Anne Boleyn was born into a wealthy and well-connected family. While she had no title, her grandfather was a duke, and her father held several important court positions before Anne caught the eye of the king.
Her mother was a Howard, one of the most powerful families in England, and her father descended from the Butler family. Royal blood flowed in Anne’s veins, because she could claim Edward I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Henry II as ancestors.
Anne Boleyn was actually more well-born than Henry VIII himself.
There’s no doubt that Thomas Boleyn struggled financially during his younger years, but the notion that Anne was a girl plucked from genteel poverty and obscurity by the king is false. By the time Anne was reaching marriageable age, Thomas was a successful courtier, wealthy enough to finance careers at court for his children, and Anne was a popular young woman with fine marriage prospects.
In 1525, the king elevated Anne’s father to Viscount Rochford. Anne afterward signed her letters as Anne Rochford. Four years later, the king gave Thomas Boleyn the titles of Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire. (The king then granted the title Viscount Rochford to Anne’s brother, George.) This came with a significant increase in income for the Boleyn family.
On Sunday, September 1, 1532, Henry gave Anne her own title – the Marquess of Pembroke. It was the first time a woman had ever been granted a hereditary peerage in her own right.
The ceremony was held in the king’s presence chamber at Windsor. The short contemporary description we have mentions Anne wore a red velvet robe, trimmed with ermine, and her long auburn hair flowed loose. Henry placed a coronet on her head and handed her two patent documents, one of which listed the title she had been given and the other the lands it included.
Not including the property Henry had already given her, Anne now owned five manors and controlled an income of over £1,000 … £200 more than her her father’s income had been when the king first noticed Anne. She was a very wealthy woman.
The title came with the interesting provision that did not go unnoticed by the court. Usually, titles were specified to pass on to the legitimate sons of the title holder. Anne’s patent specified only that it would pass on to her male heirs.
Speculation must have been rife in regards to this omission. Perhaps some thought a bastard was already on its way, or that Anne would finally surrender her virginity without a wedding ring if she was assured any illegitimate son would have a semi-royal title.
There must have been those who thought the title was intended to be a “consolation prize” since Katharine of Aragon showed no signs of being willing to surrender and agree to the annulment Henry sought. Was that the intent? To throw the court off track in regards to what Henry was really planning?
There were a few reasons for Anne’s elevation to the peerage. Firstly, no one could now say that Henry was marrying a commoner – he was marrying a marquess. The following March, the king asked the Duchess of Norfolk if she did not think Anne was a finely dowered woman. The letter notes they sat in Anne’s apartments, “beautifully ornamented with splendid tapestry hangings, and the finest of buffets covered with gold plate.” The Duchess, who was no friend of Anne’s, must have internally rolled her eyes, since a good portion of that fine dowry had come from the king’s own coffers.
Secondly, Henry was meeting with King Francis in France in November, and he intended to bring Anne along, even though there was no royal lady willing to receive her. Anne would remain behind in Calais with her royal-sized retinue until Francis reciprocated the visit on English territory. While she waited, the people of Calais entertained her in royal style. When Francis came to Calais, he danced with a masked lady who -surprise!- revealed herself as Anne once the dance had ended. They chatted privately and Francis tacitly recognized Anne as Henry’s next consort, as hoped.
The stage was set for the next step in the plan.