In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the words and behavior attributed to Anne during her final weeks. We begin with the letter that some believe she wrote to Henry while she was imprisoned in the Tower…
For Anne, the arrest was sudden and inexplicable. On April 30th, Anne had no idea that Cromwell and Henry, that very day, were meeting to discuss the “evidence” that Anne had engaged in multiple adulteries and acts of treason. That evening, while court musician Mark Smeaton was being interrogated (and probably tortured), there was even a ball at court at which “the King treated Anne as normal.” He may have been awaiting Smeaton’s confession, which didn’t come for 24 hours, to feel fully justified in abandoning the show of dutiful husband. Although we don’t know for sure what message was given to Henry during the May Day tournaments, it was probably just that, for he immediately got up and left. Anne, who had been sitting at his side, would never see him again; the very next day, as her dinner was being served to her, she was arrested and conducted to the Tower.
Anne’s first reaction was disbelief: “Master Kingston,” she asked the constable of the Tower, “do you know wherefore I am here?” Just a few months before, she had been pregnant, and Henry had been insisting that the Spanish Emperor acknowledge the legitimacy of their marriage. Now she was in the Tower. She searched her memory for words or indiscretions that might lay behind the charges—conversations with Smeaton, Norris, and Weston that could be taken (and ultimately were taken) in a compromising light—and reeled back and forth between the conviction that she was doomed and the hope that the King was just testing her. Until very near the end, she still harbored the belief that Henry might pardon her. As we know, Henry had no such plans in mind.
After his death, among Cromwell’s possessions was found an (undelivered) letter that some claim Anne wrote to Henry during her imprisonment. Historians have questioned its authenticity, claiming the neither the handwriting nor the style are Anne’s. What do you think? Did Anne write this letter?
Your Grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange to me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send to me such a one, whom you know to me mine ancient professed enemy (Cromwell); I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if as you say, confessing a truth indeed my procure my safety I shall, with willingness and duty, perform your command.
But let not Your Grace ever imagine your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault where not so much as a thought ever proceeded. And to speak a truth, never a prince had a wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn – with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself if God and Your Grace’s pleasure had so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation, or received Queenship, but I always looked for sucher alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than Your Grace’s fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient, I knew, to draw that fancy to some other subject.
You have chosen me from a low estate to be your Queen and companion, far beyond my just desert or desire; if then you found me worthy of such honor, good Your Grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favour from me, neither let that stain – that unworthy stain – of a disloyal heart toward your good Grace ever cast so foul a blot on me and on the infant Princess, your daughter, Elizabeth.
Try me, Good King, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shames; then shall you see either mine innocency cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignonimy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that whatever God and you may determine of, Your Grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me, as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party (Anne new of Henry’s affection for Jane Seymour), Mistress Seymour, for whose sake I am now as I am; whose name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicions therein.
But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander, must bring you to the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise, my enemies, the instruments thereof, and that He will not call you to a strait account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at His general judgement-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgement, I doubt not; whatsoever the world think of me; mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.
My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of Your Grace’s displeasur, and that it may not touch the innocent sould of those poor gentlemen, whom, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake.
If ever I have found favour in your site – if ever the name of Anne Boleyn have been pleasing in your ears – then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble Your Grace no further; with mine earnest prayers to the Trinity to have Your Grace in His good keeping and to direct you in all your actions.
From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th of May.
Anne’s Letter from the Tower: Authentic or Not?
Our first sample of Anne’s handwriting: “Le temps viendre” and Anne’s signature, from her prayer book.
Our second sample of Anne’s handwriting: a letter to Cromwell, 1535.
Our third sample of Anne’s handwriting: letter to her father from Belgium, in 1513, when she was around 12, so probably not her mature writing.