Anne Boleyn

Martin Luther

The Henrician Reformation, 1529-1547


In 1529, Henry VIII had one legitimate daughter - Mary Tudor - and one illegitimate son - Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond - but no legitimate son.
The pious, dull Katherine of Aragon was forty-four years old; Anne Boleyn was in her twenties, lively and vivacious, with 'black and beautiful' eyes.


(1)  The King's great matter

During his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII had two or three mistresses, and one illegitimate son, but (by the standards of early-modern royalty) had been an attentive husband. Katherine had had a number of miscarriages, four children who died in infancy, and Mary Tudor.

Repeated pregnancies and age had ravaged Katherine's looks. Furthermore, Katherine was boringly pious.

At this point Anne Boleyn appeared on the scene. An experienced flirt, who had learnt French sophistication while her father was ambassador in Paris, Anne refused to become Henry's mistress. (Anne was building on family experience here - her sister, Mary Boleyn had been Henry's mistress only to be abandoned when he grew bored of her).

Prince Arthur

Anne insisted on marriage as the price for intimacy just at the time that Henry was having growing qualms about the legitimacy of his marriage to his brother, Arthur's widow.


Julius II

After the death of Arthur, the Pope Julius II had issued a dispensation (from ecclesiastical law) allowing the marriage of Henry to Katherine; Henry argued that no pope could dispense from a law of God.


Henry appealed to a verse in Leviticus to uphold his case, but there were two problems with his argument.
(i) Arthur (only fourteen years old and sickly) had not consummated his marriage to Katherine;
(ii) another part of Scripture (a verse in Deuteronomy) implied that the Lord had no problem with marriage to a brother's widow.

Leviticus 20:21 And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless.
Deuteronomy 25:5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.


Clement VII was naturally reluctant to concede that an earlier pope had lacked the power to grant a dispensation, but he might well have found some formula to oblige Henry VIII had circumstances been different.

Clement VII

Charles V (1500-1558)

Since the Sack of Rome (6 May 1527), Clement was effectively under the control of Charles V, the Hapsburg ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and nephew of Katherine.

English diplomacy aimed at giving the pope the freedom of action to ignore Charles V's wishes and grant Henry his annulment.
The pope did agree to send a commission headed by Lorenzo Campeggio, but privately Clement instructed to him to procrastinate and avoid any authoritative pronouncement. In 1529, in the face of Katherine's refusal to recognize the commission, the pope recalled it and to decide the case for himself.
Henry blamed Wolsey for his failure to obtain a divorce; and dismissed him.
Wolsey's replacement as Lord Chancellor was Sir Thomas More, that rare phenomenon - an honest lawyer, and the author of Utopia (1516). He had been Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523, which had obstructed Wolsey's attempts to raise taxes for war with France.

Pencil drawing of Anne Boleyn
by Hans Holbein

Henry's public moves towards divorce and the fall of Wolsey assured Anne Boleyn that he really intended marriage, and she began living with Henry.

Anne's relatives were promptly promoted to positions of power. Her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn was appointed Lord Privy Seal & Earl of Wiltshire; Her uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, became Lord Treasurer.
Along with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, they ran the English government for  a few years after 1529, although only Norfolk showed real ability.
Anne Boleyn became pregnant, and on 25 January 1533 Henry married her. (His marriage to Katherine of Aragon was not officially pronounced 'null and void' until 23 May 1533, when the acquiescent Thomas Cranmer had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury). Anne was crowned queen 1 June 1533.
On 11 July 1533, Clement VII issued a Bull excommunicating Henry.
Elizabeth was born 7 September 1533.
At some cost, Henry was free of Catherine, but the problem of a male heir was still not resolved. Anne was pregnant in January 1534, but the child miscarried. She was pregnant again in January 1535, shortly after the death from cancer of Katherine of Aragon (7 January 1535) had removed all questions about the legitimacy of any child that might be born. But then Henry had a serious jousting accident, and on January 29 the distressed Anne again miscarried - the son who might have been Henry's and her salvation.

Henry's eye began to rove again, and this time settled on Jane Seymour, the daughter of a Somerset gentleman.

Jane Seymour


The Boleyn faction had a number of rivals: some were personal rivals like the ambitious Thomas Cromwell, and the Duke of Suffolk, whose wife (Mary Henry's sister)  snubbed Anne frequently. Others were religious conservatives - the so-called  Aragonese faction, that included the  Lords Darcy and Thomas Hussey, and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.
The enterprising and unscrupulous Thomas Cromwell led the charge, collecting fabricated evidence that Anne Boleyn was guilty of both treason and adultery. They even accused her of having committed incest with her brother, George. The poet Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder was briefly imprisoned on suspicion of having had an affair with Anne.
After a very brief trial, Anne's marriage to Henry was annulled 17 May, and she was executed on 19 May 1536.
Henry pronounced Elizabeth a bastard, but refused to legitimize Mary. In July 1536, his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy died. The succession stood in more doubt than ever.
Henry also turned on Mary's supporters - the Aragonese Faction - and his harsh treatment of them helped provoke the Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536-7. The rebellion was crushed.

