First of all, this letter may be a fake. Then again, it may not. The debate over its authenticity continues and no definitive answer is possible. The original no longer exists; a copy was said to be found amongst Thomas Cromwell’s papers after his execution. Most of Anne’s modern biographers believe it to be a forgery. Their reason? They don’t believe any 16th century prisoner would have been allowed to write to their monarch in such a familiar manner. Yet Anne was not just any political prisoner – she was Henry VIII’s wife and had been his grand passion for several years. Locked away in the Tower, aware of the concurrent arrests of her brother and friends and worried about her young daughter, she may very well have written to the king. She was in a desperate situation, of course, but she also believed (as witnesses attest) that Henry would be merciful and simply divorce her and send her to a convent. She was proven wrong and executed thirteen days after this letter was supposedly written.
In debating the authenticity, another point to consider is Anne’s personality. Her combative temperament was well-documented by her contemporaries; they observed with awe that she dared to chastise and insult the king. Henry VIII himself commented upon her boldness. It had probably helped to attract his attention. But the appeal of such a passionate and emotional woman did not hold him forever. By the end of their relationship, Henry was comparing her to a shrew and warned her to hold her tongue in his presence. His next wife was the very quiet and meek Jane Seymour, and a more glaring contrast to Anne Boleyn cannot be imagined.
If Anne had written a letter to Henry from her prison, it would undoubtedly read exactly like this one. As to its authenticity….. I have included this letter because it is an interesting historical curiosity, whether authentic or forged. It is up to the individual reader to reject or accept it.
Your grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange to me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send to me (willing me to confess a truth and so obtain your favor), by such a one, whom you know to be mine ancient professed enemy, I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty, perform your duty. But let not your grace ever imagine that your poor wife will be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought ever proceeded. And to speak a truth, never a prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Bulen – with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your grace’s pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queenship, but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your grace’s fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw that fancy to some other subject.
You have chosen me from low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire; if, then, you found me worthy of such honor, good your grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favor from me; neither let that stain – that unworthy stain – of a disloyal heart towards your good grace ever cast so foul a blot on me, and on the infant princess your daughter.
Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shame. Then you shall see either my innocency cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that, whatever God and you may determine of, your grace may be freed from an open censure; and my offense being so lawfully proved, your grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unfaithful wife but to follow your affection already settled on that party for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some while since have pointed unto – your grace being not ignorant of my suspicions therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring your the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that he will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof; and that he will not call you to a strait account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.
My last and only request shall be, that myself only bear the burden of your grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, whom, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favor in your sight – if ever the name of Anne Bulen have been pleasing in your ears – then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your grace any further, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions.
From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th May.