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

  Elizabeth had been brought up to idolize Henry VIII, and clearly revered his memory, often referring to him with pride, and styling him “Her Majesty’s dearest father” in official documents. She grew to maturity believing that he had always loved her, whatever he had thought of her mother, and that it was because of her close resemblance to him that he ordered she be reared as a king’s daughter, rather than as the dubious offspring of a traitor, and left well provided for at his death.38 “She prides herself on her father and glories in him,” observed a Venetian envoy after she had ascended the throne in 1558.39 When she rode in state through London before her coronation in 1559 and a man in the crowd cried, “Remember old King Henry the Eighth!” she was seen to smile delightedly.40 She seems to have borne Henry no grudge for his treatment of her mother, regarding him as much the victim of conspiracy as Anne; and in all her long life, she rarely referred to Anne Boleyn.41

  This reticence is perhaps understandable, given the conspiracy of silence about Anne that probably blighted Elizabeth’s formative years. It has been said—incorrectly—that we do not know whether she believed her mother to have been wrongly convicted.42 Unlike her half sister Mary I, when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she did not have the annulment of her parents marriage reversed by Parliament, and there was no official push to rehabilitate Anne Boleyn’s reputation. There was much discussion about this at the time, and the decision not to repeal the 1536 Act of Succession was finally made on the advice of Sir Nicholas Bacon, then Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, who pointed out that as Elizabeth was lawful heiress to the throne under the terms of the Act of Succession of 1544 and Henry VIII’s will, there was no point in reviving the heated controversies about the validity of her parents’ marriage, Anne’s fall, and her own legitimacy. This made sense because Elizabeth’s hold on the throne was still tenuous and there were many who already regarded her as a bastard, a heretic, and a usurper. Instead Parliament merely drew up a statute confirming her title—sparsely worded compared with that of Mary I—passed another act confirming her as Anne Boleyn’s sole heiress and enabling her to inherit her mother’s property, forfeited on Anne’s conviction for treason.43

  Several writers have regarded as significant Elizabeth’s failure to translate her mother’s remains to a more honorable resting place, as James I was to do for his mother, the executed Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1612, when he had her body moved from Peterborough Cathedral to Westminster Abbey. Yet it is almost certain that if the idea of moving Anne ever occurred to her, Elizabeth left it alone for the reasons Sir Nicholas Bacon had cited. It was just not advisable to revive old controversies and the dreadful events of 1536, and her presence at the reinterment of Anne Boleyn would have been the equivalent of making a provocative public statement that might impugn her father’s memory and her own status. There was also the problem of the funeral rite, for Anne had died in the Catholic faith. Moreover, she was already buried in a royal chapel, so Elizabeth may have felt that, for many good reasons, she was better left there undisturbed.

  In 1572, in the wake of her excommunication by the Pope, Elizabeth commanded Matthew Parker, now Archbishop of Canterbury, to search out the 1528 papal bull of dispensation, authorizing her parents’ marriage. She chose not to publish it, but kept it at hand in case it became desirable to produce it as the basis for proclaiming herself legitimate in the eyes of the Roman as well as the English Church.

  There can be little doubt as to Elizabeth’s true opinion of the woman who had given birth to her. There are many clues. As early as cd. 1544-45 she was painted, age about ten or eleven, in a state portrait of Henry VIII and his family, wearing—astonishingly—one of Anne Boleyn’s initial pendants, proclaiming to all posterity that she was her mother’s daughter—and this, presumably, with the King’s sanction. Thirty years later, around 1575, she commissioned a gold ring bearing the initial E in diamonds and R for Regina in blue enamel; it opened to reveal miniature enameled reliefs of herself and Anne Boleyn. Thereafter, she wore this ring constantly, and it was only removed from her finger at her death, when it was taken to her successor, James VI of Scotland, as proof of her demise. The ring is now at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat, primary evidence that Elizabeth kept her mother’s image secretly with her for much of her adult life, and privately honored her memory.44

