Henry VIII Marries Anne Boleyn – 25th January 1533

Posted By on January 25, 2011

On this day in history, 25th January 1533, Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn. Alison Weir writes of their marriage in her book “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”:-

“Just before dawn, on the morning of the 25 January 1533, a small group of people gathered in the King’s private chapel in Whitehall Palace for the secret wedding of the King to Anne Boleyn. The officiating priest was either Dr Rowland Lee*, one of the royal chaplains, or – according to Chapuys – Dr George Brown, Prior of the Austin Friars in London and later Archbishop of Dublin… There were four, possibly five, witnesses, all sworn to secrecy: Henry Norris and Thomas Heneage of the King’s privy chamber, and Anne Savage** and Lady Berkeley, who attended Anne. William Brereton, a groom of the chamber, may also have been present.”

According to Eric Ives, the marriage was kept so secret that even the gossipy Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, did not hear about it until months after. Chapuys wrote to his master, Charles V, on the 31st March 1533, saying, “It is expected that the new marriage will be solemnised before Easter or immediately after, for all the necessary preparations are already in order, the royal estate of the lady is already made, and nothing remains but to publish it.” Little did he know that the couple were already married, that their union had already been consummated (probably on their trip to France or on their arrival home in November 1532) and that Anne was pregnant. What gossip he was missing!

St Erkenwald’s Day 1532

As I have written before, the 25th January 1533 is not the only date out forward as a wedding date for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall, wrote that the couple actually got married on Thursday 14th November 1532, St Erkenwald’s Day:-

“The kyng, after his returne [from Calais] maried priuily[privily] the lady Anne Bulleyn on sainet Erkenwaldes daie, whiche mariage was kept so secrete, that very fewe knewe it, til she was greate with child, at Easter after.”

St Erkenwald’s Day was the day after Anne and Henry returned from their trip to Calais to see Francis I, a visit where Anne had been treated as Henry’s consort and the couple had been given Francis I’s blessing, and, as David Starkey points out, “To have gone back to England and chastity must have seemed intolerable – both to her and to Henry” after they had been living as King and Queen in France.

Edward Hall is not the only person to give this date for their secret marriage; the Catholic recusant, Nicholas Sander, also wrote, during the reign of Elizabeth I, that Henry VIII had married Anne Boleyn on the 14th November. Protestants during Elizabeth’s reign latched on to this date because it meant that their queen had been conceived within wedlock, after all, a birthdate of 7th September 1533 suggests a conception date of between 11th and 19th December 1532, although it does depend on whether Elizabeth was premature, which she probably was when you consider that Anne entered her confinement on the 26th August.

A Tale of Two Weddings

But both dates could be valid, as David Starkey points out in his book. He writes of how Anne Boleyn “wanted to make sure that her own title as Queen would be unimpeachable” and that she wanted to make sure that everything was done following the format laid out in “the bible of ceremony known as ‘The Royal Book’.” Starkey wonders if Anne saw herself as a foreign princess “sailing to English soil [from her visit to her former home, France] where soon she would be crowned”:-

“It was just as ‘The Royal Book’ prescribed. What more natural therefore than to marry Henry as soon as they landed? And ‘privily’ – as The Royal Book permitted and the fact that Henry was still married to Catherine required?”

So, the couple married in Kent on St Erkenwald’s Day, shortly after landing on English soil and Starkey points out that it must have been a proper marriage “with a priest, a ring and the exchange of vows” for Anne to surrender her virtue to Henry. Of course, the marriage made Henry a bigamist, but Anne had what she wanted and needed, a sacred vow and promise, and now Henry could get what he wanted too!

But why the extra January wedding?

Although the couple had been co-habiting since their arrival back in England, nothing was official, their wedding had been kept secret. The problem, in January 1533, was that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. Something had to be done!

But Henry had no papal licence to allow him to take another wife. David Starkey writes of how Dr Rowland Lee demanded the licence from Henry, who replied that it was somewhere safe and he could not go and get it that early in the morning. When Lee pressed him further, Henry said, “Go forth in God’s name and do that which appertaineth to you and I will take upon me all other danger.” David Starkey feels that this altercation between the two men and, in fact, the whole wedding ceremony “was a carefully contrived performance”:-

“The first marriage in November had been designed to reassure Anne. The second, with its half-invocation of Papal authority was intended to reassure Henry’s subjects. When news of it leaked, which it quickly did, it would suggest that Henry had received the nod from Rome.”

