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

  Throughout the time Anne was in the Tower, the King did not appear in public, and saw only his closest advisers and intimates. Cranmer’s remark in his letter about not daring to come into the royal presence “in accordance with the secretary’s letters” reveals that access to Henry was being strictly controlled by Cromwell.20 Alexander Aless would recount how a servant of Cromwell later told him that the King had given orders “that none but the councillors and secretaries should be admitted” to his presence, “and that the gate of the country house in which he had secluded himself should be kept locked.” Probably Henry—and certainly Cromwell—wanted to preempt those who might dare to speak up on the Queen’s behalf,21 but there were probably other reasons why the King wanted privacy at this time.

  For fourteen days, from May 5 to May 19, “His Grace came not abroad, except it were in the garden, and in his boat at night, at which times it may become no man to prevent him.”22 But that was not the whole of it: Chapuys reported on May 19 that “the King has shown himself more glad than ever since the arrest of the Concubine, for he has been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river. Most part of the time he was accompanied by various musical instruments and, on the other hand, by the singers of his chamber, which many interpret as his delight at getting rid of a thin, old, and vicious hack in the hope of getting soon a fine horse to ride.” The “hope of change,” he added, “is a thing specially agreeable to this King.”23 Chapuys did not believe those who informed him that the King had said publicly “that he has no desire in the world to marry again.”

  The ambassador also wrote that reports of these jaunts “sounded ill in the ears of the people,”24 and Henry’s behavior at this time has since earned the condemnation of historians, who deem it in bad taste, but the King may have been driven by embarrassment, shame, self-deception, and self-pity, rather than by guilt or callousness. All the evidence suggests that he accepted the charges against Anne without question, but doing so meant that, for the first time in his charmed life, he would be publicly branded a cuckold. For a man of his vanity, reputation, and status, that must have been humiliating in the extreme, however pragmatically one looked at it. How could he have faced his subjects in such circumstances, especially with speculation rife about the Queen’s infidelities? It may have taken him several days to come to terms with her betrayal. In the meantime he was doing his best to bolster his pride and give the impression of rampant virility as best he knew how, in surrounding himself with a bevy of beautiful women—but only at a distance from his subjects.

  It is hardly likely that Henry’s bashfulness was informed by guilt. He was the King, he did not need to justify his actions before his people, and since Parliament had named him Supreme Head of the Church of England under Christ, he had become increasingly self-righteous and sanctimonious. The evidence suggests that the charges against Anne were laid before him unheralded, and that he believed them; and even if he had been the prime mover in the plot to bring her down, he probably felt that his actions were justified by what Cromwell had uncovered.

  It may be that Henry felt uncomfortable about destroying the woman whom he had once loved to distraction and who was the mother of his child, and that he was seeking refuge in pleasure jaunts in order to distract himself; or that his merrymaking with a bevy of ladies by night was intended to deflect public interest from Jane Seymour, the real object of his intentions.25

  In Tudor times, most people would have agreed that a queen who had committed such crimes as were imputed to Anne Boleyn unquestioningly deserved death. But Henry clearly felt that people might be more convinced of her guilt if Jane Seymour were not in evidence. On May 4, Chapuys reported from London that the King, “to cover the affection which he has for the said [Jane] Seymour [Semel], has lodged her seven miles hence to the house of the Grand Esquire,” Sir Nicholas Carew.26 This was Beddington Park in Surrey. Carew’s offer of accommodation for Jane at a discreet distance from London suggests he was maneuvering alongside Bryan, Cromwell, Chapuys, and others to make her queen. Beddington Park27 was a magnificent house built around 1500 and sited in a large park. Its great hall—on which the impressive hall at Hampton Court is said to have been modeled—still survives today. The fact that it was inconveniently situated for a king who was avoiding appearing in public suggests that the decision to move Jane there was a rushed one. Beddington was some seven miles from the Thames at its nearest point in Fulham, and thus inaccessible by barge.

