Your Grace's displeasure, and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth, and so obtain your favour) by such an one, whom you know to be my ancient professed enemy. I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your demand.
But let not your Grace ever imagine, that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought thereof preceded. And to speak a truth, never prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn: with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your Grace's pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace's fancy, the least alteration I knew was fit and sufficient to draw that fancy to some other object. You have chosen me, from a low estate, to be your Queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire. If then you found me worthy of such honour, good your Grace let not any light fancy, or bad council of mine enemies, withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain, that unworthy stain, of a disloyal heart toward your good grace, ever cast so foul a blot on your most dutiful wife, and the infant-princess your daughter. Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and judges; yea let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open flame; then shall you see either my innocence cleared, your suspicion and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your grace may be freed of an open censure, and mine offense being so lawfully proved, your grace is at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unlawful wife, but to follow your affection, already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some good while since have pointed unto, your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicion therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great sin therein, and likewise mine enemies, the instruments thereof, and that he will not call you to a strict account of your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear, and in whose judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared. My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your Grace's displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I found favour in your sight, if ever the name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing in your ears, then let me obtain this request, and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions. From my doleful prison in the Tower, this sixth of May;
Your most loyal and ever faithful wife, Anne Boleyn"
The academic debate about Anne's birth date focuses on two key dates: 1501 and 1507. Eric Ives, a British Historian and legal expert, advocates the 1501 date, while Retha Warnicke, an American scholar who has also written a biography of Anne, prefers 1507. The key piece of surviving written evidence is a letter Anne wrote sometime in 1514. She wrote it in French to her father, who was still living in England while Anne was completing her education at Mechelen, in the Burgundian Netherlands, now Belgium. Ives argues that the style of the letter and its mature handwriting prove that Anne must have been about thirteen at the time of its composition, while Warnicke argues that the numerous misspellings and grammar errors show that the letter was written by a child. In Ives' view, this would also be around the minimum age that a girl could be a maid of honour, as Anne was to the regent, Margaret of Austria. This is supported by claims of a chronicler from the late 16th century, who wrote that Anne was twenty when she returned from France. These findings are contested by Warnicke in several books and articles, and the evidence does not conclusively support either date.
There are two independent contemporary sources for the 1507 date. Author Gareth Russell wrote a summary of the evidence and relates that Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, wrote her memoirs shortly before her death in 1612. The former lady-in-waiting and confidante to Queen Mary I wrote of Anne Boleyn: "She was convicted and condemned and was not yet twenty-nine years of age." william Camden wrote a history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and was granted access to the private papers of Lord Burghley and to the state archives. In that history, in the chapter dealing with Elizabeth's early life, he records in the margin that Anne was born in MDVII (1507).
It is probable that the idea of annulment (not divorce as commonly assumed) had suggested itself to Henry much earlier than this and was motivated by his Desire for an heir to secure the Tudor claim to the crown. Before Henry's father Henry VII ascended the throne, England was beset by civil warfare over rival claims to the crown and Henry wanted to avoid a similar uncertainty over the succession. He and Catherine had no living sons: all Catherine's children except Mary died in infancy. Catherine of Aragon had first come to England to be bride to Henry's brother Arthur who died soon after their marriage. Since Spain and England still wanted an alliance, a dispensation was granted by Pope Julius II on the grounds that Catherine was still a virgin. The marriage of Catherine and Henry took place in 1509, but eventually he became dubious about its validity, due to Catherine's inability to provide an heir being seen as a sign of God's displeasure. His feelings for Anne, and her refusals to become his mistress, probably contributed to Henry's decision that no Pope had a right to overrule the Bible. This meant that he had been living in sin with Catherine of Aragon all these years, though Catherine hotly contested this and refused to concede that her marriage to Arthur had been consummated. It also meant that his daughter Mary was a bastard, and that the new Pope (Clement VII) would have to admit the previous Pope's mistake and annul the marriage. Henry's quest for an annulment became euphemistically known as the "King's Great Matter".
Anne's father continued his diplomatic career under Henry VIII. In Europe, Thomas Boleyn's charm won many admirers, including Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. During this period, Margaret ruled the Netherlands on her nephew Charles's behalf and was so impressed with Boleyn that she offered his daughter Anne a place in her household. Ordinarily, a girl had to be twelve years old to have such an honour, but Anne may have been younger, as the Archduchess affectionately referred to her as "la petite Boulin [sic]". Anne made a good impression in the Netherlands with her manners and studiousness, Margaret reported that she was well spoken and pleasant for her young age, and told Sir Thomas Boleyn that his daughter was "so presentable and so pleasant, considering her youthful age, that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me, than you to me" (E.W. Ives, op.cit.). Anne stayed with Margaret from spring 1513 until her father arranged for her to attend Henry VIII's sister Mary, who was about to marry Louis XII of France in October 1514.
