Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 2, Anne Boleyn


These notes are from part 2 of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ documentary with David Starkey. For part 1 on Katherine of Aragon, click here.

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
  • 1529 Henry VIII in love but not with his wife Katherine of Aragon but with Anne Boleyn
  • Henry’s determination to divorce Katherine and marry Anne plunges England into turmoil
  • What kind of woman who can inspire a king to commit bigamy?
  • Anne’s enemies called her a shrew, whore, and bigamist
  • Remarkable woman who risked everything, including her life, to get the man and crown
  • Anne grew up in Kent, highly intelligent daughter of a courtier and diplomat
  • Her father, Thomas Boleyn, was ambitious
  • Anne left Hever Castle for the court of the Archduchess Margaret in the Netherlands
  • Anne’s first letter home written in French
  • Had been expected to learn French and courtly ways and expected to be a rising star at the English court on her return
  • Plenty of opportunity to perfect her French when she moved to the French court
  • More French than English on her return to the English court
  • Anne began a lady-in-waiting to the English queen
  • Not beautiful by the standards of the day but was witty, confident, intelligent and an excellent dancer
  • Court regulation required that the queen’s ladies should be good-looking
  • Court entertainment was all about love – it was the theme of pageants, plays and poetry
  • Lord Percy was soon head over heels in love with Anne – she aimed high and scored
  • Percy’s family blocked the match
  • 1525 Anne was being serenaded by the poet Thomas Wyatt – tantalising and untouchable, as he withdrew when he realised Anne had another admirer in the king
  • King couldn’t command the love of a woman like Anne Boleyn
  • Anne had her own plans – Henry’s marriage to Katherine had lost its passion and it hadn’t provided a son
  • She tried to get the throne, learning from the experience of her sister, Mary, and held out
  • Mary gave the king her favours and was discarded
  • When Anne was away from court Henry wrote love letters to her – she gave him the tough treatment and didn’t answer his letters
  • She deliberately stayed away from court
  • When Anne did write to the king, she gave him mixed signals
  • 1526 Henry was driven wild by Anne’s behaviour while she was at Hever
  • In December Henry asked Anne for a straight answer and she replied on New Year’s Day 1527 with a jewel of a storm-tossed maiden
  • Anne surrendered to Henry, but only as his wife and not as his mistress
  • Henry thus had to divorce Katherine, his wife of 18 years
  • Anne was asking Henry to take on Katherine, her friends and supporters, and the universal Catholic church
Henry VIII c.1537.
Henry VIII c.1537.
  • Henry signed his letters like a love-struck schoolboy with hearts and flourishes
  • Henry was determined to make Anne his wife and consummate their relationship
  • He believed he could persuade the church to annul his marriage to Katherine
  • October 1528 Cardinal Campeggio arrives in London to try the marriage – Henry and Anne were delighted by his arrival, and Henry organised the wedding trousseau
  • The outcome of the trial was more disappointing as a result
  • Katherine began with a speech defending the validity of her marriage to the king
  • The trial drifted on for another month until the sittings were suspended without a verdict and it was recalled to Rome
  • Henry treated Anne regally with splendid clothes and sumptuous accommodation
  • 1529 Anne had precedent over the king’s sister as his acknowledged consort
  • The routine of the court rolled on and Anne and Katherine were in company with each other
  • Did Anne have sympathy with Katherine or imagine she might find herself in the same position? No
  • Anne was young and confident of Henry’s love
  • The fact that Katherine refused to surrender made her the enemy
  • Katherine continued to make Henry’s shirts and Anne became jealous – she used her tongue to cut and not charm “courage of a lion”
  • Anne was making enemies
  • Anne’s sharp tongue and Henry’s power managed to keep things under control in the court, but out in the towns Katherine was genuinely popular and Anne was reviled
  • Anne was seen as a gold digger, a witch, and a heretic
  • “Groigne qui groigne” – let who will complain
  • Henry was weakened, caught between two resolute women
  • Repeated attempts were made to get Katherine to renounce the marriage, and Anne refused to submit to the king
  • Anne was interested in the new religious ideas
  • She gave Henry Tyndale’s book ‘Obedience of a Christian Man’ which argued that the authority over the church fell to the king and not the Pope
  • Beginning of 1531 Henry took the first step to break with the church –English clergy gave Henry a new title Supreme Head of the Church in England as far as the law of Christ allows
