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

  2. Italian account by P.A., perhaps a Venetian envoy, June 2, 1536. A four-page Italian tract, which is identical in content and was published as Il successo in la Morte della Regina de Inghilterra con il consenso del Consiglio di S.M., et la Morte di IIII gran Baroni del Regno (Bologna, 1536). It is reproduced in Alfred Hamy’s Entrevue de François Premier avec Henri VIII a Boulogne.

  3. Anonymous letter written in London, June 10, 1536, translated from a Portuguese original in the convent of Alcobaca. This is reproduced in Excerpta Historica (261) and given at LP 1107, which also mentions the Italian tract referred to above.

  Pierre de Bourdeille, Seigneur de Brantome (ca. 1540 1614) was a widely traveled soldier with close links to the French court, and knew many of the famous personages of his time. His rambling memoirs, which were not published until 1665-66, run into many volumes, and are witty, frank, sexually explicit, and somewhat disjointed and unreliable, being a series of observations and random anecdotes, yet they provide a vivid picture of the licentious French court.

  Lancelot de Carles. Epistre contenant le proces criminel faict a l’encontre de la royne Anne Boullant d’Angleterre. French poem describing the life of Anne Boleyn. LP 1036 is a translation from the French. Carles, later Bishop of Riez (d. 1568/c. 1570), was almoner to the Dauphin of France (the future Henri II), a renowned poet and man of letters, and the author of blazons and sacred poetry. In 1536 he was a diplomat attached to the French embassy in London, lodging in the house of Antoine de Castelnau, Bishop of Tarbes, the French ambassador. His letter describing Anne’s fall was written in that city, in French verse, on June 2, 1536, within two weeks of her death, when Carles was still conscious of its impact. It was addressed to the dauphin. Carles, who was present at Anne’s trial, presents the charges against her as factual. His account was examined by Meteren, Burnet, and his editor, Georges Ascoli, and has been reexamined by Professors Ives and Bernard.

  Ives suggests that Carles’s poem be treated with caution, since it reflects the official government line. That has been questioned by Professor Bernard. It is true that in 1537, Henry VIII was presented with a “French book written in the form of a tragedy [by] one Carle[s], being attendant and near about the ambassador.”1 But was this the poem describing Anne Boleyn’s fall? Certainly in that poem Henry VIII is generally portrayed in a sympathetic light, but would it have been politic of Carles to have asserted that on Anne’s arrest, the Londoners rejoiced, hoping that Lady Mary, the King’s bastardized daughter, who was out of favor for defying her father, would be restored to the succession? Or that everyone was moved at the condemnation of the Queen’s alleged lovers, and that even Anne’s bitterest enemies pitied her? Would it have been tactful to have referred to Anne’s “fearful beauty,” or to her giving voice to her suspicion that there was some other reason for her condemnation than the charges that had been preferred? Carles also has Lord Rochford complaining that he had been condemned on the evidence of only one woman, and Anne stating her conviction that she and her brother would be together in God’s presence after their deaths. He states too that the people watching her execution were moved to tears. Taken together, much of this implied serious criticism of the King and his justice.

  It may be, therefore, that the verse tragedy presented to Henry VIII by Lancelot de Carles in 1537 was not the poem he wrote on the fall of Anne Boleyn, but another work entirely, and that the former, based probably partly on sound intelligence and partly on official information leaked to the French embassy, was also a more objective work than has hitherto been suspected.

  George Cavendish (ca. 1500-61/2) was gentleman-usher to Henry VIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, from 1522 to 1530, and between 1554 and 1558 wrote the earliest biography of his late master. This is particularly useful for the early career of Anne Boleyn, as Cavendish was a well-placed eyewitness during this period to record events. However, his admiration for Wolsey, his attachment to the old faith, to Katherine of Aragon and to Mary I, and his hatred for the Boleyn faction, all made him a biased observer, and his work has been challenged in parts by modern historians.

