May 6, 1536
History buffs have long wondered if Anne wrote to Henry. Several movies and novels have gone further and envisioned Henry meeting with Anne in the Tower, as portrayed in Anne of a Thousand Days.
A letter exists, purportedly from Anne to Henry, dated only a few days after her arrest.
The text is as follows:
Your grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth and so obtain your favor), by such a one, whom you know to be mine ancient professed enemy, I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty, perform your duty.
But let not your grace ever imagine that your poor wife will be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought ever proceeded. And to speak a truth, never a prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Bullen—with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your grace’s pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queenship, but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your grace’s fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw that fancy to some other subject.
You have chosen me from low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire; if, then, you found me worthy of such honor, good your grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favor from me; neither let that stain—that unworthy stain—of a disloyal heart towards your good grace ever cast so foul a blot on me, and on the infant princess, your daughter.
Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shame. Then you shall see either my innocency cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that whatever God and you may determine of, your grace may be freed from an open censure; and my offense being so lawfully proved, your grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some while since have pointed unto—your grace being not ignorant of my suspicions therein.
But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring you the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof; and that He will not call you to a strait account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at His general judgment seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.
My last, and only, request shall be that myself only bear the burden of your grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, whom, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favor in your sight—if ever the name of Anne Bullen has been pleasing in your ears—then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your grace any further, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions.
From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th May.
Your most loyal and ever-faithful wife, Anne Bullen
You can see an image of the complete document here.
It was supposedly found among Cromwell’s papers after his execution. At the top, there is an inscription in what may be Cromwell’s own handwriting: “To the king from the lady in the Tower.”
However, there are serious questions as to the letter’s authenticity.
While she was in the Tower, Anne was apparently not permitted to have writing materials. She called Sir William Kingston, her jailer, and told him she wanted to send a letter to the council. Kingston told her to tell him the message verbally, and he would see that it was delivered.
The text of the letter does not match other examples of Anne’s handwriting. There have been arguments that Anne’s handwriting may have been affected by the stress she was enduring, or that she was trying to write in the formal “secretary style,” but it just doesn’t look like her hand to me.
You can see an authenticated letter in her handwriting here. Look at how she forms the letter “h” with two downward, curving strokes, and the flattened curve of the letter “a.” The elongated swoops and swirls of the letter “y” are not in her style, either, when she seems to have favored short, sharp, angular strokes.
Another problem is the spelling of her family name as “Bullen,” written as such twice in the letter. It was an accepted spelling of her last name – it’s spelled that way on her father’s tomb, and many transcriptions of her letters use that spelling – but Anne was rather consistent about spelling her last name either “Boleyn,” or “de Boullan” when writing in French. After her father was ennobled, she signed her name “Anne Rochefort,” and then “Anne Pembroke” when she attained her own title. After her coronation, she always signed “Anne the quene.”
At the time she was writing the letter, Anne was still Queen of England. Would she have signed the letter without reference to her title? Or, could it be, she wished Henry to recall the days when he wrote love letters to a young girl named Anne Boleyn?
There are a few historians who believe it was written by Anne. They argue it could have been dictated to one of her ladies, which would explain the handwriting and the spelling of her name. Some believe that the extant letter is a copy of a lost original, perhaps intercepted before it ever reached the king’s eyes. Copyists were not consistent with using the same spelling as the original author.
We know the letter existed as early as 1649, when it was included in Lord Herbert’s history of Henry VIII’s reign. Many of the records were destroyed in a 1731 fire at the Cottonian Library, but they were examined by a historian, John Strype, prior to that date. He claimed to have seen another letter from Anne to Henry, written a few days after this one, in which she angrily rejected a plea bargain which would require her to confess, and would insist upon her innocence, even if it meant death.
I included a slightly paraphrased version of the letter “From the Lady in the Tower” in Under These Restless Skies because it’s what Anne should have said to Henry. It bluntly lays out the truth: Anne was innocent of the crimes she was accused of and she was being killed to make way for Jane Seymour.