In or around 1522/23 it was common knowledge within Queen Katherine’s chambers that her maid of honour Anne Boleyn and Lord Henry Percy, the heir to the Earl of Northumberland were romantically involved with one another. George Cavendish who was at the time Cardinal Wolsey’s Gentleman Usher recorded later in his memories that…
‘Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen’s maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry.’
Of course falling in love and becoming engaged to our 21st century eyes seems a normal and happy circumstance, but this prospective marriage was plagued with problems from the start.
According to Eric Ives, Anne Boleyn’s biographer there were two main difficulties. First of all the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Cardinal Wolsey had long been in negotiations for a marriage between Shrewsbury’s daughter Mary Talbot and Henry Percy. We can assume, as Wolsey was at this point the King’s most trusted minster that the match had his approval.
The second difficultly lay in the negotiations, which Wolsey was also involved in for Anne to marry James Butler. There had long been a bitter dispute between the Boleyns and the Butlers over who the Earldom of Ormonde rightfully belonged to. Marriage between Anne and James would hopefully satisfy both families and resolve the matter once and for all.
After having committed so much time and effort with two lots of protracted marriage negotiations we can imagine Wolsey’s fury when he found out the two young people had declared before witnesses their intention to marry. In Tudor times this was seen as legally binding and Percy was well aware of his predicament when he remarked…
‘In this matter I have gone so far before so many worthy witnesses that I know not how to avoid myself nor to discharge my conscience’
Cardinal Wolsey, a man with enormous wealth, power and the King’s ear was not to be thwarted and a tearful Percy received a through public and humiliating dressing down. Not only did Wolsey personally berate Percy, he sent for his father who also wasted no time in lambasting his son. He chided him for disrespecting the King’s and his wishes. Threatened with disinheritance the youth was left in no doubt of his Father’s displeasure or readiness to carry out his threats.
As neither the King or the Earl of Northumberland had given permission for the pair to marry the conclusion came swiftly with the two young people being banned from seeing each other. Henry Percy was hastily married off to Mary Talbot and Anne was sent home to Hever Castle ‘to simmer and sorrow’ for over a year.
There is of course the possibility that Henry was infatuated with Anne and that he was clearing a path for her to become his mistress. Although this opinion has been put forward many times, we have no evidence that Henry took any serious romantic interest in Anne as early as 1522/23. Plus Henry had had a sexual relationship with Anne’s sister Mary while she was married to William Carey so marriage was not necessarily an impediment.
What do you think?
Life & Death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives