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


  It was a view shared by the highest in the land, and there is evidence that, already, the outcome of the affair was expected to be a foregone conclusion. On May 7, orders were sent in the King’s name to the sheriffs of every county, informing them that “since the dissolution of the late Parliament, matters of high importance have chanced, which render it necessary to discuss the establishment of the succession in a Parliament assembled for that purpose.” The King desired each sheriff to “declare to the people that the calling of a Parliament is so necessary, both for the treating of matters so necessary for their weal and the surety of our person, that they will have cause to think their charge and time, which will be very little and short, well spent.”19 Given that the annulment of the Queen’s marriage had already been discussed, and that Parliament had been summoned on April 27, before Anne’s arrest, what else could this presage but her certain removal by the due processes of Church and state?

  On May 8 one of the Queen’s chaplains, William Latymer, returning from Flanders, where he had been about her business, was informed, upon landing in Sandwich, Kent, that “the Queen and other prisoners were in the Tower,” and was then searched, in case he had any incriminating evidence on him. Having shown the mayor and local justices “the contents of his budget and purse” and the books he had with him, he was allowed to proceed on his way.20 This incident would indicate that every member of the Queen’s household had been subject to questioning.

  In Calais, on May 8, the King’s cousin and deputy, Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, learned of the arrests of the Queen and her alleged lovers, and, not doubting that all would be condemned—if they had not already been—and that their offices, lands, and goods would be confiscated along with their lives, which was the fate of convicted traitors, hastened to join the fray of court vultures hoping for rich pickings; as early as May 2, the day of Norris’s arrest, Richard Staverton of Warfield, Berkshire, a landowner and lawyer of Lincoln’s Inn (whose wife was Margaret Weston, who was probably related to Francis Weston), had written to Cromwell saying he “shall be glad to have” Norris’s rooms and properties near Windsor, “as I have fourteen children.”21 On May 3 an official inventory of Norris’s wardrobe stuff had been drawn up, and two days after that, John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, wrote to Cromwell offering, “If it is true that Norris has not used himself according to his duty to his sovereign lord,” to transfer Norris’s stewardship of the University of Oxford to Master Secretary for a small fee.22 Too late, the Duke of Richmond himself was to write to the Bishop on May 8, referring to “the trouble and business that Mr. Norris is now in, the which I think is not to you unknown,” and asking, as “it is presupposed with many men that there is no way but one with him,” if he could have Norris’s stewardship of Banbury for his servant, Giles Forster; Longland, however, had already promised it to Cromwell.23

  Not wishing to lose out, Lord Lisle now wrote to Master Secretary:

  Right honourable Sir,

  After my hearty commendations, forasmuch as always my full trust and confidence hath been in you, I thought it most requisite to open my mind to you … And seeing there are many things now in [the King’s] gracious disposition and hands, by reason of the most mischievous, heinous, and most abominable treasons against his most gracious and royal crown and person committed, I wholly trust that his Grace, being good lord unto me, will vouchsafe to employ some part of those same upon me; which I do well know may so much the rather be obtained by your good mediation and furtherance.24

  In order to expedite the matter, Lord Lisle immediately dispatched to London his attorney, John Husee. Husee carried with him Lisle’s letter to Cromwell and also one for the King. Four days later he was able to tell Lisle that he had given his letter to Cromwell, “who hath promised to be your very friend” and commanded Husee to deliver the King’s letter. But Husee was “in no wise” permitted to deliver it in person or speak with Henry, and was obliged to entrust Sir John Russell with the task of handing it over. Russell promised to consult with Cromwell, “and between them both, if they keep promise, I trust something will rise on your lordship’s behalf. But there is no time to make hot suit till time the matters which are now in hand be overblown.”25 Lisle would just have to be patient.

  …

  Speculation at court was rampant; no one knew quite what was going on, and so far there had been no official announcement. At length, on Tuesday, May 9, the King summoned twenty-two noblemen, and twenty-seven gentlemen of his Privy Chamber, to a meeting at Hampton Court to treat “of such great and weighty matters as whereupon doth consist the surety of our person, the preservation of our honor, and the tranquillity and quietness of you and all other our loving and faithful subjects.”26 Among those summoned were men who had long conspired Anne’s downfall, notably Exeter and Montagu, as well as Sir William Kingston, William Coffin (whose wife was in attendance on the Queen in the Tower), and Sir William Brereton, who was a relative of one of the accused.27 There can be little doubt that the findings of the commissioners were already known to the King and Cromwell (who was after all a member of both grand juries), and that the lords and gentlemen had been summoned for the purpose of discussing them, and—in the case of the lords—to try the Queen and Lord Rochford, who had the right to be tried by their peers. The official summons to the peers for this purpose would not be issued until May 13, and to twenty-seven lords, five more than the King summoned on May 9; but the fact that Lord Latimer wrote to Cromwell on May 12, asking to be excused, proves that they were actually called earlier. Since Latimer was at that time staying in his house at Wyke in Worcestershire, he must have been summoned on May 9 at the latest, and cannot have been expected to attend the meeting at Hampton Court on that date.

