The 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:
- Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn
- Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn by Sandra Vasoli
- The Vatican Love Letters of Henry VIII – Linda Holds Them!
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