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


  When the indictments had been read, the prisoners were asked if they would plead guilty or not, but only Mark Smeaton pleaded guilty to adultery,14 confessing “that he had carnal knowledge of the Queen three times,”15 and throwing himself on the mercy of the King, while insisting he was not guilty of conspiring the death of his sovereign. In the justices’ instructions to the Sheriff of London, to bring his prisoners to trial, which were dated May 12, 1536,16 Smeaton’s name was erased, as if, having confessed, he was no longer thought worthy of examination,17 so he was probably not subjected to questioning in court. The other three men, Norris included, pleaded not guilty,18 and the jury was sworn in.

  There is no record of the witnesses who were brought into court to testify, and we have Chapuys’s statement that in the case of Brereton, no witnesses were called at all, which suggests that others were summoned to give evidence against his fellow accused. This made no difference to Brereton, for according to Chapuys, he was “condemned upon a presumption and circumstances, not by proof or valid confession, and without any witnesses.” Yet there could have been a valid presumption of culpability, for if the Queen’s household servants had known what was going on, then the privileged members of her inner circle could reasonably be expected to have been aware of it, or to suspect something, and thus to have alerted the King or his ministers. Their not having done so rendered them a party to treason. And their reported flirtatious banter with the Queen laid them open to further suspicion of complicity and culpability.19

  Norris protested, “when his own confession was laid afore him, that he was deceived” into making it by FitzWilliam’s trickery, and retracted it, saying that if anyone used it to advantage, “he is worthy to have my place here; and if he stand to it, I defy him,”20 but that made no difference either. The jury unanimously pronounced all four men guilty “for using fornication with Queen Anne, and also for conspiracy of the King’s death,” whereupon Sir Christopher Hales, the Attorney General, asked for judgment to be pronounced on Smeaton according to his own confession, and on the other three in accordance with the verdict.21 Lord Chancellor Audley, being the chief commissioner present, read out the grim sentence passed on convicted traitors, that they were publicly to be “hanged, drawn, and quartered, their members [genitals] cut off and burnt before them, their heads cut off and [their bodies] quartered.”22 Norris had seen at firsthand what that dread sentence entailed when, a year earlier, alongside Rochford, he witnessed the bloody executions of the monks of the Charterhouse for refusing to acknowledge the royal supremacy. Rochford, a nobleman, might be spared that agony, but Norris and the rest, as commoners, might well be forced to suffer the full rigor of the law.

  “Suddenly, the axe was turned toward them,”23 but their executions were deferred on account of the impending trials of the Queen and Lord Rochford.

  When news of the trial’s outcome reached the court, many people expressed sorrow, especially for Norris and Weston, who were widely liked and respected. “Everyone was moved at their misfortune, especially at the case of Weston.”24 That day, John Husee, newly arrived in London, wrote to Lord Lisle to report the latest events:

  This day Mr. Norris, Weston, Brereton, and Mark hath been arraigned, and are judged to be drawn, hanged, and quartered. I pray God have mercy on them. They shall die tomorrow, or Monday at the furthest. Anne the Queen and her brother shall be arraigned in the Tower; some think tomorrow, but on Monday at the furthest. And some doth verily think they shall there even so suffer within the Tower, undelayedly, for divers considerations which are not yet known.25

  It is obvious from this that ordinary people could only speculate as to when the men would be executed, or when the Queen and Rochford would come to trial. But as has been noted, the date for the latter hearing had already been set on May 10—for May 15 at the Tower—as Sir John Russell informed Lord Lisle on May 12: “Today, Mr. Norris and such other as you know are cast, and the Queen shall go to her judgment on Monday next.” He confirmed that he had delivered Lord Lisle’s letters to the King, and added a touch peevishly, “I wonder your lordship did not write to me, that I might have made suit for you.”26

  “Neither the whore nor her brother was brought to Westminster like the other criminals,” Chapuys was to observe.27 State trials were usually held in Westminster Hall or the Guildhall, but clearly the authorities did not want Anne leaving the Tower and perhaps becoming the focus of public demonstrations, for she was not popular. Hence the decision to have her tried within the Tower precincts.

