Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Question from Mike - Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy

I am fairly new to the subject matter and have been doing a lot of reading about the "Tudor Dynasty" and about the middle ages on the whole. However, the other night a got a chance to watch the movie and maybe I should have read the book first "The other Bolyen Girl". In the movie it depicts Anne and Henry Percy actually marrying, when all that I have read thus far is that they were betrothed to each other but, because of Henry VIII interference the marriage never took place. Now I know that the movie industry takes certain liberties so....

My question is this. Did this marriage actually take place and would'nt that have altered Henry's plans a bit considering the fact that from a religious persective the country was practising catholicism?




Elizabeth M. said...

There is mystery about this. I myself do not think it took place, as henry Percy went on to be married to the wife chosen for him by his father, Lady Mary Talbot. Had there been an impediment, I don't think this marriage would have gone through. Likewise, King Henry, struggling with the question of having married his brother's widow, would have had his legal scholars look into the question thoroughly.
Granted, when King Henry wanted to be rid of Anne, he briefly thought about using this as an excuse for a divorce, before Cromwell settled on adultery and incest. Lady Mary Talbot herself, tried to bring up the matter of her husband's supposed pre-contract to marry Anne Boleyn as a means of hopefully freeing herself from a loveless marriage, but it failed. There was no conclusive proof. I think Anne and henry were in love with each other, and more than likely made some young lovers promise to marry, but it was not a formal betrothal and not made in front of witnesses.

Foose said...

At the time, marriage and betrothals were governed by canon (Church) law, which was fairly complex, open to negotiation to those with enough money and influence, and could regard a solemn betrothal between consenting parties that was subsequently consummated as a valid marriage. Even if there was no consummation, the betrothal before witnesses could be regarded as a "precontract" and nullify any subsequent marriage by either of the parties -- this is how Henry was able to get rid of Anne of Cleves (she had previously been "precontracted" to the Duke of Lorraine, although it's doubtful if she ever got within 50 leagues of him) -- unless a dispensation was obtained from the proper Church authority.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" is the first film on Anne where I've seen her actually married to Henry Percy, with the marriage hastily hushed up and annulled. In "Anne of the Thousand Days," she clearly regards herself as at least secretly betrothed to him, and the relationship is consummated. In reality, Henry Percy swore on oath in 1532 there was no precontract; he also refused to acknowledge one in 1536, when Henry was trying to annul his marriage to Anne.

Historians have regularly debated whether the English Reformation would have occurred without Anne Boleyn. If she had been married and the fact known to Henry, perhaps he wouldn't have pursued her with an eye to making her Queen. But many reputable historians agree that Henry was already considering discarding Catherine of Aragon early in the 1520s, probably before he was involved with Anne -- Catherine's last pregnancy was in 1518, the French embassy visiting in 1522 apparently raised some question about the Princess Mary's legitimacy, in view of her mother's previous marriage, Henry had become disillusioned about the value of the Spanish-Imperial alliance, and he was aware that marriage with one's brother's wife was specifically prohibited in the Bible. If you were royal, a certain amount of incestuous marriage was unavoidable, since you had a limited pool to choose from (Catherine's father married his grand-niece, the Queen of Naples married her nephew, Catherine's two sisters married the same King of Portugal in turn) but the Bible only mentions the brother's wife case as incurring the divine punishment "they shall be childless." At that point in Western European history, there had been no previous test case for the exact same situation, unless you count the Scandinavian legend that inspired "Hamlet."

Catherine would have stalled no matter what, especially if the alternative bride had any sort of French connections, and compelled the Emperor's support. The Pope would have continued to cavil. Inevitably, Henry would have been driven to seek support from the evangelical party and the Reformation would likely have resulted just the same.

I wonder sometimes why Henry just didn't square Charles V beforehand and cut Catherine's legs out from under her by pretending to be interested in renewing the Imperial alliance by marrying one of the Emperor's connections; once he got the Papal approval for an annulment, he could have married anybody. It could be that Henry had a certain honesty about his intentions, or that he was afraid that Anne would not go along with the scheme, but I think he was also absolutely convinced he was right about his theological assessment of his marital situation -- "an angel descending from heaven would be unable to persuade him," etc.

Anonymous said...

In reality Anne was in love and betrothed to Henry percy but there was no marriage.This would have been impossible anyway because this was about the time that the king was interested in her. I will tell you what happened Thomas wolseywho was the king's cheif minister at the time knew and found out about Anne's love for Mr percy and he reported it to the king an on King Henry's orders Wolsey was to prevent this from happening which he sucseeded in doing but Anne never knew that it was Wolsey acting on Henry's orders.Anne hated Wolsey for this.
If the marriage had taken place between Anne boleyn and Henry percy it would have altered Henry's plans but then again who really knows what would have happened.The country was practicing catholicsm but you had the protestants and the reformers who were the lutherans.

