Anne Boleyn and Charity

Posted By on March 15, 2013

Me in my red nose and deeley boppers

Today in the UK it’s Red Nose Day, a fundraising day for the charity Comic Relief whose tag line is “A just world free from poverty”. It’s a great cause and one I support every year. Check out www.rednoseday.com/ for more information.

“Well, that’s all very nice, Claire,” I hear you say, “but what does that have to do with Anne Boleyn?”

Well, charity was important to Anne Boleyn too. It was traditional for a queen to be involved with supporting charity through alms-giving etc., but for Anne it was also an expression of her evangelical faith. One of the manuscripts which her brother, George, presented her with was L’Ecclesiaste and in Anne’s manuscript were the words:

“The court of kings, princes, chancellors, judging places and audiences be the places where one ought to find equity and justice. But, oh good Lord, where is there more injustice, more exactions, more oppressions of poor widows and orphans, where is there more disorder in all manners and more greater company of unjust men than there, whereas should be but all good order and just people of good and holy example of life.”

It was Anne’s duty as both Queen-in-waiting and, eventually, Queen to use her wealth and position to help those who needed it.

So, what evidence is there for Anne’s giving? Here are some 16th century sources…

  • John Foxe wrote “Also, how bountiful she was to the poor, passing not only the common example of other queens, but also the revenues almost of her estate; insomuch that the alms which she gave in three quarters of a year, in distribution, is summed to the number of fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds; besides the great piece of money which her grace intended to impart into four sundry quarters of the realm, as for a stock there to be employed to the behoof of poor artificers and occupiers.” – Although, as Eric Ives points out, £14-15,000 is likely to have been an exaggeration because it was “twelve times larger than the annual surplus on Anne’s expenditure”.
  • William Latymer, one of Anne’s chaplains, wrote of Anne’s Maundy Thursday giving one year, saying “she commanded to be put pivily into every poor woman’s purse one george noble, the which was 6 shillings 8 pence over and besides the almes that wanted to be given.” Both Foxe and Latymer wrote of how the amount in the royal Maundy purses increased when Anne was Queen and the 1536 court expenses show that the “costs of the Queen’s maundy” were 31 pounds, 3 shillings and 9 and a half pence.
    Latymer also wrote of Anne’s giving when she was on royal progress. She would “give in special commandment to her officers to buy a great quantity of canvas to be made into shirts and smocks and sheets to those of the poor.” Anne and her ladies also made shirts, smocks and sheets to be distributed to the poor and commanded her chaplains to give her alms to “poor needy and impotent householders over-charged with children” and to inform her if people were in need. Her chaplains obeyed and Anne was able to help a Mrs Jaskyne, who attended her and who needed to be with her sick husband, and a Mr Ive from Kingston who had lost all his cattle. Mrs Jaskyne was given leave to be with her husband, along with money and everything she needed for her journey, and Mr Ive’s wife was given a purse of gold and instructed to let Anne know if the couple needed anything further.
  • Thomas Alwaye, an evangelical, petitioned Anne for help in 1530-31, writing “But anon I remembered how many deeds of pity your goodness had done within these few years, and that without respect of any persons, as well to strangers and aliens as to many of this land, as well to poor as to rich” and said that Anne’s “Christian mind is everywhere ready to help, succour and comfort them that be afflicted, troubled and vexed.”
  • George Wyatt, the grandson of poet Thomas Wyatt, wrote in his biography of Anne “And yet far more rich and precious were those works in the sight of God which she caused her maids and those about her daily to work in shirts and smocks for the poor. But not staying here her eye of charity, her hand of bounty passed through the whole land” and also recorded that she gave £1500 a year to the poor as “her ordinary”. Wyatt also repeats Foxe’s figure of £14-15000 being given as alms in three quarters of a year.
  • William Marshall, a man who was enlisted by Cromwell to draft legislation for poor relief, dedicated his work “The Form and manner of subvention or helping for poor people, devised and practised in the city of Ypres” to Anne, asking her “to be a mediatrix and mean unto our most dread sovereign lord… for the stablishing and practising of the same (if it shall seem so worthy) or of some other, as good or better, such as by his majesty or his most honourable council shall be devised.”
    Eric Ives calls Marshall a “Boleyn protégé” so perhaps Anne was also involved in Cromwell’s poor law plans, we don’t know.

Those are just a few examples of how Anne helped those in need, and we also know of her support for educational establishments, her patronage of reformers and how she helped those forced into exile. If Anne lived today then I expect she would be putting on her red nose and doing some fundraising, don’t you think?

Notes and Sources

  • Cavendish, George. (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Volume 2. Samuel Weller Singer
  • ed. Dowling, Maria (1990) William Latymer’s Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne, Camden Miscellany XXX 39, 23–65
  • Dowling, Maria. (1984) Anne Boleyn and Reform, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 35, no. 1
  • Foxe, John. (1851) Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Acts and Monuments of the Church in Three Volumes, Vol. II, London, George Virtue
  • Ives, Eric. (2005) A Frenchman at the Court of Anne Boleyn, History Today Volume 48: p 21-26
  • Ives, Eric. (2005) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. New ed. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Schofield, John. (2008) The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant. The History Press

13 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn and Charity”

  1. Louise says:

    This rather flies in the face of the picture we get of Anne as the heartless gold digging social climber. I wonder how those who think of her in those terms reconcile that view with this article?

    1. Claire says:

      Probably by saying that Foxe and Latymer were just flattering Elizabeth I by praising her mother. However, they weren’t the only ones saying it and Anne’s Maundy giving for 1536 is recorded.

      1. Esther says:

        I don’t see much of a conflict between Anne’s charitable giving as Queen, and the idea of her as a gold digger/social climber, simply because queens were expected to give generously. So, those who want to see Anne as a gold digger can see her giving as a way of marking her social status/success. Just out of curiosity — is anything known about Anne’s giving prior to her becoming queen?

