by Heather R. Darsie, J.D.
Anne Boleyn’s coronation, like those of her predecessors, took into account aspects of her personality and future ideological role. As the first Renaissance English queen, Anne was not only seen as an intercessor between the public and the king, but also as part of Henry VIII’s body politic. This idea was established in the 15th century, most firmly so with Anne’s mother-in-law Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth’s coronation did not take place until after she birthed the heir. It should be noted that, perhaps fortunately for Elizabeth, her first child was male.
Elizabeth of York’s coronation was the first to feature water pageantry. Anne Boleyn was noticeably pregnant during her coronation, which was a primary theme for the attendant coronation pageantry. Anne Boleyn’s water pageant took place on Thursday, 29 May 1533. Around fifty barges set off from Billingsgate. These were large ships, each about sixty-five feet/twenty meters long. It took about two hours for the barges, owned by the various livery companies in London, to reach Greenwich Palace. The barges were fabulously outfitted with cloth of gold, and one boat displayed Anne’s white falcon with a group of women singing. Anne disembarked at the Tower of London’s wharf, where Henry awaited her. As was tradition, Anne spent the next two nights at the Tower in apartments decorated especially for her. Jane Seymour, Anne’s successor, enjoyed her own water pageant three years and nine days later.
On 31 May 1533, after private ceremonies took place within the Tower of London, Anne Boleyn progressed from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. The tradition of a procession from the Tower to Westminster was established in the late 14th century. This included the colour of clothing worn by the new king or queen. Part of the reason they wore the same style of clothing, such as the white gown which Anne Boleyn wore, was so that the public knew immediately where the new king or queen was in the procession. Anne, who was noticeably pregnant, was borne in a litter covered in white satin and white cloth of gold. Anne enjoyed many fabulous pageants and tableaus during her progress to Westminster.
Anne’s coronation ceremony took place the next day, 1 June 1533. It was Whitsunday. The coronation followed the liber regalis, a set of regulations set down in 1307. The coronation ceremony stayed more or less unchanged up through the reigns of all the Tudors, including the very specific clothing which the royals wore. Of course, there were religious elements of the coronation that changed with each of Henry’s children.
Anne Boleyn’s coronation is touted by some historians as bigger than the welcome Holy Roman Emperor Charles V received in 1521. In fact, it was the biggest public event since 1527, when French ambassadors came to ratify a peace treaty between Henry VIII and Francis I of France. Henry had been impressed by the French use of pomp during the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Such pomp was customary in the Low Countries, part of Charles V’s Habsburg territories, as well. It seems that, for both Charles V’s welcome in 1521 and celebrations surrounding the Anglo-French peace treaty of 1527, Henry chose to embrace the show of wealth he experienced in 1520. And, of course, Henry’s new queen favored French fashion and had spent her formative years at the French court.
The events in 1521 and 1527 do give some perspective as to whether Anne’s coronation was more, less, or equally grand to Katharine of Aragon’s. Aside from Henry wanting to show that Anne was the true queen despite what the public may have thought, it seems that Henry’s lavish tastes became even more excessive in honor of his new queen. Unfortunately, the primary surviving document which records Henry VIII’s and Katharine of Aragon’s joint coronation in 1509 is full of laudatory language, and sparse on actual description. One can only speculate that Anne’s coronation was grander than Katharine’s, and Henry’s reasons for so doing.
One of the most fascinating elements of Anne’s coronation is that she was crowned with the crown of St Edward, and not that of Edward’s wife Edith. This was a serious break from tradition, and perhaps showed how serious Henry was about showing Anne as the rightful queen over Katharine. By using the crown of St Edward, Henry was arguably showing that Anne was ordained by God. Unfortunately, if the anointing portion of the formal coronation ceremony deviated at all from what was standard for queens.
Anne Boleyn, the first Renaissance English queen, enjoyed a rigid, but lavish, form of pageantry proscribed centuries before. The next time Henry VIII enjoyed a ceremony that followed tradition to the letter was for his funeral in 1547.
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Love learning about the Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!
Sources & Suggested Reading
- De Worde, Wynkyn. The Noble Tryumphaunt Coronacyon of Quene Anne, Wyfe unto the Moost Noble Kynge Henry the VIII. London: Johan Goughe (1533).
- Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd (2004).
- Loach, Jennifer. “The Function of Ceremonial in the Reign of Henry VIII”. Past & Present. No. 142. Feb. 1994, pp. 43-68.