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


  Cromwell was to write to Stephen Gardiner, the King’s envoy in Rome, that the Queen’s lovers—note the plural, suggesting again that Norris also confessed—disclosed under interrogation things “so abominable that a great part of them were never given in evidence, but clearly kept secret.”45 He could have been implying that they had indulged in forbidden sexual practices with Anne. In an age in which even marital intercourse was not supposed to take place on holy days or during pregnancy or menstruation, and oral sex and masturbation were seen as utterly sinful, to hint at such things was effectively to accuse Anne and her lovers of unbridled depravity. Yet the question remains, why were these things not made public, thus bolstering the Crown’s case? Was it to protect the King’s honor from further scandal? Or was it that these men had confessed to homosexual activity, which was punishable by death? If so, that could hardly have been alleged against them, given that they were supposed to have repeatedly committed adultery with the Queen; it would have substantially undermined the whole case. The other, more likely, possibility, of course, is that they had confessed to nothing of the kind, and Cromwell was merely bolstering his case with fabrications.

  At dawn the next morning, Norris was taken under guard to the Tower.46 On entering his prison, he was permitted to see his chaplain, and told him he had never betrayed the King, reiterating, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than be guilty of such a falsehood.”47

  Around the same time, Mark Smeaton was also committed to the Tower.48 George Constantine, Anthony Anthony, and the “Spanish Chronicle” all give the date of his arrest as May 1, Constantine saying that Mark was brought to the Tower in the morning, and Anthony claiming he was taken there at six P.M. Anthony was Surveyor of the Ordnance at the Tower, and should have been in a position to know when Smeaton arrived, but it seems he was mistaken, because Chapuys, writing on May 2, states that Smeaton had been taken to the Tower early that morning, and that Lord Rochford followed after dinner (which was served at court between ten A.M. and one P.M., depending on one’s rank and where one ate), “more than six hours after the others.” This was to be corroborated by Anne herself, referring to the fact that accommodation was not found for Smeaton in the Tower until ten o’clock on the evening of May 2.49

  Rochford, who had followed the King back to York Place,50 had been arrested and conveyed downriver to the Tower,51 apparently without having been subject to any interrogation.52 According to Lancelot de Carles, he was heard to remark that “he had well-merited his fate,” but that information sounds suspiciously as if it was “leaked” to the French embassy by official sources. Rochford’s arrest was so discreetly accomplished that few, least of all the Queen, knew he had gone. Even Chapuys had no inkling of what was to happen next.

  CHAPTER 7

  To the Tower

  Anne spent part of the morning of May 2, watching a game of tennis. Her champion won, and she was regretting not having placed a bet on him1 when a gentleman messenger came and bade her, “by order of the King,” present herself before the Privy Council at once.2 For a queen to be thus summoned was strange and portentous indeed, and Anne must have felt deep trepidation as she entered the council chamber, especially as her most powerful protector, the King her husband, had gone to Westminster. Contrary to the traditional version of her story, which shows her as being taken completely unawares by the events of May 2, it is more than likely that she had been half expecting something like this to happen. Why else would she have entrusted Elizabeth to Matthew Parker’s care, or tackled Henry with Elizabeth in her arms? If the crowds of courtiers who had huddled in speculation at Greenwich the night before were aware that something momentous was afoot, Anne must have been too, and she surely had cause to suspect that it concerned herself.

  There were three grave-faced men present in that council chamber, who all respectfully rose to their feet. They were her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk; Sir William FitzWilliam, who had that morning returned to Greenwich from London, after committing Norris to the Tower; and Sir William Paulet, the King’s comptroller. Norfolk, as we have seen, had long since fallen out with Anne, and she could not expect him to be sympathetic toward her now. Even so, in the days to come the duke would betray his private distress at her plight. Nevertheless, his overriding sense of self-preservation, and his relentless ambition, were forcing him to be complicit in her destruction.

  Without preamble these lords informed Anne of the powers granted to the royal commissioners, accused her of “evil behavior,” formally charged her with having committed adultery with Sir Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, and one other whom they did not name, and told her that both the named men had already admitted their guilt.3

  Anne denied the charges,4 but it did her no good. Cavendish says she protested that she was the King’s true wife and that no other man had ever touched her. She would have realized that the crimes laid against her were grave, and it must have been immediately obvious that her enemies were determined to destroy her. Worst of all, she can have been in no doubt that the King her husband had ordered her arrest.