  • As Head of the Church Henry could grant his own divorce
  • July 1531 Katherine was expelled from court after 22 years of marriage and didn’t say goodbye
  • Henry still clung to the hope that the Pope would give him a divorce
  • Needed the support of Francis I of France so Anne negotiated with the French ambassador
  • Henry and Francis met at Calais in 1532 where Anne would be present
  • Anne was created Marquess of Pembroke in her own right, and Henry decided she should be given the queen’s jewels
  • Katherine only surrendered the jewels with a direct command from the king
  • Anne returned to France in style – she had left France to serve the English queen and returned having usurped her
  • The trip was a great success
  • A storm kept the pair in Calais for several days after the meeting and it is then that the couple likely slept together for the first time
  • Why give way at this moment? Henry was confident of French support, so it was safe for them to get married
  • Anne was aged 32 and already pregnant when they married
  • Officially Henry was a bigamist and the unborn child a bastard
  • The plan was to keep the wedding and baby a secret until the divorce was finalised
  • In April 1533 Anne decided to show off, with a hankering for apples which the king said was a sign she was pregnant
  • Calculated risk – Anne was deliberately drawing attention to her fertility
  • Powerful psychological argument against Henry and Katherine’s marriage – Katherine failed to provide a son, and Anne fell pregnant immediately
  • Katherine was told she was no longer queen but princess dowager
  • The Spanish ambassador was indignant and wrote to Charles V, Katherine’s nephew, to launch an invasion against England
  • Katherine was opposed to a holy war on her behalf and wouldn’t act against Henry
  • In a court at Dunstable on 23rd May Henry’s marriage to Katherine was declared invalid and 5 days later his marriage to Anne was declared valid
  • The following day her coronation celebrations began
  • The celebrations before Anne’s coronation lasted several days
  • 29th May was a ceremonial progress down the River Thames to the Tower of London
  • Anne insisted on using Katherine’s old barge, removing Katherine’s badges and replacing them with her own
  • She was met by the king who kissed her
  • The following 2 nights were spent together at the Tower
  • 1st June 1533 Anne was crowned in Westminster Abbey
  • The previous day she had processed through the city
  • The pope was outraged by Anne’s elevation and in July he declared Cranmer’s judgments void and declared any of their children would be bastards
  • Henry was also excommunicated but he ignored the pope
  • Anne was looking forward to the arrival of her child and everyone expected a son and heir
David Starkey
  • A series of letters were drawn up announcing the birth, initially for a prince – adjustments had to be made
  • A princess was born on 7 September 1533 – Elizabeth
  • Anne hoped and prayed her daughter would soon be joined by a brother
  • Henry and Anne put a brave face on it and the succession was changed, vesting the succession in their children and no others
  • Elizabeth replaced Katherine’s daughter, Mary, as heir to the English throne
  • In May 1534, a delegation arrived at Buckden in Huntongdonshire to get Katherine to swear to the Act of Succession that she was no longer queen and her daughter a bastard
  • Katherine responded by reading out the pope’s judgement that her marriage was valid
  • In England Katherine’s marriage was over, but in Rome it was valid
  • Anne loved her daughter, but protocol forbade a normal mother-daughter relationship
  • Elizabeth had a wet nurse and a household of her own and Anne ordered her lavish clothes
  • Anne deliberately humiliated Mary
  • Katherine wrote to Mary, telling her to obey her father in everything, except those things which touched her soul
  • Katherine remained a devout Catholic, but England was changing, thanks in part to Anne
  • Anne owned a copy of Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible
  • The English Bible allowed lay people to form their own opinions
  • Anne nailed her colours to the mast as a supporter of religious reform
  • A massive building program was underway to transform the royal palaces – everywhere Henry and Anne’s initials were entwined
  • Anne was pregnant again and Henry persuaded himself it was a son and heir
  • Henry commissioned a new cradle, designed by Hans Holbein and trimmed with gold, silver and enamel but it was never used as Anne miscarried in summer 1534
  • A note of mistrust entered the royal marriage
  • She must shut her eyes and endure as Henry could lower her as much as he had raised her
  • Anne recognised the threat from her own ladies
  • Anne insisted that her ladies dress and behave modestly but it didn’t deflect the king
  • In June 1535 Anne had another stillborn child
