by Isabelle Colomes, France
In recent times, Thomas Cromwell was a strong ally for Anne Boleyn, helping her and the king to obtain the annulment of Henry’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Things don’t remain what they are, and Cromwell finished to consider Anne as a threat.
Cromwell and Anne had very different political opinions. They disagreed about the redistribution of the revenues of the dissolution of the monasteries. Cromwell wanted money for his own account, but also for the empty coffers of the kingdom. Anne thought to give the money to educational or charitable institutions. Also, Cromwell wanted an alliance with Spain, whereas Anne preferred one with France. 1
Anne had a huge influence on the king. The pope refused the divorce so Henry proclaimed himself Head of the Church of England, a major change for the country. Some even lost their lives like Thomas More. Henry was very in love and determined to marry Anne.
She was powerful even before her marriage, Henry listened her. She could grant petitions or receive diplomats for example. An ambassador from Milan told it was necessary to have her approval if someone wanted to influence the English government. 2 Cromwell didn’t get on well with the queen and feared for his own safety. It was her or him, and he choose.
Cromwell could hardly act without Henry’s agreement. Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife, was almost sent at the Tower for heresy in 1546 because of a plot and Henry showed it was impossible to get rid of his wife without his agreement. 3
As the plot was his idea – several conversations between ambassador Eustace Chapuys and himself indicated it is 4 – when he noticed Henry’s lack of interest towards Anne, made him an offer.
Indeed, Henry also had his reasons to wish Anne’s fall. The marriage had its happy times, but at some point Henry was tired of her. Henry absolutely wanted to have a male heir, fearing another civil war like it happened before his father eventually became king. Unfortunately, Anne knew the fate of Catherine : she did several miscarriages and her only surviving child was a girl.
Also, Anne spoke her mind and was quick tempered. Henry could enjoy her vivacity, their political debates but her manners, too outspoken, weren’t attractive as a queen, and even unacceptable. Anne was very jealous, she didn’t want Henry to have mistresses. The whole court could hear their arguments. Henry was a man of his time, he needed a meek wife. He disliked the fact she talked so openly. Why she couldn’t turn her eyes, like Catherine ? Couldn’t she keep things he didn’t want to hear for herself ? But Anne wasn’t Catherine. She wanted to be the equal of Henry because she was ambitious, but also because she was ahead of her time. Of course, she was afraid to lose everything too.
Henry had the ultimate reason to wish Anne’s fall. At some point, it was obvious he was in love with Jane Seymour. Jane was the opposite of Anne, meek, mild, shy and reserved.
The day after Catherine’s funerals, Anne did a miscarriage. She could have secured her position at court with a son. She knew it. Like Chapuys said, “she has miscarried of her savior”. It was true, now she was definitely useless to Henry and her days were counted.
Henry couldn’t be responsible of anything, it was always someone else’s fault. He convinced himself Anne betrayed him because she was unable to give him the son he wanted so much, like Catherine before her. Anne was a witch and he fell deeply in love with her because of witchcraft. It’s a good way to create a clear conscience for himself, and it’s not the first time. The “deformed foetus” Anne miscarried contributed the myths around her.
Anne was close of several men. Among them, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, Francis Weston and Henry Norris. Their fall couldn’t hurt Henry or Cromwell, the men could be replaced easily, and what an efficient way to end the powerful Boleyn faction !
Anne’s family benefited of her elevation and its members had a considerable influence. Her beloved brother, George, became lord Rochford and was put in high esteem by Henry. Once, George sent a letter to Cromwell, furious because he weakened orders George made. Cromwell certainly didn’t appreciate George’s honours. He had to fall too. Cromwell was “helped” by Jane Boleyn, George’s wife as an instrument concerning the charges of incest against her husband and Anne. However, Jane didn’t seem to be George or Anne’s enemy. Anne told her about Henry’s sexual problems and she was one of Anne’s lady-in-waiting. She plotted with her in order to banish from court Henry’s new mistress in 1534. Jane is a mystery and nobody knows if she was evil or scared but in any case she know they were innocent.
Anne had many enemies at court. Some never accepted Henry’s divorce and the break with Rome. Anne could only count on herself, they would prefer Mary on the throne, instead of Elizabeth. Politically, her fall was perfect. Anne and the Boleyn faction’s fall ended the divisions between those factions.
In any case, Anne’s enemies were unstoppable. Her trial, as well as the men’s, was a parody of justice. Their fate was sealed. Anne’s swordsman came from Calais days before her judgement. Eric Ives said “Anne was somewhere else or the man was” when the supposed adultery-ies- happened. Henry and Cromwell didn’t choose coherent dates, it didn’t matter. Henry’s mind was somewhere else. He was betrothed to Jane Seymour the day after Anne’s execution and married her eleven days after Anne’s death. This shocking behaviour shows Henry’s guilt.
Another divorce could be hardly thinkable. Catherine was certainly alive when Henry had tired of Anne. The marriage was still recent, especially after a seven years struggle for a divorce. It would have had a bad effect, but also hard to get. Chapuys wrote:
“[...] there were witnesses, testifying that a marriage passed nine years ago before had been made and fully consummated between her and the earl of Northumberland, and the king would have declared himself earlier but that some one of his council gave him to understand that he could not separate from the concubine without tacitly confirming, not only the first marriage, but also, what he most feared, the authority of the Pope.” 5
So Henry searched reasons but didn’t really know how to get rid of Anne. Cromwell gave him an opportunity. The charges had to be scandalous and terrible enough to justify the death of six persons, and the whole thing is totally gross.
Anne certainly lost herself and guilty of being so outspoken, how wrong she was, she wasn’t untouchable. However, she was too smart, she would have never cheated on her husband and risks everything. Nothing could never justify these legal murders, have sullied six persons with charges that survived through centuries.
(1) Wikipedia (I’m aware it’s a laughable source but I think it would have been corrected since the time it’s been written on the site)
(3) Josephine Wilkinson, on the AnneBoleynfiles.com
(5) From Henry VIII, May 1536, 1-10, Letters and Papers, foreign and domestic, Henry VIII, volume 10, January-June 1536 (1887), pp 329-349