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


  The presence of Jane Seymour was a constant trial to Anne. If Chapuys’s sources were correct, a number of “valuable presents” and loving messages had arrived for Jane from York Place (soon to be known as Whitehall Palace), where the King—who was said by Cromwell on February 4 to be “merry and in perfect health”8—was residing. Chapuys mentioned the presents on February 10, the first time he referred to Jane by name in one of his dispatches. Anne evidently was upset to learn about the presents and tormented by jealousy. She watched Jane continually, and “there was often much scratching and by-blows between the Queen and her maid,”9 it being the prerogative of any mistress whose servant gave offense to resort to slaps. Thomas Fuller, in his History of the Worthies of England (1662), records a tale of how Anne, seeing Jane wearing a new jeweled pendant about her neck, asked to see it; when Jane showed herself unwilling, Anne lost control of her temper and ripped the locket from Jane’s neck with such force “that she hurt her hand with her own violence; but it grieved her heart more when she perceived in it the King’s picture.” Fuller could have had access to sources lost to us, or his story may be apocryphal, but it is credible within the context of contemporary testimony.10

  As soon as Anne fully recovered, Henry sent for her to join him in London. She had left Greenwich for York Place by February 24, on which day she and the King celebrated the feast day of St. Matthias there. Chapuys reported that Henry had been sufficiently moved by Anne’s distress over his affair with Jane to forsake the latter’s company for hers on this occasion. It was on the following day that Chapuys wrote: “I have learned from several persons of this court that, for more than three months, this king has not spoken above ten times to the Concubine.”11 But it would seem that Chapuys was rather overstating the matter, or that Henry had now thawed a little, for relations between him and Anne were on the mend, as would be borne out over the coming weeks. On February 28, Anne felt confident enough to intercede with him on behalf of Joyce, the former Prioress of Catesby, offering him 2,000 marks (£235,000) so the priory could escape dissolution; however, he did not immediately give her “a perfect answer” because the prioress had also appealed to Cromwell, who told the King that the nuns could no longer support themselves, at which Henry quite reasonably turned down Anne’s request.12

  It was at this time that the University of Cambridge wrote to the Queen to thank her for using her influence in persuading the King to remit their dues of first fruits and tenths.13 Late in April, Henry, Lord Stafford, wrote to Cromwell and the Earl of Westmorland, soliciting their support for his petition to the Queen in respect of his being granted Ranton Priory, Staffordshire.14 So clearly Anne’s influence was still considerable, and perceived to be so.

  At this time Anne was perhaps occupying herself with her charitable works, as well as with dressing up her daughter. Between February 19 and April 28 she spent lavishly on garments for the two-year-old Elizabeth, whom she loved intensely.15 Her purchases included purple, white, and crimson satin caps with cauls of gold; crimson satin and fringe for the princess’s cradle head; “fine pieces of needle ribbon to roll Her Grace’s hair;” and a fringe of gold and silver “for the little bed.”16 Agnes Strickland, the Victorian author of The Lives of the Queens of England, describes Anne being very melancholy during these weeks, and withdrawing from “the gaieties of the court” to the peace of Greenwich Park, or one of the palace courtyards, where she sat silently for hours, playing with her dogs, but Strickland does not state where she obtained this information.

  By February 1536 the fragile alliance between the Emperor and King Francis I of France was breaking down, with the French threatening Imperial interests in Italy. That, and the death of Katherine of Aragon, had conveniently paved the way to an alliance between Charles V and Henry VIII, a circumstance of which Cromwell now wished to take full advantage. With Pope Paul III on the brink of promulgating the bull of excommunication that had been drawn up by his predecessor, Clement VII, which would deprive Henry VIII of his throne, and the implications that would have for England’s future in a largely Catholic Europe, the friendship of the Emperor would be a highly desirable asset. Given the instability of England’s relations with France during the past year, it offered the greatest hope for the future security of the realm, for it would also reduce the risk of France and the Empire coming to terms and leaving England dangerously isolated.

