Anne as a Piece on the Chessboard of Politics

By 1536, Henry was well aware that public opinion, especially after the executions of Bishop Fisher and Thomas More (for refusing to take the oath declaring Henry Supreme Head of the Church of England) was not exactly riding in his favor.

Besides anger over Fisher and More, who were generally admired, there was a growing public sentiment over the mistreatment of Katherine and Princess Mary, who Henry kept separated from each other, and treated like discarded limbs.  The abuse of Mary was especially acute, as she was forced to wait on her younger sister Elizabeth, and allowed no audience with the King, who had formerly been an affectionate father, so long as she refused to acknowledge Anne as Queen.  This she would not do, not even after Anne had personally offered her friendship and a home at court, on that one condition.  Despite a huge amount of evidence that Henry was in a rage over his daughter’s “obstinacy” and hardly required any goading to punish and humiliate her, Chapuys blamed her mistreatment entirely on Anne, whom he believed turned the King against Mary, and did all that he could to insure that every other person who would listen to him saw it that way. 

Even those who knew better, like Thomas Cromwell, realized that blaming the King for Mary’s mistreatment could create a huge public relations disaster and encouraged Chapuys in his Anne-blaming.  As early as October of 1534, Chapuys had met with Cromwell, who reassured Chapuys of Henry’s “paternal affection” for Mary and claimed that “he loved her 100 times more than his last born” and that he and Chapuys should do all that they could to “soften and mend all matter relating to her,” for “in time everything would be set to rights.”[1] Although I am often skeptical of Chapuys’ second and third-hand “intelligence,” the manipulative, self-serving speech he attributes to Cromwell has, to my ears, the ring of truth:

“True it was, “ (Cromwell said) that the King, his master, had occasionally complained of the suit which Your Majesty had instituted against him at Rome, but he [Cromwell] had fully shown that Your Majesty could not help stirring in favour of Queen Katherine, bound as she was to you by the bonds of consanguinity and royal rank; and that, considering the King, his master, if in your Majesty’s place, might have acted as you did there was no fear of his now taking in bad part your interference in the affairs of so close a relative.  He himself had so strongly and so often inculcated that reasoning upon the King, that, in his opinion, no cause now remained for disagreement between Your Majesty and his master, save perhaps the affair of these two good ladies [Katherine and Mary]; to remedy which, as he had signified to me, it was needful that we both should agree upon a satisfactory settlement of all complaints, and the knitting of that lasting friendship which might otherwise be endangered.  Cromwell ended by saying in passing that it was perfectly true that great union and friendship existed now between France and England, but that I could guess the cause of it. He did not say more on this subject.  Your Majesty, by your great wisdom, will be able to judge what Cromwell’s last words meant.”[2]

Of course, the “cause” that was implied here was Anne—who now was “hinted” by Cromwell as standing between the repair of relations between England and Spain, and in a double way:  First, because she was known to be a Francophile, but more important, because she was the obstacle standing in the way of reaching a “satisfactory settlement of all complaints” by Katherine and Mary.[3]  Chapuys also took Cromwell as hinting “that there was some appearance of the King changing his love.”[4]  He wasn’t sure whether to take this seriously—for Cromwell was quite capable of dissembling when it suited his purposes—but what seems crystal clear is that Cromwell was buttering Chapuys up, in the interests of Henry’s PR and future good relations with Charles, and that Anne was already being used by him to take the heat off Henry.

Why would Cromwell, who shared Anne’s religious proclivities, want to stir up the anti-Anne pot with Chapuys and Charles? After all, he had been chief engineer of the break with Rome and, as a reformist himself, had been Anne’s strongest ally at the start of her relationship with Henry.  At one point, it was generally believed that Anne, as Chapuys later put it, was “Anne’s right hand.”[5]) What had happened?  At this point, nothing of grave significance. But Cromwell was a man who was ever alert to the slightest changes in the weather of power-politics, and Anne had just had a miscarriage in July of 1535.  It was not publicly reported, but can be inferred from comments made about her “goodly belly” in April and Henry’s postponement of a trip to France that summer “on account of her condition.”[6] Then, in July: silence.  There now had been two unsuccessful pregnancies, as far as the issue of a male heir was concerned.  Moreover, although Elizabeth was born healthy and beautiful, this child had not even gone to term—a far more ominous sign for superstitious Henry.  Was he already wondering whether God disapproved of this marriage?  And did he share his misgivings with his “most beloved” Cromwell?

