Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Question from Bron - Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

The Mariage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Several modern historians suggest the wedding was in London on the 25th January 1533.

However, the Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall, says:

“The king, after his return [from Calais] married privily the Lady Anne Bulleyn on Saint Erkenwald’s Day, which marriage was kept so secret that very few knew it, till she was great with child, at Easter after.”

When, in your opinion, would a woman who gives birth early in September be deemed to be ‘great with child’?

Ives points out that St Erkenwald’s Day was the day after the couple returned to Dover, Thursday the 14th November 1532.

Protestants preferred this date, as it meant that Elizabeth, born 7th September 1533, was conceived within marriage.

A birth on 7 September would imply a conception in December. What are the parameters here?

A wedding date of the 25th January would mean a gestation of only some 7 months, presuming conception took place immediately. Even Nicholas Sanders dates Henry and Anne’s marriage as the 14th November, so Ives wonders if Henry and Anne made some kind of formal commitment in November, prior to another wedding ceremony in January.

It is said that ‘At the wedding on 25 January 1533, we have William Brereton, recently married to Elizabeth Somerset, the widow of Sir John Savage, younger sister to Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester. Sir John Savage’s sister, Anne Savage, lady-in-waiting and companion to Anne Boleyn, attended the wedding and carried the bride’s train.’ William Brereton’s recently acquired brother-in-law, Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester, who was not present, had married Elizabeth Browne as his second wife (before 1527), and although Elizabeth Browne was a lady in waiting, she was not invited either. It was Elizabeth Browne’s evidence regarding Anne’s alleged promiscuity which would later destroy most of the people present.

In your opinion, are these details fanciful? Do we know anything at all about the January wedding?

[Previous related thread linked below. - Lara]


  1. It appears that Nicholas Harpsfield is the source for the witnesses at the January wedding:

    "The which marriage was secretly made at Whitehall very early before day, none being present except Mr. Norris and Mr. Heneage of the Privy Chamber and the Lady Barkeley [Anne Savage, my note], with Mr. Rowland, the king's chaplain ..."

    Harpsfield is usually characterized as a partisan Catholic source and this excerpt is taken from his "Treatise on the Pretended Divorce Between Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon." However, he is frequently cited in scholarly works for this particular passage on the January wedding of Henry and Anne. David Starkey supports the veracity of this account, noting that "Harpsfield claims that the marriage ceremony took place 'at Whitehall' as York Place soon became known ... [Edmund Bonner's letter to [William Benet] shows, incontrovertibly, that Henry was at York Place overnight on Friday/Saturday, 24/25 January ... brief thought visit was, it gave quite enough time for one of the most momentous acts of his life -- and Anne's."

    Starkey has been attacked (on this blog, as well as other places), but not on this point, so I would assume at present scholars may agree with him that Harpsfield's account may be accurate.

    Note that Brereton is not mentioned. I can only find that Alison Weir cites his presence (conditionally, but in two books) but I cannot identify her source. Possibly it is an extrapolation from the presence of Lady Berkeley.

  2. Foose, thank you so much!

  3. FYI, the reason Harpsfield may be accepted by historians (in spite of his prejudices) is that his January date is confirmed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (an interested party, of course, but on the other side). There is a note in Letters & Papers in which Cranmer dates the marriage to "about St. Paul's day" (January 25th):

    "This coronation [Anne Boleyn's crowning] was not before her marriage, which took place about St. Paul's day last, 'as the condition thereof doth well appear, by reason she is now somewhat big with child ...'

    This comes from Cranmer's letter of 17 June 1533 to "Master Hawkins, ambassador with Emperor's majesty."


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