The First Act of Succession – 23 March 1534

Posted By on March 23, 2012

This day in history, 23rd March 1534, was an important day for King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn because it was on this day that Parliament passed the Act of Succession. You can read the full Act of Succession in the book “Documents Illustrative of the History of the English Church”, which is available online – click here – but here are the highlights:-

  • Parliament’s declaration that the marriage between “the Lady Katherine” and the King was “void and annulled” – “definitively, clearly, and absolutely declared, deemed, and adjudged to be against the laws of Almighty God, and also accepted, reputed, and taken of no value nor effect, but utterly void and annulled, and the separation thereof, made by the said archbishop, shall be good and effectual to all intents and purposes; any licence, dispensation, or any other act or acts going afore, or ensuing the same, or to the contrary thereof, in any wise notwithstanding; and that every such licence, dispensation, act or acts, thing or things heretofore had, made, done, or to be done to the contrary thereof, shall be void and of none effect ; and that the said Lady Katherine shall be from henceforth called and reputed only dowager to Prince Arthur, and not queen of this realm
  • Parliament’s Declaration that the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was valid – “that the lawful matrimony had and solemnized between your highness and your most dear and entirely beloved wife Queen Anne, shall be established, and taken for undoubtful, true, sincere, and perfect ever hereafter, according to the just judgment of the 1534.”

  • Parliament’s ruling on marriages “within the prohibited degrees” which had been allowed to take place due to papal dispensations and its declaration that “no man, of what estate, degree, or condition soever he be, has power to dispense with God’s laws” – “Be it therefore enacted by authority aforesaid, that no person or persons, subjects or residents of this realm, or in any your dominions, of what estate, degree, or dignity soever they be, shall from henceforth marry within the said degrees afore rehearsed, what pretence soever shall be made to the contrary thereof.”
  • Parliament’s declaration on the children of these unlawful marriages – “and that the children proceeding and procreated under such unlawful marriage, shall not be lawful nor legitimate; any foreign laws, licences, dispensations, or other thing or things to the contrary thereof notwithstanding.”
  • Parliament’s declaration that the succession would pass through the heirs of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – “And also be it enacted by authority aforesaid, that all the issue had and procreated, or hereafter to be had and procreated, between your highness and your said most dear and entirely beloved wife Queen Anne, shall be your lawful decried children, and be inheritable, and inherit, according to the course of inheritance and laws of this realm, the imperial crown of the same, with all dignities, honours, pre-eminences, prerogatives, authorities, and jurisdictions to the same annexed or belonging, in as large and ample manner as your highness at this present time has the same as king of this realm ; the inheritance thereof to be and remain to your said children and right heirs in manner and form as hereafter shall be declared…”
  • Parliament’s declaration that in the absence of sons the succession would pass to “the issue female” of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn” – “And for default of such sons of your body begotten, and of the heirs of the several bodies of every such sons lawfully begotten, that then the said imperial crown, and other the Premises, shall be to the issue female between your majesty and your said most dear and entirely beloved wife, Queen Anne, begotten, that is to say: first to the eldest issue female, which is the Lady Elizabeth, now princess, and to the heirs of her body lawfully begotten…”
  • The Act to be proclaimed throughout England on the 1st May 1534 – “And be it further enacted by authority aforesaid, that on his side the first day of May next coming, proclamation shall be made in all shires within this realm, of the tenor and contents of this Act.”
  • “The Penalty for injury to the King, disturbing his title to the crown or slandering his marriage”, i.e. for not accepting the Act – “every such person and persons, of what estate, degree, or condition they be of, subject or resident within this realm, and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them, for every
    such offence shall be adjudged high traitors, and every such offence shall be adjudged high treason, and the offenders
    and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them, being lawfully convicted of such offence by presentment, verdict, confession, or process, according to the customs and laws of this realm, shall suffer pains of death, as in cases of high treason ; and that also every such offender being convicted as is aforesaid, shall lose and forfeit to your highness, and to your heirs, kings of this realm, all such manors, lands, tenements, rents, annuities, and hereditaments, which they had in possession as owners…”
  • There was also a penalty for publishing or speaking “slander or prejudice of the said matrimony”, which was deemed to be “misprision of treason”
  • Parliament’s declaration regarding what would happen if the King died before the coming of age of his issue – that the issue “shall be and remain unto such time as such issues and heirs shall come to their said several ages afore limited,
    at and in the governance of their natural mother, she living, with such others, counsellors of your realm, as your majesty in your lifetime shall depute and assign by your will, or otherwise, for the same, without contradiction of any person or persons to the contrary thereof”. The penalty for “disturbance” of this arrangement would be “high treason”.
  • Parliament’s declaration that all of the nobles of the realm, “spiritual or temporal”, “shall make a corporal oath in the presence of your highness or your heirs, or before such others as your majesty or your heirs will depute for the same, that they shall truly, firmly, and constantly, without fraud or guile, observe, fulfil, maintain, defend, and keep, to their cunning, wit, and uttermost of their powers, the whole effects and contents of this present Act”
  • Parliament’s declaration “that all manner your subjects, as well spiritual as temporal, suing livery,
    restitutions, or ouster le main out of the hands of your highness or of your heirs, or doing any fealty to your highness or to your heirs, by reason of tenure of their lands, shall swear a like corporal oath, that they and every of them, without fraud or guile, to their cunning, wit, and uttermost of their powers, shall truly, firmly, and constantly observe, fulfil, maintain, defend, and keep the effects and contents contained and specified in this Act, or in any part thereof; and that they, nor any of them, shall hereafter have any liveries, ouster le main or restitution out of your hands, nor out of the hands of your heirs, till they have made the said corporal oath in form above rehearsed.”
  • Parliament’s declaration that refusal to take the oath would mean the person being “taken and accepted
    for offender in misprision of high treason” and having “to suffer such pains and imprisonment, losses and forfeitures, and also lose privileges of sanctuaries, in like manner and form as is above mentioned for the misprisions of treasons afore limited by this Act.”