        1. Sonetka says:

          Nor do I. Aside from the fact that people can be multifaceted — giving generously to charity but not necessarily pleasant to their competitors (many politicians would fall in this category, and Anne was to some extent a politician) — charity was part of the queen’s job. This doesn’t mean that she wasn’t sincere or that she didn’t try to give more than usual, but it doesn’t mean that she was a better person than most because of it. I don’t know anything about Anne’s charitable giving before she became queen, but given her status I’d be surprised if she hadn’t done any. In Julia Fox’s book on Lady Rochford, she mentions Lady Rochford’s financial sponsorship of a university student and says that this sort of thing was very common among women of her class. I’d compare it to the situation now where people don’t *have* to give, but once you reach a certain status/income level, you would be thought less of if it were discovered that you didn’t give a cent to charity.

  2. Diane Wilshere says:

    Out of curiousity, do we have in privy purse records the Maundy Thursday amounts for any of the other Queens?

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, we have some records of Maundy giving in the accounts of Henry VIII – The King’s Book of Payments, Treasurer’s reports etc. in Letters and Papers. The tradition of Maundy giving is still carried out today, see https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/maundy-thursday-or-holy-thursday/

  3. H. Elizabeth says:

    I know that the other wives gave to charity also. Catherine of Aragon sewed clothing for the poor and was very giving from what I’ve heard. Is it true that after she became queen Anne banned Catherine from giving Maundy alms, or whatever its called?

    1. Claire says:

      No, it’s not true. It was Henry and it was because Catherine was no longer Queen and it was the Queen’s duty. She was allowed to give alms as Princess Dowager, but not as queen. Yes, all Henry’s wives gave to charity, it was their duty to give alms and people took petitions to them.

      1. ds 370 says:

        It is good to read Anne Boylen’s positive sides. All of Henry’s wives were involved in charity, queen Katherine(Aragon), used to disguise herself to see those in need of and she would go to different areas to do this. The other queens Jane, Catherine P, Catherine H and am not sure about Anne of Cleves she was king person. Giving charity was expected of queens, it was their duty.
        Anne was involved in charity, but people still had a negative view. I guess how she reached that position and who she was replacing. One thing people forget is that Mary1 gave to charity, i have also read that she gave presents to her siblings and maids. When she was queen she did have a kind heart and was involved in charity. People rarely talk about Mary’s kindness because of treatment which blackened everything about her. The same thing goes for Anne, her good side is rarely talked about because of the mistakes she made, no matter what she got the title of “the other woman”. Mary was bitter she earned the nick name of “bloody mary.” I have learnt form these people that in the case of queen Mary bitterness can turn you into a horrible person. And the case of Anne never get involved with a married there is nothing good, some day he will leave you and blame you for all his problems.

        1. Baroness Von Reis says:

          ds370,I think all the King’s and Queen’s had to give some kind of charity to the people,how else could you rule them,but with that said they were also very highly taxed.As for Queen Mary,what a mess she was and too left, England a huge mess after her death,I really think Q Mary had some mental issues rather then just a bitter Queen,just my thoughts. Kind Regards Baroness x

  4. C Ferry says:

    How opposite Anne seems to be from Henry in this respect. While he probably gave something to the poor, what grabs the attention is not his charity, but his spending of all his father’s surplus and more on wars and on himself (building castles/estates for himself).

  5. BanditQueen says:

    Forgive my bluntness about Anne and charity but it was part of her job as Queen to be giving to charity and she tried to out do Catherine on when she gave out the formal money to the worthy poor. This is a tradition carried on today. However, as you say she also saw it as her Christian duty to do this as part of her Evangelical Faith. But I have to protest here. You Evangelicals did not introduce giving to charity to the Christian world: it was, and still is very much at the heart of the Catholic Faith. One of the graces is giving alms to the poor. The monastic orders provided the same services and the social services do today and they did it free of charge to the poor. They gave alms, provided medical help for the sick, schooling for poor children, a trade for people with skills not able to find work or shelter elsewhere, they sheltered people with mental health problems, cared for and took in lepers, and visited the sick and dying at home. They built bridges, maintained the roads and ditches and employed a hell of a lot of people who lost that work when the monastic orders where dissolved and the estates taken by the greedy crown.

    I am sure that in her own way Anne had a genuine feeling towards people and cared about the less fortunate, but it is not something she or Evangelicals invented. The Catholic Church first provided education and hospitals long before the reformation and so the new church had nothing to do with that either and I get annoyed when I hear that the Church of England invented learning. Many church schools and schools for the poor were lost when the monasteries went and Henry had to refound them all calling them King’s Schools.

    Anne, to her credit, did not want many of the Religious Houses just closed and destroyed, she tried to get Cromwell and Henry to use the money for better purposes such as new schools and shelter for the poor and sick, but got shouted down. In fact she had a confrontation with Cromwell over this and when he talked back to her she threatened to have his head of his shoulders. This may have had something to do with his active role in her downfall. May-be he was so into getting and inventing evidence against Anne because he wanted revenge as well as doing Henry’s bidding! In any event Anne may have been genuine in her role in charity, but she was also just doing her job. Catherine and the other Queens were just as charitable as Anne, if not more so.

    1. Claire says:

      “You Evangelicals did not introduce giving to charity to the Christian world”. Who are you referring to with “you Evangelicals”? I don’t understand. I also did not say anything about Anne introducing/inventing charity or evangelicals introducing it, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at. It was something that was expected of queens but it was something that was emphasised in the literature that Anne was reading. Sources tell us that charitable giving did increase when Anne was queen, that was just the way it was.

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