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

  Henry VIII had now returned to York Place, and with freedom in sight, decided that he wanted Jane, his bride-to-be, to be near at hand to receive the news of Anne’s condemnation. On Sunday, May 14, Chapuys reported that the King had that day “sent for Mrs. Seymour by the Grand Esquire [Sir Nicholas Carew] and some others, and made her come within a mile of his lodging”;56 she was installed in the fine house at Chelsea that had once belonged to Sir Thomas More but reverted to the Crown on his execution the previous summer, and was now in the keeping of Sir William Paulet, comptroller of the royal household, and later Marquess of Winchester.57 Its exact location is uncertain, but it certainly fronted the river, probably where Beaufort Street now lies to the north of Battersea Bridge. This great house boasted a seventy-foot hall, a chapel, a library,58 and twenty-seven acres of beautiful gardens, orchards, and parkland, the whole lying in an area that was still largely rural, yet within a half hour walk of Westminster.

  Here, Jane had her first taste of what it would be like to be a queen, finding herself lodged in surroundings of some splendor, “very richly adorned” in the most sumptuous fabrics and “served very splendidly by the servants, cooks, and certain of the King’s officers in very rich liveries.” Her parents, Sir John and Lady Seymour, had come to stay with and support her at this time, and to act as chaperones when the King visited.59 For all this display of virtue, they, and Jane, were eagerly awaiting the outcome of Anne’s trial.

  It is clear from Chapuys’s dispatches that the Seymours had very quickly taken him into their confidence, and more than likely that the Imperialist party and the Seymour affinity had been lobbying for the death penalty for Anne. Lady Mary’s supporters were convinced that Anne had poisoned Katherine and attempted to do the same to Mary and Richmond, removing all possible rivals to her daughter Elizabeth.60 They feared that, left alive, she would remain a threat to her successor and any new heirs the King might have. Above all, her death, following Katherine of Aragon’s, would leave the way clear for a new royal marriage and an undisputed succession. That Anne’s execution was widely anticipated is clear from a letter written by Charles V on May 15, the day of her trial, in which he suggested several possible marriage alliances for Henry VIII, clearly having assumed that she would die.61

  Throughout the weekend of May 13–14, the Tower officials were kept busy with hasty preparations for the trials of Anne and Rochford. There was no precedent in England for the trial of a queen, but it was nevertheless felt that it should take place with an appropriate degree of state and ceremony: it was to be the ultimate show trial, and would be held in the thirteenth-century great hall of the Tower, which was known as the King’s Hall.62 This battlemented building was part of the palace complex, and it stood at right angles to the south end of the Queen’s lodging, with one side facing the Jewel Tower and the White Tower, and the other the river. Measuring eighty feet by fifty, the hall had side aisles separated from the central space by two timber arcades with four arches apiece.

  The King’s Hall was long neglected, having been used as a storeroom as far back as 1387, and had to be repaired and redecorated for Anne’s coronation in 1533. But these repairs seem to have been purely superficial, for the hall would be falling into ruin by 1559. It was labeled “decay’d” in a plan of the Tower dated 1597,63 and a temporary canvas roof had to be put in place for the coronation of James I in 1604. In 1641 the hall was converted into an ordnance store. It was finally demolished in or shortly before 1788, when a new store was erected in its place. The Medieval Palace Shop now occupies part of the site.

  Anticipating a high demand by the public for seats, the constable arranged for a “great scaffold” or platform to be built in the center of the hall, “and there were made benches or seats for the lords,” while along the walls were positioned many more benches,64 so there would be space for the two thousand spectators described by Chapuys; these benches were still to be seen in the great hall as late as 1778.65 On the dais at one end of the chamber, the chair of estate—or throne—assigned to the Duke of Norfolk was placed under a canopy of estate bearing the royal arms, for Norfolk, as Lord High Steward, would be representing the King.66