As I have said already, the second wedding was also a secret affair, rather than the sumptuous state occasion that Anne may have been looking forward to, but David Starkey believes that news of this ceremony was purposely leaked so that the marriage was accepted by the people and Anne was accepted as queen.

David Starkey concludes that:-

“The marriage thus forms part of the great game of 1533 in which Henry decided to get his Divorce by deceiving everybody: Rome, his English subjects and even his French allies. The game was for the highest stakes and he played it well.”

Henry wanted a legitimate male heir and he wanted Anne Boleyn, nothing would stand in his way and he had waited too long already. He truly believed that his first marriage was not valid so his marriage to Anne, whatever the Pope thought, was valid and when Anne became pregnant so quickly, he must have thought that God was smiling down on them and blessing their union. However, just over three years later, Anne Boleyn was executed as a traitor and Henry was marrying for a third time.

Notes and Sources

*Historians like Alison Weir and David Starkey agree on Dr Rowland Lee being the most likely celebrant as he became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1534 and he is named in Nicholas Harpsfield’s “Treatise on the Pretended Divorce Between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon”, which was written during the reign of Mary I.

** David Starkey points out that Anne Savage later became Lady Berkeley, so Anne Boleyn, had only one attendant.

34 thoughts on “Henry VIII Marries Anne Boleyn – 25th January 1533”

  1. Louise says:

    Great and informative article, but despite the quote from Weir, there is no conclusive evidence as to who the witnesses were. She quotes from Letters and Papers, obviously not giving a proper reference, but in fact nowhere in Letters and Papers is there anything definitive. We had this conversation on Claire’s posts regarding Henry Norris. I would rather trust a book by Winnie-the-Pooh on quantum physics than believe a word Weir writes.

    1. Claire says:

      But David Starkey also lists the same witnesses, except he points out that Anne Savage was Lady Berkeley. The names come from Nicholas Harpsfield’s “Treatise on the Pretended Divorce Between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon” which was written during Mary I’s reign.

      1. Louise says:

        My point is that there is no actual evidence from the time. Weir quotes from L&P as if it’s fact, but there is nothing in L & P. It’s that which I find so offensive. Starkey may well quote from Harpsfield, but where did he get it from; certainly not from any extant source that I’ve ever come across and certainly not from L&P.

        1. Claire says:

          In my version of Weir’s Six Wives, the Kindle version, there is no citation so I wouldn’t say that she was quoting “from L&P as if it’s fact”. Although Harpsfield was writing in Mary I’s reign I suspect that he had access to records that are no longer available. Starkey points out that Harpsfield was correct about the place of marriage – he says York Place (Whitehall) whereas others have said Greenwich, but records do show that Henry was at York Place on the morning of the 25 and that it was his only visit between Christmas 1532 and 4th Feb 1533. Starkey writes “Harpsfield must be right about the place of Henry’s marriage and he is likely to be correct about the other details also.” I don’t think there is any real reason to doubt Harpsfield’s account.

        2. Louise says:

          In fact, Ives also quotes from Harpsfield, but as Harpsfield was a secondary source, basing his information on supposition, Ives doesn’t treat it as fact, merely as a possibility.

        3. Claire says:

          But then we also have to take L&P with a pinch of salt or we’d all think that Anne was a “concubine” and Chapuys is always making mistakes and repeating gossip – sorry, just playing Devil’s advocate! Even primary sources are biased. History is a minefield!

  2. jenny says:

    What a “slag-gab” H8 was!!!! Secret weddings!!!! Just in case things went wrong as obviously he was still feeling his way around the political situation. So, my question is, was he still officially married to COA? – Was it therefore bigamy? And, to excuse my ignorance, when did AB become official Queen? Were there any clauses? I know he raised her to a Marchanesse at sometime – but the whole thing stinks……….

