On the 6th May 1536, it is said that Anne Boleyn wrote the following letter to her husband, King Henry VIII, from the Tower of London:-

“Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.

You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, Good your Grace, let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain, that unworthy Stain of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter:

Try me, good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yes, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure; and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not, (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only Request shall be, That my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the Innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing to your Ears, then let me obtain this Request; and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions.

Your most Loyal and ever Faithful Wife, Anne Bullen
From my doleful Prison the Tower, this 6th of May.”

( from The Life and Death of Anne Bullen, Queen Consort of England, printed by G. Smeeton, Charing Cross, Britain, 1820 and Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. J.S. Brewer, J. Gairdner & R.H. Brodie 1862-1932).

The Lady in the Tower

Anne’s Words or a Forgery?

Alison Weir considers this letter in her book “The Lady in the Tower”1 and writes of how it was first published by Lord Herbert in his 1649 “The Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth” and then by Bishop Burnet in 1679. Burnet claimed to have found it, along with Sir William Kingston’s letters, “lying among Cromwell’s other papers. Like Kingston’s letters to Cromwell, it was damaged during a fire in 1731 but is still legible.

This letter has often been considered a forgery, mainly due to the handwriting which differs from other authenticated letters by Anne (from the 1520s), but it was claimed at the time of publication that it was a copy made by Cromwell of Anne’s letter to Henry, and so was not in Anne’s hand anyway. Although Burnet and Froude believed that the letter was authentic, Agnes Strickland and James Gairdner thought it to be a forgery, with Gairdner believing it to be written in an Elizabethan hand2. Other historians, like Friedmann and Sergeant, also thought it to be a forgery BUT, Weir points out Henry Savage’s view that this letter was written a decade later than Anne’s authenticated letters plus she was a woman imprisoned and living in fear of her life so this could explain the difference in handwriting. Weir cites Jasper Ridley as pointing out that the letter “bears all the marks of Anne’s character, of her spirit, her impudence and her recklessness.”3

Other anomalies which suggest that the letter is a forgery include:-

  1. The signature “Anne Bullen” rather than the usual “Anne Boleyn” or “Anne the Queen”
  2. The fact that Cromwell kept it rather than destroying it
  3. The heading at the top: “To the King from the Lady in the Tower” – wouldn’t Cromwell have referred to her as the Queen or as Anne Boleyn?
  4. The style, which is not consistent with Anne’s other letters
  5. The reproving tone and provocative content – The writer is claiming that the King instigated the plot so that he could marry Jane Seymour. Would Anne risk angering and insulting Henry in this way?

BUT these anomalies can be thrown out of the window:-

  1. If the letter was a copy then this could have been Cromwell referring to Anne
  2. It wasn’t discovered until the 17th century so it was obviously kept hidden and not made public
  3. Perhaps Cromwell no longer saw her as Queen and nicknamed her “The Lady in the Tower”
  4. Anne was not writing a normal letter, she had the shadow of the axe (or sword) hanging over her
  5. Anne could be provocative when she wanted to be. It may have been a huge risk to take but perhaps she wanted this one opportunity to tell the King what she thought of him and his plot.

The handwriting issue can also be explained away – it could have been a copy made by Cromwell, it could be an Elizabethan copy of the original, Anne may have been so distraught that she dictated it to one of her ladies… Ultimately, there is no way we can be certain one way or the other, but I hope that Anne did write it. Anne’s execution speech stuck to the usual rules, in that she accepted her sentence and praised the King, but I’d like to think that Anne had some opportunity to let the King know what she thought.

What do you think?

You can see a photograph of the original letter at http://images.imagestate.com/Watermark/1618800.jpg and compare it to another of Anne’s (1528 from Anne to Cardinal Wolsey) at http://images.imagestate.com/Watermark/1225634.jpg

More on the Letter

Gareth Russell has gone into more detail on the various theories regarding the letter over at his blog (we’re both counting down to the anniversary of the execution) – see http://garethrussellcidevant.blogspot.com/2010/05/may-6th-1536-mystery-of-queens-letter.html

Notes and Sources

1 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p173
2 – James Gairdner, editor of Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII – the letter can be found in LP x.808 and Gairdner has added “In an Elizabethan hand, mutilated”
3 – Love Letters of Henry VIII, ed. Ridley, cited in Weir p173 (see 1)

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32 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Letter to Henry VIII”
  1. I would love to think Anne wrote that letter, so that irrespective of her words on the scaffold, Henry got a taste of what she really felt. If Burnet was speaking the truth, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t, it is entirely possible that it was Anne’s letter, because why on earth else would it have been among Cromwell’s papers?

