Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s Marriage: Doomed from the Start?

Posted By on December 14, 2010

As I said in my article “A Timeline of Anne Boleyn’s Relationship with Henry VIII – From 1528-1533”, Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII got married in a secret ceremony on the 25th January 1533, nearly 7 years after Henry declared his love for Anne at the 1526 Shrovetide joust.

But what happened after they married?

We know that the marriage ended tragically, just over three years later, but was it always doomed? Were Anne and Henry unhappy from the moment they tied the knot?

Yes, it was doomed

  • Henry’s passion quickly abated – Alison Weir, in her book “The Lady in the Tower”, writes that “it had not been the happiest marriage” and also that “in the three years since their secret wedding in a turret room in Whitehall Palace, Henry VIII had not shown himself to be the kindest of husbands.”1 She continues by saying that Henry’s passion for Anne “rapidly subsided” and that he started to take mistresses from her first pregnancy, “telling her to ‘shut her eyes and endure as more worthy persons had done’… and that ‘she ought to know that he could at any time lower her as much as he had raised her’.”2 He turned from the earnest, desperate lover to an unkind and fickle husband.
  • The thrill of the chase was gone – Alison Weir writes of how the years of waiting had taken their toll on Anne and Henry. They had both fought so hard for the marriage so was it a bit of an anti-climax when it finally happened? Eustace Chapuys reported in August 15333 that the relationship had cooled and that Henry’s flirtations and Anne’s jealousy were causing problems.

  • Anne’s “shrewish” nature – Alison Weir writes of how Anne had become “haughty, overbearing, shrewish and volatile”4. David Starkey in his TV series “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” says “within the privacy of the royal bedchamber the tensions were increasing. It was acceptable for a woman to be difficult and demanding when she was the mistress but when she became a wife she was expected to be submissive. Anne Boleyn had refused to make the transition, with terrible consequences for herself; for that feistiness which had so fascinated Henry when he was wooing her, he found intolerable when she was his wife and queen, and he said so.”5
  • Henry “was no good in bed”6 – David Starkey says that Anne had her complaints about Henry too and apparently told a lady of her bedchamber that her husband was no good in bed.
  • Anne was in an impossible situation from the very start – As David Loades points out, “she had won the King by her charm and sexual panache, and could lose him the same way”, so Anne was jealous of Henry’s flirtations with other women and reacted with anger. Loades writes that from autumn 1534 the relationship became more and more “erratic” and that “Anne could never relax and although he was ultimately responsible for this edginess, Henry eventually began to find it tiresome.”7
  • Evidence of Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador – As early as August and September 1533, he reported that the relationship had cooled, that Henry’s flirtations and Anne’s jealousy were causing problems and that “with the long time the King has been away from the Lady, that he has begun to repent.” In 1534, Chapuys wrote of how Anne wanted to send a beautiful woman away from court because Henry was paying her attention8.
  • Henry’s infidelity – Charles V wrote in Aug 1533: “It is said that the English nobles are ill-disposed towards Anne on account of her pride and the insolence and bad conduct of her brothers and relations. For the same reason the King’s affection for her is less than it was. He now shows himself in love with another lady, and many nobles are assisting him in the affair.”9 BUT Ives notes that this letter is actually dated wrong and is from autumn 1534, so not a few months after the marriage.