Cromwell and Anne, moreover, although they inveighed against Rome and fought for the divorce together, had a serious break brewing.  For although they may have shared the same “theory” of reform (although we don’t know for sure, as what became English Protestantism was only just evolving) they disagreed sharply on what should be done with the spoils of disbanded churches and monasteries.  From the beginning of his ascent to power—and among the reasons why he was able to keep the favor of the nobility, even after Wolsey was deposed—Cromwell “actively assisted the King in diverting revenues from the suppressed monasteries, originally granted to Wolsey’s two colleges, to the purses of Henry’s cronies at court.”[7] Anne, in contrast, favored using the funds to set up educational and charitable institutions, and was shocked to learn that the money was being diverted for private use.  This difference between them would not explode until April of 1536, but it seems that in sidling up to Chapuys, Cromwell was already preparing for the possibility that it might come to a show-down resulting in his own fall from favor, and he was seeking alliance with Chapuys to prepare for the need for a strike against Anne.

Cromwell was aware that developing a friendship with Chapuys was risky, but assessing the situation at the time, he wasn’t overly concerned. In June of 1535 he told Chapuys that if Anne knew how close he and Chapuys were, she would see Cromwell’s head off his shoulders.  At the time, Cromwell shrugged it off, telling Chapuys that “I trust so much on my master, that I fancy she cannot do me any harm.”[8] But the differences between Anne and Cromwell were escalating—not just over the use of confiscated money but also over international alliances (Anne favored France, while Cromwell was beginning to lean toward some kind of accommodation with Charles) and the mere fact that Cromwell, in 1535, was already assessing his security relative to Anne’s displeasure with him suggests that he was aware that she could, under the right circumstances, be a danger to him—and was making preparations. 

Cromwell also undoubtedly became aware, in the fall of that year, that a new family was rising in the king’s favor:  The Seymours.  Edward Seymour, who had hosted a visit from Henry to Wolf Hall in September, was becoming a special favorite.  Henry had always enjoyed the company of vital, masculine, young men (“thrusting, acquisitive and ambitous” is how Wilson describes them[9]) and as his own athleticism and sense of masculine potency declined, hobbled by leg ulcers and increasing obesity, he may have begun to live vicariously through them, “unconsciously sucking new life from their physical and mental vigor.”[10] By 1535, Seymour’s circle—John Dudley, Thomas Wriosthesley, Ralph Sadler—had come to serve this function for Henry.  They were also courting Cromwell, who they rightly saw as having the king’s ear and who was seemingly, at this point, the architect of England’s future.  They hated the Boleyns. And Edward Seymour had a sister.

The Other Women: Katherine and Jane

On January 7, 1536, Katherine of Aragon died, most likely of cancer of the heart (a real illness, but an apt bodily metaphor as well.) It was an enormous relief to both Anne and Henry.  For Anne, it meant that at last she was the only Queen of England.  And both of them hoped that Katherine’s death, removing the chief reason for the Emperor’s breach with Henry, would repair relations with Charles and tip the balance in England’s favor vis a vis Francis (who now would have to court Henry, in order to be sure England did not ally him with Charles.) “The next day”, Ives reports, “the king and queen appeared in joyful yellow from top to toe, and Elizabeth was triumphantly paraded to church. After dinner Henry went down to the Great Hall, where the ladies of the court were dancing, with his sixteen month old daughter in his arms, showing her off to one and another.”[11]  Whether or not their yellow clothing was to mark their joy, as Ives says, or a sign of respect for the dead has been much debated.  But whatever the meaning of the color of their clothing, at this point, neither had a political reason to mourn Katherine’s death—and Henry, over the years of battle with Katherine, seems to have lost any trace of affection for her.

Chapuys was horrified by their reaction, grief-stricken at having lost his longtime friend, whom he had comforted and championed over the years, and quickly began spreading rumors that Katherine had been poisoned by Anne.  But good news was to come a bit later that month, when Chapuys reported, third-hand as usual, that one of the King’s “principal courtiers” said that the King had confessed to another lady and her husband “that he had been seduced and forced into this second marriage by means of sortileges and charms, and that, owing to that, he held it as null.  God (he said) had well shown his displeasure at it by denying him male children.  He, therefore, considered that he could take a third wife, which he said he wished much to do.”[12]  Even Chapuys, ever alert to promising signs that Anne would be supplanted, finds this report “incredible.”  Anne was in her final month of what was to be her last pregnancy; how could the King be sure that God would not bless the marriage with a male heir this time around?  Was someone whispering in Henry’s ear, planting suggestions about Anne?

