HenryandAnneThe Tudors series would have us believe that Henry VIII first noticed Anne Boleyn at the Château Vert Pageant, just after Anne had made her debut at the English court, but the first solid evidence we have of Henry VIII being in love with Anne is Henry’s request to the Pope in August 1527 for a dispensation to allow him to marry “one with whom he had already contracted affinity in the first degree through illicit intercourse”, i.e. a dispensation to cover marrying a woman whose sister or mother he had already had sexual intercourse with.

When Sir George Throckmorton told the King that it was said that “ye have meddled both with the mother and the sister” of his wife, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII stated “Never with the mother”, so the relationship the dispensation covered was obviously a sexual liaison he had with Mary Boleyn.

The only other evidence we have of Henry and Anne’s early relationship is the series of love letters that Henry VIII wrote to Anne, which are now in the Vatican Archives and which Eric Ives dates to starting in autumn 1526. We know from these love letters that Henry was wooing Anne but that she was rebuffing him at the beginning, even when he offered her the opportunity to be his maîtresse-en-titre, his official mistress. Although we don’t have Anne’s replies, we can see from what Henry writes in his letters that his offer obviously offended her and that he had to work hard to win her back. As Eric Ives pointed out, Anne’s refusal should have been the point at which the relationship “withered”, when Henry could so easily have moved on to an easier conquest, but Henry’s letters show “the king’s realization that he could not live without Anne, and therefore she, rather than some foreign princess, would have to be the wife to replace Katherine.”

You can read transcripts of Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn, in the original French and in English, in The Harleian miscellany Volume III – click here. There is controversy over the dating and ordering of the letters with the Harleian Miscellany being different to the order in the book published by John W Luce and the order Eric Ives puts them in.

You can read more about the various theories regarding exactly when Henry VIII first noticed Anne Boleyn in my article Henry VIII Falls in Love with Anne Boleyn and more about Henry’s love letters in:

Notes and Sources

  • Wording of dispensation, quoted in Gairdner, James “New Lights on the Divorce of Henry VIII,” English Historical Review XI (1896): 673–802, p 685. Gairdner’s source is State Papers, VII, p3, Knighte to Henry VIII, 13 September
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 12 Part 2: June-December 1537, 952: Letter from Sir George Throckmorton to Henry VIII
  • Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p84-92

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16 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII – When did they get together?”
  1. How in the world did Henry’s love letters wind up in the Vatican archives and how is it that theft/possessing stolen property charges haven’t been leveled at the Vatican for not returning them to England?

    1. It is thought that they were stolen from Anne to provide evidence that Henry was not trying to annul his marriage to Catherine due to religious conviction but because he was having an affair. The good thing about them being taken is that they were not lost or destroyed in the Ashburnam House fire which destroyed or damaged various documents from that period.

      1. Do you know when they turned up in the Vatican? From everything I’ve read, I had gotten the impression that nobody really knows when or by whom they were stolen — it’s possible they didn’t leave the country until after Anne’s death, and of course they may not have come to the Vatican for a while yet. I doubt Chapuys had anything to do with it, or he would have said something about it. It’s just curious that nobody at the time mentions them.

        Kimberly — most of the world’s museums contain at least a few things that were (or could be considered) stolen from someone (Elgin Marbles, represent!) Since it’s been almost five centuries, charges of theft don’t enter into it. Who even knows who took them, or what peregrinations they made before ending up in the Vatican? Even if the Vatican gave them back — to whom? Does a certain English archive have more rights than the others? Do Mary Boleyn’s descendants get to fight it out over the letters? It simply isn’t worth the effort.

    2. Hi Kimberly,
      You know I don’t think Henry knew that the Vatican had in fact his letter to Anne, they were probably stolen or smuggled/ intercepted and sent to the Vatican. My guess, the Spanish Ambassador or someone in his service, he was a friend of Queen Katherine and was a huge advocate for her.