  On February 25, Cromwell asked Chapuys to meet him in secret at the church of the Augustine friars, which lay between the ambassador’s London residence and the fine house that Master Secretary was building for himself. He told Chapuys “he wished to speak to me himself, and not by command of the King.” At their secret meeting, as Chapuys reported to Charles V, Cromwell revealed “that he considered continually night and day how to cement” an alliance between the King and the Emperor. He emphasized that Henry “desired nothing more earnestly” than the Emperor’s friendship,” and that his councillors, including some of the formerly pro-French Boleyn faction, were “strongly urging” him in that direction, hoping that, now that Francis I had moved closer to the Pope, the Emperor would be their friend. They had heard that Charles, desperate to prevent Henry from setting aside Anne and making a marriage alliance with France, and eager to mend the breach with England, had recently prevailed upon the pontiff not to issue his bull against Henry, and that Charles was even ready to persuade him to recognize Henry’s marriage to Anne in return for Henry acknowledging Mary’s legitimacy on the grounds that she had been born of a marriage entered into in good faith.17 Having a half-Spanish princess as next in line to the English throne augured well for the future of Anglo-Imperial relations and could only benefit both powers.

  Cromwell did stress to Chapuys that he spoke of his own accord, and that he had no power to make any overture regarding an alliance—that would have to come from the Emperor himself. “He thought the King his master would do all that Your Majesty wished,” Chapuys informed Charles V.

  Cromwell made it plain he was unhappy about the negotiations that were proceeding in Germany. “He was ready to forfeit his head if it were found that anything had been treated to the prejudice of Your Majesty,” and he made out that those negotiations were of far less moment than they actually were, which Chapuys thought to be untrue, but he forbore to say anything.

  He asked instead if the King would be prepared to return to obedience to Rome, to recognize Mary as his legitimate heir, and to ally himself with the Emperor against France and the Turks, who had been encroaching on the eastern borders of the Habsburg Empire. Cromwell told Chapuys that Henry would certainly agree to the alliance, and might be persuaded to reinstate Mary, but would not be as amenable to acknowledging the supremacy of the Pope.18 This was indeed the issue on which Henry VIII would prove immovable.

  Four days after this meeting, on February 29, Charles V informed Chapuys that it was now possible, and indeed necessary, to negotiate a new rapprochement between himself and Henry VIII against their common enemy, the French, and instructed the ambassador formally to open negotiations. This alliance, he added, would be the best means of improving the situation of Lady Mary.

  The Boleyn faction was still dominant at court, still entrenched at the center of a web of patronage. But on March 3 an official inventory was begun of all grants to Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, since April 1524.19 This has been seen by some historians as ominous, in light of what was to come, suggesting that the Boleyns’ fall was already forecast, and that a list of the spoils was being drawn up in anticipation of the annulment of the King’s marriage to Anne. That is unlikely, for that very same day, Wiltshire had his lease of Crown property at Rayleigh, Essex, with its associated lordships and manors, extended with a rebated rent for the term of thirty years, his son Rochford brought in as joint tenant. On March 19 one George Browne, seeking promotion in Ireland, was in no doubt that it would be advantageous to canvass Rochford’s support.20 On April 14 the King w
ould grant Wiltshire the town of King’s Lynn along with two redundant abbeys, the dissolution of the monasteries having begun in March that year.21

  But the power of the Boleyns was coming under threat, for by March 18, according to Chapuys, Jane Seymour had become “a young lady whose influence increases daily,” and her family had begun to benefit. The ambassador reported that day: “The new amours of the King with the young lady of whom I have before written still go on, to the intense rage of the Concubine, and the King fifteen days ago put into his [Privy] Chamber the young lady’s brother,” Sir Edward Seymour. Chapuys praised Jane to his master as someone of great virtue and kindness, whose sympathies lay with Lady Mary. But he also sounded a note of caution, having sensed that her demure facade concealed less admirable qualities. It was to be hoped, he wrote, “that no scorpion lurks under the honey.”22

