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


  Although he had done so when Katherine of Aragon died, Henry VIII did not mark Anne’s death with celebrations and feasting. The royal household accounts for May 19, 1536, show the lowest expenditure for any day that year: £44.12s. (£15,600).19 That was probably because, after hearing the guns signaling that he was a widower, Henry VIII left Whitehall in the morning to join Jane at Chelsea. “The people will certainly be displeased at what has been told me, if it be true,” Chapuys wrote on May 20, “that yesterday, the King, immediately on receiving news of the decapitation of the Concubine, boarded his barge and went to [Mistress] Seymour, whom he has lodged a mile from him in a house by the river.”20 By then Sir Francis Bryan had already brought Jane the news that Anne was dead.

  Henry did not, as legends have it, go hunting and wait in Richmond Park or Epping Forest for the Tower cannon to be fired,21 and Chapuys’s report belies the crude assertion made by Cromwell’s servant to Aless that the King was “enjoying himself with another woman” as Anne faced the executioner, although he might well have done so later on, as he spent the day quietly with Jane at Chelsea, and dined with her there in the evening.

  Henry had still not appeared in public. John Husee, in his letter of May 19 that detailed the executions to Lord Lisle, stated apologetically that despite having “waited diligently and made all the friendship that I can make,” he could “find no ways to come to the King’s presence. His Grace came not abroad these fourteen days, so that I have been, and yet am, at bay. I trust it be ere long, seeing that these matters of execution are past, to speak with His Grace, and then deliver your [gift of] spurs.” In the end, after all the frustrating delays, Lisle’s request “to have something of what came to his hands by these gentlemen’s deaths” reached the King (as Henry was to explain a week later) “too late, because all things were disposed long since, and there was nothing worth giving Your Lordship.”22

  By the time Anne died, preparations were already in train for the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour. In the royal palaces, an army of carpenters, stonemasons, glaziers, and seamstresses were busily removing Anne’s initials, mottoes, and falcon badge, and replacing them with Jane’s initials and her emblem of a phoenix arising from a flaming castle;23 that this was done in a hurry is evident from the fact that in some places Anne’s devices are still visible underneath; in others they were clearly inaccessible or just overlooked. At Hampton Court, for example, her initials, entwined with Henry’s, can still be seen adorning the vaulted ceiling of Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, and her initials and badges are to be seen in the roof timbers of the great hall and in the Great Watching Chamber, while her falcon badge survives in the rood screen in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. On Henry’s orders, a stained-glass window depicting St. Anne, the fallen Queen’s patron saint, was removed from the chapel royal at Hampton Court.24 Portraits of Anne were probably taken down and hidden away, or destroyed, which would explain why hardly any contemporary likenesses survive.

  At Dover Castle the King’s master glazier, Galyon Hone, had just added “the Queen’s badge” to windows in the royal lodgings, for which he was paid £200 (£69,850); more money was wasted when the King had to pay him to replace the badges with those of Jane Seymour, in time for the summer’s royal visit to Dover. Galyon Hone is also known to have replaced Anne’s badges in the windows at Ampthill and Greenwich.25 With stone emblems, Anne’s heraldic device of a leopard was more easily remodeled to look like Jane’s panther “by new making of the heads and tails.”26 When news of Anne’s fate reached Zurich, where Miles Coverdale’s English Bible with its dedication to Henry and his “dearest wife and most virtuous princess, Queen Anne” was being reprinted, Jane’s name was hastily superimposed on the frontispiece.27 Anne’s name, and her image, were being thoroughly erased from view: it was as if she had never existed.

  At Hever Castle, her family home, there is a posthumous reminder of her fate: on the stone newel of the spiral staircase leading to the Long Gallery, there is incised the cipher that appears in Henry VIII’s love letters to her, and below it—at some unknown date—someone has carved an axe.

  During the night after Anne’s execution, Henry left Whitehall and was rowed upriver to Hampton Court; at six o’clock the following morning, May 20, Jane Seymour was conveyed from Chelsea “secretly by river to the King’s lodgings” and they were betrothed there at nine o’clock. “The King means it to be kept secret till Whitsuntide,” Chapuys added, “but everybody begins already to murmur by suspicion, and several affirm that, long before the death of the other, there was some arrangement, which sounds ill in the ears of the people.”28 Jane, Agnes Strickland sternly observed, had “given her hand to the regal ruffian before his wife’s corpse was cold. Yes, four-and-twenty hours had not elapsed since the sword was reddened with the blood of her mistress.”

