Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

  She heard a voice crying for silence, then the gruff tones of Uncle Norfolk, who—Kingston had told her—was acting as Lord High Steward on this occasion, calling, “Gentleman Jailer of the Tower, bring in your prisoner.”

  An usher appeared at the door, and at his nod, Anne held her head high, as became a queen, and followed him into the vast aisled hall, aware of a thousand eyes upon her. The benches and the stands that lined the length of the walls were packed with spectators. She knew she cut a regal figure in her gown of black velvet, worn over a kirtle of scarlet damask, and a small bonnet sporting a black-and-white feather. They had been among the items of apparel that had been bundled into a chest and delivered to the Tower shortly after she arrived.

  She was heartily thankful that the uncontrollable hysteria of her first week in captivity had abated, leaving her calm, dignified, and ready to face whatever Fate—or Henry—had in store for her. God, she felt, walked by her side, and from Him she would gain her strength.

  She tried not to look at the Gentleman Jailer of the Tower, who walked beside her carrying his ceremonial ax, its blade turned away from her to signify that she was as yet uncondemned. Ahead of her was Uncle Norfolk, enthroned under a cloth of estate bearing the royal arms, for he represented the King. He leaned on the long white staff of his office, and on a chair at his feet sat his son, her cousin Surrey, grasping the golden staff that Norfolk wielded as Earl Marshal of England. At the Duke’s right hand sat Lord Chancellor Audley, and at his left the Duke of Suffolk, who could both be trusted to do the King’s bidding.

  On either side stood the peers who had come to try her—two dozen and more of them, all familiar faces, many belonging to men she had once called her friends. Some were staunch partisans of the Lady Mary, others relations or favorites of the King. She could not look for much help there. She noticed Harry Percy, looking drawn and ill. And, God save her, Father was there too, red-faced and not meeting her eye. At the sight of him she faltered for a moment. What kind of monster would command a father to judge his own children? Had Henry sunk so low? Or did she have Cromwell to thank for this?

  He was there, Master Secretary, looking important and smug. His eyes bore down on her in triumph. He had won, he was telling her. He had nothing more to fear from her. She resolved to expose him for the villain he was.

  Her gaze took in the Lord Mayor of London with his aldermen, sheriffs, and guildsmen. There was the French ambassador and other foreign diplomats; but Chapuys—whose derision she had dreaded—was nowhere to be seen.

  A great platform had been raised in the center of the hall. She stepped up to it, walked to the bar, and curtseyed to her judges, her eyes raking them all. She would not show them any sign of fear. To a man, they bowed, and Norfolk invited her to be seated on the fine chair that stood on the platform. She sat down, arranging her skirts elegantly about her. Next to the chair was a small table on which had been placed her crown, as if to remind those watching of her exalted rank. They would have brought it over from the Jewel House next door.

  With much flourishing of papers and clearing of his throat, Sir Christopher Hales, the Attorney General, rose to read the indictment. His voice rang out. “Whereas Queen Anne has been the wife of King Henry VIII for three years and more, she, despising the solemn, most excellent and noble marriage between our lord the King and her, and having in her heart malice against our lord the King, and being seduced by evil and not having God before her eyes, and following daily her frail and carnal appetites, did falsely and traitorously procure, by base conversations and kisses, touches, gifts, and other infamous inducements, many of the King’s close servants to be her adulterers.”

  Anne put up her hand. “Not guilty,” she said firmly. “This is all lies.”

  Sir Christopher glared at her. “Madam, you shall have your say. Pray allow me to finish. Ahem. Several of the King’s servants yielded to her vile provocations.” He named Norris, Weston, Brereton, and Smeaton, then read out a long list of the dates on which adultery was supposed to have taken place. She listened in growing amazement that whoever had compiled it could have been so careless.

  It was shameful having to listen to descriptions of herself enticing, by sweet words, kisses, caresses, and worse, her co-accused to violate her, and having illicit intercourse. But it was the dates that, above all else, drew her attention. They were many of them impossible, because either she or the gentleman in question had not been in that place at that time, or not together. And yet it had been made impossible for her fully to refute the charges because of the frequent assertion in the indictment that adultery had been committed on many occasions before and after the date listed. This, as she had feared, was a travesty of justice.

  “Not guilty,” she said again.

  She was wondering what part George was supposed to have played in all this, and when Sir Christopher would get to the charges of conspiracy, when she heard his name.

  “Also”—and here the Attorney General paused for effect—“that the Queen procured and incited her own natural brother, George Boleyn, knight, Lord Rochford, to violate her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George’s mouth, and the said George’s tongue in hers, and also with kisses, presents, and jewels, against the commands of Almighty God, and all laws human and divine. Whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all other human laws, violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister.”

  She could have died of shame. She was trembling so violently that she thought she would die. This was outrageous! It was bad enough that they had made her out to be the basest and most wanton monster, but they could not seriously be suggesting that she had bedded George? It was foul, abominable and sickening, and if her cheeks were flaming, it was because she was revolted by such filth.

