Primary Sources for Studying Anne Boleyn

If you are writing a report on Anne Boleyn or researching her life, it is imperative that you use primary sources, i.e. 16th century sources written by her contemporaries or sources written shortly after her life and death, rather than just relying on secondary sources from historians. The best secondary sources have bibliography and notes sections at the back so that you can see what primary sources the historian used, and many are available to read online.

For your information and ease of use, I have listed the primary sources into two sections – specific sources for information on Anne Boleyn’s execution (simply go back a few pages for details on her fall) and links to the general primary source.

The Execution of Anne Boleyn – 19th May 1536

Primary Sources pertaining to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and His Reign

You will find the following primary sources useful for researching Anne Boleyn’s life, the reign of Henry VIII and the lives of his Queens:-

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII – Documents from the reign of Henry VIII, divided into 21 volumes. This is a resource I use on a daily basis and it is great because there is a search box. When an historian references Letters and Papers they will cite it usually as something like LP x.911. This simply means Volume 10 note 911 and each letter in Volume 10 has a number by it so just go to 911.
  • Calendar of State Papers, Milan – These papers cover the period 1385-1618
  • Calendar of State Papers, Venice – Documents in the Venetian archives from 1509-1519
  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain – Covering from 1485-1558
  • Hall’s Chronicle – Edward Hall’s Chronicle goes from the reign of Henry IV to the end of Henry VIII’s reign and is an excellent resource. Hall first published it in 1542 and Richard Grafton issued further versions of it after the death of Hall and Henry VIII in 1547.
  • Wriothesley’s Chronicle – “A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors from AD 1485 to 1559” was written by Charles Wriothesley (1508-1562) and Volume I covers the years 1485 to November 1547.
  • Holinshed’s Chronicle – “Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland” written by Raphael Holinshed (1529-1580) and used by William Shakespeare as research for his plays. There are 6 volumes and this link will take you to Volume 3 which goes from Henry IV to the accession of Mary I.
  • The Spanish Chronicle – Officially called “Chronicle of King Henry VIII. of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI”, this chronicle was written in Spanish “by an unknown hand” and was a 16th century version of the tabloid press.
  • The Chronicle of Calais – The full name of this chronicle is “The Chronicle of Calais in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII” and it was apparently collated by Richard Turpyn, a burgess in Calais. It runs from the 1492 “Expenses of Henry VII when visiting France” to 1543.
  • The history of the reigns of Henry the Seventh, Henry the Eighth, Edward the Sixth, and Queen Mary – This history of the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I was written by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Lord Verulam and Viscount of St Albans, and Francis Godwin, Bishop of Hereford.
  • The Life of Cardinal Wolsey – This account of Cardinal Wolsey’s life was written by George Cavendish, Wolsey’s gentleman usher.
  • The privy purse expenses of King Henry the Eighth, from November 1529, to December 1532 – Privy Purse expenses of Henry VIII covering the time when he was courting Anne Boleyn.
  • John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – Also known as “Actes and Monuments of Matters Most Speciall and Memorable”, this book was written by the English historian and martyrologist, John Foxe (c1517-1587).
  • The Anne Boleyn Papers (previously published as Anne Boleyn: In Her Own Words & the Words of Those Who Knew Her) – This book edited by historian Elizabeth Norton is a collection of primary source material relating to Anne Boleyn and contains records, letters and works by George Wyatt, Cavendish, Nicholas Sander, Nicholas Harpsfield, Nicholas Udall, Chapuys, George Constantine. It also includes the love letters Henry VIII wrote to Anne Boleyn.

17 thoughts on “Primary Sources for Studying Anne Boleyn”

  1. WilesWales says:

    What a fait a complait, Claire in providing this list for students. In my day,and it wasn’t long ago, there weren’t computers, etc. We had to used things like “Historical Abstracts,” and pull them year by year, and just hope the abstract might be there. Then go to the periodicals to find if the library had the source and then copy it for 10 cents per page, and if not it was back downstairs to request and interlibary loan. This was done with indexes as well. One only had the citation, and didn’t know on the search even to the request for interlibrary loan (and did I mention that the lending libary sometimes charged a fee, and a poor college student like me only found out how much it was when received), and then hope beyond hope it was going with your paper, thesis, or dissertation. Then if not, it was back to the drawing board. I also remember getting an interlibary loan on the day before something was due, and then having to incorporate it into a paper the night before it was do and then start typing!

    Your are a gem! Just a gem! Thank you again, WilesWales

  2. Andrea says:

    Do you know how/where I might be able to get a hold of the Kingston reports from the Tower of London?

    Thank you for all these wonderful resources!!

