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


  By January 1533, when Anne married the King, Wyatt was still a member of her circle, and it was to him that she hinted, in February, in front of a crowd of courtiers, that she might be pregnant.46 It was logical, given their long-standing association and former romantic connection, for Cromwell to proceed now against Wyatt as one of her adulterous lovers, but Wyatt was not a prominent member of the Boleyn faction and no threat to Cromwell or the Spanish alliance. Indeed, he was on good terms with Cromwell. It is therefore possible that he was the only one of the accused arrested on the King’s initiative, Henry remembering jealously that Wyatt had pursued Anne in the past. According to the “Spanish Chronicle,” he had “sent a message to Cromwell, that he should send for Master Wyatt and question him.”

  Recently, the theory has been put forward that it was Lady Wingfield’s dying revelations that led to Wyatt’s apprehension,47 because she had been at court in the early 1520s when Wyatt was pursuing Anne, and could perhaps testify to what happened between them then. (This is also the basis for the unfounded theory that Lady Wingfield was at one time blackmailing Anne.) At the time of his arrest, Wyatt himself held the Duke of Suffolk responsible for it. In 1541 he wrote, “My lord of Suffolk himself can tell that I imputed it to him, and not only at the beginning, but even the very night before my apprehension now last.” It has been seen as significant that Suffolk was friends with Cromwell, and the Wingfield family were his clients; Lady Wingfield’s brother-in-law, Humphrey Wingfield, was the duke’s man of business.48 It seems plausible that there could be a connection, but it is unlikely, because, according to Sir John Spelman, Lady Wingfield’s evidence was offered at the trial of the four commoners charged with adultery with the Queen, and Wyatt was not among them. Therefore it must have related to the charges against either Norris or Brereton, because the offenses said to have been committed by Weston and Smeaton allegedly took place after Lady Wingfield’s death. And we might also infer from Wyatt’s use of the past tense in 1541 that while he had at the time blamed Suffolk for his arrest, he had been mistaken, or no longer did so.

  Catholic writers, writing with hindsight after Anne’s fall, made much of her supposed affair with Thomas Wyatt. The “Spanish Chronicle,” Sir Thomas More’s admiring biographer, Nicholas Harpsfield, and the Jesuit, Nicholas Sander, all intent on demonizing her, assert—sometimes in salacious detail—that she and Wyatt were at one time lovers in the fullest sense.

  These three sources all claim that Wyatt, not Suffolk, sought to warn the King that Anne was unchaste. The “Spanish Chronicle” states that, when he at length was moved to confess all to the King, Henry refused to believe him.

  Nicholas Harpsfield claimed to have gotten his story from the well-informed merchant and banker, Antonio Bonvisi, who had been a business associate of Wolsey and a friend of Sir Thomas More, and who “heard [it] of them that were very likely to know the truth thereof.” Clearly, though, the tale had gotten garbled in the telling. Harpsfield states that Wyatt dared to “utter [his] own shame” and caution Henry that Anne was “not meet to be coupled with Your Grace … Her conversation hath been so loose and base; which thing I know not so much by hearsay as by my own experience, as one that have had my carnal pleasure with her.” Henry, although “somewhat astounded,” merely praised Wyatt for his honesty and charged him “to make no more words of this matter to any man living.” It is barely credible that Henry VIII would have reacted so mildly to such serious allegations, especially considering that he was set upon making Anne his queen. Harpsfield’s tale, though, was written during the reign of Mary Tudor, before Anne Boleyn’s reputation had been rehabilitated, and when it was permissible, even desirable, to slander her.

  Sander, of course, gave this tale great credence, and embroidered it still further with details that are nowhere else recorded, which suggests that he must have made them up. He represents Wyatt as being afraid “if the King discovered afterward how shameless Anne’s life had been” and “that his own life might be imperiled;” “grievously” troubled by his conscience, he went before the council and confessed “that he had sinned with Anne Boleyn, not imagining that the King would ever make her his wife.”

