The Protestant Jezebel: Friar Peto’s Vicious Attack against Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

On Easter Sunday 31st March 1532, Friar William Peto, Princess Mary’s confessor, preached a controversial sermon at the Franciscan Chapel of Greenwich Palace. The sermon was aimed at the King and his intended bride Anne Boleyn. The Friar, being the Princess’ confessor and head of the Franciscan Observants, was a staunch supporter of the Princess and her mother. In his sermon he compared the King of England to the biblical King Ahab whose refusal to listen to Elijah’s prophecies led to his divine punishment, dying in agony from the wounds inflicted to him during a battle. In addition, the King had sinned by marrying the pagan Jezebel who brought with her, her pagan priests and the adoration of her many gods.

Johnathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII) and Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn) in "The Tudors". The series effectively captures this moment when the friar preaches against the King's intended union comparing it to the doomed couple Ahab and Jezebel.
Johnathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII) and Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn) in “The Tudors”. The series effectively captures this moment when the friar preaches against the King’s intended union comparing it to the doomed couple Ahab and Jezebel.

“The King” Peto said, “was brought to Samaria” to be buried. When the chariot carrying his body broke down and “the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.”

King Ahab
King Ahab


If Henry didn’t listen to Friar Peto’s prophecy, or the holy mother church, he would suffer the same fate as King Ahab and have his blood licked by dogs. This was enough for Henry. He ordered Friar Peto to be put under house arrest. The Venetian Ambassador hinted with irony that for every time Anne was insulted, “the more incensed the King” became in his pursuit of her.

Henry VIII wasn’t the only one under attack by the Friar’s vicious words. The Tudor era was no different than the medieval world, where women were the scapegoats of all the country’s problems. In this case the scapegoat was Anne Boleyn. Perhaps in what Peto was unique was that his sermon included the King, instead of focusing solely on Anne. Kings were after all anointed figures, ordained by the Catholic heads of their countries; they were seen as infallible. If anyone had a complaint against the King, they would not point fingers at him; instead, they would blame his councilors, his mistress or in this case his intended bride. Peto’s attack to Henry, while brutal, where no more brutal than those to Anne whom he compared (ironically) the Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. I say this ironically because Jezebel was an idolater in her adoptive country’s eyes. Their priests worshipped great figures, statues, and had sumptuous rituals which were unlike those of the Jewish tradition who forbid images. Anne, while advocating for a different religion, was no pagan and records show that she was a strict mistress who kept her household in order. When she became Queen, she ordered an English translation of the bible and told her servants and guests, that everyone was welcome to borrow it or read from it. She was the one who introduced Henry to religious reform by giving him her copy of Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man and Fish’s The Supplication of Beggars. While much has been said about Anne’s religion, it is likely that she and her father were not “more Lutheran than Luther himself” like Chapuys described. It is very likely that Anne agreed with some of Luther’s ideas, but was more influenced by the Swiss and French thinkers whom her previous mistress’ sister-in-law (Marguerite of Navarre) admired. Perhaps it was this that made her in the eyes of her many a purely ambitious, amoral, irreligious persona who like Jezebel would bring doom to her kingdom.

But nothing could be farther than the truth. While Anne was certainly ambitious; Henry VIII’s future consort was the complete opposite of Jezebel. Strict, devout and an advocate of the new religion; Anne was no pagan Queen.

Jezebel meeting her tragic fate (pushed out from a window by her adoptive people).
Jezebel meeting her tragic fate (pushed out from a window by her adoptive people).

Anne was not the first to be compared to this pagan Queen (whose fate was equally tragic) and nor she would be the last. In a strange twist of fate, the religion that Anne cherished very dearly, and had given her comfort during her last days in the Tower while she awaited her execution, played the same trick on her stepdaughter [Mary I Tudor] when she became Queen. In 1554, a year after Mary’s coronation, John Knox published a pamphlet calling Mary Jezebel and comparing her to the whore of Babylon for bringing back idolatry to the British Isles and stirring the faithful away from the true faith.

Sources:

  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
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