When Anne Boleyn Became Queen

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Last week we addressed the question of when Henry VIII’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn began, but today we jump forward seven years to the final stages of Anne’s preparation for marriage – in other words, how exactly Henry made her queen. The evolution of their relationship – from Henry wanting her as a mistress, then a wife – held within it the destruction of the Tudor family. By 1532, Katherine of Aragon had been physically removed from court, out of sight, if not out of mind. Princess Mary, loyal to her mother and her birthright over her father’s “happiness,” found herself firmly out of favor for refusing to accept Anne.

Anne’s journey to the throne ended as it began, in France. On September 1, 1532 Henry made her Marquess of Pembroke in her own right in preparation for a visit to King Francis I, believing it fitting that she hold a title on par with her true station – future queen of England. But this wasn’t just any title, for the earldom of Pembroke was held by Henry’s great-uncle, Jasper Tudor, son of Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois. That earldom symbolized the moment the Tudors had truly been legitimized – not legally, but in reputation. From that moment on, the Tudors had been intertwined with the House of Lancaster, Jasper safeguarding his half-brother, Henry VI, and then his nephew, Henry VII.

To Henry, bequeathing the name “Pembroke” on Anne was akin to making her a Tudor, and while the figurative final contract had yet to be signed, his intention to formalize her role as his consort was an important step in introducing her on the European stage as something other than “that woman.”

The investment took place at Windsor Castle, Anne escorted by her uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Henry’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She wore all the trappings of royalty: crimson velvet, ermine, flashy jewels clearly gifted to her by the King. Great ladies of the court bore her train. For all practical purposes, she was queen and this was her pre-coronation.

But even in that there was drama for the “great ladies” of Henry’s court were loyal to Katherine, not Anne. The Duke of Norfolk’s wife, Elizabeth Stafford, flat out refused to participate in the ceremony and the honor instead was handed out to her daughter, Mary, who was soon after married to Henry’s bastard son, Henry Fitzroy. The King personally placed the coronet on Anne’s hair, unbound down her back like a pretend consort.

Days later Henry, Anne and their entourage left for France. But while Anne’s youthful days at Francis’s court as a lady-in-waiting to his first wife, Claude of Valois, had been a dazzling success, she would find things were a bit trickier as the King’s intended. Francis’s sister, Marguerite of Angouleme, Queen of Navarre, declined the invitation to join the royal party on the grounds of ill health. It’s debatable whether this was a pointed insult to Anne and should be read as Marguerite’s opinion of the situation. There’s certainly room to argue whether she was in fact sick or whether it was the professional stance Marguerite felt that she had to make as a royal woman on behalf of Queen Katherine. Whatever the case, her absence made it impossible for Anne to accompany Henry to Boulogne to meet Francis, since there wouldn’t be a woman to receive her. (Francis’s wife, Eleanor of Austria, was out of the question since she was Katherine’s niece.)

Her chance to shine came on October 25th when Francis accompanied Henry back to Calais where Anne was waiting. The French King honored her with a diamond and over the course of four days, Anne was center stage. At one point, following a masque, Francis and Anne were spotted speaking privately, but it’s unknown what was said. Given her former employment with Queen Claude and rumors that Francis, like Henry, also slept with her sister, Mary, one can only imagine.

After Francis left, Henry and Anne stayed in Calais for another two weeks and then made a slow journey home, spending over a week in Kent. At some point during this time, the two finally slept together, begging the question: why then? Anne had pointedly refused to become Henry’s mistress back in 1525 when their relationship first began, and in the seven years since they fought ferociously for the end of Henry’s marriage so that Anne could replace Katherine, not Mary Boleyn. Nevertheless, they seemingly didn’t wait until marriage, consummating the relationship very likely in Calais or once they returned to England.

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For Anne to risk her virginity – or her “virginity” if you believe she had premarital relationships – then she had to be incredibly sure the light was not only at the end of the tunnel, but that that light was imminent. There was no use in taking a younger wife if your children with her were still bastards and Henry couldn’t have a queen whose reputation had been so damaged.

But she was sure. On November 14, 1532, once Henry and Anne landed at Dover, the two were privately wed, their marriage kept a secret for weeks.

Now, however, Henry’s marriage to Katherine needed to legally end and his to Anne needed to legally begin. By December, his new wife was pregnant and the matter took on a new urgency. Luckily for the couple, William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury died before the new year and Thomas Cranmer, a reformer and close ally of Anne’s, was installed as his replacement. The wheels were fully in motion for England to break from Rome and establish its own church.

On January 25, 1533, Henry and Anne were privately married a second time, this time on English ground, strengthening Anne’s case as his legal wife and queen.

On February 4th, Parliament opened and on the 22nd, Anne publicly “let it slip” that she was pregnant, forcing Henry’s hand – and that of his ministers – to move quickly. By the 27th a new English embassy was in Rome, by March 2nd, the Pope was livid by their high-handedness. A week later, a sermon was delivered in Henry and Anne’s presence denouncing his union to Katherine as sinful and calling on him to take another wife, even if of inferior rank – in other words, a script was adhered to making Anne’s presence appear blessed by God. On March 30th, Cranmer was formally invested as Archbishop by Rome and, within the same breath, stated his Protestation, declaring his intention to reform the English church as he saw fit. Officially, Henry’s fingerprints were nowhere to be found. Within a week, the legislation to end Henry and Katherine’s marriage was passed.

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Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

It took the better part of a decade to get there, but the final stages were brutally swift – particularly if you were Katherine. She was told of Henry and Anne’s marriage on April 9th by Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. She refused to acknowledge it, insisting for the remaining three years of her life that she was not only Henry’s wife, but his queen.

On April 12, Easter Sunday, Anne appeared before court for the first time, covered in royal jewels, pregnant with Henry’s child and dining in state.

Ironically, Henry’s marriage to Katherine wouldn’t formally end until May 23rd and it was five days after that when Cranmer officially ruled Henry’s marriage to Anne valid. For some that might have been a bit of a hiccup, but then again, Henry was shortly to become Supreme Head of his own church.

On June 1st, Anne was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey, six months pregnant. On September 7th she gave birth to the future Elizabeth I. Less than three years later Henry would execute her.

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