  Jane’s brothers, Edward and Thomas Seymour, were men of ambition, who no doubt anticipated from the first that Henry VIII’s pursuit of their sister might, in the event of her becoming his mistress, lead to their own advancement. Now, in the wake of Queen Katherine’s death and Queen Anne’s miscarriage, the focus of their ambition began to shift to greater things, and envisaging future glory for their sister—and power, status, and riches for themselves—they were only too eager to coach Jane in the art of virtuously snaring a king. The fact that they pushed forward Jane as a viable alternative to Anne shows that the Seymours and others had reason to suppose that the latter’s position was now untenable.23

  Sir Edward Seymour’s rise to a position of influence was impressively swift: now a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, he was shortly to be made Master of the Horse; both offices brought him into daily contact with the King, with whom he now stood in high favor and enjoyed increasing influence. He was a cold, greedy, ruthless, and cunning man, whose later nickname—“the Good Duke”—was largely undeserved.24 Given that his brother Thomas would also prove to be greedy, ruthless, and cunning, we might wonder if their sister shared the same character traits.

  For Mary’s supporters, and those who wanted to stem the floodtide of religious reform, Jane’s elevation to queenship appeared to offer the best chance of restoring the princess’s rights. Jane was known to be a friend to Mary, and Mary was certainly warm toward the Seymours, and would remain so all her life.25 Of course, in the long term the Seymours’ ambitions were chiefly for themselves: they wished to see Jane married to the King and the mother of a son who would displace Mary from the succession to which they were now working to restore her.26 No one, even Mary herself, then doubted that a male ruler would be preferable to a female one. What mattered at this point was that the Seymours were sympathetic to Mary and ready to stand up for her rights.

  Sir Nicholas Carew, the Exeters, and their friends were active in advising Jane on how to get her man. “The young lady has for the most part been well-taught by those intimate with the King, who hate the Concubine,” Chapuys wrote. They instructed her to keep Henry tantalizingly at arm’s length, stress her virtue, and hold out for the ultimate prize: “She must by no means comply with the King’s wishes except by way of marriage, in which she is quite firm. She is advised to tell the King how boldly his marriage is detested by the people, and none consider it lawful,” and when she raised such matters, she was to do so in the presence of “titled persons, who will say the same if the King put them on their oath of fealty.” On April 1, Lady Exeter, Chapuys’s informant, sent him a note asking for the ambassador’s backing for Jane and suggesting it would be a good idea if he himself endeavored to be present on these occasions, so he could endorse the opinions of those lords. He assured Lady Exeter that he would speak up in support of Jane whenever possible.27

  Coached by her ambitious family and the anti-Boleyn faction, Jane was becoming formidable competition. She evidently aimed to profit by following Anne’s earlier tactics of keeping her royal lover at arm’s length and denying him the ultimate favor. For all her outward meekness, she seems willingly to have colluded in a calculated campaign to snare her mistress’s husband, and, beneath the meek and demure exterior, seems to have been a woman of ruthless determination who wanted to be queen. To be fair to her, though, as a partisan of Katherine and Mary, she probably did not regard Anne as the King’s true wife,28 and perhaps hoped to use any influence she could exert on Mary’s behalf.

