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I am reading The Favored Queen by Carolly Erickson. The author describes the book as 'historical entertainment' which appears to be a euphemism for 'highly inaccurate'.

The author describes an event in which an armed mob stirred up by the 'Nun of Kent' marches on Anne Boleyn and her retinue forcing them to flee. The event is undated and occurs in the home of William Skeffington. In the book, the mob are made up of "men dressed as women"... "all in skirts, many with kerchieves covering their heads".

  • Is this a historical event?
  • If so, why would men have been dressed as women? Was this something that occurred often in these times? If so, in what circumstances? Was it specifically in reference to a woman caught in adultery perhaps, or is it due to suspicions of witchcraft?

I have been unable to find a reference to this event and I have never heard of it but I am not a scholar of the Tudor period. The writer appears to have taken many liberties and I would like to know if this is one of them.

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Perhaps surprisingly, this episode may actually be based events that are reported to have occurred in 1531.

In The life of Anne Boleyn by Philip W Sergeant, published in 1923, we read that:

Writing to the French ambassador in Rome, a correspondent tells him that (apparently in September) a mob of seven to eight thousand of the women of London, with a number of men disguised in their midst, had gone out to seize " Boleyn's daughter, the King's sweetheart," as she was supping at a villa on the river, the King not being with her, and that she only escaped by crossing the river in a boat. They had intended to kill her, says the writer. We do not hear of the incident elsewhere ; but there seems no reason to reject it.

  • The life of Anne Boleyn, p129, my emphasis.

As his source, he quotes the State Papers of Henry VIII:

"Venetian Calendar" Vol. IV., page 701. Letter of November 24th, 1531


The transcription of the Venetian Calendar for November 1531 records the event in similar manner:

It is said that more than seven weeks ago a mob of from seven to eight thousand women of London went out of the town to seize Boleyn's daughter, the sweetheart of the King of England, who was supping at a villa (in una easa di piacere [sic]) on a river, the King not being with her; and having received notice of this, she escaped by crossing the river in a boat. The women had intended to kill her; and amongst the mob were many men, disguised as women; nor has any great demonstration been made about this, because it was a thing done by women.

The source here is the diaries of Marino Sanuto. These have been published and copies can be found on archive.org. The relevant extract from November 1531 reads:

Del dito, di 24 novembrio

... Monsignor di Baiona, ritornato alla Corte dil re Christianissimo alli 5 di questo mese, che diceva ch'el re de Ingliterra, per haver inteso di la morte de ditta defunta illustrissima, ha fato portare il duolo a tuti li principi et gran signori di Ingliterra, et alhora ch'el diceva a monsignor legato erra presente lo imbasatore di lo imperatore che certificava ch'el suo patron havea fatto il medemo, ch'è demonstration di grand amicitia. Se dice che l'è più di 7 setimane che erano più di 7 in 8000 donne di Londra che uscirno di la terra per volere achiapiare la figliola de Boulam, amata dal re de Ingliterra, che cenava in uxa caxa de piaccre sopra una fiumara, non vi essendo lo ditto re seco, et de tal cosa essendone avertita la ditta figliola, la se salvò in uno burchieletto passando per la ditta fiumara. La intentione de ditte donne era de amazarla, et in quella compagnia erano molti homeni travestiti da donna, et che di ciò non è stato fato gran demostratione, perchè era cosa fatta da donne...

Whether the event happened at the home of Sir William Skeffington is not specified, but it is certainly not impossible.


So, to answer your questions

  • Yes, this does appear to have been an historical event (or, at least, an account of the the event was recorded by contemporary sources).
  • The men had dressed as women in an attempt to disguise themselves and blend in with the crowd.
  • 2
    The figure of 7-8,000 sounds a trifle unlikely, though, seeing the total population of London in 1530 was 50,000 – TheHonRose Apr 26 '18 at 18:58
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    @TheHonRose I agree. I'd guess that then, as now, the accuracy of estimates of crowd sizes in London might be exaggerated for effect. – sempaiscuba Apr 26 '18 at 19:03
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    I thought 'reviving' this question was bit of a long shot - nice find! – Lars Bosteen Apr 26 '18 at 20:21

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