Was Anne Boleyn in love with Henry Norris?

Posted By on April 12, 2017

Yes, you read that right! That is the question I’m posing today – Was Anne Boleyn in love with her husband’s friend and groom of the stool, Henry Norris? It’s an article that I’ve been working on, on and off for a while, but decided to finish it after it was brought up on a thread I was following on the British Sovereigns and Royals Facebook page yesterday – thank you to followers of the page for spurring me into action.1

First off, before I go into this topic in detail, I have to post a disclaimer. I have to say that there is no way that I can answer that question definitively. I am not a reincarnation of Anne Boleyn, I am not a time traveller ( I wish! Jamie Fraser…..[sigh]), I have not found a letter or journal where Anne or Norris share their personal feelings for each other, there is no document I have found that is evidence of their personal feelings on this matter… I just cannot say one way or the other for sure. What I can do is explain why one author has come to the conclusion that Anne may well have loved Norris in a romantic way, and then explain why I don’t give credence to the idea.

Sorry, that’s the best I can do.

The theory

In the author’s note section of her forthcoming novel Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, Alison Weir writes of “the unacknowledged – until near the end – attraction between Anne and Norris” and goes on to explain that “this was suggested by the wording of her last confession. From her insistence that ‘she had never offended with her body’ against the King, it might be inferred that she had offended in her heart or her thoughts, and that she secretly loved another but had never gone so far as to consummate that love.” Weir then states that “of the men accused with her, Norris was the likeliest of her affections.” Weir then says that her theory, is just that, a theory, but that it’s “a compelling one” because we know that Norris did confess to something that he later retracted.2

So, Weir is not saying Anne and Norris were definitely in love, she’s putting the idea forward as a “compelling” theory. It’s not a new theory, Weir says the same in her book The Lady in the Tower, which was published back in 2010.3

The evidence

In her 2010 book, Alison Weir quotes Chapuys, citing “LP” (Letters and Papers), who records that he had heard from one of the ladies attending Anne Boleyn in the Tower that “before and after receiving the Sacrament, [Anne] affirmed to her, on the damnation of her soul, that she had never offended with her body against the King.” This can, indeed, be found in Letters and Papers, in a letter written by Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, to Emperor Charles V, on 19th May 1536.4 It has been translated from French.

It also appears in the Calendar of State Papers, Spain, with a slightly different translation:

“The lady in whose keeping she has been sends me word, in great secrecy, that before and after her receiving the Holy Sacrament, she affirmed, on peril of her soul’s damnation, that she had not misconducted herself so far as her husband the King was concerned.”

There, the editor notes that the dispatch was originally in French and “Mostly in cipher”. The original French is also given:

“La dame qui la eu en garde, ma envoye dire en grant secret que la dicte concubiuc, auant et apres la reception du sainct sacrament, luy a affirme sur la dampnation de son ame quelle ne sestait meffaicte de son corps envers ce roy.”5

The key words are “quelle ne sestait meffaicte de son corps envers ce roy.” Historian and academic G W Bernard has translated these as “she had not misused herself with her body towards the king” and that seems a more accurate translation to me.6

The other piece of evidence Alison Weir uses to back up her theory is the story of Sir Henry Norris’s retracted confession. Norris’s servant, George Constantine, wrote of how Norris’s chaplain told him that Norris had confessed after being taken to the Tower of London but that when this confession was laid before him at his trial, Norris stated that “he was deceaved to do the same by the Erle of Hampton that now ys.”7 Constantine is referring to Sir William Fitzwilliam, Treasurer of the King’s Household.

The challenge

Now it’s time for me to challenge this theory…

First, let’s handle Norris’s alleged confession as recorded by George Constantine. Although Constantine mentions this retracted confession, he also writes of the king examining Norris on their ride back from the May Day joust and how Norris “wold confess no thinge to the Kynge” even though the King promised him a pardon “in case he wolde utter the trewth.”8 We also know that Norris pleaded innocent at his trial and that he claimed to have been deceived when Fitzwilliam interrogated him. Constantine does not give any more details. Other sources make no mention of Norris confessing, mentioning only Mark Smeaton’s confession, and Sir Edward Baynton was concerned about this, writing in a letter to Fitzwilliam:

“this shallbe to advertyse yow that here is myche communycacion that nomam will confesse any thynge agaynst her, but allonly Marke of any actuell thynge. Wherefore (in my folishe conceyte) it shulde myche toche the King’s honor if it shulde no farther appeere. And I cannot beleve but that the other two bee as…culpapull as ever was hee.”9

Baynton is clearly saying here that only Mark has confessed to anything.

