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

  Early on Easter Sunday, April 16, when Chapuys sought out Cromwell to request an audience with the King to discuss the proposed alliance, Cromwell showed himself delighted and eager, and hinted that his master would soon be ready to conclude an entente with the Emperor.

  Henry VIII, in fact, was far less than enthusiastic. The Emperor’s demands were unacceptable on every count, and he was in no great hurry to meet with Chapuys to discuss them. Excusing himself on the grounds that it was Easter Sunday, he told Cromwell he would see the ambassador two days hence, on Tuesday, April 18. Already, word of the Emperor’s friendly approaches had circulated at court, and the Boleyn faction were aware of his specific proposals; Anne herself was pressing for the alliance. She must have felt confident that the King would circumvent the Emperor’s demands.

  Not so long ago, Henry, disappointed at not having a living son, had perhaps been contemplating the annulment of his union with Anne, but now he was determined to secure Charles V’s recognition of her as his lawful wife, which would effectively be an acknowledgment that he had been right all along to set aside Katherine and marry her. With the Emperor endorsing the marriage, the Pope would surely think twice about excommunicating him.

  Chapuys was delighted to receive a communication from Cromwell on April 17 that he had shown the King the Emperor’s letters “and reported all our conversations, with which the King had been much pleased, and desired that I would come to court next day, Easter Tuesday, about six in the morning, and that I should have an answer which he doubted not should please me.”64 Chapuys was now expecting to hear Henry say that he had approved the terms of the proposed alliance, but Henry had no intention of doing that; his primary purpose in summoning the ambassador was to afford him every opportunity of publicly paying his respects to the Queen, whose hand he had until now refused to kiss. This became clear when, on April 18, Chapuys was greeted at the gates of Greenwich Palace very cordially by the lords of the council, and in particular by George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Anne’s brother. Gritting his teeth, no doubt, Chapuys listened as Rochford declared his fervent desire for an alliance between England and the Emperor, and returned the pleasantries, taking care not to touch on the subject of Rochford’s regrettable heretical opinions during their conversation.

  Cromwell wasn’t far behind, with a message from Henry VIII inviting Chapuys to visit Anne and kiss her hand—a great honor that was conferred only on those in high favor. Chapuys was assured that, although this “would be a great pleasure to the King,” Henry had left the decision up to him. With studied tact, the ambassador declined on the grounds that he ought to wait until after he had discussed the Emperor’s proposals with the King; until then, paying such a courtesy to Anne was “not advisable, and [he] begged Cromwell to excuse it, in order not to spoil matters.” Cromwell concurred with this, and went away to confer with the King, then came back to say that his master “had taken it all in good part” and was satisfied with Chapuys’s answer, and that, after dinner, the ambassador would have an opportunity to speak with Henry at leisure.

  Chapuys spoke again of his hopes for a happy resolution to the negotiations, and “just after this, the King came out and gave me a very kind reception, holding for some time his bonnet in his hand, and not allowing me to be uncovered longer than himself.” Henry inquired most courteously about the Emperor’s health, and spoke of Charles’s recent visit to Rome, but when Chapuys hinted at what he really wished to speak of, the King said, “Well, we shall have leisure to discuss all matters,” and departed to mass.65

  Chapuys was conducted by Lord Rochford to the service in the Chapel Royal. He must have gone with some dread, because he knew he would no longer be able to avoid the woman whose marriage he had for so long refused to recognize; and “another thing made me unwilling, that I was told she was not in favor with the King,” and that it would profit him little to pay court to her.66 Had it been Cromwell, Anne’s enemy, who said this? Cromwell who had agreed that it was best for Chapuys to wait before going to kiss her hand? If the Emperor were to recognize Anne, she might end up in a stronger position, and Cromwell certainly did not want that.

