Valentine’s Day and a Love Letter from Henry VIII

Posted By on February 14, 2015

Henry VIII romance If you haven’t noticed (quick, buy a card!), today is Valentine’s Day, the day of love.

Contrary to what many people believe, Valentine’s Day was celebrated in Tudor England. Alison Sim, in her excellent book Pleasures & Pastimes in Tudor England writes of how it is mentioned three times in the Paston Letters (a collection of letters and papers from the Pastons, members of the Norfolk gentry, covering the period 1422-1509) in the 1470s. Apparently, “valentines were chosen by lot from among a group of friends, who then had to buy their valentine a gift.” Sim goes on to describe how the steward’s accounts of the household of William Petre show lengths of cloth and gold trinkets being given to valentines who were chosen by lot and that one year “one of the maids was even fortunate enough to draw Sir William himself one year, and was given a whole quarter’s extra wages as her valentine.”

I haven’t found any mention of Valentine’s gifts being exchanged at Henry VIII’s court, but as this page is dedicated to Anne Boleyn, I wanted to share with you one of the love letters that Henry wrote to Anne in June 1528. He wrote it after he received news that Anne had come down with sweating sickness, a disease that could kill people in hours. It was written in French but here it is in English:

THERE came to me suddenly in the night the most afflicting news that could have arrived. The first, to hear of the sickness of my mistress, whom I esteem more than all the world, and whose health I desire as I do my own, so that I would gladly bear half your illness to make you well. The second, from the fear that I have of being still longer harassed by my enemy. Absence, much longer, who has hitherto given me all possible uneasiness, and as far as I can judge is determined to spite me more because I pray God to rid me of this troublesome tormentor. The third, because the physician in whom I have most confidence, is absent at the very time when he might do me the greatest pleasure; for I should hope, by him and his means, to obtain one of my chief joys on earth — that is the care of my mistress — yet for want of him I send you my second, and hope that he will soon make you well. I shall then love him more than ever. I beseech you to be guided by his advice in your illness. In so doing I hope soon to see you again, which will be to me a greater comfort than all the precious jewels in the world.
Written by that secretary, who is, and for ever will be, your loyal and most assui’ed Servant,

H. (A B) R.
[the AB being surrounded by a heart motif]

I had always appreciated the panicked tone of this letter, but having never seen it myself I didn’t really appreciate how it can be see as real evidence of Henry’s love for Anne. Author Sandra Vasoli visited the Vatican Archives as part of her research for her book Je Anne Boleyn and was able to view Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn. In a talk she did on this for the Tudor Society, Sandi explained how she was blown away by the contrast between it and the previous letters:

“This letter, unlike any of the others in the whole collection, is visually a mess. Seen with the magnifying glass, his pain and anxiety jump off the page. The ink is splattered and smeared by his large hand. Every few words, the quill has been jabbed into the ink and the writing becomes dark and scratchy. There are fine sprays of ink where the nib of the pen caught at the parchment in haste. It is unbelievably heart-wrenching. And, at the bottom of the page, after the closing, he has again drawn his initials, large and enclosing a shakily drawn heart. In the heart are Anne’s initials. It so looks like he is encompassing her in his big arms, surrounding her with himself and his heart. When I saw that letter, the ‘magic’ of documents came alive for me. At that moment, I saw and felt how very much Henry loved Anne.”

This really made me want to get on a plane right there and then and get to the Vatican! I can’t get there at the moment, but Sandi mentioned a book she’d borrowed from the Vatican Archives while she was there, a German book with photographs and transcripts of all of the letters. I’d only ever seen a photograph of one letter so I made it my mission to track down this book and I was able to buy a copy from a bookshop in Germany. I was so excited when it arrived and although photographs can never do justice to objects like this, I too was blown away by the difference between this letter and the others in the collection. I can’t see where the quill went through the vellum, but I can see darker areas of ink, smudges and splatters – some of the splatters are not ink and I wondered if they were even tear stains. It really is a mess compared to the usual neat and beautiful looking letters. It is the appearance, rather than the words, that tell of Henry’s love for Anne. This was more than lust, this was a distraught man worried about the woman he loved with all of his heart.

Here are photos of two letters written by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, the second being the sweating sickness letter. You can click on the images to make them bigger.

Henry VIII love letter

and the sweating sickness letter (as I call it!):

Henry VIII love letter

Henry VIII love letter

Notes and Sources

  • Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England, Alison Sim
  • The Harleian Miscellany, or, a collection of scarce, curious and entertaining pamphlets and tracts, found in the late Earl of Oxford’s Library, Volume I, London, 1808, p196 – you can read the love letters online at Google Books
  • “Sandra Vasoli on the love letters of Henry VIII”, talk on 6 January 2015, The Tudor Society.
  • “Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn – The Sweating Sickness Letter”, video by Claire Ridgway, 30 January 2015, The Tudor Society.
  • Die Liebesbriefe Heinrichs VIII an Anna Boleyn, Theo Stemmler.