  3. Mary Heneghan says:

    Claire, I only came across your website a few weeks ago as I was reading ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. I was so impressed that I immediately bought your two books. They are absolutely great, so easy to follow and so well researched. My interest in the Tudor period began with my reading of Jean Plaidy as a teenager – I am now in my 70s. Being Irish, I wonder why I am so interested in English history. Sometimes I think I must have English blood from somewhere way back. However, I think my real interest is in these strong women who battled with the male prejudice of the time. Keep up the good work Claire, and thank you.

    1. Rachel says:

      Mary, how fascinating. I too am Irish (with English blood though…) and became obsessed also with the Tudor era after reading my mother’s Jean Plaidy books! I have just finished reading The Queen’s Promise by Lyn Andrews which focuses mainly on Anne’s relationship with Henry Percy.
      Claire, this website is absolutely amazing.

      1. I know I’m late coming but I’m Irish as well! It’s curious isn’t it? Because I have 0 interest in Irish history but I’m fascinated by English history especially in the 1500s.
        I’m convinced I do have a hint of English blood!

        1. mhm says:

          just because youre interested in english history, doesn’t make you english.

  4. Katherine says:

    Hello! I have never written anything in cyberspace but I had to say how thrilled I am to find there are other people possibly obsessed with this time in history. I am looking forward to spending time with all these new resources and seeing what other people are thinking. I am the only one in my world with this interest and my family have ‘learned’ about as much as they care to know. Thank you for all your efforts and the I kind of wish I had that dream.

  5. marla handley says:

    It is wonderful coming across reading lists like this. I have read the Jean Palady books and my favorite
    autobiography of Henry V!!! by Elizabeth George which devotes a great deal of time to Anne. I look forward to reading some of your suggestions.

  6. Denny says:

    I have just found this brilliant site after trawling the Internet for study programmes of the Tudor Times. Has anybody got any directions or ideas for a history programme dealing only with Tudor history

  7. Mary McCauley says:

    I stumbled upon your site last night. I love English History. I’ve books since I was in my teens about the Tudor queens. My history teacher loaned me a mystery finding Richard III innocent of killing the sons of Edward IV. I was also thrilled when they found his skeleton intact under a parking lot. I majored in history in college and even taught Wold History.
    I’ve always been fascinated with Anne Bolelyn. I’ve read several books and historical sources about her. She was such a complex and fascinating woman. I’m also interested in the medical condition of Henry VIII. I intend to watch the video about Inside the Body of Henry VIII. I was thinking that he surely suffered from diabetes. I hadn’t thought about his genetic connection of mental illness in his ancestors. It’s fascinating because I worked as a Psychiatric Nurse for many years.
    One gripe about Phillipa Gregory–The Other Bolelyn Girl and the White Queen. I get angry when history is inaccurately portrayed. I griped to my husband the whole time I read The Other Boleyn Girl. I just finished reading Hillary Mantal’s book Wolf Hall about Thomas Cromwell. I can’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy. Anyway, thank you for this great site. I’m an American but most of my ancestor came from the British Isles.

    1. Maureen says:

      Hello Mary McCauley. Was the mystery about Richard’s innocence The Daughter of Time by Joesphine Tey? I have read and re read it and love it.

    2. Donna Ciano says:

      Sorry but you didn’t mention anything about Hillary Mantels book being accurately portrayed and I find that odd considering the fact albeit compared to Gregorys she looks like a historical saint. I watched the series and was not impressed and have read hits and pieces of the book and do not like the portrayal of Anne. I get that technically it is about Cromwell and you almost have to be in either side to write about one but I feel it was very inaccurate. At least she doesn’t claim to be thoroughly accurate unlike Gregory where she tries to proclaim when it comes down to it she chooses historical accuracy over any good fictional aspect… Not her exact words but they are actually worse than how I put it.

  8. pam says:

    I’m very excited to find such a huge volume of information about the Tudors, and Anne Boleyn in particular. I love reading about the period, even novels by Philippa Gregory that make it seem so alive and present. Thank you for putting this enormous project together!

  9. Anna says:

    Hello
    I have question I want to Jean Plaidy’s books(I know I’m a bit late) but i dont know how to?should I read them with the author’s order or historical order?does it make any difference? Thx

    1. Claire says:

      They’re all standalone novels so it really doesn’t matter, but you might find it easier to put them in context of you read them in a historical order.

  10. Linda says:

    I just came across this website as I was searching information on Anne Boleyn. I am a 1st cousin 13x removed and am greatly interested in searching for more history about my ancestor. I will be using the information to find out more about her life. Thank you.

  11. Lisa says:

    Well, I’ll be unavailable for some time. I’ve got alot of reading to do! Thanks so much for my pack of goodies. All of that information put together for me to get lost in for a few days, is wonderful. English (especially Tudor) history is my passion. I’m obsessed.

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