  In 1553, when her sister Mary ascended the throne, Elizabeth candidly intimated to Simon Renard, the Spanish ambassador, that the Queen was hostile toward her because of the injuries she and her mother had been dealt by Anne Boleyn. Clearly Elizabeth was well informed. Foreign envoys also attributed Mary’s increasing hostility to the fact that Elizabeth was Anne’s daughter: “She still resents the injuries inflicted on Queen Katherine, her lady mother, by the machinations of Anne Boleyn,” Renard observed. Later in Mary’s reign, Elizabeth, in a more bullish mood, openly—and rashly—voiced her opinion, to various people, that she was as legitimate as her sister, and of equal rank in blood as a daughter of Henry VIII. Her mother, she declared—ignoring the fact that she herself had been conceived out of wedlock—would never have cohabited with him “unless by way of marriage with the authority of the Church and the intervention of the Primate of England.” She had acted in good faith according to her conscience, and lived and died in the Church that had declared her marriage valid, all of which rendered her blameless and her daughter legitimate.45 There was evidently no doubt in Elizabeth’s mind that Anne had been a virtuous woman.

  As queen, Elizabeth adopted Anne Boleyn’s motto, “Semper eadem” (Always the same), and her badge of a crowned white falcon perched on a tree stump flowering with Tudor roses, which she had stamped on the bindings of her books. She may have felt that the tree stump, innocuous enough in her mother’s day, had become symbolic of Anne being cut down before her time.46 She owned a set of virginals bearing the Boleyn arms, which had probably once belonged to Anne; they are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Elizabeth openly prided herself on being “the most English woman of the kingdom,” and given that the Tudors came from Welsh stock, she must have been paying a discreet tribute to her mother’s ancestry.47

  She would do much—subject to their merits—for some of her relatives on her mother’s side, notably the Careys: she created her cousin Henry Carey as Lord Hunsdon and Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners, the sovereign’s personal guard; and she was grief-stricken when his sister Katherine, a gentlewoman of the Queen’s Privy Chamber and wife to Sir Francis Knollys, died in 1569, for they had been very close. Both Henry and Katherine would have been able privately to tell Elizabeth many things about her mother, who was their aunt and whom they knew in childhood. Katherine, as has been noted, may even have attended upon Anne in the Tower.

  Then there were the Knollyses and the Sackvilles, the mysterious George Boleyn, and the unidentified “Edmund Boleyn, Her Grace’s kinsman,” who received a gift of £70 (£14,400);48 and no doubt Elizabeth would have continued to show favor to her Howard cousins as well, had they not dabbled in treason or become too closely affiliated to the Catholic cause at a time when such a stance rendered one a political enemy. Elizabeth also made Anne’s former chaplain, Matthew Parker, her first Archbishop of Canterbury. “If I had not been so much bound to the mother,” a reluctant Parker confessed, “I would not so soon have granted to serve the daughter in this place.”49 He was, of course, referring to his promise to Anne to safeguard her daughter’s welfare.

  This is not the only testimony to Elizabeth’s feelings about her mother. In 1561 she furiously demanded the immediate repression of a French tract in which Anne Boleyn was portrayed as a “Jezebel” whose “foul matrimony” was prompted by lust and whose brutal end was entirely justified.50 Elizabeth was also greatly offended when, early in 1587, as she was agonizing over signing the death warrant of Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, urging her to show mercy, tactlessly pointed out to her that “King Henry VIII’s reputation was never prejudged but in the behea
ding of his bedfellow.” He was referring, of course, to Anne Boleyn.

  When, in 1572, Elizabeth restored in blood a great favorite of hers, Henry, the son of Sir Henry Norris, and created him first Baron Norris of Rycote, she was tacitly acknowledging that Norris had “died in a noble cause and in the justification of her mother’s innocence.”51 Yet her favor to Lord Rycote was not extended just on account of the fate of his father; it is more likely to have rested on his own merits and character.

