Posted By Claire on December 1, 2010
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  fixes the date as August, and No. 16 is fixed for August 20th, by Wolsey’s finding a lodging for Anne. No. 17  is fixed for September (16th?) by Campeggio’s arrival at Paris (September 14, 1528), and No. 18  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:-
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
Notes and Sources
- Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn – The Notes section
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p84-92
- Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn : the love letters, Peter Pauper Press
- The Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn: With Notes (1906)
*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).