Thursday 29 May 2014

Oscar Best Picture Winners: Argo (2013)

We've just watched another film in our Oscar Best Picture challenge, this time it's last year's winner, Argo. I'd not seen the film before, although had seen some of the films it was up against, including the excellent Lincoln. I also admit that I knew nothing about the 'Canadian Caper' on which the film was based.

Argo follows attempts to free a group of American embassy staff who escaped from the embassy in Iran when it came under attack following the revolution there. Ben Affleck starred as the CIA operative tasked with getting them back, enlisting Hollywood in a fake cover the sneak the group out of the country.

I thought Argo was really enjoyable - one of the best we have watched so far. I know that it is generally considered a weaker winner but, as a piece of entertainment, it was great! I'm not sure how true to real events it was though...

BBC History Magazine: Anne Boleyn in Profile

Visit the BBC History Magazine's website for my contribution to their excellent Kings and Queens in Profile series. I look at the life of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's most famous wife and a queen consort who played a very real political role in England.

Friday 23 May 2014

Bloody Tales of the Tower on Channel 5

Did anyone catch episode 3 of Bloody Tales of the Tower, which was broadcast on Channel 5 in the UK this week. The episode focuses on royal sex scandals includes the story of Catherine Howard. I appear in the episode (right at the end), retracing Catherine's last journey to the Tower from Syon. For Catherine, the journey by boat must have been horrific, since it involved passing under London Bridge where the heads of her two lovers, Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper were displayed. She also knew that, once she reached the Tower, she was unlikely ever to leave.

Anyway, the programme is still available to watch here, as well as the earlier episodes from the series. It's a great programme and really brings the story of the Tower to life.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Workhouses and Institutions

Just a quick post to let you know that issue 143 (June 2014) of Your Family Tree magazine is now available. I wrote the article on Workhouses and Institutions, which is a great introduction to tracing your pauper and institutionalised ancestors. Also, check out my professional tip in the 5 minute fixes cover feature.

While workhouses were not always as harsh as Oliver Twist depicts, there is no doubt that it was a hard life for the inmates. Workhouses were deliberately intended to be undesirable, in order to ensure that only the completely desperate entered them. Surprisingly, they remained in use for some years of the twentieth century. The records can be a valuable resource for tracing your ancestors and learning more about their lives.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy

The great History Behind the Game of Thrones site has just published an interview with me on Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy. Henry Percy, the heir to the Earl of Northumberland, was the love of Anne's youth, causing her to be rusticated from court when it was discovered. But were the pair engaged and was this enough to invalidate her marriage to the king?

20 May 1536 - The betrothal of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour

Although my countdown to the fall of Anne Boleyn finished yesterday, I've been enjoying the daily posts so thought I would add one more!

Jane Seymour, who had been one of Anne's ladies in waiting was in a house close to the river in London when she received news of her former mistress's execution. Jane, whose mother was a first cousin of Anne's mother, had close family links to the dead queen, but she can have felt no grief. Instead, Anne's death cleared the way to her own ascent to the throne.

Jane Seymour was the daughter of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire. She was a few years younger than her cousin, Anne Boleyn, and first came to court in the dying days of Catherine of Aragon's queenship. Following Catherine's fall, she transferred to Anne's service, assisted by her kinsman, Sir Francis Bryan, who had previously tried - and failed - to find Jane a husband.

Jane Seymour was no great match. In 1536 she was probably already in her late twenties and by no means considered a beauty. However, she had an air of quiet modesty and dutifulness which attracted the queen and, by the early months of 1536 she was firmly established as his new love. The pair met under the chaperonage of Jane's brother, Edward Seymour, and, by April had agreed to marry.

On 20 May 1536 Jane left her lodgings, sailing quickly to Chelsea where she was greeted by the newly single king. At nine o'clock in the morning, in front of witnesses, the couple were solemnly betrothed.

This ceremony meant that Jane's rise to queenship was certain, but she was not yet queen. Following the ceremony, she returned to her lodging to await her marriage. On 30 May 1536 she travelled to York Place in London, where she was married to Henry VIII in the Queen's Closet (or chapel). The couple spent a brief honeymoon together until 2 June 1536 when Jane first appeared publicly as queen. One contemporary declared 'She is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a queen as any in Christendom. The king hath come out of hell into heaven, for the gentleness of this, and the cursedness and unhappiness in the other'. For Jane, however, with her unfortunate predecessor only two week's dead, the future must have seemed both glittering and alarming.

You can read more about Jane in my book, Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love (Amberley, 2009)

Monday 19 May 2014

19 May 1536 - The Execution of Anne Boleyn

On the morning of 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn stepped out of her lodgings in the Tower and made her way to Tower Green, where a crowd of grandees had assembled. She climbed up to the newly erected scaffold and, standing on the straw, made her final speech:

'Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, gentle, and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul'.

Four women had been permitted to accompany Anne to the scaffold and, weeping, one stepped forward to cover her eyes with a cloth. The executioner, who had been sent for from either Calaise or St Omer for the purpose, then stepped forward. Unlike execution by axe, there was no need of a block. Instead, Anne Boleyn, former queen of England, knelt on the straw of the scaffold. As her lips mouthed the words of a prayer, the swordsman stepped up behind her, severing her head with one stroke.

Anne Boleyn's story always ends tragically, regardless of how many times it is told. She was around thirty-five years old and left a two year old daughter, as well as a father, and a mother whom she feared would die of grief. As a woman and as a queen she had been both loved and hated, but it is perhaps telling that it was her ladies - half dead themselves with grief - who gathered up her body in a white covering and carried it for burial. They were devoted enough to ensure that she was decently treated, even after death.