  A laudatory treatise on Anne Boleyn by her former chaplain, William Latymer, was almost certainly presented to Elizabeth I, to whom it was dedicated. Only a draft copy survives (in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), but that the Queen approved of its author’s determination to rehabilitate her mother’s memory is apparent in her lavishing many rewards on him.52

  It is also possible that Queen Elizabeth commissioned by stealth George Wyatt’s defense of her mother, written at the end of the sixteenth century. Wyatt himself claimed that he “was entreated by some who might command me [author’s italics] to further this endeavor,” and that he had undertaken the writing of his life of Anne Boleyn at “the request of him that hath been by authority set on work in this so important business, both for the singular gifts of God in him of learning, wisdom, integrity, and virtue, and also the encouragement I have had of late from the right reverend my lord of Canterbury’s Grace.” The Archbishop of Canterbury at that time was John Whitgift, who was a personal friend of Elizabeth and attended her on her deathbed in 1603.

  Wyatt’s memorial was never finished, so there is no dedication that might reveal the names of his patrons. Could it be that the Virgin Queen, nearing the end of her life, felt that the record should be set straight? Unlike Mary I, she had never had the annulment of her mother’s marriage reversed, or the sentence on Anne, and she may have felt that by doing so, she would be reviving old scandals that might compromise her own legitimacy and even destabilize her crown. It would be in character, though, for her covertly to let it be known, through Whitgift and others, that she wanted Wyatt—whose extensive researches were evidently known of at court—to write a defense of Anne in answer to Nicholas Sander’s calumnies, which had reflected so badly upon Anne Boleyn and herself.

  But who was the unnamed man who had been “by authority set on work in this so important business,” and who encouraged Wyatt to write his memorial? By whose authority had he done so? The fact that neither the authorizer or the authorized are identified suggests that both wished to remain anonymous. The virtues enumerated by Wyatt were of the kind typically attributed to worthy persons at that time, so they do not help us. Yet the fact that Wyatt was asked to write his defense by a man who had been authorized to further this project, and was then encouraged in his labors by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself—who was close to Elizabeth and in a position to know the workings of her conscience and her mind—suggests that she herself was the prime mover.

  The fact that the Archbishop had only begun encouraging Wyatt “of late” implies perhaps that the unknown man who commissioned the work had died. We might conjecture that he was Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, the chamberlain of Queen Elizabeth’s household, who died in the spring of 1596. No one would have been better placed to ask Wyatt to write his defense, for Anne Boleyn was his aunt, he being the only son of her sister Mary.

  Mary Boleyn, who earned a reputation for promiscuity at the courts of France and England,53 had briefly been Henry VIII’s mistress before he began pursuing her sister Anne, and it has been suggested that Henry Carey, who was born (according to the inscription on his tomb in Westminster Abbey) in March 1525, was in fact Henry VIII’s bastard son. This was rumored in the King’s lifetime: in 1535, John Hale, the Vicar of Isleworth in Middlesex, reported how a nun of nearby Syon Abbey had pointed out “young Master Carey” and told him that the boy was Henry’s natural son. It should be remembered, however, that Hale, who was to be executed that year for denying the royal supremacy, also put about the unfounded rumor that “the King’s Grace had meddling with the Queen’s mother,”54 which Henry himself denied.

  It is highly unlikely that Henry VIII was Henry Carey’s father. In 1519, when Elizabeth Blount presented the King with a bastard son, Henry FitzRoy, he had immediately acknowledged him as his own, then brought him up in princely fashion. In 1525, with Katherine of Aragon having failed to bear the King a son, the crisis over the succession was acute. That year, Henry bestowed on FitzRoy two royal dukedoms. This was not just a swipe at Katherine, who was mortified at the bastard’s public ennoblement, nor was it merely an affirmation that Henry was a virile man who could get sons on other women. Natural children were important, and a king could use them to extend his power base and affinity, make politically advantageous alliances with the nobility, and enforce the royal authority in remote parts of the kingdom such as the North—where FitzRoy was to be sent as his father’s deputy—and the Welsh Marches; and clearly Henry VIII understood this. At this time, having no legitimate heir he was in fact grooming FitzRoy to succeed him on the throne.

