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

  Henry was apparently ready to believe anything of Anne. He would shortly manifest the conviction that she was a monster not only of lechery but also of cruelty. The latter was, to him, probably entirely credible. She had hounded Wolsey nigh unto death; repeatedly urged Henry to send Katherine of Aragon and Mary, his own daughter, to the scaffold; been ruthless against her enemies. Five years earlier, rumor had placed her faction behind an attempt to poison John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, an outspoken and upright opponent of the Boleyns; and only a couple of months ago it was bruited that Katherine of Aragon had been poisoned, and that Anne was the culprit. Now it appeared she had plotted to do away with the King himself, her own husband. That certainly gave Henry a jolt, and his imagination began to run riot. When his bastard son, the seventeen-year-old Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, came on the evening of May 2 to receive his father’s blessing before retiring for the night, “the King began to weep, saying that he and his sister [Lady Mary] were greatly bound to God for having escaped the hands of that accursed whore, who had determined to poison them.”51 These tears were the only ones Henry is known to have shed in connection with Anne Boleyn’s fall,52 while his tirade betrayed his conviction that she was guilty of far worse than adultery, and the sharp-minded Chapuys picked up on this: “From these words, it would appear the King knows something about it.”53

  When Richmond unexpectedly died the following month of what was probably a suppurating pulmonary infection (rather than the tuberculosis that has traditionally been blamed for his demise), that would no doubt have reinforced the opinions of Henry and others, who “thought he was privily poisoned by the means of Queen Anne and her brother, Lord Rochford, for he pined inwardly in his body long before he died. God knoweth the truth thereof.”54 In fact, Richmond’s final illness was short and unexpected.


  Stained in Her Reputation

  As soon as they heard of her arrest, Anne’s family and supporters sought to distance themselves from her, and effectively abandoned her to her fate. Aless recalled reactions in London:

  Those who were present well know how deep was the grief of all the godly, how loud the joy of the hypocrites, the enemies of the Gospel, when the report spread in the morning that the Queen had been thrown in the Tower. They will remember the tears and lamentations of the faithful, who were lamenting over the snare laid for the Queen, and the boastful triumph of the foes of the true doctrine. I remained a sorrowful man at home, waiting for the result, for it was easy to perceive that, in the event of the Queen’s death, a change of religion was inevitable.

  One influential member of her circle who did feel some sympathy for Anne Boleyn, and shock at her fall, was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury since 1533, when he had controversially declared Queen Katherine’s marriage null and void, and Anne’s valid. A former chaplain to the Boleyns, and a closet Protestant, he had done much to promote reform within the Church of England, a cause very dear to Anne’s heart and his own.

  On the day of the Queen’s arrest, Cromwell sent a letter to Cranmer, who was then at his palace at Knole in Kent, informing him that his former patroness was in the Tower and that the King wished him to go to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the archbishops of Canterbury, there to await his pleasure. Henry intended for Cranmer to find grounds for the annulment of his marriage to Anne. It was unthinkable that he could have lawfully been married to such a woman, and unthinkable too that the office of Queen of England should be brought into such disrepute, but on a more practical level, Anne’s daughter Elizabeth, whose right to succeed to the throne was enshrined in the Act of Succession of 1534, could not be allowed to stand in the way of any heirs Jane might bear Henry. Thus Henry had asked Archbishop Cranmer to find a pretext for dissolving this marriage that he had found to be good and valid just three years earlier, and for declaring Elizabeth—like her half-sister Mary before her—a bastard.

  No one thought—or dared—to point out (as Bishop Burnet did 150 years later) that the two concurrent lines of proceedings against the Queen—the one to prove marriage unlawful and invalid, the other to prove her adultery—were incompatible.1 It would have made little difference to the outcome, however, for there remained that charge of plotting the King’s death, which was high treason by anyone’s reckoning.