  When Henry and Anne entered the chapel, they seated themselves, as was customary, in the royal pew in the upstairs gallery that overlooked the nave where their households worshipped. Chapuys reported that “there was a great concourse of people, partly to see how the Concubine and I behaved to each other when they [the King and Queen] descended to the altar to make their offerings.” Anne, entering the body of the chapel from the staircase, espied Chapuys standing behind the lower door, and seeing her emerge before him, he could do no other than bow to her. “She was courteous enough, for she turned back to make me a reverence like that which I made to her,” he wrote afterward. He then went further and handed her two candles to use in the altar ceremonies, commenting afterward (on April 24) that politeness had required such a courtesy. “If I had seen any hope of the King’s answer, I would have offered not two but two hundred candles to the she-devil.”67

  Anne was jubilant, for Chapuys had never paid her such courtesies before, and she emerged from the chapel triumphant. At last, after all these years, Charles V’s representative had recognized her as queen. That day she could be heard loudly proclaiming that she had abandoned her friendship with King Francis and was sorry that France and Spain were at war, but that she was now on the side of the Emperor. “It seems that the King of France, tired of life on account of his illness [syphilis], wants to shorten his days by going to war,” she opined scornfully.68 Her brother’s warm reception of Chapuys earlier is evidence that the Boleyn faction were aware that their former hopes of a new entente with France or the Lutheran princes were better forsaken in favor of a rapprochement with the Emperor.

  But Chapuys’s acknowledgment of Anne was a victory for the King as much as for the Queen. It was Henry who had maneuvered the ambassador into making that bow, because he wanted the Emperor to acknowledge that he had been right all along in putting away Katherine and marrying Anne. It was nothing less than a public endorsement of his marriage. And that would shortly be underlined by Henry when he at last got to speak to Chapuys.

  After mass, as was his custom, the King went to dine in the Queen’s apartments with honored guests, and Anne was confidently anticipating that Chapuys would be there, so she could cement her new rapport with him. But, as Chapuys explained to the Emperor, “everybody accompanied [the King] there except myself,” and Anne was disconcerted to see that he was not among the group of foreign envoys waiting at her door to be received.

  “Why does not Monsieur Chapuys enter, as do the other ambassadors?” she asked Henry, obviously perplexed.

  “It is not without good reason,” Henry answered.69 He knew very well that Chapuys’s courtesy toward Anne had excited much comment at court, and was probably already aware that the Imperialists had reacted with anger and astonishment when they were told of the deference he had paid to the Queen. Lady Mary would send Chapuys a cold note conveying her disapproval, as he was to report on April 24: “The princess and other good persons have been somewhat jealous at the mutual reverences required by politeness, which were done at the church,” even though Chapuys had not kissed “that woman” or spoken to her.70 Ashamed to think that people might believe he had betrayed Mary and his allies, the ambassador had resolved never to speak to Anne again. Instead of attending the dinner she was hosting, he supped with Lord Rochford and the chief nobles of the court in the King’s presence chamber.

  Henry went there after dinner; it was time for his audience with Chapuys. His initial approach was as friendly as it had been that morning and taking the ambassador by the hand, he led him into his Privy Chamber, where only Cromwell, the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley—“Cromwell’s creature”71—and, significantly, Sir Edward Seymour, were present, and the king sat down with him in a window embrasure, apparently ready to listen to the Emperor’s proposals. But the King’s mood quickly became irritable and cantanker
ous, and it became glaringly obvious that his enthusiasm for the alliance had either evaporated or been overstated in an attempt to induce Charles to be a suitor to him, rather than the other way around72—or, worse still, had been largely a figment of Cromwell’s wishful thinking. It was not long before Chapuys realized that Henry’s affection for the Emperor “was not sincere,” while the King had similar suspicions of Chapuys: in a letter sent on April 25 to his envoys at the Imperial court, he confided his belief that the ambassador was merely “pretending a wish to renew the old treaties” and had other aims entirely.73 In fact, as Norfolk was to tell Chapuys the next day, “whatever overture the Emperor might make, things would not be other than they have been hitherto”74—in other words, Henry would not agree to acknowledge Mary as his heir or concede to any of Charles’s other demands. Contrary to a popular misconception, these things, rather than Anne Boleyn, were the major stumbling blocks to any accord.