Anne was recalled to marry her Irish cousin, James Butler, a young man who was several years older than she and who was living at the English court, in an attempt to settle a dispute over the title and estates of the Earldom of Ormond. The 7th Earl of Ormond died in 1515, leaving his daughters, Margaret Boleyn and Anne St Leger, as co-heiresses. In Ireland, the great-great-grandson of the 3rd earl, Sir Piers Butler, contested the will and claimed the Earldom himself. He was already in possession of Kilkenny Castle – the ancestral seat of the earls. Sir Thomas Boleyn, being the son of the eldest daughter, felt the title belonged to him and protested to his brother-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk, who spoke to Henry about the matter. Henry, fearful the dispute could be the spark to ignite civil war in Ireland, sought to resolve the matter by arranging an alliance between Piers's son, James, and Anne Boleyn. She would bring her Ormond inheritance as dowry and thus end the dispute. The plan ended in failure, perhaps because Sir Thomas hoped for a grander marriage for his daughter or because he himself coveted the titles. Whatever the reason, the marriage negotiations came to a complete halt. James Butler later married Lady Joan Fitzgerald, daughter and heiress of James FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Desmond and Amy O'Brien.
Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's older sister, had earlier been recalled from France in late 1519, ostensibly for her affairs with the French king and his courtiers. She married william Carey, a minor noble, in February 1520, at Greenwich, with Henry VIII in attendance; soon after, Mary Boleyn became the English King's mistress. Historians dispute Henry VIII's paternity of one or both of Mary Boleyn's children born during this marriage. Henry VIII: The King and His Court, by Alison Weir, questions the paternity of Henry Carey; Dr. G.W. Bernard (The King's Reformation) and Joanna Denny (Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen) argue that Henry VIII was their father. Henry did not acknowledge either child, as he did his son Henry Fitzroy, his illegitimate son by Elizabeth Blount, Lady Talboys.
Prior to her marriage to Henry VIII, Anne had befriended Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was one of the greatest poets of the Tudor reign. In 1520, Wyatt married Elizabeth Cobham, who by many accounts, was not a wife of his choosing. Thus, in 1525, Wyatt charged his wife with adultery and separated from her; coincidentally, historians believe that it was also the year where his interest in Anne intensified. In 1532, Wyatt accompanied the royal couple to Calais in France.
Anne's experience in France made her a devout Christian in the new tradition of Renaissance humanism. Anne knew little Latin and, trained at a French court, she was influenced by an "evangelical variety of French humanism" which led her to champion the vernacular Bible. While she would later hold the reformist position that the papacy was a corrupting influence on Christianity, her conservative tendencies could be seen in her devotion to the Virgin Mary. Anne's European education ended in 1521, when her father summoned her back to England. She sailed from Calais in January 1522.
Anne made her début at the Château Vert (Green Castle) pageant in honour of the imperial ambassadors on 4 March 1522, playing "Perseverance." There she took part in an elaborate dance accompanying Henry's younger sister Mary, several other ladies of the court, and her sister. All wore gowns of white satin embroidered with gold thread. She quickly established herself as one of the most stylish and accomplished women at the court, and soon a number of young men were competing for her.
Early in 1523 Anne was secretly betrothed to Henry Percy, son of the 5th Earl of Northumberland, but the betrothal was broken off when Percy's father refused to support their engagement. Cardinal Wolsey refused the match in January 1524 and Anne was sent back home to Hever Castle. In February or March 1526, Henry VIII began his pursuit of Anne. She resisted his attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress, which her sister Mary had been. It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry's desires to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he would be free to marry Anne. When it became clear that Pope Clement VII would not annul the marriage, the breaking of the Catholic Church's power in England began. In 1532, Henry granted Anne the Marquessate of Pembroke.
In 1526, Henry VIII became enamoured with Anne and began his pursuit. Anne was a skillful player at the game of courtly love, which was often played in the antechambers. This may have been how she caught the eye of Henry, who was also an experienced player. Some say that Anne resisted the King's attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress, often leaving court for the seclusion of Hever Castle. But within a year, he proposed marriage to her, and she accepted. Both assumed an annulment could be obtained within a matter of months. There is no evidence to suggest that they engaged in a sexual relationship until very shortly before their marriage; Henry's love letters to Anne suggest that their love affair remained unconsummated for much of their seven-year courtship.
