June 21, 1529 – Catherine of Aragon’s Epic Speech at Blackfriars

The Trial of Queen Catherine of Aragon, by Henry Nelson O’Neil (Public Domain via the Birmingham Museums and Wikimedia Commons)

This was a phenomenal speech, Catherine’s chance to plead her case before the world. And she did. Masterfully.

Some context: the “King’s Great Matter” started in 1527 or so. Henry was pursuing annulment the only way possible – through the Church. Annulment should have been a foregone conclusion – other monarchs had gotten them easily, and on much less legitimate grounds. The problem in this case was that Catherine’s nephew Charles V had just sacked Rome and therefore held the Pope essentially prisoner.

The Pope dickered for a long time, hoping the King would tire of Anne Boleyn and the issue would die, but that didn’t happen. Finally he made what looked like a concession – he agreed that a Legatine Court could hear the case in England and sent Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio to hear the case with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The first day, they called the King of England to the court – he gave the proper answer (“Here, my lords”). Then they called the Queen. Rather than answering (which would have acknowledged the court and its legitimacy), she rose, walked over to her husband, and threw herself on her knees to speak directly to him. George Cavendish (Wolsey’s gentleman-usher and then biographer) recorded the speech she gave:

Sir, I beseech you for all the loves there hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominions. I have here no assured friend, and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you as to the head of justice within your realm. Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I designed against your will and pleasure? Intending (as I perceive) to put me from you, I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble, and obedient wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein ye had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance nor showed a visage or spark of discontentment. I loved all those whom ye loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no and whether they were my friends or my enemies. This twenty years have I been your true wife, or more, and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of the world, which has been no fault of mine.

And when ye had me at the first, I take God to be my judge, I was a true maid without touch of man; and whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there by any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me, either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart, to my great shame and disparagement; and if there be none, then here I most lowly beseech you let me remain in my former estate and receive justice at your princely hands. The king your father was in the time of his reign of such estimation through the world for his excellent wisdom, that he was accounted and called of all men the second Solomon; and my father Ferdinand, King of Spain, who was esteemed to be one of the wittiest princes that reigned in Spain many years before, were both wise and excellent kings in wisdom and princely behavior. It is not therefore to be doubted but that they elected and gathered as wise counselors about them as to their high discretions were thought meet. Also, as me-seemeth, they had in their days as wise, well-learned men, and men of good judgment as be at this present in both realms, who thought then the marriage between you and me good and lawful. Therefore is it a wonder to me to hear what new inventions are now invented against me, that never intended but honesty. And cause me to stand to the order and judgment of this new court, wherein ye may do me much wrong if ye intend any kind of cruelty; for ye may condemn me for lack of sufficient answer, having no indifferent counsel but such as be assigned me, with whose wisdom and learning I am not acquainted. Ye must consider that they cannot be indifferent counselors for my part which be your subjects, and taken out of your own council before, wherein they be made privy, and dare not for your displeasure, disobey your will and intent, being once made privy thereto. Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God, who is the just judge, to spare the extremity of this new court until I may be advertised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much indifferent favor, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my case.”

With that, “she rose up, making low courtesy to the king, and so departed from thence.”

A formidable woman.

[There’s lots more good stuff where this came from. Cavendish’s The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey is just wonderful! – You can access it through Archive.Org here]

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September 1, 1532 – Anne Boleyn Created Marquess of Pembroke

Anne Boleyn's ennoblement, as immortalized by Showtimes' The Tudors (Natalie Dormer as Anne, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer right behind her as Henry)

Anne Boleyn’s ennoblement, as immortalized by Showtimes’ The Tudors (Natalie Dormer as Anne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers right behind her as Henry)

This was a huge step. Anne was granted a hereditary peerage in her own right – the first time this had ever been done in England. And what a peerage! Pembroke was the title borne a century earlier by Henry’s great-uncle Jasper Tudor.  Whatever happened to or with Henry, Anne was semi-royal.

The ennoblement occurred right before Anne was about to accompany Henry on a trip to France to drum up support for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The title was a way of enhancing Anne’s status for the meeting – a step that was soon followed by Anne’s taking over the crown jewels which Catherine was forced to surrender.