  “Not guilty!” Her voice rang out loudly.

  But Sir Christopher had not finished. “Furthermore,” he continued, “the Queen and the other traitors compassed and imagined the King’s death; and the Queen frequently promised to marry one of the traitors whenever the King should depart this life, affirming she would never love the King in her heart.”

  “Never!” she declared. “This is utter calumny.”

  Sir Christopher, in full flight, was not to be deterred. “My lords, think of the effect of all this upon our sovereign lord the King. Having come only a short time ago to hear of these false and detestable crimes, vices, and treasons committed against himself, he has suffered such inward displeasure and heaviness that certain harms and perils have befallen his royal body, to the scandal, danger, and detriment of the heirs of the King and Queen.”

  Henry was suffering? What about her, having all these vile, unjust accusations flung at her in public? It was hard to sit there patiently, listening to them, while trying to look like the innocent person she was. She felt dirty, sullied, almost as if she were guilty.

  At last Sir Christopher stopped speaking. “You may answer the charges now, madam,” he told her.

  It was important to stay calm and not protest too much, but this was the moment she had longed for. She looked around the hall at all the people staring at her expectantly. “I have never been false to the King,” she insisted. “I remember well that, on about half of the days on which I am charged with adultery, I was not even in the same house as the gentleman concerned, or I was with child, or had recently given birth. Ask your wives, my lords, what woman wants dalliance with a man at such a time?” There was a murmur of laughter. Good. She had some of them, at least, with her.

  “But think: what does charging me with adultery on these dates imply?” she went on. “It is a foul slur on my issue with the King, a hint that he did not sire my children, and I find that shocking. Impugning the royal succession is treason—and in making these charges my accusers are guilty of it! And on at least one of the days I am supposed to have seduced my paramours, I knew myself to be under constant surveillance. My lords, I am not that much of a fool.” There was more laughter.

  She waited u
ntil it had died down. “But now I must refute the serious charge of conspiring the death of the King. It is the most heinous of them all, and high treason of the first order. If I were guilty of it, then I should say that I deserved to die. But when I allegedly first plotted this treason, the Princess Dowager was yet alive, and what would it have availed me? For if the King had died then, there might well have been a rising in favor of the Lady Mary, or even civil war.” She paused to let that sink in. “What would it have profited me to kill my chief protector and ally myself in marriage with any of those men? None of them could have given me what the King gave me.”

  She braced herself to go on. “As for the charge of incest, it is plain that my enemies have conjured it purely to arouse outrage and revulsion against me. And in regard to all the accusations of adultery, committing that crime would have been impossible without the connivance of the ladies waiting on me, who are witnesses to my private doings. And yet none have been charged with misprision of treason.” She looked defiantly around the court, gratified to hear some murmurs of assent. “Moreover,” she went on, emboldened, “I knew I stood in danger from my enemies. I could not have been more wary and wakeful, for I knew their eyes were everywhere upon me, and that their malicious hearts were bent on making some mischief where they found none. What half-wit would commit misconduct knowing they were so closely watched?”

  The Attorney General and Cromwell stood up.

  “Admit it, the charges are all justified,” Sir Christopher barked.

  “I refute them utterly,” she insisted.

  Cromwell spoke. “There was a promise, was there not, between you and Norris to marry after the King’s death, which you hoped for?”

  “No, there was not.” She would not deign to look at him.

  “You danced in your bedchamber with gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber?”

  “I danced with them in my privy chamber, and my ladies were always present.”

  “You were seen kissing your brother, Lord Rochford.”

  “My lords, I do protest!” Anne cried. “Which of you have wives, sisters, and daughters who do not kiss their brothers from time to time?”

  Cromwell ignored that. “You cannot deny that you wrote to your brother, informing him that you were with child?”

  “Why should I not? I informed all my family. Since when has it been a crime?”

  “Some might see it as proof that your brother had fathered your child.”

  She responded to that with the contemptuous silence it merited, raising her eyebrows.

  Sir Christopher returned to the attack. “You and your brother laughed at the King’s attire and made fun of his poetry.”

  She would not deign to answer that either. They really were raking for muck.

  “You showed in various ways that you did not love the King and were tired of him. My lords, is this not shocking conduct in a woman whom the King had honored by marrying her?” The lords nodded sagely.

  “I love my lord the King, as I am by honor and inclination bound to do,” Anne protested in a loud voice. “I have maintained my honor and my chastity all my life long, as much as ever a queen did. This case you have constructed against me is nothing but calumny!”

  That set many to murmuring, and she sensed that they were expressing doubts and suspicions in regard to the prosecution’s case. Some were looking at her and nodding approvingly.

  “But your paramours have confessed.”

  “Four of them pleaded not guilty,” she reminded them. “That leaves the wretch Smeaton. One witness is not enough to convict a person of high treason.”

  “In your case it is sufficient,” Cromwell said. “Besides, we have the witness depositions. Let them be read.”

