Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19, 1326. That she was executed at all is one of the reasons we remember her and King Henry VIII so well. Before this, unwanted queens had been sent away or forced to go into nunneries, as evidenced by Louis XI of France’s first wife, Joan, and Henry’s own attempts to divorce Katherine of Aragon by sending her away. The change in personality and behavior that Henry exhibited just prior to and after Anne’s execution have become a very hotly debated topic- was he justified because she was cheating on him? Did the fall from his horse damage his brain and cause his changes? What sparked such a venomous hatred?
I have one idea which may not have been thought of before. Roland de Veleville died the year prior, in June of 1535, as evidenced by his replacement as Constable of Beaumaris Castle with Sir Henry Norris, a man executed as one of Anne Boleyn’s lovers.
Even if we ignore the evidence that Roland was Henry’s illegitimate older brother, he was a man who had considerable influence on the king. His words were enough of a threat to Henry’s counselors that he was sent to Fleet for speaking against them. He was often in the personal presence of the king, despite his “criminal” mouth. He had an unparalleled and hard to understand connection with Henry.
That connection started in Henry’s childhood, as Roland lived in the royal apartments and was a dominant figure in Henry VII’s personal life. He personally attended on Henry VIII, and was part of his entourage at some of the most important points of the young king’s life, including the Battle of the Spurs and the Field of Cloth of Gold. He mourned the loss of infant Prince Henry with the royal house. Even though he had been sent to Wales in 1509 (which I have my own theory about), he was never far from the king’s mind, and was consistently called back to court.
His influence on Henry VIII cannot be understated. Even though we have no information on it, I cannot believe that Henry took Roland’s death lightly. If we re-insert their family connection, his death becomes even more of a tragedy for the king. Roland was his last living brother, and since his sister Margaret was in Scotland and his sister Mary had died in 1533, Roland was his last sibling at court.
Roland’s opinion of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s denouncement of the Catholic Church are not known. Having spent so much time in the company of Henry VII could have made him a Catholic supporter, and since he had known Katherine of Aragon since she arrived in England he must have had a good relationship with her. But he does not seem to have been a conservative man, having lived with his wife prior to marriage and was known to be a gambler and drinker. Having no son of his own, he may have understood Henry’s drive to marry Anne and further their family. Or he may have not supported Henry’s turn from the Pope and casting aside of Katherine, and it may have contributed to his infrequent trips to court before his death. In either case, his opinion and counsel may have been valued by the king, even if it wasn’t in support for his actions.
With Roland’s death, Henry was very much alone. While we see Roland as a fun-loving and hot-tempered jouster, perhaps Henry’s older brother was a stabilizing influence on his life. Roland spent more time with Henry VII in a much more familiar way than Henry did, and perhaps he learned more of that style of governance from him, which he passed along to Henry. Henry called Roland to his side often, and especially at times where he was in need of counsel. Then Roland died. This must have been a shock to Henry’s stability.
Most of this is speculative, but based on information we do know. If Roland was a treasured counselor who Henry relied upon, his death may have sent Henry into an emotional and moral tailspin. Not only did he no longer have the advice or opinion of his brother, he no longer had anyone to be held accountable to. Roland may have been the last tie to Henry VII, and advice similar to what their father would have given. What would his brother have said if he had executed Anne while he was still alive? Would he have told the king to send her away, and been disgusted at the idea of killing her? Would she have been treated differently?
We may never know the real reason Henry turned so suddenly and violently against his wife, but this new idea may give a little more insight into the mind of the king who killed the woman he worked so hard to have.