10 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn and the men to go on trial
Posted By Claire on May 10, 2017
On this day in history, Wednesday 10th May 1536, the foreman of the Grand Jury of Middlesex, Giles Heron, son-in-law of the late Sir Thomas More, announced that the jury had decided that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Queen Anne Boleyn and five men of the men imprisoned in the Tower of London – Sir Henry Norris, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, Sir Francis Weston and George Boleyn, Lord Rochford – were guilty of the alleged crimes carried out in the county of Middlesex, specifically at Hampton Court Palace and Whitehall. The decision was made to indict them and to send them to trial.
No mention was made of Sir Richard Page, a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and a former favourite of Thomas Cromwell, and Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, poet and courtier, who had also recently been imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Click here to read the Middlesex indictment listing the charges against Queen Anne and these men.
Three years earlier, on 10th May 1533, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer opened a special court at Dunstable to rule on the validity of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Click here to read more about that.
Picture: Hampton Court Palace, photo copyright Tim Ridgway.
9 thoughts on “10 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn and the men to go on trial”
Does anyone else think it’s a bit of a weird coincidence that Heron was the son in law of Sir Thomas More and is now the chairman announcing the evidence is sufficient for trial? It’s as if there has been a seismic shift from supporters of Anne being trusted to her enemies being in power. Thomas More was of course executed the previous year for denying the Supremacy and opposition to Anne’s marriage, although of course he was seen as a martyr by his family. Other members of his family had taken the oath, but they were still more or less out of favour. Henry had blamed Anne for his decision to execute More (well he would) and now that it was Anne who had fallen foul of the Henry Viii justice train, it is a nasty piece of irony that chosen to head the Middlesex jury is a member of a family who would have the perfect reason for revenge against the Queen. The trial judges would be chosen from a whole number of connecting families and patronage who also through their alliances had reason to find Anne and the other men guilty or at least could be relied upon to do so. The set up continues.
I don’t think Anne or the men stood a chance of justice. When you look at who was involved with the legalities, the grand juries, the commissions of oyer and terminer, the jury of their peers etc. you realise that there was no way that they were going to be acquitted.
The jury all knew what was expected of them!
Yes, especially when you think who her judges would be. Norfolk and Suffolk had their own reasons, but everyone else were their brothers in law, clients, relatives, allies and so on. In other words anyone who had a reason to keep on the goodside of the two Dukes, the King or had a reason to attack Anne. They were all there to be relied upon to fo their duty. Did I say justice train? Injustice train more accurate. The juries may have been more balanced, but they too would only see the document with the prosecution case, they would have to do their duty.
We are looking back with hindsight, knowing Anne would need to have been cloned to get around as the charges suggest, but a contemporary jury would have the King’s word and belief in her guilt and Cromwell being very persuasive to contend with. The entire thing could easily be presented and manipulated to paint Henry as the innocent victim of a palace conspiracy and a wronged husband whose wife had betrayed him with five men. It must have been a potent argument and easily believed. It was only those who knew Anne properly and who heard of her last Communion Confession of innocence who later questioned the evidence. Yes Chapyus and others did, but for the general public, news of Anne’s alleged crimes must have been very shocking. We know she was innocent, but would they?
Were the participants in the other proceedings (commissions of oyer and terminer, trial juries) also individuals who might have a grudge against Anne? I thought, for example, that nearly all the peers of the realm were invited to sit at Anne’s trial … whether they liked her or not.
No, not everyone involved had a grudge. In the commission and juries that would not be possible, but some key players were chosen for their enthusiasm to do what was required. Anne’s trial is a different matter. All but Norfolk and Northumberland had a connection to an enemy of Anne or were one. Court and noble patronage was the way this world worked, you married into a better family and owed them alliance and you came into service as a client and received patronage and were bound to that family or Lord. The gentry and nobility were bound by interconnection and alliances which were often thicker than blood. The whose who at these trials is a whose who of anyone who had a good reason to be willing to condemn Anne and do their duty. Anne didn’t stand a chance. Everything was stacked against her. Key people ensured that the King’s will was paramount, that’s the way it was…not everyone, but those that mattered.
Would Sir Thomas More of given Anne a fairer trial? It seems to me that the power of the Jury was loaded. But Anne didn’t have representation did she. Didn’t she give gifts to one of the men? Anything Anne had done or said was just used against her when it could have been to support her.
ps I mean the timings and dates could have been pointed out in her defence. When Catherine of Aragon died it must have really hit Anne how vulnerable she was in that Courtroom. Even if there had been more influence I wonder if Anne could have persuaded the jury.
Am I alone in wondering about the headsman from France? I’d think that he was sent for BEFORE Anne went to trial, therefore damning Henry and his henchmen still further! Given how travel was in those days, it was a journey not undertaken as a whim, and if the weather turned problematic, crossings could be delayed for days; this had to be considered, so having a swordsman who could perform beheadings meant that before Anne was even arrested, Henry had probably put the wheels in motion for her execution.