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Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn

Posted By on December 1, 2010

The original of Letter 5

We do not know exactly how Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s relationship began but Henry’s letters to Anne, written in 1527 and 1528, offer us a unique insight into their relationship and although we do not have Anne’s replies we can guess the content from Henry’s letters.

There is some debate regarding the exact order that these letters were written in, but I favour the order used in the 1906 book published by John W Luce and Company and that is the order I have published them in on our Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn page. The ‘old’ order was 4, 6, 9, 1, 5, 16, 15, 2, 10, 3, 12, 8, 11, 7, 13, 14, 17. In the book “Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn”, a reprint of the 1906 book, the “Notes” section at the back explains the new ordering of the letters:-

“A very little study of the letters themselves showed that the old order was impossible. The first six fall into a group by themselves, the 6th being the first to which we gave a nearly approximate date (July, 1527), before Anne’s return to court. Henry’s passion must date therefore from 1526. The 7th is fixed by references in other correspondence to February, 1528… The 9th, 10th and 11th [8th, 9th and 10th in my order because I have removed Anne’s letter to Wolsey as it’s not a love letter!] relate to the sweating sickness (end of June, order fixed by incidental references*), and the 12th [11th] is after July 5th; the 13th and 14th [12th and 13th] are before her return. The reference to his book in No. 15 [14] fixes the date as August, and No. 16 is fixed for August 20th, by Wolsey’s finding a lodging for Anne. No. 17 [16] is fixed for September (16th?) by Campeggio’s arrival at Paris (September 14, 1528), and No. 18 [17] by his illness as towards the end of October.”

I apologise for numbering my collection of letters differently but I did not think it right to include Anne Boleyn’s letter to Wolsey (11th June 1528) in the collection of love letters. If you want to read Anne’s letter to Wolsey, you can so so on our Anne Boleyn Letters page.

However, in his book “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives writes that the earliest letter from Henry to Anne was accompanied by the gift of a buck, so Ives believes that Love Letter 3 in my collection is the earliest. He divides the letters into four groups:-

  1. The first three in which “Henry was trying to turn the conventions of courtly romance into something more serious” whereas “clearly, Anne was being chary of the King’s attentions” – Ives has 3, 2 and 1 as the order of the first three letters. We see Henry courting Anne, his confusion by his feelings and the signals being sent out by Anne and his plea for a straight answer regarding whether Anne was willing to become his maîtresse-en-titre, his official mistress.
  2. The next four in which “the relationship has moved on, yet not quite in the direction Henry proposed.” – It appears that Henry had offended Anne and although, according to Ives, Henry “thought he had patched matters up before Anne retired to her parents’ home”, Anne’s silence has him writing to her again. This group contains letters  5, 4 and 6 (Ives has them in that order) and here we see Henry trying to win Anne back and, as Ives points out, Anne refusing to sleep with him and choosing to stay away from court. I agree with Ives when he writes that this should have been the point at which the relationship should have “withered”, when Henry could so easily have moved on to an easier conquest, but Henry’s letters show “the king’s realization that he could not live without Anne, and therefore she, rather than some foreign princess, would have to be the wife to replace Katherine.” In letter 5 in my collection, Henry is thanking Anne “for a present so beautiful”, a trinket of a ship with a woman on board, which is Anne surrendering to Henry and agreeing to be his wife
  3. The final group which Ives believes were written between December 1527 and October 1528, following Henry’s decision to ask the Pope for a dispensation so that he can marry Anne.

The fact that these letters are in the Vatican Library suggests that they were stolen from Anne, perhaps to use as evidence of Henry’s affair with Anne and to show that that was the real reason for him wanting an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It is sad that they were taken from Anne, as the fact that she kept them shows that they really did mean something to her, but it is good news for us because it means that they were preserved so that we can enjoy them today.