Historian Eric Ives, in his notes on Norris withdrawing the statement he made to Fitzwilliam, makes the point that Norris may have been confessing to his conversation with Anne – the one regarding “dead men’s shoes” (see later) – “but denied the implication”, i.e. that they were plotting against the king. Ives also cites a letter from Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, which is badly mutilated but mentions Kingston sending a knave to Norris in the Tower. It reads “he assured hym agayn …….ay thyng of my confession he ys worthye to have ….. hyt I defy hym;” which Ives believes “can be reconstructed as ‘[whoever tries to take advantage of] anything of my confession, he is worthy to have [my place here; and if he stand to] it, I defy him.'” which does make sense.10

It’s impossible to know exactly what happened when Norris was taken to the Tower, what was said, what he allegedly confessed and how he was deceived, but he retracted whatever was said and pleaded innocent. Ths story cannot, I feel, be used as evidence that Norris was in love with Anne or vice versa.

But the main point I’d like to make here is regarding Anne’s words when she swore on the sacrament. I am of the opinion that it’s quite a leap to take someone saying that they had not offended the king with their body to mean that they had offended him with their heart or mind. That’s reading far too much into it as far as I’m concerned and twisting someone’s words.

Anne had been accused of offending the king with her body. She’d been accused of committing adultery with five men, those were offences concerning physical actions, offences she’d committed against the king using her body. It, therefore, stands to reason that she would answer that accusation and deny it. Her oath on the sacrament makes perfect sense, she is swearing her innocence.11

If we are to read anything further into her words, and I don’t like doing so, then it makes more sense with what we know of Anne, her behaviour and other things that she said, that she would be suggesting that she had offended the king with her words. At their fall in 1536, it was said that Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, had made fun of ballads that the king had composed and that Anne had discussed the king’s sexual problems with her sister-in-law, Jane.12 Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, wrote a poem about Anne Boleyn’s life and death and in it he recorded a speech she made at her trial, quoting her as saying that she had not always given the king the “deference” and “humility” that he deserved and that she had shown jealousy, adding “In this I know that I lacked virtue”. De Carles has her admitting that she had offended the king in this way.13

We also know that Anne’s relationship with the king was volatile, one that saw them “merry” one minute and then arguing the next. Their marriage was a real one based on love and passion, and that, of course, led to disagreements and cross words being spoken. Anne also showed jealousy when she noticed the king showing interest in other ladies at court. She even tried to get a particular lady removed from court in 1534.14 Anne probably did offend the king with her words and was not as submissive as a queen consort perhaps should have been.

At her trial on 15th May 1536, Anne gave a spirited defence. Chronicler Charles Wriothesley, recorded that after her indictment was read out, Anne “made so wise and discreet aunsweres to all thinges layde against her, excusing herselfe with her wordes so clearlie, as thoughe she had never bene faultie to the same.”15 She argued her innocence. In Lancelot de Carles’ account of her speech at her trial, Anne states that she has “always been faithful to the King”. While admitting to jealousy, not showing him the deference he deserved, she states:

“But for the rest of it, God knows
That my wrongdoings did not go beyond this:
And I will certainly not confess more.”

I’m sure that being in love with another man would have been a “wrongdoing”.

Anne Boleyn was also a woman that knew her Bible. She was a woman with a keen interest in religious reform, a woman who encouraged the publication of the Bible in English and who read texts about how the Church should be focusing on the authority of Scripture. Anne owned a copy of William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, in which can be found these words:

“Ye haue hearde howe it was sayde to the of olde tyme: Thou shalt not comitt advoutrie. But I say vnto you that whosoeuer looketh on a wyfe lustynge after her hathe comitted advoutrie with hir alredy in his hert.” Matthew 5: 27-28

Here, Jesus is saying that a person who lusts after someone who is married has already committed adultery even if they have not had sexual relations. Anne was married, for her to have been in love with or to have had lustful thoughts about another man would have constituted adultery in the mind of someone who believed in the authority of scriptures, as Anne did, and I doubt that she would have felt that she could claim to be innocent if she had truly been in love with one of her husband’s best friends.