It seems that this is exactly what was happening.  By April 1st, Chapuys was writing to the Emperor, informing him that the king was “paying court” to Edward Seymour’s sister Jane, and that he had “heard” (from the Marchioness of Exeter) that Jane had been “well tutored and warned by those among this King’s couriers who hate the concubine, telling her not in any wise to give in to the King’s fancy unless he makes her his Queen, upon which the damsel is quite resolved.  She has likewise been advised to tell the King frankly, and without reserve, how much his subjects abominate the marriage contracted with the concubine, and that not one considers it legitimate.”[13]  The Marchioness also requested, at this time, that Chapuys himself aid in whatever way he can in the “meritorious work” of removing Anne and thus, not only protecting Princess Mary from Anne’s evil plotting and ridding the country of the “heretical doctrines and practices” of “Lutheranism,” but “clearing the King from the taint of a most abominable and adulterous marriage.”[14]

In the four months between Katherine’s death and Henry’s open courting of Jane, two momentous events had occurred. On January 24, Henry had a bad jousting accident, which left him unconscious for two hours, and undoubtedly stirred up his anxiety about his own diminishing physical competence and reminded him of his mortality—something he had been trying to avoid all his life through a hypochondria bordering on obsession.  Then, on January 29th, Anne miscarried.   Although it was probably too early in the pregnancy for attendants to determine the sex of the child, which was later described by Nicholas Sander as a “shapeless mass of flesh,” it was reported by both Chapuys and Wriosthesley that it had been a male. This was a “huge psychological blow” to Henry.[15]  We only have Chapuys to rely on for details—“I see that God will not give me male children” he reports Henry as saying, and then ominously telling Anne that he would “speak to her” when she was up—but whether the quote is accurate or not, it makes sense that the loss of a potential heir, especially after at least one other miscarriage and his own recent brush with death, would have affected Henry deeply.[16]  Anne, on her part, was distraught.  She appealed to Henry, telling him that the miscarriage was the result of shock over his accident, which is not improbable, although Chapuys dismissed it.  In a letter of February 17, he wrote to Charles that Anne’s inability to bear male children was due to her “defective constitution,” that “the real cause” of this particular miscarriage may have been the King’s “behavior toward a damsel of the Court, named Miss Seymour, to whom he has latterly made very valuable presents.”[17]

Jane was a startling contrast to Anne: “fair, not dark; younger by seven or eight years; gentle rather than abrasive; of no great wit, against a mistress of repartee; a model of female self-effacement against a self-made woman.”[18]  Plus, whether through coaching or inspiration of her own, she refused the king’s gifts, saying that her greatest treasure was her honor, and that she would accept sovereigns from him in “such a time as God would be pleased to send her some advantageous marriage.”[19]  She may have not been of “great wit” but she (or her brother) knew that this would increase Henry’s ardour.  The refusal of sovereigns happened after Anne’s miscarriage, an event which undoubtedly emboldened Jane and her supporters.  For if Anne had produced a living son, all the rumblings about Anne, both at court and among the people, all the conniving of the Seymours, would have crashed against a brick wall.   But it was Anne’s disastrous luck that not only did she miscarry, but that it happened after Katherine died.  Initially, it had been a cause for celebration.  What Anne did not take into account (or perhaps did, but had no reason to consider probable at this point) was that with Katherine’s death, Henry could have his marriage to Anne annulled, or invalidated in some other way, without having to deal with Katherine’s claims to the throne.  Disastrously and without precedent, it was “the some other way” that prevailed.


[1] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: October 1534, 21-31,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87907&strquery=”than his last born”

[2] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: October 1534, 21-31,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87907&strquery=”what Cromwell’s last words”

[3] (de Carles 1927, 234); Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: October 1534, 21-31,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87907&strquery=”satisfactory settlement of all”

[4] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: October 1534, 21-31,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87907&strquery=”changing his love”

[5] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: June 1535, 1-15,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87920&strquery=”Anne’s right hand”

[6] (Fraser 1993, 219)

[7] (Hutchinson 2007, 42)

[8] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: June 1535, 1-15,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 1: 1534-1535, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87920&strquery=”I fancy she cannot do me any harm”

[9] (Wilson 2003, 386)

[10] (Ibid., 385)

[11] (Ives 2005, 295)

[12] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: January 1536, 21-31,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87953&strquery=”sortileges and charms”

[13] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: April 1536, 1-20,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87958&strquery=”subjects abominate”

[14] (Ibid.)

[15] (Ives 2005, 298)

[16] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: February 1536, 21-29,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87956&strquery=”God will not give me male children”

[17] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: February 1536, 16-20,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87955&strquery=”defective constitution”

[18] (Ives 2005, 302)

[19] Pascual de Gayangos (editor), “Spain: April 1536, 1-20,” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=87958&strquery=sovereigns 1536

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