The execution of Anne Boleyn shocked many. She was the woman that Henry VIII had waited long years to possess. However, even as Anne was dying, the king was preparing for his next marriage. The following day - 20 May 1536 - he was betrothed to Jane Seymour.

The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where Anne is buried. The scaffold site is in the foreground.

Sunday 18 May 2014

18 May 1536 - I thought then to be dead

18 May 1536 was to be Anne Boleyn's last full day alive. The five men with whom she was accused were all dead and she was no longer either Henry's wife or the queen.

For Anne, there was nothing left to do but swear her innocence on the sacrament, which she did before Sir William Kingston. For a woman who would face death imminently, this is strong proof that she was indeed not guilty since Anne, and her contemporaries, knew that to lie in such an oath would be to damn her soul.

Anne expected to die at any moment and, that morning she sent to Sir William Kingston, asking 'Mr Kingston, I hear say I shall not die before noon, & I am very sorry therefore; for I thought then to be dead and past my pain'. Kingston sought to reassure her, telling her 'it should be no pain it was so subtle' - an empty reassurance given the fact that headsmen often bungled their office and that few heads were severed with only one blow. Nonetheless, as a small concession to the woman he had once loved, Henry VIII had sent for an expert swordsman from the continent to strike the blow. Anne knew this, declaring 'I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a litte neck' before putting her hands around her neck and laughing heartily.

While Sir William Kingston marvelled at Anne, who appeared to him as having 'much joy and pleasure in death', she rose from her bed at two in the morning and spent most of the time with her chaplain, praying. Tired and apprehensive the hours must have passed slowly as she awaited her death.

The Tower of London

Saturday 17 May 2014

17 May 1536 - The Thunder Rolls

On the morning of 17 May 1536, Anne's five 'lovers' were led out to a scaffold on Tower Hill to die. Lord Rochford, the highest ranking of the five, made a long speech declaring:

'Christian men, I am born under the law, and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law hath condemned me. Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives, more shamefully than can be devised for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully, I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly it were no pleasure to you to hear them, nor for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all; therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me, and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among, take heed by me, and beware of such a fall'.

Anne's brother continued in a similar vein, recognising, as was expected by his contemporiaries, that he was worthy to die. He significantly admitted no guilt, however. Nor did any of the other four men, although Mark Smeaton (of course) had already confessed. William Brereton went so far as to deny any wrongdoing with Anne, declaring 'I have deserved to die if it were a thousand deaths, but the cause wherefore I die judge not: But if ye judge, judge the best'. Many did. Even Eustace Chapuys believed that the charges against Anne were suspicious. Nothing could stop the progress of Tudor justice, however, and the men were quickly dispatched.

Still in the Tower, Anne was informed of the men's executions. The delay in her own death may just have sparked a hope for herself. At dinner the day before, after her visit from Cranmer, she had spoken to Sir William Kingston of the fact that she would be sent to a nunnery and was 'in hope of life'. Perhaps Cranmer offered her this hope in exchange for her compliance to the annulment of her marriage? Certainly, he convened a church court at Lambeth on 17 May 1536 at which he annuled Anne's marriage either on the grounds of her earlier engagement to Henry Percy or the king's relationship with her sister, Mary Boleyn. These false hopes were particularly cruel and, by the evening of 17 May, Anne knew that they had been dashed.

The following day was to be her last full day alive.

My second book, Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Obsession (Amberley, 2008), which was written as an introduction to Anne's life.

Friday 16 May 2014

Oscar Best Picture Challenge: Grand Hotel (1932)

Carrying on with the Oscar Best Picture challenge, we've just watched Grand Hotel, which won in 1932. I was really looking forward to this film. I don't think I have ever seen a film with Greta Garbo in before, while the rest of the cast is equally starry (Joan Crawford, John Barrymore etc.!).

The film didn't disappoint and is well worth watching. It's set in the Grand Hotel in Berlin and focusses on a terminally ill clerk who has withdrawn his savings and is living the high life for his last few months. He meets his boss, a dislikable industrialist, a cat burgling baron, a disillusioned ballerina and a scandalous typist along the way. I actually liked Joan Crawford's character more than Greta Garbo's, while Lionel Barrymore as the dying clerk stole the film. It was a great watch and by far the best of the early best picture Oscar winners that we have watched so far. In fact, it is one of the best that we have seen so far - although I still like Rain Man better!

16 May 1536 - Last Days

Sir William Kingston, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, sat down to write to Thomas Cromwell on 16 May 1536, as he had done several times before since he had acquired his high profile prisoners. He had spent time with Lord Rochford since his trial, and was able to report that Anne's brother was anxious to speak personally with Cromwell regarding some petitions that he wished to make. Kingston had delivered a heavy message to Rochford that day, informing him that he should 'be in readyness tomorrow to suffer execution'. Anne's brother took the news well, saying that he would do his best to be ready.

Kingston had also been thinking about the queen. The king had already informed him that Anne was to have her friend, Thomas Cranmer, minister to her in her last hours, something which would have pleased her. The Archbishop visited her on 16 May 1536, the day after her trial, in order to give her some comfort.

Kingston was also a practical man, asking Cromwell for details of how he should prepare the scaffold, as well as other details of the executions. Anne's apartments were not far from Tower Green, where she would die, and she must have been aware of hammering and sawing as the scaffold on which she was to die was erected.

Anne's thoughts do not survive as she spent her last days in the Tower. Her contemporary, Cavendish, put words into her mouth, declaring:

'Alas, wretched woman, what shall I do or say?
And why, alas, was I borne this woe to susteyn?
Oh how unfortunate I am at this day,
That reigned in joy, and now in endless pain,
The world universal hath me in disdain;
The slander of my name will ever be green,
And called of each man the most vicious queen'.