  Hearing that “Anne Boleyn was stained in her reputation,” the councillors, concerned for their sovereign’s moral welfare and good name, repeated to the King “all that Wyatt had confessed.” When Henry dismissed “these stories [as] the invention of wicked men,” and declared that he “could affirm on oath that Anne was a woman of the purest life,” Wyatt grew angry at not being believed, and told members of the council that “he would put it in the King’s power to see with his own eyes the truth of the story, and would bring the King where he might see him enjoy her, for Anne was passionately in love with Wyatt;” there is, as has been shown, very little contemporary evidence for this last assertion. Suffolk was deputed to inform Henry of this preposterous proposal, and still—perhaps understandably—Henry “believed it not,” and “answered that he had no wish to see anything of the kind,” as Wyatt was “a bold villain, not to be trusted.” Again, this is at variance with Henry’s known regard for Wyatt. Sander claimed that Henry revealed all this to Anne, “who shunned Wyatt”—which also is not borne out by the historical record.

  George Wyatt dismissed Sander’s tale as “fiction;” he had learned that it was Sir Francis Bryan, not Wyatt, who confessed to enjoying one of Henry’s mistresses, and that the lady in question was not Anne Boleyn. Henry had pardoned Bryan and “gave over the lady ever after to him.” George Wyatt was sure that, had Henry cause to believe that Anne had sex with Wyatt, he would have “thrown her off” also. Nor is it likely that he would have allowed Wyatt to remain at court, or made him chief ewerer at her coronation in 1533, or have preferred him to the Privy Council that year. One only has to remember that, when Henry married his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, in 1543, he sent Sir Thomas Seymour, her former suitor, abroad on an extended diplomatic mission, even though he had no reason to think that Seymour had ever been Katherine’s lover.

  The obvious flaws and discrepancies in these stories, and the fact that they only appear in partisan Catholic sources and are at variance with the evidence in Wyatt’s poems, render them highly suspect.

  The “Spanish Chronicle” also gives a detailed account of Wyatt’s arrest. Summoned by Cromwell’s nephew, Richard (he who had changed his name from Williams to Cromwell), Wyatt rode to London, to York Place, where the secretary took him aside and said, “Master Wyatt, you will know the great love I have and always have had for you, and now I tell you it would grieve me sorely should you be guilty in the matter about which I wish to speak to you.” He then proceeded to tell Wyatt about the arrests of the Queen and her alleged lovers.

  Wyatt was astounded, and immediately grasped that he himself was being implicated. Spiritedly, he declared, “Master Secretary, by the loyalty I owe to God and the King my lord, I have nothing to fear because I have not erred even in my thoughts, for His Majesty the King well knows what I told him before he married.” Cromwell is said to have replied, “Well, Master Wyatt, you must go to the Tower, and I promise you that I shall be your good friend.” And indeed, he would prove that, which suggests that there is some truth in this account.

  “I shall go readily because I am without stain, have no fear,” Wyatt assured him, then allowed Richard Cromwell to escort him to the Tower, which was done so discreetly that “nobody suspected that he was under arrest.” When they arrived, Richard said to Kingston, “Captain, Secretary Cromwell sends to beseech you to treat Master Wyatt with honor.” Kingston “then put him in a chamber over the gate.”

  This account is compatible with the other evidence, apart from the reference to Wyatt warning the King about Anne. It is quite possible that Wyatt was imprisoned where the chronicler describes, either in one of the rooms above the Byward Tower (“Tower by the Gate”) or in one of the old royal chambers above St. Thomas’s Tower, above the Watergate that later became known as Traitors’ Gate. These chambers
had been largely rebuilt by Henry VIII to provide accommodation for the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Lord Chamberlain when the court was in residence, which was rare, so they would have been empty. But given that Wyatt was to watch the executions on Tower Hill from a window, it is more likely that he was lodged in the Byward Tower.

  According to the “Spanish Chronicle,” on reaching the Tower, Wyatt wrote a letter to the King, confessing in full the details of his relations with Anne Boleyn in the years before Henry began to pay court to her. The chronicler reproduces the exact text of the letter:

  Your Majesty knows that before you married Queen Anne Boleyn, you said to me, “Wyatt, I wish to marry Anne Boleyn; what do you think about it?” And I told your Majesty that you should not do it, and you asked me why, and I said she was a bad woman. Your Majesty, in wrath, ordered me not to appear before you for two years. You refused to ask me my reasons, and since I could not then tell you by word of mouth, I shall do so now in writing.

