England’s Got a New Queen

On June 1, 1533, England got a new queen: Anne Boleyn. Anne was crowned in a spectacular ceremony at Westminster Abbey just four days after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared her marriage to Henry VIII valid.

Anne and Henry were married in secret shortly after returning from a meeting with the King of France in Calais in late 1532. Shortly after, she became pregnant, and she and Henry had a second marriage ceremony in London on January 25, 1533. The problem was, Henry was still legally married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, who was fighting tooth and nail to preserve her marriage. On May 23, the recently elevated Cranmer convened a special court at Dunstable Priory to rule on the validity of Henry’s marriage to Katherine. Naturally, they declared the marriage null and void, and on May 28 Cranmer also declared Anne’s and Henry’s marriage to be valid.

Katherine was stripped of her title of queen, and Anne’s coronation went forward. It was not quite the great celebration she was hoping for, however. The people of London, who loved Queen Katherine, gave her a lukewarm response (to say the least). Many in the crowd, catching sight of Henry’s and Anne’s intertwined initials on the decorations, yelled “Ha! Ha!” at her as she passed. Nonetheless, she was crowned (unusually) with St. Edward’s crown, which previously had only been used for a reigning monarch.

After the ceremony, Anne processed through the city on a litter covered with white cloth of gold, carried by two palfreys draped in white damask. The barons of the Cinque Ports held a cloth of gold canopy over her head. The procession was followed by a sumptuous banquet.

As we all know, the marriage didn’t last. The hoped-for heir Anne was carrying at the time of her coronation turned out to be a girl, Elizabeth, and subsequent pregnancies ended in miscarriages and stillbirths. Meanwhile, the pope declared Henry’s marriage to Katherine lawful, and his marriage to Anne invalid, thus throwing her daughter’s legitimacy into question (a situation that would haunt Elizabeth her entire life). Katherine’s death in January 1536 put an end to the question of valid and invalid marriages, but by that time Henry’s and Anne’s relationship was in serious trouble. She miscarried another baby in early 1536, and Henry decided it was time to get rid of her. Anne and several courtiers, including her brother, were arrested and accused of adultery and treason. All but one, the poet Thomas Wyatt, were executed. Anne was the last to go: she was beheaded by a swordsman brought over from France just shy of the three year anniversary of her coronation.

 



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