The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -6

Posted By on May 13, 2020

On 13th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn’s former beau, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, got very cross and rather exasperated with Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell was trying to persuade Northumberland to help get the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn annulled, but Northumberland was not going to confess to something that he’d already sworn wasn’t true.

What was all this about?

Let me explain…

And today’s normal “on this day” video is about the Battle of Langside and what led Mary, Queen of Scots, to go to battle against her half-brother, the Regent Moray, who was acting on behalf of her son, King James VI.

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16 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -6”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    Although Cromwell did eventually get what he wanted it is refreshing to see things not go exactly as planned and also to see Henry Percy refuse to perjure himself like so many others would have out of fear.

  2. Banditqueen says:

    Anne and Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, had been an item back in about 1522 and they probably had plans to marry, but according to William Cavendish, the biographer and aid of Thomas Wolsey, his master had been told to break things up. It can only be assumed that their parents didn’t approve. There isn’t any evidence that Henry was interested in Anne at that time and may have been sleeping with Mary, her sister. Harry Percy was given a right dressing down by the Cardinal and according to legend Anne became his enemy at that time. We don’t really know if that’s actually true, but she was his enemy later on when he couldn’t get the annulment she and Henry desired. A letter written in 1527/8 suggested that Anne wasn’t yet his enemy but beholden to the Cardinal and at least civil to him. Whatever the circumstances of this breakup, Percy married a woman he despised, Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a woman then of higher rank than Anne Boleyn, a knight’s daughter. Anne moved on to service at Court and the rest is history. Whether she slept with Percy or not and made actual promises is merely speculation and cannot be proven either way. That no formal or consummated promise of marriage existed seems to have been assisted by the ease of dissolving the relationship between Anne and Percy.

    Now that relationship was conveniently being brought home to haunt Anne and the Earl and he was now a man and stood firm. Back in 1532 Mary Talbot had tried to escape from the marriage by claiming Percy had a sexual relationship and was in fact betrothed to Anne Boleyn and we can see from the Article link, the letter from Percy who tells us what happened at that time. He had been summoned before the Council and examined and before two Archbishops and others had sworn on the Blessed Sacrament that no such arrangements existed and his marriage was valid. He had passed up an excellent opportunity to get out of an unwanted marriage and told the truth instead. Mary Talbot failed in her suite and Henry Viii married his sweetheart.

    Now here we are four years later and Cromwell is being told to apply pressure again and a rather angry Northumberland as he now was refused to play ball. No, he won’t say he was having a sexual affair or promised to marry Anne Boleyn or go back on his previous sacred oath. One can see the value Henry and Cromwell put on such matters. An oath taken before members of the clergy, on the Sacrament or sacred relics or an alter was binding, it was most sacred and the swearer may as well remove their souls (not that this is possible of course) and swear on that, because that’s what they put in jeopardy if they broke this oath. Percy was a devout Catholic and he had told the truth and would not go back on it, not to get out of his marriage, not for the convenience of his wife, certainly not for the convenience of Cromwell. He may be taking a risk here with his life, but he wasn’t doing it and that’s final. The Earls of Northumberland made a habit of risks and protection of honour, they knew what it meant to make sacrifices, they were not the fools some people believed them to be. Now Percy was being told to swear again that he had been betrothed to Anne just so as the King could have an easy life. Henry knew that Percy had made the original oath, which is why Cromwell was involved, to bring some pressure if necessary. Percy said no, and showed he had rare integrity and that meant Henry had to find other means to void his marriage so Parliament could declare his daughter, Elizabeth illegitimate.

    Anne’s household was being broken up as well, although many of the same women would serve Jane Seymour, the men had been found guilty and her own trial loomed. Really what was the point of any more processes? Everything had to follow due process, everything had to follow protocol, everything had to be legal. The grisly show had to go on.