  Cavendish is thought to have been the author of a series of tragic poems entitled Metrical Visions (Egerton manuscript 2402), being the lamentations of fallen courtiers. Among the latter are Anne Boleyn’s alleged lovers, whom Cavendish clearly believed guilty as charged. Given that he retired from court in 1530, it is not known how he got his information, which is that of someone who was very well informed and knew his subjects personally.

  George Constantine wrote a memorial to Thomas Cromwell in 1539, detailing the fall of Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers in 1536. The original document does not survive, and is known only through the transcript sent in 1830 by the journalist, essayist, and critic John Payne Collier to Thomas Amyot, Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries. Branded as an outrageous forger in his lifetime, Collier’s reputation has never recovered, despite the informed conclusions of Dewey Ganzel in Fortune and Men’s Eyes: The Career of John Payne Collier (Oxford, 1982). According to this, Collier was largely innocent of those charges, and the defamation of his reputation was perhaps the most successful conspiracy in literary history. In fact, he was one of the foremost scholars of his age, and claims that he forged or embellished Constantine’s memorial may not be well founded.

  Jane Dormer (1538-1612) served as one of the future Elizabeth I’s companions in childhood and adolescence, and later became one of Mary I’s maids-of-honor and confidantes. When the Duke of Feria came to England in 1554 in the train of Mary’s future husband, Philip of Spain, he fell in love with Jane and took her back to Spain as his wife. Many years later she dictated her memoirs to her English secretary, Henry Clifford, who published them after her death, in 1643. They remain one of the best later Catholic sources, although allowances must be made for a natural bias and an old lady’s failing memory.

  Edward Hall (ca. 1498-1547) was a Cambridge-educated lawyer. His chronicle has a strong patriotic bias in favor of Henry VIII, and a tendency to gloss over controversial issues. His true value is as an annalist, and his descriptions of state occasions and pageantry are informative and colorful.

  Nicholas Harpsfield (1519?-75) was a Catholic propagandist who wrote two important works in the reign of Mary I: A Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon (1556) and The Life and Death of Sir Thomas More (ca. 1557). Some of his material has been shown to be apocryphal.

  Sir John Hayward (1560?-1627), a Cambridge-educated historian, wrote The Life and Reign of King Edward the Sixt, which was published in 1630 and is generally considered to be his masterpiece. He was conscientious and diligent in sourcing his information, researching from unpublished works, and a master of description who was impressively knowledgeable and impartial.

  Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower: five letters to Thomas Cromwell concerning the imprisonment of Anne Boleyn, written in May 1536. The antiquary John Strype saw these letters before they were damaged in the disastrous Cottonian Library fire at Ashburnham House in 1731, and reproduced long extracts from them in his Ecclesiastical Memorials of the Church of England under King Henry VIII in 1721. The mutilated texts were printed in Singer’s edition of Cavendish’s life of Cardinal Wolsey in 1817, and they are also to be found in Ellis’s Original Letters Illustrative of English History and in the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII. The originals, with their charred margins, are now in the British Library:

  Letter 1, undated, Cotton ms. Otho C. X. f225

  Letter 2, undated, Cotton ms. Otho C. X. f222

  Letter 3, undated, Cotton ms. Otho C. X. f224b

  Letter 4, dated May 16, Harleian ms. 283, f134

  Letter 5, undated, Cotton ms. Otho C. X. f223

  Singer also includes in this sequence Sir Edward Baynton’s undated letter to Sir William FitzWilliam, sent while Anne Boleyn was in the Tower. This is Cotton ms. Otho C. X. f209b.

  Gregorio Leti (1630-1701) was an Italian historian whos
e life of Elizabeth I was written in 1682. Educated by Jesuits, he converted to the Protestant faith and for some years lived at the court of Louis XIV of France. He then came to Britain and wrote a history of England for Charles II, but fled to Amsterdam in 1683 after offending the King. Because his biography of Elizabeth was allegedly biased against Catholicism, it was suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church, and nearly all the original copies were destroyed. A French translation was published in 1692 in Amsterdam under the title La Vie d’Elisabeth, Reine d’Angleterre, but some of the original content is certainly missing. Leti researched his work in the libraries of the Earl of Anglesey (which boasted five thousand volumes) and Bishop Burnet, and perhaps used contemporary sources that are now lost. Although some passages are almost certainly apocryphal and contemporaries had no great opinion of Leti’s veracity, there is something of interest in it for the historian.

  Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII. This is a monumental archive of contemporary documents (some in abstract), now available online, and said to include at least one million separate facts about Henry VIII.

  Clement Marot (1496 1544) and Crispin, Lord of Milherve, were two renowned French men of letters, whose writings are a valuable source of information on Anne Boleyn, whom Marot knew personally. Milherve, who was present at Anne’s trial, wrote a separate metrical history, which was published in 1618.

  Girolamo Pollini, an Italian Catholic historian, wrote his Istoria dell’ Ecclesiastica della Rivoluzion d’Inghilterra in 1594. His work is biased in favor of Katherine of Aragon and Mary I, but while some passages appear to be apocryphal, much of what he wrote can be corroborated by other contemporary sources.

  William Roper (1496-1578) wrote a highly regarded biography of his father-in-law, Sir Thomas More, around 1556. He was married to More’s eldest daughter, Margaret, and his work, which has a strong Catholic bias, remains the primary source on Sir Thomas, to whom Roper was close.

  Nicholas Sander (1530-81), one of Anne Boleyn’s most virulent critics, was a Catholic who fled from England to Rome in the reign of Elizabeth I and became a Jesuit. His most famous work was his short and highly biased treatise on the Anglican Schism, De Origine ac Progressu Schismatis Anglicani, (The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism), which was published in 1585 in Rome and Cologne (and reprinted several times up to 1628) and reflected the damning Catholic view of Anne Boleyn. He was savagely critical of Henry VIII, but Anne, whom he regarded as the chief cause of the Reformation and vilified as “the English Jezebel,” was the chief object of his venom. He was responsible for several apocryphal but damaging slanders about her, such as the assertion that she was the bastard child of Henry VIII by her own mother, Elizabeth Howard, and the unsubstantiated tale that Anne herself was raped at the age of seven. Sander’s work was received with outraged scorn in England, and it prompted George Wyatt’s memoir of Anne, written in her defense. Wyatt called Sander “the Romish fable-framer.” The reprinting of Sander’s book in a French edition in 1673-74 spurred Bishop Burnet to write his history of the Reformation.

  The Spanish Calendar (Calendar of Letters, Despatches and State Papers relating to Negotiations between England and Spain, preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere). Informative and often biased, this vast array of documents incorporates Spanish and Imperial ambassadorial dispatches and correspondence (many of which are also reproduced in the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII), and is by far the most useful diplomatic source.

  The “Spanish Chronicle” Cronico del Rey Enrico Ottavo de Inglaterra (The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England). An often controversial source, this was written before 1552 by a Spaniard living in London, who was perhaps an eyewitness (but not always a reliable one) to some of the events he describes. It has been attributed by some to Antonio de Guaras, who came to England in the train of Eustache Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, in 1529. Much of the information it contains is based on hearsay and rumor, and its seemingly authentic detail is not always corroborated by other sources. As far back as 1905, M.A.S. Hume dismissed this source as “to a great extent hearsay” that “truly represented the belief current at the time,” while Ives has described it as “garbled street gossip, strongly laced with the picaresque.”2

  John Stow (1525-1605), author of The Annals of England (1592) and A Survey of London (1598), was an antiquarian writing in the reign of Elizabeth I.

  Agnes Strickland’s monumental Lives of the Queens of England, dedicated to Queen Victoria, in whose reign it was published, is now much outdated, but in its day was a milestone of historical research, for Strickland was indefatigable in seeking out original source material, traveling around the country to look at documents in private collections. She also made use of secondary works that were respected at the time, but her work reflects the values of the Victorian age and is highly subjective. Its chief value lies in the scattered original sources that it cites.

  Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald (1508-62), was the first cousin of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Lord Chancellor of England (from 1544), and wrote the larger part of his chronicle over the years before 1552 (although it was not published until 1581). Well placed—he was in the service of Lord Chancellor Audley; and his cousin, the rising courtier Thomas Wriothesley, was Clerk of the Signet and Cromwell’s man—and therefore well informed, he has been shown to be a highly reliable source.

