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, 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 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, 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.
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).
Signature of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford
For References, please refer to Path to St. Peter ad Vincular Part I