      If they had never gotten a hold on the letters, the divorce proceedings might have gone differently… not easier just different..

  2. I think the traditional love interest awakening in Henry on seeing Anne Boleyn at her public court debut during the above entertainment well predates the Tudors which portrayed the moment sublimely in great colour. As a new comer, the daughter of a well known court official, and a young woman with striking features, charisma, charm, and grace, she would be a natural choice for a leading role in the pageant and her father would not have had to pay for her to appear. Anne Boleyn by all accounts had such personality and beautiful eyes which she knew how to use. She danced well, was very fashionable, her dark hair made her stand out, although she was not a conventional beauty she behaved in a manner that made her attractive, she had witty and intelligent conversation and was comfortable in company. It is not beyond reason to think that Henry would be aware of her and noted her at this time, but I think it was nothing more than a passing interest, there is clearly nothing to support romantic ideas that Henry took a fancy to Anne here. He may have danced with her, although as his favourite sister Mary was also in the pageant he would more likely have danced with her. Clearly Henry did not anymore attraction to Anne on this occasion than any other petty new young woman at court.

    By 1526 Anne seems to have blossomed and when she came to count on a more permanent basis it is much more realistic to suppose that Henry noticed her, became fascinated by her and began to spend time with her. When exactly this began is debatable but the circumstantial evidence and interior evidence that historians can find suggests the romance must have been in full bloom by the end of 1526. We don’t have to look far for how and where the couple may have found time to be together. Hunts, riding, visits to Never, private meetings all have been suggested in the classic novels and drama, the image of Henry being driven potty for a full year while Anne leaves him dangling is a powerful image, but the truth is, real facts about the early romance and even this period are different to pinpoint because the evidence is missing or confusing. For historians extracting evidence that we can use for dating Anne and Henry’s progress towards the more serious relationship between them that led to marriage is like pulling teeth with a piece of string, especially difficult. If Henry was asking the Pope for leave to marry Anne in his veiled reference in the documentation above, then for their relationship to have reached a point that they have discussed marriage, it is reasonable to suppose that Henry and Anne had been seriously courting during the previous year. Even if Anne rebuffed Henry to begin with, something clearly had changed and their relationship was one of mutual consent and benefit. Had Anne by now promised Henry a son if he married her? Henry was by now I believe passionately in love with Anne. I am not convinced that as yet Anne had fallen in love with him, but she seems to have been growing fond of her devoted suitor and both were prepared to at least make a commitment to each other. The problem is we cannot be entirely certain as the information that would tell us is lost, destroyed or simply does not exist. And given the nature of what we are trying to spy on, the budding of one of the most passionate, powerful, controversial and tragic love affairs in English history, maybe that’s the way it should be.

  3. Is there anything that sets when Henry had his affair with Mary Boleyn? IMO, the affair was over before she married Carey (he did not seem to be attracted to another married woman until he wanted to marry Catherine Parr) — and if he thought that Henry Carey was his, could he legitimize that boy by marrying Mary, as John of Gaunt got his kids by Catherine Swynford legitimized after he married her?

    1. Can I ask who was not attracted to another woman until he wanted to marry Catherine Parr? William Carey had nothing to do with Catherine Parr; he died of the sweat in 1528, leaving Mary Boleyn a widow. As to Henry recognising Henry Carey as his; there is some debate about this happening amongst historians as the contemporary evidence as ususal is a mess. Henry did grant some lands and titles to William and some money at the time of the birth of his son; but it is not actually clear if the King was doing this as he favoured William or to honour his son. Henry did not recognize either child by Mary Boleyn ; the only son he officially recognised was Henry Fitzroy, by Bessie Blount born in 1519. By the time that Katherine and Henry Carey were born Mary was married to William and it was not possible for the King to marry her to legitimize the children. Why would he want to as the affair was over and was short lived? Henry was already married to Katherine of Aragon and had not even considered the divorce until 1524 onwards. If the Pope was not going to give him a divorce to marry Anne Boleyn; he would be even less likely to allow the marriage of Henry to Mary to legitimize his so called illigitimate kids. By 1526 in any event he had moved onto Anne and was no longer interested in her sister. He was in love with Anne and nothing was going to move him to do anything else but marry her to hopefully get an heir. In the case of John of Gaunt; his first two wives were dead before he married his mistress to legitimize his children by her and they were not made his heirs. In fact they were barred from the throne; which is why Ricardians argue that Henry Tudor had little claim to the throne. The cases are quite different. Henry could have had any children by Anne made legitimate it seems; and at some point I think Wolsey may have suggested this. But she was holding out to be his legitimate wife and the rest is history.