  It happened that one day, when the Lady Anne’s father and mother were in the court eight miles from Greenwich, where, as everybody knows, they had taken up residence, that night I took horse and went there. I arrived when Anne Boleyn was in bed and went up to her chamber. When she saw me, she said, “Lord, Master Wyatt! What are you doing here at such a late hour?” I replied, “Lady, this heart of mine which is so tormented has been yours for so long that for love of you it has brought me here into your presence, thinking to receive consolation from the one who for so long has caused it such suffering.” And I went up to her as she lay in bed and kissed her, and she lay still and said nothing. I touched her breasts, and she lay still, and even when I took liberties lower down, she likewise said nothing. I began to undress, but before I had finished I heard a great stamping above her bedchamber, and straightway the lady got up and put on a skirt [kirtle?] and climbed a staircase that was behind her bed. I waited for her more than an hour, and when she came down, she would not let me approach her … And I tell your Majesty that within a week I had my way with her, and if your Majesty, when you banished me, had permitted me to speak, I should have told you what I now write.

  The authenticity of this letter is dubious, because if Wyatt’s revelations were true, he is unlikely to have been spared the headsman’s axe: Henry was in no mood to make nice distinctions between what had gone on before he married Anne and what had gone on after; he certainly did not where Katherine Howard was concerned. The style of the letter is suspect in itself: in writing to the King, it would have been usual to refer to his wife as “Queen Anne,” not “Queen Anne Boleyn;” and it is unlikely that Wyatt would have adopted such a combative tone to the King, given his precarious situation. Also, there is no record of Henry banishing Wyatt from court for two years, as we have seen.

  Then we have an odd allusion to the court being eight miles from Greenwich: York Place, then in the possession of Cardinal Wolsey, was about that distance. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace at Croydon and the Bishop of London’s palace at Fulham were also within the same radius, although these two episcopal residences were rarely visited by the court, so the chronicler was perhaps referring to York Place; but if so, Wyatt, if he were writing this letter, would certainly have mentioned such a great and famous palace by name, whereas a foreigner might not. And the words “as everybody knows” hardly needed to be uttered to a king who had invited Anne’s parents to take up residence at court. Thus we can safely conclude that this letter was no more than a figment of the chronicler’s fevered imagination.

  Neither Page nor, strangely, Wyatt was to be formally charged with any crime; both their families petitioned successfully for their release,49 and it seems that Cromwell intended all along that they should be freed, thus emphasizing the guilt of the rest.

  There were now seven men in the Tower on Anne’s account. As if that were not bad enough, from their point of view, they were deemed to have sufficient wealth and lands to meet the charges of their imprisonment, so that the Crown need not be responsible for their maintenance while they were its guests.50

  CHAPTER 9

  The Most Mischievous and Abominable Treasons

  Kingston’s letters to Cromwell are mostly undated, and it is not obvious in every case when they were written. His second and third letters, which were clearly scribed on different days, and later than May 3 (the day after Master Secretary had been among the councillors escorting the Queen to the Tower), both refer to Cromwell departing “yesterday” from the Tower. We can only infer from this that Cromwell made at least two visits to the Tower to see Kingston, ensure that his instructions were being complied with, obtain information that might help his case, and personally monitor Anne’s imprisonment. There is no evidence that he saw Anne herself. Cromwell was to remain mainly in London after May 6, the day on which the King went to Hampton Court.

  Kingston’s second report was probably written on the evening of May 5, for it refers to the arrests of Wyatt and Page. He wrote to Cromwell: “After your departing yesterday [which would explain why the constable made no report on May 4], Greenway, gentleman usher, came to me and [said that] Master Carew and Master Bryan [had] commanded him in the King’s name to my Lord of Rochford from my lady his wife, and the message was now more [to] see how he did; and also she would humbly [make] suit unto the King’s Highness for her husband.” There is no record of her doing so; indeed, she had already laid information against him, and was the principal witness in the Crown’s case.

