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The coronation of Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII went to enormous trouble to bolster Anne Boleyn's image, arranging of the most magnificent coronations ever staged for a queen consort.
Detail of panoramic view of London, showing the Tower of London (created in 1647).

Of all Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn is arguably the most famous. She was the scandal of Christendom and her marriage would bring England to the brink of revolution. Reviled by some contemporaries as the King’s ‘Great Whore’, she has won far greater sympathy in the five hundred years since her death. Her tragic story continues to captivate today.

Anne Boleyn first caught the King’s eye in 1526 and rapidly became his all-consuming obsession. The fact that, in his mind, his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, had failed to give him the vital son and heir to secure the Tudor dynasty increased Henry’s desire to set her aside and marry Anne. Years of tortuous negotiations with the Pope followed until, finally, Henry took the momentous step of breaking with Rome and making himself head of a separate Church of England. He married Anne in January 1533 and annulled his marriage to Katherine five months later.

Public image

Aware that most of his subjects – including many members of his government – viewed his new wife as little more than a usurper who had ousted the ‘true queen’, Katherine of Aragon, Henry went to enormous trouble and expense to bolster her public image. He started with her coronation, which was one of the most magnificent ever staged for a queen consort.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn
Portrait of Anne Boleyn by an unknown English artist, late 16th century, based on a work of c1533-1536. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Anne was formally recognised as queen on 12 April 1533, and her coronation was scheduled for 1 June. As tradition dictated, she was to spend a night before the coronation in the Tower. But by this time, the once splendid royal apartments to the south of the White Tower had fallen into disrepair. The King therefore ordered the refurbishment of his own rooms and the remodelling of a suite of chambers for Anne.

A palace transformed

Anne’s chambers were decorated in the latest fashions, with references in accounts to ‘Antyk’ work suggesting that the decoration included classical motifs – a theme that was continued in Anne’s elaborate coronation procession. At the same time the great hall was also repaired and redecorated in preparation for the coronation celebrations, and the kitchens were overhauled in time for the sumptuous feasting. The lodgings over St Thomas’s Tower were largely rebuilt to accommodate the King’s chief household officers. As a finishing touch, onion-shaped domes were added to the top of the White Tower, creating the iconic silhouette that is still recognised the world over. Thus embellished, the fortress played its part magnificently in the lavish ceremonials and Anne travelled there by river from Greenwich in a great flotilla of boats on 29 May.

Her short stay at the Tower was punctuated by feasting and by the customary investiture ceremony for new Knights of the Bath (see module 2.4). Two days later, Anne made her way from the Tower to Westminster in a great procession of men, women, and horses. This magnificent pageant through the streets of London carried her from the symbol of the monarchy’s judicial and military power at the Tower, to the seat of their spiritual power at Westminster Abbey.

Detail of panoramic view of London
Detail of panoramic view of London, showing the Tower of London (created in 1647). Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023, RCIN 802711

‘A cold, meagre and uncomfortable thing’

For all the magnificence that had been so carefully stage-managed by Henry, his new wife was reported to be dissatisfied with her reception. Some historical sources suggest that few members of the assembled crowds had doffed their caps as she passed, prompting her fool to cry: ‘I think you all have scurvy heads, and dare not uncover!’ Some were heard to mutter that the crown she wore did not suit her. According to one report, dissatisfaction soon turned to open mockery. Everywhere along the processional route were Henry and Anne’s initials intertwined, but this romantic gesture backfired when cries of ‘HA HA’ rang out among the disdainful crowds. The imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, who was hostile towards Anne, gleefully reported that the procession had been ‘a cold, meagre and uncomfortable thing, to the great dissatisfaction, not only of the common people, but also of the rest’.

‘Gorgeous to behold’

Undaunted, Anne proceeded to her coronation on 1 June wearing the royal colours of crimson and purple velvet, lined with ermine. Inside Westminster Abbey, St Edward’s Chair had been draped in cloth of gold, ready for Anne’s crowning by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. For the first time in England’s history, the same formalities were used as if she had been a queen regnant. The ancient St Edward’s crown was lowered onto her head (then later replaced by a smaller, more practical crown for the rest of the ceremonial) and she was given the sovereign’s two sceptres. Strains of Te Deum then echoed around the Abbey in celebration.

Detail of St Edward's Crown from a portrait of Charles I
Detail of St Edward’s Crown from a portrait of Charles I, after Daniel Mytens. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023, RCIN 407598

A sumptuous banquet was staged afterwards in Westminster Hall, with the eight hundred guests served up to 30 dishes at each course, as well as ‘subtleties and ships made of wax, gorgeous to behold’. Anne sat on the King’s throne at a high marble table on the dais, 12 steps high. As protocol demanded, Henry himself was absent from all the proceedings, but Anne had secretly visited him the night before at York Place (later renamed Whitehall Palace).

The coronation was a test of loyalty for the court, as well as the people. Notable by his absence was the former Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, whose disobedience helped seal his fate. Most of Henry’s other advisers were there only under duress. As one contemporary observed: ‘The English sought unceasingly to honour their new Princess [Anne], not because they wanted to, but in order to comply with the wishes of their King.’

Sketch of Anne Boleyn seated under a canopy
Detail sketch of Anne Boleyn seated under a canopy, crowned with sceptres in each hand; the Archbishop of Canterbury on her right. Below, a plan for the Queen’s coronation dinner in Westminster Hall, 1 June 1533. Harley 41, f.12 ©British Library Board

Short-lived celebrations

The elaborate celebrations for Anne Boleyn’s coronation had merely papered over the cracks. She was still a usurper in the eyes of most people – including those at the centre of political power. The four days of celebrations that followed her crowning were rather lacklustre, and few challengers took part in the jousts. But Anne nonetheless threw herself into the entertainments, watched the tournament sports, and spent her time hunting and gambling with members of her new husband’s household. But the celebrations were to be short-lived. Having given birth to Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth in 1533, Anne ‘failed’ to provide the King with a male heir, suffering several miscarriages. Less than three years after her magnificent coronation, she would return to those same refurbished apartments in the Tower under arrest for adultery which, for a queen, was treason.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London shortly after her arrest
Detail of Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London shortly after her arrest by Edouard Cibot, 1835. Found in the collection of Musee Rolin, Autun. ©Heritage-Images / TopFoto


  1. Why do you think Henry went to such great efforts for this occasion?
  2. How trustworthy do you think the reports of the coronation were?
© Historic Royal Palaces
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