  We might wonder what part Jane Seymour had played in bringing Anne down. Nothing is known of her involvement, if any, in the plot against her mistress, apart from the fact that, since late March, encouraged and endorsed by her supporters, she had been actively poisoning Henry’s mind against Anne. When Henry made it clear that he wanted to marry her, she must have known that the Queen’s removal would be necessary. Yet even when it became clear that this would be by more brutal means than the annulment of a marriage, Jane apparently did not flinch from her chosen course, nor betray any trace of guilt.

  Of course, it could be argued that she would have been powerless in the face of the King’s will, but Jane was not without ambition or a streak of ruthlessness. She had embarked on her campaign to snare Henry knowing fully what she was doing, and she was clearly convinced of the rightness of it. For Anne, she seems to have had no pity whatsoever: to Jane, as to all the Imperialists, Anne had been the chief cause of the sufferings of the late Queen Katherine and of Lady Mary. Probably Jane had no difficulty in believing the charges against Anne, and regarded the proceedings as justified. Yet it must have occurred to her that the laying of such charges was all too conveniently timely.

  Chapuys was apparently in touch with Jane and her friends at this time. He was certainly aware that she was anticipating becoming Henry’s wife, for he had heard that “even before the arrest of the Concubine, the King had spoken with Mistress Seymour of their future marriage.” This could have been at any time after Jane was installed in her brother’s apartment at the end of March, but—since the King would have made himself ridiculous by forcing Charles V and the Pope to recognize Anne and then abandoning her for someone else—it was likely far more recently, after Henry had seen compelling evidence of Anne’s misconduct. Resolving to marry again “on the rebound” was perhaps, for him, a way of saving face, apart from being a dynastic necessity.

  Chapuys added that on this occasion Jane had bravely brought up the touchy subject of Lady Mary, and told Henry that when she was queen, she hoped to see Mary reinstated as heiress to the throne. This hit a raw nerve and Henry became terse and imperious, telling her that she was a fool who “ought to solicit the advancement of the children they would have together, and not any others.” Undeterred, Jane answered that she did think of them, but also of Henry’s peace of mind, for unless he showed justice to Mary, Englishmen would never be content.28 It sounds as if she had been groomed to speak up for Mary in this way, even though she must have shared these sentiments, while to venture what amounted to criticism of the King’s policy toward his daughter took some courage. “I will endeavor by all means to make her continue in this vein,” Chapuys wrote. “I hope also to go and speak with the King within three days, and with members of the council in general. I think the Concubine’s little bastard Elizabeth will be excluded from the succession, and that the King will get himself requested by Parliament to marry.”29

  In speaking up for Mary, Jane would win through in the end, but not before Henry had exacted from his daughter a humiliating apology for her defiance. That lay weeks in the future, though, and by then Anne Boleyn would be history.


  On the afternoon of May 4, the day after Jane arrived at Beddington, Sir Francis Weston was arrested, probably as a result of Anne’s indiscreet speech, along with William Brereton.30 The charges against Brereton were not made public—“What was laid against him I do not know, nor ever heard,” Constantine later wrote—but he would be accused, like
the rest, of having had criminal intercourse with the Queen, possibly on the evidence extracted from Smeaton; the delay in arresting him may have resulted from his being away from court. Both men had been questioned by the Privy Council, and having failed to convince the lords of their innocence, were incarcerated in the Tower before two o’clock.31

  George Constantine, Norris’s servant, was dividing his time between attending on his master in the Tower and haunting the court, no doubt hoping to pick up any helpful information or gossip. At nine o’clock that morning he had spoken to William Brereton before he was taken away, and Brereton confided to him “that there was no way but one with any matter alleged against him.” Constantine took him to mean that he was innocent; he never found out what, if any, evidence was laid against him.

