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


  Lady Rochford perhaps sought refuge at her father’s house, for it is unlikely that she was welcome at her father-in-law’s castle at Hever; but she was back at court, as a lady-in-waiting to Jane Seymour, by the end of 1536. Her reappearance at court so soon after the fall of the Boleyns, and within months of her husband’s death, suggests she was being rewarded for her complicity, while other evidence implies that she was to go on being rewarded. In 1539 she obtained, probably through Cromwell’s good offices, the passing of an act of Parliament confirming her jointure and protecting her interest in certain Boleyn manors; this bill was passed after its three readings were rushed through on the same day, and it was signed by Henry VIII himself, who granted her two manors in Warwickshire at the same time.66

  Jane continued to enjoy royal favor, and was to serve two of Henry’s subsequent wives, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. But in 1541 she rashly and “traitorously” became a “go-between” in Katherine’s extramarital trysts with the courtier Thomas Culpeper; for which, when these were discovered, she was arrested after the Queen, whom she betrayed under questioning. The theory that she abetted Katherine’s adultery in order to wreak vengeance on Henry VIII for executing her husband is hardly convincing, given that her own evidence had brought George Boleyn to the block. Lacey Baldwin Smith’s description of Lady Rochford as “a pathological meddler with the instincts of a procuress who achieves a vicarious pleasure from arranging assignations”67 may not be far wide of the mark. Katherine Howard herself accused Jane of having a “wicked imagination,”68 and of acting as agent provocateur for her own purposes; both behaved with “unbelievable imbecility.”69

  Taken to the Tower, “that bawd the Lady Jane Rochford”70 suffered a nervous collapse so severe that it was thought she had gone mad.71 It did not save her. Parliament passed an Act of Attainder condemning her to death, and she followed Katherine Howard to the block on February 13, 1542. By the time Jane reached the scaffold, she was calm and resigned, although one bystander thought she spent too long a time dwelling on the “several faults she had committed in her life.”72 “Good Christians,” she said, “God has permitted me to suffer this shameful doom as punishment for having contributed to my husband’s death. I falsely accused him of loving, in an incestuous manner, his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn. For this I deserve to die. But I am guilty of no other crime.”73 Her end, George Wyatt later observed, was “a just punishment by law after her naughtiness.”

  Less than twenty years later George Cavendish observed that her “slander forever shall be rife” and that as a result of her deeds “both early and late” in her life—which implies that her testimony against her husband was notorious—she would be called “the woman of vice insatiate.” And so she has gone down in history, there having been just one not very convincing attempt, in 2007, to rehabilitate her memory.74

  On the day of Anne’s execution, Chapuys had reported that “there are still two English gentlemen detained on her account, and it is suspected that there will be many more, because the King has said he believed that more than a hundred had had to do with her.”75

  But there would be no more arrests. Corroborating Chapuys’s account, John Husee informed Lord Lisle that “Mr. Page and Mr. Wyatt remain still in the Tower. What shall become of them, God knoweth best.”76 Cromwell secured their release on June 14, Wyatt upon his father’s surety for his good behavior, and Page on condition that he never again came near the King or the court. The King soon made it clear that he was ready to receive Page back into favor, but Page decided that it was safer to stay away from court for the time being,77 later in 1536, however, he was appointed Sheriff of Surrey, and around this time resolved to become “a daily courtier” again. The King was as good as his word, and in 1537 appointed Page chamberlain to the newborn Prince Edward. In September 1539, Henry personally granted him the dissolved priory of St. Giles-in-the-Wood (later Beechwood Park) at Flamstead, Hertfordshire. After receiving various other grants and offices, including the property of the Knights of St. John in Kilburn, north of London, and being honored by a visit by the young King Edward VI, Sir Richard died in prosperity in February 1548, leaving an only daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, the wife of Sir William Skipwith.

  Henry was soon ready to welcome Wyatt back too. The “Spanish Chronicle,” referring to the letter Wyatt had supposedly sent to him from the Tower, has the King saying, “I am sorry I did not listen to thee when I was angry, but I was blinded by that bad woman.” This too is probably apocryphal. But Wyatt had been deeply affected, not only by his own plight, but also by that of the other accused, and during his imprisonment had written another poem reflecting upon the fate of those who rose high at court only to experience the bitter reversal of fortune. Entitled “Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me intimici me” (the Latin title is based on Psalm 16, verse 9: “My enemies surround my soul,” and Wyatt’s name—Viat—is surrounded by Innocence, Truth, and Faith), each verse ends in a Latin phrase that aptly translates as “Thunder rolls around the Throne” (which is based on a line in Seneca’s Phaedra, “It thunders through the realms”), and reads:

  V. Innocentia [the v stands for Wyatt; Innocence]

  Veritas Viat Fides [Truth, Wyatt, faith]

  Circumdederunt me inimici mei [My enemies have surrounded me]

  Who list his wealth and ease retain,

  Himself let him unknown contain.

