Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-F
Is Adultery Adultery If You Are Not Married?
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer visited Anne on May 16th. Constable of the Tower Kingston reported to Cromwell “the King told me that my lord of Canterbury should be her confessor, and he was here today with her” (Gairdner X 890). Others believed that Cranmer was not there to offer spiritual comfort but to offer a deal to Anne. Proof of an offer could be in something Anne said that Kingston relayed to the Secretary. He told Cromwell, “Thys daye at dynar the Quene sayd that she should go to anonre (a nunnery) and ys in hope of lyf” (Bell 103). If Anne believed she was going to a nunnery, Cranmer must have assured her that if she agreed to an impediment to her marriage her life would be spared. As events proved, she may have been offered life, but what she received was the more merciful death by sword instead of burning.
Letter from Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London to Thomas Cromwell, May 16, 1536.
Henry, not satisfied with the vengeance of executing Anne, decided to annul his marriage to her and declare Elizabeth illegitimate. Similar to his sudden recollection after 20 years of marriage to Katherine of Aragon of the impediment of her being his brother’s widow and thus against the teachings of Leviticus, Henry recalled a previous attachment of Anne’s to the Earl of Northumberland, then Lord Henry Percy. Northumberland was brought in for questioning. He took an oath before two archbishops, that no contract or promise of marriage had existed between him and Anne. He “received the sacrament upon it, before the duke of Norfolk and another of the privy council; and this solemn act he accompanied with the most solemn protestations of veracity” (Hume III 227).
So why does Anne confess to a pre-contract? Did she and Lord Percy promise to marry each other, per verba de futuro, which “the poor queen was either so ignorant, or so ill advised, as to be persuaded afterwards it was one; though it is certain that nothing but a contract, per verba de praesenti could be of any force to annul the subsequent marriage” (Burnet 263-264). Did she offer a “confession, into which she was frighted, or for some other reasons, tho’ not found upon record” (Smeeton 49). Did she accept “some hopes of life that were given her, or at least she was wrought on by the assurances of mitigating that cruel part of her judgment of being burnt, into the milder part of the sentence, of having her head cut off” (Burnet 265). Or had her imminent death “deprived her of all manner of mans, as well as all manner of desire to dispute the point” (Smeeton 49).
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
Archbishop Cranmer, in possession of the articles objecting to the validity of the marriage ,called for the King and Queen to “appear in his Ecclesiastical Court at Lambeth to show cause why a sentence of divorce should not be passed. Dr. Sampson appeared for the King, and Drs. Weston and Barbour for the Queen, by the King’s appointment” (Wriothesley 40). The day after Cranmer met Anne, “sentence was pronounced by the archbishop of Canterbury of the nullity of the marriage between the King and Anne Boleyn, in the presence of Sir Thos. Audeley, chancellor, Charles duke of Suffolk, John earl of Oxford, and others, at Lambeth, 17 May 1536” (Gairdner X 896). Thus we learn, “at a solomne court kept at Lambeth by the Lord Archbishoppe of Canterburie and the doctors of the lawe, the King was divorsed from his wife Queene Anne, and there at the same cowrte was a privie contract approved that she had made to the Earle of Northumberlande afore the Kings tyme; and so she was discharged, and was never lawfull Queene of England, and there it was approved the same” (Wriothesley 41). Most historians cite Anne’s admission to a pre-contract with Lord Percy as the grounds for the nullification of the marriage. (Which makes this blogger wonder why the Northumberland marriage was not dissolved as it would have been invalid also.) Others such as Pollard and Friedmann support Ambassador Chapuys claim that the marriage was “invalid on account of the King having had connection with her sister [Mary Boleyn]” (Gairdner X 909).
Regardless of which reason was the catalyst to the divorce, many historians offer a sympathetic bend to Cranmer and the nullification proclamation he had to produce. Hume referred to him as “the afflicted primate” (Hume III 227). Smeeton proclaimed Cranmer “could not avoid giving sentence” (Smeeton 49). As mentioned previously, Cranmer was a practical man and knew his survival depended on providing what Henry VIII wished, yet he was not alone in indulging the King. “These particulars are repeated in the act that passed in the next parliament, touching the succession to the crown…” (Burnet 265). Henry’s children with Katherine and Anne were declared illegitimate and he was granted the right to “designate his heir by letters patent or by his will. This enactment furnishes a striking proof of the King’s absolute power” (Butler 408). The process in the “Ecclesiastical Court was submitted, after Anne’s death, to the members of the Convocation and the two Houses of Parliament; and the Church, Commons, and Lords, ratified it” (Wriothesley 41). So “the meeting of Parliament (June 9, 1536), was found to be wholly subservient to the wishes of the King” (Butler 408-409). Therefore, divorce from Anne Boleyn was not the only outcome Henry had aimed for; he had to have her dead. Anne discredited and dead would enable any successive marriages and offspring to be without taint. “He would have his bed free from all such pretensions, the better to draw on the following marriage” (Smeeton 48). The new Parliament met and passed the act proclaiming the divorce between Henry and Anne and declared all previous issue as illegitimate. “Moreover the act confirmed Anne Bullen’s sentence as being grounded upon very just causes and settled the crown after the king’s death upon the issue of queen Jane, or of any other queen whom he might afterwards marry” (Thoyras 424). Henry certainly covered all the angles while maintaining an escape clause as well.
Signature of Anne the Queen.
Knowing Anne could be flirtatious, indiscrete and open in her interactions with others, Henry accepted her guilt. He ignored the rationale that he could “trust her innocence and had reason to be assured of it, since she had resisted his addresses near five years, till he legitimated them by marriage” (Burnet 319). This man, who was previously so passionate toward his wife, not only cruelly executed her but besmirched her reputation and stained the childhood of his daughter with the question of her legitimacy. Rumors advanced to such a degree that Ambassador Chapuys wrote to Cardinal Granville “that the Concubine’s daughter was the bastard of Mr. Norris, and not the King’s daughter” (Gairdner X 909). A Portuguese dispatch proclaimed that after Anne’s execution “the Council declared that the Queen’s daughter was the child of her brother and that she should be removed from her place” (Gairdner X 1107).
Queen Elizabeth and her visual likeness to her mother, Anne Boleyn.
As mentioned in a previous blog, there were numerous political, religious and social reasons for Henry’s move against Anne. There were also personal ones. Henry was determined to marry Jane Seymour. A divorced Anne would still be the Marchioness of Pembroke—wealthy with powerful allies. Anne faced the reality. Recognizing her death was imminent, she would have agreed to conditions Archbishop Cranmer presented to her. Recognizing her daughter’s safety depended on her actions, she gratefully grasped the more merciful death by sword. Recognizing Henry’s malice, she ignored the obvious issue: If she were not legally married to Henry because of a pre-contract or affinity then there was no treason based on adultery.
For References, please refer to Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part I