  It seems almost certain that the men arrested on the Queen’s account were housed separately in the Tower. The name “Boullen” was roughly carved into the stonework of the thirteenth-century Martin Tower beneath a rose—such as appeared on Anne’s falcon badge—and the letter H; this was possibly the work of George Boleyn, who, according to tradition, was imprisoned here. This tradition may be based on fact, as noble prisoners were sometimes allocated a whole tower in order to house their servants, and the Martin Tower is known to have been used as a prison in Tudor times. Each of its circular floors had a large single room with window embrasures and a stone fireplace; the walls were not paneled until the seventeenth century.32 Unfortunately, the carving was damaged by fire in the nineteenth century.33 Anne’s falcon badge—minus its crown and scepter—is the subject of another carving in the west wall of a first-floor cell in the thirteenth-century Beauchamp Tower,34 suggesting that another of her alleged lovers was held there. It was this carving that perhaps gave rise to the ancient tradition that Anne herself was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower.


  The next day, Friday, May 5, saw the final arrests, those of the poet Thomas Wyatt, a privy councillor and diplomat, and Sir Richard Page.35 Page, who had been knighted in 1529, was a former secretary to Cardinal Wolsey,36 who had secured his promotion to the Privy Chamber in 1528; this had profited Wolsey little, since the opportunistic Page soon afterward transferred his loyalty to the cardinal’s enemies, the Boleyns, and later, from about 1530, to the rising star Cromwell. Having been Recorder of York from 1527 to 1533, Page was vice-chamberlain to the Duke of Richmond and clearly well thought of by the King,37 who appointed him captain of his own bodyguard. His wife, Elizabeth Bourchier, was a cousin to Henry VIII.

  Page had been a conspicuous friend to Anne Boleyn, gladly performing several small services for her, which—according to a list of debts owed by her in 1536—she rewarded with gifts and other marks of favor.38 Perhaps sensing danger afoot, he had left the court at the end of April for his home in Surrey; his absence probably accounts for his not being committed to the Tower at the same time as the other accused.

  Page was of far less significance than Wyatt. Of all the men imprisoned with Anne Boleyn, Thomas Wyatt is the one for whom there is the most evidence of a romantic attachment, several years before, although it appears that his love was unrequited.39 In Tottel’s Miscellany, in which his poems were first published in 1557, much is made of the affair, probably exaggerating its importance40 and giving rise to centuries of speculation. This resulted in Catholic writers hostile to Anne making propagandist capital (much of it obscene) out of her alleged involvement with Wyatt. But what was the truth of the matter?

  Cambridge-educated Wyatt, now about thirty-two, was an accomplished and intelligent man, a handsome dreamer who charmed women and later admitted that he had led an unchaste life.41 Anne must have known Wyatt and his family in childhood; their families lived near each other in Kent, their fathers were long-standing friends, and they would have moved in the same social circles. Anne and her brother George shared a love of poetry with Wyatt, who was to become one of England’s greatest poets.

  References in some of Wyatt’s poems, as well as his grandson George Wyatt’s later testimony, make it clear that, captivated by Anne’s beauty and her witty and graceful speech, he fell in love—or became infatuated—with her before Henry VIII laid claim to her. This must have been around 1525-26, for Henry’s interest was rampant by Shrovetide 1526, when he appeared at a tournament wearing a magnificent suit of clothing embroidered in gold with the words Declare I dare not—a courtly conceit proclaiming him the humble admirer of a lady who might disdain his advances. Wyatt was also pursuing Anne at this time, but she “rejected all his speech of love” because he was married, and had been for ten years, albeit unhappily, to a notorious adulteress, Elizabeth Brooke. All the same, she did not stoop to scorning him, and Wyatt continued to hope.42

  Many decades later, George Wyatt wrote that his grandfather had expressed his feelings for Anne Boleyn in his verse, yet today we can find very few overt references to her in his surviving poems, probably because, when the King’s jealousy became manifest, the poet destroyed any that were compromising. One riddle about a disdainful mistress has the answer “Anna,” but there is no proof that it refers to Anne Boleyn. Another certainly does, and was written after Henry had taken her for his chosen lady and put her beyond Wyatt’s—and anybody else’s—reach:

  Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt;

  As well as I may spend his time in vain.

