Path to St. Peter ad Vincula: Part VIII—B

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula: Part VIII—B

Anne Boleyn’s journey that took her from Hever to St. Peter ad Vincula was certainly unfathomable considering the affection Henry showered upon her.  She seemed comfortable in her elevation regardless of the humble façade she often presented.  Even to Henry she exclaimed, “You have chosen me from low estate to be your Queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire” (Denny 283).  In a letter she wrote to Cardinal Wolsey, Anne implied that he, in his wisdom, brought her honor despite her unworthiness.  Anne thanked Wolsey for the “gret payn & travelle that your grace doth take in steudyeng by your wysdome and gret dylygens how to bryng to pas honerably the gretyst welth that is possyble to come to any creator lyving, and in especyall remembryng howe wrtchyd and unworthy I am in comparyng to his hyghnes” (Cavendish II 252).

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Hever Castle

Henry, born to privilege, accustomed to flattery and not often gainsaid made the decision to raise Anne to the highest position in the land. To have her fall so quickly and so thoroughly by divorce and execution was astounding considering Henry “had committed himself far too deeply, and the parliament had been committed along with him, to the measure by to which the marriage was legalized” (Froude 401).

Over the years, credit and/or blame for Anne’s disgrace come from many quarters.  An interesting source Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador, credits himself for Anne’s fall. He claimed to have been informed by a witness who overhead Anne say that it was because of Chapuys that she had lost favor with Henry. Chapuys confessed to Bishop Grenville, “I was rather flattered by the compliment, and consider myself very lucky at having escaped her vengeance; for kind-hearted and merciful as she is, she would without remorse have cast me to the dogs” (Gairdner X 54). Many courtiers believed that Anne “never forgave any one, whom she thought an enemy” (Herbert, Henry 171).

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Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys

This proved a very interesting characteristic and one that was put to the test.  Henry, the devoted husband, readily turned the tables on Anne by ordering her arrest and eventual execution.  Yet, in a letter to Henry, at her trial and on the scaffold, Anne obviously did not view Henry as an enemy for she readily forgave him and took measures to ensure she expressed no malice.  Was this an act of a loving wife?  Was this a mission of a concerned Reformer?  Or, was this a strategy of a determined mother—a mother who would not be able to protect and advance the welfare of her daughter?

In a letter to Henry on May 6, 1536, Anne’s innocence comes through in the well-written missive. She boldly declared, “I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared” (Bell 99).  Anne beseeched Henry to “neither let that stain, that unworthy stain, of a disloyal heart towards your good grace, ever cast so foul a blot on your most dutiful wife, and the infant princess your daughter” (“Condemnation of Anne Boleyn” 289).  Concern for her daughter certainly dictated her behavior.  Anne did not risk upsetting Henry and humbly closed the letter “I will leave to trouble your grace any further, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions” (Bell 100).

Letter 6 May 1536.
Anne Boleyn’s letter to King Henry VIII written on 6 May 1536, from the Tower of London.
British Library MS. Cotton, Otho C. x. fol. 232r

At her trial, “she stood undismayed; nor did she ever exhibit any token of impatience, or grief, or cowardice” (Stevenson 1303:24).  Upon hearing her sentence, Anne addressed the Court:  “I do not say that I have always borne towards the king the humility which I owed him, considering his kindness and the great honour he showed me and the great respect he always paid me; I admit, too, that often I have taken it into my head to be jealous of him …. But may God be my witness if I have done him any other wrong” (Gairdner X 1036).

Anne’s actions and words continued judiciously to circumvent Henry’s role in her downfall. Upon the scaffold “to her last breath she stood to acquit and defend him by her words…” (Cavendish 214).  Her recorded words to the spectators were, “I pray God save the king and send him long to reigne over you, for a gentler nor a more mercyfull prince was there never and to me, he was ever a good, a gentle, & soveraigne lorde” (Hall 819).  Another witness to the Queen’s execution also claimed that Anne instructed her ladies to “be faithful to the King’s Grace, and to her whom with happier fortune ye may have as your Queen and Mistress” (Sylvanus 56). Could anyone be more magnanimous to offer support to your successor?  For further discussion on the speech given at the scaffold, see the entire blog entry, Path to St. Peter ad Vincula Part VII

In his work, Rerum in Ecclesia Gestarum Commentarii, John Foxe claimed Anne’s scaffold speech was evidence of her faith and faithfulness.   Atque vero mortis causam hic non disquiro, quae suum aliquando iudiceum habituara est:  verba solum morientis notaare volui, singulari fide, et modestia erga regem suum plena (Freeman 799).  “And truly I do not investigate the cause of her death which was decided by others, I wished only to note her dying words for their singular faith and complete modesty towards her king” (Freeman 799).  “First, her last words spoken at her death declared no less her sincere faith and trust in Christ, than did her quiet modesty utter forth the goodness of the cause and matter, whatsoever it was”  (Foxe 407).  Modesty would not be a word that comes to the mind to describe Anne’s relationship toward Henry. This new comportment was most likely to ensure the safety of her daughter.

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John Foxe

Several commentators believed, like Gilbert Burnet, that Anne’s fear for “her daughter made her speak so tenderly; for she had observed, that Queen Katherine’s obstinacy had drawn the King’s indignation on her daughter; and therefore, that she alone might bear her misfortunes, and derive no share of them on her daughter” (Burnet 319).  The fallen Queen, “spake in a style that could give the King no just offence, and as she said enough to justify herself, so she said as much for the King’s honour as could be expected” (Burnet 319).

Anne’s soothing Henry was dictated by convention, religion and concern for her daughter. Her “fear of drawing the king’s anger on her daughter Elizabeth, prevented her from insisting upon her own innocence.  As she knew the king’s temper perfectly, and could not vindicate herself without charging him with injustice, she was afraid Elizabeth would become the sacrifice of the king her father’s resentment” (Thoyras 421).  Praise to Anne for “whose royal and flourishing regiment we have to behold, not so much the natural disposition of her qualities, as the secret judgment of God in preserving and magnifying the fruit and offspring of that godly queen” (Foxe II 408).

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Elizabeth Regina and Queen Anne Boleyn

Anne’s behavior in her final days and hours seems to have impressed many with her commitment to her innocence, faith and daughter.  The political aplomb she displayed for years surfaced in the intelligence to know her behavior would reflect / manifest upon her daughter’s future.  Although historians will continue to debate the influence Anne had on the Reformation movement in England and throughout Europe, it is clear that “her influence survived, too, in the little girl at Hunsdon, who grew up to be very like her….” (Friedman II 297).

For References please see Path to St. Peter ad Vincula: Part I

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Path to St. Peter ad Vincula Part VII – B

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula Part VII – B

Ambassador Chapuys was comfortable with sharing any and all versions of the truth that reached his ears.  According to the Spaniard, Henry was declared the lover of Mary Boleyn and her mother, Elizabeth; Anne was declared the King’s daughter; Elizabeth was declared Norris’s child; and, Protestantism was declared responsible for the loose morals which led to these scandals.  In fact, Chapuys reported to Bishop Grenville on May 19, 1536, that the religious leaders Anne promoted “persuaded the Concubine that she had no need to confess, she grew more audacious in vice; and, moreover, they persuaded her that according to the said sect it was lawful to seek aid elsewhere, even from her own relations, when her husband was not capable of satisfying her” (Gairdner X 909).  This was quite a condemnation to brandish about the international diplomatic community while encouraging the English peoples in the belief that “isolation and danger of England was all laid to her account” (Froude 386).

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Eustace Chapuys, Ambassador from Spain

In this accusatory atmosphere, Henry turned his attentions completely toward Jane Seymour.  “She was not witty either, or brilliant; but she was modest, quiet, with a strong understanding and rectitude of principle” (Froude 441-442). These qualities appear to have been what attracted her to the King. “Jane seems to have had no enemies, except Alexander Aless [a Scottish Protestant divine who was on the fringe of the events of 1536] who denounced her to Luther as an enemy to the Gospel, probably because she extinguished the shining light of Anne Boleyn” (Pollard 347). There was “no sign that she herself sought so questionable an elevation. A powerful party in the State wished her to accept a position which could have few attractions, and she seems to have acquiesced without difficulty” (Froude 444).  For a more detailed account of Henry’s relationship with Jane at this juncture, see the blog entry Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part VI-E.

Not surprisingly, Eustace Chapuys played both angles.  Although he did write to Charles V that Henry’s pursuit of Jane while Anne was still alive and imprisoned “sounds ill in the ears of the people” (Gairdner X 908).  He addressed Henry with great sympathy assuring the King that he had been blessed, as many “great and good men, even emperors and kings, have suffered from the arts of wicked women.”  The Ambassador felt it was “greatly to Henry’s credit that he detected and punished conspiracy before it came to light otherwise” (Gairdner X 1071).

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Jane Seymour

The conspiracy was the adultery committed by Anne.  Surprisingly, Henry dissolved their marriage two days before her death, yet, executed her for adultery.  Why divorce her “when the sword divorced them absolutely” (Gairdner XI 41)? There never was an official reason for the divorce.  No mention was made of the cause for the dissolution of the marriage except that it was the “consequence of certain just and lawful impediments which, it was said, were unknown at the time of the union but had lately been confessed to the Archbishop by the lady herself” (Wriothesley 41).  Therefore, Anne’s reputation was further sullied.  The implication was that the Court did not know of the impediments to her marriage to Henry but she most certainly did and had gone through with it anyway.  Archbishop Cranmer urged Anne to face the marriage tribunal “that it might be for the salvation of their souls” (Wriothesley 40).