      1. Esther was saying that sleeping with Mary Boleyn while she was married to William Carey was not Henry’s usual MO, the only married woman he showed an interest in was Catherine Parr and it is probable that she didn’t catch his eye until after Latimer had died. I believe that Henry slept with Mary Boleyn when Elizabeth Blount was pregnant in 1519 and that he then married Mary off to Carey when he had tired of her, like he married Elizabeth off to Gilbert Tailboys. Esther was not saying that Carey had anything to do with Catherine Parr.

        1. Thank you for clearing that up; I was not clear if she was talking about Henry or William Carey, which is why I asked the question. True it would be unlike Henry to sleep with Mary while married; which would mean that they could not have had an affair after 1520-1521, if that is the date she married William Carey; can’t recall; too tired; so that would rule out the children as being the Kings, but then on the other hand; did Henry have an MO, or did he change with age? His attraction to Catherine Parr, I think was that she was in her thirties, appeared good with children and had cared for an older and sick husband. She must have been a very devoted woman; attractive but still good at sorting out the care needs of her husband. I think by then Henry simply wanted companionship and a nurse as well as a mother for his children. I dont think he would have moved on Katherine Parr while Lord Latimer was alive. It would be very much easier to know if the children of Mary and William were the Kings if he had made a more direct open recognition,but the records are annoyingly silent or missing.

  4. When did Henry’s dalliance with Mary Boleyn end and his pursuit of her sister Anne begin? It appears that any evidence is now irretrievable but the speculation will never end.

  5. A few comments about this interesting posting of Claire’s:

    Studying the letters and what they said – as well as looking at the progression of Henry’s handwriting (how formal it was in the early letters, then more casual as their relationship progressed), I placed my own timetable on them while researching my book Je Anne Boleyn. Through a series of clues, I have made the assumption that Henry and Anne first became smitten with each other in late 1525. Or, should we say, Henry became fascinated with Anne, but I believe her attraction either followed rapidly, or began at the same time. This is how I have positioned their relationship beginning in the book .

    The other point is the interesting fact of the letters’ presence in the Vatican Archives. They were definitely stolen from Anne, and transported to the Pope by someone – we don’t know who, but we can guess it was a spy who represented the Catholic / Katherine faction. It is very very interesting, because in the actual book the letters are pasted in, following the letters themselves there are a series of Italian translations, and they are done in an Italianate Renaissance script. For this, and several other reasons, I don’t think they were taken after Anne’s death – it makes sense that they were stolen to disprove Henry’s argument about why he needed the divorce – and to prove that it was because he was madly in love with Anne. It is a fascinating mystery!

    1. Please note that both Anne and Henry were
      Catholics as well and remained so till death.
      At that point it was Catholic vs Catholic.

      It would be more accurate to refer to the supporters
      of Katherine’s position as conservative interpreters
      of the Old Testament as the most senior Rabbi
      In Jerusalem agreed that Henry’s reading of
      Leviticus was not valid.

      1. Hi JudithRex, so true. They certainly remained Catholic, but it is well known that Anne was of a very evangelical mindset, along with her family – especially George. How visible these beliefs were at the earlier stages of their relationship we don’t know. But she didn’t represent the more conservative views – as did Katherine. Henry was beginning to be swayed and influenced by her, and there were people at court who knew this.

