The Tudor Society

Talk on Anne Boleyn and Charity by Claire Ridgway

It is impossible to talk about Anne the patron and generous giver without looking at what drove Anne to be the person that she was. Her driving force in that respect was her faith.

In brief, Anne was an evangelical who was heavily influenced by French reformers, men like Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples and Clément Marot, rather than German reformers like Martin Luther.

In his 1512 commentary on Romans 3, Lefevre distinguished between the justification (or salvation) of the law and that of faith, explaining that justification of the law came from works and justification of faith came from grace. He believed that both faith and works were necessary for salvation. Where Martin Luther emphasised justification by faith, salvation through accepting Christ as one's saviour, Lefevre insisted that works, or good deeds, were also important for salvation. Works that stemmed from a person's faith. To put it simply he believed that faith without works was not faith, and that works without faith were not works. They were both important and hinged on each other.

This kind of thinking on faith and works must have influenced Anne. Historian Maria Dowling points out that “Poor relief was both a humanist and a Lollard preoccupation, and Anne was, according to all her panegyrists, outstandingly generous to the poor” and this was something that was emphasised in The Ecclesiaste, the book that her brother gave her and which contained a translation based on Lefèvre's translation with a commentary by Johannes Brenz, the German theologian and reformer.

In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 11 verses 1 and 2 says:

“Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don't hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night.”

And Anne's copy of The Ecclesiaste said:

“The court of kings, princes, chancellors, judging places and audiences be the places where one ought to find equity and justice. But, oh good Lord, where is there more injustice, more exactions, more oppressions of poor widows and orphans, where is there more disorder in all manners and more greater company of unjust men than there, whereas should be but all good order and just people of good and holy example of life.”

Anne was in such a place being the King's queen-in-waiting and then queen, and she was in a position to obey the Bible and help those who needed it. Charity and the dissemination of the English Bible were the two reformist principles that were close to Anne's heart.

But just how generous was Anne?
What evidence is there of her charitable giving and how did she help people?

Let's consider some 16th century sources...

John Foxe (1516/17-1587)

John Foxe was an English historian, reformer and martyrologist who is known for his accounts of religious martyrs published as “Actes and Monuments” and abridged as “Foxe's Book of Martyrs”. Actes and Monuments contains a section on Anne Boleyn, a woman who Foxe clearly sees as a Protestant martyr. Foxe also writes of Anne's charitable giving:

“Also, how bountiful she was to the poor, passing not only the common example of other queens, but also the revenues almost of her estate; insomuch that the alms which she gave in three quarters of a year, in distribution, is summed to the number of fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds; besides the great piece of money which her grace intended to impart into four sundry quarters of the realm, as for a stock there to be employed to the behoof of poor artificers and occupiers.”

Ives believes that the Foxe is exaggerating when he says £14-15000 and we have to remember that Foxe was writing in Elizabeth I's reign and may have been flattering the Queen or trying to get her to be just as generous as her mother.

William Latymer

William Latymer was a man who knew Anne Boleyn personally. He had acted as her chaplain and had also undertaken travels abroad to bring back religious books for Anne. In his biography of Anne, his “Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne” written in Elizabeth I's reign, he described Anne as “generous to the poor” and gave the following examples of her generosity, charitable giving and kindness:

  • Anne's Maundy giving - “For upon a certain Maundy Thursday, after she had most humbly (humbly, I said, because kneeling on her knees she washed and kissed the feet of simple poor women) embased herself to perform the ceremonyies of that day, she commanded to be put pivily into every poor woman's purse one george noble, the which was 6 shillings 8 pence over and besides the almes that wanted to be given. “ [“Forupon a certayne Mawndie Thursdaye, after she hadd moste humbly (humblye, I said, bicause kneeling on her knees she wasshed and kyssed the fett of symple poore women) embased her selfe to performe the ceemonyes of that daye, she commaunded to be put previlye into every poore womans purse one goerge noble, the which was vis viiid, over and besides the almes that wonted to be given.”]
    While it was traditional for the monarch and his consort to wash the feet of as many poor people as years they were old, as well as giving them purses of coins. Both Latymer and John Foxe record how the amount in the royal Maundy purses increased when Anne was Queen and the 1536 court expenses show that the “costs of the Queen's maundy” were 31 pounds, 3 shillings and 9 and a half pence.
  • Her “her myndefull remembrance of the poore” when she was on royal progresses. She would “give in special commandment to her officers to buy a great quantity of canvas to be made into shirts and smocks and sheets to those of the poor” [“geave in esspeciall commaudmente to her officers to buye a greate quantitie of canvas to be made into shortes and smockes and shetes to thuse of the poore.”]
  • Her orders to her ladies to make shirts, smocks and sheets for the poor and her ordering of “flannell” to be made into “pettycotes for poore men, wemen and children.” These items were then distributed “to every of whome was distributed by her graces commaundemente a shurte, smok or petticote, and 12 pence [xiid] in money, and to some more, according as here grace understod of their nede and necessitie.” Anne also made sure that pregnant women were given a pair of sheets and two shillings.
  • Anne's speech to her chaplains where she told them that they should all “take special regard in the choice of such poor people as shall be found most needy, not vagrant and lazy beggars, who in every place besides are relieved abundantly, but poor needy and impotent householders over-charged with children, not having any sustenance, comfort or relief otherwise; and to such I command my alms liberally. In like manner, if you assuredly perceive any poor men of women having cause of suit either to me or my council to be delayed from their answer, whereby they suffer loss of time and goods to their great hindrance, I command you to open the matter to my council and other officers to whom such cases it shall appertain.” Anne was asking her chaplains to make sure that they always let her know if they found people in need.
    [“take esspeciall regarde in the choise of suche poore peopell as shalbe fownde moste nedye; not vagarante and lasie beggers, whoo in every place besides are releved abundantly, but poore nedie and impotente house holders over charged with children, not havinge any sustenance, comforte or relyve other wyse; and to such I commaunde mynne almes liberally. In like maner yf you assuridly perceive any poore men or women having cause of sute eyther to me or my counceill to be delayde from theire answere, whereby they suffre losse of tyme and goodes, to their greate hynderaunce, I commande you to open the mattre to my counseill and other officers to whome such cases it shall apperteyne.”]
  • The example of Mrs Jaskyne who attended the queen – her husband, sergeant of the queen's pantry, was “greviouslye sick” and had called for his wife. One of Anne's chaplains informed Anne and she “not only graunted her licence to depart..., but also most bountyfullye commaunded to be prepared for her sufficiente furniture of horse and other necessarys for her jorney, and tenne pounds in monye towarde the charge of her travaill.”
  • The story of a Mr Ive at Kingston who lost most of his cattle “almost to his utter undoing” - Anne gave his wife a purse of gold with xxli in it (£20) and said to tell her if they needed further help.
    The aid she gave to refugees and reformers in danger. This is mentioned by Latymer, Nicholas Bourbon and Thomas Alwaye. Latymer writes of a Mrs Marye who fled France and was helped by Anne.
  • Anne's concern over the use of the money from the dissolution of the monasteries - Anne commanded Hugh Latimer, another of her chaplains, to preach “to dissuade the utter subversion of the said houses and to induce the kinges grace to the mynde to converte them to some better use.” Latimer preached in front of the King and based his sermon on Luke 20 verses 9-16, the parable of the vineyard. Here is a modern text of that parable from the New International Bible:
    “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.' But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,' they said. ‘Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

    What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!””

    It is a fitting text when you consider the first fruits and taxes that the monasteries had to pay. William Latymer wrote of this sermon in his “Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne”. He explained that Hugh Latimer emphasised that the owner of the vineyard did not destroy the vineyard when the tenants could not pay him in fruit. Instead, he commanded it “to be farmed and let to others, who should by their industry and husbandry amend the negligence of the other farmers”
    [“ to be fearmed and letton to others, whoo shoulde by their industroye and housebandrye amende the negligence of the other fearmers”]
    In other words, the owner let it be used by others who would do the right thing. Latimer, and Anne through him, were saying that instead of dissolving the monasteries, the King could “converte the abbeys and prioryes to places of studye and goode letres and to the contynuall releve of the poore.” It was obviously something that Anne felt strongly about and her almoner John Skip's Passion Sunday sermon of 1536 backed this up as it called on those advising the King to “reject the lure of personal gain”. Both sermons were controversial so Anne must have felt strongly to risk the backlash.