  News of the betrothal could not be kept secret for long. “It is presumed that there shall be by midsummer a new coronation,” the perceptive Husee wrote on May 24.29 Six days earlier Chapuys had expressed his doubts about Jane’s virginity. “Perhaps the King will be only too glad to be so far relieved of that difficulty,” he added mischievously. “According to the account of the Concubine, he has neither vigor nor competence, and besides, he may marry her on condition that she is a maid, and when he wants a divorce, there will be plenty of witnesses ready to testify that she was not.”

  Although Jane had proved useful to him and his friends, Chapuys was unimpressed by her: “The said Seymour is not a woman of great wit, but she may have good understanding. It is said she inclines to be proud and haughty. She bears great love and reverence to the princess. I know not if honors will make her change hereafter.”30

  On the Sunday after Anne’s execution, which was Ascension Day, “the King wore white for mourning.”31 That weekend, he ordered the settlement of an account submitted by Sir William Kingston in respect of expenses incurred in connection with the imprisonment of “the late Queen”: £100 (£34,900) “for [the redeeming of] such jewels and apparel as [she] had in the Tower;” £25.4s.6d (£8,800) for her “diet;” £23.6s.8d (£7,800) “to the executioner of Calais for his reward and apparel;” and £20 (£7,000) for the alms Anne had distributed on the day of her death.32 That came to the princely total of £168.11s.2d (£58,500), which would be paid in August. Some of Anne’s outstanding debts were also settled by the King’s comptroller—the rest would not be paid by Cromwell until February 1538—and moneys owing to her totaling £1,073.6s.8d (£374,850) called in.33 Meanwhile, Cromwell, on May 20, had drawn up a list of “Remembrances,” and made a note to himself “To remember… Sir William Kingston.”34 He also remembered George Constantine, and how he had been a friend to Norris and sent details of the events in the Tower to John Barlow, once chaplain to the Boleyns. Constantine was briefly arrested, which suggests that Master Secretary was still anxious to control and censor information about Anne’s fall.35

  The news of Anne’s execution had spread like wildfire through Europe. In Rome, the Pope, in the false hope that the English Reformation had been halted, suspended the excommunication process against Henry VIII. There was a virtual stampede to find a bride for the eligible royal widower. Charles V, on May 18, before Anne Boleyn’s death, had proposed that “since the case [against Anne] is so manifest, as we suppose, by the divine will, and the King takes it to heart as he ought,” a marriage for Henry VIII with the Infanta of Portugal, “as he is of amorous complexion and always desires to have a male child”;36 while on May 24, the Bishop of Faenza reported that “the Imperialists have offered the King of England the Queen of Hungary for a wife, but it is thought he will not take her as she is in bad health and not fit to bear children.”37 The French were also keen to seize the advantage: Chapuys says that on the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution, their ambassadors offered the King the hand of Madeleine of Valois, a daughter of Francis I. But Henry replied “that she was too young for him, and he had too much experience of French upbringing in the case of the Concubine.??
?38

  Of course, he was entertaining no thoughts of taking another foreign bride, and on May 29, “incontinent after the suffering of Queen Anne,”39 and before people in far-flung parts of the kingdom had even heard of Anne’s death, he married Jane Seymour at Hampton Court.40 It was thought strange by some that “within one and the same month that saw Queen Anne flourishing, accused, condemned and executed,” another was “assumed into her place, both of bed and honor.”41 A courier from England informed the Bishop of Faenza that Henry had “showed the greatest preference for [Jane], even during the life of the other.”42 It is easy to see why people were beginning to take a cynical view. By June 4, Henry VIII had emerged from seclusion and was again presiding over “a great and triumphant court,”43 and on June 5 the Queen’s brother, Sir Edward Seymour, was created Viscount Beauchamp44 and launched on the glittering path to power and, ultimately, tragedy.

  On June 7 the King brought Queen Jane by barge from Greenwich to Whitehall. London was en fête, and crowds lined the riverbanks. As the royal couple were rowed past the Tower, they could see that it was bedecked with fluttering pennants and streamers in honor of the occasion45—in stark contrast to the grim drama that had been played out within its walls not three weeks before. We might wonder if either Jane or Henry allowed their thoughts to dwell on the woman who had been its central player, and whose body was now decomposing beneath the pavement of the Tower chapel.