  They added nothing new to the Crown’s case, but Anne was deeply hurt to hear that Lady Worcester had testified to her alleged relations with George and Smeaton, and Lady Wingfield had confided to a friend that the Queen was a loose woman.

  “But Lady Wingfield is dead,” Anne objected, “so her testimony can only be hearsay, which I believe is inadmissible as evidence. I repeat, everything you have alleged against me is untrue. I have committed no offense.”

  The Attorney General looked at her as if she were speaking in a foreign tongue. “That concludes the case for the Crown,” he intoned. “My lords, will you consider your verdict?”

  The lords nodded their assent, and began conferring with each other. Hardly able to bear the tension, Anne watched as several walked over to commune with their fellows on the other side of the hall. She searched their faces for some sign of what they were thinking, but it was impossible to tell. They were giving nothing away. Her mouth felt dry and her hands clammy. All she wanted now was for this ordeal to be over.

  Eventually Suffolk signaled to Sir Christopher Hales.

  “My lord of Surrey, I call upon you first to give your verdict,” the Attorney General said.

  “Guilty!” Surrey declared.

  “My lord of Suffolk?”


  “My lord of Worcester?”


  “My lord of Northumberland?”

  Harry Percy stood up. His face was deathly pale, but his voice was strong. “Guilty!”

  And then—what else had she expected?—every other earl and baron among them stood up, each in his turn, and said the same, until Sir Christopher came to her father, who looked like a broken man.

  “My lord of Wiltshire?”

  Father rose slowly to his feet. He was struggling to speak.

  “My lord?”

  “Guilty,” he muttered.

  They had forced him to this, Anne knew, even as she was horrified that he had condemned her. He had bought his safety by betraying his children. That was more terrible to her than her own peril. And yet he had Mother to think of. He was salvaging what he could of his life—but he would have to live with what he had done.

  Sir Christopher Hales was regarding Anne sternly. “Prisoner at the bar, you will stand to receive judgment.”

  She stood up. Everything seemed unreal. She was barely aware of the speculative murmurs rippling along the benches.

  Suffolk came to the bar and addressed her. “Madam, you must resign your crown into our hands.”

  By that she knew the worst. She lifted the crown and gave it to him, aware that in this symbolic act she was ceremonially divesting herself of the trappings of her rank. All her power had come to this.

  “I am innocent of having offended against His Grace,” she declared, but Suffolk remained impassive.

  “In the name of the King, I degrade you from your title of lady marquess,” he proclaimed.

  “I give it up willingly to my lord my husband who conferred it,” she replied, aware that the title of queen had not been mentioned. They could not take that away—at least, not now. It was hers under the Act of Succession, which had named her Queen by statutory right, not just by right of marriage to the King.

  A hush descended as Norfolk sat up straight in his chair. She was astonished to see tears streaming down his cheeks. No doubt they were for his family’s lost honor and status, and the jeopardizing of his own career by this scandal, rather than for her.

  He fixed his martinet gaze on her. “Because you have offended against our sovereign lord the King’s Grace in committing treason against his person, the law of the realm is this, that you have deserved death; and your judgment is this: that you shall be burned at the stake here within the Tower of London on the Green, or you will have your head smitten off, according to the King’s pleasure.”

  There was a shriek from the back of the stands, and Anne glimpsed Mrs. Orchard in a state of unspeakable distress. The justices were muttering indignantly, clearly unhappy about the sentence. “It should be one thing or the other,” she heard one say. “It is unfair on the prisoner.” Norfolk glared at him. Suddenly Harry Percy slumped in his chair, apparently unconscious. The lords nearby moved to help, and ushers came hastening to
carry him out. Had it been too much for him, knowing that the girl he had once loved was the woman he had just condemned to a terrible death?

  They were waiting for her to speak now. She still felt calm. She could not connect these dread events to herself. It was as if the whole trial had taken place in a dream. She looked down at her skirts, wondering if they would expect her to go royally garbed to her burning. What a waste of good clothes that would be.

  And then the awful realization of what lay in store for her sank in.

  “O Father, O Creator, Thou who art the way, the life, and the truth knoweth whether I have deserved this death,” she cried out, raising her eyes to Heaven. She looked desperately at her judges. “My lords, I will not say your sentence is unjust, nor presume that my defense can prevail against your convictions. I am willing to believe that you have sufficient reasons for what you have done; but they must be other than those which have been produced in court, for I am clear of all the offenses laid to my charge. I have ever been a faithful wife to the King, though I do not say I have always shown him that humility which his goodness to me merited. I confess I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion and wisdom enough to conceal at all times.”

  She paused, bowing her head in humility, then her voice rang out strong and true. “But God knows, and is my witness, that I have not sinned against him in any other way. Think not I say this in the hope to prolong my life, for He who saves from death has taught me how to die, and He will strengthen my faith. I know these, my last words, will avail me nothing but for the justification of my chastity and honor.” She looked directly at her father, who would not meet her eye. “As for my brother and those others who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them, but since I see it so pleases the King, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace and joy, where I will pray to God for the King and for you, my lords.”

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