    1. True, and it echoed one of Anne’s very first letters to Henry, expressing her fear at his chasing her and incurring the displeasure of her mistress, Queen Katherine, and reminding him that he was a married man

  2. I think it could be the same writing, given the stress Anne must have felt. Louise, letters get stolen. Henry’s love letters to Anne are in the Vatican, and they didn’t get there legally.

  3. I believe Anne wrote the letters why else would she pled for the life of the “innocent souls of those poor gentlemen”.Anne knew that this was perhaps the only chance she would have to ‘argue her case” to Henry. This letter was found among Cromwell’s papers I agree with Louise why would he keep the letter? It would be nice to know if anyone compared Cromwell’s letter when he was in the tower writting about the Anne of Cleves marriage state with his other professional documents. Bet there is a huge difference in penmanship. What does everyone else think?

  4. I don’t think Cromwell would have kept a letter written by Anne herself which so avidly claims innocence. Also, the fact that Elizabeth isn’t mentioned makes me doubt it.

    1. He may have kept the letter and never passed it on to Henry. After such an elaborate scam to get her convicted, why would Cromwell, whose life and career were on the line, allow a letter of mitigation go to the king? Anne probably didn’t mention Elizabeth as she knew she would be in good hands, and there was nothing more she could do for her at this stage. But she could try to save the lives of the innocent gentlemen accused on her behalf

      1. The letter does mention Elizabeth, in the first paragraph. She doesn’t
        want the slander against her to hurt her daughter. I would like to think Anne wrote it because she is a fighter and she wouldn’t go down quietly.

  5. If it is real, would Henry have ever seen it? It’s a very powerful letter. If he did see it, it certainly didn’t have the effect Anne was hoping for. It didn’t save the men she wished to be pardoned.
    Nor did it stop him from allowing “that unworthy stain of a Disloyay Heart towards your good Grace cast so foul a blot on your most dutiful wife and the Infant Pricess your daughter.”
    There is a really big difference as far as the penmanship of the 2 letters. The Ladies who were with her were not favorites and I’m not sure Anne would trust them enough to dictate a letter to them.
    It could be a copy by Cromwell. I’d have to see his style of writing and then compare. I don’t know how he would have referred to Anne at this time…The Queen or The Lady in the Tower. My guess is The Queen.
    But what a great letter. I hope Anne did write it, and I hope Henry at least saw it. A letter like that would have to stay in his mind forever.

    1. Anne knew she was doomed, and being in her nature, probably sent a parting shot, which probably never got to the king anyway. Anne had any number of people she could have dictated the letter to – her almoner, her chaplain. . .

  6. I really don’t know what to believe, but I wonder if it is a forgery, why would anyone forge a letter like this? Why would someone want to pretend to be in Anne’s shoes? It strikes me as strange…

  7. It is probable that the Tower letter was written by Anne Boleyn but whether it is an original written by Anne in her own hand or a copy of an original remains to be seen aswell as discovered, I myself think that it has to be one or the other and my reason being for this is due to the fact that in the her letter to Cardinal Wolsey in 1528 the letter has been signed twice, Once being on the upper left hand side of the letter where she has signed Anne Bullen and once more at the bottom right hand side signed Anne Boleyn, Then if you look at the Letter that was written by her hand on May 06th 1536 it is signed only once but still with the name Anne Bullen, It is a proven fact that Anne did sign her last name Bullen. I know she also signed her name Anne Boleyn and hence Anne the Queen when she was a Queen, Anne had quite small narrow handwriting but she could sign her name in a small or large fashion hence her letter to Wolsey her signature is written smally wearas in her book of hours her full name is written slightly larger as it is in the 1536 letter to her husband the king.I also think that as preperations were being made by Archbishop Cranmer to make the Kings marriage to Anne null and void this is perhaps why she was just simply reffered to as the lady from the Tower rather than the wife or the Queen. As far as Henry was concerened in his eyes from the moment she entered the Tower by barge on May 2nd she was seen as no longer Queen, I myself would only go as far to say wife of if that much. Also I would like to mention that the pronounciation of Boleyn would be Bulin, Could the Bullen just be written word of a pronounciation? I have also seen her name pronounced as Bollein too.

  8. I read Gareth’s article and I think he makes a good case for the letter being a copy of an original one that was damaged in a fire, probably “filling in the blanks” as best as he or she could.

  9. P.S. The 1528 letter shows less of a slant to the letters than the other one. The letter “f” has a much longer loop as do other letters with a bottom loop. From what little I know of handwriting analysis, even under duress some traits remain the same. It would be great to show both letters to a specialist in this field, but I sincerely doubt the same person wrote both letters based on my own knowledge of handwriting.

