Friday, 6 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 6): The Queen's Last Letter?

Reading back over my post from last year, when I analysed the debate over whether or not the letter (above) allegedly written by Anne Boleyn to the King on the fourth day of her imprisonment, I think perhaps that I should have been slightly harder on it. I still agree fundamentally with my conclusion that there probably was a letter, but that it's since been lost or accidentally destroyed. However, I think I was wrong to suggest that the May 6th letter probably contains authentic sayings from a lost-original. I tend to agree now that it's either entirely genuine (extremely unlikely) or a complete, if sentimental, forgery. And in the comments section for the original post, many thanks to Little Miss Sunnydale for putting forward Professor R.M. Warnicke's theory about how such letters were forged in Elizabethan school rooms. I think it's an excellent theory and could potentially explain a lot about the letter's origins. To quote from my original article: -
"The letter's authenticity has been the subject of debate therefore since the earliest days of Tudor historiography. Writing his biography of Henry VIII in 1649, Lord Edward Herbert believed it was probably a forgery, perhaps penned by a pious devotee of Anne’s sometime in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; on the other hand, Gilbert, Bishop of Salisbury, writing his 7-volumed History of the Reformation of the Church of England thirty years later was convinced that it was genuine. Having spent a lifetime compiling the Original Letters of Henry VIII’s reign in the mid-19th century, the archivist Henry Ellis positively gushed about the letter’s style, panache and validity and pointed out that there were always some alterations in Anne Boleyn’s handwriting depending on her mood. There are, for instance, considerable differences between the letter she wrote to her father from the Hapsburg Empire in 1514, that penned to Cardinal Wolsey after the plague epidemic of 1528 and one she dispatched to her friend, Lady Wingfield, in the summer of 1532. The unsentimental and sombre giant of Victorian historians, J.A. Froude in his The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon and History of England, accepted Ellis’s arguments and believed that all clear documentary evidence pointed to the letter being authentic."

For the full post I wrote last year discussing the debate over whether the letter is real or not, click HERE.


  1. Although, like you, I'm convinced that Anne did write a letter to Henry or Cromwell, I just don't think she would have been reckless enough to write such a letter. I know that some people point out that she probably had nothing to lose by this point it is clear that she was worried about her family while she was in the Tower and I don't think she would have wanted them or Elizabeth to suffer the wrath of Henry VIII. He would have been so mad if he had read this letter!
    Part of me wishes she had had chance to tell Henry exactly what she thought of him, à la Genevieve Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days, but I don't think it was in this particular letter.
    I'm not sure about the schoolroom theory. I was discussing it with Nasim on Twitter and I agree with her that it's simply an Elizabethan forgery. Who know though? I love these mysteries!
    Did you have a good birthday? x

  2. Claire, the Tower scene in "Anne of the Thousand Days" is perhaps one of my favourite cinema moments. Hands down. I completely agree.

    Yes, I had a lovely birthday yesterday. Thank you very much. And I'm heading out for drinks in Belfast this evening with some friends and we're having a dinner next weekend, when I'm less busy.

    It was a lovely day and people were very kind.


  3. Hi Gareth,
    I'm glad you had a good day and it's always nice to extend your birthday by celebrating it over a few days. Hope you had fun last night x


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