I love reading these letters because they are proof of the strength of Henry’s feelings for Anne and they show his romantic side. Highlights for me include:-

  • Letter 1 when he writes of how he has been “stricken with the dart of love”.
  • Letter 3 which he sends with “a buck killed late last night by my own hand, hoping that when you eat of it you may think of the hunter”.
  • Letter 4 when he sends Anne his “picture set in a bracelet”.
  • Letter 5 which he ends with “H. aultre A. B.[AB in a heart] ne cherse R.” meaning “H. seeks no other than AB” – the modern equivalent of “HR 4 AB 4 Ever” written in a heart!
  • Letter 8 when he is obviously really worried about Anne having sweating sickness.
  • Letter 13 which is signed “H. no other AB seek R”.
  • Letter 15 in which Henry writes “wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss” – “dukkys” are breasts! Ooh er!
  • Letter 17 which is finished with “Written with the hand which fain would be yours, and so is the heart. R.H.”

Whatever our views of Henry VIII, it is clear that he loved Anne deeply and that she gave him cause to believe that she felt the same way about him. Although Henry later spoke of Jane as being his “true wife”, I think that Anne was his true love and passion, after all, he speaks in Letter 1 of being “stricken with the dart of love” for a “whole year” and he fought tooth and nail to possess her, even breaking with his beloved church and upsetting his family and friends.

While some people believe that Anne Boleyn was playing a game and that she seduced Henry and trapped him to gain the crown, I cannot believe this. Henry’s letters show us that Anne started off by snubbing him, by rebuffing his advances and by removing herself to Hever; a dangerous strategy if she really was playing a game as she could not have foreseen that Henry would fight for her, it would have been more likely for him to move on and find another woman who would agree to be his mistress while he looked for a foreign princess to marry. How could Anne have known that Henry would not give up? I cannot and will not believe that Anne dangled her virginity as bait for the King, the evidence just does not support that theory.

What do you think?

You can read these letters on our special Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn page or by purchasing the book Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

Notes and Sources

*In Letters and Paper, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, there are various references to “the sweat” in June and July 1528, including “On Tuesday one of the ladies of the chamber, Mademoiselle de Boulan, was infected with the sweat. The King, in great haste, dislodged, and went 12 miles hence, and I hear the lady was sent to her brother the Viscount in Kent” which was written by Du Bellay on the 8th June 1528 (LP iv.4391).

22 thoughts on “Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn”

  1. Eliza says:

    Henry was sooo romantic in his letters… I love how he wrote their initials and little hearts.. If I were Anne, I would definately feel flattered, but also moved from the intensity of the King’s feelings.

    I always thought that only a woman in love would keep the letters her beloved sent to her.. Anne was certainly feeling something for Henry to treasure them.

    Thank you for writing this article!

  2. joan e charles says:

    i think henry’s feelings for anne were sincere, for a man who could have anything he desired, he really wanted the beautiful anne, cause she had great spirit and energy.. i wished i could have been a little fly on the wall, what great work you do to allow us to read all this fascinating wonderful history.. thank you, and i wish you a wonderful christmas, and a succesful new year… joan e charles

  3. Anne Barnhill says:

    I think Anne was Henry’s first real “love”–he married Katherine for political reasons and maybe to slap at his father who, as I recall, didn’t really want that match. I think he also liked the idea of ‘saving’ Katherine as she had been poorly treated since Arthus’s death. But Anne bowled him over and when she rebuffed him, it just added to his passion. He loved the hunt and Anne, unintentionally I think, fanned the flame of love by running away to Hever. She was his equal in intelligence, wit, courtly manners and dancing, music and languages. She was well-born and cultured, a worth mate for him. I think he fell for her–oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to find one of her letters to him!! Wonder where they went???

  4. Laurie says:

    You make a terrific case for Henry’s true love of Anne — no way she could have successfully manipulated him, with so much at stake! Thanks for the article, Claire.

  5. Eliza M. L. says:

    I will always believe that they truly loved each other…how heartbreaking it must’ve been for Anne when Henry rejected her, locked away, sentenced her to death and kept her away from her daughter. While reading this (brilliant) article, I kept hearing Natalie Dormer as Anne: “I loved you. I’ve always loved you! And I love you still.”