  Cranmer was shocked to hear the news of Anne’s arrest. He returned to Lambeth at once, as he had been instructed, but he knew—because Cromwell had told him so—that it was pointless trying to obtain an audience with the King. So he did the next best thing. On May 3, in evident distress—not only on Anne’s account but also, probably, because he feared that, with her influence removed, Henry might proceed no further in the cause of religious reform, or even abandon it—he wrote cautiously to the King to express his astonishment at the Queen’s crimes, his forlorn hope that she would be proved innocent, and his loyalty to his master—and to soothe Henry’s wounded ego. His opening words—the first of which strangely presage the eloquent liturgy in his future Book of Common Prayer—suggest he was aware that his master was distressed by the recent revelations regarding the Queen, which is perhaps further evidence that Henry had taken them seriously:

  I dare not presume to come to your presence, in accordance with the Secretary’s letters, but of my bounden duty I beg you somewhat to suppress the deep sorrows of Your Grace’s heart and take adversity patiently. I cannot deny that you have great causes of heaviness, and that your honor is highly touched. God never sent you a like trial.

  Cranmer did not attempt to dispute the charges, although clearly he found them hard to believe, having served as household chaplain to the Boleyns, and having known Anne very well since 1529.2 Nevertheless, he wrote on the premise that they were justified:

  If what has been reported openly of the Queen be true, it is only to her dishonor, not yours. My mind is clean amazed, for I never had better opinion of woman, but I think Your Highness would not have gone so far if she had not been culpable. Next unto Your Grace, I was most bound unto her of all creatures living, which her kindness bindeth me unto, and therefore beg that I may with Your Grace’s favor wish and pray for her, that she may declare herself inculpable and innocent. Yet if she be found guilty, I repute him not a faithful subject who would not wish her punished without mercy. And as I loved her not a little for the love which I judged her to bear toward God and the Gospel, so if she be proved culpable, considering Your Grace’s goodness toward her, and from what condition Your Grace of your only mere goodness took her and set the crown upon her head, and as I loved her not a little, there is not one that loveth God and His Gospel that ever will favor her, but must hate her above all other; and the more they favor the Gospel, the more they will hate her, for there was never creature in our time that so much slandered the Gospel; and God hath sent her this punishment, for that she feignedly hath professed His Gospel in her mouth, and not in heart and deed. And though she have offended so, that she hath deserved never to be reconciled unto Your Grace’s favor, forasmuch as Your Grace’s favor to the Gospel was not led by affection unto her, but by zeal unto the truth.

  Cranmer had all but finished this letter when he was summoned to the Star Chamber, a tribunal distinct from the King’s Council, being comprised of privy councillors and judges, their functions being to hear petitions, try offenses against the Crown, and ensure that justice was fairly enforced against the highborn and the powerful. This court took its name from the ceiling decoration of the chamber in the Palace, of Westminster where it sat. Cranmer met there with Audley, Sandys, Oxford, and Sussex. Their purpose was to show the archbishop the evidence that had been laid against the Queen and preempt him from speaking out on her behalf. It seems they managed to convince him of her guilt, for on his return to Lambeth he added a postscript to his letter to the King:3

  I am exceedingly sorry that such faults can be proved by the Queen, as I heard of their relation, but I am, and ever shall be, your faithful subject.4

  He was to prov
e that in the dark days to come, in which it would become clear that his affection and admiration for Anne counted for little against his desire to please the King, his sense of self-preservation, and his zeal for reform. But Cranmer was in a difficult position. He must have been well-aware that the Queen’s fall might impact on him, the man who had facilitated her marriage to the King, and that the cause of reform that he and she had espoused so dearly might well suffer if he chose to champion her cause, which might prove fatal for him as well as for her. With Jane Seymour being courted by the Imperialists, Cranmer needed to survive to fight for the cause another day. Anne would have to be abandoned. He had no choice.

  Chapuys also wrote a letter of condolence to Henry VIII at this time. He enclosed a copy of it with his dispatch of June 6 and forwarded it to the Emperor, explaining that he had sent it to the King “a little after the arrest of the Lady,” having beforehand shown it to Cromwell, who altered nothing. The King, he declared, was pleased with it.5

  Kingston had received specific orders from Cromwell, who had “commanded me to charge the gentlewomen that gives their attendance upon the Queen, they should have no communication with her unless my wife were present.” However, it became clear on Anne’s first night there that it would be impossible to enforce this rule, as he reported to Master Secretary the next morning: “And so I did it, notwithstanding it cannot be so, for my Lady Boleyn and Mistress Coffin lie on the Queen’s pallet and I and my wife at the door without [presumably also on pallet beds], so that they must needs talk that be within; but I have everything told me by Mistress Coffin that she thinks meet for you to know, and together two gentlewomen lies without me, and as I may know the King’s pleasure in the premises, I shall follow.”6

  Kingston’s words about Mrs. Coffin undermine the theory that “Cromwell had not expected to get anything incriminating out of the Queen after her arrest.”7 Mrs. Coffin had clearly been well-briefed, her sinister purpose being to extract whatever she could from Anne, who, in her agitated state, was inclined to be garrulous and indiscreet. Mrs. Coffin had been instructed to question her about the conversation she’d had with Sir Henry Norris the previous Sunday, April 30, and on the morning of May 3, “as minding to inquire of her concerning the occasion of her present trouble,” she asked Anne how it had come to pass that Sir Henry Norris “did say unto the Queen’s almoner that he would swear for the Queen that she was a good woman. Madam, why should there be any such matters spoken of?”

  “Marry,” said Anne, “I bade him do so.” She then recounted her conversation with Norris, patently anxious to set the record straight and clear herself of any suspicion of treasonable intentions. Kingston’s report is damaged, and this section ends with just fragmentary details of something that Anne “said on Whitsun Tuesday,” April 25, “… that Norris came more … -age and further.”8 Maybe she had more than one encounter with Norris that could possibly be held against her.

  Mrs. Coffin now disclosed—as she had doubtless been told to do—that Sir Francis Weston was being questioned by the Privy Council about his relations with the Queen. Anne “said she more feared Weston,” for Weston knew about Norris’s feelings for her—of which, patently, she herself and others in her circle had also been aware. She recounted to Mrs. Coffin a conversation she’d had with Weston on Whit Monday, April 24,9 when she had occasion to reprove him for flirting with Madge Shelton, Norris’s betrothed, and wondered aloud to him why Norris had not yet married her. Weston confided to Anne that Norris “came more to her chamber for her than for Madge.”10

  Anne need not have worried that Weston would testify against her, for he protested to the council that day that he was innocent of any criminal congress with the Queen. It would not save him from arrest, though.

  Later that day—Kingston reported it in a postscript to his first letter to Cromwell, written “from the Tower this morning” on May 3—Anne told Mrs. Coffin that she had teased Weston “because he did love her kinswoman Mrs. [Madge] Shelton, and that she said he loved not his wife,” to which Weston had daringly “made answer that he loved one in her house better than them both.”

  “Who is that?” Anne had asked.

  “It is yourself,” Weston replied, whereupon Anne “defied him,” as she told Kingston.11

  Such exchanges were typical courtly repartee, and probably meant very little, but these conversations “were now twisted to their worst meaning.”12 Taken literally, as Cromwell and others would choose to interpret them, these and Anne’s other flirtatious remarks made to Norris were to prove highly damaging to her, for they enabled Master Secretary to construct a stronger case against her.

  The atmosphere at court was understandably tense as people wondered what might happen next. Anne’s receiver-general, George Taylor, and her sewer, Harry Webb, were in fear for their lives, lest they should be accused next; and when all was over, Taylor was visibly relieved.13 Even Bryan, once the Queen’s supporter, apparently came under suspicion. He had left court in April, but now received a “marvelous peremptory commandment” to return “on his allegiance,” and was questioned by Cromwell. Satisfied as to his disaffection from Anne, Master Secretary wrote to Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, informing him that the “Vicar of Hell” had abandoned her.14 After that Bryan was one of the few privileged persons who were allowed to see the King.

