Anne, for her part, was not about to be used by the King and then cast off. Her sister Mary had been Henry’s mistress and borne Henry a child but had never even been acknowledged as the King’s Mistress. When Henry tired of her, she was left more or less to fend for herself. Henry showed her no favor whatsoever even though it was likely that the two children she bore were his and not her husband’s. Anne was not going to be used; Anne was far more ambitious and had the audacity of foresight to see that if she played her cards right, despite all odds she could be queen.
Anne was encouraged in her plans by her mother’s brother, the Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk saw that he could increase his own prestige if he could advance the cause of his niece. Moreover, Norfolk was an archenemy of Cardinal Wolsey. Norfolk, the premier noble of the realm, resented that England was being run by this upstart prelate who allegedly was the son of a butcher.
This surfaces a problem that will be key in the history of the Reformation in England. You had the old nobility whose families went back to the time of the Conquest and they represented the old feudal system where the nobles were a check on the power of the King. The nobility—Dukes, Earls, etc. were used to exercising power in their own areas of jurisdiction and they also were used to being able to hold back the power of the King by the King’s being required to have their assistance in time of war. Moreover, the law of England was that the King needed their consent in Parliament to introduce taxes. A strong nobility meant a weak King. The nobles liked that. Kings, especially the Tudor Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII did not like that.
Wolsey’s capable administration of the government managed to bypass the power of the nobles who saw the King growing stronger and stronger and their own power eroding. But it was not only Wolsey. On Wolsey’s advice, Henry depended more and more on choosing officials not from the old noble families but from new and up-and-coming families. The old families were jealous of their prerogatives and had nothing but contempt for the new blood. Anne Boleyn, though she came herself from the new blood, was connected by marriage to the old nobility and she represented an opportunity to break the power of Wolsey who represented the royal policy of using new comers to advance the strength of the monarchy.
Anne also represented the ascendency of the pro-French party in its struggle against the pro-Spanish. Her years at the French court and her preference for French fashions and styles would indicate a change in influence over the King in his foreign policy. The French ambassador did what he could behind the scenes to increase her prestige; the Spanish ambassador circulated vile rumors about her.
Anne represented a challenge of the nobility to Wolsey’s power and she represented those who wanted a change in foreign policy, but don’t think Anne was just a pawn. She was a very clever woman who saw her chance for greatness. She was willing to sacrifice much to attain it. Henry was considerably older than she and by this point of his life he was no longer the young and lithe athlete. He may not have yet attained the gouty obesity of his later years but he was gettng heavy. His auburn hair was going grey. This was about power, not romance.
Anne had been in love with Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland and in fact had secretly been engaged to him, but his family demanded that the engagement be broken as she, a commoner, was beneath him. Again this is an example of the resentment of the old nobility towards the up and coming gentry. Wolsey was involved in this breakup as well and Anne harbored a grudge against Wolsey for the breakup that would lead to Wolsey’s downfall. It is unlikely however than Anne’s family would have permitted the marriage in any event as they had planned a marriage for her to her cousin, James Butler, in an attempt to secure the Earldom of Ormond, an Irish title to which he had claim but to which the Boleyns also had claim through the marriage of Anne’s father to a Butler. All this is terribly confusing, I admit, but was such were the struggles of the wealthy gentry like the Boleyns to rise to nobility and the resentment of the old nobles to them.
There is another factor which caused some to advance Anne’s cause. During her time in France, she had been mentored by Marguerite of Navarre, the sister of the King, and a woman given to the new Evangelical ideals coming from Germany. Anne was hardly a Lutheran, much less a rabid proto-Protestant. She had and would have through her life a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. She didn’t seek to overthrow the Latin Mass or Catholic doctrines, but she cherished the ideals of Christian humanism and wanted to see the Church purified of many of its medieval accretions that obscured the core of the faith. Despite Henry’s avid conservativism in matters religious, there was at the universities, and Cambridge in particular, growing interested in Evangelical ideals. The possibility of a Queen that would influence Henry away from the Spanish Catholicism of Katherine was attractive to this party which had some important contacts in the Court.
Henry’s noticing Anne brought her father noble titles of his own. In an attempt to win the young lady’s favor, Henry named Thomas Boleyn Viscount Rochford and several years later the first Earl of Wiltshire. He also was made a Knight of the Garter. Anne herself was given the title Marques of Pembroke, a title that put her just beneath a Duke and gave her sufficient status to qualify as potential royal bride. All this got Henry lot’s of attention and flirtatious promises, but it didn’t get her into his bed. As Henry’s passion increased Anne was able to extract a promise of marriage. This became necessary in January of 1533 when Anne found herself pregnant.
Anne had played her cards well, but here was the hitch. She had Henry firmly on the hook but there was as yet no annulment. It was a gamble, but one that was fairly secure. There was the concrete possibility of an heir; Henry would have to fish or cut bait. What would he do?
Before we go further, it is important to note an important change in the cast. Wolsey was out of the picture and in disgrace. We will come back to that in a post in the near future. More to the point of Henry’s quandary, William Warham the old Archbishop of Canterbury had died and was replaced by Henry’s nominee, Thomas Cranmer. All had been done properly with the required papal bulls but Cranmer was an Evangelical Trojan Horse in Catholic Troy. He was a King’s man, not a pope’s man. When Anne found herself pregnant, Henry married her on January 25, 1533 in a private ceremony without a papal annulment. Cranmer granted the required annulment on May 23rd of the same year and declared the marriage of Henry and Anne consequently valid. Anne was crowned Queen in June.
We are going to have to come back to this point several times from different perspectives to more fully explain what happened and how it affected the relationship of the Church of England to the See of Rome.