The huge array of Tudor books and biographies that are on the market today are great for us Tudor fans but there is nothing quite like reading primary sources and, now, you don’t even have to go to the British Library or National Archives to read historical documents, you can read them from the comfort of your favourite armchair – perfect for insomniacs!

Specific Topics

British History Online have put together some lists of primary sources for topics pertaining to Henry VIII, see timeline and topics at

1509 Marriage to Catherine of Aragon

1520 Field of Cloth of Gold

1521 Defender of the Faith

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn’s Execution

22 thoughts on “Primary Sources”

  1. louise says:

    Hello Claire,
    I would imagine that, like me, you have been engrossed in the various court chronicles over the last week or so. I have never really paid much attention to Holinshed before but I loved his description of Anne’s trial and execution. It is unusual for a court chronicler to be so critical of Henry.
    I don’t know if you’ve come across them but in addition to Metrical Visions Google book search also has, as scanned documents, the Privy Purse expences of Henry VIII and the Princess Mary. These are fascinating to read because, unlike the other primary sources, they show the Tudors at play, which gives an entirely different perspective.

  2. Claire says:

    Hi Louise,
    Yes, how did you guess?! I could spend days and nights immersed in them. Yes, I found the privy purse expenses of Henry VIII but didn’t realise that Princess Mary’s were around too. They are incredibly fascinating. Thanks so much for telling me about them.

  3. Alysha says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m currently writing a historiographical paper on Anne Boleyn, and Holinshed’s Chronicles is actually one of the primary sources I’ve chosen for analysis. I’ve gone through it a bit, but the volume that I got is absolutely massive and sort of intimidating! Would someone mind telling me where to find the bits about Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution? I would be so grateful!

    1. Jamie says:

      anne boleyn in her own words & the words of those who knew her
      That’s the title of the book. It is a primary source edited by Elizabeth Norton. It’s a compiled book of all the letters written to her, from her, and about her. Everything ever known about Anne is in this book. The letters are not translated, they are as they were written. I used this to write my 40 page paper on her. There are three sections. Queen in waiting, Anne the Queen, and the Fall of Anne Boleyn. There is massive detail on her downfall. It’s absolutely amazing. Hope this helps. Looks like however i’m replying 2 3 years after the fact. lol.. If Anne Boleyn interest you, I highly recommend this book. It is a good read just for leisure, and hard to put down. Enjoy.

  4. Claire says:

    I’ll try and have a look for you, Alysha.

  5. Claire says:

    I think it’s in Volume 4 – see just over halfway down at where it says: “On May day were ſolemne iuſtes kept at Greenwich, and ſodainly from the iuſtes the king departed, not hauing aboue ſix perſons with him and in the Euening come to Weſtminſter. Of this ſodaine departing many men muſed, but moſt chiefely the Queene, who the next day was apprehended, […] Anne […]ued to Tower. and brought from Grenewich to the Tower of London, where ſhee was arraigned of high treaſon, and condemned.

    Alſo at the ſame tyme were apprehended the Lorde Rochford, brother to the ſayde Queene, and Henrie Norrice, Marke Smeton, William Brereton, and ſir Francis Weſton, all beeing of the kings priuie Chamber. Theſe were likewiſe committed to the tower, and after arraigned and condemned of high treaſon.

    All the Gentlemen were beheaded on the ſkaffold at the Tower hill, […] Anne beheaded. but the Queene with in ſworde was beheaded within the Tower. And theſe were the wordes whiche ſhee ſpake at the houre of hir death the .xix. of May. 1536. Good chriſtian people, I am come hither to die, for ac|cording to the law, and by the lawe I am iud|ged to die, and therefore I will ſpeake nothing a|gainſt it. I am come hither to accuſe no man, nor to ſpeake any thing of yt whereof I am accuſed & condemned to die, but I pray God ſaue the king and ſend him long to reigne ouer you, for a gent|ler, nor a more mercifull prince was there neuer, and to me he was euer a good, a gentle, and a ſo|ueraigne Lorde. And if any perſon will meddle of my cauſe, I require them to iudge the beſt. And thus I take my leaue of the worlde, and of you all, and I heartily deſire you all to pray for me, Oh Lorde haue mercie on me, to God I cõ|mende my ſoule, Ieſu receyue my ſoule, diuerſe tymes repeting thoſe wordes, till that hir heade was ſtriken off with the ſworde.”

  6. CONOR BYRNE says:

    Hi Claire,

    Can you give me any particular sources about Katherine Howard?

    I have searched for her for ages, but I would like some in particular about her date of birth. I had a look at the admittedly dubious Spanish Chronicle, which reported her age as fifteen in 1540.

    Do you have any primary sources to do with her age?


    1. Claire says:

      Hi Conor,
      Historian Lacey Baldwin Smith handles this very question in the Appendix of his biography on Catherine, saying that there are various clues to her birthdate:-
      1) She could not have been born after 1527 because her maternal grandmother’s will of that year mentions her.
      2) The French Ambassador reported that she was 18 when she was sleeping with Francis Dereham LP xvi.1426) and the date of their affair, according to Catherine herself, was 1538-1539, therefore she must have been born around 1520/1521.
      3) The Spanish Chronicle states that she was 15 when she first met the King so that suggests a birthdate of 1524.
      4) Catherine’s portrait (Toledo Museum, Toledo, Ohio) gives her age as 21 and was painted in 1540/1541.
      5) Henry Manox was first smitten by her in 1536 – would he really have been smitten by a 12 year old?
      6) She was considered young to be queen, but as Catherine of A was 25 at her marriage, Anne Boleyn was either 26 or 32, Jane Seymour was about 28, Anne of Cleves was 24 and Catherine Parr was in her 30s, this could mean that Catherine was anything from teens to early 20s.

