Researching the Original Love Letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn
by Sandy Vasoli
In early 2012, as I worked on the draft of Struck With the Dart of Love ; the first book of my two- part Je Anne Boleyn novels about the relationship between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, I became deeply interested in seeing artifacts which had been written or handled by Anne and Henry. A trip to London (I live on the east coast of the US) allowed me to spend time in the British Library archives, and see the beautiful Book of Hours in which Henry and Anne wrote notes to each other. Sitting silently with the book, once treasured and used by Anne and also Henry at the height of their passion for one another – listening to the unwritten, unspoken tale it had to tell – was a revelation to me. I quickly realized that there is no substitute for the immense privilege of closely studying something which had been held, touched, written by the individuals themselves.
This fascination with original documents prompted me to wonder if it might be at all possible to see the letters which are kept in the Vatican Library – the letters of love which Henry wrote to Anne during the course of several years from about 1526 to 1529. Thus began my aspiration to see them, scrutinize them, and to learn as much as possible about these historic and fascinating documents – and share my learnings with others.
My first visit to the Vatican Library took place in September of 2012. Recently I was there for a second time, in October, 2019. Actually, the term ‘visit’ is a misnomer. One doesn’t simply arrive at the esteemed Library without a great deal of preparation, especially if requesting access to restricted material. In 2012, introductory letters were offered, credentials supplied, and eventually, preliminary approvals were granted. Since all business in the Library is conducted in formal Italian, I have been most fortunate, both in 2012 and during the past year, to work with a colleague, Dottoressa Luisa Di Capua, who has expertly assisted me with translation. In October, with authorizations in hand, we arrived at the gate of Santa Anna in St Peter’s Square, where a Swiss Guard directed us to the police station inside the gate. The police officials inspected our passports, exchanging them for access badges. The badge permits one to walk through the expansive courtyards within the walls of Vatican City; we crossed Cortile de Belvedere and faced two impressive doors. To the right, access to the Vatican Library – to the left, the doors of Archivo Segreto: the Secret Archives.
Entering the Library, we waited our turn to step into the office of the Secretariat. There, additional inspection of papers and credentials resulted in an update of my Library access card, and one for Luisa. The cards allowed us to pass through the new security network and climb the stairs to the floor which houses Manuscritti – the ancient Manuscripts room. Upon entering, and presenting our credentials yet again, we were confronted by scholars scattered throughout the small, unadorned room, all immersed in the inspection of documents of incalculable age. We registered our request for the book containing the love letters, and were told that since it is a highly restricted document, permission must be granted in writing by the head of the Manuscripts Archives. She was in a meeting, so we waited. And waited…
Finally, in the early afternoon, the Director returned, spoke with us, again questioning our intent to view the documents. She was informed that our study was to result in a new book about the letters, and very politely she agreed – however, we were not to view the documents together; only one individual at a time, and for a limited period. I moved, as requested, to the very front of the room, and was handed the book – quite recognizable to me as my memory from 2012 is vivid. Bound in the most unassuming pale green linen, within there is an early page with a bookplate, inscribed in French, notating the catalogue number of ‘the original letters from Henry VIII, King of England to Anne di Bouline…’ Turning another two pages, I was startled – just as I was previously – by Henry’s writing, bold and clear, to “Ma maitres et amye, moy et mon coer s’en remettant en vos mains…” My Mistress and Friend, me and my heart place ourselves in your hands…”
As I progress with my research and reporting of my discoveries, I am aware that I share my thoughts and impressions about what I experienced, and what I’ve seen. Of course, as I develop content for the book, my intent is to uncover as much corroborated factual data as possible in order to propose dates of composition of each letter, from which location Henry penned each one, and what was happening in the milieu of court in each particular circumstance . However, I won’t do my study justice if I don’t truthfully describe to my readers the implicit, extremely powerful messages I’ve received from viewing them just as they were seen by Anne’s eyes, approximately 490 years ago.