Anne, however, in real life, always stated that she was innocent. She probably spent 16 May 1536 preparing for death quietly with Thomas Cromwell. Perhaps she thought of her daughter, who was two years old and whom she had last seen a few weeks before, carrying her in her arms in the gardens at Greenwich. Perhaps she thought of her mother, who she believed would die of grief over her? She had very little time left to live.

Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, as queen. Anne can have had no idea of the future her only child would enjoy. At the time of her execution there were rumours than Henry would declare that Elizabeth was in fact the illegitimate daughter of Henry Norris. His elder daughter, Mary, later claimed that Elizabeth looked like Mark Smeaton.

Thursday 15 May 2014

15 May 1536 - A Trial At Last

Although Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton had all been tried and found guilty of adultery with Anne, the queen and her brother had still not been tried. This all changed on 15 May 1536, when Anne set out to plead for a hopeless cause - her life.

Unlike the four men, Anne was tried in the Tower. She brought into the hall, where a great scaffold had been erected on which benches had been placed for Anne's peers. Her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, with whom she had previously quarrelled, presided as High Steward, while Anne's own father, Thomas Boleyn, may also have been there. Her former flame, Henry Percy, certainly was.

Records of her trial are scant. As the trial convened, the king's commission was read and the queen was brought in, led by Sir William Kingston. A chair had been brought for her, which she sat in, before the charges were read. Anne pleaded not guilty and, although her words do not survive, 'she made so wise ad discreet answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly'. Anne spoke for her life, although she can have been under no illusion, with the assembled peers finding her guilty of the charges.

The sentence was 'to be burned or beheaded as shall please the King'. Given all that had happened over the last few weeks, Anne cannot have been at all sure that she would be granted the more merciful death of decapitation. According to Lancelot de Carles, after the sentence was given Anne made a speech, appealing to God whether the sentence was deserved, before also saying that she believed she condemned for some other reason than the cause alleged. She stated that she had always been faithful to the king, before confirming that she was prepared to die. Eustace Chapuys also believed that the queen spoke out to express her concern that innocent men were to die for her. Anne was then brought back to her rooms in the Tower.

Once Anne's trial was over, her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was brought in for his own trial. He was charged with incest with his sister, as well as spreading a rumour that Princess Elizabeth was illegitimate - something which was treason under the terms of Henry's Act of Succession. He was also given a piece of paper to consider, containing a delicate matter and, to the embarrassment of the king's ministers, read it allowed. It stated that Anne had told his wife that Henry was impotent.

Again, Rochford's words do not survive, but it is clear from surviving accounts that he spoke well. The Chronicle of Calais considered that 'he made answer so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, and never would confess anything, but made himself as clear as though he had never offended'. Lancelot de Carles also believed that he showed a calm demeanour and made a good defence, with the judges at first not unanimous in a guilty verdict. They were soon in agreement, however, with Rocford also sentenced to death.

As night fell on 15 May 1536, Anne Boleyn knew that she had, at most, days left to live.

The tomb of Anne's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, at Framlingham. He presided at her trial and sentenced her to death.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

14 May 1536 - Thomas Cromwell

On 14 May 1536, the day before Anne and George's trials, Thomas Cromwell sat down to write to the English ambassadors in France. Cromwell - the king's chief minister - had played an instrumental part in Anne's fall. Shortly before her arrest, she had quarrelled with the minister and told him that 'she would like to see his head off his shoulders'. Instead, he resolved to take hers, allying himself with the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who represented Princess Mary, as well as the Seymours, who were the family of Henry's new love, Jane Seymour. It was an unlikely alliance but this, coupled with the king's own animosity towards Anne was enough to bring her down.

On 14 May 1536 Thomas Cromwell was the victor and Anne the loser. He informed the ambassadors that 'the king's highness thought convenient that I should advertise you of a chance, as most detestably and abominably devised contrived, imagined, done and continued, so most happily and graciously by the ordinance of God revealed, manifested and notoriously known to all men'. He continued by declaring that 'the queen's abomination both in incontinent living, and other offence towards the king's highness was so rank and common, that her ladies of her privy cahmber, and her chamberers could not contain it within their breasts, but detesting the same had so often communications and conferences of it that at the last it came so plainly to the ears of some of his grace's council that with their duty to his Majesty they could not conceal it from him'.

The official line was that Anne was guilty as charged. The following day she would also be condemned.

Thomas Cromwell

Tuesday 13 May 2014

13 May 1536 - No Longer Anne the Queen

On 13 May 1536 - even before Anne's trial - her household was broken up and her maids and officers sent home. Although still legally the king's wife, she was no longer queen. Once again, this must have been proof to her that she would never leave the Tower alive.

Anne was also not going to remain the kings wife for much longer. Although the four men who were tried on 12 May 1536, were condemned for adultery with Anne, Henry was planning to rewrite history - as he had done with his first marriage - and deny that he had ever been married before. Divorce was impossible in sixteenth century Europe. If Henry wanted to remarry in May 1536, he had three options: he could persuade Anne to become a nun (something which usually freed a husband to remarry), he could annul his marriage (effectively proof that it had never been valid and, thus, had never happened), or he could kill his wife. He chose options 2 and 3.

Henry's preferred ground for annuling his marriage appears to have been on the basis that Anne had entered into a valid precontract with Henry Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland, back when she was first at court. Under church law, a precontract - where a couple promised to marry - could be as binding as a marriage ceremony. In fact, no ceremony would actually be required for a couple to be considered married and their children legitimate, providing they could prove a binding promise.

