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12 June 2009

Henry the VIII's Love Letters to Anne Boleyn

I love reading historical letters and Janet's post on Jane Austen's letters reminded me...this spring, the love letters of Henry the VIII to Anne Boleyn were made public. After decades in storage at the Vatican, the letters, most certainly stolen from Queen Anne, are on view as part of a major exhibition on Henry VIII opening at the British Library on April 23.

Written around 1528, five years before Anne became Queen, the words of devotion show a softer side to Henry, very different from the man who had a public reputation as a bloodthirsty ruler.

In some of the letters he assures her that "henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone," and apologizes profusely for ever suggesting she could be a mere mistress.

In many of the letters he professes a deeply passionate and committed love---and his intention to marry her (he was still married to Catherine of Aragon at the time).

He promises this repeatedly to Anne:

"The demonstrations of your affection are such, and the beautiful words of your letters are so cordially phrased, that they really oblige me to honour, love, and serve you forever....”

"For my part, I will outdo you, if this be possible, rather than reciprocate, in loyalty of heart and my desire to please you."

"Beseeching you also that if I have in any way offended you, you will give me the same absolution for which you ask, assuring you that henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone, and wishing greatly that my body was so too."

Anne was aware of Henry’s womanizing reputation and most scholars agree that she held out on him for at least seven years---refusing to have sexual relations with him.

Then I read the letter below, and I can’t quite tell—but maybe by this time Anne had given a little (all?) of it up? Their relationship was most certainly physical to some degree, since “dukkys” translates to “breasts” in modern English.

“Mine own sweetheart, these shall be to advertise you of the great loneliness that I find here since your departing, for I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last than I was wont to do a whole fortnight: I think your kindness and my fervents of love causeth it, for otherwise I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me, but now that I am coming toward you methinketh my pains been half released.... Wishing myself (specially an evening) in my sweetheart's arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss. Written with the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his will.
H.R.”

Henry's desire for Anne was one of the driving forces behind England's breaking away from the rule of Roman Catholic Church. It became the Henry’s goal to secure an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he would be free to marry Anne. When I read his letters (written during this time), I find them passionate and tender, and yet a little disturbing. Perhaps because I know how this all ends. Just eight years after most of these letters were written, Henry was ready to move on, still in search of a woman who could give him a son (Anne did not and had fallen out of favor). Based on false charges of adultery, incest and witchcraft, he had her beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536.

The letters show Henry did really love Anne passionately in the beginning---but he had to arrest and execute friends, fight with his family, face unpopularity, banish his wife and child, and have a crisis of faith, to wed and bed her.

So I can’t help reading these now and coming away feeling like there was a hint of something sinister (obsession?) in his writings from the very beginning. What about you? Anne may have been blinded by her own ambition but is there something in these letters that sends up a red flag and would have alerted you to the danger?




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14 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I think Anne was in an impossible situation. After 8 year of courtship and foreplay, she gets pregnant and gives birth to a daughter. Henry, wanting desperately to have a son, think he's been tricked in some way, but really there was no way that Anne could have ordered up a boy baby. The whole situation, the long divorce, the establishment of the Church of England (and Anne was an ardent Protestant), I don't think there was anyway this story could have ended up heavily. Henry was out of patience and Anne never had the time to see if she could have given him a son.

I've always found it ironic that Jane Seymour gives him a son and ends up dying in the process, so that he never had the time to get bored with her, which I think he would have. Henry in many ways was a restless boy-child and not a man. It's the only thing that I think Jonathan Rhys-Meyers gets right in his portrayal of Henry. He'd been King since what the age of 18? Having his whims catered to?

I also don't think that Anne could have stopped this train from running. It wasn't only her ambition but the ambition of her family as well,particularly her uncle Norfolk.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I meant happily, although it was pretty heavy!

1:37 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Kathrynn! It's so hard to read the letters without thinking about what comes after. I actually don't know that I would find them disturbing if I didn't know where Henry and Anne's relationship ended up. He seems very focused on her and making her happy, rather than on himself, which is not what one might expect knowing the historical Henry VIII...

3:04 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

We cannot help but look at these letters with a somewhat jaundiced eye because we DO know how the love story ends.

I have often wondered if Henry's obsession with having a son - while I am sure it was due in large part to wanting a male heir - perhaps it also became an obsession to prove something about himself as a man.

When you look at his father and grandfather, Henry VIII's reign was rather quiet with little room for him to prove himself the hero.

This was a very insecure man in many ways. As such he was a bit of a bully and more than a bit spoiled. How much of his obsession with Anne was sincere affection and how much of it was the desire to prove he COULD have her?

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

I think you are right on, Elizabeth, about Anne...she had a very ambitious family and I doubt, after a certian point, she could have turned back even if she wanted to.

I agree, Tracey. Henry sounds smitten and if I hadn't known he was the author, I might not have thought anything stranged about his need to possess this woman.

Louisa, handwriting analysis experts say Henry's letters show he was insecure, as you suggested, and that he was emotionally dependent on women....I wonder, was it the "leaning L's or the closed off E's?" that show that.