  • Summer 1535 Anne and Henry made a royal progress to the west of England as Anne was shown off outside London
  • They stayed one night at Iron Acton
  • Tensions were increasing – a woman could be demanding and difficult as a mistress but as a wife she was expected to be submissive
  • Anne refused to make the transition to wife – he found her confidence and wittiness unbearable as a wife
  • A later story has Anne telling one of her ladies that Henry was no good in bed
  • Outside the court Anne’s unpopularity was growing as people didn’t like the changes
  • Cardinal Fisher and Thomas More were beheaded for refusing to swear the oath to the Act of Succession and Anne was held responsible
  • During winter 1535 the king developed a new fancy for a lady in Anne’s household – Jane Seymour
  • But Anne was pregnant again
  • January 1536 England has suffered 5 years of turmoil
  • Behind the political and religious upheavals were changed lives
  • Katherine is dying and sent a last letter to Henry, telling him to look to his soul before his body, leaving their daughter in his care
  • She ended by saying that what she wanted most of all was to see him again
  • 7th January 1536 Katherine died – Henry and Anne paraded in yellow
  • 3 weeks later Anne went into premature labour and miscarried a son, her third failed pregnancy
  • Anne immediately talked of her next pregnancy, but Henry declared he would have no sons by her – the curse had returned
  • Cromwell understood Henry’s dilemma and so Anne had to be got rid of
  • Henry wanted to remarry, and another divorce was out of the question
  • Anne’s famous sex appeal would be turned against her
  • Cromwell vacated his apartments at Greenwich and Jane Seymour moved in – it was a sign that she was the king’s official mistress
  • An honour that had been intended for Anne’s brother went instead to one of Jane’s supporters
  • Anne was English so had no powerful foreign friends to turn to, as Katherine had
  • Anne’s hope lay in Henry’s memories of their past
  • Henry’s love could quickly turn to hate
  • A musician had made love sighs and Anne had accused a courtier of wanting to marry her
  • This could be twisted into a charge of adultery and adultery in a queen was treason
  • 24th April 1536 Henry authorised a court to look into it
  • The musician Mark Smeaton was arrested and under torture he confessed to adultery with the queen
  • May Day was celebrated with a joust and Anne resided
  • Anne’s brother captained one team and Henry Norris the other
  • Henry offered Norris a pardon if he would confess to adultery with the queen, but he refused and was taken to the Tower
  • Francis Weston, George Boleyn, and William Brereton were also arrested
  • On 2nd May 1536 Anne herself was interrogated before the council, accused of adultery, and then was taken to the Tower
  • When Anne arrived at the Tower last time it was the eve of her coronation
  • She was imprisoned in the royal apartments where she had stayed as queen
  • William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, was told to record everything she said, hoping that she would incriminate herself and others
  • She seems to have wept and laughed in her terror
  • Anne did start to talk, and Kingston reported every word to Cromwell
  • “Shall I die without justice?”
  • On 8th May Thomas Wyatt was arrested
  • 4 days later Smeaton, Weston, Brereton, and Norris were tried and condemned
  • The charge of incest with her brother was intended to blacken Anne’s reputation beyond repair
  • Anne was tried in the great hall at the Tower of London in front of 2000 spectators by a jury of her peers presided over by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk on 15th May
White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London
  • Henry Percy, her former lover was also part of the jury
  • The guilty verdict was fixed beforehand, and she was sentenced to be beheaded or burned at the king’s pleasure
  • Anne admitted to nothing but her own fiery temper
  • On 17th May the men were beheaded on Tower Hill
  • On the same day Anne and Henry’s marriage was declared invalid and Elizabeth bastardised
  • Anne’s execution was set for 19th May
  • Anne’s wit turned black “I have a little neck”
  • They came for her at 8am within the Tower of London with limited spectators as they feared what she might say
  • She refused to accuse anyone or speak of the charges against her
  • She also praised the king
  • Anne’s body was taken to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower and buried in front of the high altar
  • Anne was reckless with high ambition and said that she thought it might end in death, but she never stepped back
  • Most interesting if not the most attractive of Henry’s queens
  • She did her best to protect Elizabeth’s future before her death
  • Jane Seymour was waiting in the wings to step into Anne’s shoes

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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