19 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day and a Love Letter from Henry VIII”

  1. Barbara says:

    Claire, thank you so much for posting pictures of those letters. As I was reading through the article I kept thinking “I wish I could see that letter, even just a picture of it”… Then there it is 🙂 thank you!

    1. Claire says:

      That’s ok! I was so excited when I received the book with all the photos in it.

  2. ellen melchiondo says:

    Claire,

    I, too am so grateful you included the photos! It’s a lovely gift to us, your fans and Anne’s too. Thanks.

  3. Nancy Demko says:

    These are so beautiful! It’s hard to believe that a man so in love could turn so cold as to behead his beloved. Then again, pain, jealousy & pressure from outside sources can have a profoundly negative affect on one, whether king or commoner.

    1. Hannele says:

      To Nancy Demko

      It depends how you define love.

      No doubt Henry had strong feelings for Anne and he turned heaven and earth upside down to posses her.

      But his love was, as always, conditional. When they married, Anne had to bear a son and change to a complete different person she was, a humble and submissive wife.

      Henry was not capable to love a person as she was, with her own free will, nor could he realize that if you live with somebody, you cannot idolize her any more but, accepting her failings as well virtues, you can see, and love, a real person at last.

      1. JudithRex says:

        Hannele –

        First of all, many people at the time saw it as love. It is kind of hard to question a man who waited 7 years for this woman as anything less than being in love.

        Secondly, he did not set the conditions. They were the conditions of royalty. You get the pleasure but you have to do the job of providing for the security of the country, your inheritance, and that, in those days, meant sons. Passion doesn’t last.

        Henry made a huge mistake.

    2. kipper says:

      ‘Then again, pain, jealousy & pressure from outside sources can have a profoundly negative affect on one, whether king or commoner.’
      Especially if she was guilty!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. Hannele says:

        To Kipper

        Yes, there are also nowadays men who kill their wives out of jealousy (invented or real) or because she wants to leave.

        But are these men really normal and sound? Of course not.

        There have been other queens who had been guilty of adultery or even revolt, but they had not been killed, only their lovers.

        1. JudithRex says:

          Hannele,

          But their husbands didn’t move heaven and earth for 7 years to marry them because they were in passionate love. These Princesses did not smear their husband’s sexual and artistic reputations, and they were Princesses of blood.

      2. JudithRex says:

        KIpper,

        More to the point, if Henry truly *believed* she was guilty at the time of her death…which I believe he did.

  4. Gail Marion says:

    Might it be that the sloppiness of Henry’s writing was the result of one tipple too many?

    Might it be that Henry’s antic behavior and low fertility be attributed to alcoholism, increasingly so as he aged? There seems to be little reference to this affliction among medieval and later nobility while alehouse drunkards were a common source of ridicule.
    ♥♥♥

  5. Sue B says:

    Wow, you really can see the difference in the writing… the second letter is written with haste, passion and without premeditation. So wonderful to see them alongside each other. Thanks for posting these Claire.

  6. Christine says:

    I wonder how much those letters are worth, wouldn’t I love to hold one in my hand.

  7. Lisa says:

    I just finished reading Je Anne Boleyn and so seeing the letters that inspired her to write the book was a treat! Thanks so much for sharing. Now if only we could find Anne’s responses to those letters!

  8. Lisa Davis says:

    That is an amazing letter. I think this shows his agitation over Anne’s health. Thanks for showing it.

  9. Susan says:

    just finished reading Life Death Ann Boylen it’s no wonder he fell for this remarkable women !!! Such a beautiful love story gone in to legend !! She must have been devaerstated when she was put in the Tower I know I would have been and a bit confused cos she obviously didn’t know what she had done !!!

  10. BanditQueen says:

    I have seen the letters on the website a few times, but nothing could beat seeing them in the flesh; you must be able to see all of the marks, blots, possible tear stains and just the actual thrill of being in the presence of such rare documents; wow!

    Come hither young lovers wherever you are! Lines from a famous song, I love Valantine Day and although I have not been out yet, we are having a belated date tomorrow at my favourite bar La Flavia. I love the picture of Henry with a rose in his teeth. Cool.

  11. JudithRex says:

    It really is odd that these are in the Vatican. Wonder if they will be sent back to England by the time of 500th anniversary of Anne’s execution.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      They could come on loan. Copies have been made before for special exhibitions, but I personally believe that the Vatican Library will remain as their custodian. But you never know.

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