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

Kingston had instructions from Cromwell to record anything of significance that Anne said. For this reason, those appointed to wait on her were to be forbidden to speak with her unless Lady Kingston was present.31 Master Secretary was evidently hoping that she would incriminate herself out of her own mouth, and thus bolster the case being drawn up against her. Kingston was faithfully to obey his orders, and his reports are preserved in the Cotton manuscripts in the British Library; they were damaged in the fire that swept through the Cottonian Library in 1731, but were seen and largely transcribed before then by the antiquary John Strype who printed them in his Ecclesiastical Memorials of the Church of England under King Henry VIII in the eighteenth century. These letters give vivid insights into Anne’s imprisonment and her state of mind while she was in the Tower.32

  The ladies and servants who had been chosen to attend the Queen were waiting to greet her in the presence chamber. Anne’s old nurse, Mrs. Mary Orchard, had been chosen as one of her two chamberers (domestic servants)—an unexpected kindness, this—along with the “Mother of the Maids,” Mrs. Stonor, the former Margaret (or Anne) Foliot, who was married to Sir Walter Stonor, he being the King’s sergeant-at-arms and a prominent courtier; Mrs. Stonor later became a maid-of-honor to Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife.

  Anne had also been allocated two menservants (probably grooms or ushers) and a boy. But the Queen could not have been pleased to see the other four ladies, who were clearly spies chosen by Cromwell to watch and report on the prisoner. There was her aunt, Elizabeth Wood, Lady Boleyn, the wife of her father’s younger brother, Sir James Boleyn of Blickling Hall in Norfolk, who, despite being chancellor of Anne’s household, had—perhaps pragmatically, seeing his niece heading for ruin—switched his allegiance to Lady Mary.33 Another aunt had also been set to spy on Anne: her father’s sister, Lady Shelton, she who had helped make life a misery for Lady Mary.

  We might pause here to consider if Lady Shelton was more willing to spy on Anne and work for the downfall of Norris and Weston on account of their cavalier treatment of her daughter Madge. In February 1535, reasoning that if the King had to have a mistress it should be someone sympathetic to herself, Anne had maneuvered Madge Shelton into his path. The brief affair that ensued soon petered out, but not before it caused Anne bitter pangs of jealousy and sullied the Shelton girl’s reputation; by 1536, Madge Shelton was betrothed to Sir Henry Norris, but clearly (as will be seen) Sir Francis Weston thought she was fair game. Anger at the compromising of her daughter may well have turned Lady Shelton against Anne and her faction.

  Yet Lady Shelton had perhaps been nursing another grievance against Anne for some time. As we have seen, she was forced to follow the Queen’s instructions and make Lady Mary’s life a misery, which ill-treatment only served to reinforce the girl’s suspicion that the Boleyn faction was trying to do away with her. Yet although Anne’s letters to Lady Shelton reveal that she placed great trust in her, and there is no hint of any falling out between them, it is possible, even likely, that Lady Shelton resented the role she was forced to play, and that remorse had bred in her a desire to be revenged on the niece who had driven her to such cruelties, and to distance herself from them.

  There may also have been a third reason for Lady Shelton’s defection. Her son, John Shelton, was married to Margery Parker, the sister of Lady Rochford,34 and it is possible that the Sheltons were disposed to be sympathetic to Jane Rochford’s complaints against her husband, even to the extent of believing in her allegations of his incest with the Queen, and viewing Jane as a deeply wronged woman. If so, it is hardly surprising that Lady Shelton was willing to cooperate with Cromwell. On the other hand, she—and Lady Boleyn—may well have felt that, above all other considerations, it was politic to do so, since the Boleyn faction was hurtling headlong to destruction. Whatever her motives, Lady Shelton had learned from Anne how to treat a disgraced royal lady, and she now had the opportunity of putting that knowledge into practice once more.