      David Starkey puts her birth at around 1520 saying that her mother died in the late 1520s and Catherine was one of the younger members of the Howard brood.
      The majority of historians now believe that Catherine was born c1520 but Alison Weir is keen on a 1525 date, arguing that her mother’s former father-in-law’s will of 1524 makes no mention of Catherine, that the Spanish Chronicle suggests a 1525 date, that a London merchant described her in 1540 as “a very little girl”, that she could have been 12 when she had a relationship with Manox because many girls were married at that age in Tudor times and that the portrait mentioned is now thought to be of Jane Seymour’s sister, Elizabeth, not Catherine.

      Who knows?!

  7. CONOR BYRNE says:

    Claire, I actually found a portrait of a Young Girl in the mid 1540s, very highborn, who is aged 17 at the time, who has a remarkable similarity to Katherine Howard, compared to another portrait of her. It is by Holbein, and Alison Weir agrees that it might be her.

    If this was painted in 1541, when Katherine was at the height of her powers, she would have been about 17 perhaps, the painting suggests this, if it IS Katherine.

    I still argue for a c. 1524 birthdate.

  8. Lisa Pårup says:

    First of all, I’d just like to say how much I adore your site; it makes my studying so much more entertaining. So thank you.
    Second of all, (the reason why I’m writing) I go to an IB school and am in my second last year which means i have to write a 4000 words essay on a specific topic. Because of my “obsession” with the Tudors and most of all: Anne Boleyn, i decided to write it on Anne Boleyn of course.
    Seeing as you know so much about this, it would mean so much to me if you could help. I need quite a lot of sources, and a couple of quotes from an enthusiast as yourself would really help me out.
    My thesis is: Can Anne Boleyn be held responsible for the separation of the Church of England from the Catholic community? (It’s not really perfected yet, but i hope you see where I’m going with this)
    Like I said, it has to be 4000 words and so far i have about 2000 but after 2000 words, everything sort of seems to get lost in your brain. Well at least for me.
    So if you have any kind of information, or opinion or view on what i am writing on: I would be ever so grateful to have you comment or voice your view.
    My email is: (if you would like to contact or answer me in more depth)
    Thank you very much,
    Lisa Pårup

  9. Lisa says:

    Hi Claire! I love that you listed the primary sources. I was wondering if you could help me with something. I know Anne’s motto was “la plus heureuse” after her wedding, but I have been unable to find the primary source evidence for this; so far, the only places I’ve found the motto is in biographies that don’t list the sources, or websites that have the motto in the English “the most happy.” Do you happen to know which source lists her motto as the French “la plus heureuse?” Thank you in advance

  10. C. A. Powers says:

    I’ve been trying to find primary sources for Dolmetch’s “O Death” song, supposedly a poem by Anne Boleyn with music ascribed variously to her chaplain, later Archbishop under Elizabeth, or to amalgamation by a later hand. I found a passing ref to a “1611 Lute Tablature” but which one is not mentioned. Any thoughts? Anyone got any refs to cite?

  11. Tash Wakefield says:

    Hello Claire.
    I have also found THE TREVELYAN PAPERS PRIOR TO 1558 to hold very valuable information, there is a section on Henry VIIIs expenses, and it is far more detailed to the letters and papers and even the privy purse expenses. It can be viewed at or
    Keep up the good work Lady Boleyn 🙂

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks, Tash, I need to add that link to the page. I have them, I think I got them from Memso but that’s a subscription site. Isn’t wonderful? I find so many documents and old books on there. Thanks so much for that link. 🙂

  12. Marina Camp says:

    I have been looking, and unable to find a resource that can tell me what Henry VIII used to identify his royal status most often during his reign. The Tudor Rose, coat of arms, embellished initials, all of the above? And did it evolve over the course of his reign?

    Any thing that can point me in the right direction is a great help!

    Thank you,


  13. Billie says:

    Hi, I’m writing my undergraduate dissertation on the Letters of Eustace Chapuys and comparing him to other sources of the period, as well as their interpretations by historians. When despairing of finding more for comparison, I came across this article. Thank you so much for putting this together, I’ve now got my hands on some primary sources and I can speed on with my work! =D

  14. Anne says:

    Hi, I have a panpage about Anne Boleyn. How can i found interesting facts about her, It may be her favorites, her letters or something ? Please help me to find some sources. Thank you 🙂

  15. Daniel says:

    Hi Claire loving this so far and I don’t know where to look next very interesting. Have just finished reading some of the love letters between Henry and Anne and I thought they didn’t exist.

    1. Claire says:

      Anne’s replies don’t exist so it’s a bit of a one-sided look at their relationship that we get. There are stacks of primary sources. I’ve spent 7 years researching them now and still have lots more to read.

  16. sue says:

    hi could someone point out some primary sources regarding the tudor rebellions

    1. Claire says:

      It would depend on the rebellion. Which one?

  17. Kadri Treilmann says:

    Hey Claire!
    Can you recommend online primary sources on laws and punishments on incest in Tudor England (from around 1400-1600)?
    Thank You!
    Regards, Kadri

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