  The lords were very severe with her. Four days later she was to complain, “I was cruelly handled at Greenwich with the King’s Council, with my lord of Norfolk, that he said, ‘Tut, tut, tut.’ As for Master Treasurer,” she went on, “he was in the forest of Windsor.” Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, was later to comment to Cromwell, “You know what she means by that,” from which we may infer that “the forest of Windsor” was a euphemism for something else. It has erroneously been assumed that “Master Treasurer” was the Earl of Wiltshire, Anne’s father, and that he was hunting at Windsor,5 but FitzWilliam had replaced him in that office in 1525, and was clearly present at the Queen’s interrogation and arrest. Her remark may have been a reference to Sir Brastius, one of the knights in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, a book that was very popular at this time, and well known at court. Sir Brastius became a hermit in the forest of Windsor, and because hermits lived silent, solitary lives, Anne may have been implying that FitzWilliam was uncommunicative when she was before the council. There is no evidence that she was “cruelly handled” physically by Norfolk and FitzWilliam;6 their cruelty, as she saw it, was probably verbal. She received better treatment from “Master Comptroller,” Sir William Paulet, whom she called “a very gentleman.”7

  After charging her, the lords had her escorted back to her apartments and left her there under guard while her dinner was served. The meal was a dismal affair,8 with Anne distressed when the King’s waiter did not arrive to wish her, on her husband’s behalf, “Much good may it do you,” as he customarily did. She also noticed the ominous silence of her ladies, and her servants struggling to conceal tears, which further unnerved her. The cloth had only just been removed, and she was still at table, seated under her canopy of estate, and wearing a sumptuous gown of crimson velvet and cloth of gold, when Norfolk returned at two o’clock with Cromwell; Lord Chancellor Audley; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford; William, Lord Sandys, the Lord Chamberlain; and several lords of the Council. With them, according to the “Spanish Chronicle,” was the captain of the King’s guard, who had come to Greenwich “with a hundred halberdiers in the King’s great barge.” The writer of this chronicle could not have been an eyewitness to many of the events he describes, and his account of Anne’s fall is often inaccurate, melodramatic, and mostly fabricated, but he lived in London and may well have seen those halberdiers going to Greenwich in that barge. He also had contacts in the Tower itself, and may have gotten some of his information from them.

  Norfolk had in his hand a scroll of parchment—the warrant for the Queen’s arrest. Anne rose to her feet and asked the lords “why they came.” Norfolk replied that “they came by the King’s command to conduct her to the Tower, there to abide during His Highness’s pleasure.” (This gives the lie to the “Spanish Chronicle” editor’s assertion that Anne at first believed she was being taken to York Place to see the King.) She could have been in no doubt that h
er situation was serious, but at that time the Tower cannot have appeared quite as menacing a place as it would later, for no royal personage had as yet been executed there.

  “If it be His Majesty’s pleasure, I am ready to obey,” Anne answered, calmly enough, and then, “without change of habit, or anything necessary for her removal, she committed herself to them.”9 She was not given time to pack clothes or personal possessions, say good-bye to her child, or summon her women, but was informed that money would be provided for her needs while she was in the Tower; the fact that the constable would be allocated £25.4s.6d (£8,800) for her food shows that she was served as befit a queen during her imprisonment.10 Her household, however, was left behind at Greenwich.11

  The councillors conducted Anne to the waiting barge.12 It was usual for state prisoners to be conveyed to the Tower under cover of darkness, but Anne Boleyn made the journey “in full daylight,”13 under guard, accompanied by Audley, Norfolk, Cromwell, Sandys, Oxford, and Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower.14

  Kingston, who was to have custody of the Queen during her imprisonment, was now, as he put it that year, “in the midst of mine age”15 (he was to die in 1540), but he had been “a very tall, strong knight” in his triumphant jousting days, when he tilted against the King.16 He was a soldier courtier who had served as a yeoman of the chamber as far back as 1497, being promoted to gentleman usher by 1504. Since then he had enjoyed a distinguished military and diplomatic career, as well as the King’s favor over many years, and had held the office of Constable of the Tower since 1524.

  Described by a Venetian ambassador in 1519 as a “creature” of Wolsey’s, Kingston had supported Henry VIII’s nullity suit against Katherine of Aragon and played an official role at Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533. Yet Chapuys thought him wholly devoted to the late Queen Katherine and her daughter, and he may indeed secretly have sympathized with them, for he once referred to Anne as being “unjustly called Queen.”17 Yet whatever his private opinion, and for all his professed belief in her guilt, while she was in his charge he was to behave toward her with courtesy and humanity—as he had to Cardinal Wolsey at the time of his arrest in 1530—and would come to feel admiration for her courage.

  As they sat in the barge, Norfolk repeated to Anne, with a good deal more sanctimonious tut-tutting, that “her paramours had confessed their guilt,” but he got no satisfaction from it, for she disdained to reply. Strickland says she passionately protested her innocence and begged to see the King, but Norfolk just replied, “Tut, tut.” Anne thereupon declared with desperate bravado that “they could not prevent her from dying their queen,” and made a gesture toward her neck. Again the tale comes from one of the later sources consulted by Strickland, and may be apocryphal. But the news of Anne’s arrest had certainly spread rapidly, and large crowds were to be seen flocking to the riverbanks to see her conveyed to prison.

  “About five of the clock at night, the Queen, Anne Boleyn, was brought to the Tower of London.”18 Today, it takes thirty minutes by river bus to get there from Greenwich; Anne had been arrested around two o’clock and been made to leave her lodgings immediately,19 so even allowing time for walking through the palace to where the barge was waiting at the privy stairs, which were flanked by stone statues of heraldic beasts, three hours seems a long time for such a short journey. It is possible that the Queen had to be held under guard at Greenwich until the tide changed.