    Don’t really think AB was as clever as everyone makes out – It was H8’s desire and as a “tyrant” everyone went along.
    BTW I do apologie to those people who complain about bad spelling, etc. – I now have sight problems so I can look at something a number of times and still not see my errors – until it is too late!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Jenny,
      Henry seems to have been playing a right game, trying to keep Anne happy and trying to get her accepted by the public. Henry definitely would not have seen it as bigamy as he had convinced himself that his marriage to Catherine was not valid because it was against Biblical law and therefore the dispensation was also invalid. On Good Friday 1533, 11th April, Henry VIII ordered the Royal Council to recognise his wife Anne Boleyn as Queen of England and to accord her with royal honours, in the place of his former wife, Catherine of Aragon. It was during Holy Week that Catherine of Aragon learned of her ‘demotion’ and Anne went to mass as queen on Easter Saturday (12th).

      No apologies necessary for typos or spelling. We all let words run away with us and make mistakes.

    2. jenny says:

      To Jenny from another Jenny,

      I couldn’t have put things better myself about H8!!!! And funnily enough, I do have sight probs. and at the speed I sometimes write I also make huge typing errors – Hope the sight prob. is not just a “Jenny Syndrome” – If so I’ll change my name.

  3. Louise says:

    Hello Claire,

    She sites L&P in The Lady in the Tower, when that is clearly incorrect. I don’t completely trust any source unless it’s primary and I can see it for myself. If I trusted what Weir wrote, then George was a gay wife beater and Jane admitted lying about the Boleyns at her trial.

  4. Louise says:

    I accept primary sources are biased, but that’s where you need a decent historian to work out the wheat from the chaff

    1. Claire says:

      I personally think that Starkey is an excellent historian.

      1. Louise says:

        So do I, but no one’s infallible.

        1. Carolyn says:

          Which leaves no one to ‘work out the wheat from the chaff’, by that logic.

  5. Jennifer says:

    What would a day be without a little debate/drama!! 😉 As always, great article Claire! I love the theory of David Starkey saying he wonders if maybe Anne felt like a foreign princess sailing to a country where she would be crowned. Kind of romantic feeling, I think. I am sure there was a renewal of feelings and thoughts for both Henry and Anne after their visit to France…and to be treated as King and Queen in all but name must have been so exciting–especially after such a long wait. I don’t know which date would be the “correct” date. I kind of like the idea of a wedding to reassure Anne that she would be queen, but I also kind of like thinking that Anne was confident enough to know that after Calais….she would be queen and finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I also must say that I love how Chapuys is characterized. I always picture him as this wide eyed reporter/paparazzi of those gossip magazines on newsstands. I just love reading his wording on some things and how he often over exaggerated. He definitely was missing some gossip there though!! I often picture the actor in The Tudors when thinking about him because the actor had that same wide eyed shocked look all the time. Also, on a side note: really LOVE that picture for the article 🙂 Henry in his suit and tie made me chuckle. Did you do that Claire or did you find that?

    1. Claire says:

      I agree with you about Chapuys, Jennifer. In the UK at the moment there has been a lot in the news about reporters hacking people’s phones to get juicy details about their lives and I can just see Chapuys doing that!! I love the way that he repeats gossip and then has to correct it later when he finds out the truth of the situation. I too always think of him as the actor from The Tudors, he was so good as Chapuys.

      The picture was done my my multi-talented husband. I explained what I wanted and he came up with that – thanks, Tim!

      1. Tim says:

        You’re welcome, multi-multi-multi talented wife ‘o mine 🙂

        1. Kari says:

          You deserve all the accolades for that picture. Had me cackling out loud for several minutes. The “Good Luck!” is a hilariously ironic touch.

          (Or I thought so. But I’ve been told I have a weird sense of humor. *cough* 😉 )

    2. Kari says:

      That is such a fantastic image of Chapuys — a wide-eyed paparazzi reporter!

      I always find myself picturing him as a gossipy old lady, whispering salacious gossip behind his fan as he clutches his pearls.