  When Henry VIII reopened Parliament on June 8, 1536, Lord Chancellor Audley, in his speech to the King and both Houses, spoke of Anne Boleyn’s crimes and the need to settle the succession on the issue of Queen Jane. “Your Majesty, not knowing of any lawful impediments, entered into the bonds of the said unlawful marriage and advanced the Lady Anne to the sovereign state. Yet she, nevertheless, inflamed with pride and carnal desires of her body, confederated herself with her natural brother” and the other men accused with her, “to the utter loss, disherison, and desolation of this realm; and so, being confederate, she and they most traitorously committed and perpetrated diverse detestable and abominable treasons, to the fearful peril and danger of your royal person, and to the fearful peril and danger of this realm, if God of His goodness had not in due time brought their said treasons to light. For the which, being plainly and manifestly proved, they were convict[ed] and attainted by due course and order of your common law of this realm, and have suffered according to the merits.”

  Lord Chancellor read out to both Houses the King’s speech, in which Henry—possibly mounting a damage-limitation exercise to quell the rumors—publicly lamented that, having been so disappointed in his first two marriages, he was obliged, for the welfare of his realm, to enter upon a third, “a personal sacrifice not required of any ordinary man.”46 Here the Lord Chancellor paused, then asked, “What man in middle life would not this deter from marrying a third time? Yet this, our most excellent prince, not in any carnal concupiscence, but at the humble entreaty of his nobility, again condescended to contract matrimony, and hath, on the humble petition of the nobility, taken to himself a wife this time whose age and fine form give promise of issue.” There was resounding applause, and Audley, on behalf of the Lords and Commons, thanked the King for his selflessness and the care he had shown for his subjects. After that, the King left smiling benignly, confident that he had emerged from the whole tragic affair as the innocent party—as indeed those close to him made plain their conviction that he was. “The King hath come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness in this [Queen] and the cursedness and unhappiness in the other,” Sir John Russell observed.47

  The chief business of this Parliament was to ratify the condemnation of Anne Boleyn, as well as Cranmer’s annulment of her marriage, which was sealed on June 10 and approved by the bishops in convocation on June 21 and by both Houses of Parliament on June 28.48 Parliament’s other priority—as Chapuys predicted on May 19—was to exclude “the Concubine’s little bastard” from ever succeeding to the throne,49 and it now passed a new Act of Succession, declaring that the King’s marriage to Anne was unlawful and that its issue, Elizabeth, was to be “taken, reputed, and accepted to be illegitimate, and utterly excluded and barred to claim, challenge, or demand any inheritance as lawful heir to Your Highness by lineal descent.” Instead the crown was to pass to the heirs of Jane Seymour.50

  A general pardon was thereupon issued to those persons who had been cast into prison for slandering Anne or calling her daughter a bastard.51 Four years later, when French ambassadors showed themselves reluctant to consider Elizabeth as a bride for the French King’s son, her great-uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, openly agreed with them that it would not be an “honorable” match, and explained that “the opinion of Queen Anne, her mother, was such that it was quite decided to consider her illegitimate.”52

  No longer were the Boleyns a force to be reckoned with: their power and spirit had been crushed, their faction toppled and discredited in less than three weeks. Those who survived the purge, like the Howards and the late Queen’s reformist protégés, had to keep their heads down in order to save themselves. Although Anne’s parents had escaped being sent to the Tower, her father, Wiltshire—who had made no protest, nor expressed regret or grief at the fate of his son and daughter—was deprived of his lucrative office of Lord Privy Seal on June 24, to be replaced by Cromwell on July 2,53 around the time when—had Anne’s child gone to term—he would have become grandfather to the future king.

