Monday, July 06, 2009

Question from Ann - Anne and Henry's secret marriage ceremony

Hello, I have another question for all you sparks out there.
I have been researching Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn and somewhere I read that Thomas Cramner officiated at the secret ceremony, yet other sources say it was an unnamed priest who performed the service. Do any of you know? Thanks.


  1. What does Eric Ives say on this question in his book about Anne Boleyn? Since he is one of "the" experts on Anne, he probably has the best information. (I do not have a copy at hand to check.)

    Cranmer was not consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury until March 1533, so he was not yet the Archbishop when Henry married Anne. And according to Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography of Cranmer, he did not learn of the marriage until two weeks after it happened.

  2. In Professor Ives' most recent biography of Anne Boleyn, he follows on from the research of Dr. David Starkey and hypothesises that there were, in fact, two wedding services between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

    For some time, historians have struggled to explain the psychological riddle behind Anne's celebrated refusal to have sexual intercourse until marriage, only to (apparently) cave in and consummate her union with Henry in November or December of 1532, a mere two months before the marriage she had been working towards for so long.

    It is often explained away as simply being the most pragmatic decision available to her and, with her elevation to the peerage in September and the diplomatic triumph of the state visit to Calais, Anne could now confidently become Henry's sexual partner and then push forward the marriage once she became pregnant.

    However, there are several revelatory comments from the chronicler Edward Hall, who casually stated that Henry and Anne went through a form of marriage on the feast-day of Saint Erkenwald (November 14th), by which time the couple had returned from their trip to Calais and had just arrived in Dover Castle - a venue which Hall also confirms as the place of the first service. This date is also backed up by the violently anti-Boleyn recusant, Father Nicholas Sander, in his work of the 1570s.

    This possible first ceremony makes more sense than the story that Anne consented to sex before she was married, for however brief a time, and it fits with royal etiquette (there were customarily two, or even three, nuptial Masses for royal couples.)

    So, in relation to the first marriage ceremony, presumably conducted on Saint Erkenwald's Day (November 14th 1532) in Dover Castle - no, Thomas Cranmer could not have performed the service. On that date, he was still on a diplomatic mission abroad and was still residing in the Italian city-state of Mantua.

    And whilst he had indeed arrived in England at the start of January 1533, in preparation for his consecration as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems clear that he was not in fact present at the second marriage ceremony at Whitehall on January 25th 1533. Reading from Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography of Cranmer, it seems clear that the Archbishop did not know that the couple were married until the middle of February, two weeks after the wedding Mass of January 25th.

    In terms of who actually married the couple, Hall's Chronicle is silent on the identity of the priest who presided over the ceremony presumed to have taken place in November at Dover - although my guess is (and it's only a guess!) it was probably one of Anne's own chaplains who accompanied her on the state visit to Calais.

    And for the second, and more famous, ceremony on January 25th, there are two candidates - certain Catholic courtiers would later suggest that it had been Rowland Lee, future bishop of Lichfield; whilst the Spanish ambassador stated in a report several months later that it had been Father George Brown, the prior of the House of the Augustinian Friars in London, and future archbishop of Dublin.

    Whether it was Lichfield or Dublin, it seems clear that it couldn't have been Thomas Cranmer.

  3. An excellent and interesting response, Gareth.

    May I just make one observation? Nicholas Sanders is not the most reliable of sources. He was still an infant when Henry and Anne were married, so his account is at best second-hand and many years after-the-fact. And while I have no idea myself whether or not his details are accurate, I do have to advise some degree of skepticism for anyone reading his account. Sanders wrote with a very aggressive agenda, one that was vehemently anti-Elizabeth and anti-Elizabethan religious settlement. He was obviously staunchly pro-Catholic. One might therefore reasonably ask whether his account of a wedding ceremony in November 1532 served any propagandist purpose beyond a mere statement of presumed fact. And indeed it did: it implied that Elizabeth was illegitimate as a result of her father being married to two women at once. It implied that Elizabeth was the product of a polygamous union. Henry was not free of Katherine until the following March. And because polygamy violated both Catholic and Church of England canon law, the marriage to Anne Boleyn might be argued as totally invalid, even without consideration of the later treason trial. It might therefore be argued that Elizabeth was irrevocably illegitimate, since secular law could not then overturn canon law, and the children of polygamous unions were barred from "receiving any ecclesiastical order or dignity." That included a bar from being anointed as a monarch. It was a very subtle argument, but one that should have been quite valid under canon law of the sixteenth century. In fact, it may help to explain why Elizabeth never asked Parliament to address the issue of her legitimacy, as Mary had done, since doing so might have raised more questions than it answered. It could conceivably have back-fired and ended in her being deposed.

  4. @PhD Historian

    If there was a secret wedding on the date given by Sander, it would answered a lot of question. It would explain why Anne seem to have given in to Henry VIII months before the official wedding, as well as explain why Anne "Might" have believe that she would be sent to a nunnery(re: Anne 's statement in the tower about being sent to a nunnery ). It also could shed a little light on the information that Anne had given Cranmer that allowed him to bastardize Elizabeth,and declared Anne's marriage to Henry VIII invalid. No one was about to confirm what Anne exactly told Cranmer,and believe it had to do with Anne's pre-contract with Henry Percy, or Henry VIII relationship with Mary Boleyn. However, Cranmer claim to have declared the marriage invalid on "Recent"evidence unknown to him. Anne's supposed pre-contract with Henry Percy was brought up before Anne married Henry , and Henry VIII relationship with Mary Boleyn was brought up while Henry VIII was seeking a annulment from KOA. So both was pretty well known,therefore can't be classify as recent or unknown.

  5. CORRECTION: The line should read * no one was "ABLE" to confirm what information Anne told Cranmer in tower that invalidate her marriage to Henry VIII, and bastardize Elizabeth*

  6. I don't think one can argue at all that the date of the earlier ceremony has anything to do with the annulment in 1536. From that point-of-view, whether or not the marriage took place in November 1532 or January 1533 is irrelevant. As PhD Historian has pointed out, Henry was not free from Katherine until after either date of the ceremony - so November or January makes no difference. Moreover, the union with Katherine could not have been held up to invalidate the union with Anne by 1536, because according to English law, Henry had always been free of Katherine because the marriage had been invalid from its inception. Therefore, I'm afraid it's impossible that this theory helps explain the bastardisation of Elizabeth I in May, 1536.

    PhD Historian, you're absolutely right about Sander, which is why I tried to make him more of a footnoted point in my original posting. I should point out that from my own viewpoint, the Hall reference is far more important and I intended to use Sander's corroboration as just that. However, I admit I had never considered before the Sander may have had his own agenda - which, obviously, Hall would not have had - concerning the legitimacy of Elizabeth I. For what it's worth, there was a comment made in (I think) 1555 or possibly 1556 by Elizabeth to the Venetian ambassador that she knew for a fact her mother would never have cohabited with her father without religious approval, which COULD suggest that members of her household had relayed the story of the November ceremony to her before. Of course, it's unlikely that Sander was aware of Elizabeth's own belief on the matter, but it does at least suggest that a ceremony on the date recorded by Hall would actually have bolstered Elizabeth's case rather than damaged it. I accept the point, however, that Sander could have been unaware of this and working towards his own agenda of discrediting the Boleyn legacy and, above all, the Elizabethan regime.


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