As the Pope was, at that time, prisoner of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as a result of the Sack of Rome in May 1527, Knight had some difficulty obtaining access. In the end he had to return with a conditional dispensation, which Wolsey insisted was technically insufficient. Henry now had no choice but to put his great matter into Wolsey's hands, who did all he could to secure a decision in Henry's favour, even going so far as to convene an ecclesiastical court in England, with a special emissary, Lorenzo Campeggio from the Pope himself to decide the matter. But the Pope never had empowered his deputy to make any decision. The Pope was still a veritable hostage of Charles V, and Charles V was loyal to his aunt, Catherine. The Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome, not in England. Convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, Anne, as well as Wolsey's many enemies, ensured his dismissal from public office in 1529. George Cavendish, Wolsey's chamberlain, records that the servants who waited on the king and Anne at dinner in 1529 in Grafton heard her say that the dishonour that Wolsey had brought upon the realm would have cost any other Englishman his head. Henry replied, "Why then I perceive...you are not the Cardinal's friend." Henry finally agreed to Wolsey's arrest on grounds of praemunire. Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, he might have been executed for treason. A year later in 1531 (fully two years before Henry's marriage to Anne), Queen Catherine was banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne.
In 1528, sweating sickness broke out with great severity. In London, the mortality rate was great and the court was dispersed. Henry left London, frequently changing his residence; Anne Boleyn retreated to the Boleyn residence at Hever Castle, but contracted the illness; her brother-in-law, william Carey, died. Henry sent his own physician to Hever Castle to care for Anne, and shortly afterwards, she recovered. It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry's desires to secure an annulment from Catherine. Henry had set his hopes upon a direct appeal to the Holy See, acting independently of Cardinal Wolsey, to whom he at first communicated nothing of his plans related to Anne. In 1527 william Knight, the King's secretary, was sent to Pope Clement VII to sue for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine, on the grounds that the dispensing bull of Pope Julius II permitting him to marry his brother's widow, Catherine, had been obtained under false pretences. Henry also petitioned, in the event of his becoming free, a dispensation to contract a new marriage with any woman even in the first degree of affinity, whether the affinity was contracted by lawful or unlawful connection. This clearly referred to Anne.
Nicholas Sander, a Catholic recusant born c. 1530, was committed to deposing Elizabeth I and re-establishing Catholicism in England. In his De Origine ac Progressu schismatis Anglicani (The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism), published in 1585, he was the first to write that Anne had six fingers on her right hand. Since physical deformities were generally interpreted as a sign of evil, it is unlikely that Anne Boleyn would have gained Henry's romantic attention had she had any. Upon exhumation in 1876, no abnormalities were discovered. Her frame was described as delicate, approximately 5'3", with finely formed, tapering fingers.
Even before her marriage, Anne Boleyn was able to grant petitions, receive diplomats and give patronage, and had enormous influence over her Future husband to plead the cause of foreign diplomats. The ambassador from Milan wrote in 1531 that it was essential to have her approval if one wanted to influence the English government, a view corroborated by an earlier French ambassador in 1529.
During this period, Anne Boleyn played an important role in England's international position by solidifying an alliance with France. She established an excellent rapport with the French ambassador, Gilles de la Pommeraie. Anne and Henry attended a meeting with the French king at Calais in winter 1532, in which Henry hoped to enlist the support of Francis I of France for his intended marriage. On 1 September 1532, Henry granted her suo jure the Marquessate of Pembroke, an appropriate peerage for a Future queen; as such she became a rich and important woman: the three dukes and two marquesses who existed in 1532 were the King's brother-in-law, the King's illegitimate son, and other descendants of royalty; she ranked above all other peeresses. The Pembroke lands and the title of Earl of Pembroke had been held by Henry's great-uncle, and Henry performed the investiture himself.
After her coronation, Anne settled into a quiet routine at the King's favourite residence, Greenwich Palace, to prepare for the birth of her baby. The child was born slightly prematurely on 7 September 1533. Between three and four in the afternoon, Anne gave birth to a girl, who was christened Elizabeth, probably in honour of either or both Anne's mother Elizabeth Howard and Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York. But the birth of a girl was a heavy blow to her parents, since they had confidently expected a boy. All but one of the royal Physicians and astrologers had predicted a son for them and the French king had already been asked to stand as his godfather. Now the prepared letters announcing the birth of a prince had an s hastily added to them to read princes[s] and the traditional jousting tournament for the birth of an heir was cancelled.
