Lady Justice

The 10th May 1536 was an important day in the countdown to Anne Boleyn’s execution on the 19th May 1536 because it was the day that official legal proceedings against Anne Boleyn began. It was the day that the Grand Jury of Middlesex met at Westminster Hall to “decide prima facie on the offences alleged at Whitehall and Hampton Court”1.

The Jury Meets

On this day in 1536 the men chosen by the sheriffs of London met at Westminster before John Baldwin, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and six other judges. Eric Ives2 writes of how John Fitzjames, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, would have been the obvious choice and not Baldwin, particularly as Baldwin was Henry Norris’s brother-in-law, but then Fitzjames had been “less than decisive in the prosecution of Thomas More”3 and perhaps the King and Cromwell wanted someone who would make the “right” decision.

The foreman of the jury was Giles Heron, the late Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law, and someone who the King and Cromwell could perhaps rely on to make sure that the jury chose to send the allegations for trial. Heron did his job and announced that the jury had decided that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the accused were guilty of the alleged crimes, that they should be indicted and should undergo trial by jury.

Alison Weir, in “The Lady on the Tower”4, makes the point that the Crown must have been convinced that they had “a sufficiently compelling case” to let Anne Boleyn be tried by jury rather than getting Parliament to issue an Act of Attainder, which was incontestable. In 1534, a trial by jury had allowed Lord Dacre to be acquitted of treason, much to the King’s horror, so was it risky letting Anne be tried by jury? No, probably not, not when the King had made his will known and the jury knew what was expected of them.

The Middlesex Indictment

Here is the full Middlesex indictment drawn up by the Grand Jury of Middlesex:-

“Record of the Indictment found at Westminster on Wednesday next after three weeks of Easter: that whereas Queen Anne has been the wife of Henry VIII for three years and more, she, despising the solemn, not to mention most excellent and noble marriage between our lord the King and the same lady the Queen, but even at he same time having in her heart malice against our lord the King, seduced by evil and not having God before her eyes, and following daily her frail and carnal appetites, 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; viz, on Oct 6th, 25 Henry VIII [1533] at Westminster, and divers days before and after, she procured, by sweet words, kisses, touches and otherwise, Hen. Norris, of Westminster, gentleman of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, by reason whereof he did so at Westminster on the 12th Oct, 25 Hen. VIII [1533], and they had illicit intercourse, both before and after, sometimes by his procurement and sometimes by that of the Queen.

Also the Queen, 3 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII [1533], and divers days before and after, procured William Brereton, Esquire, late of Westminster, one of the gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, to have illicit intercourse with her, whereby he did so on 8 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII [1533] at Hampton Court, in the parish of Little Hampton, and on several days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.

Also the Queen, 8 May 26 Hen. VIII [1534], and at other times before and since, procured Sir Fras. Weston of Westminster, one of the gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, to have illicit intercourse with her, and that the Act was committed at Westminster 20 May 26 Hen. VIII [1534].

Also the Queen 12 April 26 Hen. VIII [1534], and divers days before and since, at Westminster, also incited/procured Mark Smeaton, a performer on musical instruments, a person specified as of low degree, promoted for his skill to be a groom of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so at Westminster, 26 April 27 Hen. VIII [1535].

Also that the Queen, 2 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII [1535] and several times before and after, by means therein stated, procured and incited her own natural brother, George Boleyn, knight, Lord Rochford, 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, against the commands of the Almighty God, and all laws human and divine, whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all other human laws, 5 Nov. 27 Henry VIII [1535], violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister, at Westminster, which he also did on divers days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.

Furthermore, they being thus inflamed by carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, did, in order to secure her affections, satisfy her inordinate desires; and that the Queen was equally jealous of the Lord Rochford, and other the before-mentioned traitors that she would not allow them to hold any familiarity with any other woman without exhibiting her exceeding displeasure and indignation. Moreover, the said Lord Rochford, Norris, Brereton, Weston and Smeaton, being thus inflamed with carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, gave her secret gifts and pledges, while carrying on this illicit intercourse; and the Queen, on her part, would not allow them to show familiarity with any other woman without her exceeding displeasure and indignation; and that on 27. Nov. 27 Hen. VIII [1535] and other days before and after, at Westminster, she gave them great gifts to inveigle them to her will. Furthermore that the Queen and other of the said traitors, jointly and severally, 31 Oct. 27 Henry VIII [1535], at Westminster, and at various times before and after, compassed and imagined the King’s death; and that the Queen had frequently promised to marry some one of the traitors whenever the King should depart this life, affirming she would never love the King in her heart. Furthermore, that the King having come within a short time before to the knowledge of, and meditating upon, the false and detestable crimes, vices and treasons committed against himself within a short time now passed, took such inward displeasure and heaviness, especially for his said Queen’s malice and adultery, that certain harms and perils have befallen his royal body, to the scandal, danger, detriment and derogation of the issue and heirs of the said King and Queen.”5

Thoughts on the Middlesex Indictment

In reading the indictment I was struck by how shocking it is. The language used and the details of the acts all aim to shock those reading or listening – Anne Boleyn is described as “seduced by evil” and having malice in her heart and “frail and carnal appetites”, and then we have the details of her seducing her brother by “alluring him with her tongue”. Anne was being painted as the Devil incarnate, a woman so possessed with evil and lust that she would even seduce her brother, and she didn’t take just one lover, she took five! Her lust and appetite knew no end. Shock was the aim and shock was what was achieved.

Another thing that struck me about the indictment, and this is also pointed out by Alison Weir, is that the Queen and the men are already being referred to as “traitors”. In the first paragraph, Anne is said to have “falsely and traitorously” seduced the men, and then in the sixth paragraph the men are referred to three times as “traitors”. Anne and the men had not been found guilty, yet they are already being labelled in the indictment as traitors.