The real question is whether this was a reward for Anne finally ceding her virginity to Henry – or the assurance she needed before she would do so. The wording of Anne’s patent vested succession to the title in her “heirs male” – omitting the standard “lawfully begotten.” That strongly suggests that they were contemplating such a possibility. Either way, the question was mooted a couple of weeks later – it was clear that Anne and Henry were sleeping together in France – they had interconnecting bed chambers they spent most of their time in, the Venetian ambassador was claiming they had married in secret…that kind of stuff. Whether the relationship started there is irrelevant to all but the romantics among us, who like to imagine that the lovers were transported after the triumph of the meeting with Francis and threw caution to the wind in the certainty that they would soon be lawfully married…


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June 1, 1533 – Anne Boleyn Crowned

Holbein's Sketch for a Street Tableau

Holbein Sketch for one of the Tableaux at Anne’s Coronation (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This day was the ultimate triumph for Anne Boleyn: after seven years of struggle and uncertainty, she became the anointed Queen of England, six months pregnant with the promised heir to the throne. But I can’t help viewing the events in the light of what happened afterwards. To me it is a poignant, ironic moment before her ultimate tragedy (which, ironically, is what cemented her legacy and made her immortal…).

Today’s coronation preceded and followed days of festivities and formalities – the before including a procession of barges down the Thames and Anne’s formal entrance into London, the afterwards consisting of jousts, tournaments, and dancing. In the morning was held the traditional and moving ceremony that effectively crowned her as a queen regnant (because it not only anointed her, but also placed the Crown of St. Edward on her head, a gold scepter in her right hand and an ivory rod in her left). Then came the banquet that lasted for hours (twenty-eight dishes were served for the first course, twenty-three for the second…). Anne was seated alone in the middle of the center table, with her ladies standing behind her with napkins and a fingerbowl – and ready to hide what she was doing when she needed to spit or even vomit).

The following comes from Edward Hall’s Chronicles:

On 1 June Queen Anne was brought from Westminster Hall to St Peter’s Abbey in procession, with all the monks of Westminster going in rich copes of gold, with thirteen mitred abbots; and after them all the king’s chapel in rich copes with four bishops and two mitred archbishops, and all the lords going in their parliament robes, and the crown borne before her by the duke of Suffolk, and her two sceptres by two earls, and she herself going under a rich canopy of cloth of gold, dressed in a kirtle of crimson velvet decorated with ermine, and a robe of purple velvet decorated with ermine over that, and a rich coronet with a cap of pearls and stones on her head; and the old duchess of Norfolk carrying her train in a robe of scarlet with a coronet of gold on her cap, and Lord Burgh, the queen’s Chamberlain, supporting the train in the middle.

After her followed ten ladies in robes of scarlet trimmed with ermine and round coronets of gold on their heads; and next after them all the queen’s maids in gowns of scarlet edged with white Baltic fur. And so she was brought to St Peter’s church at Westminster, and there set in her high royal seat, which was made on a high platform before the altar. And there she was anointed and crowned queen of England by the archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of York, and so sat, crowned, in her royal seat all through the mass, and she offered at the said mass. And when the mass was done they left, every man in his order, to Westminster Hall, she still going under the canopy, crowned, with two sceptres in her hands, my Lord Wiltshire her father, and Lord Talbot leading her, and so dined there; and there was made the most honourable feast that has been seen.

The great hall at Westminster was richly hung with rich cloth of Arras, and a table was set at the upper end of the hall, going up twelve steps, where the queen dined; and a rich cloth of estate hung over her head. There were also four other tables along the hall; and it was railed on every side, from the high dais in Westminster Hall to the platform in the church in the abbey.

And when she went to church to her coronation there was a striped blue cloth spread from the high dais of the king’s bench to the high altar of Westminster on which she went.

And when the queen’s Grace had washed her hands, then came the duke of Suffolk, high constable for that day and steward of the feast, riding on horseback, richly dressed and decorated, and with him, also riding on horseback, Lord William Howard as deputy for the duke of Norfolk in his office of marshall of England, and there came the queen’s service followed by the archbishop’s with a certain space between, which was all borne by knights; the archbishop sitting at the queen’s board, at the end on her left hand. The earl of Sussex was sewer, earl of Essex carver, earl of Derby cup bearer, earl of Arundel butler, Viscount Lisle panter, and Lord Grey almoner.



Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Hall’s Chronicle of the History of England – which can be a little difficult to read so please visit EnglishHistory.Net – The Crowning of Anne Boleyn for the wonderful transcription (poke around on there, it’s a great site!)