No contemporary portraits of Anne Boleyn survive. A bust of her was cast on a commemorative medallion in 1534, believed to have been struck to celebrate her second pregnancy.
Towards the end of April a Flemish musician in Anne's Service named Mark Smeaton was arrested. He initially denied being the Queen's lover but later confessed, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on May Day, but being an aristocrat, could not be tortured. Prior to his arrest, Norris was treated kindly by the King, who offered him his own horse to use on the May Day festivities. It seems likely that during the festivities, the King was notified of Smeaton's confession and it was shortly thereafter the alleged conspirators were arrested upon his orders. Norris denied his guilt and swore that Queen Anne was innocent; one of the most damaging pieces of evidence against Norris was an overheard conversation with Anne at the end of April, where she accused him of coming often to her chambers not to pay court to her lady-in-waiting Madge Shelton but to herself. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days later on the same charge, as was william Brereton, a groom of the King's Privy Chamber. Sir Thomas Wyatt, a poet and friend of the Boleyns who was allegedly infatuated with her before her marriage to the king, was also imprisoned for the same charge but later released, most likely due to his or his family's friendship with Cromwell. Sir Richard Page was also accused of having a sexual relationship with the Queen, but he was acquitted of all charges after further investigation could not implicate him with Anne. The final accused was Queen Anne's own brother, George Boleyn, arrested on charges of Incest and treason. He was accused of two incidents of incest: November 1535 at Whitehall and the following month at Eltham.
Lancelot de Carle, a secretary to the French Ambassador, Antoine de Castelnau, was in London in May 1536, and was an eyewitness to her trial and execution. The poem, Épistre Contenant le Procès Criminel Faict à l'Encontre de la Royne Anne Boullant d'Angleterre, (A Letter Containing the Criminal Charges Laid Against Queen Anne Boleyn of England), provides a detailed account of Anne's early life and the circumstances relating to her arrest, trial and execution. All the accounts are similar. It is thought that Anne avoided criticising Henry to save Elizabeth and her family from further consequences, but even under such extreme pressure Anne did not confess guilt, and indeed subtly implied her innocence, in her appeal to those who might "meddle of my cause".
Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, later Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Boleyn was a well respected diplomat with a gift for languages; he was also a favourite of Henry VII of England, who sent him on many diplomatic missions abroad. Anne and her siblings grew up at Hever Castle in Kent. However, the siblings were born in Norfolk at the Boleyn home at Blickling. A lack of parish records from the period has made it impossible to establish Anne's date of birth. Contemporary evidence is contradictory, with several dates having been put forward by various historians. An Italian, writing in 1600, suggested that she had been born in 1499, while Sir Thomas More's son-in-law, william Roper, indicated a much later date of 1512. Her birth was most likely sometime between 1501 and 1507. As with Anne herself, it is uncertain when her two siblings were born, but it seems clear that her sister Mary was older than Anne. Mary's children clearly believed their mother had been the elder sister. Most historians now agree that Mary was born in 1499. Mary's grandson claimed the Ormonde title in 1596 on the basis she was the elder daughter, which Elizabeth I accepted. Their brother George was born around 1504.
A number of people have claimed to have seen Anne's ghost at Hever Castle, Blickling Hall, Salle Church, the Tower of London, and Marwell Hall. The most famous account of her reputed sighting has been described by paranormal researcher Hans Holzer. In 1864, Major General J.D. Dundas of the 60th Rifles regiment was quartered in the Tower of London. As he was looking out the window of his quarters, he noticed a guard below in the courtyard, in front of the lodgings where Anne had been imprisoned, behaving strangely. He appeared to challenge something, which to the General "looked like a whitish, female figure sliding towards the soldier". The guard charged through the form with his bayonet, then fainted. Only the General's testimony and corroboration at the court-martial saved the guard from a lengthy prison sentence for having fainted while on duty. In 1960, Canon W. S. Pakenham-Walsh, vicar of Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, reported having conversations with Anne.
She was then buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Her skeleton was identified during renovations of the chapel in 1876, in the reign of Queen Victoria, and Anne's grave is now identified on the marble floor.
This version of her speech is found in Foxe's, Actes and Monuments and an almost identical version in Ives (2005). In a 1,318 line poem, written in French, two weeks after Anne's death, Lancelot de Carle provides a moving account of her last words and their effect on the crowd:
In 18th-century Sicily, the peasants of the village of Nicolosi believed that Anne Boleyn, for having made Henry VIII a heretic, was condemned to burn for eternity inside Mount Etna. This legend was often told for the benefit of foreign travellers.