The Middlesex Indictment also accuses Anne and the men of causing “certain harms and perils” to come to “the royal body” by their behaviour, and going one step further by actually compassing the King’s death. Anne and “other of the said traitors” had allegedly “compassed and imagined the King’s death”, which was an act of treason, and Alison Weir points out that the last line of the indictment, “to the scandal, danger, detriment and derogation of the issue and heirs of the said King and Queen”, is actually taken from the 1534 Act of Succession which made adultery with the King’s consort treason because it impugned his issue; in other words the King would never be sure that any issue and heirs would actually be his.

The Middlesex Indictment had covered all the bases – Anne Boleyn and the men were traitors twice over, by plotting the King’s death and by committing adultery, and Anne was an evil seductress who had caused the King great harm. Any problem with the dates chosen for the alleged offences was covered by “divers days before and since” and “several times before and after”, wonderful catch-all phrases which made it impossible to refute these dates.  The Crown must have been pleased with itself – the jury would be shocked by Anne’s behaviour and also by the harm done to their lord, the King, and they would surely want to please the King by doing his will. Anne Boleyn never stood a chance.

Arrangements for Trial

On the 10th May 1536 Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, was ordered  to “bring up the bodies of Sir Francis Weston, knt, Henry Norris Esq., William Brereton Esq. and Mark Smeaton, gent.”6 from their prison in the Tower of London to Westminster Hall on Friday 12th May. Both Weir and Ives point out that this order was sent before the meeting of the Grand Jury in Kent and may even have been sent before the Middlesex meeting. Sir John Dudley wrote to Lady Lisle on the 10th May:-

“Is sure there is no need to write the news, for all the world knows them by this time. Today Mr. Norres, Mr. Weston, William a Brearton, Markes, and lord Rocheforde were indicted, and on Friday they will be arraigned at Westminster. The Queen herself will be condemned by Parliament. Wednesday, 10 May.”7

Obviously Dudley did not realise that Rochford, like the Queen, would be tried on the 15th May.


In tomorrow’s post I will examine the Kent Indictment and then discuss how historians have managed to disprove the majority of the allegations against Anne Boleyn and the five men, and come to the conclusion that they were framed and had no hope of justice.

Notes and Sources

1 – The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p338
2 – Ibid.
3 – Ibid.
4 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p179-180
5 – From the Baga de Secretis, National Archives, but quoted The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p181-183
6 – Quoted in The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p190
7 – LP x. 837, Letter from Sir John Dudley to Lady Lisle, 10th May 1536

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10 thoughts on “10th May 1536 – The Grand Jury of Middlesex”
  1. Claire, technically, then the Boleyn faction could have attainted rather than going to trial? or does tha term apply @ one time @ for one individual (i.e. Thomas Seymour)?

  2. Hi Rosalie,
    I’m not au fait with legal speak but I’ve only heard of an Act of Attainder being used against individuals, although I guess it could have been used against Anne and each of the five men individually. Thomas Cromwell was convicted by Act of Attainder, as was Catherine Howard, so it does make you wonder why Anne went to trial – perhaps Henry wanted to show Europe that he was treating her fairly (laugh, laugh!).

  3. In “Divorced Beheaded Survived” by Karen Lindsey, she finds the language “interesting” – because it is talking about Anne’s inordinate desires and aggressive sexual advances, finding it strange that Henry would believe such things of her, especially since it took him seven years to get her into bed. The additional charge of harms to the royal body she finds especially interesting, since it doesn’t specify what, exactly, happened to Henry’s royal body, nor did Henry appear to be severely injured, since he was in VERY public pursuit of Jane Seymour, even as all of this was being levelled against Anne and her supposed lovers. Finally, the “precise” dates of the acts of adultery are especially puzzling, because most of the times Anne was supposedly off fooling with her “legion” of illicit lovers, either she or her partner were elsewhere.

    This case has more holes in it than 250 year old panties!

  4. Interesting that almost 500 years later this tragic queen and her closest associates are being vindicated, and in such a thoughtful, scholarly way. I think Anne might have been quite grateful. Also, I think it is no accident that mostly women are following your lines of reasoning here, Claire. Although at the time, her countrywomen were often not friendly to Anne Boleyn (as a symbol of the “other woman” who threatened the aging “wife’s” precarious position), we do try to be fair in the long run, especially to one of our own who has been wronged. Evidently, Anne’s time has come.

  5. Sorry to throw a loop Could Sir Thomas Howard uncle to Anne Boleyn. Have anything to gain with the death of Anne? From the Catholic Church. Also Thomas Wyatt.Both had travelled to Rome in the 1530’s. And correct me If I’m wrong. Thomas Howard was he not? Released from prison by Mary the most Catholic queen.Who carried out in her brief rein. a murderous campaign against protestant heretics. 🙂

  6. do you think Henry was behind the framing of Anne Boleyn or do you think he was genuinely surprised, hurt, and angry? I have read somwhere that he was broken down into tears when he was relating her “crimes” to his illigitamate son Henry Fitzroy.

  7. miladyblue, Great line – more holes than 250 year old panties! I’m still giggling over that one. I do agree with you that Anne’s trial was a joke.

  8. Sharon. I think that from the beginning, Henry let himself believe what suited him. He may have also been self dillusional. and no longer understood reality.

  9. I think Henry would have been very surprised at the allegations, and if he already had a son he would have brushed them aside as nonsense. But they presented him with a golden opportunity to move on to Jane Seymour and get a son. He did not believe that Anne would give him the son he wanted, so he allowed the allegations to be ‘proved’. If Anne were still in favour, nobody would have dared do this. Henry’s desire for a son took precedence over his desire for any of his wives.

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