The Tudor Society

19 May – A dispensation for Henry VIII to marry wife number 3

On this day in Tudor history, 19th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was executed within the confines of the Tower of London.

It must have been an incredibly hard day for the queen's friend, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Not only did he have a visit from a friend regarding a terrifying vision, in the early hours... Not only did he have to cope with the idea of his friend and patron being beheaded, but he had to issue a dispensation for the king to marry again!

Find out more in today's talk.

Also on this day in history, 19th May 1554, in the reign of Queen Mary I, Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, was released from the Tower of London after two months of imprisonment. Elizabeth wasn't free, though, she was released into house arrest.
Why? Why had she been imprisoned in the Tower and what happened next? Find out in last year’s video:

Here's the link for my video on Anne Boleyn’s execution:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1527 – Death of Henry Algernon Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland, at Wressle. He was buried in Beverley Minster.
  • 1597 – Death of Richard Rogers, Bishop-Suffragan of Dover.


On this day in Tudor history, 19th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was executed within the confines of the Tower of London. I will give you a link to my talk on 19th May 1536 to find out more about Anne’s execution, but for this talk I’m actually going to stay in 1536 but look at what Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Cranmer, got up to that day.
The archbishop had been in an unenviable position that May. The queen had acted as his patron and was a good friend. He was shocked when he found out about her arrest, “clean amazed” as he wrote to the king, but there was nothing he could do to save her. Instead, he ended up having to visit her to obtain her agreement to an annulment of her marriage to King Henry VIII, and to hear her last confession.

Cranmer obviously couldn’t sleep the night of the 18th May, for he was walking in his garden at the Archbishop’s palace in Lambeth, before the clock had even struck four, when he received a visit from his good friend, Scottish theologian Alexander Alesius. Alesius was in quite a state, for he’d had a terrifying vision of Anne Boleyn’s decapitated head. Immediately after the vision, he’d made his way to Lambeth to share it with the archbishop. Alesius was unaware that Anne’s execution was scheduled for that day, and Cranmer had to break the news to him. Alesius recorded Cranmer’s reaction to his story of the vision:

“He continued in silent wonder for awhile, and at length broke out into these words, ‘Do not you know what is to happen to-day?’ and when I answered that I had remained at home since the date of the Queen’s imprisonment and knew nothing of what was going on, the Archbishop then raised his eyes to heaven and said, ‘She who has been the Queen of England upon earth will to-day become a Queen in heaven.’ So great was his grief that he could say nothing more, and then he burst into tears.”

And to make matters worse, on that very same day, the archbishop had to issue a dispensation for the king to marry again. This was the same day that wife number 2 was executed. It’s just sickening isn’t it?

Why did Henry and Jane need a dispensation? Well, they were related, being fifth cousins, but the dispensation was for a marriage “in the third and third degrees of affinity”. Henry VIII’s previous sexual relationships with Mary and Anne Boleyn put him within the prohibited degrees of affinity with Jane because the Boleyn girls were Jane’s second cousins. Officially, they were second half-cousins, sharing a great-grandmother, Elizabeth Cheney. Anne and Mary Boleyn’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, was the daughter of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Elizabeth Tilney, who was the daughter of Elizabeth Cheney and her first husband, Frederick Tilney. Jane Seymour’s mother, Margery Wentworth was the daughter of Sir Henry Wentworth and Anne Say, who was the daughter of Elizabeth Cheney and her second husband, Sir John Say. So Jane, Mary and Anne shared a maternal great-grandmother but had different maternal great-grandfathers. It was enough to cause an impediment to Henry VIII’s marriage to Jane though. The church viewed such an affinity as incestuous unless it was dispensed by a church authority, in this case the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I find this all rather perplexing when Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, was under the impression that the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn had been granted on the grounds of an impediment of affinity, “on account of the King having had connection with her sister”. Hmmm...
The following day, 20th May 1536, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour were officially betrothed and then, on 30th May 1536, just eleven days after the execution of wife number 2, Henry VIII married wife number 3. How quickly everything had happened.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R

    I don’t blame Jane for this, but I can really understand why people in London had a big problem with this. The sight first of all of seeing their Queen brutally executed 24 hours earlier, something unheard off, five men killed just a few days earlier, some of whom may not have been strangers, by name anyway, the charges were the worst one could imagine and now King Henry, who should have been hurt and mourning, was calling on another woman in order to get married again. Henry might have wanted it all hushed up and secret but it was obviously common knowledge very quickly because several sources say people murmured against the King. I am not sure if the phrase variably meant something different in the sixteenth century but I would think people were not being complimentary.

    People must have felt ill at the thought of the Queen being not yet cold in her grave and here is Henry off with several other women, going to parties and getting engaged to wife no three. They must have been agog with amazement and it is really unbelievable behaviour. What was happening in that giant brain? Henry was acting as if he was a bachelor. It was as if his first two marriages never existed. It was as if Anne died a long time ago and everything was fine now to move on. If Henry Viii wanted sympathy for the alleged crimes Anne and the others were meant to have committed against him, which of course were invented, then he lost all hope of that by this behaviour. I reckon he badly miscalculated.

    It was a disgrace. It turns my stomach.

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19 May – A dispensation for Henry VIII to marry wife number 3