  6. lisaannejane says:

    I don’t know if I would feel flattered or scared, especially since Henry had strong feelings for her sister and that relationship seems to have fizzled away. I liked the part in the Tudors when Anne tells her father that Henry was known for having short affairs: first he blows hot and then cold, or words to that effect. I can see how someone as charming and intelligent as Anne could easily attract Henry’s attention, but I sometimes wonder if it was more infatuation than love. Sometimes I get the feeling that Henry’s true love was himself and that he was not capable of a relationship with others as he could turn on people so quickly.

  7. Louise says:

    Hello Lisaannejane,
    I agree completely with your last sentence. The only person Henry ever really loved was himself. I’m sure he believed he was capable of loving another human being, but I think Henry was in love with the idea of being in love. True love can’t be turned off so easily and quickly that a man would kill the woman he adored without giving her the chance to defend herself. He turned on Anne like a rabid animal; that’s not love, that’s the action of a shallow, selfish obsessed man.

  8. Louise says:

    I forgot to say that I do think Anne came to love Henry, although I don’t think she did in the beginning. She may have initially simply been honoured that he appeared to adore her so much, but in the end her love for him, as exhibited on the scaffold, was far more genuine than his love for her. And I don’t think she set out to trap him; quite the reverse.

  9. Laurie says:

    My sense is that Henry tended to idealize women and then fall out of love with them the minute they exhibited human falliability (or the minute he encountered a woman who seemed even more “perfect”). Perhaps the courtly love tradition, with the lady on a pedestal, encouraged this kind of thinking.

  10. Nini says:

    Henry was infatuated with Anne and he thought that he loved her.
    The fact that she rejected him first , Rome being agaisnt it ,Catherine being stubborn … All of this made the chase even more intense . I think he loved the chase and was trying to get what he wants at all cost because he WAS the KING. The way it all ended and how fast it ended proves this point! Anne was finally his, Catherine had died , he was made head of the Church of England an answerable to God only there was no more challenge he got rid of her… He was only in love with himself

  11. Candice says:

    Whenever I read Henry’s love letters to Anne I still cannot image how devestated Anne must have been when Henry rejected her in 1536. No one could image that a man so obviously besotted would turn so violently against her a decade later.
    These letters must have meant something to Anne for her to keep them years later. While I am saddened they were stolen from Anne, their fate would have been different after Anne’s fall. These letters give great insight into Henry’s feelings, far removed from more formal correspondence. I can see why Anne was taken by Henry and his romantic words. I wish we had Anne’s replies, then we could have more insight into her feelings and thoughts!

  12. lisaannejane says:

    Louise, I think you make a good point about Anne growing to love Henry and I think he could have been charming and affectionate when he wanted to and everything appeared to be going his way, But there is something wanting in his character as he could so easily dispose of people (both literally and figuratively) when he perceived that person as not being 100% loyal to him. I don’s think he could have an adult relationship. There seems to me to be a child like quality about him and heaven help the person who was not seen as being completely on his side. I think Jane Seymour was considered his true wife just because she had a son. The more I find out about the women in his life, especially his wives, the more I have come to respect them and how they coped with being married to such a difficult man.

    1. Louise says:

      I wonder whether Henry found it so easy to believe in the disloyalty of others because he felt very little personal loyalty to anyone. In other words he judged people by his own standards. I think Anne’s love for him was more genuine because she had more capacity for love and loyalty than Henry was ever capable of.

  13. lisaannejane says:

    Louise, I agree with you about Anne’s love being more genuine. And I think you make a good point about Henry’s lack of feeling loyalty from others. I wonder if he really trusted anyone,

  14. Evelyn says:

    I do believe that Anne was Henrys true love. He fought very hard for her and she did not make it easy for him. Based on what I have read, I also believe that Anne loved him to, though she may not have at first. The love letters between them also prove that he was in love with her because he was not the type of man to write letters. Does anyone know of any love letters written to any of his other wives? Thought most scholars believe that Jane was his true love I have to strongly disagree.