  There is something very odd about this message. The King himself—or perhaps Cromwell, in his name—had commanded Carew and Bryan to send Master Greenway to Lord Rochford on Lady Rochford’s behalf, to find out how he was, and tell him that she would plead with the King for him. Why should either Henry or Cromwell show such consideration to a prisoner in the Tower suspected of treasonable—and shocking—dealings with the Queen? Especially if, as has been claimed, Lady Rochford had not laid evidence and her message showed genuine concern,1 in which case it is unlikely she would have been allowed to send it. None of the other prisoners were accorded such consideration, and Weston’s family in particular were active on his behalf. Was Lady Rochford being treated sympathetically at court because of the invaluable assistance she had afforded the Crown, to the detriment of her marriage vows, and taken advantage of this to salve her conscience by asking to send a solicitous message to the husband she had betrayed?

  His having commanded and authorized that message implies, ludicrously, that the King knew in advance that Lady Rochford was going to plead with him for her husband’s life. Unless, of course, having received royal permission to write to George, she afterward, of her own accord, asked Carew and Bryan to assure her husband she would intercede for him with the King—an empty promise at best? Surely she must have known that her words would be reported to Henry by these men, his intimates. In either case, she was lying to Rochford. But he trustingly “gave her thanks” for her message.

  Visibly distressed, Rochford asked Kingston “at what time he should come afore the King’s Council,” adding “for I think I shall not come forth till I come to my judgment.” The prospect was too much for him, and he broke down weeping.2 There is no evidence that he ever was interrogated by the council, although he may have been visited by some of its members after the indictments had been drawn up.3

  Anne had now been given the dread news of Rochford’s arrest by her attendants. Immediately, she sent for Kingston.

  “I hear say my lord my brother is here,” she told him.

  “It is truth,” he confirmed. It must have been a bitter moment for her, given all that Rochford’s imprisonment implied.

  “I am very glad that we both be so nigh together,” was all she said.

  Kingston then revealed that Weston and Brereton were in the Tower too, at which “she made very good countenance. I also said Master Page and Wyatt was more, then she said, ‘He hath … won his fyst the other day and is here now but ma … ‘“Here, the letter is very bad
ly damaged, and Anne’s comments on Wyatt and Page are indecipherable. “I shall desire you to bear a letter from me to Master Secretary,” she told the constable.

  “Madam,” he replied, “tell it me by word of mouth, and I will do it.” She thanked him, saying, “I have much marvel that the King’s Council comes not to me.” She clearly was wondering why she had not been subject to further examination, and like her brother, was hoping for a chance to explain everything and clear her name. Kingston apparently did not comment. When she prophesied to him that “we should have no rain till she were delivered out of the Tower,” Kingston replied kindly, “I pray you it may be shortly because of the fair weather.” He added to Cromwell, “You know what I mean.” He is unlikely to have been referring to Anne’s release.

  During the evening of May 5, Anne made plain her antipathy toward her attendants, grumbling to Kingston that “the King wist what he did when he put such two about her as my Lady Boleyn and Mistress Coffin, for they could tell her nothing of my lord her father nor nothing else, but she defied them all.” Having digested the news of Rochford’s arrest, she evidently feared that her father’s would be next. “But then upon this, my Lady Boleyn said to her, ‘Such desire as you have had to such tales [intrigues] has brought you to this.’” Evidently she knew her niece-by-marriage well.

  Mrs. Stonor then spoke of Smeaton, observing, “Mark is the worst cherished of any man in the house, for he wears irons.” She was referring to manacles or chains.

  “That is because he is no gentleman,” Anne replied. She told her avidly listening attendants that Smeaton “was never in my [privy] chamber but at Winchester,” the previous autumn. “There I sent for him to play on the virginals; for there my lodging was above the King’s.” Interestingly, Smeaton was never specifically accused of committing adultery with Anne in the autumn of 1535; his offenses were alleged to have taken place in April and May 1534 and April 1535.

 
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