  • Documents Illustrative of the History of the English Church, Compiled from Original Sources by Henry Gee and William John Hardy, 1896, p232-243

12 thoughts on “The First Act of Succession – 23 March 1534”

  1. miladyblue says:

    And yet, a little over two years later, the marriage was null and void, Anne was a traitor and incestuous adulterer, and Princess Elizabeth was demoted to Lady Elizabeth, and declared a bastard, just like her elder sister Mary.

    Interesting, too, how people who slandered the Queen, and her marriage to Henry, who should have been severely punished, were instead rewarded, come May 1533.

    Everything else, about people swearing oaths to Henry, however, never changed, did they?

  2. Leslie says:

    I find it very interesting that Sir Thomas More refused to take this Oath of Succession, which led to his death. Many around him at the time (who also did not believe it was just) took the oath merely to protect themselves, or their families.

    On the one hand, I see it as incredibly brave that he refused to take the oath, especially considering his past friendship with Henry. On the other hand, I can’t imagine how it must have been for his wife and many children after his death. He was Henry’s true friend in his younger years before he became the capricious King. A true warning of things to come that Henry could forget his past loyalties and kill those who dared not to give him exactly what he wanted.

  3. Anne Barnhill says:

    Yes, I agree, Leslie–the execution of More should have been a huge warning sign to Anne and her crowd. But I htink she was in love w/Henry at this point and believed him to be in love w/her. I don’t think she could see or imagine being the recipient of his coldness. That signing the oath…really going a bit far to insure every person agreed with him….shows a great insecurity I think

    1. Maryann Pitman says:

      The first warning shot was the fall of Wolsey, Henry’s longtime faithful servant. This should have made plain to Anne that failure was not an option. She did understand she was taking serious risks. She could not have known she would fail as Katherine had failed. She may have hoped her sex would save her from the worst. She took a man’s risks, paid a man’s price, and worse, opened the floodgates that would kill her cousin and the Countess of Salisbury.

  4. WilesWales says:

    I agree with Leslie, Anne and miladyblue. The great Roman Catholic Bishop Fisher went to the death with Sir Thomas More (author of the great classic, “Utopia”). Yes, this should have been a sign to Anne, but I remember reading that the King asked Anne about More, and she said that he must die. The King in 1536 greatly resented this (so it must have been in the back of his mind for some time {Henry was not stupid, mind you], and might have led to even greater anger with Henry when he wanted Anne out of the way, for which she innocently died. It should be noted that when Mary became a bastard, Elizabeth did as well in 1536. Mary, when in 1553, became Queen she did legitimize herself and was thus given such declaratioon from Rome. Elizabeth was from 1536 until the end of her life considered a bastard, and never did seek to legitimizae herself on the grounds (and I have read this in more than two sources) because she had enough trouble on her hands and did not want to jeopardize her right to be on the throne. As she said to Mary, “I was brought up a different way,” and “I have no desire to look into men’s souls,” that she did not want England to make that the major issue. She was excommunicated in 1570, and couldn’t have cared less. She cared about England, and became the greatest absolute monarch England has ever had! Anne would have been very proud, and Elizabeth did have her mother’s eyes, and father’s hair, and, in my judgment when she said right before the Great Spanish Armada in 1588 (which England beat within hours), that she had the body of a woman, but had the heart of a king, and also that she was a lion’s cub, but had the heart of a lion, she, except for body, had them all. We wouldn’t be here today withouth her. Anne was innocent, and her daughter did her quite well! That is also an understatement. Thank you! WilesWales

