The Universe of Discourse

Thu, 18 Jan 2018

England in a pother in 1533

In autumn 2014 I paid for something and got $15.33 in change. I thought I'd take the hint from the Universe and read Wikipedia's article on the year 1533. This turned out unexpectedly exciting. 1533 was a big year in English history. Here are the highlights:

  • January 25: King Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn
  • March 30: Thomas Cranmer becomes Archbishop of Canterbury
  • May 23: Cranmer annuls Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon
  • June 1: Boleyn crowned queen consort by Cranmer
  • July 11: Henry excommunicated by Pope Clement VII
  • September 7: Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, is born to Boleyn

A story clearly emerges here, the story of Henry's frantic response to Anne Boleyn's surprise pregnancy.

The first thing to notice is that Elizabeth was born only seven months after Henry married Boleyn. The next thing to notice is that Henry was still married to Catherine when he married Boleyn. He had to get Cranmer to annul the marriage, issuing a retroactive decree that not only was Henry not married to Catherine, but he had never been married to her.

In 2014 I imagined that Henry appointed Cranmer to be Archbishop on condition that he get the annulment, and eventually decided that was not the case. Looking at it now, I'm not sure why I decided that.

Wikipedia says:

While Cranmer was following Charles through Italy, he received a royal letter dated 1 October 1532 informing him that he had been appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury, following the death of archbishop William Warham [on 22 August]. Cranmer was ordered to return to England. The appointment had been secured by the family of Anne Boleyn, who was being courted by Henry.

Cranmer had been working on that annulment since at least 1527. In 1532 he was ambassador to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, who was the nephew of Henry's current wife Catherine. I suppose a large part of Cranmer's job was trying to persuade Charles to support the annulment. (He was unsuccessful.) When Charles conveniently went to Rome (what for? Wikipedia doesn't say) Cranmer followed him and tried to drum up support there for the annulment. (He was unsuccessful in that too.)

Fortunately there was a convenient vacancy, and Henry called him back to fill it, and got his annulment that way. In 2014 I thought Warham's death was just a little too convenient, but I decided that he died too early for it to have been arranged by Henry. Now I'm less sure — Henry was certainly capable of such cold-blooded planning — but I can't find any mention of foul play, and The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican describes the death as “convenient though entirely natural”.

[ Addendum: This article used to say that Elizabeth was born “less than seven months” after Henry and Boleyn's marriage. Daniel Holtz has pointed out that this was wrong. The exact amount is 225 days, or 32 weeks plus one day. The management regrets the error. ]

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