The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

  Wiltshire, Anne’s father, is not known to have attempted to defend either of his children, and was probably living in fear for his own neck at this time. Westmorland, a privy councillor who attended to matters of law, had a long record of loyal service to Henry VIII, as did Sussex, who had received his earldom for supporting the King in the divorce, and long enjoyed his master’s confidence. Lord Sandys was a great favorite of Henry. Paulet, a man much trusted by the King, was to serve the Crown faithfully through four reigns.

  Of the judges on the commission, FitzJames, a former Attorney General, had been Chief Justice of the King’s Bench and Chief Baron of the Exchequer, offices now held by his fellow commissioner, Sir Richard Lister. FitzJames had conducted the prosecution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and was one of the judges who condemned More and Fisher in 1535, as had Baldwin, who was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and enjoyed a similarly distinguished legal career. Port was a justice of the King’s Bench, who had served on the commission of oyer and terminer that brought More and Fisher to trial. Sir John Spelman, whose Commonplace Book offers unique insights into the legal process against Anne Boleyn, was another judge of the King’s Bench, and had also been one of the commissioners who tried More and Fisher. A discreet courtier, he was held in esteem by Cromwell, and in April 1537, in return for his service on the grand juries, he was granted the manor of Gracys in Norfolk.97 Sir Walter Luke was also a justice of the King’s Bench. FitzHerbert, Englefield, and Shelley were justices of the Court of Common Pleas, and the former had also been a member of the tribunal that condemned More. Shelley, no reformist, was not one of Cromwell’s favorites, but nevertheless took part, on the Crown’s behalf, in all the important state trials of the period.

  Of the Kent jurors, Edmund Page, the MP for Rochester, had opposed the Act of Restraint of Appeals, one of the crucial landmarks of Reformation legislation, which had been aimed at preventing Katherine of Aragon from appealing her case to Rome, so he was not likely to be sympathetic to Anne Boleyn. Nor, surely, were two Middlesex jurors, Giles Heron, Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law, and Sir Giles Alington, who had married More’s stepdaughter.98 Alington was under government suspicion because of his link to More, and his presence on the grand jury suggests that his loyalty was being tested.

  No one could say that these men were not competent to examine the evidence against the Queen, for they included among their number the premier lords and chief judges of the land. Yet all had prospered under Henry VIII and enjoyed his favor, or needed to prove their loyalty, and therefore not one was likely to risk his prosperity and status by incurring his displeasure. Moreover, the jurors were no doubt in some awe of the nobles and law lords on the commission, and anxious to take their cue from them. Nearly every petty juror was a servant of the Crown, a creature of Cromwell, and no friend to Anne.99 Yet for all that, the outcome of the inquiry was by no means a foregone conclusion; had it been, and were there any truly damning evidence at this stage, it is highly unlikely that the King would have appeared in public with Anne at the Greenwich jousts on May 1. And there is no evidence that the jurors had any knowledge of the King’s will in this matter, or that they were suborned into submission.

  The appointing of such commissions was routine, and although the opening words announced that “our lord the King has entrusted this case” to his “most esteemed and faithful” lords and “relatives” named in these documents, it has been suggested that Henry VIII may not have been privy to what was afoot.100 He was not at Westminster on the day the commission was appointed, but at Greenwich.101 His signature was not needed and the necessary documents could be issued by the Chancery in his name on the instructions of the Lord Chancellor. Yet Henry had authorized Cromwell to investigate further, and several of the highest-ranking nobles in the land were appointed to the grand juries. The institution of such a commission was a significant event.102 With a compelling vested interest in the outcome, it is highly unlikely that Henry VIII would not have been aware of what was going on.

