Who Was Henry Percy?
Henry Percy was born circa 1502 to Catherine Spencer and her husband, Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland in Nottingham, England. At a young age he was sent to be a page in Thomas Wolsey’s household.
Around 1516 Henry Percy was fated (had a precontract) to wed Mary Talbot, daughter of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury.
In 1519 Henry was knighted.
Betrothal to Anne Boleyn
Sometime after her arrival to court in 1522 Henry Percy fell in love with the young Anne Boleyn. In 1523, while still employed to Thomas Wolsey, Henry Percy became betrothed to Anne. When the betrothal was discovered by Wolsey he absolutely forbade it and scolded Percy in front of his household.
Henry Percy’s status as heir to the earldom of Northumberland, and Anne as a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon, implied the two must obtain permission from both Wolsey and the King of England to wed. Percy’s father also refused permission for the match — he considered Anne Boleyn a mere knight’s daughter, and not an appropriate fit for his son and heir.
It is speculated that Anne Boleyn had already caught the eye of Henry VIII and was the true reason she was forbidden from marrying Henry Percy.
“At this time Lord Percy, the son and heir of the earl of Northumberland, was aide and secretary to Wolsey, the lord cardinal, and whenever the lord cardinal happened to be at court Lord Percy would pass the time in the queen’s quarters where he would dally with the ladies-in-waiting. Of these, he was most familiar with mistress Anne Boleyn, to such an extent that a secret love grew up between them and they pledged that, in time, they intended to wed. When knowledge of this reached the king’s ears he was greatly distraught. Realizing that he could no longer hide his secret love, he revealed all to the lord cardinal and discussed with him ways of sundering the couple’s engagement to each other.”
In a nutshell, Thomas Wolsey broke up the love match — this seemed to be the reason why Anne Boleyn held such a strong grudge towards Wolsey. As with anyone kept from their love, Anne would do everything in her power to take revenge on Wolsey…and, in the end, she was successful.
In early 1524/1525, Percy fulfilled his obligation and precontract by marrying Mary Talbot – surely Mary was aware she was his second choice. The union between Henry Percy and Mary Talbot was not a happy one.
In 1527, Percy inherited the earldom of Northumberland title on the death of his father. In 1528, only four years into their marriage, the couple’s relationship had broken down irretrievably. Percy had complained about his wife’s malicious acts and lies while her father was concerned Henry was abusing his daughter and might even poison her. It is thought that the couple had separated (possibly only temporarily) because Mary delivered a stillborn child at her father’s estate in 1529.
In 1532, Mary accused Percy of having a precontract with Anne Boleyn – she was seeking an annulment from her miserable marriage. Percy, on oath, denied the accusation. They remained unhappily married.
In May 1536, the month of Anne’s execution, she is said to have confessed a precontract with Henry Percy in the hope of saving her life.
When Anne was convicted of treason Percy collapsed and was carried out of the court. Some speculated it was his poor health and some suspect it was his love for Anne.
Was he there that fateful day his first love was beheaded? I can only imagine him weeping for his lost love.
Henry Percy died in 1537.
Hanson, Marilee. “The relationship between Henry Percy & Anne Boleyn 1523” http://englishhistory.net/tudor/henry-percy-anne-boleyn-relationship/, February 4, 2015