Category Archives: May 19th

May 13, 1536: Why bother with justice when “the appearance of justice” will do?

What was once the location of the Great Hall.

What was once the location of the Great Hall.

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.


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May 10, 1536: “News” (!) travels

spinetThe Bishop of Faenza, in the Vatican, tells Signor Protonotario Ambrogio that “news came yesterday from England that the King had caused to be arrested the Queen, her father, mother, brother, and an organist with whom she had been too intimate.” (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII)

This is just one of many examples of how freely false gossip circulated around the arrests. Earlier, on May 2, Chapuys had reported to Charles that the reason for Anne’s arrest was that “she has for a length of time lived in adultery with a spinet-player of her chamber” and that Norris was arrested “for not having revealed what he knew of the said adulterous connexion.” Later on,  various dispatches report that “The so-called Queen was found in bed with her organist, and taken to prison. It is proved that she had criminal intercourse with her brother and others, and that the daughter supposed to be hers was taken from a poor man.” (to Charles, from Hannaert, LP) And:

“The reports from England are more than tragic.  The Queen in thrown in prison, with her father, brother, two bishops, and others, for adultery.” (Melancthon to Justus Jonas, LP).

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May 7-8, 1536: Strange Days

JaneSeymourJane Seymour remains sequestered at Beddington. It is no secret that the King is involved with her. As early as April 1st, Chapuys had written to the Emperor that the king was “paying court” to Jane, and that he had “heard that the young lady has been well tutored and warned by those among the King’s courtiers who hate the concubine, telling her not in any wise to give in to the King’s fancy unless he makes her his Queen, upon which the damsel is quite resolved.  She has likewise been advised to tell the King frankly, and without reserve, how much his subjects abominate the marriage contracted with the concubine.”

While Jane remains hidden away, the King is also rarely seen, except at night, when he “banquets” with diverse ladies, “sometimes remaining affter midnight, and returning by the river…accompanied by various musical instruments” and “singer of his chambers.”  Is this some sort of bachelor party, a smokescreen for his intentions with Jane, a show of macho bravado?

In the meantime, new of the arrests is reaching the outlying shires.  On May 7, it has reached the Welsh border, and was received by dismay.  “As the news in this letter is very doleful to this council and all the liege people of the realm,” writes Rowland Lee, Bishop of Coventry, “God forbid it should be true.” The same day, the King informs the sheriffs of every county of the calling of Parliament due to “matters of high importance”

And the investigation proceeds. On May 8, William Latymer, chaplain to Anne, is informed and–as he had just returned from business in Flanders–is searched for possible evidence.

While Jane waits, the King parties, and Cromwell assembles his case, Anne’s moods, according to Kingston, vacillate wildly, from resignation to hope to anxiety. She searches her memory–and speaks of what she recalls–for words or indiscretions that might lay behind the charges

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April 30, 1536

Medieval lute rose by John RollinsCromwell 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?


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April 27, 1536

MythWyattAs April drew to a close, Anne’s life was clearly in danger. The following is a list of those who would be accused along with Anne, and the charges against them.

Anne Boleyn: Then Queen of England, she had suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year. She, along with those who were accused of being her lovers, would be charged with high treason against the King for their supposed acts of adultery and other treasonous actions.

Mark Smeaton: The first to be arrested, Smeaton was a court musician. After being accused of adultery with the Queen, he was almost certainly tortured for information about his relationship with Anne, and confessed. The charge: high treason and adultery.

Henry Norris: Both a supporter of the Boleyn family and the Groom of the Stool in the King’s privy chamber, Henry staunchly denied the accusations against him. Because of his position, he would not be tortured. The charge: high treason and adultery.

Francis Weston: Weston was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, which meant he was frequently with Henry. At the time of his arrest, he was married to Anne Pickering and they had a baby boy, Henry. The charge: high treason and adultery

William Brereton: Brereton was a Groom of the Privy Chamber and had married a distant cousin of Henry. He was accused of being seduced by Anne on November 16, 1533, and of committing “misconduct” on November 27.   The charge: high treason and adultery.

George Boleyn: Boleyn was the Viscount of Rochford and Anne’s brother. George’s wife, Jane Rochford, would give evidence against him. The charge: high treason, incest, and adultery.

Thomas Wyatt: Wyatt was an advisor in Henry’s court and a poet who is credited with introducing the sonnet into English. It was rumored that he and Anne were romantically connected before Anne’s marriage to Henry.  Whatever Wyatt felt, there is no evidence that Anne reciprocated his feelings. Wyatt was brought in for questioning at the Tower of London, where he viewed the executions of the condemned men and wrote a famous poem about the “bloody days” that had “broken his heart.” He may also have viewed Anne’s execution. He was later released.

Richard Page: Page was appointed as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber after supporting Anne against Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the advisor who so greatly influenced Henry’s decisions early in his reign. Like Wyatt, Page was later released from the Tower.

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April 24, 1536

eustace-chapuysAmbassador Eustache Chapuys kept a detailed—although highly biased–record of Henry’s court for his master, Charles II. Chapuys commonly used moniquers such as “concubine” and “shedevil” to describe Anne, as he was the great champion of Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary (the only one of Henry’s daughters addressed as “Princess” in Chapuys’s letters; Elizabeth was “the little bastard”).   In the light of Chapuys’ long-standing hostility toward Anne, both the King’s friendly conversation and Cromwell’s advice to Chapuys on April 24, 1536 were an ominous indication of Anne’s precarious position at court:

“And hereupon the King began to speak very well of me, and asked the physician two or three times if he had not spoken with me since Easter Tuesday when I was with him. I think he wished to find out what was in my mind after his brusque replies. Although I would not kiss or speak to the Concubine, the Princess and other good persons have been somewhat jealous at the mutual reverences required by politeness which were done at the church. I refused to visit her until I had spoken to the King. If I had seen any hope from the King’s answer I would have offered not two but 100 candles to the shedevil, although another thing made me unwilling, viz., that I was told she was not in favor with the King; besides, Cromwell was quite of my opinion that I should do well to wait till I had spoken to the King.” Chapuys, London, 24 April 1536 (Venice Archives).

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