  George Wyatt’s late sixteenth-century eulogistic memoir of Anne Boleyn, written in answer to Sander’s virulent attack on her, is one of the chief primary sources for her life. Wyatt (1554-1624), of Boxley, Kent, was the grandson of the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Anne’s Kentish neighbor and sometime admirer, and he had been fascinated by tales of Anne from his youth, when he “gathered many notes touching this lady.”

  Wyatt himself wrote that he had had “the peculiar means, more than others, to come to some more particular knowledge” of his subject. Much of his information came from anecdotes handed down in his family, from George Cavendish’s Life of Cardinal Wolsey, a copy of which he owned, and from the reminiscences of three ladies: his mother, Jane Haute, who married his father Thomas, the poet’s son, the year after Anne Boleyn’s death; Anne Gainsford (later the wife of George Zouche of Codnor), who had been Queen Anne’s maid-of-honor “that first attended on her both before and after she was queen,” and afterward served Jane Seymour in the same capacity; and an unidentified “lady of noble birth, living in those times, and well-acquainted with the persons” about whom Wyatt wrote. Much of this source material survives in the Wyatt manuscripts in the British Library (Loan ms. 15) in the form of drafts, notes, and extracts from various works.

  Wyatt’s work, which was left unfinished, is so strongly biased in her favor as to be virtually hagiographic, and virulently anti-Catholic.



  Additional manuscripts, British Library

  Aless, Alexander: “Letter to Elizabeth I, 1 September 1559” (see Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, below, entry 1303)

  Allen, Cardinal William: An Admonition to the Nobility and People of England and Ireland Concerning the Present Wars (Antwerp, 1588)

  Anthony, Anthony: Chronicle (known only from notes made by Thomas Tourneur in his copy of Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth, Bodleian Folio Delta 624)

  Ashmole manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford

  Bacon, Sir Francis: The Tragedy of Anne Boleyn: A Drama In Cipher (ed. Elizabeth Wells Gallup, London and Detroit, 1901)

  Baga de Secretis (The Bag of Secrets), 1499-1537; Court of King’s Bench (Crown Side) Indictments, and documents of state trials (National Archives, KB/2; reproduced in Wriothesley)

  Bourbon, Nicolas: Nicolae Borbonii Vandoperani Lingonensis, Nugarum libri octo (Basel, 1540)

  Brantome, Pierre de Bourdeille, Seigneur de: Lives of Gallant Ladies (trans. R. Gibbings, London, 1924)

  Burnet, Gilb
ert, Bishop of Salisbury: History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1679, 1682, and 1714; 7 vols., ed. N. Pocock, Oxford, 1865)

  Calendar of Letters, Despatches and State Papers relating to Negotiations between England and Spain, preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere (17 vols., ed. G.A. Bergenroth, P. de Goyangos, Garrett Mattingley, R. Tyler, et al., HMSO, London, 1862-1965)

  Calendar of Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII (21 vols. in 33 parts, ed. J.S. Brewer, James Gairdner, and R. Brodie, HMSO, London, 1862-1932)

  Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, Vol. I, 1558-59 (23 vols., ed. Joseph Stevenson and A.J. Crosby, et al., London, 1863-1950)

  Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts relating to English Affairs preserved in the Archives of Venice and in the other Libraries of Northern Italy (7 vols., ed. L. Rawdon-Brown, Cavendish Bentinck, et al., HMSO, London, 1864-1947)

  Camden, William: Annales rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha (London, 1615)

  Carles, Lancelot de: Letter containing the criminal trial brought against the Queen Anne Boleyn of England (mss. Fr. 1742 and 2370, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, written 1536, published Lyons, 1545, of which a copy is in the British Library; published as “Epistre contenant le proces criminel faict a l’encontre de la royne Anne Boullant d’Angleterre” (in La Grande Bretagne devant l’Opinion Francaise by Georges Ascoli, Paris, 1927)

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