  And graven with diamonds, in letters plain,

  There is written her fair neck round about,

  Noli me tangere [do not touch me], for Caesar’s I am,

  And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

  Later, when Wyatt had recovered from his loss, embarked on a diplomatic career, and taken a new lover—Elizabeth Darrell, who would remain his mistress until his death in 1542—he was able to look back with equanimity on his pursuit of Anne:

  Then do I love again;

  If thou ask whom, sure since I did refrain

  Her, that did set our country in a roar,

  The unfeigned cheer of Phyllis hath the place

  That Brunette had.

  Later still, deeming the third line of this poem too sensitive, Wyatt changed it to “Brunette, that set my wealth in such a roar.” In 1532 he would look back in verse to a time when he had “fled the fire that me brent [burned], by sea, by land, by water and by wind;” he was surely thinking back to January 1527, when, seeing that Henry’s passion for Anne grew more serious, he had begged to be allowed to join an embassy to Rome.43 Five years on, as he accompanied the King and Anne, lately become Henry’s mistress in every sense, to Calais, he could reflect with equanimity on how his desire for her was “both sprung and spent.”

  George Wyatt relates a tale of Henry VIII’s rivalry with his grandfather at the time they were both pursuing Anne. Thomas Wyatt had covertly stolen a jewel threaded on a lace from her pocket, and was cherishing it in his doublet, next to his heart. Soon afterward, aware of Henry’s interest in Anne, he was the King’s opponent at bowls; both men believed they had won, and argued the toss, but there can be little doubt that they were really fencing over Anne Boleyn, for Henry kept “a watchful eye upon the knight, noting him more to hover about the lady, and she to keep aloof from him.”44 Wyatt was mortified to see the King pointing to the winning cast with a finger on which was blatantly displayed one of Anne’s rings.

  “Wyatt, I tell thee, it is mine!” Henry insisted, smiling triumphantly. He was not talking about the cast. Thus provoked, Wyatt rashly pulled out Anne’s jewel.

  “If Your Majesty will give me leave to measure it, I hope it will be mine!” he said meaningfully, and proceeded to measure the distance between casts with the lace, telling the King there was no doubt that he, Wyatt, was the winner.

  “It may be so, but then I am deceived!” Henry snapped, and broke up the game. When, soon afterward, it became clear that the King’s intentions toward Anne were serious, Wyatt accepted defeat.

  In 1530, when people began noticing that the King’s brother-in-law, Charles
Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, had been absent from court for “a long time,” Chapuys heard “people say that he is banished for some time because he revealed to the King that the Lady had found her pleasure with a gentleman of the court who already has been formerly dismissed, and this last time people have avoided him at the instance of the said lady, who has waxed very courageous by him; but at last the King has been interceded to by her that the said gentleman return to court.”

  The dubious evidence of later Catholic writers has led several historians to conclude that Chapuys was referring to Thomas Wyatt, but the details in the ambassador’s report are at variance with that identification. Wyatt was never dismissed from court; he had been abroad—at his request—on a prolonged embassy from 1526-27, and appointed High Marshal of Calais in 1529, a position of honor. Nor is there any evidence of Anne having an affair with any man then at court, or of a previous sex scandal involving her. And although Henry, having banished the man, is supposed to have given in to her pleas for his speedy return, he was hardly likely to have done this if he believed that she had slept with this courtier; after all, for more than four years Anne had been holding Henry at arm’s length, staunchly protesting her virtue, and telling him, “Your wife I cannot be, your mistress I will not be.”45

  George Wyatt asserted that Suffolk did bear “a perpetual grudge” against the poet, the cause of which he had never uncovered, but he thought that if Suffolk had said such a thing to the King, “he did it upon zeal that in his conceit it was true.” That may be correct, for Suffolk had no love for Anne, who had been rude to him, while his wife, Mary Tudor, would have nothing to do with her; it is also likely that Henry would have reacted by banishing Suffolk had the duke alleged such a thing of Anne. However, it looks as if Chapuys, in reporting what Suffolk allegedly said, had relied on embroidered gossip.

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