  On the morning of Monday, May 15, the duke seated himself majestically here, holding the long white staff of his office. On a chair at his feet sat his nineteen-year-old son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, grasping the golden staff that symbolized his father’s office of Earl Marshal of England. At the duke’s right hand sat Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley; as a commoner, he was not entitled to judge a queen, but was there to offer legal advice to the duke.67 At Norfolk’s left hand was the Duke of Suffolk, the King’s brother-in-law, who had long been Anne’s enemy. Now appointed chief of those who had gathered to judge her, he was “wholly applying himself to the King’s humor.”68

  Then were seated, in order of precedence, “twenty-six of the greatest peers,”69 although the number is also given as twenty-seven,70 which is in fact the number that had been summoned by Norfolk.71 Although Constantine claimed that this jury consisted of “almost all the lords that were in the realm,” it in fact comprised fewer than half the entire peerage of sixty-two lords.72 Nevertheless, “the highest peers, marquesses, earls, and lords, every one after their degrees,” had been “chosen” to try the Queen and her brother.73 Friedmann, Anne’s Victorian biographer, had no doubt that this panel was “fairly chosen,” but Charles Wriothesley’s editor felt that the word “chosen” lent some credence to conjecture that “care was taken to select those who could be relied upon to gratify the King’s will,” as had certainly been the case when Cardinal Wolsey chose the lords who sent the Duke of Buckingham to the block in 1521. George Wyatt heard that the peers who had assembled to judge the Queen were “men of great honor” but felt “it had been good also if some of them had not been suspected of too much power and no less malice.” Some were there “more perhaps for countenance of others’ evil than for means by their own authority to do good—which also peradventure would not have been without their own certain perils.”

  Given its composition, there was little hope that the panel of peers would be impartial. As one historian has recently written, “they had much to gain or lose by their behavior in such a conspicuous theater.”74 Ives contends that they were summoned at such short notice that there was little opportunity for the Crown to influence their judgment, but who is to say that is was not made clear to them, directly or indirectly, what verdict was expected?

  Among them was Anne’s former lover and would-be betrothed, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, whose pursuit of her in 1523 had been halted by Wolsey, acting on the King’s orders;75 Percy had been hustled into an unhappy marriage, and was now an ailing embittered man, whose former love for Anne had long since withered into contempt, especially after she had offended his fellow peer, Norfolk; in 1534, Chapuys overheard Northumberland saying to a friend that Anne was a bad woman who had plotted to poison Lady Mary, which effectively demolishes the romantic myth that he loved her till the end of his days. The earl, having no children, had made the King his heir the previous January, describing himself as “unfeign[ed]ly sick” of “the debility in my blood.”76

  The other high-ranking “lords triers” were Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, a great confidant of the King, whose name heads the extant list preserved in the Baga de Secretis; Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester, whose wife Elizabeth had laid evidence against the Queen; the Marquess of Exeter and his cousin Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, staunch partisans of Lady Mary, who were no doubt rejoicing in Anne’s fall, for which they had long been scheming; William FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, another friend of the King; Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, who served Henry VIII loyally in the North; Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland, a cousin and great favorite of the King; and George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, another favorite of Henry’s.

  The rest of the peers were barons: George Brooke, Lord Cobham, a strong supporter of the King, whose sister Elizab
eth was married to Thomas Wyatt, and whose wife was perhaps the “Nan Cobham” who had given evidence against Anne Boleyn; Henry Parker, Lord Morley, the friend of Lady Mary, come to sit in judgment on his son-in-law Rochford,77 and possibly motivated by righteous anger on behalf of his daughter Jane; William, Lord Sandys, the Lord Chamberlain, another long-standing favorite of the King; Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre of the South, who had only narrowly escaped being convicted of treason two years earlier, and was not likely to put his neck at risk a second time; John Tuchet, Lord Audley; Thomas West, Lord de la Warr; Arundel’s son, Henry FitzAlan, Lord Maltravers; Edward, Lord Grey of Powys, and Thomas Stanley, Lord Monteagle, both of whom were married to daughters of the Duke of Suffolk, the King’s brother-in-law and close friend; Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Lord Clinton, who was married to Elizabeth Blount, former mistress to the King and mother of his son, the Duke of Richmond; Andrew, Lord Windsor, who was very much a King’s man; Thomas, Lord Wentworth, whose aunt, Margaret Wentworth, was Jane Seymour’s mother; Thomas, Lord Burgh; and John, Lord Mordaunt, a career courtier who served on several treason trials.78