  Nevertheless, Wiltshire retained his place at court and on the King’s Council. He attended the christening of Prince Edward, the son whom Jane Seymour finally bore Henry VIII, in October 1537, helped to suppress the Pilgrimage of Grace that year, and even, on one occasion, lent Cromwell his Garter insignia. In January 1538 we find him being “well-entertained” at court.54 After his wife, Elizabeth Howard, passed away in April that year,55 there was talk of a marriage between him and the Lady Margaret Douglas, the King’s niece.56

  Clearly Wiltshire had not fallen far from favor, and when he died in March 1539, the King ordered masses to be said for his soul.57 There is no evidence to support Sander’s assertion that he “died of grief,” yet it would not be surprising if grief had been a factor in hastening his end. His fine tomb brass may be seen in St. Peter’s Church at Hever. Neither he nor his wife lived to see the triumphant accession of their granddaughter, Elizabeth I, in 1558. In 1540, Hever Castle, the family seat in Kent, was given to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, as part of her nullity settlement.

  Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, lived until 1543, dying in obscurity at Rochford Hall in Essex, a Boleyn property. Having incurred the wrath of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1534 for secretly marrying the impecunious William Stafford without their consent, she was banished from court and is not recorded there again. Hence she probably had no further contact with her niece Elizabeth.

  There has been speculation that George Boleyn perhaps left one son, his namesake, who became Dean of Lichfield under Elizabeth I and who described himself in his will as the kinsman of her cousin, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was Mary Boleyn’s grandson and Anne Boleyn’s great-nephew. It is unlikely that was the son of George Boleyn and Jane Parker, since Thomas Boleyn’s heir at his death was his daughter Mary. The name George—unusual in the Boleyn family—suggests he was Rochford’s bastard. Barred from inheriting, and fatherless, with his Boleyn grandparents dead, it is entirely credible that, in November 1544, he should have entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar—a student of limited means who was charged reduced fees and given assistance with food and lodging while at the university. A career in the Church was always the best option for gentlemen without independent means, and it was later claimed (by the antiquarian Browne Willis in his survey of Lichfield Cathedral, published in 1727 and based on original records and registers) that Elizabeth I wanted to appoint this kinsman Bishop of Worcester, but that he turned it down. But he was grateful for what she had done for him, and in his will he stated, “Her Majesty gave m
e all that ever I have.”58

  Lady Rochford, “a widow in black full woebegone,”59 retired from court after her husband’s fall. After his execution, his confiscated assets, which had been inventoried, and now reverted to the Crown, were distributed among loyal courtiers such as the Earl of Sussex and Sir Thomas Cheyney; on May 31, 1536, no doubt to reward his willingness to condemn his son-in-law, Lady Rochford’s father, Henry Parker, Lord Morley, was granted the lucrative office of chief steward of the manor of Hatfield Regis, which was part of the honor of Beaulieu in Essex, a royal palace that had been given to Lord Rochford and had also reverted to the Crown; in addition, he was appointed master of the deer in the forest there, and keeper of the park.60

  Lady Rochford, however, was left in serious financial difficulties; even her rich court attire had been seized.61 It was probably in late May that she was reduced to sending a begging letter to Cromwell, in whom, she declared, “her special trust” reposed after God and the King, for he was well known for his “gentle manner to all them that be in such lamentable case.” She implored him “to obtain from the King for her the stuff and plate of her husband,” saying it was “nothing to be regarded” by Henry, but would be to her “a most high help and succor.” She reminded him that “the King and her father paid 2,000 marks [£232,800] for her jointure to the Earl of Wiltshire, and she is only assured of 100 marks [£11,650] during the earl’s life,” which, she wrote, “is very hard for me to shift the world withal.” She prayed Master Secretary “to inform the King of this” and make him think “more tenderly” of her, assuring him of her “prayers and service” for the rest of her life, and signing her letter as “a poor desolate widow, without comfort, Jane Rochford.”62 It seems that despite the fact that she furnished evidence that had helped their case, Jane was overlooked by Henry and Cromwell in the hectic aftermath of Anne Boleyn’s fall. Cromwell did see that she was well provided for:63 he and the King acted immediately, Henry forcing her father-in-law, Wiltshire (who had control of her income), to increase her allowance to £100 (£34,900); understandably, the earl did so reluctantly, bitterly insisting that Cromwell “inform the King that I do this alonely for his pleasure.”64 This was on July 2, 1536. However, Jane’s jointure, the part of her marriage settlement allocated for her security in widowhood (which included Blickling Hall in Norfolk, where Anne Boleyn had probably been born), was not restored to her until after Wiltshire’s death and that of his mother, Margaret Butler, in 1539.65

 
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