  Press not too fast in at that gate

  Where the return stands by disdain,

  For sure, circa Regna tonat.

  The high mountains are blasted oft

  When the low valley is mild and soft.

  Fortune with Health stands at debate;

  The fall is grievous from aloft,

  And sure, circa Regna tonat.

  These bloody days have broken my heart,

  My lust, my youth did then depart,

  And blind desire of estate.

  Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.

  Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

  The Bell Tower showed me such a sight

  That in my head sticks day and night.

  There did I lean out of a grate,

  For all favour, glory or might,

  That yet circa Regna tonat.

  By proof, I say, there did I learn:

  Wit helpeth not defence too yern [eager],

  Of innocency to plead or prate.

  Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,

  For sure, circa Regna tonat.

  Bitterly disillusioned with a courtier’s existence, Wyatt seems to have spent only a brief time at court before returning to his father’s castle at Allington for a time. It was probably then that he wrote (or completed) another, longer poem, in which he poured out the shock and deep sorrow he still felt at the brutal deaths of his friends; the immediacy of his misery suggests that it was begun soon afterward, and completed later when he had had a chance to judge public opinion. The content of the poem shows that the executions were still very much the news of the moment, and speculation still rife when it was written. Anne, the woman Wyatt had once loved, is not mentioned; no doubt—as with his other poems about her—he felt it was too dangerous to do so. And because of this, he made it clear in his verse that he dared not speak his feelings aloud, but that he knew they would be with him always:

  In mourning wise since daily I increase,

  Thus should I cloak the cause of all my grief;

  So pensive mind with tongue to hold his peace,

  My reason sayeth there can be no release;

  Wherefore, give ear, I humbly you require,

  The effects to know that this doth make me moan.

  The cause is great of all my doleful cheer,

  For those that were, and now be dead and gone.

  What thought to death dessert be now their call,

  As by their thoughts it doth appear right plain,

  Of force, I must lament that such a fall

  Should light on those so w
ealthy did reign;

  Though some perchance will say, of cruel heart,

  “A traitor’s death why should we thus bemoan?”

  But I, alas—set this offence apart—

  Must needs bewail the death of some begone.

  As for them all, I do not thus lament,

  But as of right, my reason doth me bind;

  But as the most doth all their deaths repent,

  Even so do I by force of moaning mind …

  He went on to mention each of the condemned men in turn, saying of Rochford that “many cry aloud, ‘It is great loss that thou art dead and gone.’” It seems he thought that, of them all, Norris and Brereton at least were guilty:

  Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run,

  To think what hap did thee so lead or guide,

  Whereby thou hast both these and thine undone,

  That is bewailed in court on every side,

  In place also where thou hast never been,

  Both man and child doth piteously thee moan;

  They say, “Alas, thou art for ever seen

  By their offences to be both dead and gone.”

  As for Weston,

  … we that now in court doth lead our life

  Most part in mind dost thee lament and moan;

  But that thy faults we daily hear so rife,

  All we should weep that thou art dead and gone.

  Brereton, farewell, as one that least I knew.

  Great was thy love with divers, as I hear,

  But common voice doth not so sore thee rue

  As other twain that doth before appear.

  But yet no doubt but thy friends lament

  And other hear their piteous cry and moan,

  So doth each heart for the like wise relent,

  That thou givest cause thus to be dead and gone.

  …

  Smeaton, who had openly confessed and betrayed Anne, merited only Wyatt’s begrudging regret:

  Ah, Mark! What moan should I for thee make more,

  Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,

  Save only that mine eye is forced sore

  With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?

  A time thou hadst above thy poor degree,

  The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan;

  A rotten twig upon so high a tree

  Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.

  Wyatt concluded:

  And thus farewell, each one in hearty wise,

  The axe is home, your heads be in the street;

  The trickling tears doth fall so from mine eyes,

  I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.

  But what can hope, when death hath played his part,

  Though Nature’s course will thus lament and moan?

  Leave sobs, therefore, and every Christian heart

  Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.

  Wyatt was to acquire the Lefèvre manuscript, which had been owned by Rochford and Smeaton. Among the proverbs he wrote on the flyleaves is one that reads: “He that is an ass and thinks himself an hind, on leaping the ditch will realize the truth.” This was probably a comment on the fate of Mark Smeaton.78

  By October 1536, Wyatt was serving with the royal forces that had been sent to suppress the northern uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. He was back at court by March 18, 1537, when Henry VIII knighted him. For the rest of his life he would serve as ambassador to Charles V, before dying of pneumonia in the autumn of 1542. His poems were first published in 1557.

  Despite his affinity with the Boleyns, Archbishop Cranmer survived the purge and continued to promote the cause of religious reform. He was burned at the stake for heresy, on the orders of Henry’s daughter, Mary I, in 1556.