  3. Dorothy Willis says:

    On the one hand, he preserved his honor by refusing to lie. On the other hand, if he had lied it wouldn’t have hurt anyone and might possibly have saved Anne’s life if there had been an annulment. I realize “might possibly” was a slim chance, but he chose to not take it. I’m not surprised he collapsed and died in a year or so.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Anne and the others were going to beexecuted no matter what. Henry wanted her gone and the others had to die to give it an air of legitimacy. The only thing that would have been accomplished by his lying is to make it easier to anull the marriage.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        I must admit, although I don’t think it was but just as I was writing my post I was musing if an annulment might have followed if Percy made that decision, but of course, it’s only with hindsight that we know the full order of these events. An annulment would have taken time to prepare, the same as everything else, so it wouldn’t have occurred prior to Anne’s trial. Anne’s trial followed within a couple of days and Henry still needed emergency grounds to annul his marriage. So Percy would not have changed anything given the time factor. Anne would still have been condemned, then her marriage annulled, purely for the purpose of, as I have said, and Esther explained, to declare Elizabeth as illegitimate. Anne’s trial and execution left Henry a widower with Elizabeth as his legitimate heir until he had sons by Jane or another wife. Mary was already made illegitimate by Parliament and Elizabeth would be the same, both daughters equally declared illegitimate, Mary’s status was confirmed. The only legitimate children would be the kids of Henry and his first lawful wife, Jane Seymour. It’s all for the convenience of Henry, to give him the assurance that no doubts were left over who his legitimate heirs were, no challenge to the true heirs by Jane, a clean break. That an annulment was possible but not considered as an alternative that could have saved Anne whose fate was set in stone, actually makes me feel sick. The mind that worked out this set of events to meet every eventuality and work out perfectly for them, with six innocent people dead, two innocent children declared illegitimate by the law, just because they were the wrong sex, one wife threatened with burning if she was found guilty as a female traitor, her predecessor hounded to death, even without the fact she had cancer, her beloved child taken from her and several families destroyed for the convenience of a King: that mind had to be full of hate and fear, cold and disturbed, cold and calculating and totally devoid of compassion. Henry was becoming paranoid, but his mind was still capable of neatly laying out a roadmap of terror and order, a complex plan, which took every morbid detail of how to undo the last ten years and still sell it as a new truth. I doubt think I could come up with this set of events to change the past, which is in effect what Henry is saying. What happened four years ago so he could marry Anne was a lie and what was to be said now was the truth.

        I can imagine Percy’s jaw dropping. I believe he didn’t lie because he wasn’t going to give Cromwell and the King the satisfaction of everything being that convenient for them. However, I also believe he wasn’t daft. He was fully aware of what was going on. He was a peer of the Realm and had been summoned to sit as one of Anne’s judges. He knew exactly what that meant in a treason trial, he would have to declare her guilty. No matter what he said, Anne was condemned anyway with it being unlikely that she would survive. Yes, no Queen of England had been executed before, but there was always a first time, and Northumberland didn’t know that. That was up to the King, to show mercy. There were signs that Henry was unlikely to spare even his wife because others close to him had perished.

        Northumberland had no choice about the verdict, but he did have about telling the truth when it came to Anne’s reputation and their relationship, at least up to now. He had made his declaration before several witnesses, before the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Real Presence of Jesus in the Host and probably had taken Communion as well, before members of the Church and the future of England had depended on that oath being true. The legitimacy of Anne and Henry’s marriage had depended on it, even their decision to marry depended upon it. There wasn’t any way for the sake of public honesty he could say that oath was a lie. It would not save the woman he had once loved and it also condemned Anne as a liar as she too had confirmed her relationship with Percy wasn’t a contract and so he was making Anne a liar as well. Any annulment marked Anne’s daughter as a bastard, it didn’t change Anne’s fate or have anything to do with her being condemned as a traitor or for adultery. Henry was simply looking for grounds to put before Parliament which made sense and gave him a quick result. However, he wasn’t getting them this way.

        Two sources tell us that Anne Boleyn agreed to an annulment the day before her original execution date and that the visit from Thomas Cranmer gave her false hope of life, going to a nunnery. (I just can’t picture Anne as a nun, although it would be a forced veiling or as a prisoner) Not given much choice she was informed of the fact her marriage was to end, but the actual decision was afterwards. The reason most often cited is that Henry had an affair with her sister Mary and the subsequent relationship and marriage to Anne was therefore incestuous, as Anne was regarded now as if she was his sister. To marry his sister by law he needed a dispensation and its doubtful one was granted. Therefore, in Henry’s brain he wasn’t lawfully married to Anne and therefore Elizabeth was illegitimate. The original dispensation was applied for in 1526 but most likely not given. This is the only reason we know Henry had any relationship with Anne’s sister and she isn’t named specifically in the original documents. Henry was discreet over his affairs but it was convenient for his purposes that he mentioned it now. These are the grounds most people cite as the reason that Henry gained an annulment from Anne Boleyn prior to her inevitable execution but some commentators cite her relationship with Percy as well. The latter is unlikely, but then again Henry loved to hedge his bets with rewriting history and the truth.