  Husee told Lisle on May 12 that Wyatt and Page were still in the Tower, “but, as it is said, without danger of death; but Mr. Page is banished the King’s presence and court forever.”28 It has been suggested that he escaped because his stepdaughter, Anne Stanhope, had recently married Edward Seymour,29 but they had actually been married for more than two years,30 a circumstance that did not preclude Page’s arrest. No evidence had been laid against Page, though, nor, evidently did Wyatt have any charges to answer, although clearly nobody knew for certain.

  The next day, Saturday, May 13, John Husee wrote again to the hopeful Lord Lisle:

  Pleaseth your Lordship to be advertised that here is no good to be done neither with the King ne with any other of his Council till such time as the matters now had in hand be fully finished and achieved. Also, touching Master Treasurer [FitzWilliam], it prevaileth nothing to sue unto him till he hath more leisure, for he never read letter since these matters begun. If it be as some doth presume, it shall be all rid by the latter end of this next week.31

  This prediction turned out to be accurate. Husee’s letter is evidence that the process against the Queen had brought most government business virtually to a standstill;32 and it again shows FitzWilliam right at the center of affairs.

  There was, however, cause for Lord Lisle to be hopeful. A list of Cromwell’s “Remembrances” written around this time indicates that the government wasted no time in seizing the condemned men’s assets: “a remembrance that all Mr. Norris’s patents be searched out; Henry Knyvett’s letters to Mr. Weston and to young Weston’s wife; Henry Knyvett’s bills for the offices and the annuity.”33 Lists of the convicted traitors’ offices and wardships were drawn up, and assessments would be made of the value of their lands: Rochford’s were worth £441.10s.9d (£154,200), Brereton’s £1,236.12s.6d (£431,850), and Norris’s £1,327.15s.7d (£463,700).34 As Cromwell would write to the ambassadors Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and John Wallop on May 14, “great suit is being made” for the men’s confiscated offices and goods; he promised that Gardiner would get £200 (£69,850) of the life pensions worth £300 (£104,750) that Wolsey, in 1529, had forced Gardiner to pay Rochford and Norris out of the revenues of his see. He informed them that “the third hundred is bestowed of the Vicar of Hell,” Sir Francis Bryan, and added, “And you, Master Wallop, shall not at this time be forgotten, but the certainty of that ye shall have I cannot tell.”35

  A contemporaneous list of persons newly appointed to offices, written in the hand of Thomas Wriothesley, the future Lord Chancellor, shows that some of these offices, if not all, had belonged to the accused, for it mentions various lordships and stewardships “as Brereton had the same;” the King’s son Richmond was one of the many beneficiaries.36 The reformer Robert Barnes begged for Rochford’s mastership of Bedlam, the hospital for the insane, which was now vacant “through the death of these false men” and worth £40 (£13,950); he said he would rather have that than a bishopric.37 Husee listed in his letter some of those who had—even so soon—reaped the spoils of the condemned:

  Sir Thomas Cheyney is named Lord Warden [of the Cinque Ports, an office held by George Boleyn from 1533], some saith by Mr. Secretary’s preferment. My Lord of Richmond is Chamberlain of Chester and North Wales, and Mr. Harry Knyvett is Constable of Beaumaris [all offices held by Brereton]. If Mr. Secretary keep promise, your Lordship shall have something. Mr. [Sir Francis] Bryan is Chief Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber [in
place of Norris], but there is plain saying the King will assign the Groom of the Stool from time to time at his pleasure. I trust your Lordship will remember Mr. Secretary with wine and letters.

  Weston’s family continued to make frantic attempts to save his life. In the same letter, Husee reported the latest rumors:

  Here are so many tales I cannot well tell which to write; for now this day, some saith young Weston shall ‘scape, and some saith there shall none die but the Queen and her brother; and some say that Wyatt and Mr. Page are as like to suffer as the others; and the saying is now that those which shall suffer shall die when the Queen and her brother goeth to execution. But I think verily they shall all suffer, and in case any do escape, it will be young Weston, for whose life there is importunate suit made.38

  It is ominous that Husee wrote “when” rather than “if,” in referring to the Queen and Rochford going to their executions, as if that were not in doubt.