  The other two chief attendants who were to be employed as spies were Mary Scrope, Lady Kingston, Sir William’s second wife, who perhaps was not enjoying good health at this time, for her husband had described her as “my sick wife” the previous January;35 she had served Katherine of Aragon and was a friend of Lady Mary, so cannot have been sympathetic toward Anne. Lastly, there was Margaret Dymoke, Mrs. Coffin (or Cosyn), the wife of William Coffin, who was the Queen’s Master of Horse and one of the King’s long-favored Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, and resided—when not at court—at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. He would be knighted the following year, by which time his wife was in the service of Jane Seymour.36 The Coffins were related by marriage to the Boleyns. Mrs. Coffin was “a gentlewoman appointed to wait upon the Queen here, and that lay on her pallet bed;”37 it was normal practice for a servant to share a royal bedchamber and attend to any needs of their master or mistress during the night.

  Anne viewed these ladies with dismay; by her own later admission, she had never liked any of them, and she was perhaps aware that the feeling was mutual; above all, she was angry with Henry for appointing them,38 and she must surely have guessed why they were there. Cromwell was no doubt hoping that, with a little baiting and pressure, she would give rein to her notoriously indiscreet tongue and incriminate herself.

  As was customary with prisoners of rank, Anne was to take her meals with her custodian, Sir William Kingston. That first evening in the Tower—Kingston wrote on May 3 that “all these sayings was yesternight”—Anne, who was evidently aware of her peril, and of the need to proclaim her innocence, desired Kingston, perhaps while they were at table, “to move the King’s Highness that she might have the sacrament in the closet by her chamber, that she might pray for mercy.” Certainly arrangements were immediately made for her to take Holy Communion that evening, because on May 7 she would recall, “I knew of Mark’s coming to the Tower that night I received the sacrament; it was ten of the clock ere he were well lodged, and I knew of Norris going to the Tower.” Evidently this was the first she had heard of these arrests. She did not as yet know that her brother had been taken.

  She was anxious to make it clear to the constable that there was no reason why she should not receive the sacrament. “My God, bear witness there is no truth in these charges,” she declared to him, “for I am as clear from the company of man as from sin, [and] as I am clear from you; and am the King’s true wedded wife! Master Kingston, do you know wherefore I am here?”

  “Nay,” Kingston replied, doubtless as he had been told to do. Cromwell was no doubt working on the premise that the less Anne knew, the more she might reveal.

  “When saw you the King?” Anne persisted.

  “I saw him not since I saw him in the tiltyard [on May Day],” he told her.

  “Master Kingston, I pray you tell me where my lord my father is,” Anne demanded to know.

  “I saw him afore dinner in the court,” Kingston replied.

  Working herself up into what Cavendish called “the storms of deep desperation,”39 she cried, “Oh, where is my sweet brother?”—which, in the circumstances, probably sounded pretty damning.

  “I said I left him at York Place,” Kingston reported, “and so I did.” Anne did not at this stage know of the shameful charge that was soon to be made against her and her brother, and she was perhaps hoping that Rochford would speak to the King on her behalf and stoutly defend her. She must also have imagined his distress when he heard of her arrest—and, of course, there is always the remote possibility that she had indeed committed incest with him, and knew there was much to fear. Her next words, coming immediately after her question about her brother, suggest that the awful truth might have been dawning on her.

  “I hear say that I should be accused with three men,” Anne said, “and I can say no more but nay, without I should open my body.” And so saying, “she opened her gown,” spreading her skirts in a dramatic and symbolic gesture, saying, “Oh, Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou art in the Tow
er with me, and thou and I shall die together.” Her words reveal her awareness of the fate that might well await her, and her reference to dying together supports the theory that she was close to Sir Henry, but not necessarily in an intimate way, although her enemies would see it in that light.

  Then her thoughts turned to the other named man accused with her. “And Mark, thou art here too,” she said, becoming agitated again. “Oh, my mother, thou wilt die for sorrow,” she wept, “with much compassion,” as it struck her how badly the news of her arrest, with all its dread and shocking implications, would affect that lady, for just two weeks earlier Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Wiltshire, had been described by one of Lady Lisle’s correspondents as being “sore diseased with the cough, which grieves her sore”40—and indeed, she was to die just two years later. Anne would have been aware of how ill she was.

