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