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March 23, 1534 – First Act of Succession

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The First Act of Succession (at the time referred to only as the “Act of Succession”) was a key step in Henry’s repudiation of Catherine of Aragon: it recognized Elizabeth, his daughter with Anne Boleyn, as the true heir to the throne (until of course a son was born to this marriage!), and made Mary, his daughter with Catherine, a bastard. While the Church of England had already declared the same thing, this Act of Parliament bound the people much more directly.

It was a formidable weapon because it required every Englishman to swear an oath to recognize this Act, as well as the King’s supremacy:

And that all manner your subjects, as well spiritual as temporal … shall swear a like corporal oath, that they and every of them, without fraud or guile, to their cunning, wit, and uttermost of their powers, shall truly, firmly, and constantly observe, fulfil, maintain, defend, and keep the effects and contents contained and specified in this Act, or in any part thereof.

Those who refused – like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher – would be guilty of treason and executed. Henry wasn’t messing around!

[E]very such person and persons, of what estate, degree, or condition they be of … and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them, for every such offence shall be adjudged high traitors, and every such offence shall be adjudged high treason, and the offenders and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them… shall suffer pains of death, as in cases of high treason; and that also every such offender, being convicted as is aforesaid, shall lose and forfeit … all such manors, lands, tenements, rents, annuities, and hereditaments, which they had in possession as owners, or were sole seized of by or in any right, title, or means, or any other person or persons had to their use, of any estate of inheritance, at the day of such treasons and offences by them committed and done …

Interestingly, only two years later, the Act was superseded by the Second Act of Succession, passed in June 1536 and which vested the succession in Henry’s children by new wife Jane Seymour and made Elizabeth as illegitimate as Mary. Of course, since Henry did not as yet have any children by Jane Seymour, the Second Act also gave Henry “full and plenary power and authority” to choose a different successor in letters patent or through his final Will. Nor was this Henry’s final say on the matter: the Third Act of Succession, passed in July 1543, restored Mary and Elizabeth to the succession (though without removing their illegitimacy) behind Edward, Edward’s children, and any children Henry might yet have with then-wife Katherine Parr) – and of course subject to Henry’s continuing right to change his mind in letters patent or his Will…


Wikipedia for the First Act of Succession, the Second Act of Succession, and the Third Act of Succession

Luminarium for the full text of the First Act of Succession

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November 26, 1533 – Henry FitzRoy Marries Mary Howard

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikipedia Commons)

Henry FitzRoy was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount. Mary Howard was the second daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and Anne Boleyn’s cousin. The marriage was an enormous coup for the Howard family.

There had been talk, when Henry VIII first began to consider divorcing Catherine of Aragon, to have FitzRoy marry his daughter Mary and thereby assure the future of the Tudor line. The Pope pushed for this solution as the perfect solution to Henry’s Great Matter, and offered to issue the required dispensation. It might even have worked, except that the King was in love with Anne Boleyn…

By November 1533, Anne Boleyn had become Queen of England. She had given birth to her daughter Elizabeth and a son was expected next. The marriage between the fifteen year old FitzRoy and the fourteen year old Mary Howard was a triumph for the Howard family, cementing their position as the premier English family. It also gave assurance that, one way or another, Howard blood would join in the royal line after Henry…

Unfortunately for the young couple, they were not allowed to consummate the marriage. The King was afraid that too much sexual activity had hastened his older brother Arthur’s death (remember – it was at the base of his annulment from Catherine that the two had consummated that marriage) and didn’t want to chance his own son. Thus, when FizRoy died of consumption in 1536 right after turning 17, Mary was not entitled to many of the lands she should have expected as the widow – because without the consummation, the marriage was not a true marriage (a trick Henry was to use again to rid himself of Anne of Cleves)(!).

But that is a story for later. For today, let us toast happiness to the newlyweds and to the still-triumphant Anne Boleyn….

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September 25, 1534 – Death of Pope Clement VII

Pope Clement VII, by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531

Pope Clement VII, by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531

Pope Clement VII was born Giulio di Giuliano de’Medici. He was Pope from 1523 until his death in 1534, the key years of Henry VIII’s Great Matter. Arguably, he caused the schism that created the Church of England given the vacillating and contradictory signals he sent.

