In the recent past I've seen two televised depictions of the life-and-times of Henry VIII: The Tudors and Wolf Hall. Henry VIII wanted out from his marriage to Anne Boleyn because she failed to produce a male heir, and his romantic interests had veered to Jane Seymour.

Granted, these dramatizations take creative liberties, but I think it's more or less accurate that a campaign to find a treasonable wrongdoing by Boleyn was undertaken (possibly largely spearheaded by Thomas Cromwell, and possibly at Henry's instigation).

Question: Why didn't Boleyn grant the king a divorce, to spare her life when it became apparent that she was being investigated for crimes punishable by death? Wolf Hall, particularly, depicts Cromwell as imploring the queen to accede to a divorce.

Was she actually unaware of what was going on? Did she not know or believe that Henry himself wanted her gone? Did she believe Henry would come along at some point before the actual execution to spare her life? Or was divorce not an option for her? I'm curious to learn if there's evidence of her rationale to not accept or offer divorce when it became evident - as I'm sure it eventually must have - that the alternative was execution.

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    I haven't seen the dramas you mention, but Anne was accused of adultery, which in a Queen Consort was high treason. I doubt if divorce was an option! – TheHonRose Mar 17 '19 at 12:04
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    Are you perhaps confusing Thomas Cromwell imploring Queen Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's first wife) to accede to a divorce to allow Henry to marry again, with the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII's second wife) for 'Adultery, incest and treason'? – sempaiscuba Mar 18 '19 at 2:52
  • @sempaiscuba - Possibly; I thought he also did so with Anne Boleyn, but absolutely I could be confusing the two events, as you suggested. Per TheHonRose's comment, with an accusation of adultery, divorce may not have been an option offered to Anne. I wasn't aware of that and am willing to accept that as an answer; an evidenced/cited answer from a knowledgeable answerer would be nice. – StoneThrow Mar 18 '19 at 3:37
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    @StoneThrow Isn't it comprehensively covered, with citations, in the Wikipedia article? – sempaiscuba Mar 18 '19 at 12:59
  • @sempaiscuba - My half-baked understanding had been "Henry wants Anne gone so he can marry Jane Seymour; so he asks Cromwell to 'make Anne go away'; so Cromwell initiates a 'find any fault` witch-hunt against Anne from which he cooked up adultery charges (whether true or not)" Within that understanding, I assumed Cromwell would have offered and accepted a divorce because the goal was just to un-make Anne queen so that Henry could marry again. But now I understand that because the charge was adultery, it was treason so a non-capital punishment exit for Anne was not an option. – StoneThrow Mar 18 '19 at 18:59

Why didn't Anne Boleyn consent to divorce?

King Henry didn't require Anne Boleyn's consent for divorce. Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, never consented to divorce. Law at the time, was an engine of state, not a mechanism for justice. Henry was the state.

Anne Boleyn never had the opportunity to seek divorce because the window between when she was secure as Queen and then not was so small. She was pregnant when Henry's first wife Katherine of Aragon died. She and Henry were still on good terms based upon their joint reaction to this news. They both wore matching yellow upon hearing the news. Yellow is a color of mourning in Spain, Katherine's childhood country. it wasn't in England. By the time of Katherine's funeral, Anne had a miscarriage of a child she had carried for 4 months. Before she had recovered from the miscarriage, Henry had already publicly separated himself from her. He had publicly charged her with seducing him for marriage by sortilege, a French term which means deceit or witchcraft. Jane Seymour was then immediately moved into Henry's personal rooms. The shift was dramatic.

So even if Anne realized her life and position was immediately dependent upon her pregnancy, something historians with 20/20 hindsight acknowledge; She really had no opportunity to call for divorce before Henry both cast her out and publicly maligned her. Even then though, it is reasonable to believe, that if Anne could become pregnant by Henry and give him the son, her personal safety and title could probable have been saved.


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I'm not sure if an answer from the community is forthcoming, so I'll take a stab at an answer based on newly-read information including comments to my original post. This answer comes comes with the caveat it's pieced together by me - a non-expert in this milieu of history - from only recently-read articles and a little reading between the lines.

It is the disputed claim that Anne Boleyn had become a political opponent or obstacle to Thomas Cromwell, suggesting that his investigation of her was personally-motivated and biased. In spite of that, a cited statement in Wikipedia says that Cromwell did not manufacture the adultery accusation against her - suggesting that the rumor was making its rounds independent of and prior to Cromwell's investigation.

All that said, adultery was one of the treasonable charges Anne was accused of, and I gather that the seriousness of that accusation (and the others, including plotting the king's death) meant that divorce or other such "easy" exits from her title and marriage were out of the question.

So it appears the answer to "why didn't Anne Boleyn consent to divorce?" is that divorce was never offered to her because of the seriousness of the charges against her. It looks to me that Henry VIII himself might simply have been chiefly interested in getting out of his marriage to Anne so he could remarry Jane Seymour, and perhaps was not personally invested in her death as the means to achieve that. It would seem that Cromwell made use of the opportunity of the king charging him with finding an "out" from his marriage to pursue his personal vendetta against Anne, e.g. by pursuing or inflating treasonable charges against her. I.e. instead of "scaring her" with the threat of charges and offering divorce as an option to save her neck.


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    You might find this video on the Fall of Anne Boleyn from the University of Roehampton of interest. It explains the main theories, and the evidence (or lack of it) for each of them. It's part of the FutureLearn course The Tudors with lead educators Dr Suzannah Lipscomb and Gillian McIver. – sempaiscuba Mar 19 '19 at 3:34

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