  On April 1, Chapuys reported the incident that suggests Jane had begun to maneuver the King into marriage—there would be no more dallying on his knee, where they could be observed. Chapuys got his information from Lady Exeter, a “Mr. Gelyot” (possibly Sir Thomas Elyot), and a servant of Jane’s whom he had taken into his pay.29 “The King being lately in London, and the young lady, Mistress Seymour, whom he serves, at Greenwich, he sent her a purse full of sovereigns, and with it a letter.” On the evidence of Henry’s love letters to Anne Boleyn, it more likely contained the importunings of the eager swain than a summons to the royal bed, as has been suggested. Either way, Jane was having none of it. She had so far expressed no scruples about accepting her lover’s expensive presents, but money was another matter entirely. Clearly it was time to show a little maidenly reluctance and remind Henry how a virtuous woman should be treated. “The young lady, after kissing the letter, returned it unopened to the messenger and, throwing herself on her knees before him, begged the messenger to tell the King to consider that, by her prudence, she was a gentlewoman of good and honorable family, without reproach, and had no greater treasure in this world than her honor, which she would not injure for a thousand deaths. If the King should wish to send her a present of money, she begged it might be when God should send her some honorable match.”30

  Lady Exeter added that the King was entranced by this calculated display of maidenly decorum, and that “his love and desire toward the said lady was wonderfully increased.” He declared that “she had behaved most virtuously, and to show her that he only loved her honorably, he did not intend henceforth to speak with her except in presence of some of her kin.”31

  Just how honorable were Henry’s intentions? Did they extend to marriage, and was he seriously contemplating ridding himself of Anne at this stage? It would certainly appear so, for the only other “honorable” position he could offer Jane was that of acknowledged mistress in the courtly sense, which allowed her mastery over his affections and did not oblige her to grant him the physical favors that time-honored convention permitted him to entreat. This was all aboveboard and an accepted game at court, and, conducted in the presence of Jane’s kinsfolk, would not compromise her reputation; but surely Henry wanted more from her than mere courtly flirtation? It may not have escaped his attention that she came from a fertile family, being one of ten children.32 Henry’s determination from “henceforth” to see Jane only in the presence of her relatives strongly suggests that he was indeed thinking of marriage, and given that she might become his queen, he was determined to treat her with respect and decorum. He ceased trying to seduce her, and instead took care to prevent any hint of scandal from attaching itself to her reputation.

  When he returned to Greenwich in March, he obliged Cromwell to vacate his chambers, “and lodged there” Jane’s brother, Sir Edward Seymour, and his wife, Anne Stanhope, “in order to bring thither the same young lady.” The King could access these chambers from his own apartments “by certain galleries, without being perceived,” and pay his addresses to Jane in the presence of her relatives, who now found themselves enjoying even greater influence with their sovereign. But the new arrangement wasn’t that discreet: Chapuys knew of it by April 1.33 This arrangement perhaps suggests that an anti-Boleyn alliance between Cromwell and the Seymours was already in existence.34 Discovering that her rival had been installed in lodgings so near to the King’s can only have aggravated Anne’s enmity toward Jane, and her fears.35

  The Emperor was becoming increasingly anxious to conclude the proposed alliance with England as soon as possible, for early in March war had broken out between Spain and
France, and on March 28, needing Henry’s support, Charles again instructed Chapuys to negotiate a new accord. Anne did not know it, but her situation was now more precarious than ever, with Chapuys now regarding her removal as a matter of crucial importance. Chapuys did not receive Henry’s instructions until April 15, but Cromwell was there ahead of him: on March 31 he would tell Chapuys that “the King was more inclined than ever” to reach an understanding with Charles, “and likewise those of his council.”36

  By then Anne had fallen out with Cromwell; she was probably furious with him for so readily giving up his rooms to the Seymours; it was not long, after all, since she had regarded him as “her man.” But increasingly the main issue between them was their diverging aims in regard to the dissolution of the monasteries, which, as Vicar General, Cromwell was managing on the King’s behalf. A vast survey, the Valor Ecclesiasticus, had shown many religious houses were redundant, in terms of numbers, income, and morals, whereupon a bill for the dissolution of the monasteries had been passed in March; yet while there is no doubt that monasticism had been declining rapidly in England for well over a century, the Henrician dissolution was chiefly a pretext for sweeping away institutions that were potential hotbeds of popery, and—more to the point—whose riches and resources could be used to augment the declining wealth of the King and utilized to buy the loyalty of those who supported the Reformation.

 
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