Normally, Henry VIII should have been able to count on an annulment – Popes had done no less for every other ruler in need of an heir, based on facts that were far less persuasive than those that Henry put forth. That was one of the reasons that Thomas Cardinal Wolsey was so confident at the start of the ordeal – of course, at the time he was making arrangements for Henry to marry a French princess. When it became clear that the King intended to marry a subject, Anne Boleyn, everything changed. Suddenly Henry’s motives looked suspicious, and his determination questionable – which explains a lot of Clement’s dilatory tactics: he assumed (as most people did) that Henry would soon tire of his affair and the storm would blow over. Clement was wrong.

Clement was also wrong about the lengths to which the English monarch would be willing to go in this matter. Of course, the ever-artful Anne Boleyn timed her surrender perfectly: when she found herself pregnant in January 1533, the final important steps to implement the breach with Rome were all taken in rapid succession. The pregnancy was kept quiet until the papal bulls arrived to allow Thomas Cranmer to be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury (Clement had, incredibly, provided them despite the Emperor’s warnings – it was one of the only concessions he could make to England and he thought this would help appease Henry). From there, the bill forbidding appeals to Rome, at which point Cranmer could invalidate the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and confirm his union with Anne Boleyn. Thus Anne was anointed and crowned on June 1, the final step needed to assure legitimacy of the son she was surely carrying.

Of course, Clement deeply resented the way he’d been duped. He finally ordered Henry to return to Catherine, issuing a bull of excommunication to show ow serious he was (though the sentence was still stayed….). But this was too late. Did it give the King pause? Yes. The news came days before Anne was scheduled to take to her chamber, and he kept the news from her to avoid upsetting her. But even after a daughter was born instead of the son he needed, he remained resolute. Of course, this issue had gained a financial element: the King was now keeping for himself the taxes on ecclesiastical income rather than paying them to Rome. Then Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534, and the Church of England was complete.

Would things have been different if Clement had acted earlier? Catherine of Aragon believed so, she constantly warned that an immediate decision was imperative. I have to agree with her. Henry was profoundly religious, and the seven years he spent fighting created a mounting justification of the rightness of his cause. What would Henry have become if he had been forced to stay with Catherine? Would he have avoided the descent into suspicion and madness that marked his later years? Or would it have started earlier, with an order to have Catherine poisoned? We will never know.


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August 22, 1532 – A Key Development in The King’s Great Matter: the Death of Archbishop Warham

On August 22, 1532, William Warham Archbishop of Canterbury died. This was a pivotal moment in Henry VIII's Great Matter, opening the path for reform....Read about it on www.janetwertman.com

Archbishop William Warham, by Hans Holbein. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The death of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a pivotal moment in Henry VIII’s quest for a divorce. Warham was the primal English prelate – and getting more and more firmly in Henry’s way.

Basically, with the Pope refusing to annul Henry’s marriage, the creation of the Church of England was the only solution. And the only way to get that done was to have Parliament act and the English Clergy submit – but Warham was opposed to it all.

His opposition started small but grew quickly. When the clergy of Canterbury were asked in the Convocation of 1531 to accept the King as Supreme Head of the Church, Warham managed to limit their assent to “insofar as the Law of Christ allows.” While this considerably diluted the effect of the submission, the King ignored the snub and continued with his plans. Next came the Convocation of 1532, in which the clergy was asked to renounce its authority to make church law without royal license. The King’s position was clear: the longstanding statute of praemuniere made it treason to curtail a monarch’s supremacy, which churchmen did when they looked to the Pope (rather than the King) as an authority on any issue. Enough of the clergy were cowed into acquiescence that the resolution passed over Warham’s objection. He was about to start rabble rousing… but then he died.

The King quickly nominated Thomas Cranmer to take his place. The Pope, figuring this would be a harmless way soften the blow of his refusing Henry’s divorce, agreed to confirm the appointment and send the required bulls. This lent Henry’s new church the final trappings of legitimacy. The consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, the main authority of the Catholic Church in England approved by the Pope himself, was the one who determined that the Church of England would no longer answer to the Pope, a foreign power, but only to the King who was its Supreme Head. Thus freed, the Church of England examined the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and found it to contravene divine law – and examined his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and found it good and valid. All just in time to crown Anne in June so that the child she was due to bear in September would be the legitimate heir to the throne….

For further reading:

As always, Wikipedia is a good go-to resource for a more full biography of William Warham or a  discussion of praemunire. Also, I’ve created a tag called “The King’s Great Matter” to cover the process by which Anne Boleyn (who has her own tag) became Queen of England.