  Outwardly, though, Henry—a notoriously great dissembler—was still giving every impression that he intended to continue in his marriage. He was planning to take Anne with him to Dover and Calais (then an English possession) at the end of the month, the trip having been arranged some weeks earlier, with a view to the King inspecting the new harbor and fortifications at Dover.103 At this time, he was preoccupied with making a decision as to whether to ally himself with Charles V or Francis I, and on April 25, in a letter sent to Richard Pate, to his ambassador in Rome, and to Gardiner and Wallop, his envoys in France, he instructed them to oppose the demands of the Emperor because of “the likelihood and appearance that God will send us heirs male [by] our most dear and most entirely beloved wife, the Queen.”104 Taken at face value, this suggests that Henry was still sleeping with Anne, and it could even imply that she was pregnant again, which is highly unlikely.105 We should not read too much into him publicly referring to her in such affectionate terms, because he was merely using the conventional style employed by royalty when writing of their spouses.

  On April 25, when that letter was composed, the council sat all day and late into the night, almost certainly discussing the crisis over foreign alliances, and perhaps debating the fate of the Queen.106

  Anne had her daughter with her at Greenwich; among the final entries in her household accounts, relating to April 28, were payments for silver and gold fringe and gold and silver buttons for a saddle for the King, two leading reins “with great buttons and long tassels” for Princess Elizabeth, and—the last entry of all—“a cap of taffeta with a caul of damask gold.”107 But such innocent and normally enjoyable maternal pleasures were undoubtedly overshadowed by a sense of impending disaster, for the Queen, her wits sharpened by worry and fear, had already somehow sensed or learned that something sinister was afoot. With her household being closely interrogated, how could she, with her clever, sharp mind, have failed to suspect what was going on? And of course, if she were guilty, there was even more cause for apprehension. Her father, Wiltshire, had perhaps got wind of something ominous at meetings of the Privy Council,108 or maybe, in private, the King had given her cause to be fearful,

  That Anne already feared something ill might befall her, and realized that Elizabeth would be left in a very vulnerable position,109 is clear from her seeking out, on or soon after Wednesday, April 26 (“not six days before her apprehension”), her chaplain of two years, Matthew Parker. Parker was thirty-two and one of a group of Cambridge reformists that included the future martyr, Hugh Latimer. He was a moderate man, a great evangelical preacher and an independent thinker who despised religious intolerance, and those qualities had earned him the admiration of the like-minded Anne Boleyn, whose chaplain he had reluctantly become a year or so earlier. The King liked him too—in 1537 he would make Parker one of his own chaplains—which is probably why Anne felt there was some hope of Parker being able to carry out her wishes. What he stood for and believed in was what she wanted for her daughter.

  Anne charged Parker with the care of Elizabeth, should anything happen to her. She did not reveal what she feared, but it is likely to have been that, in the event of her marriage was annulled, she might be forbidden to see her child, or Elizabeth might be bastardized. She can have had little idea of what actually would befall her.

  Her plea made a profound impression on the chaplain. Years later, when Elizabeth was queen and he had become her first Archbishop of Canterbury, he would dedicate himself to her service and tell her secretary, William Cecil, that “he would fain serve his sovereign lady in more respects than his allegiance, since he cannot forget what words Her Grace’s mother said to him not six days before her apprehension.”110 Unfortunately for posterity, he did not say what those words were.

  On April 27 writs summoning Parliament—and a letter commanding the Archbishop of Canterbury from his palace at Knole—were issued,111 paving the way for any legal process against the Queen to be formally endorsed.112 It was
reported to Lord Lisle the following day that “the council has sat every day at Greenwich,” while Chapuys says that on Tuesday, April 25, the councillors “assembled in the morning till nine or ten at night;” their business was said to have been connected “upon certain letters brought by the French ambassador,”113 although again, it is more than likely that the matter of the Queen was also extensively discussed.