  • According to Latymer, Anne was of the opinion that “where as God hadd indued her with greate riches, dignitie and estate, even so she wolde not spare thankefuly to dedicate thereof some porcion to his glorye.” She had been blessed by God and felt that it was her duty to share that with others who were less fortunate.

Thomas Alwaye

Thomas Alwaye, who is described by historian Maria Dowling as “an otherwise obscure evangelical prosecuted by Wolsey and the bishops for buying English new testaments and other prohibited books”, petitioned Anne Boleyn in 1530 or 1531, seeking her help and intervention. In his letter, he wrote:

“But anon I remembered how many deeds of pity your goodness had done within these few years, and that without respect of any persons, as well to strangers and aliens as to many of this land, as well to poor as to rich.”
And he also made mention of Anne's “charity” and said that her “Christian mind is everywhere ready to help, succour and comfort them that be afflicted, troubled and vexed”.

Yes, he may have been flattering her to get her assistance but, as Dowling points out, for him to even turn to her in his hour of need shows that Anne was known for helping reformers. Would he have dared write to her otherwise?

George Wyatt

Wyatt was the grandson of courtier and poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, and author of “The Life of the Virtuous Christian and Renowned Queen Anne Boleigne” which was written towards the end of the 16th century, during the reign of Elizabeth I. His account of Anne's life was based on information given to him by his family and by Anne Gainsford, former lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn.

Wyatt wrote of Anne:

“And yet far more rich and precious were those works in the sight of God which she caused her maids and those about her daily to work in shirts and smocks for the poor. But not staying here her eye of charity, her hand of bounty passed through the whole land.”

And then concurred with Foxe over the amount Anne gave in poor relief.

“Her ordinary amounted to fifteen hundred pounds at the least, yearly to be bestowed on the poor. Her provisions of stock for the poor in sundry needy parishes were very great. Out of her privy purse went not a little to like purposes. To scholars in exhibition very much: so as in three quarters of a year her alms was summed to fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds.”

Foxe's Acts and Monuments was first published in 1563 so perhaps Wyatt used that as a source, we just don't know, but historian Eric Ives believes that the regular amount of £1500, mentioned by Wyatt, would be more credible. According to Ives a sum of £14/15000 was “twelve times larger than the annual surplus on Anne's expenditure” so just does not make sense unless it is a typo, a case of an extra 0 being added.

William Marshall

In 1535, William Marshall, a man who was enlisted by Cromwell to draft legislation for poor relief, dedicated his work “The Form and manner of subvention or helping for poor people, devised and practised in the city of Ypres” to Anne, writing:

“My very mind, intent and meaning is (by putting of this honourable and charitable provision in mind) to occasion your grace (which at all times is ready to further all goodness) to be a mediatrix and mean unto our most dread sovereign lord... for the stablishing and practising of the same (if it shall seem so worthy) or of some other, as good or better, such as by his majesty or his most honourable council shall be devised.”

Maria Dowling points out that it is “a telling indication of the distribution of political influence that Marshall, primarily a Cromwell protégé, should consider it more effective to present his work through Anne rather than through his own patron”. It shows that Anne had a reputation for being concerned with poor relief, that she had influence over the King and that she did play a part in the government's decision to provide poor relief.

Anne Boleyn and Cromwell's Poor Law

Contrary to popular opinion, Thomas Cromwell was not a greedy money-grabbing statesman whose main motivation in office was to line Henry VIII's pockets and his own on the way. Cromwell, like Anne Boleyn, was concerned with poverty. In June 1535, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, reported to Emperor Charles V that Cromwell had told him that he “and other privy councillors are now looking out for the means of checking this King's avarice, and making him spend his money for the benefit of the nation”.

As the Thomas Cromwell Experience website explains “Cromwell, and his army of staff, spent a year investigating the causes of poverty. Among their conclusions were: cruel employers, ill health/incapacity, crime, and bad living conditions/poor upbringing.”

With the main causes of poverty identified, Cromwell then began planning how the problem could be tackled. His biographer John Schofield explains that “An ambitious plan of public works was then laid out. It included new buildings, repairs to harbours, highways, and fortresses, and scouring and cleansing of water courses; all under the direction of officers reporting to a central council.”