On 12 October 1537, the problem of the succession seemed finally solved.
Jane Seymour produced a son - Edward.
(She died on 24th October, killed by incompetent physicians.)


Henry's next marriage (in January 1540) to Anne of Cleves was not Henry's idea, but Thomas Cromwell's, who was eager to ally with German Protestants.

Anne of Cleves

Deceived by a flattering portrait, Henry agreed to wed, but on seeing Anne in the flesh lost all taste for the union. The marriage was annulled within six months.

The Duke of Norfolk and others took advantage of Henry's irritation to convince him that Cromwell was a traitor and heretic. They introduced Henry to the nineteen-year-old Catherine Howard, and clinched their case. Cromwell was beheaded in 1540.


Henry and Parliament

Henry VIII


The Reformation Parliament met in 1529. Immediately, it attacked the English clergy.
In 1531, the Commons Supplication against the Ordinaries listed various clerical abuses and demanded that Henry reform these.
To appease Henry, the church surrendered their independence by the Submission of the Clergy.
The Acts restraining Payment of Annates (1532) and Appeals to Rome (1553) severed the financial and judicial links to the papacy.
The Act of Dispensations (1534) confirmed earlier changes and placed the appointment of bishops wholly in the monarch's hands.

"Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England ..."
An Act concerning the King's Highness, 1534.


(3) The Henrician Reformers

 Thomas Cromwell

Thoams Cromwell (1485-1540)
Born about 1485, the son of a Putney ironmonger, Cromwell became a loyal servant of Wolsey.
Surviving Wolsey's fall, he rose in Henry's service - 1534 Secretary, 1536 Lord Privy Seal.
In 1535, Henry deputed him to control the church, and in the same year Cromwell organized the republication of Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis;  - an anti-papal tract written in the 14th century, that argued for the complete subordination of the clergy to the secular state.
A diligent bureaucrat, he was important in ensuring that more laws were passed in the 1530s than ever before.
He was as unscrupulous as he was efficient, and had a major impact on the shaping of the Tudor state.

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

Thomas Cranmer was a priest at Cambridge University, who took Henry's side over the divorce and on Henry's instructions tried to persuade the members of European universities to do the same.
While abroad in 1532, he married the niece of a German Protestant Reformer, but was very careful to keep the illegal marriage secret.
Cranmer put his Protestant sympathies (like his belief in Anne Boleyn's innocence) second to his obedience to Henry VIII.
When England returned to Catholicism under Mary I, Cranmer recanted his Protestant faith, but later withdrew his recantation. He was burnt at the stake in 1556.

Stephen Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner (1483-1555)
Gardiner was the son of a clothworker. He was born in Bury Saint Edmunds in about 1495.
He studied civil and canon law, and became Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
A loyal servant to Henry VIII, he worked for the divorce, but Protestant doctrines held no attractions for him and he was probably the author of the Six Articles (1539).
In 1535, he published De vera obedientia (On true obedience) defending the Royal Supremacy, and recommending submission to secular rulers.
Gardiner allied with conservative religious faction led by the Duke of Norfolk, and played a part in the fall of Thomas Cromwell, but himself was imprisoned in the Tower during Edward VI's reign.
Restored to favor under Mary, he became Lord Chancellor and Mary's chief advisor. He died in 1555.

Thomas More

"He was the person of the greatest virtue these islands ever produced" (Samuel Johnson)

"With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter. ... No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense " (Erasmus of Rotterdam)

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
More was the son of a prominent judge, raised in the Household of Cardinal Morton, and a scholar of international renown for his knowledge of the classics.
He was an important humanist, who criticized abuses in both church and state. Many of his complaints appeared in Utopia (1516), an account of a nonexistent perfect state. ('Utopia' means 'nowhere').
He made a successful career as a lawyer, and in 1529 became Lord Chancellor on the fall of Wolsey.
However, his refusal to join in the attack on Rome and to swear that Anne Boleyn was lawful Queen lost him royal favor.
More was arrested, convicted of treason after perjured evidence was given by Cromwell's agent Sir Richard Rich, and beheaded in 1535.
Richard Rich went from success to success - deserted Cromwell in time to save his own skin, persecuted Roman Catholics under Edward and Protestants under Mary, and became a baron and Lord Chancellor.


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