No, it wasn’t

  • George Wyatt’s evidence – George Wyatt, grandson of the poet Thomas Wyatt, wrote that “they lived and loved, tokens of increasing love perpetually increasing between them. Her mind brought him forth the rich treasures of love of piety, love of truth, love of learning; her body yielded him the fruits of marriage, inestimable pledges of her faith and loyal love.”10
  • Just lover’s quarrels – Although Chapuys reported in September 1533 that Anne was “full of jealousy, and not without cause” and that a heated argument had led to Henry not speaking to Anne for two or three days, Chapuys was quick to say that “no doubt these things are lovers’ quarrels, to which we must not attach too great importance”. G W Bernard points out that reports of quarrels “must be seen more as evidence of a tumultuous relationship of sunshine and storms than as precursors of the eventual disaster” because “First, Chapuys often cast doubt on the significance of the gossip he recorded. More than once he tempered his account of Anne’s jealous words by adding that no doubt these were lovers’ quarrels to which too great importance should not be attached. Secondly, Chapuys’ gossip must be set against the far greater weight of evidence which shows that Henry and Anne were often happily together and that, despite occasional outbursts, their marriage seemed set to last.”11
  • Many reports of Anne and Henry’s happiness – G W Bernard writes that “on many occasions the King and Queen were reported as merry, notably in October 1535 when they went on progress together. If then their relationship was at times frank, not to say quarrelsome; if something of the idyllic passions revealed in the love-letters written in 1527-8 had passed: none the less Henry and Anne were still very much man and wife in autumn 1535.”12
    Sir William Kingston commented in a letter to Lord Lisle on the 20th July 1533 that  “The King and Queen are well and merry”13, Sir Anthony Browne wrote to Cromwell on the 24th July 1533 “Today I received your letter dated London, 17 July, with news of the good health of the King and Queen and my other friends.”14,  “I never saw the King merrier than he is now” was what Sir John Russell wrote to Lord Lisle on the 6th Aug 153315 and George Tayllour wrote to Lady Lisle on the 19th August 1533, saying  “The King and Queen are in good health and merry.”16
  • Reports of the King being besotted with Anne – “They say in Flanders “that the King is abused by the new Queen, and that his gentlemen goeth daily a playing where they woll, and his Grace abides by her all the day long, and dare not go out for the rumor of the people.”17
    Eric Ives writes of how “In late October 1533 Anne’s maids of honour were repeating Henry’s brazen remark that he loved the queen so much that he would beg alms from door to door rather than give her up.”18
  • Reports of happiness as late as January 1536 – Although Chapuys reports that Henry had not been speaking much to Anne before her miscarriage in January 1536, G W Bernard states that we have reports of the couple rejoicing over Catherine’s death, Henry parading Elizabeth around happily and jousting. When Anne did miscarry a son, Bernard points out that “when Anne attributed her misfortune in part to her love for the King, so that her heart had broken when she saw that he loved others, Henry had been much grieved and had stayed with her”19. Anne was also quick to reassure her ladies by saying that she would soon be pregnant again. Bernard concludes that the evidence suggests “that the relationship between Henry and Anne was volatile, fluctuating between storms and calm” and although the happiness reported in the autumn of 1535 may have given way “to a period of coolness in early 1536…  this does not mean that Henry had finally tired of Anne, or that her miscarriage had irrevocably damned her in his eyes.”20
  • The King’s infidelity does not mean that he was falling out of love with Anne – Although we have reports of Henry having flirtations and Anne plotting with Lady Rochford to remove one damsel from court because she had caught Henry’s eye, we have to remember that it was a King’s prerogative to take mistresses and was common, particularly when his queen was pregnant. Even Jane Seymour may have been a passing flirtation if events had not conspired to bring Anne down.
  • Henry was committed to Anne – G W Bernard comments that even in early 1536, Henry was committed to Anne and to having her recognised as his Queen. “Once Catherine was dead, Henry could have passed the divorce over in silence, the more so if he was thinking of discarding Anne: instead he continued, obsessively, to insist upon the exclusive validity of his interpretation of canon law, as the instructions sent to his ambassadors in France show. The strongest evidence of Henry’s undiminished commitment to his marriage with Anne Boleyn appears in a most significant diplomatic development in April 1536”, the summoning of Eustace Chapuys to court and his “asking and getting Chapuys to recognize Anne”. Bernard concludes that “this offers compelling evidence that at least up to 18 April Henry still regarded Anne as his wife and had not the slightest intention of discarding her.” He points out that this “is reinforced by the fact that Henry dissolved the Reformation Parliament on 14 April. Between 1529 and 1536 he had frequently prorogued it: the dissolution of Parliament strongly suggests that he did not expect any urgent business which would require a Parliament for some time, possibly for several years. If Henry had already been thinking of getting rid of Anne, he would very likely have kept Parliament in being to deal with the problems of succession which a further divorce would cause: his failure to do so suggests that nothing was further from his mind.”21
  • Chapuys was a gossip, read too much into situations and got things wrong – Eric Ives talks of how Chapuys’ information was often tainted, in that it came from Anne’s enemies, and that he did get things wrong. Also, when Chapuys wrote of the new lady being “the damsel whom the king has been accustomed to serve”, Ives points out that the phrase “accustomed to serve” is the language of courtly love and chivalry, so is not describing a real, serious relationship. Ives concludes that “it is easy to see why an amour which remained superficial should attract a man anxious to appear a terror with women, but deeply uncertain of his capacities” and that while Anne was recovering from a miscarriage, Henry was simply using “a lady to serve” as a substitute.22
  • A passionate and volatile relationship – The thing is that Anne and Henry were lovers not just King and Queen, and their relationship had grown out of love, not out of diplomacy. They had lovers’ quarrels and their relationship was “storm followed sunshine, sunshine followed storm”. “In an ultimate sense, the problems of Henry and Anne arose from the fact that there was emotion in the relationship” and “the conventions of the day, of courtly love, of sovereign and consort, were simply not capable of accommodating the fierce passions which united Anne Boleyn and Henry Tudor.”23
  • The relationship suffered tension from external factors which worsened as time went on – It is no wonder that Anne and Henry argued when their relationship was put under so much pressure and stress. Eric Ives and David Starkey both talk of the tension caused by factors such as Mary refusing to recognise Anne and Anne being blamed for Mary’s treatment, Anne’s unpopularity and the hostility towards her, Anne being blamed for the religious and political changes which resulted in bloodshed, Anne’s struggle to give Henry a son and Anne’s French connections. David Loades writes that “Anne, rather like Wolsey, was entirely dependent upon the favour of the King, and she was skating on thin ice by the end of 1534”24 due to the constant tension caused by the behaviour of Mary and Anne’s unpopularity.