Anne and Percy had fallen in love when she was one of Catherine of Aragon's maids and he was in the service of Cardinal Wolsey. According to William Cavendish, who served alongside Percy with the Cardinal, 'there grew such a secret love between them that, at length, they were insured together, intending to marry'. When Wolsey heard of the arrangement, he ordered the couple to be separated and sent for Percy's father. Percy had been quickly married off to a more suitable bride, although the relationship was not forgotten During Anne's long engagement to Henry VIII Percy's wife had attempted to annul her marriage on the grounds of her husband's precontract to Anne Boleyn.

This, then, was a convenient way out of his marriage for Henry VIII. Unfortunately, Henry Percy, who was by then Earl of Northumberland, was having none of it. On 13 May 1536 he sat down angrily to write to Thomas Cromwell, complaining of the interrogations that he had recently been subject to on the subject. He declared that he had sworn an oath on the sacrament, before the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to declare that there had been no precontract and 'that the same may be to my damnation, if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me'.

With both Anne and Percy refusing to admit any precontract, it appears that Henry VIII was forced to fall back on more certain - although more embarrassing (for him) - grounds. On 17 May 1536 Anne was informed that she was no longer Henry VIII's wife and that her marriage had been annulled. According to the well-informed Eustace Chapuys, the marriage had always 'been unlawful and null in consequence of the King himself having had connection with Anne's sister'.

It is a bitter irony that Anne died for the crime of adultery, when she had never legally been Henry VIII's wife. As she took to her bed on 13 May 1536, however, she was a condemned woman and she had still not even been tried.

Henry and Anne's entwined initials - a rare survival from Cambridge. After her death Henry took steps to obliterate any trace of a woman who, as far as he was concerned, had never legally been his wife.

Monday 12 May 2014

12 May 1536 - The trials of Smeaton, Norris, Weston and Brereton

On Friday 12 May 1536 any hope that Anne still had, was almost certainly lost. That day Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton were taken out of the Tower to be tried in the Guildhall. As they walked in procession, their guards turned the back of their axes towards them - with the heads facing away. Once in the Guildhall, they were 'condemned of high treason against the King for using fornication with Queen Anne, wife to the King, and also for conspiracy of the king's death, and there judged to be hanged, drawn and quartered, and their members cut off and burnt before them, their heads cut off and quartered'. As the four men made their way back to the Tower, the axes which had before been turned away had been spun to face them. They were all condemned men and had less than five days left to live.

These are the bare facts of the trial. Very few details actually survive. Lancelot De Carles, in his poem on the fall of Anne Boleyn, believed that, once again, Mark Smeaton confessed to adultery, but the others admitted no guilt. The Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, added further detail, writing in one of his dispaches that Smeaton had confessed to adultery with Anne on three different occasions: 'all the others were sentenced on mere presumption or on very slight grounds, without legal proof or valid confession'.

According to De Carles, the people at court were particularly moved by Weston's sentence, since he was both young and popular. His mother 'oppressed with grief' petitioned the king, while his wife offered both rents and goods for him to be freed. Like the other men, there was to be no escape for him. Anne, still a prisoner in the Tower, must have known that there would also be no escape for her. It had already been 'proven' in court that she was an adulteress. The result of her own trial would be a foregone conclusion.

The Anne Boleyn Papers (Amberley, 2013). All the sources used above (and many more!) are included in this source book.

Sunday 11 May 2014

11 May 1536 - Lady Wingfield and Lady Worcester

If Lady Rochford can largely be discounted as the main source of the evidence against Anne, then where did it come from?

Little evidence survives surrounding the charges, although Sir John Spelman, a judge who sat on the bench during Anne's trial, noted that she had originally been accused by Lady Wingfield. Lady Wingfield was an old friend of Anne's, who had died in either 1533 or 1534, apparently leaving a deathbed statement in which she accused the queen of being morally lax. This document does not survive but, given the date of Lady Wingfield's death, perhaps refers to an affair before Anne's marriage.

While she was still unmarried, Anne had written to Lady Wingfield in veyr subservient terms, suggesting that the pair were well known to each other. It is impossible to know what Lady Wingfield said, but it is possible that Anne's relationship with Henry Percy, whom she hoped once to marry, was raised, since his name was mentioned in the enquiries in 1536. A lack of chastity before marriage could be a ground for divorce, but it wasn't treason.

A more damning accusation was made by Anne's friend, the Countess of Worcester, and it is this which seems to have caused the enquiries into Anne's conduct to begin. One gentleman, present at court in May 1536, recorded 'the first accuserrs, the Lady Worcester, and Nan Cobham, with one maid more. But Lady Worcester was the first ground'.

Nan Cobham has never been identified, but Lady Worcester was a member of Anne's household. Following Anne's death, she wrote to Cromwell to say that Anne had lent her £100 - a vast sum - and one in which she was 'very loath it should come to my lord my husband's knowledge thereof, I am in doubt how he will take it'. Lady Worcester had a lover in early 1536 and her brother, Sir Anthony Browne, berated her for her immoral conduct. In her anger, she blurted out that she was not the worst and that her brother should look to the conduct of the queen herself.

This was enough for investigations to begin, with Cromwell's agents visiting Anne's household to 'tempt her porter and serving men with bribes, there is nothing which they do not promise the ladies of her bedchamber. They affirm that the king hated the queen, because she hath not presented him with an heir to the realm, nor was there any prospect of her doing so'.

With the evidence gathered, it was time for the men with whom Anne was accused to go on trial for their lives.

The Countess of Worcester, from her tomb at Chepstow

Saturday 10 May 2014

Inside the Tudor Court

I attended the launch of Lauren Mackay's Inside the Tudor Court yesterday evening near the Barbican in central London. It was a great event - lovely to meet Lauren.