  6. Hi Claire, a bit off topic but I was wondering whether Anne was permitted to get some fresh air outdoors while in the tower? After all she was imprisoned for 17 days? Thanks a lot, would really like to know and can’t find this information anywhere – or do we simply not know the answer to this?

  7. I would like to congratulate Sandi Vasoli and others who have worked with great patience on the set of letters of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII; it must be a task that takes a lot of patience and devotion. I think that it is a shame that we do not have more of them; assuming more existed and that we do not have any of Anne’s responses; save is it one or two? But we can see from them that this is a very ardent lover affair; Henry was clearly devoted to Anne at this time and Anne’s response seems to have grown in a more measured but later a more passionate manner. I don’t believe all of the letters were written when Anne was in Hever with the sweating sickness as proposed by Susanna Lipscome in her documentary. Yes, some of them are written to Anne when she was ill; Henry sent his own doctors to her with letters, he was concerned that she may die. But I cannot imagine him being driven mad passionately by a woman who was ill and expecting her to respond. He was, himself fearful of his own life and also the Queen and Princess who were in Ludlow. But there are hints in the letters that the lovers spent a time apart, may-be in 1527 or even in 1529 when Henry wanted to keep his affair with Anne more discreet.

    From other letters we are also informed that the lovers have recently been together and had romantic and physical exchanges. Henry is hit with cupids arrow. Some of the early letters appear to tell us that Henry is making tentative enquiries and informing Anne that he likes her, that he finds her attractive and hopes that she will respond in kind. Anne may be trying to avoid becoming his mistress or she may be testing the royal lover to see how ardent he actually is. Then as the relationship is more heart-felt and long term you can see that Henry is becoming more and more passionate and it is clear that Anne has also responded to him in kind, even without the response to his letters. It is a great shame that few if any are correctly dated, if at all, as this makes putting them in order a task that requires close scrutiny and patience. We can pinpoint one letter; as it speaks to the envoy coming from Rome following Campeggio journey to England in 1529. The others are not so easy. This makes the question of when Anne and Henry got together and did the relationship follow keenly on the heels of that of Henry and Mary Boleyn.

    As stated before I believe that by 1526 Henry and Anne were lovers. I do believe that they were showing an interest in each other prior to this however, but it did not blossom if you will until early 1526. I also believe based on some recent reading of Josephine Wilkinson and others that be relationship between Mary and Henry dates between 1521 and 1524, and that he was the father of her eldest child. A banner that Henry used to ride out when jousting declares that his heart has been wounded by the dart of love; historians believe that dart to be Mary Boleyn and the date is 1522. Recently some people have suggested that it may have been earlier, because of the marriage of Mary to William Carey in 1520, but that is not conclusive; and Henry may not normally have gone for married women, but it appears that he did from time to time. May-be he used the fact that Mary was married to be more discreet, as few people actually knew of the affair at the time. I also found the argument by Wilkinson and also Norton in the Boleyn Women that Henry did father Mary’s son, Henry compelling; as the grants coincided with his birth. I also agree that Henry had good reasons not to admit in public or to formally recognise the children as his own; one such good reason being the start of his relationship with Mary’s sister Anne. For Henry to show that he had a child with her sister would have undermined his latter arguments that he was only marrying Anne to father the heir to the throne and may have compromied his relationship with Anne at that time.

    Sadly the truth is that we will never know if anything above can be fully confirmed as the evidence is so scanty and the letters undated or lost. The internal evidence gives us clues but again we are shooting in the dark most of the time. Lets just say that by 1527 Anne and Henry had clearly embarked on a full blown relationship and appear to have even committed to each other on the question of marriage and the promise of sons in the future. This was to be the basis for their six year restraint and patience. A long time; putting off children and sexual relations, and battling the forces that attempted to tear them apart. I wonder if in the end either of them would state that it was all worth it or would they do it again?

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