  That day, May 9, the justices of the King’s Bench, sitting at Westminster, sent their precept for the sheriffs of London to arrange for the return of the grand juries the following day.28 Legal proceedings against the Queen formally began on Wednesday, May 10, when the grand jury of Middlesex assembled in Westminster Hall before John Baldwin, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and six other judges. There, its foreman, Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law, Giles Heron, announced that the commissioners had found a true bill against the accused on all the charges, that being the written decision of the jury that it had heard sufficient evidence that an accused person was probably guilty of a crime and should be indicted.

  The decision to proceed to trial by jury, rather than following the summary and incontestable procedure of the passing of an Act of Attainder against the accused by Parliament, strongly suggests that the Crown was confident it had a sufficiently strong case to secure Anne’s condemnation. Of course, this confidence may have stemmed from the knowledge that the King’s will in the matter was known, or had been communicated, to those who would be sitting in judgment; and in most cases, the King’s will prevailed. But clearly Cromwell felt that his case was sound. Had he not, he would surely have opted for attainder, which allowed no possibility of escape for the accused. The decision to go to trial in open court suggests also that the King cared what his subjects thought of this extraordinary process, and that he was aware that, in proceeding against no less a personage than the Queen herself—a move that would undoubtedly cause a sensation—the Crown’s case must publicly be seen as unassailable.

  Nevertheless, a guilty verdict, although likely, was not always a foregone conclusion. Only two years earlier, in 1534, Lord Dacre had famously been acquitted of treason, much to the King’s disgust, yet although Henry’s disapproval was made clear to them, no vengeance was visited upon those lords who found Dacre innocent.29 For all that, when the Crown was a party, the chances of a trial being fair by modern standards were remote, and it is true that of the hundreds of people accused of treason in Tudor times, very few had the bravado to enter a plea of not guilty. When Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was acquitted of treason in Mary I’s reign, this was thought to be extraordinary.

  Yet the possibility remained that the lor
ds might be reluctant to condemn the Queen of England, for such a conviction was unprecedented. Earlier English queens had been unfaithful, notably Isabella of Angoulême, whose husband King John had ordered her lovers to be strung up and hanged above her bed, and Isabella of France, who unquestionably committed adultery with Roger Mortimer while she was married to the homosexual Edward II; neither of these ladies had met with anything worse than infamy. More seriously, in the twelfth century, Eleanor of Aquitaine had abetted her sons in a treasonous rebellion against Henry II that nearly cost him his throne, and led to her being held under house arrest for sixteen years. And Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, had also supported a renegade son against her husband, earning little more than a ticking-off. As we have seen, Joan of Navarre, the widow of Henry IV, had been accused (falsely, as it turned out) of witchcraft, for which she was imprisoned for just three years; in 1441, Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, had schemed to predict the death of her nephew Henry VI by witchcraft, but escaped execution; instead she was condemned to perpetual imprisonment. No English royal lady, therefore, had ever been sentenced to death for the kind of crimes of which Anne Boleyn was accused.

  Nor had this happened in France, where, in 1314, three French princesses, among them the wife of the heir to the throne, were found guilty of committing adultery; but while their lovers were savagely butchered on the scaffold, they themselves were condemned only to divorce and imprisonment. Given the precedents, Anne could reasonably have expected that to be her fate. Yet it is clear from her recorded utterances in the Tower that she already believed herself to be doomed.

  In the indictment drawn up by the grand jury of Middlesex for use at the coming trials, the charges against the Queen and her alleged accomplices—already branded as “traitors”—were enumerated in shocking detail. The original documents survive in the records of the King’s Bench in the famous Baga de Secretis in the National Archives, along with other records relating to Anne’s fall. The two indictments—those of Middlesex and Kent—in which were listed twenty-one specific offenses, are likely to have been largely the work of Thomas Cromwell, who sat on both grand juries, and they reflect the scale of his investigations—and perhaps his powers of invention. They constituted a formidable case against the accused.

  The Middlesex indictment read as follows:

  Record of the Indictment found at Westminster on Wednesday next after three weeks of Easter: that whereas Queen Anne has been the wife of Henry VIII for three years and more, she, despising the solemn, not to mention most excellent and noble marriage between our lord the King and the same lady the Queen, but even at the same time having in her heart malice against our lord the King, seduced by evil and not having God before her eyes, and following daily her frail and carnal appetites, did falsely and traitorously procure by base conversations and kisses, touchings, gifts, and other infamous incitations, divers of the King’s daily and familiar servants to be her adulterers and concubines, so that several of the King’s servants yielded to her vile provocations; viz, on Oct. 6th, 25 Henry VIII [1533] at Westminster [York Place, Westminster], and divers days before and after, she procured, by sweet words, kisses, touches, and otherwise, Hen. Norris, of Westminster, gentleman of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, by reason whereof he did so at Westminster on the 12th Oct. 25 Hen. VIII [1533], and they had illicit intercourse, both before and after, sometimes by his procurement and sometimes by that of the Queen.