  Although many were moved by Weston’s plight, “no one dared plead for him except his mother, who, oppressed with grief, petitioned the King, and his wife, who offered rents and goods for his deliverance.”39 But they, and his father, Sir Richard Weston, had so far been unsuccessful in obtaining an audience with the King or a meeting with Cromwell, so that they could personally beg for Francis to be spared, for “the King was determined that the sentence should be carried out. If money could have availed, the fine would have been 100,000 crowns [£8,730,750].”40

  Husee also wrote on May 13: “The rumor is that Harry Webb should be taken in the West Country and put in hold for the same cause. By Wednesday, all shall be known, and Your Lordship shall be thereof advertised with speed.”41 Harry Webb was the Queen’s sewer, and—as has been mentioned—he had gone in fear since her arrest. There is no record, however, of him being apprehended on her account.

  A letter from John Husee to Lady Lisle, also sent on May 13, pithily described the wild gossip and speculation raging through the court at this time:

  Madam, I think verily, if all the books and chronicles were totally revolved, and to the uttermost persecuted and tried, which against women hath been penned, contrived, and written since Adam and Eve, those same were, I think verily, nothing in comparison of that which hath been done and committed by Anne the Queen; which, though I presume be not all thing as it is now rumoured, yet that which hath been by her confessed, and other offenders with her by her own alluring, procurement, and instigation, is so abominable and detestable that I am ashamed that any good woman should give ear thereunto.

  But there is no evidence that Anne had confessed. Indeed, she had throughout protested her innocence, and was to go on doing so to the bitter end. We might infer from this either that it was deliberately being put about at court that she had confessed to the crimes of which she was accused, or that this had been asserted at the trial of her alleged lovers. Whichever it was, Husee was now convinced of her guilt: “I pray God [he concluded] give her grace to repent while she now liveth. I think not the contrary but she and all they shall suffer.” His next words to Lady Lisle, however, were somewhat at odds with what he had just written: “John Williams has promised me some cramp rings for you.”42 The office of blessing rings that were supposedly efficacious in curing cramp belonged exclusively to the Queen of England, so these rings must have been blessed by Anne herself. It seems strange that Husee should think Lady Lisle would want them, given they had been consecrated by one whose reputation was now so irrevocably tainted. Perhaps he was not as convinced of Anne’s guilt as he made himself out to be.

  By May 13, the “heavy news … of the imprisonment of the Queen” had reached Scotland, where it was conveyed by Sir Adam Otterbourne to Henry VIII’s nephew, James V, “to the no small joy of the Scots, especially of the clergy, our capital enemies,” as Lord William Howard reported from Edinburgh to Cromwell.43 James was glad of anything that might discountenance his formidable uncle.

  The condemnation of her alleged lovers presaged ill for Anne, and irrevocably prejudiced her own trial, for if they had been found guilty then so, almost for a surety, would she be, and her brother Rochford. That was evidently the King’s opinion too, for on May 13, the day after the men’s trial, he ordered her household to be broken up and dissolved, and her servants to be discharged from their allegiance. It was FitzWilliam, the King’s treasurer, and Paulet, his comptroller, who went to Greenwich to carry out Henry’s orders.44 On May 19, John Husee would report that “the most part of the Queen’s servants be set at liberty to seek service at pleasure.”45 Many were found places in the King’s household; others would return later to serve Jane Seymour. It must by now have been obvious to most people that Anne’s trial would be a mere formality.

  Norfolk’s commission of May 12 had appointed him to receive the indictments found against the Queen and Lord Rochford, and to call the accused before him for the purpose of hearing and examining them, and compelling them to answer the charges.46 Accordingly, on May 13, the grand juries were commanded to furnish Norfolk with those indictments at the coming trial, and that same day, Sir William Kingston was served with a royal writ commanding him to bring Queen Anne and Lord Rochford before the Lord High Steward “as he shall be required,” which was followed hours later by a precept from Norfolk himself, ordering the constable to bring his prisoners to trial on Monday, May 15. That same day, May 13, the Duke of Norfolk, in the King’s name, sent another precept to Ralph Felmingham, sergeant-at-arms, commanding him to summon at least twenty-seven “peers of the Queen and Lord Rochford, by whom the truth can be better made to appear.”47 Obviously, with these trials taking place on the Monday, the executions of the other accused would have to be postponed, for the Tower officials would be too busy to cope.