I am looking forward to reading the book, it looks absolutely fascinating and is an excellent subject. Eustace Chapuys, who arrived at court during Henry VIII's attempts to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, became her champion. He remained at court through the king's Great Matter, the queenship and fall of Anne Boleyn, as well as the reigns of Henry's later wives. He left court not long before Henry VIII's death, after having a touching last interview with Princess Mary and her last stepmother, Catherine Parr.

I always think that Eustace Chapuys is the forgotten man of the Tudor court. We get so used to using him as a source that it is almost as if his agency and presence in the events that he described are forgotten. I am particularly interested in reading Lauren's take on Chapuys' role in the fall of Anne Boleyn - he was right at the centre of events and his dispatch about a meeting with Thomas Cromwell not long before Anne's fall is a very important source for the events of May 1536. Did Chapuys - the Imperial Ambassador - really help to bring down a queen?

You can also read extracts of Chapuys' dispatches in my book, The Anne Boleyn Papers (Amberley, 2013).

10 May 1536 - Lady Rochford

On 10 May 1536, it was decided that Anne and her 'lovers' should be indicted to appear before a jury of their peers, in order to determine whether or not they were guilty of the crimes of which they were accused. The grand jury of Middlesex, who considered the charges, believed that there was sufficient evidence for the trials to begin.

The crimes of which Anne and the five men were accused were lurid, but was the evidence for them? Much of the information against the queen appears to have come from women that she knew at court.

Anne's sister-in-law, Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, who was married to George Boleyn, is usually assigned a role in events. Gilbert Burnet, writing 150 years later, believed that Jane gave evidence against her husband and his sister due to the fact that she was jealous of the sibling's close relationship, as well as the fact that she was 'a woman of no sort of virtue'. He claimed that Jane 'carried many stories to the king, or some about him, to persuade, that there was a familiarity between the queen and her brother, beyond what so near a relation could justify. All that could be said for it was only this; that he was once seen leaning upon her bed, which bred great suspicion'.

In spite of one contemporary's claim that Jane had not been a 'chaste wife', there is no real evidence of discord between her and her husband. Indeed, Jane appears to have remained wearing widow's black up until her death nearly six years later, as well as seeking to get a message to George in the Tower and promising to 'humbly suit unto the king's highness' on his behalf.

Much of the rumour surrounding Jane is probably based on the fact that she was later herself executed for involving herself in a love affair between Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and Thomas Culpepper. It made sense to early historians to portray her as an immoral figure.

That said, Jane and Anne appear to have quarrelled during Anne's time as queen, while Jane had strong family and friendship ties to Princess Mary - dividing her loyalties. If she was a government informer, however, she received little reward, being later forced to write to Thomas Cromwell for aid in her widowhood. One of the charges against George was that he had laughed at the king's clothes and that he had discussed Anne's concerns that Henry was impotent. This evidence may well have come from Jane when she was questioned. She may also have been the source of claims that George had jokingly questioned Princess Elizabeth's legitimacy. There is nothing else to suggest that the evidence against Anne came from her.

There were, however, two further women who played a rather more important role in the investigation - one deceased and one very much alive.

You can read more about Jane in my book, The Boleyn Women (Amberley, 2013)

Friday 9 May 2014

9 May 1536 - Alluring him with her tongue in his mouth

Anne Boleyn's arrest shocked her contemporaries. Although the charges appear trumped up and hard to believe to modern eyes, there does seem to have been a grain of truth in what was claimed. Certainly, Anne's comments on Francis Weston were enough to turn suspicion on him, while it was evidently not considered that there was enough evidence to proceed against Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page. It is also clear that investigations were carried out in order to try to prove Anne;s guilt.

Anne and her supposed lovers were accused of a number of charges. According to one, which was read at Anne's trial on 15 May, the queen 'despising her marriage, and entertaining malice against the King, and following daily her frail and carnal lust, did falsely and traitorously procure by base conversations and kisses, touchings, gifts, and other infamous incitations, divers of the King's daily and familiar servants to be her adulterers and concubines, so that several of the King's servants yielded to her vile provocations'.

Anne was evidently considered to be the instigator, procuring Henry Norris 'by sweet words, kisses, touches, and otherwise', causing him to 'violate her' on 12 October 1533 at Westminster, amongst other occasions.

She apparently went even further with her own brother, inciting him to violate her 'alluring him with her tongue in the said George's mouth and the said George's tongue in hers, and also with kisses, presents and jewels; whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all human laws...violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his wn sister', with this 'violation' apparently also taking place on numerous occasions.

Anne was also claimed to have 'procured' Brereton, Weston and Smeaton at various palaces throughout her marriage, with the queen also conspiring with them towards 'the death and destruction of the King' and promising to marry one of them. She was accused of stating that 'she would never love the King in her heart'.

The list of charges against Anne were intended to be shocking, but was there any truth in them? They are very specific, although not all of the dates and locations could be correct. No actual evidence was offered to support these specific claims although, as Anne herself recognised, when such offences were alleged she could 'say but nay'.

Tudor queens were never alone, with Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, forced to involve her kinswoman, Lady Rochford, when she wanted to meet her lover in secret: it was simply not possible for her to discharge all her servants for a night. The idea, then, that Anne would have had the privacy to indulge in illicit sexual affairs is highly doubtful. However, what is clear is that Anne's own words and the conduct of her household lent themselves towards being misconstrued. There were rumours enough for Anne's enemies to construct a case against her, regardless of how far fetched the actual charges were.

In fact, Anne found that her most dangerous accusers were all women whom she had counted as friends.