  10. Hello Claire. why didn’t Anne mention Elizabeth in her letter? Maybe to protect Elizabeth. Those condemned, wanted to protect their kin; and she would not jeopardize Elizabeth’s safety. I wonder if Anne had made preparations, on her own, for Elizabeth’s well being and/safety? Was that part of a bargain to herself – to write Henry, and not mention Elizabeth? Did Anne really believe that Henry would see her letter? Did Anne know or have a premonition that she would be consigned to a distant memory, the way she saw Katherine consigned; Anne knew how badly Henry treated Mary. Did she see a clear parallel between herself and Katherine?

  11. I think Anne knew she had nohing more to lose. I think she wrote the letter and as her life and her death will be till the end of time shrouded in imystery , so will this letter. It was a life and death of extremes and I think it is her legacy that whatever is connected with her will never be clear cut. She was either much loved or much hated. One couldn`t ognore Anne and I hgope that until his death Henry`s concience didn`t et a moments peace.The letter is strong, opinionated and honest like Anne herself. Why she signed it with Bullen. Henry took every opportunity to remind her that he raised her from a lowly social status, despite her mother`s Howard connection, and I think it was a little quirky twist at the end. She never gave me the feeling in all the books I`ve read about her that she was ashamed of her origins. And despite her horrible death, I think Anne has the last say from beyond the grave.

  12. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments and I do apologise that I haven’t been great at responding to them all recently.
    Rosalie, I don’t think that Anne wanted to draw attention to Elizabeth as she would not want Elizabeth to suffer the wrath of Henry caused by Anne’s angry letter. I think she purposely tried to keep Elizabeth out of things. On the 26th April 1536, just a few days before her arrest, Anne had asked her chaplain Matthew Parker to ensure that Elizabeth was cared for if anything happened to her. Matthew Parker became Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury and as Robert Parry points out in his comment on my post “The Fall of Anne Boleyn”, over at The Elizabeth Files, Parker was a close friend of William Cecil and a member of the Cambridge set (Cheke, Ascham and John Dee), all men who had a major influence on Elizabeth. Anne chose well when she asked Parker to make sure that Elizabeth was looked after.

    As far as the letter itself is concerned I’d like to think that it was a copy of Anne’s original letter as I’d love to think of Anne getting the opportunity to say all that to Henry but as a mother I wonder if Anne would have risked Elizabeth’s safety by angering Henry in that way. We’ll just never know.

  13. As A lover of all things “Anne” I pray she wrote the letter if only to show Henry what she really thought of his scheme to get rid of her. I too wonder why she didn’t mention Elizabeth. And wouldn’t old Henry have just turned over in his grave to know that the “Witch’s bastard” turned out to be one really great queen. I wonder if Anne didn’t mention Elizabeth because she still had hopes that Elizabeth would stay a princess or at least be well taken care of and not subjected to the same fate as Mary had when Cathrine was the one out of favor,

  14. My thoughts on this “letter from Anne” are similar to my thoughts on the Shroud of Turin. It’s plausible, you want it to be true, but ultimately it seems a little too good to be true. I’m a cynic, what can I say? And ultimately, neither item has any effect on my underlying beliefs.

    I believe Anne was innocent, I think she was capable of writing this letter, and ultimately, my feelings about Anne aren’t changed whether she did or not write it. I believe Jesus existed, was the Christ, was crucified, and there was a shroud He left behind when He rose. Whether the cloth in Turin is that shroud ultimately doesn’t matter. If it’s proved false, it doesn’t discount anything I believe. If it IS the true shroud, I don’t think it will ever be proved, because there’s the issue of faith being required.

  15. Carolyn, I think you make a good point about the letter as being not the defining factor in Anne’s innocence. And I am a skeptic too, it does seem a little too good to be true but this does not change my opinion that Anne was a victim of a political coup, along with those other men. I like your comparison to the shroud. The authenticity of this artifact does not affect my religious beliefs. Lisa

  16. Whether the letter itself is Anne’s, or a copy, the cadence and phraseology is consistent with Anne’s writing, so I believe it is her message. Anne’s style throughout this period was to appeal to the higher virtue of Harry and the man she believed him capable of being, or knew him to have been in the past. I don’t have to look at the signature of her letters. They “sound” the same, and approach matters similarly. I think the greater question is was it delivered to the King or not. I would guess that latter, which would also explain why it was amongst Cromwell and Kingston’s letters. There IS reference to Elizabeth in this letter, but a careful veiled reference. Anne’s insistence that she and only she “bear the burthen of your Grace’s displeasure” is, to me, a plea for the safety and protection of Elizabeth. At this point, who else is she wanting to protect? Everyone’s locked up and destined for the same macabre end as herself, except her innocent daughter. The fact the letter was found late is interesting and in keeping with most things Boleyn. There are gobs of missing documentation around Anne. Someone really tried to do a good clean-up.

