Did Henry VIII Commit Bigamy When He Married Anne Boleyn?

Posted By on April 8, 2011

Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and Anne BoleynI’ve been inspired to write this post today by two long, and at times rather heated, debates on The Anne Boleyn Files forum regarding Henry VIII being a bigamist and also Anne Boleyn being a homewrecker.

Nikki from Texas got the ball rolling on the bigamy topic by pointing out that Henry VIII married a pregnant Anne Boleyn and THEN, a few months later, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled. Very true, let’s look at the facts:-

  • 11th June 1509 – Henry VIII marries Catherine of Aragon.
  • 14th November 1532 (St Erkenwald’s Day) or the 25th January 1533 (or both!) – Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn.
  • November 1532 – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn consummate their relationship, either while still in France or on their return home from seeking Francis I’s blessing.
  • February 1533 – Anne Boleyn speaks of craving apples, she is pregnant.
  • March 1533 – Henry VIII’s court preachers proclaim the “virtues and secret merits” of Anne Boleyn while proclaiming that his marriage to Catherine is invalid.
  • 26th March 1533 – Convocation is asked to pronounce on the validity of a papal dispensation allowing a man to marry his brother’s widow.
  • 30th March 1533 – Thomas Cranmer is consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • End of March 1533 – Anne Boleyn’s royal household is formed.

  • 1st April 1533 – Cranmer takes the chair in the upper house of Convocation and within a few days “large majorities” are in favour of two propositions: 1) That Prince Arthur had “carnally known” Catherine of Aragon and 2) That the Pope had no power to issue a dispensation allowing Catherine to marry Henry VIII and rule in Henry VIII’s favour.
  • Wednesday 9th April 1533, Holy Week – Catherine is told of her new title, Dowager Princess of Wales, and informed that Henry VIII is married to Anne Boleyn.
  • Good Friday, 11th April 1533 – Henry VIII informs the court that Anne Boleyn is now Queen.
  • Easter Saturday, 12th April 1533 – Anne attends Mass as Queen.
  • 10th May 1533 – Archbishop Cranmer opens a special court at Dunstable for the annulment proceedings.
  • 23rd May 1533 – Cranmer’s court rules that the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was against the will of God and declares the marriage null and void.
  • 28th May 1533 – Cranmer declares the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn valid.
  • 29th May 1533 – The coronation pageantry begins.
  • 1st June 1533 – Anne Boleyn is crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey.

Definition of Bigamy

bigamy – big·a·my/ˈbigəmē/
Noun: The act of marrying while already married to another person.

Did Henry VIII Commit Bigamy?

Yes

If we just look at the facts above with our 21st century eyes and ideals then it is easy for us to declare Henry VIII a bigamist, after all, he married his second wife, Anne Boleyn, a few months before his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled. It is clear that he went through with the act of marrying Anne Boleyn when he was already married to Catherine. He was a bigamist.

No

We now have to look at the situation through Henry VIII’s eyes. Here was a man who had been troubled for a few years about the fact that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was contrary to Biblical Law, in that it contravened Biblical Law:-

“And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it [is] an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” Leviticus 20:21

While Henry and Catherine had not been childless, they had not been blessed with a living son and heir, so Henry truly believed that there was something about the marriage that God was not happy with. He got it in his head that the miscarriages/stillbirths were due to sin, due to the fact that Catherine had married him after already having been married to his brother. As for the papal dispensation, well, Henry believed that  Pope Julius II had made a grave error trying to dispense a law of this nature and that Pope Clement VII must set it right.

While it is easy for us to look at Henry’s justification for the annulment of his first marriage as a great excuse to get out of it and move on, it is clear that he was actually troubled by this and came to believe that the marriage was wrong in God’s eyes and should never have taken place. David Starkey writes of how, during the 7 years of Henry’s quest for an annulment, the basic premise of Henry’s case did not change and he stuck to his argument, he was convinced.

In Henry VIII’s eyes, his marriage to Catherine was invalid, so he was not married. Although it was important for him to get the marriage officially annulled, so that any offspring would be legitimate in everyone’s eyes, he had no qualms about marrying Anne Boleyn before the official annulment, to him it was valid whenever it took place. The fact that Anne became pregnant so quickly made him sure that God was blessing their union.

Conclusion

Phew! What a minefield!

It is easy to be black and white about things like this but, at the end of the day, we have to see things through the eyes of those concerned. Obviously, Catherine always believed that she was Henry’s true wife and never accepted the annulment, but Henry VIII felt that he was God’s appointed sovereign and therefore what he said went. He believed his first marriage was invalid, he believed that God did not recognise it as a true marriage and he felt vindicated by the rulings of Convocation and Cranmer’s court. Of course, he then goes on to annul his marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1536, but that’s another story…

What do you think?

Was Henry VIII a bigamist? Was the Leviticus argument just a big excuse?

Let me know your thoughts.

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