Drawing commonly identified as Anne Boleyn

Thursday 8 May 2014

8 May 1536 - Tears and Laughter

Anne and Henry had had marital problems for some months before May 1536, but her arrest came suddenly and out of the blue. As such, Anne was highly emotional when she arrived at the Tower, speaking unguardedly about the men with whom she was accused. She very much desired to have her own chaplain with her in her private chapel in her apartments. During her imprisonment, she complained to Sir William Kingston that she had been 'cruely handled', before telling him 'but I think the king does it to prove me' before bursting out laughing. She appeared merry to the lieutenant of the Tower, before making it clear that she knew the seriousness of her position: 'if any man accuse me I can say but nay, & they can bring no witness'. Similarly, Anne could bring no proof of her innocence when the crimes of which she was accused were alleged to have taken place in the secrecy of her chambers.

Anne gradually composed herself during the early days of her imprisonment, moving from tears to laughter. A letter survives, which is not in Anne's hand, but was found amongst Thomas Cromwell's papers and is endorsed 'from the Lady in the Tower'. It was allegedly written on 6 May 1536, by Anne herself to her husband. The letter's authenticity is highly suspect, given the fact that it is not in Anne's hand. The use of the name 'Ann Bulen', rather than 'Anne the Queen' is also unlikely, as is the fact that the letter is highly critical of the king - something which would seem to be madness at a time when Anne still had hopes of her own life, as well as aware that her parents, siblings and daughter were in considerable peril.

None the less, the letter may have been written by Anne. It would be nice to think that it was. It is printed in full in my book, The Anne Boleyn Papers, and declared 'Your grace's displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant'. The tone is defiant, asking for a lawful trial, before stating that 'if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander, must bring you to the joying of your desred happiness, then I desire of God that he will pardon your great sin herein, and, likewise, my enemies, the instruments thereof, and that he will not call you to a strait acocunt for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared'.

Was this Anne daring to speak plainly to her husband and fight for her life? If so, she failed. When the letter was written, she had less than two weeks left to live.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

7 May 1536 - Such About Me As I Never Loved

By 7 May 1536, Anne Boleyn had been imprisoned in the Tower for nearly a week. Although she was kept in the sumptuous royal apartments, where she had stayed before her coronation, conditions were far from easy for the queen.

When she arrived at the Tower, Anne was disconcerted to find that her aunt - Lady Boleyn - had been sent to attend her, along with a Mistress Coffin. This Lady Boleyn was most likely Anne Tempest, wife of Sir Edward Boleyn, and a woman approximately the same age as her niece. She had been a favoured attendant of Catherine of Aragon and there was little love lost between aunt and niece, with the queen complaining to Sir William Kingston that I think much unkindness in the king to put such about me as I never loved'. Theas t med inforha tshewfeeling was mutual and Anne Tempest, along with Mistress Coffin, were there primarily to spy on the queen. This was role that Lady Boleyn, who had long been on 'very ill terms' with her niece, appeared to relish, and 'she engaged her into much discourse, and studied to draw confessions from her. Whatsoever she said was presently sent to the court'.

Lady Boleyn and Mistress Coffin were deputed to sleep on a pallet bed in Anne's own chamber, with Sir William Kingston and his wife sleeping outside the door. Regardless of her royal lodgings, Anne Boleyn was to be under no illusion that she was a prisoner.

As it turned out, Mistress Coffin proved to be a better informer than Lady Boleyn and it was she who informed Kingston of Anne's words relating to Henry Norris. The queen and her aunt bickered in the Tower, however, with Anne Boleyn complaining one night to Kingston that 'the king wist what he did when he put such two about her as my Lady Boleyn and Mistress Coffin, for they could tell her nothing of my lord her father nor nothing else, but she defied them all'. In response, Lady Boleyn declared that 'such desire as you have had to such tales have brought you to this'. Lady Shelton, another of Anne's aunts, was also summoned to serve her in the Tower, something which was again uncomfortable for the queen, since they had also quarrelled.

In the Tower Anne Boleyn was cut off from the outside world and surrounded by unfriendly faces. When she complained of her attendants to Sir William Kingston, he assured her 'that the king took them to be honest and good women'. Anne replied that 'I would have had of my own Privy Chamber which I favour most'. Few were prepared to speak out for Anne in May 1536 as the investigation against her continued.

Lady Shelton, one of Anne Boleyn's aunts.

You can learn more about Anne's aunts in my book, The Boleyn Women (Amberley, 2013)

Tuesday 6 May 2014

6 May 1536 - William Brereton

By 5 May 1536 there was one further man in the Tower. He would prove less fortunate than his fellows, Sir Richard Page and Sir Thomas Wyatt, who arrived at the same time. William Brereton is the most unusual of all the men accused with Anne. She never mentioned him while in the Tower and showed no reaction when Sir William Kingston informed her of his presence. The pair are not known to have been associated and the last of Anne's 'lovers' must be accounted the most unlucky to be there. He, like the others, spent 6 May as prisoners in the Tower.

Brereton was wealthy, with his sphere of influence centred on the Welsh Marches, where he served in local justice. Although present at court in May 1536, he did not usually move in court circles, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, for one, recalling that he was the 'one that least I knew' amongst the imprisoned men. By 1536 he was in his late forties and served as a groom of the king's privy chamber.

Brereton's childhood friend, George Constantyne, who had attended grammar school with him, met him shortly before his arrest and velieved that 'if any of them was innocent, it was he'. Constantyne, understandabe, since he was also one of Henry Norris' servants, took an interest in proceedings, later witnessing the executions of the men and recording that Brereton said 'I have deserved to die if it were a thousand deaths, but the cause wherefore I die judge not: but if ye judge, judge the best'. In an age where prisoners were expected to admit their crimes on the scaffold in order to die a good death, this was strong evidence that Brereton was innocent. As Constantyne concluded, 'for other he was innocent or else he died worst of them all'.