  The oarsmen steered the vessel toward the Byward Tower, then known as the Tower by the Gate,20 and Anne “came to the Court Gate.”21 It is often incorrectly stated that she entered the Tower through the water gate below St. Thomas’s Tower, which later became known as Traitors’ Gate, but in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was usual for kings and queens to use the Court Gate in the Byward Tower, the private entrance to the Tower of London from Tower Wharf, this entrance having been originally built by Edward I in the thirteenth century, although the gate through which Anne passed (which survives today) had been constructed in the fifteenth century. The Court Gate led on to Water Lane, the thoroughfare in the Outer Ward that runs parallel with the River Thames, and it was just a short walk along there, past the rear of the Lieutenant’s House on the left, to the entrance to the palace, where the Queen was to be lodged.

  Alexander Aless, returning home from Greenwich, had scarcely crossed the Thames and reached London when the cannon on Tower Wharf “thundered out,” announcing to the world the incarceration of a “person of high rank.” He was told that “such is the custom when any of the nobility of the realm are conveyed to that fortress, there to be imprisoned.”22 The cannon fire must have given rise to much excited speculation in London.

  Waiting to greet the Queen at the Court Gate was Kingston’s deputy, the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Edmund Walsingham, he who famously reminded the imprisoned Sir Thomas More that “orders is orders,” and who infamously consigned one of his own servants to the notorious Little Ease—a cell so small that anyone confined in it could neither stand up nor lie down—for attempting to help a prisoner escape. Anne was to be fortunate, insofar as her dealings with the Tower officials were limited to the more sympathetic constable.

  Faced with the stark reality of her situation, the Queen’s composure was disintegrating; there is no evidence that she started screaming, as at least one historian has asserted, although she seems already to have been in a fragile state: it was only three months since she had miscarried,23 and during that time she had suffered increasing anxiety and fear, culminating in her arrest. After disembarking at the privy steps at the Court Gate and “entering in” the Tower, she “fell down on her knees before the lords” on the cobblestones, “beseeching God to help her as she was not guilty of her accusement.”24 She must have looked a pitiful sight, “her soul beaten down with afflictions to the earth,”25 for she would have been aware that it was rare for anyone accused of treason to escape condemnation and death. The councillors made no comment but formally committed her to the custody of the constable. As they made to depart, Anne got to her feet and “desired the said lords to beseech the King’s grace to be good unto her; and so they left her there, prisoner.”26

  Kingston reported to Cromwell the next day that, after Norfolk and the councillors had departed to their barge, he “went before the Queen into her lodging.” The “Spanish Chronicle” has him taking her by the arm, and her saying to him, “I was received with greater ceremony the last time I entered here,” recalling how she had come in triumph before her crowning in 1533. The constable himself later reported that she asked fearfully, “Mr. Kingston, do I go into a dungeon?”

  “No, madam, you shall go into your lodging that you lay in at your coronation,” the constable told her. He was referring to the Queen’s apartments in the royal palace, which had been refurbished for her at great expense three years earlier.

  “It is too good for me!” Anne cried. “Jesu, have mercy on me!”

  This was a strange observation for a woman who had just protested that she was not guilty of the crimes of which she was accused. If she were indeed innocent—and that had to be presumed until she was condemned—then she deserved to be accorded the respect due to her rank and to be comfortably housed as queen. Moreover, the news that she was to be held in such state, and not in a dungeon, might have been cause for optimism and an uplifting of spirits. Anne’s assertion that it was too good for her might suggest that she knew herself to be guilty of something. But maybe she was just too hysterical to know what she was saying, for after uttering these strange words, Kingston reported, she “kneeled down weeping a great pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, and she hath done [so] many times since.”

  Kingston must have applauded the decision to lodge Anne in the Queen’s apartments, since his wife was to be in attendance on her, and it would make things easier for that lady to be housed in comfort. It is unlikely that this decision had been made by the constable;27 the orders had probably been relayed through Cromw
ell. Anne was still the Queen of England, and not as yet convicted of any crime, and even when she was, she would still be honorably housed in the Tower. She was never treated as a common prisoner.

  Kingston now conducted her to her lodgings, which lay on the east side of the inner ward between the Lanthorn Tower and the Wardrobe Tower, and had been rebuilt three or four years earlier.28 Although the Tower palace was a favored royal residence for centuries, it had become outdated by the Tudor period, and Anne only stayed there once, with the King, on the two nights before her coronation. In 1532-33, in anticipation of that triumph, Cromwell, on Henry’s orders, spent £3,500 (£1,276,000) on repairs and improvements, so Anne might be accommodated in suitable splendor. The walls and ceilings were decorated in the “antick” Renaissance style, and the luxurious apartments comprised a “great” (presence) chamber, a closet leading off that appears to have been used by Anne as a private oratory, a dining chamber embellished with a novel “mantel of wainscot with antick,” and a bedchamber with a privy. Since Anne left these rooms for her coronation in June 1533, they had lain deserted. By the end of the sixteenth century they would be uninhabitable,29 and at the end of the eighteenth, they would be dismantled.30

 
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