Another point is that we don’t actually know what Anne said when she swore her innocence on the sacrament on that May day in 1536. Chapuys writes that one of her ladies told him, so that’s second-hand information, and we don’t know whether Anne’s words were paraphrased rather than quoted accurately. Sir William Kingston’s report to Thomas Cromwell on 18th May 1536, which is about Anne sending for him to witness her taking the sacrament, is damaged and all we can read is:

“she sent for me that I myght be with hyr at [soche tyme] asshe reysayved the gud lord to the in tent I shuld here hy[r speke as] towchyng her innosensy alway to be clere.”16

So no details of her words but it appears that she was swearing to her innocence.

My final point is that there is nothing linking Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris in a romantic way before Anne’s fall. On 29th April 1536, three days before her arrest, it is reported that Anne had an altercation with Norris. At this time, Norris, a widower, was courting Anne’s cousin, Madge Shelton. Anne is said to have asked Norris why he was taking so long in marrying her cousin, and when he replied that he “would tarry a time” she rebuked him, saying, “You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the King but good, you would look to have me”, thus accusing Norris of delaying his marriage to Madge because he fancied her. A horrified Norris replied that “if he [should have any such thought] he would his head were off.”17 As I’ve said in previous articles, this exchange started off as a game of courtly love, where a knight was meant to woo his queen and be a little in love with her, but ended up with Anne speaking recklessly of the king’s death, something which could be construed as treason. A game of courtly love gone too far, not a romantic exchange by any stretch of the imagination and certainly not proof that they were in love.18 Norris was courting Anne’s cousin and Anne seems to want him to get his act together and marry her soon. I can’t see this conversation as two sweethearts flirting.

Did Anne Boleyn love Sir Henry Norris?

Who knows? It’s impossible to say. However, I don’t find it a compelling theory. I think Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris were completely innocent, and that noble Norris went to his death rather than confess to something that he didn’t do.

What are your thoughts? Please do comment below.

Notes and Sources

Picture: Anne Boleyn, National Portrait Gallery, and Luke Roberts as Sir Henry Norris in the BBC series “Wolf Hall”.

  1. British Sovereigns and Royals, Facebook group.
  2. Weir, Alison (2017) Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, taken from “Author’s Note”, p.511 in an ARC.
  3. Weir, Alison (2009) The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, p. 252. Weir says “Nonetheless the wording of her confession is interesting. It may be that she merely wished to emphasise that she had been faithful to the King, but from her insistence that ‘she had never offended with her body against him, it might be inferred that she had offended in other ways, perhaps with her heart or her thoughts, and that she had perhaps secretly loved another, possibly Norris, but had never gone so far as to consummate that love.”
  4. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, 908.
  5. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5, 55. See Note 26 at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol5/no2/pp118-133.
  6. Bernard, G. W. (2010) Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions,Yale University Press, p. 172.
  7. Archaeologia: Or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Published by the Society of Antiquities, Volume XXIII (1831) p. 64.
  8. Ibid.
  9. ed. Ellis, Sir Henry (1825) Original letters, illustrative of English history…, Volume II, p. 61.
  10. Ives, Eric (2004,2005) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, p. 420; Cavendish,
    George (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey and Metrical Visions from the Original Autograph Manuscript,
    Samuel Weller Singer, p. 223.
  11. For a list of charges see 10 May 1536 – The Middlesex Indictment and 11 May 1536 – The Kent Indictment
  12. LP x. 908.
  13. Lancelot de Carles’ poem “De la Royne d’Angleterre” is from Ascoli, Georges, La Grande-Bretagne Devant L’opinion Française Depuis La Guerre de Cent Ans Jusqu’à La Fin Du XVIe Siècle, my translation was done at my request by Paolo Dagonnier.
  14. LP vii. 1257.
  15. Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume I, p. 37-38.
  16. Cavendish, p. 229.
  17. LP x. 793.
  18. See my articles Courtly love, flirtation and the fall of Anne Boleyn Part One and Courtly love, flirtation and the fall of Anne Boleyn Part Two
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