Early in May many courtiers must have watched anxiously. The Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, noted rumours that 'upwards of 100 gentlemen have had criminal connection with her [Anne]' and it must have seemed that no one was safe from the court purge occasioned by the rests. Even Sir Francis Bryan, who had quarreled with Anne and was friendly with Jane Seymour was rumoured to be wanted for questioning although, as it turned out, only seven men would be imprisoned with Anne: Smeaton, Norris, Rochford, Weston, Brereton, Page and Wyatt. Five would die.

The Tower of London

Monday 5 May 2014

5 May 1536 - Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page

The investigation into Anne's alleged adultery continued while she was in the Tower and, probably on 5 May 1536, Sir William Kingston informed her that Sir Richard Page and Sir Thomas Wyatt were also prisoners in the Tower.

Sir Richard Page was a member of the king's privy chamber and friendly with Anne, who is recorded to have made gifts to him durign her time as queen. It was evidently this familiarity with Anne that brought him to the Tower, although he was lucky to escape serious suspicion By 12 May 1536 it was widely known that he would be released without charge, although his punishment was to be banished from court.

Sir Thomas Wyatt had a more serious association with the fallen queen and was probably very lucky to escape with his life. Before Anne's marriage, he had engaged in a flirtation with her, calling her 'Brunet' and referring to his love for her in his poems. Wyatt was a courtier and a poet and firm friend of the king, with it even rumoured that it was he who had originally brought Anne to the monarch's attention. The two were rivals for her love for a time, although Wyatt tactfully backed away.

For Wyatt, his time in the Bell Tower at the Tower of London, amongst the soon to be condemned, profoundly affected him, writing:

'These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seek to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sigh
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.'

Sir Thomas Wyatt knew that he was out of danger within days of his arrest - like Page the evidence was not there to even suggest a relationship with Anne. However, both men remained amongst their less fortunate fellows and were present in the Tower when Anne's alleged lovers were arrested. As Sir Thomas Wyatt observed - Circa Regna Tonat - It thunders through the realms.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, a handsome courtier and poet. He was profoundly shocked by what he observed in the Tower in May 1536.

Sunday 4 May 2014

4 May 1536 - Thomas Cranmer

Word soon leaked out that Anne had been arrested and was a prisoner int he Tower. For Eustace Chapuys, staying at Westminster close to the king, it was 'a most astounding piece of intelligence'. He was not the only person to think so, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, sitting down to write to the king in his study at Lambeth on 3 May. Cranmer had started his career as a chaplain to Anne's father and he shared the queen's reformist interests. It was Cranmer who had pronounced the sentence of divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and who had crowned Anne Boleyn, as well as repudiating his oath of loyalty to the pope. He was entirely shocked at what he heard of Anne's arrest.

Cranmer, to his credit, attempted to some extent to defend his patroness to the king, declaring 'I am in such a perplexity, that my mind is clean amazed: for I never had better opinion in woman, than I had in her; which maketh me t think, that she should not be culpable. And again, I think your highness would not have fone so far, except she had surely been culpable. Now I think that your grace best knoweth, that, next unto your grace, I was most bound unto her of all creatures living. Wherefore I most humbly beseech your grace to suffer me in that, which both God's law, nature, and also her kindness bindeth me unto; taht is, that I may with your grace's favour wish and pray for her, that she may declare herseld inculpable and innocent'. Even Cranmer, who was perhaps Anne's most high profile friend, could go no further, however, declaring that he believed she should be punished if she was proved to be guilty.

As he sat down to seal his letter with a heavy heart, Cranmer was interrupted by a visit from a number of the king's council, arriving to show him 'proof'' of Anne's conduct. Late that day, the archbishop added a postscript, declaring 'I am exceedingly sorry that such faults can be proved by the queen, as I head of their relation'. Reading the letter early on 4 May, Henry VIII was satisfied with Cranmer's loyalty Privately, however, the Archbishop was grieved. He would later declare, on hearing of Anne's death that she who has been the Queen of England upon earth will today become a Queen in heaven' before bursting into tears.

Anne spent 4 May in the Tower, awaiting events. She was cut off from the world and also from the men with whom she was accused and who equally suffered agonies over exactly what their fates would be.

Thomas Cranmer, from his memorial at Oxford.

Saturday 3 May 2014

3 May 1536 - Francis Weston

Anne spent 3 May 1536 in the Tower. She was still in a state of emotional shock, and spoke unguardedly, trying to make sense of all that had happened. To one of the women appointed to attend her, Mistress Cousins, Anne reported a conversation that she had had with Norris the previous Sunday when he had said that he would 'swear for the queen that she was a good woman'. This sounded suspicious and Mistress Cousins who, like all the women about Anne was spying on her, asked for further details. The queen was willing to talk, saying that 'I bade hiim do so, for I asked him why he went not through with his marriage?' before Norris replied that he 'would tarry a time'. Anne had always been flirtatious and had declared provocatively 'you look for dead men's shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me'. This was dangerous talk, with Norris declaring that 'if he should have any such thought, he would his head were off'. Anne was apparently angered by this response, stating that 'she could undo him if she would', before quarreling with Norris.

What did Anne mean by this exchange and why did she relate it in the Tower? It certainly looked bad, suggesting that Anne was already considering a second marriage 'if ought came to the king but good'. Yet, given the fact that Norris was prepared to swear to Anne's character, it was probably innocent banter. Besides, Anne qualified her recollections on the morning of 3 May, declaring that 'she more feared Weston' than Norris, since he had complained to her that Norris came more regularly to her chamber than the rooms of his own fiance. Francis Weston - a young newlywed at court - appears to have been a little in love with Anne himself. She had sought him out to admonish him for his fliration with her cousin, Margaret Shelton, when he should love his wife. Weston replied simply that 'he loved one in her house better than them both'. When Anne asked who this was, he replied 'it is yourself', something which she did not take seriously.

