History Files


Early Modern Britain

Friends & Foes of Henry's Wives

From Channel 4's The Six Wives of Henry VIII series by Doctor David Starkey, September 2001



Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Part 2: Anne Boleyn

Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, and Elizabeth Howard

Thomas Boleyn (Bullen) was the eldest of four children and fought for Henry VII against Cornish rebels protesting against taxation. He became a courtier and diplomat, using his skill for languages.

Elizabeth Howard was daughter of the Second Duke of Norfolk. Her marriage to Boleyn was probably only accepted by her family because their status had suffered after fighting for Richard III at Bosworth.

Boleyn's status rose as the Howards threw off their earlier poor alliance and he was knighted in 1509, the year of Henry VIII's coronation.

He was English ambassador in France from 1519 to 1520, taking Anne with him. He was one of Henry's main advisers, and even tried and found guilty the men accused of adultery with his daughter.

Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554)

Having fought under his father in the successful battle against the Scots at Flodden in 1513, while Catherine of Aragon was queen, The Duke of Norfolk rose to become one of Henry VIII's key generals. He saw further victories against the French and Scots and became a lieutenant with the Council of the North.

Norfolk spearheaded the aristocratic assault on operators such as Wolsey and Cromwell who were considered to be career politicians. He was the uncle of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, and helped both find a place in Henry's court.

Although he was a supporter of the politics of the Reformation, he opposed the Protestant moves of Cardinal Cranmer and Cromwell.

The fall of Catherine Howard led to the decline in Norfolk's fortunes and he was eventually charged with treason and condemned to death, only being saved by the Henry's own demise on the day he was meant to be despatched. He was rehabilitated to his former status under Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon.

William Tyndale (1492-1536)

It was Tyndale's translation of the Bible – the New Testament – which formed the basis for the authorised version. Printing began in Cologne in 1525 but had to be finished in Worms after Tyndale was forced to flee.

He influenced large numbers of people in England, including Anne Boleyn, but met his end in Vilvorde Belgium, where he was burnt as a heretic.

King Francis I of France (1494-1547)

The successor to Louis XII, his cousin, his competition for power in Europe against Charles V of Spain led to several wars, while he built an absolute monarchy in France. He was captured after being defeated in Pavia and was forced to sign a crushing treaty.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 and was the leader of the Reformation. He held this key position under Henry VIII and Edward VI, converting to Protestantism, for which he paid with his life under the Catholic Queen Mary I.

A major figure in shaping the Church of England in 1549 and 1552, he organised the issue of new prayer books. As early as 1529 he had suggested that the question of the Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon should be referred to European universities rather than the Pope. In any event he later declared the marriage null and void.

Condemned for heresy under Mary I, he was burnt.

Pope Clement VII and Cardinal Campeggio

It was to Pope Clement, (a member of the Medici family) that Henry VIII sent his requests for the annulment of his marriage.

Conscious of being watched by Emperor Charles V of Spain, Catherine of Aragon's nephew, he did not want to admit that his predecessor Pope had made a mistake in allowing Henry to marry Catherine.

Clement appointed Cardinal Campeggio, first sent to England in 1518 to campaign for a crusade against the Turks, to supervise the trial. Campeggio was secretly ordered to delay while an indecisive and nervous Clement as usual procrastinated.

Meanwhile, Spain had defeated the French, supported by Henry, and was closing in on Italy in an effort to grab back the papacy. Spain succeeded and the Lutheran teachings also spread further.

Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

As a Protestant Elizabeth was under suspicion during the reign of her elder half sister Mary I. She secretly encouraged the Dutch rebellion against Spanish rule and took the crown from Mary in 1558, beginning a reign that was to last until 1603, gain her the nickname the 'Virgin Queen', and herald the 'Gloriana' period of peace and prosperity in England which also saw the very beginnings of the British Empire.

Her contribution to the standing of the country remains a source of awe.



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