odd. Just received the subscription verification for the 2nd post. Just a glitch.
The letter of Anne Boleyn from the Tower of London, 6th May 1536 has a long history of old historians who wrote about it starting with Lord Herbert Cherbury and divided historians today. One reason which is often raised to say this wasn’t genuine is that the letter isn’t in her own hand. Yeah, well the gal was rich enough to have someone else write it for her. Numerous letters were dictated with just a few words in the hand of the sender. Henry Viii hated to write letters and some of his are not in his hand. That’s why people had scribes so I dismiss that theory out of hand.
The letter was apparently held in the private papers of Thomas Cromwell and here we may have a problem because someone went with Thomas Cramner to the home of Cromwell just before his papers were officially sifted through by the crown after his death and removed anything which might be used against his memory. Was the original letter removed at that point? There is a theory that Cromwell held on to the letter and didn’t pass it on to the King because Henry did nothing about it. This is probably nonsense and modern wishful thinking because there is no reason for Cromwell to hold back the letter as Henry had already determined to get rid of his wife and couldn’t care less what she wrote. We have seen much in the way of those charged with treason who have written out of desperation to the King or Queen who used to be their friend for a fair trial or mercy which we know have gone unanswered. Cromwell himself wrote a letter to Henry which was used against Anne of Cleves and at the end of it he begged for mercy, mercy, mercy. It went unanswered. Cromwell would also have been in trouble if he didn’t show Henry the letter and the King heard about it from another source, i.e Kingston and asked to see it. I don’t go with him withholding it out of fear for Anne gaining the King’s favour and an audience. Henry had practically shut himself off from all but official updates and was not showing any real concern for Anne or her well being. He no longer loved Anne and the chances of him being moved by this letter are miniscule.
I personally believe it is genuine because it speaks of things which are reminiscent of the relationship between Anne and Henry, how he raised her up and did her honour, it is tender and she believes he will not abandon her. Anne is appealing as a wife to a husband and not an ordinary subject. The woman writing this speaks of her enemies and how this is strange to her, she talks of how she was judged by those same enemies and kept unjustly from her husband. She speaks of her innocence and loyalty and her duty as his wife and appeals to his good conscience. She begs for a fair trial and for the justice which only her husband can give and makes an appeal for the innocent men with her. Anne was devastated to find herself in the Tower and she still cannot fathom the real cause and she desperately wanted Henry to hear or see her, for her voice to be on record. Anne had several ladies around her who were her enemies and she couldn’t rely on her voice being true via Kingston but she hoped to express everything in a heartfelt letter. Maybe she wasn’t allowed to write it herself but had to dictate it or wasn’t able to as she was too distressed. Whatever Anne’s reason, this letter was dictated by her on this date in 1536 in a desperate attempt to reach her husband.
I find Anne’s appeal here very moving as she was never granted the fair trial that she begged for. Henry packed the court room, the Great Hall at the Tower of London with Anne’s enemies, that is the jury and her judges all had good reasons to find her guilty and please the King, they were related to each other or associated by marriage or they were linked through patronage. Henry wanted Anne and her co accused found guilty and that was that. Here Anne bemoaned that Norfolk her old enemy summoned and gave her quite roughly the news of her arrest and she asks that she will be spared the injustice of being tried by more enemies. Anne however, shows she knows Henry very well because she says that if he has made up his mind about her that she hopes God will discharge his sin and forgive him. Henry had done just that as her actual trial showed.