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.
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