  6. David says:

    We all know that Anne set about early in the relationship how she was going to snag the king and do it in a way that did not make her look like her sister Mary. Plus she got more help then she probably wanted from her father. I think she felt after the visit to France and the fact that she “gave her Maiden head” to the king there that well, next step was to legally wrap this up and did so with the fly by night wedding. It was for legal purposes only to cover all bases for the future months ahead and the unfolding of what was to come and that was to become Queen. I do not think Anne Boleyn was stupid in any shape or form. She knew what she wanted and see set about to make it happen. Being a man I can say I have in my 64 years of life met many a clever woman…..women are far more clever then men, and unfortunately Henry, proved that for us….thanks Hal…..Henry, as was said by Anne in the series, “The Tudors” ran hot and then cold….you never knew, but she knew and he was running on boiling….When Henry wanted something he was like a small child, he had to have it, then once he got it he did not want it anymore…and so the fate of sweet Anne…So, I hate to come down on any author who has taken the time to research, like Weir and say they are wrong…there is only so much actual fact and information out there left from Henry’s days and so it is a pick or choose as to who wrote down the correct facts or if those very facts at that time were colored up to meet the need or who was reading them….you could get your head cut off if you said something Henry did not like, imagine if you wrote it down for all to see…had to be good….Anyway, I go with the wedding being preformed on the return from France……and to deepen the plot….I read somewhere is the mass information out there that his childhood friend, Charles Brandon was present…….Marriages today usually have the parents present…what was with that, guess mom and dad were not important to Anne…..

  7. David says:

    Thank you Tim for the art work……yes you do have a very talented wife who keeps us on our toes out here about our favorite family……The Tudors, their friends and foes…LOL. I enjoy all of Claire’s efforts…..I wish I could have been as knowledgeable as she when I put my book together…..wow, and if people do not like Weir, I am doomed. But then my book was meant, more or less, as a fast reference tool……I could never hold a candle to Weir, Ives or Starkey…….anyway, thanks Tim…..

  8. holly says:

    Happy Aniversary! Henry and Anne

  9. Nima says:

    I wish i didnt know the end of their story …
    Because the rest was just amazing

  10. lisaannejane says:

    Love the picture !

  11. miladyblue says:

    Interesting how some of the alleged witnesses, such as Henry Norris and William Brereton were later arrested and executed for treason AND adultery with Anne. Would that be so that no one could come forth with evidence in time to save Anne, that yes, indeed, she married him?

    Rather eventful couple of days for the Tudors, here. On January 24, 1536, Henry was badly injured in a joust, which had an impact on the rest of his life. It may or may not have caused Anne’s final fall from his graces, and her execution. I wonder if it occurred to her that it was the day before their third anniversary that this terrible accident happend, and if it might have been a harbinger of things to come?

  12. Louise says:

    In reply to Carolyn, I agree. Any historian can only do the best they can. The differnce between the likes of Ives and Starkey, compared to some other ‘historians’, is that they do it with integrity.

    1. Claire says:

      I think it’s time to stop this now. Please can we discuss Anne and Henry and their wedding.

      1. Louise says:

        Sorry, Claire. I agree. There is such a thing as being too indignant about a certtain topic!

        1. Claire says:

          Don’t worry, it’s good to feel passionate about things.

  13. Eliza says:

    I love how this site reminds us of all the important Tudor events, and Henry and Anne’s marriage was a huge one!! I wasn’t aware of the possibility of a first marriage in November, until I read it last year in the AB Files. It seems pretty possible to have happened that way.

    Having read a lot about Anne, I imagine it must have been difficult for her to hide the fact that finally she was married to Henry. She probably was dying to shout it at everybody!

  14. rosalie says:

    Hello. agree on all your points. the actor who plays Chapuys on the Tudors is wonderful in conveying the double dealing he had to do as ambassador.
    Were Anne’s friends executed too, because they were powerful enough to defend her (Norris, etc.). or was it the sheer number of men that conveyed the seriousness/truthfullness (perceived) of the adultery, etc. charges.

  15. margaret says:

    why everyone thinks this was a marriage is beyond me ,henry was still married to catherine of aragon and this was bigamy .

  16. Veerle says:

    I’m not very good at english, but I have a question. Are you sure that the marriage was on 25 january 1533? Because the Church of England was established in 1534 and before that they couldn’t marry, because the pope didn’t agree, or am I wrong.

  17. Fiona says:

    I absolutely love the image of Chapuys as a gossiping paparazzi guy! Clicking away with his camera, chasing Anne around.

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