You are at the top of the page

Skip to content or footer

Start of main content

Imagining Anne Boleyn's Coronation in 1533

Date: 10 May 2024

Author: Alden Gregory

Anne Boleyn's coronation as Henry VIII's Queen Consort took place on Sunday 1 June 1533. Already pregnant with the future Elizabeth I, the new Queen was crowned at Westminster Abbey after staying in newly refurbished apartments at the Tower of London.

Here, Curator of Historic Buildings Alden Gregory imagines this event and the ambitious festivities that Henry commissioned to welcome his second Queen Consort.

I have a list in my head of the places, events and people I would travel to see as soon as someone gets round to inventing a time machine. My list includes visits to the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 followed, a few years later, by a visit to Hampton Court Palace to see Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s new long gallery; and to Paris in May 1913 to see the riotous first performance of Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’. The list goes on and I could bore you with it for hours.

One of my first trips would be to London at the end of May 1533 to witness the celebration of the coronation of Henry VIII’s second Queen Consort, Anne Boleyn. It was an event that involved a heady mix of spectacular pageantry and deep political tension. How could I resist?

In a way as a curator I am able to time travel already (in my imagination at least) and during preparations for special events over the past years, I have been able to spend some time immersing myself in the contemporary accounts of Anne’s coronation. They paint a vivid picture and as I read them I feel that I could really imagine the scenes in London during that long weekend in May 1533; for me reading those accounts is the next best thing to actually being there.

A portrait of a woman in a dark dress with a square neckline. She wears a pearl necklace with a 'B' pendant, and a hood headpiece on her head

Image: Anne Boleyn by Unknown English artist. Late 16th century, based on a work of circa 1533-1536. © National Portrait Gallery, London

The Byward Tower at the Tower of London.

Image: The Byward Tower today, where Anne entered the Tower of London to be greeted by her husband, Henry VIII. © Historic Royal Palaces

'Terrible Monsters and Wild-Men Casting Fire': Anne Boleyn Arrives at the Tower

Thursday 29 May 1533

On the Thursday before her coronation, Anne had travelled along the Thames from Greenwich Palace to the Tower of London in a flotilla of 50 boats and barges all decorated with banners and streamers and filled with musicians and members of the city’s guilds.

At the head of this flotilla the court chronicler Edward Hall records that there was a foist (a small river boat with both oars and sails) on which stood ‘a great Dragon continually moving and casting wildfire, and […] terrible monsters and wild-men casting fire, and making hideous noises’. Presumably these were automaton or puppets but a trip in the time machine would be worthwhile if only to view this spectacular boat and to see how it worked.

As the river pageant arrived at the Tower of London canons were fired in a huge gun salute that was, according to Hall, louder than any heard before. Disembarking on Tower wharf Anne was led to the Byward Postern gate where Henry was waiting for her and greeted her with a kiss.

From there Anne was taken to her own apartments at the heart of the Tower in buildings that have long-since disappeared but that in 1533 had been freshly renovated to receive the Queen.

The Lost Apartments: Anne's Accommodation at the Tower

29-31 May 1533

Just as we have done over the years to recreate this momentous event, Henry made sure that the Tower was ready to receive Anne (although he had bigger budgets and even grander ambitions than we do!). His programme of building and repair works began in the summer of 1532 and focused on improving the queen’s apartments. A quick tour of those lost royal apartments would certainly make it onto my time-travelling itinerary.

Anne’s great chamber and her dining chamber were both remodelled or rebuilt and she was provided with a new private garden. Elsewhere the King’s long gallery, the Council Chamber, the Great Watching Chamber and other royal apartments were all substantially repaired and redecorated, many of them with highly fashionable classical motifs.

New timber-framed apartments were also built above Traitors Gate by the King’s Master Carpenter, James Nedeham – now part of the Medieval Palace exhibition.

Henry took a keen personal interest in the works and visited in person in December 1532 to inspect them. Overseeing the project on his behalf, however, was Thomas Cromwell, and it was because of his efforts in securing a workforce that it was reported in October 1532 that there nearly 400 workmen on site.

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, after Hans Holbein the Younger, early 17th century, based on a work of 1532-1533 - NPG 1727 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Image: Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, after Hans Holbein the Younger. Early 17th century, based on a work of 1532-1533. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Tap to zoom

The Tower of London about 1550. Map showing named parts. Drawn by Arthur E. Henderson, 1933.

The Tower of London, c.1550

This map shows the layout of the Tower of London in the 16th century, including the royal apartments (now demolished) to the south of the White Tower.

© Historic Royal Palaces / Reproduced by permission of Historic Royal Palaces / Historic Royal Palaces Enterprises Ltd under licence from The National Archives

A castle turret topped with an onion-shaped dome. A large triangular building can be seen in the background

Image: A turret of the White Tower, topped with a lead cupola and a 17th-century weather vane. © Historic Royal Palaces

An Iconic Addition: Anne Boleyn's White Tower Legacy

Of course it’s sometimes easy to forget nowadays that the Tower was once a great palace with suites of royal apartments for Henry and his queens. Almost all of the royal rooms that the King and Queen stayed in in May 1533 have long since disappeared. However, Henry’s building works in 1532-3 have left one enduring legacy; the four distinctive domed roofs (or cupolas) on the White Tower.