  The top part of the parchment in the Baga de Secretis has perished, and only seventeen names remain on the list of peers. There is a prick mark beside each, probably made as, one by one, the lords took their seats.79 Notable absentees were the Duke of Richmond, the King’s bastard son, who was perhaps excused on account of his youth—he was not quite seventeen;80 the two female peers; four lords—the Earl of Kent and Lords Dudley, Say, Sele, and Tailboys—who were too poor to attend; three—the Earl of Cumberland, Lord Dacre of the North, and Lord Lisle—who were serving as deputies on the northern Marches and in Calais; and several others,81 among them John Neville, Lord Latimer, the second husband of Katherine Parr (who would become Henry VIII’s sixth wife in 1543). Latimer had written to Cromwell on May 12, begging him “to have me excused by reason of business in Worcestershire,” and protesting, “I have been at every prorogation and session of the last Parliament since it began, which has been very painful and chargeable to me.”82

  Alexander Aless was told—by his landlord, who heard it firsthand from people in the crowd who would witness Anne’s end—“that the Earl of Wiltshire, the Queen’s father, had been commanded to be an assessor along with the judges, in order that his daughter might be the more confounded, and that her grief might be the deeper.” The account of Anne’s trial that is preserved in the Harleian manuscripts states that Wiltshire “was among [the peers] by whom she was to be tried,” and Chapuys was told that “the Earl of Wiltshire was quite as ready to assist the judgment as he had done at the condemnation of the other four.”83 The Bishop of Faenza was to report, on May 24, that Wiltshire, “being on the council, was present at his daughter’s sentence,”84 but he is not the most reliable source, and neither is Dr. Ortiz, who asserted on June 2 that “her father approved her condemnation.”85 In the official record in the Baga de Secretis, Wiltshire’s name is not included among those who sat in judgment at the trials of his daughter and son, but the list is incomplete. It may be that Wiltshire was the twenty-seventh peer—Norfolk had summoned that number—and that it is time to revise the long-held assumption that he was not among the lords who gathered to try his daughter and his son. Even had he not been, in serving on the jury that condemned the others, he effectively colluded in the destruction of his children, for, as Sander’s Victorian editor shrewdly pointed out, he “could not have been ignorant of the effect of the first verdict.”

  Conducting the trial was Sir Christopher Hales, the Attorney General and thus the chief prosecutor for the Crown, as well as Sir John Aleyn, “the Mayor of London with certain aldermen, with the wardens and four persons more of twelve of the principal crafts [guilds] of London.”86 The French ambassador and other foreign diplomats were permitted to watch the proceedings, but Chapuys was unwell and unable to attend, so had to rely on people who were present for information. Much of what we know of the two trials that were to follow comes from his dispatches.87 Other eyewitnesses who left records of the proceedings were Sir John Spelman, one of the judges, and the Tower official, Anthony Anthony, Surveyor of the Ordnance, who also owned an inn called The Ship, and served as churchwarden at St. Botolph’s Church, Aldgate. Unfortunately, his chronicle has not survived, and is known only through the notes on it made by the seventeenth-century writer Thomas Turner, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in his copy of Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s life of Henry VIII.

  By the King’s express command, members of the public were admitted to the trial, and were allowed to stand in the well of the hall behind wooden barriers that had been erected to contain the press of people.88 George Wyatt gained the impression that Anne’s trial was heard “close enough, as enclosed in strong walls,” but Chapuys had the truth of it when he stated that “the thing was not done secretly, for there were more than two thousand persons present.”89 The King was determined that justice would be seen to be done, which suggests that he and his advisers felt they had built a strong enough case against the Queen. Cromwell—as he would tell Chapuys—had “taken considerable trouble” over the judicial process.90 This was not to be quite the farcical trial some historians have claimed.