  Chapuys was to reveal, on April 29, that Dr. Richard Sampson, Dean of the Chapel Royal, “has been for the last four days continually with Cromwell. One of his servants has told me he is to be sent as ambassador to the Emperor, which I do not believe, as Cromwell has said nothing about it.”114 Dr. Sampson was one of the leading experts on canon law, and Cromwell may have been discussing with him possible grounds for annulling the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Sampson would be appointed Bishop of Chichester in June 1536, possibly as a reward for the advice he had given Cromwell at this time,115 and for acting as the King’s proctor when the case went before Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

  On April 28, at dinner, Chapuys was told by Geoffrey Pole, the younger brother of Lord Montagu, that someone—possibly Cromwell—had asked John Stokesley, Bishop of London, “if the King could abandon the Concubine”—that is, have their marriage annulled. Stokesley was close to the King: he had long been a councillor and chaplain to Henry, had productively supported him in the annulment of his first marriage and the establishment of the royal supremacy, and had christened Princess Elizabeth in 1533. But his reply was dismissive: “He would not give any opinion to anyone but the King himself,” he said, “and before doing so he would know the King’s own inclination.” Chapuys thought he meant “to intimate that the King might leave the Concubine, but that, knowing his fickleness, he would not put himself in danger,” presumably of public scandal and disapprobation. The ambassador added that, although “the bishop was the principal cause and instrument of the first divorce, of which he heartily repents, he would still more gladly promote this, since the said Concubine and all her race are such abominable Lutherans.” But since it was uncertain which way the wind was blowing, “the bishop would not risk the effects of the Concubine’s displeasure if there were a chance of her remaining in favor.”116

  Speculation about a nullity suit was rife. On May 2, Chapuys reported that the King, “as I have been for some days informed by good authority, had determined to abandon [Anne]; for there were witnesses testifying that another marriage passed nine years before had been made and fully consummated between her and the Earl of Northumberland, and the King would have declared himself earlier, but that someone of his council gave him to understand that he could not separate himself from the Concubine without tacitly confirming not only the first marriage, but also, what he most fears, the authority of the Pope.”117

  Anne had had an affair with the Earl of Northumberland—of which more later—and the possibility of a binding precontract between them was without doubt raised at this time, and was perhaps connected in some way with Bishop Stokesley being asked to comment on the King’s prospects of securing an annulment; for Chapuys would not otherwise have known of Anne’s affair with the earl, which had ended in 1523, six years before he arrived in England. But it happened thirteen years earlier, not nine, and there had been no marriage, so his source was probably not someone who was as well-informed as, say, Cromwell would have been.

  The fact that an annulment was being discussed at this stage perhaps suggests that the King and his advisers were by no means certain there would be sufficient evidence to prosecute the Queen, and that some felt a divorce might be an easier means of removing her. However, it is more likely, in view of what was shortly to transpire, that Cromwell, and possibly the King himself, anticipating that Anne would soon be a convicted traitor, were looking for means to have her marriage dissolved and her daughter disinherited.

  As he was to reveal to the Emperor on May 2, Chapuys wrote to Lady Mary at this time, informing her of this momentous development and claiming that he himself had been instrumental in bringing it about, telling her that he hoped to bring the matter to a successful conclusion. He added that Elizabeth would almost certainly now be excluded from the succession, and that Mary herself might be restored, albeit after any children that Jane Seymour might bear the King. Mary wasted no sympathy on the woman who had for so long cast a malign shadow over her life, and replied to Chapuys that it was her wish that he should help, and not hinder, any divorce proceedings: he was to “promote the matter, especially for the discharge of the conscience of the King her father. She did not care a straw whether her father had lawful heirs or not, though such might take away her crown, nor for all the injuries done either to herself or the Queen her mother, which, for the honor of God, she pardoned everyone most heartily.” All Mary cared about now was that Anne be gotten rid of. Guided by her, Chapuys “used several means to promote the matter, both with Cromwell and with others,” with a view to securing Anne’s removal and making Jane queen.118