Anne's words show the familiarity that she allowed herself with men, acting as she had perhaps done in her youth when she was one of Catherine of Aragon's ladies and had secretly loved Henry Percy, the heir to the Earl of Northumberland. While such levity was possible for a young girl, it was highyl suspicious in a queen, with the conduct easy to twist. Anne's words, in any event, condemned Francis Weston, whose name had not before been mentioned in relation to the investigation. He was soon another unfortunate inmate in the Tower.

Francis Weston was very young and, like the other men, handsome. He was 'highly favoured' by the king, who allowed him some license at court, seeing this as a symptom of his young friend 'being but young, and scant out of his shell'. Weston was well-liked and dearly loved by his wife and family, who made desperate attempts to secure his release. Thanks to Anne's unguarded comments, however, he was destined to die alongside the other men with whom she was accused.

Anne Boleyn's falcon badge carved as graffiti in the Tower. It has lost its crown.

Friday 2 May 2014

2 May 1536 - To The Tower

Anne Boleyn spent a troubled night at Greenwich Palace following the May Day jousts. Henry VIII's sudden departure unnerved her, although she is unlikely to have known what lay ahead. On the morning of 2 May it was still only Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris who had been apprehended. This was quickly to change.

That morning Anne's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and other members of the royal council came to interrogate her. Although the records of the questioning do not survive, her own words, spoken when she arrived at the Tower, indicate that she was aware that it was with Smeaton, Norris, and her own brother, that she was accused. As Anne told the lieutenant of the Tower, 'I hear say that I should be accused with three men'.

The Chronicle of Henry VIII, which recorded that one hundred soldiers came to accompany Anne to the Tower, believed that she was tricked into a waiting barge, being infomed only that 'My lady, the King has sent me for you', something which gave her hope of being taken to Westminster and Henry. More likely, however, given the allegations laid against her, she knew her boat was bound for the Tower.

Anne was accompanied to the Tower by her uncle and her other interrogators, before they left her under the guardianship of Sir William Kingston, the lieutenant of the ancient fortress. On her arrival, Anne asked Kingston 'shall I go in to a dungeon?', before being reassured that she would instead stay in the royal apartments, where she had lodged before her coronation. Just under three years later, she surveyed the fine rooms under very different circumstances, declaring only that 'it is too good for me', before praying 'Jesus have mercy on me' and falling down to her knees in tears.

Anne spent much of her first hours in the Tower weeping, as well as requesting a chapel in her rooms to allow her to pray for mercy. She railed against the men that she knew were imprisoned close by, weeping 'Oh Norris, hast thou accused me, thou ar in the Tower with me, & thou and I shall die together: and, Mark, thou art hear too'. She also wept for her mother, who she feared would 'die for sorrow'.

Anne's brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, would join her in the Tower later that day. Anne's only brother was a dashing courtier, graced 'with gifts of natural qualities'. He was a poet, an ambassador and a lover, albeit his contemporary, Cavendish declared that his life was 'not chaste' and his 'living bestial', putting words into Rochford's mouth that 'I forced widows, maidens I did deflower'. Regardless of these claimed character flaws, Rochford was Anne's 'sweet brother'. The evidence of an incestuous relationship between brother and sister was, however, non-existent, with witnesses only able to 'vouch to the Queen having kissed her own brother, and that they have in their possession letters in which she informs him that she is pregnant'.

By the end of 2 May 1536 the queen and three men were prisoners in the Tower of London. Anne Boleyn would never again emerge from its cold stone walls.

A highly romanticised depiction of the condemnation of Anne Boleyn

Thursday 1 May 2014

The Anne Boleyn Papers at Nerdalicious

In keeping with the Anne Boleyn theme at my blog, Nerdalicious have ust published a lovely feature looking at my book, The Anne Boleyn Papers. The article includes an interview with me on the sources associated with Anne, as well as comments on the book ('a comprehensive and important collection').

1 May 1536 - The May Day Jousts

Anne Boleyn is unlikely to have noticed Mark Smeaton's absence from her household as she prepared to attend jousts at Greenwich to mark May Day, although the Chronicle of Henry VIII records that she looked for him in the crowd around the tournament field, asking 'why he had not come back'? Regardless, she was unconcerned and took her place beside the king to watch the jousts. One of the participants was a young gentleman of the king's privy chamber, Henry Norris.

During the jousts Henry shocked everyone - including his wife - by suddenly rising to his feet and stalking away without a word, riding to Westminster with only a small company. Throughout the journey he rode with Norris, examining him closely and promising him a pardon if he would only confess a sin. Norris, however, said nothing.

Unlike Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris was a man of some consequence and a gentleman. He was wealthy and influential, fulfilling the intimate task of groom of the stool to Henry VIII at court. He loved to ride and hunt with hawks and hounds and, to contemporaries, he appeared one of the men most likely to have committed adultery with Anne. The Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, for one, recorded that Princess Elizabeth was expected to be declared Henry Norris's bastard - although Princess Mary would later claim that Elizabeth 'had the look of Smeaton'.

Anne appears to have been fond of Norris, crying out 'O Norris, hast thou accused me, thou art in the Tower with me, & thou and I shall die together'. There were also rumours at court that Norris came more into Anne's chamber than he visited his fiance, while the king's agents were instructed to learn as much as they could 'of the communication that was last between the queen and Master Norris'. Norris was a popular man at court and had been the king's friend, but he found himself in the Tower with Smeaton by the end of 1 May.

The next arrest would be that of the queen herself.

A sketch, supposedly of Anne Boleyn towards the end of her life.