Anne Boleyn’s Letter to Cromwell – A Show of Support for Reform

Thank you to Olivia Peyton for alerting me to this letter from Queen Anne Boleyn to Thomas Cromwell, regarding Richard Herman, a man who had been imprisoned by Cardinal Wolsey for heresy.

The letter is included in “Original Letters Illustrative of English History: Including Numerous Royal Letters and One or Two other Collections Volume II” by Henry Ellis, Keeper of the Manuscripts in the British Museum (1824) and, as Ellis points out, “from the following Letter, if from no other source, it may be gathered that Anne Boleyn favoured the dissemination of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue”. There is also an excerpt of this letter in Letters and Papers (LP vii.664) where it is dated 14th May 1534.

ANNE THE QUENE. By the Quene.

TRUSTIE and right welbiloued we grete you
well. And where as we be crediblie enformed that the
berer hereof Richard Herman marchaunte and citizen
of Antwerpe in Brabant was in the tyme of the late
lorde Cardynall put and expelled frome his fredome
and felowshipe of and in the Englishe house there, for
nothing ells (as he affermethe) but oonly for that that
he* dyd bothe with his gooddis and pollicie, to his
greate hurte and hynderans in this Worlde, helpe to
the settyng forthe of the Newe Testamente in Eng-
lisshe. We therefore desire and instantly praye you
that with all spede and favoure convenient ye woll
cause this good and honeste marchaunt, being my
Lordis true faithfull and loving subjecte, restored to
his pristine fredome, libertie, and felowshipe aforesaid,
and the soner at this cure requeste, and at your good
leyser to here hym in suche thinges as he hathe to
make further relacion unto you in this behalf. Yeven
undir our Signete at my Lordis manoure of Grene-
wiche the xiiijth daye of May.

To our trustie and right welbeloved

Thomas Crumwell squyer Chief Secretary
unto my Lorde the Kings Highnes.

*The words “still like a good crystal man” are here obliterated : the pen having
been drawn across them.

In this letter, Anne Boleyn is asking Cromwell to intercede in this matter and to make sure that Herman is released. Anne Boleyn would not have taken the step to ask Cromwell for his help with this matter, that of a man who had been imprisoned for helping “the settyng forthe of the Newe Testamente in Englisshe”, if she had not supported the man’s actions and the cause. It is a clear show of support from Anne.

What is interesting is that Cromwell did more than simply secure this man’s release, he employed him. I searched for “Richard Herman” in the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, and found a letter from Herman to Cromwell, dated 2nd November 1535:-

“Has had no news. Ferdinandus has sent letters to the king of Portugal’s factor here direct from the Pope. Through the means of a page that waits on the factor, a Christian brother of mine got a sight of them and copied them with expedition, desiring me to send them with the greatest secrecy. As I can skill of no Latin, I could not assist in the writing. The intent you will perceive by the reading. May God keep the King from their wicked designs, hoping that ye be the elect of God for that purpose. Dated at the head, Antwerp, 2 Nov. 1535.” LP ix.746

This letter is evidence that Herman was being used by Cromwell as a spy, or gatherer of information, on the continent and his hope that Cromwell “be the elect of God” shows their shared beliefs.

I’m going to add Anne’s letter to our Anne Boleyn Letters page.

Here is an interesting ( and funny) video about letter writing, including images of letters written by Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. Did people really sound like that in 1938?!


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