Trial Day For Queen Anne Boleyn
475 years ago today,on the 15th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was tried in the King’s Hall in the Tower of London. The trial was to be a major public spectacle, attracting, around 2,000 spectators, according to Chapuys. Sir William Kingston had arranged for a “great scaffold” (platform) to be erected in the middle of the hall with benches and seats arranged for the lords, and benches along the walls of the hall. According to Alison Weir,a special throne for the Lord High Steward, the Duke of Norfolk, was placed on the dais at the end of the hall, underneath the canopy of estate which bore the royal arms. The Duke of Norfolk was to represent the King and would have to put aside the fact that Anne and her brother George were his niece and nephew.
Alison Weir says that on that fateful Monday morning in May 1536, Thomas Howard,the Duke of Norfolk,sat in splendour on his throne, holding his white staff of office with his son, the Earl of Surrey, at his feet holding the golden staff of the Earl Marshal England, his father’s office. Norfolk was flanked by Sir Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, who was there to give Norfolk any legal advice that was required, and Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, and a man who hated Anne Boleyn.
The Jury Panel consisted of:
1. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk – Henry VIII’s brother-in-law
2. The Marquis of Exeter and his cousin Lord Montague (Henry Pole) Both men were supporter of the Lady Mary.
3. Earl of Oxford was a good friend of the King
4. The Earl of Northumberland – Henry Percy (former love of Anne Boleyn)
5. Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland – A loyal servant to the King in the North.
6. The Earl of Worcester – His wife, Elizabeth Browne, the Countess of Worcester, was said to have given evidence against the Queen and to have been their key witness.
7. The Earls of Rutland and Huntingdon both were related to the King and were royal favorites.
8. The Earl of Sussex was one of the King’s best friends.
9. Lord Morley was father of Jane Boleyn, George’s wife, but a staunch conservative and a supporter of the Lady Mary.
10.Lord Dacre was a man who had narrowly escaped from being convicted for treason and who obviously wanted to please the King.
11.Lord Cobham was a man close to the King and possibly the husband of Nan Cobham, the woman mentioned as giving evidence against the Queen.
12.Lord Grey of Powys and Lord Monteagle – Both were son-in-laws of the Duke of Suffolk.
13.Lord Clinton was husband of Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount and stepfather of the King’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond.
14.Lord Sandys was one of the King’s good friends and also Lord Chamberlain.
15.Lord Windsor was another friend of the King.
16.Lord Wentworth was a relative of Jane Seymour. His aunt was Jane’s mother, Margaret Wentworth.
17.Lord Mordaunt was a career courtier.
The trial records, transcripts, statements and records of evidence are all missing, and we have to rely on eye witness accounts. We have some records in Letters and Papers and this is what is recorded from Anne’s trial:
“And afterwards, Monday, 15 May, queen Anne comes to the bar before the Lord High Steward in the Tower, in the custody of Sir Will. Kingston, pleads not guilty, and puts herself on her peers; whereupon the said duke of Suffolk, marquis of Exeter, and other peers, are charged by the High Steward to say the truth; and being examined from the lowest peer to the highest, each of them severally saith that she is guilty.
Judgment:—To be taken to prison in the Tower, and then, at the King’s command, to the Green within the Tower, and there to be burned or beheaded as shall please the King.”
During the trial, Queen Anne Boleyn could be seen, "dressed in a black velvet gown with a petticoat fo scarlet damask and a cap decorated with a black and white feather. Anne made an entry as though she were going to a great triumph… She presented herself with the true dignity of a queen, and curtseyed to her judges, looking round upon them all, without any sign of fear… She returned the salutations of the lords with her accustomed politeness… [after seeing her father] she stood undismayed, nor did ever exhibit any token of impatience, or grief, or cowardice.”
Anne had taken her seat on the platform right in the middle of the hall, her indictment was read out and she listened, “her face said more than words, for she said little; but no one looking at her would have thought her guilty.” She then pleaded “Not Guilty” to all of the charges but had to listen as Sir Christopher Hales, the Attorney General, argued the case for the Crown, accusing Anne of incest, adultery, promising to marry Norris after the King’s death, conspiring the King’s death and laughing at the King and his dress. Anne “made so wise and discreet answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been guilty of the same”, denying all the charges but admitting that she had given money to Weston, which was nothing sinister as she gave money to many young gentlemen.
A guilty verdict had been decided before she had even walked into the court. The jury were unanimous in finding Anne guilty and after they gave their verdict Anne was stripped of her crown and her titles, although Alison Weir points out that her title of Queen was not mentioned she was now Queen without a crown.
Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, pronounced the sentence and George Constantine, Sir Henry Norris’s manservant, wrote of how tears coursed down his cheeks as he sentenced his niece saying:
“Because thou hast offended against our sovereign the King’s Grace in committing treason against his person, and here attainted of the same, the law of the realm is this, that thou hast deserved death, and thy judgment is tis: that thou shalt be burned here within the Tower of London on the Green, else to have thy head smitten off, as the King’s pleasure shall be further known of the same.”
As her death sentence was read out, the Earl of Northumberland collapsed and had to be taken out of the hall and one of Anne’s ladies, Mrs Orchard, the woman who had been Anne’s nurse in childhood, was said to have “shrieked out dreadfully”. Anne, herself, was calm, as Chapuys describes:
“The Concubine was condemned first, and having heard the sentence, which was to be burnt or beheaded at the King’s pleasure, she preserved her composure, saying that she held herself “pour toute saluee de la mort,” and that what she regretted most was that the above persons, who were innocent and loyal to the King, were to die for her. She only asked a short space for shrift (pour disposer sa conscience).”
and then, according to Lancelot de Carles, Anne addressed the court:
“I do not say that I have always borne towards the King the humility which I owed him, considering his kindness and the great honour he showed me and the great respect he always paid me; I admit too, that often I have taken it into my head to be jealous of him… But may God be my witness if I have done him any other wrong.”
Finally, Alison Weir again quotes Crispin de Milherve’s version of Anne’s speech:
“My lords, I will not say your sentence is unjust, nor presume that my reasons can prevail against your convictions. I am willing to believe that you have sufficient reasons for what you have done; but then they must be other than those which have been produced in court, for I am clear of all the offences which you then laid to my charge. I have ever been a faithful wife to the King, though I do not say I have always shown him that humility which his goodness to me, and the honours to which he raised me, merited. I confess I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion enough, and wisdom, to conceal at all times. But God knows, and is my witness, that I have not sinned against him in any other way. Think not I say this in the hope to prolong my life, for He who saveth from death hath taught me how to die, and He will strengthen my faith. Think not, however, that I am so bewildered in my mind as not to lay the honour of my chastity to heart now in mine extremity, when I have maintained it all my life long, much as ever queen did. I know these, my last words, will avail me nothing but for the justification of my chastity and honour. As for my brother and those others who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them, but since I see it so pleases the King, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace and joy, where I will pray to God for the King and for you, my lords.”
Anne Boleyn was then escorted out of the court by her gaoler, Sir William Kingston, with the axe turned against her to show that she had been sentenced to death.
The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir P.205 & P.212-229
Letters and Papers L&P 876
Letter and Papers LP x.908
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