At any rate, it seems he did need to prove he could conquer--especially the opposite sex.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Great post, Kathrynn. Just before I went to bed last night I was reviewing the Henry/Anne entry in the copyedited manuscript of NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES so I actually have their relationship on the brain right now.

One thing I note in the book is Anne’s predicament was unusual. Most royal unions were political and dynastic alliances. Her marriage had been a love match—-and yet she had no security in it. Consequently, she was prepared to protect it at all costs. More than her crown and marriage were at risk: her love for Henry and his for her—-the very raison d’être for their union—-were at stake, so she couldn’t afford to take the high road traveled by a traditional queen and ignore her husband’s infatuation with Jane Seymour. The ironic result of Anne’s making a big deal out of Jane was that Jane became a bigger deal than she might otherwise have been.

and By dint of her own intellect and abilities, Anne achieved what others could merely dream of. Although her ambitious father and uncle were seasoned courtiers whose success afforded her an entrée into the highest echelons of Tudor society, once she arrived, she was there to stay—-despite her family-—until an equally self-made individual, Thomas Cromwell, destroyed her. Few question the fact that Anne Boleyn was innocent of the charges for which she forfeited her head.

Everything about Henry was outsized, from his passions to his appetite. And yet in an odd way, he's relatable: unfortunately I've encountered plenty of men whose infatuation with a woman enters the realm of hyperbole--until they get sick of her--in which case they damn her with as much gusto as they once adored her.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

P.S. -- In contrast to Henry's florid love letters to Anne, here's one he wrote to her successor, Jane Seymour:

My dear friend and mistress,

The bearer of these few lines from thy entirely devoted servant will deliver into thy fair hands a token of my true affection for thee, hoping you will keep it for ever in your sincere love for me. There is a ballad made lately of great derision against us; I pray you pay no manner of regard to it. I am not at present informed who is the setter forth of this malignant writing, but if he is found out, he shall straitly be punished for it. Hoping shortly to receive you into these arms, I end for the present

Your own living servant and sovereign
H.R.


No "dukky" kissing here! This letter is as bland as the blonde was, whereas his letters to Anne were as fiery and temperamental as she was. Makes you wonder ... was Henry gauging his "audience" (meaning his inamorata) when he wrote his love letters, or was he far less infatuated with Jane in a sexual way? After all, Anne was a master at the art of titillation, letting Henry have just enough to keep him drooling.

6:22 AM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

"...they damn her with as much gusto as they once adored her!" HOW TRUE, Amanada!

And what a contrast---Henry's letter to Jane Seymour is so tempered...I wonder if he was really capable of the kind of infatuation he felt for Anne at this point...maybe just leary and burnt out on the concept of love. Seems like he might be, sooner or later, less inclined to keep throwing his hat into the ring with such gusto as he aged.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I wouldn't have suspected a thing -- but then I wouldn't, even from a far less passionate letter. Thanks for the glimpse, Kathrynn.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous The Anne Boleyn Files said...

I agree that it is hard to read these letters without thinking about how Henry treated Anne at the end and Amanda is right about the contrast between Henry's letters to Anne and the one he wrote to Jane. Although he called Jane his true wife or true love, I think it's obvious that the real love of his life was Anne. His letters show passion, urgency, a man struggling with his feelings and a commitment to do whatever it took to marry her. Unfortunately he then felt let down by Anne when she didn't deliver on her promises and give him a son. Sad how such passion and love can turn not to hate but to indifference. How can someone plan a wedding when the woman they had loved so passionately is being executed?!

11:54 AM  
Anonymous kathrynn Dennis said...

The Anne Boleyn Files--when I read Henry's leter to Jane, I assumed Anne was already dead. Even more amazing that he wrote a sort of love letter to Jane then.

I also think his letter to Jane has the tone of someone who is talking to a child, or someone very much younger (in age and other ways).

Thanks for posting at the HH!

5:28 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I forgot to mention something else about the letters. It's believed that they were stolen long before Anne became queen -- during the long and drawn out adjudication of The Great Matter (in which Henry sought his divorce from Katherine of Aragon). Papal legates spirited several letters to Rome as proof (in case it was necessary) that Henry's real reason for wanting the divorce was that he wanted to marry Anne, not that he had been living in sin with Katherine all those years of their marriage, violating Chap. 20 of Leviticus that makes it a sin to marry your deceased brother's wife.

I would so love to see these letters! I wonder if the exhibit will travel to NY.

5:18 AM  
Anonymous The Anne Boleyn Files said...

Amanda, you can buy a book with the letters in "The Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn" - it's available on Amazon and is a great resource for us Tudor fans. Not quite the same as seeing the real ones!!
Yes, I'd heard about the letters being stolen in case they were needed as proof.

Kathrynn, I agree about the letter to Jane being written as if to a child. Some believe that Jane could not read or write but Elizabeth Norton says that she could but that she was in no way educated to the same standard as Anne Boleyn. Jane had a rather rudimentary education and then the focus was on "women's things" like sewing.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any more love letters from Henry to jane that you can tell me?

4:39 AM  

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