The curved shape of these cupolas, which is referred to as ogee-shaped, is typically Tudor and tree-ring dating of the timbers from which they’re built has shown that they were erected in early 1533.

Some contemporary accounts for the construction of the White Tower cupolas also survive in archives and from them we know that they had gilded weather vanes on top that were supplied by an Italian painter called Ellys Carmyan (the current weather vanes were added in 1669).
These domes help to create the distinctive silhouette of the White Tower that is recognisable around the world and are a constant reminder of Henry VIII’s impact on the Tower of London (one of his more palatable ones at least!).

Creating the Knights of the Bath

Friday 30 May 1533

Back at Anne’s coronation celebrations in 1533, on Friday 30 May, the Tower witnessed the creation of 18 new Knights of the Bath; a ceremony that had become an integral part of coronation festivities.

On the upper floor of the White Tower – itself refurbished for the occasion – 18 bath tubs were set out next to 18 beds, where the esquires chosen for knighthood were shaved, ritually bathed and put to bed to dry-off before processing to the chapel for a whole night of prayers and religious observances.

The following morning, Saturday 31 May, the knights were dubbed by the King before taking part in Anne’s great procession from the Tower to Westminster where her coronation would take place.

Anne's Coronation Procession to Westminster

Saturday 31 May 1533

On Saturday 31 May 1533 Anne Boleyn was taken in procession from the Tower through London to Westminster where she was crowned the following day. If I ever do get hold of a time machine I’ll make sure I’m there in the crowd to see what must have been a spectacular display.

The new Knights of the Bath joined a long line of courtiers and dignitaries who escorted Anne through the city’s streets (which had been freshly cleaned and laid with sand and gravel to prevent the horses from slipping). Along the route of the procession, people had hung tapestries and coloured cloths from their windows. The municipal fountains ran with wine and the city’s guilds had spared no expense (despite some grumbling about the costs) in creating great pageants with which to welcome Anne and demonstrate their allegiance to their controversial new Queen.

Edward Hall describes a whole series of pageants but there are two that, given the opportunity, I would push to the front to see. At the corner of Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street the resident Hanseatic merchant community had built a huge triumphal arch on top of which was a model of Mount Parnassus on which sat actors in the guise of Apollo and the four Muses reciting speeches in Anne’s honour. What made this pageant particularly special is that it was designed by the renowned artist Hans Holbein the Younger, and his drawing of it still survives.

Mount Parnassus pageant design by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Image: Mount Parnassus pageant design by Hans Holbein the Younger, from the collections of the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

When that pageant was over Anne’s litter moved on to Leadenhall where she saw a stage in the form of a castle on which was a field of Tudor roses with, at its centre, a golden tree-stump. As Anne watched a white falcon (Anne Boleyn’s own heraldic badge) descended from the ceiling of the stage and landed on the stump, followed by an angel who placed a crown on the falcon’s head in a none-too-subtle representation of her own coronation.

Like the fire-breathing dragon on the boat this spectacular effect was presumably achieved with automaton, clever stage-craft and engineering. I would love to know how it was all done; where’s that time machine when you need it?

Anne continued on, passing through Cheapside, around St Pauls, and along Fleet Street. Edward Hall portrays the event as one of great cheer and celebration, but the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, whose allegiance remained with Henry’s Spanish first wife, Katherine of Aragon, gives a conflicting account. He records that despite the pageantry Londoners were hostile and that pockets of the crowd openly laughed at Anne with cries of ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ (a cruel play on the joined initials of Henry and Anne that appeared on many of the decorations along the route).

Both Hall and Chapuys were biased witnesses and it is difficult to know who to trust; there is no doubt that the atmosphere in the city must have been charged but whether it developed into open hostility is more debatable. As a historian it’s when answering those sorts of questions that time travel would truly come in useful.

Creating (and Killing) a Queen

Sunday 1 June 1533, and beyond

The coronation itself took place the next day and was followed by a great feast in Westminster Hall (the time-travelling me would be there hoping to get some food). Over the following days jousts and tournaments were staged and the celebrations continued.

Of course it didn’t take long for the celebratory mood to abate. Three years later Anne Boleyn found herself travelling back along the river to the Tower. This time, however, there was no triumphal entry or pageantry; Anne was a prisoner on her way to the block. Her gruesome execution on Tower Green on 19 May 1536 is not an event I’d be in any hurry to witness. My time machine, when I get it, will be reserved for happier occasions than that.

Alden Gregory
Curator of Historic Buildings

More from our blog

Elizabeth I’s coronation procession from the Tower of London

17 November 2022

Curator Charles Farris recalls Elizabeth’s dramatic procession from the Tower of London to Westminster the day before her coronation.

Whitehall Palace: Anne Boleyn's Favourite Residence

01 June 2016

On 1 June 1533 Anne Boleyn was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Anne processed from the Tower of London in a litter of white cloth of gold and wore fur trimmed purple robes on the day she finally became Henry VIII’s queen.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's secret wedding at Whitehall Palace

22 August 2016

In the early morning of 25 January 1533, Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in a secret marriage service in Whitehall Palace. Only a handful of witnesses were present: a chaplain, two members from Henry's privy chamber and one of Anne Boleyn's attendants.

Share this on:

Twitter Facebook