The Tudor Society

17 December – A promise made to Anne Boleyn

On this day in Tudor history, 17th December 1559, fifty-five-year-old Matthew Parker was consecrated as Queen Elizabeth I's Archbishop of Canterbury. It was an office which Parker did not want and would not have accepted if “he had not been so much bound to the mother”.

What did he mean by that?

Well, when he was Anne Boleyn's chaplain in 1536, the queen had met with him just six days before her arrest and he made her a promise.

Find out more about Matthew Parker, his life and that meeting with Anne Boleyn, in today's talk:

Link to Robert Parry's article -

Also on this day in Tudor history, 17th December 1538, Pope Paul III announced the excommunication of King Henry VIII. Henry VIII had been threatened with excommunication several times, but his desecration of one of the holiest shrines in Europe was the final straw for the pope. Find out how Henry VIII, who had once been "Defender of the Faith", had upset the Pope in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1550 – Birth of Henry Cavendish, soldier, traveller and son of Bess of Hardwick and Sir William Cavendish. He was married to Grace Talbot, daughter of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. This match was arranged by his mother who had married the Earl of Shrewsbury.


On this day in Tudor history, 17th December 1559, fifty-five-year-old Matthew Parker was consecrated as Queen Elizabeth I's Archbishop of Canterbury. It was an office which Parker did not want and would not have accepted if “he had not been so much bound to the mother”, that is to say, Anne Boleyn, by a promise he made a few days before Anne’s arrest in 1536.

Let me tell you a bit more about Parker, his life and that meeting with Anne Boleyn…

Matthew Parker was born on 6th August 1504, in the parish of St Saviour, in Norwich, East Anglia. He was born the son of a worsted weaver but his destiny wasn’t weaving, Parker was destined for the Church and for royal service too.

In around 1520, Parker began his studies at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, graduating with a BA in 1525, and it was there that he met men interested in evangelical reform, like Thomas Bilney, who was martyred in 1531. Parker went on to do a Masters and was elected a fellow of the college in 1527. By this time, he was also a priest.

After gaining a Bachelor of Theology and a doctorate, too, he was appointed as one of Queen Anne Boleyn’s chaplains in 1535 and it was Anne’s patronage which led to him being appointed dean of the Collegiate Church of Stoke by Clare, in Suffolk, in November 1535. After her execution in 1536, Parker served as chaplain to King Henry VIII.

In December 1544, Parker was elected master of Corpus Christi College and then vice-chancellor in January 1545. In his article on the Anne Boleyn Files site, The Cambridge Connections, author Robert Parry explains that “Parker was one of the primary architects of the emerging Anglican Doctrine that shaped the English Reformation and after the death of Henry VIII, he continued to rise to prominence under the reforming governments of Edward VI and was a close associate of the two most powerful statesmen of Edwards reign – Edward Seymour and John Dudley. He would have been intimately associated, therefore, with the influential Humanist movement of the first part of the 16th century that was centred on Cambridge and consisted of scholars such as John Cheke (1514–1557), William Grindal (d. 1548), Anthony Cooke (1504-1576); Roger Ascham (1515–1568), John Dee (1527–1608/9) and, perhaps most significantly of all, William Cecil (1520–1598).”

Parker’s royal favour led to him being made Dean of Lincoln and presented for the prebend of Corringham, Lincolnshire, in 1552. However, things changed when the Catholic Mary I came to the throne in July 1553. As a married churchman, Parker was deprived of his many offices and, instead, focused on writing theological works. His time out of the limelight was short, though, as Mary died in November 1558 and her half-sister, Elizabeth I, came to the throne.

In 1559, Queen Elizabeth I appointed Matthew Parker as her Archbishop of Canterbury. Parker had been offered the post in 1558, but had stalled in accepting it. Parker believed that he was not right for the post and, having recently fallen off a horse, also not fit enough. But, Elizabeth I wanted him in that post and Parker felt that he had no choice; he had made a promise to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, back in 1536 and he had to stand by that and serve his queen.
Parker wrote to Sir Nicholas Bacon:

“[…] though my heart would right fain serve my sovereign lady the Queen’s majesty, in more respects than of mine allegiance, not forgetting what words her grace’s mother said to me of her, not six days before her apprehension, yet this my painful infirmity will not suffer it in all manner servings…”

He also referred to this promise in a letter to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in 1572:

“Yea, if I had not been so much bound to the mother, I would not so soon have granted to serve the daughter in this place…”

We don’t know what exactly Anne had said to him six days before her arrest, around 26th April, but as Eric Ives points out “That charge, and the debt he felt he owed to Anne, stayed with him for the rest of his life.” It was enough of a promise for him to take a job that he didn’t want. Whatever Anne had said to him, he felt bound to serve and help her daughter. Did Anne Boleyn know that there was a plot against her? Was it just a coincidence that she spoke to Parker about this just days before her arrest? Was it just Elizabeth’s spiritual welfare she was talking about? We will never know because Parker does not give any more detail about the conversation.

Matthew Parker served as Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury until his death on 17th May 1575. He is known for being one of the men responsible for the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which were established in 1563 and which are seen as “the historic defining statements of Anglican doctrine in relation to the controversies of the English Reformation”. He may have been a great theologian, an influential churchman, but for me he was a man who did something he really didn’t want to do because of a promise. What a loyal and noble man.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R

    I love Matthew Parker and his story. His prayers and sayings often crop up in Advent or devotional books and could in all truth be Universal.

    I believe he promised to look out for Elizabeth to Anne because given the circumstances it seems unlikely it was anything else. Anne might not have known exactly what was going on but she must have been aware of the tensions and rumours around and wanted to make provision.

    Elizabeth like Henry and Mary didn’t like married clergy and didn’t have that many, but like her father she put that aside to have the right person in the job. Matthew Parker was obviously the right person because of his personal qualifications and qualities and his connections to Elizabeth and her mother. Henry obviously saw something in him which was honest, despite that as he retained his services. Henry was a decent judge of character and knew when someone was able to serve him, like Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell. It didn’t matter that Cromwell had served a fallen servant in Thomas Wolsey, his abilities and loyalty were all that mattered.

    Elizabeth must have been moved by the letter regarding her mother and treasured it. She was astute to see his value and showed her gratitude by appointing him as her Archbishop. For Elizabeth his connection to her mother must have been very special, he probably kept Anne’s memory alive for her daughter and she was obviously fond of this good man. He was reluctant as he was ill, but he agreed because of the promise he made her mother.

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17 December – A promise made to Anne Boleyn