The following letter has today fallen into our hands, here at The Anne Boleyn Files, and we are told that it is a copy of one written by Queen Anne Boleyn to her husband, King Henry VIII, on this very day, 6th May 1536.

Here is a transcript:-

“To the King from the Lady in the Tower” – Heading added by Thomas Cromwell

“Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.

You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, Good your Grace, let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain, that unworthy Stain of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter:

Try me, good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yes, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure; and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not, (whatsover the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only Request shall be, That my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the Innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing to your Ears, then let me obtain this Request; and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions.

Your most Loyal and ever Faithful Wife, Anne Bullen
From my doleful Prison the Tower, this 6th of May.”1

A Forgery

Although the letter is dated “this 6th of May”, it is signed “Anne Bullen” and the Queen has mentioned wanting to send a message to Mr Cromwell, we are not convinced of its authenticity. Here are the anomalies which make us doubt that it was really written by the Queen:-

  • The Heading – This is said to have been added by Thomas Cromwell on receiving it but wouldn’t Cromwell have written “from Anne Boleyn” or “from the Queen”. “The Lady in the Tower” seems a slightly romanticised title for Cromwell!
  • The Signature – Why sign it “Anne Bullen” instead of “Anne Boleyn”, “Queen Anne Boleyn” or “Anne the Queen”? That does not make sense. It also looks very different to her usual signature, see although this could be because it is a copy made by Cromwell.
  • The style – Although we have to take into account that the Queen is imprisoned and in fear of her life, the style does not seem consistent with her other surviving letters.
  • The tone and content – Queen Anne Boleyn is accusing the King of slandering her so that he can enjoy his “desired happiness” and accuses him of sinning. Would the Queen be so reckless at such a time?
  • The handwriting – If you look at the real letter (see British Library image) the handwriting is very different to Anne Boleyn’s other letters (click here to see letter written by young Anne Boleyn and Book of Hours Inscription, also see letter from Anne Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey at the British Library). Again the story goes that the letter was a copy made by Cromwell so this may not be relevant.
  • The words “for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy” – As our good friend Gareth Russell points out, “as early as 1530, the Venetian ambassador to London was reporting that Anne believed passionately that God had chosen her to be queen of England instead of Katherine, just as in Biblical times He had chosen Esther to replace Queen Vashti.” These words go against what Anne Boleyn believed about her position.

Whatever the truth behind this particular letter, we hope that Queen Anne has been given the opportunity to write to her husband and plead her case.

Further Information on the Letter

You can read more information about this letter, where it was found and the arguments over its authenticity in my article “Anne Boleyn’s Letter to Henry VIII” and Gareth Russell has also written an excellent article, see May 6th, 1536: The Mystery of the Queen’s Letter.

What do you think? Did Anne Boleyn really write this letter?

Notes and Sources

  1. From The Life and Death of Anne Bullen, Queen Consort of England, printed by G. Smeeton, Charing Cross, Britain, 1820 and Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. J.S. Brewer, J. Gairdner & R.H. Brodie 1862-1932)

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26 thoughts on “To the King from The Lady in the Tower – A Letter from Anne Boleyn?”
  1. We’ve been having quite an interesting discussion of this letter on the FaceBook page for my forthcoming book, “The Creation of Anne Boleyn.” Please do check it out! Susan Bordo

    1. I’ve been discussing with Nasim (littlemisssunnydale on YouTube) on Twitter this morning about Retha Warnicke’s view that the letter was the result of a schoolroom exercise, much like letters allegedly written by Eleanor of Aquitaine which are now known to be fakes. I can’t say that I put much store in Warnicke’s theory but I don’t believe that this letter was written by Anne Boleyn.

  2. Most of my thoughts on this are included in my response last year, still available in archives, but to add to this. No one would probably have a clue how to refer to Anne to the King while she was in the Tower. They did not use casual Christian names in this era, but titles, so “the lady in the tower” is probably about as neutral — and somewhat disparaging as you would use. The people delivering this missive were also in a compromising situation. Personally, I don’t believe Harry ever saw this letter. If it was found with Kingston’s things or Cromwell’s or whoever’s, the fact is that it was not found with the King’s so I think it is doubtful he received it. There was certainly no one to call anyone accountable for not delivering it, was there?
    Also, Anne’s family tended to use the Bullen spelling although she often did use the Boleyn. In the Tower, now no longer accessible and unfortunately covered, there used to be a carving made by George Boleyn and in it he spelled his name “bullen”.
    As for the final reference to Anne’s estate being part of the King’s fancy, I think she would, in her reckless, hurt and imperiously insulted way, point this out. More than diminishing her estate, I think it is a shot at his infatuation with Jane, which has been a recurring argument and one on which she had a hard time holding her tongue. And it think that is just traces of that tendency. She was desperate and had nothing to lose with any strategy at this point. This was her attempt at hope.