  The records relating to the legal process against Anne Boleyn and Lord Rochford were long thought to have been suppressed in their entirety, but in fact the Henrician government took unwonted care to preserve some of the official documentation of these proceedings. Nevertheless, crucial papers are missing: actual trial records, details of the evidence produced in court, statements known to have been made by Smeaton and Norris, depositions of all the witnesses who had supposedly been questioned, and transcripts of the interrogations of Smeaton, Norris, and the Queen.91 It was the magisterial Victorian historian, Froude, who first noticed92 that the records of Anne Boleyn’s trial “survive only in a faint epitome, and we know neither by whom nor why the evidence was done away with.” Yet since the trial was conducted so publicly, there was really no need for anyone to do away with it. It has been speculated that these documents were destroyed in the sixteenth century, on the orders of either Henry VIII or Cromwell, both of whom perhaps wished to suppress details of dubious evidence or of a scandal that so touched the King’s honor, although if that was so, why was the indictment itself, the very substance of the case, not destroyed too? Cromwell, as Master of the Rolls, would have had control of such documents and the ability to dispose of them, and although it is not unusual for depositions to be missing in such cases, and it is clear from the other documents that depositions were never included with the records in the Baga de Secretis,93 there is a real possibility that, in response to negative comments about the evidence produced at the trial, they were purposely destroyed.

  David Starkey has put forward the theory that no depositions ever existed in the first place, and that Cromwell and his colleagues never had all the evidence of which they boasted.94 In support of this, he cites Rochford’s concern—expressed to Kingston probably on May 5—that he had not yet been summoned before the Privy Council for further questioning, and Anne’s marveling on the same day that the Privy Council had not come to take a deposition from her.95 But certainly the authorities had Smeaton’s confession; there is also good evidence that they had Lady Rochford’s testimony, and Sir John Spelman, a judge at the trials of Anne and Rochford, refers to the evidence of the person to whom Lady Wingfield confided her doubts about Anne, which Starkey does not mention. But even the hostile Chapuys would report that there was no valid proof of Anne’s guilt, so it may well be that there were very few “interrogatories” produced at her trial and that of her brother, and that the Crown relied chiefly on the force and shock value of the indictment and on the prisoners being directly confronted with only the verbal evidence of their accusers.

  It has also been suggested, by several writers, that Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter, wanting to suppress proof of her mother’s guilt, destroyed the missing trial documents, although again th
at begs the question of why she did not make a more thorough job of it. Furthermore, it seems Elizabeth’s policy to have left well alone regarding any matter concerning Anne Boleyn. Quite simply, these papers may have been lost,96 although considering how crucial and sensitive they were, that is possibly too convenient a theory.

  The surviving documents relating to the trials survive in pouches eight and nine of the Baga de Secretis in the National Archives. These particular treason trials are among the earliest where some documentation is preserved. Originally, these papers were kept under lock and key, with only three key holders: the Lord Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the Master of the Crown Office. This archive consists in each case of an enrollment or summary of the trial and most of the original documents employed in it, including an abstract of the evidence. All have been carefully calendared in the Deputy Keeper’s Third Report.


  Fighting Without a Weapon

  Jane Seymour did not appear in public on the day of Anne’s trial, but stayed indoors with her family at Chelsea. She was agitated about the outcome of the proceedings and was anxiously awaiting the return of Chapuys with news of the verdict. But according to the ambassador, “one of her relations, who was with her on the day of the condemnation, told me that in the morning, the King had sent that morning to tell her that he would send her news at three o’clock in the afternoon of the condemnation of the Concubine.” Clearly Henry had made his will in the matter plain, and expected the verdict to be a foregone conclusion.

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