The marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was annulled on this day in 1536…another innocent girl with Irish connections who lost her head with a man!
The Boleyn family were related to the Butlers, Earls of Ormond. Anne originally returned from France early in 1522 to marry her cousin, James Butler. Both her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, and James’s father, Piers, claimed the Earldom of Ormond, which had belonged to her great-grandfather.
Anne’s uncle, the Earl of Surrey, suggested to the king that the dispute be settled by a marriage between Anne and James. The Boleyns were unenthusiastic, however, and the proposal was eventually dropped. Thanks to Anne’s relationship with the king, an agreement was finally reached in 1528 with Thomas Boleyn becoming Earl of Ormond and Piers Butler Earl of Ossory.
Although Anne is remembered for the role she played in the English Reformation, her family claimed to have a family connection to Thomas à Becket, the saintly 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury. Anne’s great-grandfather, Thomas Butler, seventh Earl of Ormond, who died in 1515, was buried in the church of St Thomas Acon in London. The church was reputed to have been built on the site of Becket’s birthplace by one of the archbishop’s sisters. The Butlers claimed descent from another of Becket’s sisters, who had married an Irish gentleman.
They were proud of this illustrious ancestor, with the 7th Earl bequeathing his soul to the “glorious martyr Saint Thomas” in his will. He also possessed a treasured family heirloom – a white ivory horn, garnished with gold, and which was claimed to have been the cup from which Becket drank. The 7th Earl bequeathed the horn to his grandson, Sir Thomas Boleyn, instructing him to pass it on to his own male heirs.
On the morning of 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn climbed the scaffold erected on Tower Green, within the walls of the Tower of London. She gave a speech praising the goodness and mercy of the king, and asked those gathered to pray for her. Then she removed her fine, ermine-trimmed gown, and knelt down – and the expensive French executioner that Henry VIII had ordered swung his sword and “divided her neck at a blow”.
Her death is so familiar to us that it is hard to imagine how shocking it would have been: the queen of England executed on charges of adultery, incest and conspiring the king’s death. And not just any queen: this was the woman for whom Henry VIII had abandoned his wife of nearly 24 years, waited seven long years to wed, and even revolutionised his country’s church. Yet just three years later her head was off – and the reason for her death remains one of the great mysteries of English history.
As for Henry VIII for most of his reign he held the title “Lord of Ireland” and the country played a minor part in his reign. Royal concern in Ireland extended as far as the Pale – four small counties around Dublin. The Irish nobility ruled the area around the Pale – known as the Colony. Royal decrees had given them the right to do this. The most powerful family was the Fitzgerald’s, the Earls of Kildare. The rest of Ireland was known as the Lordship. The families who ruled this area had no binding loyalty to the monarch nor were they under royal law. In 1542, the Irish Parliament bestowed on Henry the title ‘King of Ireland’. The Irish nobility accepted this as it placed Ireland separately from England and Wales and gave Ireland its own sense of unity. Until Henry’s death in 1547, his Lord Deputy of Ireland, Anthony St. Leger continued with his policy of conciliation and building relationships with the Irish nobility.
The Lordship of Ireland was a period of feudal rule in Ireland between 1177 and 1542 under the King of England, styled as Lord of Ireland. The lordship was created as a Papal possession following the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169–1171 and Henry Plantagenet (Henry II) from 1155 claimed that Pope Adrian IV had given him authorisation to reform the Irish church by assuming control of Ireland, but Anne Duggan, professor emeritus of history at King’s College, London, considers the Laudabiliter to be a falsification of an existing letter and that was not in fact Adrian’s intention. As the lord of Ireland was also the king of England, he was represented locally by a governor, styled between 1660 and 1922 as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
The title was changed by the Crown of Ireland Act passed by the Irish Parliament in 1542 when, on Henry VIII’s demand, he was granted a new title, King of Ireland, with the state renamed the Kingdom of Ireland. Henry VIII changed his title because the Lordship of Ireland had been granted to the Norman monarchy by the Papacy; Henry had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church and worried that his title could be withdrawn by the Holy See. When Henry VIII became King of Ireland in 1542 his wife Queen Catherine Parr became the first person to be “Queen of Ireland.”
Henry VIII daughters Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, who reigned after him did not follow their father’s largely hands off approach to Ireland. Mary initiated plantations to expand The Pale in Laois which was renamed “Queen’s County” and its county town Maryborough (Portlaoise) after her and in Offaly which was renamed “King’s County” and its country town Philipstown (Daingean) after her husband Philip II of Spain. These were largely unsuccessful unlike Elizabeth’s more determined Munster Plantations based on secure walled seaports allied to English Ports and plantations along the rich land of Munster’s river valleys on the Slaney, Barrow, Nore, Suir, Blackwater, Lee and Bandon Rivers.
So as Prince Harry (Henry) and Meghan Markle marry this Saturday spare a thought for a previous Royal Bride Anne Boleyn, Queen Consort of England, to marry a Henry who was executed on 19th May, 482 years ago.
Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.