  Maybe the thought of her mother was too much to bear, for she quickly changed the subject and “much lamented my lady of Worcester, because her child did not stir in her body.” The Countess of Worcester, of course, had been the first person to lay evidence against Anne.

  “What should be the cause?” Lady Kingston asked.

  “It was for the sorrow she took for me,” Anne told her, referring perhaps to her miscarriage, or to the fear and misery she had suffered over the intervening weeks, which she had perhaps confided to the countess. It might also have been remorse over being pressured into betraying her mistress; and as a consequence of that, there would be even more cause for Elizabeth Browne to feel sorrow and guilt, because her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Somerset, was married to William Brereton,41 who had apparently been named by Smeaton as one of the Queen’s lovers.

  Then the Queen turned to the constable. “Master Kingston, shall I die without justice?” she asked.

  “The poorest subject of the King hath justice,” he replied, provoking bitter laughter in the Queen, who knew very well that persons accused of high treason were rarely acquitted, especially if it were known that the King wanted them condemned. She must have been aware that her enemies were out for her blood—and she knew that her husband was the most suggestible of men. She would have known also that her protestations of innocence would avail her little, for the law did not allow her access to any lawyer or adviser, or any legal representative who could speak for her in court.42

  Henry was by now resolved to be rid of Anne, in every respect. On the day of her arrest, he ordered Archbishop Cranmer to find grounds for annulling their marriage and declaring their daughter a bastard. There must be no impediment to any children he might have by Jane Seymour taking precedence in the order of succession to the throne.

  Anne was already doomed. There was no way Henry VIII or his advisers were going to risk a repeat performance of what had happened when the King tried to set aside Katherine of Aragon. She had not gone quietly, but held her ground and stood up for her rights for nine tortuous years, maintaining—even after he had their marriage annulled and married Anne—that she was the King’s true wife and her daughter his lawful heir. Anne might be unpopular, but she still had a considerable number of powerful relatives and supporters of the reformist persuasion, who might make trouble on her behalf. The way had to be cleared for the King to make a third, undisputed marriage, and that could only be achieved literally over Anne’s dead body.43

  By nightfall on May 2, most people at court had learned of the Queen’s arrest. Never before had a queen of England been charged with adultery and imprisoned in the Tower. Chapuys was almost jubilant, and at once penned a somewhat self-congratulatory letter to the Emperor:

  Your Majesty will be pleased to recollect what I wrote to you early in the last month touching the conversation between Cromwell and myself about the divorce of this King from the Concubine. I accordingly used several means to promote the matter, both with Cromwell and with others, of which I have not hitherto written, awaiting some certain issue of the affair, which in my opinion has come to pass much better than anybody could have believed, to the great disgrace of the Concubine, who, by the judgment of God, has been brought in full daylight from Greenwich to the Tower of London, conducted by the Duke of Norfolk, the two chamberlains of the realm and of the Chamber, and only four women have been left to her.

  Chapuys was convinced that the Almighty had ordained Anne’s fall in vengeance for the wrongs she had inflicted on the late Queen Katherine and Lady Mary, and he felt no pity whatsoever for her. He went on:

  The report is that it is for adultery, in which she has long continued with a player on the spinet of her chamber, who has been this morning lodged in the Tower, [along with] Master Norris, the most private and familiar body servant of the King, for not having revealed these matters.

  Chapuys obviously did not as yet know that Norris had also been accused of adultery with the Queen, but he had heard that:

  … the brother of the Concubine, called Rochford, has also been taken to the Tower, but more than six hours after the others, and three or four hours before his sister.44

  The ambassador had no doubt at this stage that Anne was guilty as charged; this dramatic—and fortuitous—new development only served to confirm his low opinion of her. He had known already that her days as queen were numbered.

  Even if the said crime of adultery had not been discovered, this King, as I have been for some days informed by good authority, had determined to abandon her.

  He then went on to inform the Emperor of the abortive plan to have the union annulled on the grounds that Anne had secretly married the Earl of Northumberland some years earlier.