Anonymous said...

ok, let my say, i've read many books on Anne's life, and let me say, the other boleyn girl (book and movie) is not extremley accurate. and second, a marraige WAS originally planned between Percy and Anne, but when the king cast his eye on anne, that was the end of that. Percy and Anne were betrothed, and that was probably the ceremony you saw in the movie.

Anonymous said...

The idea that Henry VIII actively sought to separate Percy and Anne and had Wolsey do this was an idea promoted by George Cavendish in his work on the life of Wolsey, written in the 1550s. Cavendish had been a member of Wolsey’s household which at first promotes the validity of his claims. However whether Henry VIII was interested in Anne by the time of her relationship with Percy and that her scorn with Wolsey was a product of his involvement in her separation from Percy is debatable and not something agreed upon by all historians.

There is some debate in regards to when Percy married Mary Talbot. IIRC, David Starkey affirms a date around 1525. But the entry on Henry Percy at Oxford DNB notes that he married Mary sometime between January to February 1524. Eric Ives in his work on Anne Boleyn also notes that arrangements for the match were finalised in 1523 indicating that the following year the marriage was to be set. It is debatable whether Henry, by 1523-1524, was interested in Anne Boleyn to the extent that he would actively interfere in her relationship with Percy. Personally I think there is a lack of evidence indicating that Henry was significantly interested in Anne by that point.

In addition other factors of the story are suspect. Cavendish implies that Anne’s later disdain against Wolsey was due to his interference and that she and Percy had challenged Wolsey to some degree. However this may be a product of hindsight on behalf of Cavendish. He knew of the later tempestuous relationship between Anne and Wolsey and may have assigned Wolsey’s involvement in Anne and Percy’s relationship as being the cause in order to try to deduce a reason. Yet there is an alternative explanation for the disdain between the two – that Anne became hostile towards Wolsey due to perhaps disbelief that he was wholeheartedly working towards the king’s annulment. Perhaps she knew that Wolsey preferred someone else like a French princess to be Henry’s next wife and not her. In addition Anne and Wolsey may have been wary of one another owing to the other’s close relationship with the king which was bond to create mutual jealousy. So there did exist other reasons for this dislike.

As Eric Ives notes, there are reasons as to why Wolsey, of his own accord, separated the couple. Wolsey had worked towards a union between the Percy family and the Talbots and therefore was involved in the marriage negotiations between Percy and Mary. Had the relationship between Anne and Percy been serious to the degree that they wished or had actually become betrothed then this was a direct threat and challenge to his plans. Therefore it is easy to acknowledge how Wolsey could become annoyed with the pair in his own right and given both a sharp rebuke.

As for whether the pair actually got betrothed or even slept together – I think it is highly unlikely that Anne and Percy slept together. They would have had to have been fools had they done so as a potential pregnancy out of wedlock would have resulted in serious repercussions, particularly for Anne. They must have understood of Percy’s prior commitment to Mary Talbot and perhaps been cautious because of this. It is very probable that some form of attachment was created between them, significant enough for Mary Talbot to draw attention to their relationship years later and for Cavendish to mention it years after Anne and Percy’s deaths. Or perhaps both Cavendish and Mary were misinterpreting the relationship for respective agendas. I hesitate though to say Anne and Percy loved one another as I think we don’t have the evidence to deduce their feelings. If we are to use Cavendish’s account the two were certainly fond of one another and wished to marry. But there is still much uncertainty about this relationship. Very frustrating!

Foose said...

I have been able to find an earlier case of a king marrying his brother's wife - and in Spain, too!

In 1311 Eleanora of Castile was betrothed (at the age of 4) to James, heir to Aragon, and married to him in 1319. However, the prince wanted to embrace a religious life and, according to Annals of the Queens of Spain, by Anita George (1850):

"The singular temper of the bridegroom who, renouncing the throne, subsequently became a monk, caused the marriage to be annulled ... [The prince] yielded to the king's persuasions, so far that he allowed the nuptial ceremonies between himself and Leonora to be performed, but he refused to give the young bride the kiss of peace, or conduct her back to the palace ... By the formal renunciation of the crown prince in Tarragona this same year, Alfonso, his next brother, became heir to the throne. It was decreed, however, that Leonora should yet be Queen of Aragon and, though in 1328 she returned to Castile a maid, and a divorced wife, she went again to Aragon in the following year, to become the second wife of Alfonso."

I can't find out much about her, except that she had children by her second husband and stirred up a great deal of trouble trying to secure the Aragonese inheritance for them (her stepson ultimately inherited). I haven't seen any evidence that her virginity was disputed, or whether a dispensation was issued, or if any sort of worries about a levirate marriage plagued Alfonso. I don't believe her case ever came up as a precedent in Catherine of Aragon's defence against Henry VIII's divorce suit.