  Seated in that window, the King bluntly rejected all idea of an alliance with the Emperor against France, and refused to make any concessions; nor had he any intention of returning to the Roman fold. “He was not a child,” he told Chapuys, “and they must not give him the stick and then caress him.” Launching a tirade, he ranted against the Emperor’s ingratitude for the friendship he had shown him, declared himself on the side of the French in their disputes with Charles, and insisted that the latter acknowledge himself to have been at fault throughout and recognize Anne as queen—all in writing. At the very least, Charles should insist on the yet-to-be-promulgated sentence of excommunication being entirely revoked. As for Mary, Henry declared he would not tolerate any interference: she was his daughter, he would treat her as she deserved, and “nobody had anything to do with that,” for “God, of His abundant goodness, had not only made us a king by inheritance, but had also therewithal given us wisdom, policy, and other graces in most plentiful sort.”75

  Henry now summoned Cromwell and Audley to join him, and made Chapuys repeat the Emperor’s terms. Then Chapuys withdrew so they could discuss them, and “made some acquaintance with the brother of the young lady to whom the King is now attached”;76 this encounter appears to have marked the beginning of his collaboration with the Seymours. But he was watching the three in the window closely, and soon became aware that “there was some dispute and considerable anger between the King and Cromwell.”77 There can be little doubt that Henry was furious with Cromwell for exceeding his authority and showing himself so eager for the alliance, and angry at the demands Charles had made; yet it is also likely that, in rejecting them out of hand, the King was cunningly hoping to wrest the concessions he wanted from the Emperor,78 for already he was doing his best to persuade Francis I to put pressure on Charles in that respect. But Francis, who had obtained a copy of the papal bull, was determined to publish it if Henry made a pact with the Emperor.79 No wonder Henry was showing little enthusiasm for an Imperial alliance.

  Cromwell must have been listening to his master in mounting consternation, even alarm: He had worked hard for a rapprochement and rightly feared that, in consequence of this stalemate, neither Henry nor Charles would ever agree to each other’s terms. It appeared that Henry even saw Cromwell’s diplomatic overtures as a betrayal, which could only undermine Cromwell’s credibility and his influence. Worse still, with Henry demanding Imperial recognition of his marriage, it now looked very much as if Anne had recovered her ascendancy over the King: Anne, whose repudiation many believed Henry had recently been contemplating; Anne, who was now Cromwell’s open enemy and was doing her best to wreck his carefully nurtured plans and schemes; Anne, who had made it clear that she would bring him down—and worse, if she could, and would surely capitalize on this latest calamity, and take full advantage of his having fallen foul of the King.

  Cromwell must have known that, although Henry and Anne had fallen out on many occasions, Anne knew well how to rule her husband, and it now looked very much as if she had exercised her wiles once more to good effect and reestablished her command of him—as she had many times before. Why else would Henry resolutely have forced Chapuys to acknowledge her at last? In her battle with Cromwell, Anne, it seemed, might very well win.

  Chapuys watched as, “after some considerable time, Cromwell, grumbling, left the conference in the window where the King was, excusing himself that he was so very thirsty and quite exhausted—as he really was with pure vexation—and sat down upon a coffer out of sight of the King.” Henry now beckoned to Chapuys and told him that he must put his proposals in writing, otherwise he himself could not lay them before his council, “or make me any reply,” but when Chapuys answered evasively, Henry “insisted wonderfully on having the said writing, and several times said very obstinately that he would give no reply” if he did not receive it. But he reiterated, “confusedly and in anger,” that his dispute with the Pope was none of the Emperor’s concern, that “the princess was his daughter and he would treat her according as she obeyed him or not, and no one else had a right to interfere”—and much more in an irritable vein. All he would agree to was that, the next day, he would look over the treaties he had with the Emperor “and inform me of what they determined” with a view to ratifying them once more.