  These news are indeed new, but it is still more wonderful to think of the sudden change from yesterday to today, and the manner of [Anne’s] departure from Greenwich to come hither [to the City of London, where Chapuys had his house], but I forbear particulars, not to delay the bearer, by whom you will be amply informed.45

  This dispatch shows that Chapuys, for all his connections at court and his efforts to further Imperialist interests and befriend Cromwell, was not quite at the center of affairs, and was certainly not privy to everything going on in the privy apartments and the council chamber. Yet he had been able to discover, or had been fed, certain information, such as that concerning Northumberland’s possible precontract with Anne.

  Sir Francis Bryan was to reveal in June that, “upon the disclosing of the matter of the Queen,” Sir Nicholas Carew, Sir Anthony Browne, Sir Thomas Cheyney, Knight of the Body to the King, “and the rest of his fellows of the Privy Chamber [were heard] saying that they rejoiced that the King had escaped this great peril and danger, and that the issue the King might have, if he took another wife, should be out of all doubt.”46 Out of all doubt also, in their minds, was the Queen’s fate.

  Most people appear to have agreed with Chapuys and Bryan that Anne was guilty, including the populace at large. Her dismal progress along the river had not passed unnoticed, while Cromwell’s agents may have been at work spreading the official version of events, and very soon—within a matter of hours—the sensational news of her arrest and imprisonment was all around London. “The City rejoiced on hearing the report, hoping that the princess would be restored.”47

  That the reports became somewhat garbled and embroidered in the process, and that there was little doubt of what the outcome would be, is clear from a letter written from London on May 2 by a panic-stricken Roland Buckley (or Bulkeley), a poor lawyer of Gray’s Inn, to his brother, Sir Richard Buckley, Norris’s friend, who enjoyed some influence with the King, but who, in his capacity as Knight Chamberlain of North Wales and deputy to Norris, had made an enemy of the powerful Brereton:

  Sir, ye shall understand that the Queen is in the Tower, the Earl of Wiltshire, her father, my Lord Rochford, her brother, Master Norris of the King’s Privy Chamber, one Master Mark of the King’s Privy Chamber, with divers other sundry ladies. The cause of their committing there is of certain high treason committed concerning their Prince, that is to say that Master Norris should have a
do with the Queen, and Mark and the other [be] accessories to the same. They are like to suffer, all there, more is the pity, if it pleased God. Otherwise I pray you make you ready in all the haste that can be, and come down to your Prince, for you yourself may do more [to intercede for the accused] than twenty men in your absence; therefore make haste, for ye may be there ere only a word be of their death. When it is once known that they shall have died, all will be too late, therefore make haste!

  Some details reported by Buckley were incorrect: Anne’s father had not been arrested, nor had any ladies. It is often assumed that Buckley, anticipating that rich pickings would be had in the wake of the arrests, wanted to ensure that Sir Richard got his share, but it is more likely that he was urging Sir Richard to hasten to London in order to use his influence on behalf of those who had been arrested; Cromwell evidently thought that was his purpose, for Buckley’s courier was halted at Shrewsbury, relieved of his letter and clapped into gaol. The letter was forwarded to Cromwell, and Sir Richard never knew how nearly he was embroiled in the political drama being acted out in London. Within three months he would have attached himself to the Seymours.48

  Had Roland Buckley been obeying a chivalrous impulse to champion Anne’s cause, or that of the men accused with her, his would have been virtually a lone voice, for Anne had never been popular; she had few powerful friends in England or abroad to speak up for her, and now hardly anyone was prepared to make any protest at her arrest. Most people appear to have believed—or to have affected to believe—that Anne was capable of the crimes of which she had been accused, and even that it had been her “full intent lineally to succeed to this imperial crown.”49

  From the time of Anne’s committal to the Tower, Henry VIII’s behavior was typical of a man confronted with appalling evidence of his wife’s infidelity, and whose masculine pride has been deeply wounded. He avoided parading his humiliation in public, and remained incommunicado until all was over.50

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