  Sir Nicholas Carew in particular was proving indefatigable. The ambassador observed, “It will not be the fault of this Master of the Horse if the Concubine, although his cousin, be not dismounted. He continually counsels Mistress Seymour and other conspirators to make an assault; and only four days ago, he and some persons of the [Privy] Chamber sent to tell the Princess [Mary] to be of good cheer, for shortly the opposite party would put water in their wine, the King being already as sick and tired of the Concubine as he could be.”119 We might infer from this that Carew was aware of the formal proceedings against Anne.120 Sir Francis Bryan too, by his own admission in June 1536, was often involved at this time in secret discussions with Mary’s supporters in the Privy Chamber about a new marriage for his master the King; among them were Sir Anthony Browne and Sir Thomas Cheyney, both of whom were to be proactive in bringing down Anne Boleyn. Bryan also at this time visited a fellow scholar, Henry Parker, Lord Morley, the father of Lady Rochford, traveling to Morley’s house at Great Hallingbury, Essex, possibly in a bid to seek his support. Morley was on friendly terms with Cromwell,121 and his young kinsman, another Henry Parker, was one of Bryan’s servants.122

  Outwardly, though, life was going on as normal. The King was still planning to take the Queen with him to Calais on May 4,123 departing for Dover (where Anne was expecting Lady Lisle to receive her) immediately after the jousts planned for May Day. Before boarding their ship, they were to inspect the fortifications at Dover. On their previous visit to Calais, in October 1532, three months before their marriage, Henry and Anne had just become lovers, with interconnecting bedchambers at the Exchequer Palace. Did Anne dare now hope that, on revisiting that palace, Henry’s former love for her might be rekindled?

  If so, it was a vain hope. By April 29, as preparations for the visit were going ahead, the Privy Council had formally been informed of the planned judicial proceedings against the Queen, and rumors of her imminent disgrace began circulating at court.


  Unlawful Lechery

  Meanwhile, Cromwell and his colleagues had been carrying out their master’s orders. Spies were already at work in the Queen’s household, “watching her privy apartments night and day” and “tempting her porter and serving men with bribes; there is nothing which they do not promise the ladies of her bedchamber. They affirm that the King hates the Queen because she has not presented him with an heir to the realm, nor was there any prospect of her so doing.”1

  “In most secret sort, certain persons of the Privy Chamber and others of [the Queen’s] side were examined.”2 The inquiries that were made in the Queen’s household must by now have alerted several of those questioned to what was going on, and it may be that some of those who served Anne had old scores to settle.

  In the course of these investigations, the councillors questioned “many other witnesses,”3 including Lady Rochford, Anne’s sister-in-law; “in which examination[s],” Cromwell later wrote, “the matter appeared so evident, that besi
des that crime with the accidents, there broke out a certain conspiracy of the King’s death, which extended so far that all we that had the examination of it quaked at the danger His Grace was in.”4 Anne, it was alleged, had not only taken lovers, but conspired with them to murder Henry VIII so she could marry one of them and rule England in her infant daughter’s name.

  Plotting the death of the King was high treason, the most heinous of all crimes, for the sovereign was the Lord’s anointed, divinely appointed to rule. “Kings of England,” Henry VIII once told his judges, “never had any superior but God.” The royal prerogative was regarded as the will of God expressing itself through the will of the King. Thus anyone who offended against the King was punished with the greatest severity. Here was the capital charge that Cromwell needed, yet its very incongruity argues that it was merely a device for getting rid of Anne. For it is patently clear that Anne reveled in being a queen, a rank she had aspired to for many years, and it is therefore highly unlikely that she would ever have contemplated throwing away her status, her greatness, and her power, in order to marry a man who was far below her in rank and could give her nothing on a par with what the King had to bestow. Never mind the fact that the unpopular Anne was hardly likely to have intrigued to murder the King, who was her chief protector and defender—the death of Henry would have been “absolutely fatal” to her.5

  Since 1536 there has always been a strong suspicion that Cromwell threw everything he could against Anne Boleyn, including the useful ploy of character assassination, in order to get rid of her. It is probably no coincidence that her alleged crimes were so heinous as to inspire universal shock and revulsion, which would preclude anyone taking up her cause. That way, the King would emerge from this the victim of a woman’s wickedness rather than a man who changed wives at a whim; and as such, he would earn the sympathy of all.

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