  3. I am not sure if the letter is real or not- but the argument that Warnicke puts out is a little far fetched. If this was a school room exercise, then surely more “letters” from “Anne” would exist somewhere.

    It is possible that this letter was transcribed by someone else, for didn’t Anne have ladies serving her whose sole purpose was to report anything she said to Cromwell? It is possible that Anne used them in one of those “you want to bring something back to your master? Well, sit here and I will give you something to bring to him…” attitudes. I guess no one will ever know.

    @ Aynne- There was a carving made by George Boleyn in the tower? Has this ever been photographed? I would be curious in seeing it. =)

  4. I would love it if Anne Boleyn had written a letter like this, being able to plead for hers and others lives to Henry, but just reading it I was surprised at her comments about his sinning. Considering her execution speech, which hailed Henry as ‘an ever good, gentle soverign lord’ etc. etc. I can’t quite believe that they came from the same person, days appart! The handwriting is very different, too… If only 🙂

    1. But remember there was “execution etiquette” to follow, and what Anne would have said or dictated in a private letter would have been different from what she said on the scaffold in public. It would be even more amazing if she never wrote a final “parting shot” to the king. They had been sweethearts as well as husband and wife, and there would have been some familiarity due to that alone. I think the king also would have been expecting a final plea…Cromwell certainly sent one before he was executed. Possibly the original letter did get to the king, and the one found amongst Cromwells papers may have been a copy of the original.

  5. Okay, I’m going out on a limb here and declare I think the letter is a copy of something real! I think the spirt shown in this letter, the jibes from a woman who has been wooed something fierce by the man now her husband ring perfectly true to me. This is Anne, the woman with whom half the court was in love before Henry claimed her–this is the cultured, educated, spirited woman who gave the King forbidden books, got practically married to Percy with no one’s permission or blessing, dressed and sang and danced flawlessly and how insulting to THIS woman, that Henry would be taken with the pale-faced Jane Seymour! I think it sounds like the Anne I have in my mind and yes, her private letter to him would have been quite different from her public remarks at her beheading–there, she played her part and with quiet dignity and courage. But on paper, she could tell Henry just what she thought. We’ll never know for sure but for me, yes, it may be just an echo of what she wrote but there are so many phrases that do ring true!

  6. Just looked at both letters (to the king and to Wolsey) The hand writing looks different to me. Please don’t get me wrong they are close but it seems like the one that we think is actually written by Anne is much neater than the one written to Henry. I could be wrong its known to happen but that’s the first thing I noticed when looking at the two. But there could also be an explanation to the neatness of the letters due to the fact that at this time Anne was very distort and really not in her right state of mind to begin with.

  7. Was it common in Tudor England for a married woman to still refer to herself by her maiden name? In this letter, Anne calls herself “Anne Boleyn” and not “Anne Tudor” if that’s what her name would have been. Or didn’t they change their names back then? I would think she would want to identify herself as the wife of the monarch and so use that name instead of the one she was born with. Thoughts?

    1. Her marriage had been annulled by then and her Anne’s daughter made a bastard. She may not have been allowed to retain or use the royal name.

      1. Anne’s marriage had not been annulled by 6th May and wasn’t until 18th May. There is no law in England, has never been a law in England which states a woman has to take her husbands surname. It is merely convention and Henry Viii did not use a surname, so yes Anne retained her own name. She would have been simply Anne R or Anne the Queen. She was also still Queen until she was condemned to death.

    2. Maybe anne thought that in using her maiden name it would spark some old passions in the king and remind him of who she was and how they used to be and not how she was as queen a sharp tongued, jelous, and dissapointment (male issue).

