There had been persistent rumours throughout the summer of 1532 that Anne and Henry would marry during the interview at Calais. At first, Anne had gone out of her way to encourage the gossip. ‘Not later than a week ago’, Chapuys reported in late August, ‘she wrote a letter to her principal friend and favourite here, whom she holds as sister and companion, bidding her to get ready against this journey and interview, where, she says, that which she has been so long wishing for will be accomplished’. But, just before leaving England, she changed her tune. She ‘assured a great personage’, Chapuys discovered, ‘that even if the King wished to marry her now she would never consent to it, for she wants the ceremony to take place here, in England, at the usual place appointed for the marriage and coronation of Queens’!
Why the alteration?
The explanation, almost certainly, is that Anne had been doing her research. She had already, as we have seen, informed herself widely on the debate about the Divorce. Noe she wanted to make sure that her own title as Queen would be unimpeachable. This means that everything would have to be done in the proper form set out in the bible of ceremony known as The Royal Book. The Royal Book devotes one of its longest and most detailed chapters to ‘The Receiving of a Queen and her Coronation’:
Item [it provides] when a Queen shall be received out of a strange realm, the King must purvey certain lords and ladies of estate to meet with her at the seaside, and convey her to the palace where the King will be wedded… Also it must be understood whether the King will be wedded privily or openly… And that done, she must be conveyed unto her coronation to the city of London…
It was these stipulations, at least as much as the pressure of contemporary events, which governed Anne’s and Henry’s actions over the next few months.
The Royal Book took for granted, as indeed had usually been the case in the Middle Ages, that the queen-to-be would be a foreign princess. Anne, on the other hand, was neither foreign nor royal. But she seems to have imagined that she was both. Her coats-of-arms, both as Marquess of Pembroke and later as Queen, proclaim her fictive royalty; and, clearly, her own self-identity was French rather than English.
The circumstances of the Calais interview reinforced all this. She had re-entered the world of the French Court; she had danced with the French King and talked privately with him. Now she was sailing to English soil where she soon she would be crowned. It was just as The Royal Book prescribed. What more natural therefore than to marry Henry as soon as they landed? And ‘privily’ – as The Royal Book permitted and the fact that Henry was still married to Catherine required?
And this, according to one generally well-informed source, is what actually happened. Anne and Henry landed at Dover on 14th November. This was St Erconwald’s Day. And on this day. the chronicler Hall writes, ‘the King after his return married privily the Lady Anne Boleyn… which marriage was kept so secret that very few knew it’.
The moment was psychologically right. Anne had lived with Henry in Calais openly as his consort. She had behaved and been treated as his Queen. And she had been given Francis’s blessing. To have gone back to England and chastity must have seemed intolerable – both to her and to Henry. But equally Anne was not the woman to surrender without a marriage. Not even the promise of marriage would have done. Instead, there must have been the thing itself, with a priest, a ring and the exchange of vows. Quite what such a secret marriage was worth, in view of Henry’s now bigamous state, was another matter.
But, for the moment, neither Anne nor Henry cared. On their slow return journey through Kent, Henry was unusually generous with rewards and charitable gifts; and he threw money away on card-games. His partners were Anne herself, her cousin Francis Bryan, and Francis Weston, the handsome young page who was a favourite of both Henry and Anne. It was, in short, a winter honeymoon.
As soon as they returned to Greenwich at the end of November, it seems, the couple had a single thought: to inspect the works at the Tower which had been begun in June 1532. The works were preceded by a full structural survey and were on a scale large enough to attract the attention of foreign ambassadors. But none seem to have grasped their real purpose. For the Venetian ambassador, who was the first to notice that something was going on, it was simply the question of strengthening the defences: Henry ‘has commenced inspecting the artillery and ammunition in the Tower, which he purposes fortifying’, he reported. Chapuys, with his excellent sources of information, described the programme of works much more accurately: ‘considerable repairs’, he noted in September, ‘have been made in the Tower of London, both inside and outside, refitting the apartments which were out of order’. Where his sources went wrong, however, was over the intended use of the refurbished rooms. ‘Some people believe’, he reported, ‘that it is the King’s intention to send the Queen thither.’ Chapuys himself dismissed the story as ‘highly improbable’. He was right to be dubious. For the apartments were destined, not for Queen Catherine, but for Queen Anne.
