There seems little doubt from the primary sources that Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn were married in secret over the Holbein Gate at Whitehall on 25 January 1533. In separate accounts both Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Harpsfield give details of the early morning ceremony, which was conducted by the King’s chaplin Mr Rowland, although Anne’s biographer Eric Ives does suggest that a priest named George Brown could have officiated.
Accounts of the service itself show that whoever the celebrant of the marriage was he was keen to have sight of the marriage licence. This was an ambiguous point as the King had not officially been divorced from Katherine of Aragon yet. The licence was not produced with the King informing the clergyman that he had the licence within his personal papers, but to fetch it would take time and in all likelihood he would be seen. The King being seen so early in the morning would of course arouse comment and the secrecy of the marriage could be at risk. Henry also reassured the celebrant that all would be well and if not he would carry the blame.
Witnesses were kept to the minimum required by law and historians are generally in agreement that these were Sir Henry Norris, Thomas Heneage and Anne Savage. The marriage was so secret that even Thomas Cranmer who had been recalled to England earlier in the month to be created Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t find out about it until 2 weeks after the service saying:
‘that I married her (Anne Boleyn); which was plainly false, for I myself knew not thereof a fortnight after it was done.”2
Could it have been the fact that Anne was pregnant that propelled the couple into secret nuptials? If Anne’s pregnancy with Elizabeth was full term then she probably conceived around mid December. Without modern pregnancy testing would she have been sure by 25 January that she definitely was with child or was suspicion enough?
Two weeks after her wedding on 15 February, Anne was telling her Uncle the Duke of Norfolk before an audience of courtiers that
‘Immediately after Easter, she was resolved to go on a pilgrimage to Our Lady (of Walsingham) in the event that she was not pregnant’
Perhaps Anne was using this statement to advertise the fact that she was now the King’s wife and that a royal prince would soon be or already had been conceived.
Whatever the case the collaborative efforts of Cromwell, Audley and Cranmer to get the King’s marriage to Katherine declared null picked up pace and within 10 weeks Anne attended the Easter Eve service at Greenwich as Queen with prayers being offered in her name.
It was her greatest victory so far. Clearly pregnant, richly dressed in cloth of gold and being attended with all the dignity of a Queen everything was going to plan.
David Loades, The Six Wives of Henry VIII
David Starkey, Six Wives
Eric Ives, The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn