Path to St. Peter ad Vincula Part VII – E

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula Part VII – E

Although as Queen, Anne expected strict moral behavior from her women and was well known for performing charitable works — even making garments for the poor herself, she could never overcome the reputation of a calculating flirt.

Anne played the game.  She became the “finished coquette, playing fast and loose, hot and cold, as Henry appeared more or less urgent and enamored.”  She also encouraged the addresses of Wyatt and “inflamed Henry’s passions to the height of jealous fury” (Herbert, Henry 340).  Anne was indeed playing with fire as most of her contemporaries would not have appreciated nor accepted the idea of a young, unmarried girl flirting with married men.  She was tarnishing her reputation to such a degree that in 1536 it was easy for most people to accept her guilty of the licentious behavior she was accused of committing.  Many never questioned it because she had spent her formative years in France and everyone knew what had happened there. When she was “sent to France; where also she behav’d her self so licentiously, that she was vulgarly call’d the Hackney of England, till being adopted to that Kings Familiarity, she was termed his mule” (Herbert, Edward 286-287).

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Anne Boleyn

Upon her return from France, Lord Percy expressed an interest in Anne “but Misstris Bolen, whether she were ignorant, as yet, how much the King loved her, or howsoever had rather be that Lords Wife, than a Kings Misstris, took very ill of the Cardinal this his unreasonable Interruption of her Marriage” (Herbert, Edward 286).  Therefore, Anne was all set to marry Henry Percy but for the intervention of Cardinal Wolsey whom she never did forget nor forgive.

Why would she not have preferred to be the wife of Lord Percy or any other gentlemen rather than the King’s mistress? This blogger must concede that from the time period in which she lived, Anne relinquishing her honor to Henry before their marriage would have been viewed as wanton. Even her Protestant supporters would have been shocked by her behavior.  We can surmise that Anne did not spend six years balancing the King’s passion for her with her chastity to casually surrender one of her most valuable assets.  She has been defended that “up to this time, Anne’s conduct was irreproachable, and it is unmanly, as well as unjust, to attribute baseness, where no baseness is shown” (Herbert, Henry 338). Both she and Henry had to have been pretty certain that his divorce from Katherine was imminent before they committed to a physical relationship.  This action though would taint her image and encourage gossip.

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Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland

Carlo Capello, the Venetian Ambassador to England, wrote to his superiors a description of Anne Boleyn in late October of 1532, close to the time Henry and Anne’s relationship changed.  “Madam Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the English King’s great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful” (Brown IV 824).  Lancelot de Carle, later the Bishop of Riez, said Anne’s eyes were her most attractive feature “always most attractive which she knew well now to use with effect.  Sometimes leaving them at rest and at others, sending a message to carry the secret witness of the heart.  And, truth to tell, such was their power that many surrendered to their obedience” (Riehl 24).  Modern language would refer to her as having star-power or charisma  which was unsettling to people and affected her reputation. Even one of her greatest distracters acknowledged that she was “amusing in her ways” (Sander 25). Nothing less would have kept a man like Henry enthralled and enamored with only her eyes to credit for it.

Anne certainly knew how to make the most of herself.  “She was the model and the mirror of those who were at court, for she was always well dressed, and every day made some change in the fashion of her garments” (Sander 25).  Anne played “well on the lute, and was a good dancer” (Sander 25). Yet, were these talents enough?  Harpsfield questioned how Henry could put aside the virtuous Katharine “for such an incestuous woman, being in all other qualities beside so far inferior to her, as she was in very chastity itself” (Harpsfield 255).  Once again, we are back to the issue of Anne’s reputation.  When the charges against Anne were brought forward, many courtiers who had responded with ‘obedience’ to the pull of her personality needed to justify their actions.  Thus, witchcraft, dishonesty and duplicity were brought forward as rationales.

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Recently confirmed portrait of Anne Boleyn, Royal Collection Archives
http://www.arthistorynews.com/articles/894_Anne_Boleyn_regains_her_head

People felt the need even to justify their religious views. Those who did not support the Reformation said “it now appeared how bad that cause was which was supported by such a patron.  But it was answered, that her faults could not reflect on those who, being ignorant of them,” had supported her. (Burnet 115).  People who were less evangelical raised their “hopes of a reaction built on the fall of those ‘apostles of the new sect,’ Anne Boleyn and her relatives…” but those hopes, “were promptly and roughly destroyed” (Pollard 349).

Understanding the religious differences between Anne’s more evangelical leanings and others of the time (be it moderate Protestants and Roman Catholics) one should realize that she was “her Religion, there is no probability that it should (at first) be other than what was commonly profest” (Herbert, Edward 287).  Besides, her views were popular with many in power at the time as she promoted those clergy who shared her ideas.  It is apparent from “original Letters of hers, that she was a special Favourer of the Clergy of that time, and a preferrer of the worthiest sort of them of Ecclesiastical Livings, during her chief times of Favour with the King” (Herbert, Edward 287).

Those of the old faith were much more vocal against Anne Boleyn, “damned as the cause of all the trouble” (Haigh 141). Anne was blamed for the deaths of Thomas More and Bishop Fisher.  Nevertheless she did not leave off her evil conversation, which at length brought her to shame” (Gairdner X 1036).

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            Sir Thomas More                         John Fisher

Her religious views were not of the extreme variety at the time (although more so than Henry’s).  While she would have created enemies from those who staunchly followed the ‘old faith,’ she did not initially upset people on religious grounds. Her abrasive personality, her willfulness, and her flirtatiousness were things that created negative responses from people.

We see Anne’s elevation was opposed for her religious views and mostly for her lack of virtue as seen in the eyes of the people of the 16th century.  An interesting emphasis placed on the international element comes from Henry William Herbert.  He asserts that Cardinal Wolsey opposed Anne not because of her religious views nor because of her personally; he opposed her elevation because she was not of foreign royal blood.  Her acquisition of the throne would “alienate and affront foreign Princes, breed intestine strifes, and give undue preponderance in the state, to private families” (Herbert, Henry 340). This interpretation proves interesting.  Anne’s preference for France and Cromwell’s (remember Cromwell was Wolsey’s protégé) for the Imperial faction has been previously discussed as an element in Anne’s downfall in the blog entry Path to St. Peter ad Vincula: Part IV.   Here is another case of the interplay between national, even personal policy and foreign policy.  The King was a being of State.  What he did or did not do effected diplomacy—both foreign and domestic.  To marry a subject created discord amongst the English themselves and frustration with foreign nations as the perceived thwart to their ambitions.  In Henry VIII’s immediate predecessors we have examples of what Wolsey feared—strife within the English aristocracy and disgruntled foreign courts.  Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville, yes; Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville, yes; and Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, yes—although the marriage was contracted as a way to end the factional warfare.

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Cardinal Wosley
For References, please refer to the blog entry, 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

 

 

 

 

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-G

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-G

George Constantyne was a member of the entourage of Sir Henry Norris.  As an eyewitness to Anne’s execution, he “was unfavourable to her innocence.”  The opinion was not grounded in any information he received from Norris “nor upon any personal observations which he had enjoyed the opportunity of making while holding the situation [in Norris’ household].” His opinion had been “derived merely from the information or belief of those persons with whom he had conversed at the time of the execution” (“Transcript of an Original Manuscript” 54).  Yet, it would have been difficult for anyone not to believe the heinousness of the accusations as it was “published in parliament that it might from thence spread abroad over all” (Cavendish II 209). 
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The Nidd Hall Portrait depicting a more careworn Queen Anne Bolyen.

Surprisingly, one person who leaned toward believing in Anne’s innocence was none other than her greatest adversary, Spanish envoy, Eustace Chapuys.  The diplomat, while not revealing his source, claimed a lady from Court “sent to tell me in great secrecy that the Concubine, before and after receiving the sacrament, affirmed to her, on the damnation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the King” (Gairdner X 908).  Taking an oath on the sacrament was a very powerful ‘truth serum’ in the Tudor time-period.  Recall that the Earl of Northumberland swore in the same manner that there was never a pre-contract between Anne and him.  All contemporary chronicles believed his oath as they could not fathom that he could have lied on the sacrament in front of two bishops.  Regardless of her innocence or guilt, Anne was scheduled for execution on May 18, 1536, but a delay in the travel of the expert executioner from France moved her death to the following day.  Constable Kingston, always faithful in his reports to Master Secretary Cromwell, let him know that John Skip Anne’s “Almoner is continewaly with hyr, and has bene syns ii of the clock after midnight” (Gairdner X 910).  Anne was preparing for death in the only way she knew.Tower_plan1597
Anne would have stayed at the Queen’s Lodgings (g) before her execution.

Events happened so quickly from the time of Anne’s arrest to her final hours it is difficult to imagine her true mindset.  How could she have absorbed all the implications and possible repercussions?  Was she simply tired of the fight?  For many years she had had to watch for enemies, furrow out sycophants, and expend energy maintaining control. Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, expressed confusion by her approach to death.  He reported in a letter to Secretary Cromwell that Anne requested his presence to hear her speak of her innocence and told him of her disappointment in the delay in her death.  “Mr. Kyngston, I hear say I shall not dy affore none, and I am very sory therfore, for I thowth to be dede by this time, and past my payne. I told hyr it shuld be no payne, it was so sottell” (Gairdner X 910).  And then Anne “said, ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,’ and she put her hands about it, laughing heartily.  I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy and pleasure in death” (Wroithesley 42).  Kingston, being a practical, military man, perceived Anne’s pain as physical, whereas she perhaps was referring to emotional pain.

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The burial marker for Queen Anne Boleyn in St. Peter ad Vincula.

It would not be surprising if Anne would welcome release from the terror and sorrow she had experienced over her final few weeks.  She had witnessed her brother’s death; she lived with the knowledge that innocent men had died on her behalf (from frivolous behavior that had been construed to condemn them all); she had lost the affection and protection of her husband through divorce; she had relinquished the status and role of Queen; she had been abandoned by many from her entourage –including her father; and, she feared for the safety of her daughter. 

Anne’s Arrival at Tower Green
A Portuguese gentleman (who had gone into the Tower and stayed with English friends to circumnavigate the ban on foreigners) wrote to a friend in Lisbon “On the next Friday, which was the 19th of the same month, the Queen was beheaded according to the manner and custom of Paris, that is to say, with a sword, which thing had not been seen in this land of England” (Bell 105). The King had sent to “St. Omer for a headsman who could cut off the head with a sword instead of an axe, and nine days after they sent he arrived” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70).
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A modern marker at the execution site–although this is most likely not the exact site of Anne Boleyn’s execution.  Note the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the background. 

The day before “the Lieutenant of the Tower writ to the Lord Cromwell, that it was not fit to publish the time of her execution” (Smeeton 46).  In order to preserve the solemnity of the occasion this was granted.  It was also reported that Anne requested “that she might be executed within the Tower, and that no foreigner should see her (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70). Consequently, a scaffold “having four or five steps, was then and there set up” (Bell 105).  Anne was escorted from her lodgings by Kingston, she reportedly “looked frequently behind her, and when she got upon the scaffold was very much exhausted and amazed” (Gairdner X 911).  Was she looking literally for an expected last minute reprieve?  Did she think her merciful king would pardon her and allow her to retire to a convent?  Despite her physical manifestation of these possibilities, she stated when pressed to confess, “I know I shall have no pardon, but they shall know no more from me” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70). Anne was prepared for death.  “When she arrived at the scaffold she was dressed in a night-robe of damask, with a red damask skirt, and a netted coif over her hair” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70).  The Queen, “assisted by the Captain of the Tower, came forth, together with the four ladies who accompanied her…” (Bell 105).  Within the Tower Green “were present several of the Nobility, the Lord Mayor of London, some of the Aldermen, and several others, rather as witnesses, than spectators of her fatal end” (Smeeton 46). Those ‘several others’ mentioned were identified as men representing “certayne of the best craftes of London” (Wriothesley 41).
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The grave markers as placed under the altar in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.

Among the gentlemen on the scaffold was “the headsman, who was dressed like the rest, and not as executioner; and she looked around her on all sides to see the great number of people present, for although she was executed inside, there was a great crowd” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 70).  Then Anne “besought the Captain of the Tower that he would in no wise hasten the minute of her death, until she should have spoken that which she had in mind to say; which he consented to” (Urban 56).

Anne’s Speech on the Scaffold
This blogger must ask for the indulgence of the reader at this juncture.  Because Anne’s speech on the scaffold is her last, formal one, it is obviously important.  Several variations exist from contemporaries and from later translations—many have been reproduced below.  The consistency is surprising with differences mostly in the interpretations based on the perspective of the recorder (such as the Catholic Imperial view).  The implications of the intent of her speech will be explored further although there will be no comment on the records as interpretation will be left to the reader.

Our Portuguese source recorded her words as: “Good friends, I am not come here to excuse or to justify myself, forasmuch as I know full well that aught that I could say in my defence doth not appertain unto you, and that I could draw no hope of life from the same.  But I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly to the will of the King my Lord.  And if in my life I did ever offend the King’s grace, surely with my death, I do now atone” (Bell 105).

Her words arrived at the Imperial Court as: “And as the lady looked all round, she began to say these words, ‘Do not think, good people, that I am sorry to die, or that I have done anything to deserve this death.  My fault has been my great pride, and the great crime I committed in getting the king to leave my mistress Queen Katherine for my sake, and I pray God to pardon me for it.  I say to you all that everything they have accused me of is false, and the principal reason I am to die is Jane Seymour, as I was the cause of the ill that befell my mistress.’  The gentlemen would not let her say any more” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 71).

Lancelot de Carles, the French envoy conveyed the image of an unrepentant Anne unwilling to go into details of why she was facing death yet eager to promote the reputation of Henry as she “recommended your good king in whom I have seen such great humanity and the acme of all goodness; fear of God, love of his subjects” (Bernard).

The account offered later by George Constantyne was similar to de Carles.  Anne declared “I do not intende to reason my cause, but I committe me to Christ wholly, in whome ys my whole trust, desirynge you all to praye for the Kynges maiestie that he maye longe regne over you, for he ys a veraye noble prince and full gently hath handled me” (Mackintosh 385).

The English Courier, Charles Wriothesley showed Anne as pliant, “Maissters, I here humbley submit me to the lawe as the lawe hath judged me, and as for myne offences, I here accuse no man, God knoweth them; I remit them to God, beseeching him to have mercye on my sowle, and I beseech Jesu save my soverienge and maister the Kinge, the moste godlye, noble, and gentle Prince that is, and longe to reigne over yow” (Wroithesley 41-42).

The chronicler Edward Hall presented Anne as coming to die, “for aecqrdyng to the lawe and by the lawe I am judged to dye, and therefore I wyll speake nothyng against it.” She would “accuse no man, nor to speake any thyng of that, wherof I am accused and condemned to dye” she would pray that God would save the king and “send him long to reygne over you, for a gentler nor a more mercyfull prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, & soveraygne lorde. And yf anye persone wyll medle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.”  Anne ended by saying “And thus I take my leve of the worlde and of you all, and I heartely desyre you all to praye for me. O Lorde have mercy, on me, to God I comende my soule” (Hall 268).

Sources quoted later by Burnet and Wyatt claimed her words were as follows: “My honourable Lords, and the rest here assembled, I beseech you all, to hear witness with me, that I humbly submit myself to undergo the penalty to which the law hath sentenced me: as touching my offences, I am sparing to speak, they are best known to God: and I neither blame nor accuse any man, but leave them wholly to him: beseeching God who knows the secrets of all hearts, to have mercy on my soul.  Now, I bessech the Lord Jesus to bless and save my Sovereign master the King, the noblest and mercifulest Prince that lives: whom I wish long to reign over you.  He made me Marchioness of Pembroke, vouchsafed to lodge me in his own bosom, higher on earth he could not raise me, and hath done well to lift me up those blessed innocents above” (Smeeton 46).

Anne’s Execution
With her address spoken to the crowd, which Antony Pykeryng reported to Lady Lisle in Calais was “a thousand people”, Anne readied herself for execution (Gairdner X 918).  Although there are several different descriptions of her clothing, all accounts agree that Anne removed her mantle (or cape) of ermine and her English style hood.  She was given a small linen, white cap to cover her hair and after kneeling “fastened her clothes about her feet, and one of the said ladies bandaged her eyes” (Gairdner X 911).  Perhaps she and her ladies practiced these acts because tucking her skirts around her feet must have been done to ensure her modesty if she fell awkwardly—something they discovered during rehearsals?  This blogger would like to remind readers that during execution with a sword there is no use of a block.  Therefore, when chroniclers mention that Anne knelt, she was kneeling as if in prayer; she would not be resting her neck on a block.  Granted execution by a sword was traditionally deemed as more merciful than the axe but the strength to remain kneeling upright awaiting the strike of the sword would require a tremendous amount of courage and self-control.

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The Execution of Anne Boleyn 

So Anne knelt “but the poor lady only kept looking about her.  The headsman, being still in front of her, said in French, ‘Madam, do not fear, I will wait till you tell me.’ The sword was hidden under a heap of straw” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 71). Most sources agree on what happened. While kneeling Anne “said: ‘To Christ I commende my soule, Jesu receive my soule’ divers tymes” (Hall 268-269).  While she prayed, the executioner called out for the sword to be brought to him and when Anne turned her blindfolded face in the direction of the steps, thinking the assistant would carry the sword up, he came up behind her.  And “suddenlye the hangman smote off her heade at a stroke with a sworde” (Wroithesley 41-42).  She died as she lived, boldly.

Anne’s Final Path to St. Peter ad Vincula
With foreigners banned from the execution and Eustace Chapuys, the ready source of information, absent from the thick of things due to illness, his reports were not as reliable as typical.  He reported that Anne’s “head will be put upon the bridge, at least for some time” (Gairdner X 908).  This was not the case.  Immediately after her execution, the ladies attending Anne “fearing to let their mistress be touched by unworthy hands, forced themselves to do so” (Gardiner X 1036).  They quickly wrapped her body in a white cloth and placed it along with her severed head “into a common chest of elm tree, that was made to put arrows in” (Bell 107).  The usually efficient Kingston had not provided a coffin for the body and the case was the only option on hand.  After Anne’s body was placed in the make-shift casket “the body was taken by the ladies, and the whole carried” (Gairdner X 911) the short distance to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, “the church within the Tower and buried” (Hume, Martin “How Anne Was Beheaded” 71).
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Exterior of the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.

For References, please refer to Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part I

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-F

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-F

Is Adultery Adultery If You Are Not Married?
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer visited Anne on May 16th.  Constable of the Tower Kingston reported to Cromwell “the King told me that my lord of Canterbury should be her confessor, and he was here today with her” (Gairdner X 890).  Others believed that Cranmer was not there to offer spiritual comfort but to offer a deal to Anne.  Proof of an offer could be in something Anne said that Kingston relayed to the Secretary.  He told Cromwell, “Thys daye at dynar the Quene sayd that she should go to anonre (a nunnery) and ys in hope of lyf” (Bell 103).  If Anne believed she was going to a nunnery, Cranmer must have assured her that if she agreed to an impediment to her marriage her life would be spared.  As events proved, she may have been offered life, but what she received was the more merciful death by sword instead of burning.
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Letter from Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London to Thomas Cromwell, May 16, 1536. 

Henry, not satisfied with the vengeance of executing Anne, decided to annul his marriage to her and declare Elizabeth illegitimate.  Similar to his sudden recollection after 20 years of marriage to Katherine of Aragon of the impediment of her being his brother’s widow and thus against the teachings of Leviticus, Henry recalled a previous attachment of Anne’s to the Earl of Northumberland, then Lord Henry Percy. Northumberland was brought in for questioning.  He took an oath before two archbishops, that no contract or promise of marriage had existed between him and Anne.  He “received the sacrament upon it, before the duke of Norfolk and another of the privy council; and this solemn act he accompanied with the most solemn protestations of veracity” (Hume III 227).

So why does Anne confess to a pre-contract? Did she and Lord Percy promise to marry each other, per verba de futuro, which “the poor queen was either so ignorant, or so ill advised, as to be persuaded afterwards it was one; though it is certain that nothing but a contract, per verba de praesenti could be of any force to annul the subsequent marriage” (Burnet 263-264). Did she offer a “confession, into which she was frighted, or for some other reasons, tho’ not found upon record” (Smeeton 49).  Did she accept “some hopes of life that were given her, or at least she was wrought on by the assurances of mitigating that cruel part of her judgment of being burnt, into the milder part of the sentence, of having her head cut off” (Burnet 265).  Or had her imminent death “deprived her of all manner of mans, as well as all manner of desire to dispute the point” (Smeeton 49).
lord percy
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

Archbishop Cranmer, in possession of the articles objecting to the validity of the marriage ,called for the King and Queen to “appear in his Ecclesiastical Court at Lambeth to show cause why a sentence of divorce should not be passed.  Dr. Sampson appeared for the King, and Drs. Weston and Barbour for the Queen, by the King’s appointment” (Wriothesley 40). The day after Cranmer met Anne, “sentence was pronounced by the archbishop of Canterbury of the nullity of the marriage between the King and Anne Boleyn, in the presence of Sir Thos. Audeley, chancellor, Charles duke of Suffolk, John earl of Oxford, and others, at Lambeth, 17 May 1536” (Gairdner X 896).  Thus we learn, “at a solomne court kept at Lambeth by the Lord Archbishoppe of Canterburie and the doctors  of the lawe, the King was divorsed from his wife Queene Anne, and there at the same cowrte was a privie contract approved that she had made to the Earle of Northumberlande afore the Kings tyme; and so she was discharged, and was never lawfull Queene of England, and there it was approved the same” (Wriothesley 41).   Most historians cite Anne’s admission to a pre-contract with Lord Percy as the grounds for the nullification of the marriage. (Which makes this blogger wonder why the Northumberland marriage was not dissolved as it would have been invalid also.) Others such as Pollard and Friedmann support Ambassador Chapuys claim that the marriage was “invalid on account of the King having had connection with her sister [Mary Boleyn]” (Gairdner X 909).
Mary_Boleyn
Mary Boleyn

Regardless of which reason was the catalyst to the divorce, many historians offer a sympathetic bend to Cranmer and the nullification proclamation he had to produce.  Hume referred to him as “the afflicted primate” (Hume III 227).  Smeeton proclaimed Cranmer “could not avoid giving sentence” (Smeeton 49). As mentioned previously, Cranmer was a practical man and knew his survival depended on providing what Henry VIII wished, yet he was not alone in indulging the King. “These particulars are repeated in the act that passed in the next parliament, touching the succession to the crown…” (Burnet 265).  Henry’s children with Katherine and Anne were declared illegitimate and he was granted the right to “designate his heir by letters patent or by his will.  This enactment furnishes a striking proof of the King’s absolute power” (Butler 408).  The process in the “Ecclesiastical Court was submitted, after Anne’s death, to the members of the Convocation and the two Houses of Parliament; and the Church, Commons, and Lords, ratified it” (Wriothesley 41).  So “the meeting of Parliament (June 9, 1536), was found to be wholly subservient to the wishes of the King” (Butler 408-409).  Therefore, divorce from Anne Boleyn was not the only outcome Henry had aimed for; he had to have her dead. Anne discredited and dead would enable any successive marriages and offspring to be without taint. “He would have his bed free from all such pretensions, the better to draw on the following marriage” (Smeeton 48).  The new Parliament met and passed the act proclaiming the divorce between Henry and Anne and declared all previous issue as illegitimate.  “Moreover the act confirmed Anne Bullen’s sentence as being grounded upon very just causes and settled the crown after the king’s death upon the issue of queen Jane, or of any other queen whom he might afterwards marry” (Thoyras 424).  Henry certainly covered all the angles while maintaining an escape clause as well.
anne boleyn signature
Signature of Anne the Queen.

Knowing Anne could be flirtatious, indiscrete and open in her interactions with others, Henry accepted her guilt.  He ignored the rationale that he could “trust her innocence and had reason to be assured of it, since she had resisted his addresses near five years, till he legitimated them by marriage” (Burnet 319).  This man, who was previously so passionate toward his wife, not only cruelly executed her but besmirched her reputation and stained the childhood of his daughter with the question of her legitimacy. Rumors advanced to such a degree that Ambassador Chapuys wrote to Cardinal Granville “that the Concubine’s daughter was the bastard of Mr. Norris, and not the King’s daughter” (Gairdner X 909).  A Portuguese dispatch proclaimed that after Anne’s execution “the Council declared that the Queen’s daughter was the child of her brother and that she should be removed from her place” (Gairdner X 1107).
a and e
Queen Elizabeth and her visual likeness to her mother, Anne Boleyn.

As mentioned in a previous blog, there were numerous political, religious and social reasons for Henry’s move against Anne.  There were also personal ones.  Henry was determined to marry Jane Seymour.  A divorced Anne would still be the Marchioness of Pembroke—wealthy with powerful allies.   Anne faced the reality.  Recognizing her death was imminent, she would have agreed to conditions Archbishop Cranmer presented to her.  Recognizing her daughter’s safety depended on her actions, she gratefully grasped the more merciful death by sword.  Recognizing Henry’s malice, she ignored the obvious issue:  If she were not legally married to Henry because of a pre-contract or affinity then there was no treason based on adultery.

For References, please refer to Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part I

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-D

Path to St. Peter ad Vincula-Part VI-D

It is not the intent here to explain the entire proceedings of the trials of the men in question.  It shall suffice to say that the evidence was flimsy at best and non-existent in most cases.  Even Ambassador Chapuys, an outspoken opponent of Anne, recognized that with only one of the men confessing to the alleged crimes, the “others were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession” (Gairdner X 908). 

Indicted in the counties of Kent and Middlesex, as the locations of the alleged treason, Court records show that Anne and the accused were not even in the same surroundings at the same time. Regardless, on May 12th the four commoners, Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton, were tried in Westminster Hall by a Commission of Oyer and Terminer and found guilty in Westminster Hall by the “lords of the Kinges Counsell” (Wriothesley 36).  Judgment was given, that they should be drawn to the place of execution, and some of them to be hanged, others to be beheaded, and all to be quartered, as guilty of high treason” (Burnet 263). All “the gentlemen were beheaded on the Skaffolde at the Tower hyll” (Hall 268). 
A Trial for High Treason, in Westminster Hall, during the Tudor period
A trial for high treason in Westminster Hall during the Tudor period, albeit a 17th century drawing.

Anne’s Letter to King Henry VIII
Henry VIII was the targeted recipient of a letter from Anne while she was in the Tower.  Is it a forgery?  This blogger will not take a position on that issue.  Granted there are unusual circumstances surrounding its discovery. Found with Sir William Kingston’s letters among Cromwell’s papers, scholars have agreed that stylistically it is from the Tudor Era.  Also agreed, the document is not in Anne’s handwriting.  This is not actually a deal breaker since it can easily be explained as being a copy.  At the top of the sheet the letter is “endorsed, ‘To the King from the Ladye in the Tower’ in Cromwell’s handwriting” (Bell 99). It does not make sense why Cromwell would refer to Anne as ‘The Ladye in the Tower’ unless he did not want to call attention to the missive but wanted to preserve it. Because of the location amongst Cromwell’s papers many historians find it plausible to be authored by Anne.

The “pathetical letter” has been described as “farther proof of the innocence” of Anne (Smeeton 48).  She “pleaded her innocence, in a strain of so much wit and moving passionate eloquence, as perhaps can scarce be paralleled: certainly her spirit is were much exalted when she wrote it, for it is a pitch above her ordinary style” (Burnet 319). The “letter contains so much nature, and even elegance, as to deserve to be transmitted to posterity…” (Hume, David 458).  Regardless of her expressiveness, the plea never reached Henry’s hands—maybe she knew that would happen which is why she gave way to her frustration over Jane Seymour and did indulge in some scolding.  Worthy of reading it is reproduced in its entirety below.

“Sir, your grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, as what to write or what to excuse I am altogether ignorant.  Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth, and so obtain your favour) by such an one whom you know to be mine ancient professed enemy, I no sooner received this message by him than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your command. 

‘But let not your grace ever imagine that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault where not so much as a thought thereof preceded.  And, to speak a truth, never 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 been so pleased.  Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queenship, but that I always looked for such an alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your grace’s fancy the least alteration I know was fit and suffient to draw that fancy to some other object.  You have chosen me from a low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire.  If then you found me worthy of such honour, good your grace let not any light fancy, or bad counsel of mine enemies, withdraw your princely favour from me: 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.  Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and judges; yea let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see either mine innocence cleared, your suspicion and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared.  So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your grace may be freed from an open censure; and mine offence being so lawfully proved, your grace is at liberty both before God and man not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unlawful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some good while since have pointed unto, your grace not being ignorant of my suspicion therein.

‘But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander, must bring you the enjoying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that he will pardon your great sin therein, and likewise mine enemies, the instruments thereof, and that he will not call you to a strict account of your unprincely and cruel useage of me, at his general judgment seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear, and in whose judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocence 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 displeaure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen who (as I understand) are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake.  If ever I have found favour in your sight, if ever the name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing in your ears, then let me obtain this request, and I will so leave to trouble your grace any farther, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your grace his good keeping, and to direct you in all our actions.  From my doleful prison in the Tower, this sixth of May; Your most loyal and ever faithful wife, –Anne Boleyn” (“Condemnation of Anne Boleyn” 289).
Anne Boleyn Hever
Anne Boleyn, Hever Portrait

Trials and Tribulations:
Beyond the accusations of adultery and incest–this charge was brought against her brother “because he had been once found a long time with her” (Gairdner X 908), Anne was “accused of having conspired with these five men to bring about the death of the king, and of having said that she did not love him, and that after his death she would marry one of her lovers”  (Friedmann II 262-263).  The indictment claimed that “despising her marriage, and entertaining malice against the King, and following daily her frail and carnal lust, did falsely and traitorously procure by base conversations and kisses, touchings, gifts, and other infamous incitations, divers of the King’s daily and familiar servants to be her adulterers and concubines, so that several of the King’s servants yielded to her vile provocations” (Gairdner X 876). Whether these were truths, “or the effects of imagination and vapours, cannot be certainly determined at this distance.  It is probable there had been some levities in her carriage that were not becoming” (Burnet 111).

‘Levities in her carriage’—the Council’s reaction to indiscretions seems rather severe to modern eyes.  This is why it is difficult for present day students to grasp the magnitude of Henry’s personality, the strength of his sycophantic Court and the effects of the social, political and religious institutions of the Tudor Era. Could Anne have been divorced and set aside as her successor Anne of Cleves would be?  Most likely not.  Anne of Cleves had powerful international connections which made her survival more important; she did not have any children who needed to be clearly shown as illegitimate; and she followed Anne Boleyn—circumstances were altered because of what happened in 1536. Henry, and more importantly Cromwell, saw the need to eliminate Anne Boleyn, destroy her reputation, weaken the powerful factions at Court and send a message to the world—Henry VIII was in control in England (Okay, based on the charges against Anne, he could not control his wife, but assuredly no one was going to make that connection to him).

On May 15, 1536, the Queen was brought into the King’s Hall of the Tower of London “where was made a chaire for her to sitt downe in, and then her indictment was redd” (Bell 102).  Anne was arraigned “for treason againste the Kinges owne person” (Wriothesley 37).  The crimes charged on her were that “she had procured, her brother and the other four to lie with her, which they had done often; that she had said to every one of them by themselves, that she loved them better than any person whatsoever: which was to slander the issue that was begotten between the king and her and this was treason, according to the statute made in the twenty sixth year of this reign….  It was also added in the indictment, that she and her accomplices had conspired the king’s death” (Burnet 263-264). Ales claimed the Queen had been “accused of having danced in the bedroom with the gentlemen of the King’s chamber and of having kissed her brother” (Stevenson 1303).  Chapuys reported that “there was a promise between her and Norris to marry after the King’s death,” she had “laughed at the King and his dress,” and “certain ballads that the King composed” were snickered at by Anne and her brother “as foolish things, which was objected to as a great crime” (Gairdner X 908).

Court proceedings were not conducted in secret for there were more than 2,000 persons present and documents exist in the Public Records Office which show the trial was conducted “with a scrupulousness without a parallel in the criminal records of the time” (Bell 103).  Twenty-six peers tried Anne and George Boleyn with the Duke of Norfolk acting as Lord High Steward accompanied by “the duke of Suffolk, the marquis of Exeter, the earls of Arundel, Oxford, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Derby, Worcester, Rutland, Sussex, and Huntington; and the Lords Audley, Delaware, Montague, Morley, Dacres, Cobham, Maltravers, Powis, Mounteagle, Clinton, Sands, Windsor, Wentworth, Burgh, and Mordaunt” (Burnet 263-264).  For details of the trial see materials by Bell, Burnet, Cavendish, Friedmann and Howell to name a few.  This blog entry will direct comments to specific areas of interest.

thomas howard norfolk
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Anne’s uncle and judge

Obviously the verdict was a foregone conclusion.  Though unassisted by counsel, Anne “made so wise and discreete aunsweres to all thinges layde against her, excusinge herselfe with her wordes so clearlie, as thoughe she had never bene faultie to the same” (Wriothesley 37-38).  She defended herself so well “the spectators could not forbear pronouncing her entirley innocent” (Hume 328).  Alas, it was for naught.  Not only was it Henry’s will that Anne be found guilty but logically with her trial coming after four men had been found culpable of adultery with her, the chances of her being reprieved were non-existent no matter what the evidence or lack thereof.

Anne Boleyn Museum Lit Sci
An engraving of Anne Boleyn’s trial by Kearney from a painting by Smirk

The Commission could not bring Smeaton, the only person who confessed to a crime, forward to confront the Queen because he had been convicted three days earlier and could not be used as a witness.  Therefore, the evidence brought in was hearsay and unsubstantiated.  Many historians have discussed the role of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford (Anne’s jealous sister-in-law); Lady Bridget Wingfield (a lady of the bedchamber who had died in 1534–the evidence used was a letter written by Bridget to someone else about Anne); and, Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester (Anne’s lady-in-waiting who initiated infidelity rumors in early 1536).  “From such arguments as those which were advanced against the Queen … no probable suspicion of adultery could be collected” (Stevenson 1303).

“Rochford was said to have been arrested for having connived at his sister’s evil deeds” (Friedmann II 256) and for “having spread reports which called in question whether his sister’s daughter was the King’s child” (Gairdner X 908). This last accusation is preposterous!  Why would a man whose very livelihood depended on his royal connections infer his niece was not of royal blood?  Interestingly, Chapuys, no friend to the Boleyns, claimed that Rochford defended himself against the charges so well “several of those present wagered 10 to 1 that he would be acquitted, especially as no witnesses were produced” (Gairdner X 908).  Acquittal was not in the plans.  The Bishop of Carlisle told Chapuys that the “King had said to him, among other things, that he had long expected the issue of these affairs” (Gairdner X 908).

George_Boleyn_signature
Signature of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford

For References, please refer to Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part I