        I can’t imagine the strain maybe on Northumberland in that Great Hall and yes, indeed he did collapse and die the following year and he apparently was taken ill delivering what might have been a very coerced verdict.

        1. Michael Wright says:

          Beautifully laid out. Let’s imagine that Northumberland did lie and somewhere down the line he did something that angered Henry and he was brought up on charges. You don’t think that the fact that he perjured himself in 1536 wouldn’t be mentioned? Of course it wouldn’t have mattered that he did it for his king. It would be twisted to make Percy look bad and Henry blameless. As you say, at this period of time this is how his sick mind rolled. Percy did the right thing. It wouldn’t have mattered what he did. The pieces were going to fall exactly where they did regardless.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Thanks, Michael, I agree. Percy died the following year, but if he hadn’t and something was brought against him, his duplicity would be held to account. Perjury was also an extremely serious offence; the perjury could equal the same punishment as for the original crime, that the King told him to do it would not count for anything. It was all he could do and I bet Henry was hopping mad. Henry would have given Percy no credit in the future and Anne would have died anyway, but with another bit of her life ruined. He did the right thing, very rare given the circumstances.

  4. Esther says:

    Since Anne was getting a trial (not attainder), conviction alone would not affect Elizabeth’s legitimacy. So, Henry and Anne’s marriage had to be annulled to bastardize Elizabeth …. which was necessary to prevent a war in favor of Mary (or, as between bastards, in favor of Henry Fitzroy) if Henry died without a legitimate son. The real problem was finding grounds that would turn Anne into the villain … the clearest grounds for annulment (Henry’s relationship with Anne’s sister) made him look rather foolish, since the problem was known to all. Witchcraft was out (it would taint Henry’s supremacy with Satanic involvement) so that left lying about her relationship with Henry Percy. So, Cromwell tried that. AFAIK, the papers whereby Cranmer annulled the marriage to Anne do not specify the grounds … which is why I think the grounds were probably Henry’s affair with Mary Boleyn.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Thank you, Esther, I was wondering why the sources reporting on the grounds are confusing, the papers don’t give a reason. Very convenient for Henry, who could say anything he wanted, but the affair with Mary Boleyn makes the most sense, especially after Percy refused to lie.

