On this day, Nicholas Carew was named to the Order of the Garter instead of George Boleyn. Today we know that this happened less than one month before Anne and George would be executed on trumped-up charges of treason, so we see the insult through a very ominous lens. But even at the time, it was clear this event had huge meaning.
The Order of the Garter is the most senior order of knighthood in Britain, and appointments are at the monarch’s sole discretion. The fact that Henry VIII chose Nicholas Carew to receive the honor rather than his brother-in-law was an embarrassment for the entire Boleyn family – and a signal that the King might soon put aside Anne for Jane Seymour. Here’s how the Spanish Ambassador described it (you can tell from how many times he refers to Anne as the Concubine that he was still smarting over having to acknowledge her at Easter Mass):
The Grand Esquire, Master Carew, was on St. George’s Day invested with the Order of the Garter. […] This has been a source of great disappointment and sorrow for Lord Rochford [George Boleyn], who wanted it for himself, and still more for the Concubine, who has not had sufficient credit to get her own brother knighted. In fact, it will not be Carew’s fault if the aforesaid Concubine, though a cousin of his, is not overthrown one of these days, for I hear that he is daily conspiring against her, and trying to persuade Miss Seymour and her friends to accomplish her ruin.https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol5/no2/pp104-118
But again, the phrase “accomplish her ruin” had a very different meaning before the King’s real plans for Anne Boleyn were revealed – at this point, “ruin” was expected to come from divorce rather than death, and that’s where all the speculation remained. Here’s more of Chapuys’ rabble-rousing all centered around his hopes that Henry would divorce his second wife:
Indeed only four days ago the said Carew and certain gentlemen of the King’s chamber sent word o the Princess to take courage, for shortly her rival would be dismissed, the King being so tired of the said concubine that he could not bear her any longer. Besides which, Montagu’s brother said to me yesterday, at dinner, that the day before the Bishop of London had been questioned [by some courtier] as to whether the King could or could not abandon the said concubine, and that the bishop had refused to give an opinion on the subject unless the King himself asked him for it. Even then he would, before he answered, try and ascertain what the King’s intentions were, thereby implying, no doubt, that the King in his opinion could certainly desert his concubine, but that knowing well the King’s fickleness, he would not run the risk of offending her by proffering such advice. The Bishop was once, it must be observed, the principal cause and instrument of the King’s first divorce; he now repents of it, and would willingly be the abettor of a second one were it for no other reason than the well-known fact of the said concubine and all her race being most abominable and rank Lutherans.https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol5/no2/pp104-118
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One of the most chilling (and incorrect) references to race I’ve ever heard.
“for no other reason than the well-known fact of the said concubine and all her race being most abominable and rank Lutherans.”
Thank you for your insights, Janet. Keep them coming!