Here once again we can see the results of Anne’s reading of The Royal Book. It was the rule, the Book lays down, that the new Queen should go to the Tower two days before her coronation. She was to spent the night there, ‘at her own leasure’, before processing the following day in state through the City and along the Strand to Westminster. But by 1532 the Tower was in no state to receive anybody, much less the woman for whom Henry had defied the world.
The reason lay in a radical change in the royal itinerary. Up to the reign of Henry’s father, Henry VII, the Tower had been in frequent use as a royal residence. Henry had taken refuge there with his mother, Elizabeth of York, from the Cornish rebels in 1497 and Elizabeth had died there six years later in 1503. The newly-wedded Henry and Catherine had continued this pattern for the first two years or their reign. But after 1510 the King had visited the Tower only, on 20th January 1520. And the building, unvisited by the King, had fallen into serious neglect.
The state of disrepair is documented by the survey of 1532. It emerges even more vividly from the letters which John Whalley, the paymaster of the works, wrote during the absence of the Court at the Calais interview in October. The letters were addressed to Cromwell, who, as Lord High Everything Else, had been given charge of the Tower works as well. ‘The house is wondrous foul’, Whalley reported. ‘There is a thousand loads of rubbish to be taken out of the cellars and kitchen.’ He had ‘this day 400 persons at work, and all little enough.’ Once the site was cleared, large numbers of masons and other craftsmen were impressed to rush through the actual work of rebuilding.
By December, things were well advanced. On the 1st, Henry made a day trip by boat from Greenwich to see how they were coming along. He was pleased enough with what he saw to return twice, and on both occasions with company. On about the 5th, he was met at the Tower by the French ambassador, to whom he showed the Jewel House (Chapuys calls it ‘the treasure room’) – though without, according to Chapuys, ‘giving him sight of its contents’. A few days later, Henry, with a small suite, took Anne herself to the Tower. Once again French ambassador turned up with despatches hot from France. This time the ambassador accompanied the royal party on their inspection of the Jewel House. Its contents had just been reorganized and reinventoried under Cromwell’s supervision and Henry showed them off with delight. He even gave the ambassador ‘one of the finest gold cups’ as a present. Chapuys could not discover whether the gift had been made to reward the ambassador for his news, which he had whispered privately to the King, or whether it had been ‘to please the Lady [Anne]’.
Anne herself, however, was not there only to act as lady Bountiful to the French ambassador. Instead, almost certainly, she had come to make a personal choice of items of plate for her own use and that of her Household as Queen-in-waiting. The selection is recorded in a list headed ‘parcels of plate given by the King’s Highness to my Lady Marquess of Pembroke, in the month of December ’ and it numbered many dozens of cups, bowls, pots, chandeliers, and spoons. The total weight was over 5,000 ounces of gilt and parcel [partly] gilt plate and the total value was £1,200. Some of the items had previously belonged to Wolsey, while another large group formed part of the property of Anne’s old enemy, Sir Henry Guildford, who had died so heavily in debt to the King that his personal goods had been forfeit. Even enemies, she might have reflected, came in useful when they were dead.
Henry would also pointed out to her other objects on the shelves of the Jewel House, including the Queen’s crown, sceptre and rod, which Anne would wear and carry after her coronation in the Abbey. Then he would have taken her to look at the work in progress on the Queen’s apartments. These lay in the south-east corner of the Tower and they were still a building site. But already the skeleton of her new Great Chamber and Dining Chamber was clear. Here she would spend the night before going in procession to Westminster for her coronation.
Now, at last, it must all have seemed very near. And it all seemed near for another, even more pressing reason. Also in early December Anne became pregnant. The child, for whom Henry had longed for so many years, had to be a boy. And his birth had to be legitimate. A new note of urgency was sounded in royal policy. And there was a new man of the moment: Thomas Cranmer.
Rumour has it that Anne had been Cranmer’s pupil. He cannot have taught her during her youth, which had of course been spent in France. Instead, she would have been an adult student of his – in late 1529, when he had been lodged at her father’s newly acquired town palace of Durham House, or again after his return from Italy in late 1530, when he had been part of the King’s legal and theological team at Court. But however cloudy these details, one thing is certain: pupil and master developed a mutual regard, which survived throughout extraordinary swings of fortune. The first of these was about to occur. Cranmer would make Anne Queen. But first she had to make him Archbishop of Canterbury.