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April 9, 1533 – Deputation Informs Catherine of Aragon of Her New Title

April 9, 1533 - A deputation informed Catherine of Aragon of her new title. She never accepted it. Read about it on www.janetwertman.com

Catherine of Aragon – the Horenbout Miniature

Let us not forget that Anne Boleyn became Queen of England well before her June coronation, even before Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon had formally been declared invalid by Thomas Cranmer (that happened on May 23rd).

Technically she became Queen upon her marriage to Henry in a private ceremony in January 1533, though they continued to keep this secret for some time. On February 3rd, Parliament passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals, which limited the authority of the Pope to that of any other foreign Bishop (and changed his title to “Bishop of Rome”) and therefore allowed the matter of the annulment to be tried in an English court. Around February 15, Anne could not resist letting people know she was pregnant, announcing that she had a “furious desire to eat apples” (I wrote a blog post about this if you want to read more about this wild story). In March, Cranmer received the papal bulls confirming his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury – and in April the royal couple went public. The announcement was made on Easter Sunday, to liken their marriage to England’s own resurrection. Anne went to mass with the King dressed in cloth of gold and wearing Catherine’s jewels and waited for congregations across the land to be told for the first time to pray for their sovereigns, King Henry and his wife Queen Anne.

The new status quo was reinforced with a deputation to Catherine informing her that she was never to use the title Queen again, that henceforth she would be known only as the Princess Dowager.

Catherine never accepted this change. Indeed, she clung to her title until her death (she wrote Henry an amazing last letter, I wrote a post on this too), and insisted that those around her do the same. This was the day that started that phase of her life.


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February 15, 1533 – Anne Boleyn Has “A Furious Desire to Eat Apples”

February 15, 1533 - Anne Boleyn tells the court that she has

Anne Boleyn, Attributed to John Hoskins

Okay, let me admit it. Right up front. I can’t confirm the date. For the last twenty years, I have been assembling a timeline. Every time I read something that resonates, and it references a specific date, I add it to the timeline. I have not always been as vigilant as I am now about recording my sources.

So here I have a reference – bracketed at that – to February 15th as the date on which Anne Boleyn told Sir Thomas Wyatt, in front of Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador (indeed, in front of the entire court), that she had “a furious desire to eat apples.” Searching now, all I can find is Claire Ridgeway’s notation in an article about Wyatt that this incident occurred on February 22. Now, let me say that it is NEVER a good idea to bet against Claire Ridgeway. She has created and maintains The Anne Boleyn Files; she also launched and run The Tudor Society (good advice: bookmark the Anne Boleyn Files, join The Tudor Society. Enough said). Claire is the ultimate authority.

But I am itching to talk about this. As much as Anne Boleyn was dying to share her news. And so I am going for it today.

Remember the context: Anne Boleyn likely began to sleep with Henry VIII during their trip to Calais in October/November to meet with Francis I and drum up French support for their marriage. Anne was rumored to have gotten pregnant in December, they married on January 25. At this point, Anne was still sworn to maintain secrecy because of all that would have to be done to fully legitimize their union. One of the big items: Thomas Cranmer had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury (this would lend him a lingering legitimacy from the very church they were in the process of rejecting) but the Papal Bulls had not yet arrived (they got there at the end of March). Another major item: on February 4, Cromwell introduced a bill to the new parliamentary session that had just begun to restrict the right to make appeals to Rome; this was passed into law at the beginning of April. Henry also needed to work out legal procedures establishing how his marriage to Catherine would  be judged by the Church of England’s senior clergy. Those were completed to allow Cranmer to open his court at Dunstable on May 10, and finally rule on May 23 that Henry’s marriage to Catherine was invalid – even threatening Henry with excommunication if he did not put away Catherine. On May 28, Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Anne good and lawful – opening the door for Anne’s coronation on June 1.

So now roll back the timeline. It’s January .You are Anne Boleyn. You gave in because the King was close to being able to make good on his promise of marriage. Now you are pregnant – and the King has married you and intends to move heaven and earth to see you crowned. What do you do?

You leave your rooms. You spy an old friend – Sir Thomas Wyatt – in the crowd. You call to him. He comes to you, bows and speaks. He asks how you fare. You answer. Loudly enough that the entire room can hear you.

“I have a furious desire to eat apples, such as I have never had in all my life. The King says it must mean that I am with child, but I say no, not at all.”

Then you laugh and return to your rooms. You have just announced your pregnancy to the world. Your triumph.

There was such promise at this time. The promise becomes all the more poignant in light of how things turned out…

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