  17. Whoever wrote either letter, it wasn’t the same person. I’m not sure if Anne wrote either of them at all or dictated either of them to another person, or maybe the letter was copied in secret? (seal broken by a spy of the king) Whoever wrote the letters, I am sure that it was not the same person. There are certain characteristics that change in handwriting when the writer’s emotions change. Then there are characteristics that don’t change. I can tell by looking at those characteristics that both letters had different authors.

    Whoever wrote the letter signed “Anne Bullen” is optimistic.

    I wish I could see them on a larger scale!

  18. It’s almost impossible to believe that Anne would not have written to King Henry, any woman would in that situation. If that particular letter is not authentic I’m sure there was one somewhere sometime.

  19. If this letter was really written by her, I can see how Henry ended up frustrated and tired of her. She’s awesome by today’s standards, but by her own time, a woman with no royal blood (heck, even a woman WITH royal blood) telling the KING that she’ll be there when he’s judged by God for what he’s done to her…well, it seems she definitely did deserve her label of tempermental spitfire and I can easily see how they ended up in constant fights throughout their marriage. At the same time, her trademark charm and intelligence is evident by her planting the seeds of doubt in his mind by trying to convince him that his true enemies are the ones surrounding him trying to poison his mind against poor sweet her. It’s the truth, but it’s also manipulative in it’s own way, for after being read, he couldn’t help but question everyone around him even if he had convinced himself he was right. In any case, whoever did write this letter has an admirable mind and impressive personality. Like, say for example, Anne.

  20. Difficult to say if it is forgery or not but the content does contradict a bit Anne’s speech before her execution where she only praises the king. Knowing how unjust her trial was, I can’t imagine her being so kind towards Henry at the moment of her death where she could speak her heart. On the other hand, she might have cooled off in fear of consequences for her daughter.
    However, a comment to those who say that Elizabeth wasn’t mentioned in the letter, she indeed was:

    “ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter”

  21. This is a lesson her daughter Elizabeth the 1st learns. Well in prison in the tower by her half sister “Bloody Mary “. When you write a letter make sure to start directly from the top and if any unused paper is left at the end of the page then Elizabeth the 1st would drawn lines going up and down the bottom if it so that no one could add anything to it. When Elizabeth the 1st had her cousin Mary Queen of Scot’s accused of treason she was not going to execute her until she read her letter and it was the last paragraph that did her in because it was forged by Elizabeth’s men who add what the Queen needed to hear to sign the death warrant.

  22. Very true, Carrie, Elizabeth was sensible in the way that she wrote letters.

    I guess we’ll just never know the truth about this letter, very frustrating!

  23. My Gosh, Claire…..Have you hit on a “Holy Grail” of truth??? Your quest for The truth about such a subject (as AB motives) may be in humanity’s reach. Truly this woman was a martyr…giving her life for her infant daughter…….surely Anne had no choice but to give up her life…..but she WHOLLY BELIEVED SHE DID DO the right, the wholly unselfish thing …in whatever hope she had for her child well being and accepting her fate.
    Let the freedom ring regarding such quiet secrets and secret truths about all .
    Freedom is only a word when there is nothing left to lose.
    I believe, with all my heart and soul, that Anne Boleyn may have well been a sinner, but she also be the quintessential human woman of the “time of beings”
    ‘Nuff said”

  24. I think personally she called herself ” The lady in the tower” to be sarcastic.. Because she felt stripped of all she was given, including her child.. I think she gave herself that title since Henry treated her the was she was being treated (not like a Queen). As if to say “I am not a queen I am merely a lady in the tower”… something to ponder!

  25. I don’t think you should bhead Anne Bolyne she hasn’t done anthing wrong she had a little baby girl you are only going to bhead her because shedidnt have a baby girl henry

  26. The King wouldn’t have read or listened to such a long letter. He’d locked Anne up to be rid of her, not wanting to see or hear from her again. If she were astute — and it seems she was — she would have written a much shorter note, so that he might get through a sentence or two before tossing it aside. She was apparently pithy when free, hence would have been when protesting her captivity and asking clemency for her co-accused.

    It’s a forgery, because it leans far too hard, for too long, in an overly embellished plea when only a plain, direct one had any chance of reaching Henry’s ear.

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