Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trials and Deaths of Anne Boleyn & Katherine Howard

From One Queen to Another

Catherine of Aragon, portrait
Catherine of Aragon, portrait

News of divorce proceedings between the royal couple caused great discontent within the kingdom. Catherine was well liked by her subjects, whereas Anne's reputation was quickly diminishing. Many saw Anne as the cause of all the problems and she was deemed a witch, a whore and a shameless opportunist. Regardless, the cards were stacked in her favor and Anne was not about to sacrifice her future to appease others. She had Henry's enduring support, which was all she needed. They were both convinced that his marriage would be annulled, allowing them to eventually marry. She was also convinced that the public would in time accept their love for one another.

Carolly Erikson in Great Harry says that Queen Catherine was 43 when Campeggio came to England, but depression had taken its toll on her as it became clear that her marriage was nearing an end.  The net effect was that Catherine looked years older than her age and that "the lines on her face had deepened and her eyes had grown more careworn."

Portrait of Anne Boleyn as queen
Portrait of Anne Boleyn as

In May 1529, the public trial commenced at the Black Friars Parliament Chamber in London. The court first heard Catherine's argument concerning the matter, which was soon followed by Henry's rebuttal. While Henry was making his statements, Catherine unexpectedly approached her husband and bowed to her knees.

"I have been to you a true, honorable and obedient wife… and when ye had me at the first (I take God to be my judge) I was a true maid without touch of man..."

Henry responded by allowing Catherine to appeal "The Great Matter" to the pope. To Henry's regret, Catherine did appeal the annulment, which resulted in the trial being temporarily suspended for a considerable length of time.

Henry expected a quick trial and was enraged that it had been strung out for so long. He was desperate for the court to come to a conclusion, preferably in his favor. However, it did not look as if a decision would be made anytime soon.

Portrait of Thomas Cranmer
Portrait of Thomas Cranmer

Anne was also becoming increasingly inpatient. In an effort to temporarily pacify her, Henry officially recognized her as his consort. He bestowed upon her many of the queenly privileges, including the entitlement to Her Majesty's royal jewelry, a significant income and luxurious court accommodations. The acknowledgement pleased Anne, even though it was not yet official. However, Catherine was hurt and astounded by the disrespect Henry showed her. Yet, there was little she could do.

In the meantime, Henry decided to explore other means to formally end his relationship with Catherine. Anne would eventually present him with a more successful approach to finalizing his marriage. She gave Henry a copy of William Tindale's book Obedience of a Christian Man, with the intent of introducing to him radical religious ideas which she favored. Henry had a great interest in theology and he read the book with great enthusiasm. The book would prove to be his way out of his matrimonial problems.

The significance of the book was that it stated that the king had supreme authority over the pope and church, not the other way around. The idea was indeed a radical one, because the general view held by most was that the pope was the more powerful figure. Henry would soon change the common misconception.

Portrait of Elizabeth, daughter of Henry & Anne
Portrait of Elizabeth, daugh-
ter of Henry & Anne

According to Weir, Henry demanded in February 1531 that he be instated as the "supreme head of the church of England." Less than a week later, the clergy granted him the title, which would enable him to divorce himself from Catherine. Finally in July of that year, Catherine and Henry separated. Catherine was permanently banned from court and released from all matrimonial duties.

On January 25, 1533, Henry and Anne were secretly married in a private ceremony in England 's Whitehall Palace. It was kept secret because officially Henry was still married to Catherine. However, one year later Archbishop Cranmer voided the marriage. Soon thereafter, the Archbishop declared Anne and Henry's marriage officially legitimate. The couple was more than pleased, especially since they learned that Anne was pregnant. The king hoped that he would be finally blessed with a male heir to the throne. The great news was made public in May of that year.

On June 1, 1533, there was great pomp and circumstance made for Anne on her coronation day. She walked down the red carpets of Westminster Abbey with her swollen belly draped in velvet. She was crowned the queen regent. All she had hoped for was becoming a reality. Weir stated that Anne was, "only the second commoner to be elevated to the consort's throne in England."

Sketch of Jane Seymour
Sketch of Jane Seymour

Unfortunate for Anne, the coronation marked the beginning of her ruin. After the momentous event, little would go her way again. Henry had conquered his Anne and the challenge of the hunt was now a distant memory. He turned his attentions to new games and more challenging liaisons. Anne was consumed with jealousy, but there was little chance of Henry changing his behavior. Her only hope now was to gain his attention and respect by giving him something he didn't yet have, a male heir to the throne.

Matters grew graver for Anne when on September 7 she gave birth to a baby girl whom the couple named Elizabeth. Weir stated that Henry and Anne were both disappointed at the sex of the child and Anne regretted not having produced a boy for her desperate husband. Even though their newborn was not the sex they hoped for, her birth secured her marriage to Henry at least temporarily.

However, Anne's problems continued to grow. In March 1534, the pope finally came to a decision concerning the marital dispute between Henry and Catherine, who was referred to as Princess Dowager following her banishment from court. He proclaimed that their marriage was valid.

Henry and Anne were enraged at the pope's announcement. They were even more angered when Henry was threatened with excommunication if he didn't resume living with Catherine and treat her as his legitimate wife. It is not surprising that Henry refused the demand, citing that the pope lacked the authority to enforce the order. Henry and Anne remained confident that their marriage was valid, if not by the pope than at least by God. Their proof was the fact that Anne was pregnant yet again with the couple's second child. They were convinced that this time it would be a boy, because their union was a blessed one.

Portrait of Queen Katherine Parr
Portrait of Queen Katherine

However, Anne miscarried her second child after carrying it almost to term. The loss concerned Henry greatly for he believed that if his marriage was truly blessed than he would have had a male heir by this time. The tensions grew between the couple and they began to quarrel frequently, especially over Henry's extramarital affairs. Henry thought Anne was ungrateful for all that he had given her and his interest in her began to wane significantly.

In November 1535, Henry began to court one of Anne's household maids, Jane Seymour. The affair was no ordinary one and Henry became increasingly enamored by the young woman's modesty and gentle nature. Anne realized that she was losing her husband all together and she began to worry for her future.

Anne's problems were further compounded when she suffered several more miscarriages. Following the loss of her last child in the beginning months of 1536, an argument developed between Anne and Henry. Anne angrily blamed Henry for the lack of a male heir. Enraged at her insolence, Henry swore that Anne would no longer bear his children. He kept to his word and made plans to end his marriage to Anne.

Edward VI, son of Henry VIII & Jane
Edward VI, son of Henry VIII
and Jane

Jane Seymour had become the object of Henry's affections and he had grander plans for her future. Like Catherine before her, Anne had simply become dispensable. A little more than three years after her marriage to Henry, Anne was executed to make way for the new queen, Jane Seymour. Jane would go on to fulfill Henry's wish for a male heir before her untimely death from natural causes. Unhappily, the beautiful boy's health was very fragile and he died of consumption at the age of 16 in 1553, six years after the death of his father.

Jane would not be the last of Henry's queens. In fact, Henry would go on to marry a total of six times. However, it was during his fifth marriage that he again demonstrated to the world his ruthless and unforgiving character. That marriage would prove to have equally disastrous consequences to his wife as his marriage to Anne. She would be later known as the second and last of Henry's wives who would fall victim to the executioner's blade. Her name was Katherine Howard.