  The audience thus terminated, Chapuys returned later to take his formal leave of the King, whom he found in a slightly more gracious mood, and left the court. By then, word of what took place had already spread, and many courtiers took it upon themselves to accompany him to the palace gates, saying how sorry they were to hear of it.80

  After Chapuys had withdrawn, Cromwell attempted to remonstrate with his sovereign. It did him no good, for Henry showed himself angry and obstructive, so much so that Cromwell decided it would be unwise to press him further.81 Soon afterward, Henry wrote to Richard Pate, his ambassador at the Imperial court, and made very clear his intention of ignoring Charles V’s demand that Mary be restored to the succession.82 The next day, the Duke of Norfolk told the Bishop of Tarbes, the French ambassador, that whatever the Emperor might offer or propose, the King would never withdraw from his alliance with France.83

  After that fraught confrontation with his master in the window embrasure, Cromwell, out of favor, angry, and in considerable turmoil, and fearful lest Anne Boleyn should seize her chance and exploit the situation, “thought up and plotted” her downfall.84


  The next morning, Cromwell sought out Chapuys and they “expressed their mutual regret” over what had happened. Cromwell was in despair, and “hardly able to speak for sorrow; he had never been more mortified in his life.” He had far exceeded his remit in showing himself enthusiastic for the alliance—in itself sufficient cause to fear for his future—and now he had to explain himself to the ambassador. Chapuys reported: “He declared to me that although he had all the time dissembled and made me believe that what he said to me was his own private view of the affair, not the King’s, he could assert—nay, swear—that he had done or said nothing without his master’s express commands.” Chapuys asked what had happened to alter the King’s opinion, but Cromwell could give no answer. He merely observed that “princes were endowed with qualities of mind and peculiarities unknown to all other people,” and that “whoever trusts in the word of princes (who one day say one thing and on the next retract it), relies on them, or expects the fulfillment of their promises, is not a wise man.”85

  That same day, the council assembled, and—as Cromwell would tell Chapuys—“there was not one of them but remained long on his knees before the King, to beg him, for the honor of God, not to lose so good an opportunity of establishing a friendship so necessary and advantageous; but they had not been able to change his opinion.” The next day, Thursday, Cromwell reported all this to Chapuys and “thanked him on the part of the King for the good office I had done,” begging him to continue and to obtain a letter of credence from Charles V, as Henry had demanded. Backtracking furiously, Cromwell explained that “although he had always pretended that what he s
aid to me was of his own suggestion, yet he had neither said nor done anything without express command from the King,” but it was easy for Chapuys to detect “his dissatisfaction at the strange contradictions of his master.” Despite all he had seen and heard, Chapuys was still “in hope of good issue.”86

  Later that day, April 20, Cromwell resolved to feign illness and retire from court, seeking refuge at the Great Place, his house by St. Dunstan’s Church at Stepney Green, east of London. Chapuys reported on April 21 that Cromwell had “taken to his bed from pure sorrow.”87 In fact, he was plotting the Queen’s ruin.


  Plotting the Affair

  The fall of Anne Boleyn has long been seen by many as the direct result of a marital breakdown, what Agnes Strickland called “the royal matrimonial tragedy,” but that is too simplistic an interpretation. “A mere estrangement,” such as may have occurred between the King and Queen in the early months of 1536, “cannot explain either the suddenness or the vehemence of Henry’s reaction.”1 The evidence therefore strongly suggests that it was Cromwell, rather than Henry VIII, who was the prime mover in the matter.

  Cromwell was to tell Chapuys on June 6 that “owing to the displeasure and anger he had incurred upon the reply given to me [Chapuys] by the King on the third day of Easter [April 18], he had thought up and plotted the affair (il a fantasier et conspirer l’ affaire) of the Concubine, in which he had taken a great deal of trouble”2—as would become clear. Of course, misleading or even false information could be fed to ambassadors, but the cynical Chapuys was no novice at the game, and he accepted what Cromwell said as the truth. Furthermore, that is supported by the other evidence.

  What Cromwell was ambitiously plotting was no less than the removal of the Queen, and the purging of her powerful faction in the Privy Chamber, men who were close to the King and had served him for years, and who could be counted on to fight for Anne’s rights if Cromwell moved against her alone. He would build his case on the King’s obsessive fear of treason and the Queen’s flirtatious nature.3 By totally annihilating the Boleyn influence, Cromwell could preempt all risk of its resurgence and its power to bring him down. His words to Chapuys were crucially significant, as they prove that it was Cromwell’s determination, rather than any evidence, that brought about Anne’s fall,4 and that it was Master Secretary who instigated the political coup that has been called “one of the most audacious plots in English history.”5

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