  Also the Queen, 3 Dec., 25 Hen. VIII [1533], and divers days before and after, procured William Brereton, Esquire, late of Westminster, one of the gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, to have illicit intercourse with her, whereby he did so on 8 Dec., 25 Hen. VIII [1533] at Hampton Court, in the parish of Little Hampton, and on several days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.

  Also the Queen, 8 May, 26 Hen. VIII [1534], and at other times before and since, procured Sir Fras. Weston, of Westminster, one of the gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, to have illicit intercourse with her, and that the act was committed at Westminster 20 May, 26 Hen. VIII [1534].

  Also the Queen, 12 April, 26 Hen. VIII [1534], and divers days before and since, at Westminster, also incited/procured Mark Smeaton, a performer on musical instruments, a person specified as of low degree, promoted for his skill to be a groom of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so at Westminster, 26 April, 27 Hen. VIII [1535].

  Also that the Queen, 2 Nov., 27 Hen. VIII [1535] and several times before and after, by the means therein stated, procured and incited her own natural brother, George Boleyn, knight, Lord Rochford, to violate her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George’s mouth, and the said George’s tongue in hers, and also with kisses, presents, and jewels, against the commands of Almighty God, and all laws human and divine, whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all other human laws, 5 Nov, 27 Henry VIII [1535], violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister, at Westminster, which he also did on divers days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.

  Furthermore, they being thus inflamed by carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, did, in order to secure her affections, satisfy her inordinate desires; and that the Queen was equally jealous of the Lord Rochford, and other the before-mentioned traitors that she would not allow them to hold any familiarity with any other woman without exhibiting her exceeding displeasure and indignation. Moreover, the said Lord Rochford, Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton, being thus inflamed with carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, gave her secret gifts and pledges while carrying on this illicit intercourse; and the Queen, on her part, would not allow them to show familiarity with any other women without her exceeding displeasure and indignation; and that on 27 Nov., 27 Hen. VIII [1535] and other days before and after, at Westminster, she gave them great gifts to inveigle them to her will. Furthermore that the Queen and other of the said traitors, jointly and severally, 31 Oct., 27 Henry VIII [1535], at Westminster, and at various times before and after, compassed and imagined the King’s death; and that the Queen had frequently promised to marry some one of the traitors whenever the King should depart this life, affirming she would never love the King in her heart. Furthermore, that the King having come within a short time before [author’s italics] to the knowledge of, and meditating upon, the false and detestable crimes, vices, and treasons committed against himself within a short time now passed, took such inward displeasure and heaviness, especially for his said Queen’s malice and adultery, that certain harms and perils have befallen his royal body, to the scandal, danger, detriment, and derogation of the issue and heirs of the said King and Queen.30

  On May 11 Chief Justice Baldwin and his colleagues traveled to Deptford, where the grand jury of Kent also found a true bill that was similar in character to the Middlesex indictment, and covered the crimes that had allegedly taken place at “East Greenwich,” that is, Greenwich Palace. However, the original dates cited related to the adultery at Westminster and had to be altered, which may also indicate that some of the charges were fabricated.

  The indictment returned by the grand jury of Kent was couched in similar terms but related to offenses that had allegedly been committed in that county. According to this, Anne was said to have solicited Brereton at Greenwich on November 16, 1533, and to have committed adultery with him there on November 27; she was also charged with soliciting Smeaton at Greenwich on May 12, 1534, and committing adultery with him on May 19; soon afterward, on June 6, she allegedly solicited Weston at Greenwich, having sex with him on June 20; then, on December 22, 1535, at Eltham Palace in Kent, she solicited her brother George, and they committed incest on December 29. Finally, on January 8, 1536, at Greenwich, Anne, Rochford, Norris, Weston, and Brereton compassed the King’s death. In every case, the offenses were said to have been committed both before and after the dates specified.31

  T
he twenty-one specified offenses, taken chronologically, can be summed up as follows:

  October 6 and 12, 1533, with Norris, at Westminster

  November 16 and 27, 1533, with Brereton, at Greenwich

  December 3 and 8, 1533, with Brereton, at Westminster and Hampton Court

  April 12, 1534, soliciting Smeaton, at Westminster

  May 8 and 20, 1534, with Weston, at Westminster

  May 13 and 19, 1534, with Smeaton, at Greenwich

  June 6 and 20, 1534, with Weston, at Greenwich

  April 26, 1535, with Smeaton, at Westminster

  October 31, 1535, compassing the King’s death, at Westminster

  November 2 and 5, 1535, with Rochford, at Westminster

  November 27, 1535, inveigling the men to treason, at Westminster

  December 22 and 29, 1535, with Rochford, at Eltham

  January 8, 1536, compassing the King’s death, at Greenwich

  It seems barely credible that with all these intrigues going on over a period of nearly three years, evidence of them had only just come to light. As Ives says, “quadruple adultery plus incest invites disbelief,”32 while not even the ever watchful Chapuys, Anne’s enemy, who would have relished any opportunity to discredit her, ever hinted at any infidelities on her part, although he gleefully reported gossip that the King was unfaithful to her.33 If the charges relating to adultery were based on fact, then for the greater part of her marriage Anne had not scrupled to hop from bed to bed, slaking her lust with five men, one her own brother.

 
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