  15. burcu says:

    ı also believe that Anne was the only woman henry really loved. Lots of people think that he loves jabe seymour most but i think her priority came from the son she gave birth to. katharine howard was so young and beautiful that it was very normal for a middle-aged man wanted to fulfill his desire. Katharine Parr was a sophisticated woman and it looks like they had a logical relationship. I don’t mention about anne of cleves since we all know that henry was really disappointed by her. But only with ANNE,he felt the passion, love and desire which annoyed the whole people around him.

  16. Kara says:

    I agree with everyone, since they are all supporting each
    other pretty much. I want to add, Anne did have another love that
    she was forced to absolve by her father and uncle. She was
    constantly pushed but I believe also she did eventually fall in
    love with him on her own. I believe she really wanted to have
    Henry’s son too, but they waited for nearly 6 years I think before
    they did eventually get married. Who knows, maybe she was running
    close to not being able to have kids at all. Meaning every woman is
    different and she did have 2 miscarriages. She was in her mid
    thirties too. Who knows, but yes she definitely loved him
    deeply.

  17. mandy says:

    In the end right before the kings death he was hunted by his past wife’s and out if all of them when Ann appeared to him and spoke to him as she started to disappear he yelled “Ann please don’t go” I also believe that the king was in Love with Ann Boleyn.

    1. Mindy Newell says:

      Many, you’re speaking of the final episode of THE TUDORS, just to clarify your post for others.

      I loved that episode. It was a fitting climax to the series, and Henry being visited by the “ghosts” of Katherine Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour not only was a wonderful dramatization of the thoughts facing a dying king, a dying man, but also a foretelling for those not familiar with the rest of the Tudor story as to what happened to the three children.

      Despite the historical fact that Henry decreed in his will that he be buried next to Jane, I think that he only especially loved her for giving him the wanted son, but not so much for herself–he never visited her as she lay dying from “childbed fever,” i.e., septicemia brought on by the total lack of modern sterile methods, or even simple handwashing, but was planning Edward’s coronation (yes, I know Henry had a “mortal” fear of sickness and death.)

      I think Anne was his true, passionate love–no man will overturn heaven and earth (almost literally, in terms of the English Reformation)–without that driving passion, nor will he wait 7 YEARS to bed her without it.

  18. Mindy Newell says:

    Oh, and by the way, I loved that Jane upbraided and accused Henry of being negligent in the care of his son, keeping him so isolated from others that the boy never developed the natural immunities that could have saved his life. (I’m only saying “could” here–Edward might have developed TB anyway.)

  19. Tammy Douglas says:

    As totally fascinated as I am by Henry and all things surrounding his reign, I don’t believe he loved anyone as much as he loved and served himself. How quickly he rid himself of Queen Catherine after all the years of marriage. Anne denied him and he was infatuated. A mere three years later she was dead, after not producing a son and his eyes falling on Jane Seymour. I believed Jane was revered by him because she produced the son and she died quickly. Who knows what their relationship would have been had she lived. Katherine Howard went the way of the rest, although her adultery was the cause, the King did not seem overwhelmed by her death, either. Katherine Parr came to be Queen when he was unhealthly and she was his willing nurse and comforter. And she did almost get herself in a lot of trouble wirh Henry herself. She was mature and smart enough to save herself and realize what she was dealing with. And poor Thomas More. Another example of Henry turning on those he supposedly loved so dearly. Cardinal Wolsey. These are just my thoughts on King Henry. He was incapable of loving anyone other than himself, not even his poor daughters.

  20. Gail Marie says:

    Thank you Claire, for this wonderful analysis of Henry’s love letters to Anne. And everyone has very interesting comments and insights to add to the discussion. I also am glad that the letters were preserved by being stolen, as they would most probably have been destroyed after Anne’s death like all of her other possessions. What I wouldn’t give to have the opportunity to view these letters in person! I hope you get to see them someday Claire. I think Anne’s feelings for Henry deepened after Elizabeth was born, while sadly, Henry’s went in the opposite direction. But what a passionate affair they had, something Henry never experienced again in his life, I’m convinced.

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