On both visits, within moments of seeing the first letter, I was astounded by the amount of information they held. Immediately I was confounded by a dilemma: whether to immerse myself in a micro-study of each word, or take a macro view, in which the comparison of letter to letter – observing Henry’s handwriting, and the look of each page – has such a compelling narrative to offer. In the end, I did both; reading his words, aided by transcriptions; paying close attention to the formality he adopted and the effort he put into the look of the letter (excrutiatingly neat, or sloppy? beautifully executed, or casually familiar? Businesslike, or intimate?). Each presentation tells so much about not only how he felt about Anne at that moment, but where the relationship between them stood. We do not have her replies, but Henry is so very expressive – not only in his language, but how his writing appears, that we might as well be reading each of her replies. Truly, Henry – for better or worse- was a man who wore his heart plainly on his sleeve.
The letters have been placed in a bound book. When that was done, we don’t know – at least not yet. They are firmly ordered, and there is no doubt they range from earlier in the relationship, to a later date. However, it’s debatable if they are, in fact, in correct order. I will study that further, using data I gathered, and comparing it with events we know to have been fixed in time. The letter which is numbered first in the book most certainly is a relatively early one, and that supposition can be well justified by its appearance. It is neatly and carefully composed and written, with only a few scratch-outs (!), and Henry’s ending salutation is “Votre loyall serviteur et amy” – ‘Your Loyal Servant and Friend’. Within the body of the letter, though, we find this sentiment: “…Bringing to mind a point of astronomy, which is, That the farther the stars are from us, the farther too is the Sun, and yet his Heat is the more scorching; so it is with our Love, we are at a distance from one another, and yet it keeps it Fervency, at least on my side. I hope the like on your Part…” So with this statement, we can be assured that although Henry is not completely confident in the depth of Anne’s feelings for him, he has, at least, received enough positive feedback from her that he refers to “our Love.” Further along in this letter he mentions their “unchangeable affection”, and he sends her a gift – his miniature in a bracelet. Is this one of the earliest letters he wrote while they were apart? Perhaps – perhaps not. More study is required to better place it along a timeline.
As the letters progress, it is easy to observe and interpret the familiarity the couple shared. His conversation with her flows naturally – sometime jesting, sometimes soothing, often reassuring, as they navigated the stressful time during which he sought an annulment. With my first intensive study of the documents, I was most impressed by how much is discernable regarding her evident responses to him. In my second session, I was astonished by the unmistakable insights I gained about Henry at that moment in time. I will be very honest: reading his words, poring over his writing, peering into letters he intended for Anne’s eyes only – it made me very sad. In my mind there is no question he once was a man of hope and positivity – yes, capricious; he was, after all an omnipotent ruler – but his very plain and clear expressions of true love show a warmth, a sensitivity, a patience and nurturing that we don’t think of when we think of Henry VIII. It’s even more apparent that Anne, although discouraged and disheartened by their thwarted marriage plans, returned his love. There are simply too many references by him about their joint plans and dreams – too many intimate familiarities they share – for example: “…the time which I have so long expected rejoices me so much that it seems almost already come. …the entire accomplishment cannot be till the two Persons meet, which Meeting is more desired by me than any Thing in the World; for what Joy can be greater upon Earth than to have the Company of her who is my dearest Friend? Knowing likewise that she does the same on her part, the thinking on which gives great pleasure…” Seeing the actual penstrokes of such tender expressions was quite a poignant experience.
I took as many notes as I could scratch in the 90 minutes I spent with the letters. Those notes and impressions, along with additional detailed study I plan to complete in 2020 – which includes assistance from one of the preeminent scholars of Apostolica Vaticana – will be compiled into a new book about the 17 documents which were deemed so important to the outcome of Henry’s ‘Great Matter’, and ultimately to the future of the Church of Rome and the English Reformation. There is much to be learned from them; much to be shared in the interest of legitimate and authentic research. Look for more from me in the coming months, to be shared on social media and on respected sites like queenanneboleyn.com. Thank you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandra Vasoli is a historical fiction writer from Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, USA. A graduate with a dual degree in English and Biology from Villanova University, Sandy enjoyed a long term career in leadership and organization development before turning her attention to her passions of writing and Tudor Era history. Sandy has written all her life: essays, stories, and articles, but Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love is her first work of published fiction. Volume Two of the Je Anne Boleyn series soon followed. Sandy’s career, working for several of the largest companies in the world, allowed her the study of people, especially those in leadership positions. Thus, she is keenly interested in the bold and insightful qualities possessed by Anne Boleyn. For more information, visit her website at SANDRA VASOLI.