  5. Christine says:

    Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn met at court whilst she was in the household of Queen Katherine, and Percy was a young lad in Cardinal Wolsleys household, it was said by Cavendish he would walk past the ladies chambers and sometimes tarry a whilst and he favoured mistress Anne Boleyn more than the others, it was said a love grew between them that they decided to marry, of course the king and Wolsey came to hear about it, and dashed loves young dream, Percy was affianced to the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter and it was a fitting match for the heir to the earldom of Northumberland, certainly no knights daughter would be considered suitable, Wolsey sent for young Percy and castigated him in front of his household, Percy begged that he and Anne were in love and she was of noble lineage on her mothers side, therefore suitable enough for him to wed her, frustrated Wolsey then sent for the Earl his father who hurried down from the north who told him in no uncertain terms he was engaged to lady Mary Talbot and he was to break of his affair with Anne immediately, some storytellers and historians have pondered wether it was the king behind this move who having seen her, wanted her for himself, but marriages between the aristocracy were affairs of the state and the king may not even have noticed Anne, as Bq mentions he could have been involved with her sister then anyway, Anne was sent home to Hever and it is said she cursed Wolsey for ruining her love life and putting a stop to what would have been a very grand marriage, we know what happened afterwards, the king fell in love with Anne and they pledged themselves to each other after she, maybe worn down with the ardent outpourings of love from the king, and knowing she would never be free to marry another, told him she would be his but only in marriage, she did not want to be a cast off mistress like her sister and others, did Anne love Henry Percy? We have no record of any love affairs in France and so we can assume Percy was her first love, she was furious when it ended which could have been down to grief not just the excitement of being Countess of Northumberland, we do not know how she really felt about Percy, then there was Sir Thomas Wyatt who fell in love with her to, he departed graciously from the scene when the king made his feelings known, and we can see the effect she had on the men around her, she was described as a fresh young damsel, however now many years later both Percy and Anne were embittered and cynical adults, no longer the love struck youngsters they once were, Percy probably could not believe his ears when a delegation arrived from the kings council asking him to repudiate the vow he had made several years earlier about being engaged to Anne, had his life not been ruined enough by their cruel separation the first time around and now they say they were engaged all along? No wonder he refused to pander to Cromwells demands, he must have been furious, he was unhappily married to Mary Talbot and unsurprisingly they had no children they quarrelled often, Mary often complained that he did not treat her as a wife and left him to go back to her fathers house, it was during one bitter tirade he told her they were never really married because he had been betrothed to Anne Boleyn, this caused concern for both Anne and the king and Cromwell visited Percy who by now was Earl of Northumberland, he swore on the sacrament no such betrothal had ever taken place, he could have been threatened with death as this was of grave concern to the king who desperately wanted to marry Anne, imagine his indignation now when he was told he had been betrothed all along, Henry V111 really did play roughshod with peoples lives, now to get rid of her they expected him to agree, it is hardly surprising he refused to go back on his vow, really what did Cromwell and the king expect, this was another obstacle in their so called wheels of justice, none of the men were admitting adultery with the queen either, so we can see things were not going so smoothly for Henry V111 and his evil toad of a lawyer after all.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I don’t necessarily see Thomas Cromwell as an evil toad, but yes, he probably had a lot to answer for, and Henry was just as bad in manufacturing all of this, but you really must write a book, with turns of phrase like that, it would be wonderfully entertaining. Made me laugh.. Things certainly were not going quite to plan and I bet the two evil geniuses were incandescent with outrage. I am pretty sure Cromwell remained calm while Henry threw stuff and had everyone scurrying out of his presence and desperately coming up with Plan B.

      1. Christine says:

        Haha yes I bet Henry chocked on his boars head, really though he was such a hypocrite the methods he used to marry and discard his wives at will, a marriage guidance counsellor would have had a field day with him.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          Ha, yes, the poor marriage guidance counsellor would end up on the couch with a stiff drink.

  6. Michael Wright says:

    Just a reminder that Henry Percy died the following year in his mid 30’s. I’m sure his health was not helped by witnessing the tragedy of what happened to a woman he once loved and may still have had some feelings for.

    1. Christine says:

      Henry was said to be suffering from a malady and maybe was not really fit enough to attend the trial, but being a peer of the realm he had no choice, he may have had some fond memory of Anne but wether he still loved her who can say, maybe a certain wistfulness of what might have been, but he was heard to tell someone he thought she was a bad woman, when we consider the havoc she created his remarks are understandable, and over the years she had turned from being a sweet natured girl into a bad tempered shrew , the years of frustration had changed her character, it had changed Henry’s character to, certainly the ordeal of the trial made Henry Percy collapse, possibly with nervous exhaustion and he did die the following year, it seems Anne Boleyn’s death had a marked effect on some people, it must also have affected Thomas Wyatt he too had loved her, although he himself said his passion had all been spent, the deaths of the woman he had loved and of his friends must have made him feel very desolate till the end of his life.

  7. Banditqueen says:

    This is what the sources say as in the article 2013 Anne Boleyn files 17th May taken from Claire’s own book The Fall of Anne Boleyn.

    Letters and Papers x 896 tell us that Archbishop Cranmer made the marriage null and void at Lambeth on 17th May, two days after Anne’s trial, but the grounds are silent. Thus Elizabeth was automatically illegitimate and Parliament confirmed that later that year.

    Charles Wriothesley believed it was because of the contract with the Duke of Northumberland. “A Chronicle of England During the Reign of the Tudors 1485 to 1559″ 49, but Chapuys believed it was the contract with Mary Boleyn and that even ” the good faith of both parents ” could not make Elizabeth legitimate. Letters and Papers, 909.

    The majority of historians cite the sexual relationship between Mary and Henry which predated that of Henry and Anne as the reason for the infamous annulment. When you think about it Henry went to a lot of trouble to get all his ducks in a row. You need a good legal mind to work all of this mess out. Cromwell must have been at it night and day, while Henry turned his back on the woman he had claimed to love for most of the previous decade and for whom he had turned the world upside down. Henry moved on.

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