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      WilesWales,You are perhapes one of the most interesting and smart people as well as Claire your a walking History book,you have all the dates times,were when and whos the who nots!! Not that there are not very intlegent others on the site,I find if I need to learn about something I can depend on you History Buff you to Claire,very good read. Regards Baroness Von Reis / Baroness

      1. WilesWales says:

        I would never ever put myself in the same class as Claire, ever! She is the moderator of this site, and thus usually doesn’t answer questions, or give an opinion, as she has created that for us. I just have always had a knack for date, even modern ones. I also have been interested in the Tudors since I was about eight years old. So now, since I know the dates (European History majors with emphasis on the Reformation), and have learned to think about what is at hand, that I can now “think” about the events, and try and find a conclusion to what is being discussed. I thank you so very much for the compliment. It may be that you and I are somewhat alike in our brain working. My conclusions are also put on here with trepidation, but I see no harm with hypothecation, and the members her discuss rather than argue. I hope this answers your question! Once again, Claire is the sole moderator of this site, and does not usually answer stuff unless it’s to add a little here and take a little there, and respond to a compliment. She is so busy doing other things, I’m amazed she has the time for this, but I am so very, very glad that she does! Thank you! WilesWales

        1. WilesWales says:

          Baroness, I don’t usually look at all the comments either but I do get an email when you “reply” to one of my posts. You are not bad yourself, and as a teacher, are keeping up with things. I really need to get off here and leave the comments to the questions for this discussion. Yikes! Thank you! WilesWales

        2. Baroness Von Reis says:

          WilesWales,Claire is a very intelagent women and I have learned a great deal of info,yes this is her site I have the most respect for her,with that said this was a knod to you as a fellow History Buff,as well as all the friends on Claires Site.Thank You Baroness Von Reis

        3. WilesWales says:

          Thank you, Baroness. I know you know that this is Claire’s site (ding dong me), and I apologize. I also should have thanked you very much, and I still do for the great compliment (and I don’t get many of those at all)!

          I also consider you a friend on this site, and have a lot of respect for you. I’m going to do something I have never done, but if you ever want or need to discuss anything (at all from the Tudors, history, or whatever; and I would love to as I liked you and your knowledge the first time you replied. So here goes: my email address is:

          I also wanted to tell you about dates, too. I know I remember them and a lot don’t, and most people think (outside our circle here on this site, and a few others) history is all about dates. History is not really about dates at all, and later in a history major(s), one does not even refer to them as the “time and period” are understood. A professor once explained to me that dates only give on a time on a contiuum (sp?), and that is how we keep track of when (and it doesn’t matter exactly) things happen so that once we learn it, we may start to think about it from persepctives, etc. The “thinking” part is the key.

          Thank you! Will wait to hear from you! Hope this also fits into the comment and discussion part of this part of Anne, too. 1536 will forever be engraved in my mind! WilesWales

  5. Dawn 1st says:

    Parliament certainly had a busy time of it in Henry’s reign, with their declarations, then replacing them with more declarations when the previous ones no longer suited the King, it must have been a bureucratic nightmare, and a scary one if you didn’t get it right…Henry really did keep his council on their toes….or the scaffold!! 🙂

  6. heymon79 says:

    How did the 1534 Act of Succession make Anne Queen by statutory right?

    ” Yet though she had been ceremonially stripped of her royal insignia, she was never officially deprived of the title of Queen, which was hers under the Act of Succession of March 1534, which made her queen by statutory right, and not by right of marriage to the King. This act was not repealed, only superseded by the 1536 Act of Succession, passed after Anne’s death, which just ratified the annulment of her marriage,44 and left her in the unusual position of being Queen without ever having been the King’s lawful wife.”
    Quote by Alison Weir from the book “Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn”

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.