As mentioned in the blog entry,Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-F, if Anne and Henry were never legally married then it is impossible that she could be tried and executed for adultery.  Yet, her reputation was such that stories such as these were given credence.

With such an attitude toward Anne, observers had their theories for the divorce.  As previously shown, Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, believed it “was a privie contract approved that she had made to the Earle of Northumberlande afore the Kings tyme, and she was discharged, and never lawfull Queene of England” (Wriothesley 41).  Chapuys wrote to Charles V that he had “been informed that the said archbishop of Canterbury had pronounced the marriage of the King and of his mistress to have been unlawful and nul in consequence of the King himself having had connexion with Anne’s sister, and that both he and she being aware and well acquainted with such an impediment, the good faith of the parents could not possibly legitimize the daughter” (Gairdner X 54). “The statute declaring the Concubine’s daughter princess and lawful heir has been repealed, and she has been declared bastard” (Gairdner XI 41).   As an aside here, Henry never disowned Elizabeth, he believed her to be his daughter, and he simply wanted her declared illegitimate to ensure that any issue (meaning sons) from further marriages would be the legal heirs.

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Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

No official record emerged with an actual description for the impediment.  Did the Council members appeal to Parliament to trust their conclusions and pass the statute to end the marriage (which was done in June after Anne’s execution)?  Was Henry’s goal to illegitimate Elizabeth and ensure any children of successive unions the right to the throne?  Either a pre-contract or consanguinity would have proved effective for that purpose.  So even Anne’s divorce was cloaked in intrigue and the information presented with it was designed to throw further guilt and suspicion upon her.

“On the day of the execution, Henry the Eight put on white for mourning, as though he would have said, ‘I am innocent of this deed:’ and the next day was married to Jane Seymour” (Ellis 66).  Although his wearing white was corroborated in other sources, it appears as if Henry held off marrying Jane Seymour until the end of May although they were pledged on May 20, 1536. Imperial sources claimed that after hearing of Anne’s execution, Henry “entered his barge and went to the said Semel [Jane Seymour], whom he had lodged a mile from him, in a house by the river” (Gairdner X 926). Before Anne’s death many at Court knew there was “no doubt that he will take the said Semel to wife; and some think the agreements and promises already made” (Gairdner X 908). Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (who signed official documents from Lambeth as from Lamehithe by T. Cantuarien was listed as the source in this document as T. Cantuarien) delivered the official dispensation document on May 19, 1536, allowing “Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, to marry, although in the third and third degrees of affinity, without publication of banns” (Gairdner X 915).

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According to tradition, Henry VIII stood at this spot in the park of his Hunting Lodge at Richmond when Anne Boleyn was executed. 

Ambassador Chapuys wrote on May 20th to Cardinal Granvelle that he had been informed “that Mrs. Semel came secretly by river this morning to the King’s lodging, and that the promise and betrothal (desponsacion) was made at 9 o’clock” (Gairdner X 926). Chapuys knew that something was afoot as Henry had called for “Parliament to commence on the 8th proximo….” Chapuys held hope that “the Concubine’s little bastard will be excluded from the succession, and that the King will get himself requested by Parliament to marry” (Gairdner X 926).  Jane Seymour was Henry’s obvious choice despite his implying to foreign diplomats, especially Chapuys, that he would select a bride from the continent.  Chapuys did not fall for Henry’s pretense knowing that “to cover the affection he has for the said Semel he has lodged her seven miles hence in the house of the grand esquire, and says publicly that he has no desire in the world to get married again unless he is constrained by his subjects to do so” (Gairdner X 926).  The charade fooled no one. “The great concerns of nations are of more consequence to contemporary statesmen than the tragedies or comedies of royal households.  The great question of the hour was the alternative alliance with the Empire or with France” (Froude 403).  “To the Catholic she [Anne] was a diablesse, a tigress, the author of all the mischief which was befalling them and the realm.  By the prudent and the moderate she was almost equally disliked; the nation generally, and even Reformers like Cromwell and Cranmer, were Imperialist:  Anne Boleyn was passionately French” (Froude 385).  By marrying Jane Seymour, Henry put an end to the marriage machinations of the Empire and France.

On 30 May 1536, the “weke before Whitsontyde the kyng maryed lady Jane doughter to the right worshipfull sir John Seymour knight, whiche at Whitsontyde was openlye shewed as Queue. The viii. day of June the kyng held his high court of Parliament in the whiche Parliament the kynges two first manages, that is to say with the lady Katheryne, and with the lady Anne Bulleyn were both adjudged unlawful” (Hall 819).

For References, please refer to the blog entry, Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part I