When Anne Boleyn, future Queen of England, rose to greet the dawn on Sunday, 1 September 1532, her ladies gowned her in ‘ermine-trimmed crimson velvet’ robes, overlaid with a mountain of jewels, specifically chosen for their costliness and beauty. She wore her famously long, dark hair freely flowing down her shoulders, an air of majesty already floating about her. Anne had every reason to select her attire with great care that morning, leaving no one in doubt that today she was triumphant. Today, she would make history.
As the early morning sun cast its glow over Windsor Castle, Anne Boleyn ‘was conducted into the king’s presence by the Garter King-at-Arms, with the countesses of Rutland and Derby, and her cousin Mary Howard, the Duke of Richmond’s prospective wife.’ In one hand, Anne held a crimson velvet mantle, in the other, she carried the ‘gold coronet of a marquis’, glittering for the most distinguished members of the court to see. When she reached the dais, where Henry VIII, flanked by the dukes of Norfolk, Suffolk, and surrounded by the cream of the court, stood waiting for her, Anne knelt. Stephen Gardiner then read out a patent which conferred on Anne, as well as her offspring, the title of Marquis of Pembroke, held solely by her own right.
The patent itself was exquisitely imbued with rich symbolism: a surviving copy reveals Henry’s regal ‘H’ initial enclosing the imperial falcon, Anne’s fierce heraldic symbol. This striking emblem is set against a backdrop of royal hues – a regal riot of blues, golds, and scarlet – that appear nearly as vivid today as they did in 1532. And, again leaving nothing to chance, this splendid patent specified that the title of Marquis of Pembroke would pass onto Anne’s male heirs. Unlike the customary practice of passing the title to legitimate sons of the title holder, this special provision ensured a clear path of inheritance for Anne’s (possibly illegitimate, although not necessarily) descendants.
After the document was read aloud, Henry delicately lowered the crimson mantle and coronet on Anne’s head, further bestowing on his sweetheart a grant of lands and manors worth £1,000 per annum. A triumphant Anne thanked the King and withdrew to her chambers, no doubt exultant. Once Anne and her ladies were out of view, Henry made the short trip to St. George’s Chapel, where he received ‘a most solemn Mass’ sung by Bishop Gardiner.
But the day was not over yet. Joined by King Francis I of France’s representative, La Pommeraye, who had observed the lavish ceremony, Henry swore to uphold the Treaty of Mutual Aid between England and France, paving the way for the two sovereigns to meet at Calais (they had not done so since 1520, at the Field of Cloth of Gold, two years before Anne’s earliest recorded entry at Henry VIII’s court). To cap the day off, the King and his court tucked into a magnificent banquet held at the castle, where a sense of palpable optimism rang throughout Henry and Anne’s inner-circle.
After all, those closest to the pair had good reason to believe that their fortunes were in the ascendant.
If Anne Boleyn was aware that she had made history that day, the rest of the court – including her most vituperative of enemies, still simmering in their discontent – knew it, too. Anne’s elevation to the peerage had been been significant for several telling reasons. Not only was she the first woman to hold the title of Marquis of Pembroke, but she was, so far, only the second woman in Henry’s reign to hold a title suo jure, in her own right. The only other woman to share this rare distinction was Henry’s Plantagenet relative, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Pembroke itself also pulsed with conspicuous royal connections, having been previously held by Henry’s great-uncle, Jasper Tudor.
The association effectively morphed Anne into the most prestigious non-royal woman in England – and one primed to debut as Henry VIII’s queen-to-be on the world stage. And she would, a month later, over an expensive, eight-day trip to Calais. There could be no doubt of Henry’s intention in traveling to France with his ennobled sweetheart in tow: Anne Boleyn would become his Queen.