  Cromwell had a substantial number of persons bound over under the threat of heavy fines to present themselves before him or the Privy Council should they be so required, thus adding to the climate of fear and suspicion that now pervaded the court. It may be the councillors did suspect that others were implicated in the Queen’s treasonable activities, and that they were spreading their net of investigation wider. Some of their targets may have been people whom Cromwell believed could be prevailed upon to furnish evidence against Anne; or perhaps he meant to intimidate those who might have spoken up for her into fearing that they too would be arrested, and thus to ensure their silence and that of anyone else thinking of protesting at the treatment being meted out to her.15

  Further evidence of Sir William FitzWilliam’s involvement in the investigations against Anne appears in a mutilated (and therefore incomplete) letter sent to him on May 3 by Anne’s chamberlain, Sir Edward Baynton, obviously in response to one that FitzWilliam had sent him. Baynton was in charge of the Queen’s Privy Chamber, her personal household, and all those who served in it, and after he had gone to FitzWilliam and Cromwell with his suspicions about Anne’s conversation with Norris on April 30, he was evidently enlisted to gather evidence against his mistress, and was clearly eager to distance himself from her by assisting zealously in the investigation against her. His letter reveals that he had in fact discovered nothing further:

  Mr. Treasurer,

  This shall be to advertise you that here is much communication that no man will confess anything against her, but alonely Mark of any actual thing. Wherefore (in my foolish conceit) it should much touch the King’s honour if it should no further appear. And I cannot believe but that the other two be as fully culpable as ever was he. And I think assuredly the one keepeth the other’s counsel. As many conjectures in my mind causeth me to think specially of the communication that was last between the Queen and Master Norris. Mr. Almoner [John Skip, the Queen’s confessor] told me as I would I might speak with Master Secretary and you together [to] more plainly express my opinion … if case be that they have confessed like wret[ches?]… all things as they should do than my n … at a point. I have mused much at the conduct of Mistress Margery which hath used herself strangely toward me of late, being her friend as I have been. But no doubt it cannot be but that she must be of counsel therewith, there hath been great friendship between the Queen and her of late. I hear further that the Queen standeth stiffly in her opinion that she would not be convicted, which I think is in the trust that she hath in the other two [Norris and Rochford]. But if your business be such … not come, I would gladly come and wait… ke it request.

; From Greenwich … morning.16

  Baynton’s observation that it would greatly touch the King’s honor if only Smeaton confessed to adultery with Anne has incorrectly been interpreted as meaning it was the adultery that impugned the King’s honor17 rather than the failure of the inquiries into the conduct of the Queen to unearth any better evidence than this. Asserting that Baynton’s remarks only make sense if they are taken to refer to the deformed fetus that Warnicke supposes Anne to have delivered three months earlier is stretching credibility too far.18

  What survives of Baynton’s letter suggests that “Mistress Margery” was a lady who had lately grown very close to the Queen, and that she was advised or warned to be wary of Sir Edward’s investigations; it is likely that this was Margery Horsman. Court gossip about that lady might have given rise to the tale of the “Margaret” referred to in the “Spanish Chronicle,” who had brought Mark Smeaton to the Queen’s bed.

  Baynton clearly thought that Margery Horsman had been the Queen’s confidante in the latter’s illicit affairs, but if so, she was never arrested. In fact, she would go on to serve Anne’s successor, Jane Seymour,19 so it is almost certain that Baynton was mistaken.

  Baynton evidently believed Norris and Rochford had made a pact not to admit to anything under questioning, and had kept to it; and that Anne was protesting her innocence. He may not have known that Norris had already made a confession of sorts; his reference to there being “much communication” in the Queen’s household that Smeaton alone had confessed reflects only what people were saying, not what he knew. Clearly he himself had been questioned, and now felt it his duty to report every little bit of gossip and opinion that might prove useful.

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