By Autumn 1535, Cromwell had the draft bill prepared, legislation that would provide help for the unemployed, relief for those in poverty and care for those who were incapacitated. However, the rather conservative House of Commons did not agree to Cromwell's legislation and the resulting poor law was much more modest than Cromwell's draft policy.
Cromwell's investigations and his proposals show that Cromwell was on the same page as Anne with regards to charity. Whether or not they argued on the proceeds from the dissolution of the monasteries, they were both concerned with poor relief.

Did Anne have any input into Cromwell's poor law plans? We don't know, but as Maria Dowling points out, William Marshall was linked to Cromwell and the Boleyns, and he was definitely involved in Cromwell's plans. Eric Ives goes as far as to describe Marshall as a Boleyn protégé, so Anne may well have been involved in Cromwell's plans.


Humanist scholars, who believed that society could be rescued by education and scholarship, dedicated their works to Anne. These scholars included Robert Whittington, Robert Wakefield and Louis de Brun. Anne also supported men at Cambridge – John Elmer and William Barker for example – and those studying abroad, e.g. John Beckynsaw, who was given £40 per year, and Wolsey's illegitimate son, Thomas Winter. William Barker mentioned Anne's “bountiful benevolence” in the dedication of his “Nobility of Women” to Anne's daughter, Elizabeth I, in 1559.

Men like Edward Fox, Hugh Latimer, Matthew Parker,William Barlow, Nicholas Shaxton, Edward Crome, Thomas Garrett and William Betts were just some of the reformers who gained positions due to Anne's help and patronage. Eric Ives writes of Anne being seen “as someone for reformers to turn to”. People in prison for possessing heretical books petitioned her for help and she was “the prime mover” in rescuing Nicholas Bourbon from trouble in France and then employing him as a schoolmaster for her ward Henry Carey and also Henry Norris the Younger and Henry Howard. Nicholas Bourbon thanks and praises Anne for her help in his verses.

“A poor man, I lie shut in this dark prison: There is no one who would be able or would dare to bring help: Only you, Oh, Queen: you, Oh noble nymph both can and will dare: As one whom the King and God Himself loves.” (A Frenchman at the Court of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives)

And his friend, Etienne Dolet, wrote a favourable epitaph on Anne after her execution.

Maria Dowling writes of William Latimer’s story of a French woman, Mrs Marye, “who “fled out of France into England for religion”, and was so well received by Anne Boleyn that she declared she had gained more from banishment than from staying home with her friends.”

John Cheke, in a letter to Matthew Parker in Sept 1535 “praised Anne's munificence to scholars”, so it was obviously no secret.

We also know that Anne supported the universities of Oxford and Cambridge with annual subventions and interceded with her husband, Henry VIII, to secure exemption of both universities from the clerical tax which had been introduced. She also supported the collegiate church of Stoke by Clare, the church to which her chaplain Matthew Parker, had been appointed dean in 1534. Anne was not only supporting education and scholarship, she was also advancing the cause of reform by supporting men of reformist persuasions and influencing appointments within the Church.

When Nicholas Shaxton and Hugh Latimer were made Bishops (Salisbury and Worcester respectively), neither man could afford to pay their first-fruits to the King. Anne stepped in and lent each of them £200. They were, after all, reformers and men she knew.


Anne Boleyn is often portrayed as a woman who only thought about herself, as someone who was ambitious, greedy and power hungry. But that is far removed from the truth. Evidence shows that she was a religious woman with a true and living personal faith, and that her faith led her to commit to doing good with what God gave her.

She didn't need to instruct her chaplains to look out for needy people and to tell her about them, she didn't need to increase the amount in the Maundy purses, she didn't need to be so generous of her time, money and influence, but she did it. Yes, it was good for her image, and some might call it public relations or propaganda, but she risked her reputation and image to support reformers, so I don't believe that it was all about making Anne look good to the people. Her good deeds and her charity surely came from her faith and her love for her people. What a role model for us today!

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. D

    What an amazing woman Anne Boleyn was.
    Really interesting article and talk.
    Thanks Claire

    1. C - Post Author

      Thanks, Donna, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Talk on Anne Boleyn and Charity by Claire Ridgway