  The Duke of Norfolk retained his post as Lord Treasurer, but deemed it politic, in the wake of the fall of his “false, traitorous niece,”79 to retire from court for a time to his house at Kenninghall, and was not recalled until later in 1536, when he was needed to help put down the Pilgrimage of Grace. His absence from court enabled the Seymours to establish political ascendancy there, and thus was initiated the bitter rivalry between them and the Howards that was to endure for the rest of the reign.

  After the arrest and disgrace of another allegedly adulterous niece, Queen Katherine Howard, in 1541, Norfolk again hastened to distance himself, writing to the King how he was in “the greatest perplexity” because of “the most abominable deeds done by two of my nieces.”80 Late in 1546, Norfolk and his son Surrey were accused of treason and sent to the Tower. Surrey was executed, but the King, who died on January 28, 1547, held back from signing Norfolk’s death warrant. The duke spent the six years of Edward VI’s reign in prison before being released by Mary I on her accession in 1553. He died in 1554.

  Lady Mary’s supporters had good reason to believe they had triumphed when Anne Boleyn was executed, but Mary’s restoration to favor was not won so easily. Cromwell hastened to dissociate himself from the conservative faction after Anne’s fall, and Mary and her friends found themselves isolated once more. Only after an acknowledgment that her mother’s marriage had been incestuous and unlawful was wrung out of Mary—a capitulation to haunt her for the rest of her days—would the King agree to be reconciled to her. Thereafter, however, she was welcomed back to court and given one half of “the Boleyn’s” jewels, some of which had once belonged to Katherine of Aragon; these were a gift from her father.81 (Interestingly, along with twenty-seven diamond rings set with the letters HJ that were recorded among the King’s effects late in 1537, after Jane Seymour’s death, there were two rings with the initials HA, for Henry and Anne.)82 In 1544, Mary and her half sister Elizabeth were restored to the succession after Prince Edward and his heirs.

  Cromwell was raised to the peerage as Lord Cromwell of Wimbledon on July 9, and that same month was knighted and appointed Lord Privy Seal and “Vicar General and Vice-Regent of the King in Spirituals;” he was also the recipient of several royal grants, no doubt by way of reward for his zeal in uncovering Anne Boleyn’s alleged treason. In 1537 he secured as a bride for his son, Gregory, the great prize of Jane Seymour’s sister Elizabeth.

  Four years after the death of Anne, the woman he had brought to the scaffold, Cromwell himself fell victim to his enemies, who persuaded the King to have him arrested and attainted for treason and heresy. His desperate plea to Henry VIII—“Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy!”—went unheeded, and he met his end on July 28, 1540, on Tower Hill, where an inexperienced executioner took his head off with two strokes.

  Cromwell’s man, Sir Ralph Sadler—who was to serve as a diplomat under four Tudor monarchs—was granted Brereton’s estate near Greenwich. An undated document of 1536 lists a considerable number of valuable grants made to Sir William FitzWilliam, who had been assiduous in bringing Anne down, and whose family connections were instrumental in her downfall. Sir Nicholas Carew, Sir Thomas Cheyney, and Lord Chancellor Audley were all similarly rewarded for their support in ridding the King of his treacherous wife.83

  The Duke of Richmond was appointed Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle in place of Rochford,84 and Chancellor and Chamberlain of North Wales in place of Sir Henry Norris. Norris’s house at Kew was given to Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, while the office of park keeper at Windsor that he had held was bestowed on his brother John, a gentleman usher of the King’s Chamber.85 Weston’s widow, Anne, remarried quickly; her second husband was Sir Henry Knyvett Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, who had helped her to fight for Francis’s life. She bore him six children before his death in 1547, after which she married one John Vaughn, and died a very old lady in 1582. Her son by Weston was not restored in blood until 1549. Seymour’s brother Henry replaced Smeaton in the Privy Chamber.86

  Those who had supported Mary also got some of the spoils of the Boleyn purge, and other rewards. Sir Francis Bryan, who had hoped to be made Groom of the Stool and Chief Gent
leman of the Privy Chamber in place of Sir Henry Norris, had to be content merely with the latter office, since Cromwell secured the more important post of Groom of the Stool—the most influential position in the Privy Chamber—for his own man, Thomas Heneage,87 a sure sign that the brief, uneasy coalition between Cromwell and the Imperialists was already breaking up. Both Bryan and Carew received a number of offices in June 1536. Carew remained in favor until 1538, when Cromwell engineered his arrest for involvement in the Duke of Exeter’s supposed conspiracy against the King. Exeter and Lord Montagu, another alleged conspirator, were beheaded in 1538, Carew in 1539.

  In June 1536, Urian Brereton, page of the Privy Chamber, was granted four properties and two hundred acres of land in Cheshire that had belonged to his late brother, William; while on June 30, William Brereton’s widow, Elizabeth Somerset, was generously granted “all the goods, chattels, rents, fees, and annuities belonging to the said William at the time of his attainder,” with all debts and obligations then due to him.88 The stampede for Brereton’s many offices is ample evidence of the void his death had left in the marches and his influence there.89

 
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