In 1529, English authorities stopped Cardinal Campeggio in Dover on his way out of England. Although he refused to have his bags searched, the locks were broken on his coffers. Unfortunately, the king’s men failed to find what they were looking for. (1) Were authorities looking for the love letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn? These 17 love letters mysteriously resurface in the 17th century in the Vatican collection. Who stole them and how they came to Rome is a mystery that has puzzled historians for years.(2)
Suspect #1: Pope Clement VII
At first blush, Cardinal Campeggio or a papal spy for Pope Clement VII seems the obvious suspect. But what would the Pope have gained by stealing the letters? Clement never desired evidence for or against Henry. Clement’s strategy was to keep stalling Henry in the hopes that either the matter would resolve itself (Henry would tire of Anne) or someone else would have to deal with the matter (Clement would be too dead to care.) Even the French Ambassador, the Bishop of Tarbe, voiced his frustration at Clement’s repeated stall tactics in a letter to King Francis I. Tarbe writes that Clement “has told me more than three times in secret, he would be glad if the marriage was already made, either by a dispensation of the English legate or otherwise, provided it was not by his authority” (3) Caught in the middle of Charles V and Henry, Clement's strongest weapon was procrastination. The letters would have done little to serve his cause.
Suspect #2: Charles V
Charles V probably had the biggest motive to steal the letters. He was bitterly opposed to the idea of his aunt being kicked to the curb and her daughter Mary being declared a bastard. The court gossip and Spanish Ambassador, Chapuys wrote to Charles at least once a week with tales of Henry and Anne's palace romps. Chapuys held nothing back in his communications with Charles and several of his letters would have been damaging if they had been intercepted. Yet, nowhere does he mention stealing the letters.
And even if Chapuys had stolen them, Charles V would have never shipped the originals off to the Vatican. He trusted Clement about as much as we trust a CEO with some bailout cash. If he had the letters, he would have made copies of them and sent those to Clement.
Suspect #3: Freelance Spy
The biggest motivation behind stealing the letters was not religion, but money. Whoever stole them probably was trying to make a quick buck. Maybe they were even sold directly to the Vatican. Perhaps they were even stolen from Hever castle years after Anne was dead and buried. It would not be the first time that love letters resurfaced years after they were written. Either way, the Pope (either Clement or subsequent Popes) had no use for them. But we…. have tons of use for them. As discussed in last post, the love letters not only give us clues into one of the most infamous torrid love affair in history, but also give us a peak into Henry’s motives behind his divorce.
Who do you think stole the letters?
Stay tuned for next post when the individual letters will be analyzed.
(1)Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 25 Oct. 1529
(2)The theories presented here can be found in: Ridley, Jasper, The Love Letters of Henry VIII. pp 17-18
(3)Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 27 March. 1530
Sources and Further Reading:
Ridley, Jasper. The Love Letters of Henry VIII, University Printing House, Oxford, 1988
Starkey, David. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2004.
Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Weir, Alison. The Six wives of Henry VIII, New York, NY: Grove Press, 2000.
Fraser, Antoinia. The Six wives of Henry VIII, New York, NY: Vintage, 1993