  Therefore it was in the King’s interests, for many reasons, to acknowledge any bastards he might have, and consequently his failure to acknowledge Henry Carey is strong evidence that the boy was not his. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Mary Boleyn was the King’s mistress at the time of her son’s conception, or indeed for several years beforehand; the fact is, we do not know when, or for how long, their affair took place, and its importance has probably been much overstated.

  It has been said that Henry would not have acknowledged the boy because his relationship with Mary Boleyn was an impediment to his marriage to her sister, yet it was not until 1527, more than two years after Henry Carey’s birth, that Henry resolved upon marrying Anne. It has also been claimed that a series of royal grants made to William Carey in the 1520s55 were to support young Henry Carey, yet William was the King’s cousin (through his mother, Eleanor Beaufort) and an important and rising personage in the Privy Chamber who would doubtless have gone far had he not died young; these grants were an acknowledgment of his good service. There is no evidence that he was a complacent husband, or that he obligingly refrained from having sexual relations with an adulterous wife. The King’s former mistress, Elizabeth Blount, had been married off after the end of their affair and the birth of their son; Mary Boleyn’s marriage, in 1520,56 probably also took place after Henry had discarded her.

  Henry’s son or not, Henry Carey was certainly Elizabeth’s cousin, she was to create him Lord Hunsdon on her accession in 1558, and he, a plain-spoken soldier, would serve her loyally all his life. He too, surely, with mortality encroaching, would have wanted the record set straight about his aunt. And if the Queen had authorized him to ask George Wyatt to write his memorial as a response to the calumnies of Sander, then we have in it Elizabeth’s own views on her mother.


  A Work of God’s Justice

  Anne Boleyn’s contemporaries generally accepted the verdict of the ninety-five jurors who had sat on all the trials and commissions, and viewed her fall as “an object lesson in morality.”1 While her daughter Elizabeth’s chances of becoming queen seemed remote, there were virtually no attempts to rehabilitate Anne’s reputation, and only a few dared express any doubts about the justness of the proceedings against her. People naturally—and prudently—took their cue from those in power, and one Edward Dudley was no doubt voicing the view of many when, in a letter to Cromwell dated June 3, 1536, he referred to her fall as “the misfortune that has happened to England.”2

  William Thomas, later Clerk of the Council to Edward VI, wrote a laudatory account of Henry VIII entitled The Pilgrim in 1546, which almost certainly reflects how the King’s deeds were viewed by his subjects, and which was written in the form of a conversation with a disapproving Italian. Thomas says, in response to the charge that Henry “chopped and changed [wives] at his pleasure,” that “with some of them, he hath had as ill luck as any poor man.” Anne Boleyn’
s “liberal life were too shameful to rehearse.” Outwardly she appeared wise and imbued with good qualities and graces, but “inwardly, she was all another dame that she seemed to be; for in satisfying of her carnal appetite, she fled not so much as the company of her own natural brother, besides the company of some three or four others, who were all so familiarly drawn to her train by her devilish devices.” It seemed, Thomas added dryly, “she was always well-occupied.” Henry, he wrote, “was forced to proceed therein by way of open justice, where the matter was manifested unto the whole world.”

  In 1553, Henry VIII’s son and successor, Edward VI, when arguing with his justices over altering the succession in favor of Lady Jane Grey and passing over the rights of Mary and Elizabeth, told them: “It was the fate of Elizabeth to have Anne Boleyn for a mother; this woman was indeed not only cast off by my father because she was more inclined to couple with a number of courtiers rather than reverencing her husband, so mighty a king, but also paid the penalty with her head—a greater proof of her guilt.”3

  Writing in the Catholic Mary Tudor’s reign, George Cavendish commented on how the memory of the woman who had “reigned in joy” (something of an overstatement) was held in disdain by “the world universal,” that her name was slandered and that she was “called of each man the most vicious queen.” Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, the close confidante of Queen Mary, believed—like most Catholics—that Anne had sinned with all the men accused with her in a vain attempt to bear a son.4 Cavendish, who also believed in Anne’s guilt and that “the sharped sword” had been her recompense, did little to dispel this view, having her remorseful shade lament her fall:

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