  8. It is really hard to say whether this letter which was dated as well as written on the 6th of may was infact written by her or not or is just a copy of an original. It is unusual for if it were written by Anne to adress the letter in that way, the Lady in the Tower but at the same time would be normal at the same time if she did. Anne signed her surname either Bullen or Boleyn that we do know of and that we all seem to know of well. Well whether it was and had been written by her or not it had to be of written by someone, either that being Anne or Cromwell. I suppose Anne may have just adressed herself in such a way and as such or Cromwell because she and he both knew that she was no longer Queen no more, no longer a Queen and just simply known as the Lady Anne Boleyn/Bullen once again. So it is plausible that it, this is a copy of an original hence the style of writing difference or was indeed infact written in Anne’s own hand and is original but because the state of mind that she had been in, in and around that time made her when she put pen or should I say quill to paper it all came out differently.

    Kim it was not common at all for a married woman to still be adressed then by her maiden name, it would have been by her married name not maiden but at the time Anne was sent as well as put into the Tower she would no longer technically still be married to the King let alone still being known as a Queen as such. Once she entered the Tower or not long after Anne would of been denounced as well as rebuked of this title/ these titles so she would have just simply have gone back to being just known as simply the Lady Anne or the Lady Anne Boleyn. I am sure that Anne would have still liked to have thought herself still married to the King and being his Queen but she would have known that deep down she was not anymore, so what would be the point in keeping up the pretence because if she had still said and as well as claimed herself still wed and still Queen it would have been a lie and would have made things difficult, it would have been another Katherine of Aragon all over again in a way, refusal to beleive that she was no longer Queen anymore and no longer a wife or married to Henry anymore. I suppose that Anne did not want to make things worse than they already were by causing a scene. I know it all seems strange probably all of this and what I am saying because you would think that being Anne and the way she was would have been like Katherine of Aragon and knowing how tempestuous she was and everything but I suppose that even she knew that the time was up deep down even if she did not say anything or tell anyone. I mean Catherine Howard made little to no fuss at all when she was told that she was no longer a Queen and a wife of Henry anymore did she, despite her running and rambling plea to the King as tried to run past the guards if true when this just could all be hearsay.

  9. Hi Kim,

    No, it wasn’t. Especially if she married into the royal family. Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, did finish her signature with the initials “KP,” as a proud homage to her birth family, but all of Henry’s wives, whilst married to him, signed themselves as “Katherine/Anne/Jane the queen.” I agree with you that Anne is unlikely to have ditched the style she had been using for the last three years, particularly at this crucial moment, and even if she had done “Bulen” is almost certainly not how she would have spelled her maiden name. She spelled it “Boleyn” or, occasionally, the Gallicized “de Boulaine.”

    1. The account in LP x.911 states that her eyes were covered with the linen cap that she put on and then she was also blindfolded:-
      ” She was then stripped of her short mantle furred with ermines, and afterwards took off her hood, which was of English make, herself. A young lady presented her with a linen cap, with which she covered her hair, and she knelt down, fastening her clothes about her feet, and one of the said ladies bandaged her eyes.”

      1. Claire, I spent the morning reading the transcript of the walk to the scaffold OMG,I did not no that women could not show there ,ears as they were a pivate part of there person,and to have her ladies blinde fold her eyes, must of been just horific.THx for that site of the transcriptes.I really recommend that if you do not no what happend, go to the transcripts its well worth the read . Thx Claire,Abfriends

  10. I have watched everything on tudors and anne boleyn has always been the reason. Did henry offer anne a way out of the tower and death sentence as some movies have portrayed?has any one ever found proof of that? If so her daughter would never have been Queen if anne had accepted such an offer. History might be much changed especially since Elizabeth ruled successfully for over 40 years! I consider her to be her mother Anne’s revenge on Henry from the grave for his awful treatment of her for not producing a male heir!

  11. Anne was so gutsy that I would love to think that the letter was her way of “calling Henry out” and letting him know that she was onto his scheme. What did she have to lose? She knew that he would execute her, and from personal experience, she knew Elizabeth would be declared a bastard, so why not tell it like it is?

    Completely unrelated question: Claire, have you had an opportunity to read “Young Henry” by Robert Hutchinson? It was released in the States on 4/7; before I invest over $30.00, I thought I would ask you if the book was worth the investment.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Linda,
      I haven’t read the Robert Hutchinson Henry book so I can’t give you my views on it, however, Robert Hutchinson is very well respected so I’m sure it will be an excellent read.

  12. Why would she bother? Who knows? I don’t think it is real. I think it is a romanticized letter for a reason that we probably do not know. Nobody knows what is real and what isn’t. Accounts are often biased and probably gossip. Need a time machine.

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