My Own Thoughts

Having read through contemporary reports and the various arguments put forward by eminent historians, I have to agree with Eric Ives’ view that Henry and Anne’s relationship was one where “storm followed sunshine, sunshine followed storm”. Both Anne and Henry were passionate people with hot tempers. They argued passionately and made up just as passionately. They might exchange cross words and sulk for a few days but it would all blow over and was quickly forgotten. Even Chapuys, a man who was always eager to report any breach in their relationship and any hope for a reconciliation between the King and Catherine, put their arguments down to “lovers’ quarrels, to which we must not attach too great importance”.

I do not believe that Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s relationship was doomed from the start but I think that it finally failed for the following reasons:-

  1. Anne’s jealousy, which was a result of her precarious position as Henry’s lover, not just his queen
  2. Henry’s belief that he was cursed – He began to wonder if his lack of a male heir was a sign that the marriage was cursed
  3. External factors which put pressure on Anne and Henry and which caused tension between them
  4. Anne’s enemies ‘drip-feeding’ Henry and making him doubt Anne in May 1536 and causing him to move against her – They knew Henry’s vulnerabilities and his paranoia
  5. Anne’s inability to provide Henry with a son

What do you think?

Notes and Sources

  1. The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir, p10
  2. LP vi.1069, quoted in Weir
  3. LP vi.975
  4. Weir, p11
  5. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, David Starkey on Channel 4
  6. Ibid.
  7. The Six Wives of Henry VIIIDavid Loades, p68-69
  8. LP vii.1193
  9. LP vi.1054
  10. Weir, p10
  11. The Fall of Anne Boleyn, article by G W Bernard in English Historical Review, 1991
  12. Ibid
  13. LP vi.879
  14. LP vi.891
  15. LP vi.948
  16. LP vi.1004
  17. LP vi. 1065
  18. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p193
  19. Bernard
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ives, p195
  23. Ibid.
  24. David Loades, p68-69
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