  On May 14, Cromwell wrote to Gardiner and Wallop, the English ambassadors in France, formally apprising them of the action taken against the Queen and the judgment on those accused with her. He said he had “to inform them of a most detestable scheme, happily discovered and notoriously known to all men,” of which they may have heard rumors. He “expressed to them some part of the coming out and the King’s proceeding”: how Anne’s crimes had come to light, the arrests of all concerned, and the condemnation of the men two days earlier. “She and her brother shall be arraigned tomorrow,” he concluded, “and will undoubtedly go the same way. I write no particularities, the things be so abominable, and therefore I doubt not but this shall be sufficient instruction to declare the truth if you have occasion to do so.”48 In this official version of events, Henry VIII was to be portrayed as the grievously injured party.

  As news of the arrests spread like wildfire across Europe, the story gained much in the telling. From Paris, on May 10, the Papal Nuncio, the Bishop of Faenza, reported to the Vatican: “News came yesterday from England that the King had caused to be arrested the Queen, her father, mother, brother, and an organist with whom she had been too intimate. If it be as it is reported, it is a great judgment of God.” The bishop was still under the impression, on May 19, that the King had “imprisoned his wife, her father, mother, brother, and friends,” and believed “that woman will doubtless be put to death.” By May 24 he had heard a further mish-mash of truth and rumor, and reported: “It is not true that her father and mother were imprisoned. It is said that the King has been in danger of being poisoned by that lady for a whole year, and that her daughter is suppositious, being the child of a countryman; but these particulars are not known for certain, according to what the King [Francis I] said today. The discovery was owing to words spoken by the organist from jealousy of others.”49

  In Spain it was initially believed that “the mistress of the King of England had been put in the Tower for adultery with an organist of her chamber. Her brother is imprisoned for not giving information of the crime.”50 On May 26, John Hannaert of Lyons was to inform the Emperor: “There is news from England that the so-called Queen was found in bed with the King’s organist and taken to prison. It is proved that she had criminal
intercourse with her brother and others.”51 Charles V thought it “very probable that God has permitted it after her damnable life.”52

  Dr. Ortiz, Charles V’s ambassador in Rome, was informed that “the King of England has imprisoned his mistress in the Tower. Other letters state that, in order to have a son who might be attributed to the King, she committed adultery with a singer who taught her to play on instruments. Others say it was with her brother. The King has sent them to the Tower with her father, mother, and other relations.” Ortiz later reported, on June 2: “The prayers of the late Queen of England and the Holy Martyrs have prevailed. The King’s mistress had six lovers, one being her own brother. Another, a musician, seeing that he was less favored, discovered the fact to the King, first asking for pardon and his life. Now they are all taken, it is found to be true.” Ortiz recalled the Cardinal of Burgos telling him that it had been prophesied by a martyred saint “that this Anna would be burned to death.”53

  In the Vatican, Pope Paul III summoned Gregory Casale, an English government agent, and informed him of what had taken place, declaring that God had enlightened the King of England’s conscience, and making it very clear that he would respond gladly to any overture of friendship and reconciliation that the King might make.54

  On May 29, in Germany, the Protestant reformer Philip Melanchthon heard the rumors about Anne Boleyn with great sorrow: “The reports from England are more than tragic. The Queen is thrown into prison with her father, her brother, two bishops, and others for adultery.” In June, having obtained more information, he concluded that “she was more accused than convicted of adultery.”55 Abroad, some people expressed the opinion that, “as none but the organist had confessed, the King invented the device to get rid of her;” but many others, convinced that she fully deserved the poor reputation that was hers in Catholic Europe, had no trouble believing the charges.

 
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