On this day in 1536, preparations were made for the trials of Anne and her brother. The grand juries were commanded to furnish the indictments, and Constable Kingston received a precept from Norfolk ordering him to bring the prisoners to trial on Monday, May 15th. Norfolk also sent a precept to Ralph Felmingham, sergeant-of-arms, to summon at least twenty-seven “peers of the Queen and Lord Rochford, by whom the truth can be better made to appear.” While these official legal steps were being taken, physical preparations
were also begun to make the King’s Hall in The Tower amenable to two thousand spectators, with benches lining the walls and a high platform for the interrogator and the condemned, so that all could see. “The King was determined,” Alison Weir writes, “that justice would be seen to be done” and was sure of the judicial strength of the evidence. “This was not to be quite the farcical trial that some historians have claimed it to be,” she writes.
Yet, for Henry the outcome was such a foregone conclusion that on the same day that these preparations were being made, he ordered Anne’s household dissolved, and her servants discharged. The next day, May 14th, he sent for Jane Seymour to “come within a mile of his lodgings” so that she would be near at hand when Anne was condemned.
We at “The Creation of Anne Boleyn” admire Weir’s scholarship, but think that if any trial deserves the designation of “farce,” this one was it! The only missing ingredient was humor. This farce was not a comedy, but a deadly business.
A modern photo of where the Great Hall once stood.
Anne, searching her mind for the reasons for her arrest and clearly feeling tremendous anxiety, begins to think out loud about the conversations she has had with the arrested men which might have been misconstrued. (See Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower, pp. 166-171, for a full account of Anne’s ramblings.) Weir’s conclusion: “It was becoming clear, through her own revelations, that she had not kept a proper regal distance between herself and her courtiers, and thus had made herself and them vulnerable to accusations of impropriety.” Do you agree with Weir, or is this a version of “blaming the victim”?
Thomas Wyatt by Hans Holbein, 1535-1537
Cromwell and his colleagues lay all the charges before Henry, and Smeaton is arrested. By the end of the day, the planned trip with Anne to Calais is cancelled.
How to explain Henry’s swift reaction? Here are the explanations of two respected scholars, Alison Weir and Eric Ives. Which do you find most convincing?
– Alison Weir considers that the charges, in themselves, were “more than enough to arouse fury in any husband, let alone an egotistical monarch” and that from the moment the Council reported the charges to him, he was “convinced that he had nourished a viper in his bosom, and that Anne had betrayed and humiliated him, both as a husband and a king.” (118)
–Eric Ives thinks that the King was not yet certain that Anne was guilty. Yes, he was simmering–but not convinced. He had been seen (by Alexander Ales) to have had an argument with Anne the day before, in which he appeared very angry while Anne, with Elizabeth in her arms, appealed to him. Ives speculates that Anne’s anxiety and Henry’s anger were likely due to a very public argument between Anne and Norris the day before, in which she had accused Norris of “look[ing] for dead men’s shoes” (the shoes being Henry’s) and having Anne for himself, and then asked Norris to go to her almoner to swear that the queen “was a good woman.” Everyone at court knew about this, and it was enough, Ives argues, to occasion the cancelation of the Calais trip, but not enough to convince him of Anne’s guilt. “The fatal catalyst,” he writes, “would be Mark Smeaton”–that is, his confession, which wouldn’t occur until the next day.(325)
What do you think?