11th May 1536 – The Grand Jury of Kent

Posted By on May 11, 2010

Anne Boleyn by Wenceslaus Hollar c1649

On this day in history, the 11th May 1536, the Grand Jury of Kent assembled before Chief Justice John Baldwin and his six colleagues at Deptford. Like the Grand Jury of Middlesex the day before, the Kent Jury found a true bill against the accused on all charges pertaining to the crimes committed at Greenwich Palace in East Greenwich.

The Kent Indictment

According to the Kent Indictment Anne Boleyn had:-

  • Solicited William Brereton at Greenwich on the 16th November 1533
  • Committed adultery with Brereton at Greenwich on the 27th November 1533
  • Solicited Mark Smeaton at Greenwich on the 12th May 1534
  • Committed adultery with Smeaton at Greenwich on the 19th May 1534
  • Solicited Sir Francis Weston at Greenwich on the 6th June 1534
  • Committed adultery with Weston at Greenwich on the 20th June 1534
  • Solicited her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, at Eltham Palace on the 22nd December 1535
  • Committed incest with her brother at Eltham Palace on the 29th December 1535
  • Compassed the King’s death with Rochford, Norris, Weston and Brereton on the 8th January 1536 at Greenwich1

The indictment also included the same catch-all phrase as the Middlesex Indictment, regarding various days before and after these dates.

The Dates of the Alleged Offences

If we combine the Kent and Middlesex Indictments, we get a clearer picture of the dates of the alleged offences:-

  • 6th and 12th October 1533 – Anne and Henry Norris at Westminster
  • 16th and 27th November 1533 – Anne and William Brereton at Greenwich
  • 3rd and 8th December 1533 – Anne and William Brereton at Hampton Court
  • 12th April 1534 – Anne and Mark Smeaton at Westminster (date for Anne procuring Smeaton)
  • 12th and 19th May 1534 – Anne and Mark Smeaton at Greenwich
  • 8th and 20th May 1534 – Anne and Sir Francis Weston at Westminster
  • 6th and 20th June 1534 – Anne and Sir Francis Weston at Greenwich
  • 26th April 1535 – Anne and Mark Smeaton at Westminster
  • 31st October 1535 – Anne and some of the men compassed the King’s death at Westminster
  • 2nd and 5th November 1535 – Anne and her brother George Boleyn,Lord Rochford at Westminster
  • 27th November 1535 – Anne gave gifts to the men at Westminster
  • 22nd and 29th December 1535 – Anne and her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, at Eltham Palace
  • 8th January 1536 – Anne compassed the King’s death with Rochford, Norris, Weston and Brereton at Greenwich

Both Eric Ives and Alison Weir have commented that the dates just do not make sense. In his book “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Ives comments:-

“Investigation, furthermore, shows that even after nearly 500 years, three-quarters of these specific allegations can be disproved. In twelve cases Anne was elsewhere or else the man was”2

and Weir writes:-

“Close scrutiny of the facts suggests that thirteen out of the twenty-one charges were impossible, and that if, four and a half centuries later it can be established that only eight were even plausible – which in itself suggests that even these were not genuine offences – then the case against Anne is shaky indeed.”3

So, why do these dates not make sense?

The Case for the Defence

If Anne Boleyn was alive today and the Crown used those dates then her lawyer would tear them apart and they’d be laughed out of court. Anne would be found innocent on all counts because the dates are complete nonsense. Let us look at the key dates which Anne’s lawyer in today’s law court would question:-

6th and 12th October 1533

Ives points out that seeing as Anne Boleyn had only given birth to Elizabeth the previous month she would still have been recovering from childbirth and probably would have been unchurched4 – would Anne really be in the mood for an affair? Also, as Weir points out, the court was at Greenwich, not Westminster5.

Weir wonders if these dates was chosen on purpose to suggest that Sir Henry Norris was responsible for the pregnancy reported by Chapuys at the end of January 1534, thus compromising the succession.

3rd and 8th December 1533

Weir writes that there is no way that Anne could have committed adultery with Sir William Brereton at Hampton Court when records show that the court was at Greenwich on the 8th December 15336. Anne was also in the early stages of pregnancy at this time and is unlikely to have felt like having an affair as she was exhausted. p188

13th and 19th May 1535

Ives argues that there is no way that Anne could have committed adultery with Mark Smeaton at Greenwich on the 19th May as she was in Richmond at the time.

April, May and June 1534

A letter from George Taylor to Lady Lisle dated the 27th April 1534 says that “The Queen hath a goodly belly, praying our Lord to send us a prince”7 and in July, Anne’s brother, Lord Rochford, was sent on a diplomatic mission to France to ask for the postponement of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I because of Anne’s condition: “being so far gone with child she could not cross the sea with the King”8. So, there is evidence that Anne was visibly pregnant at this time, a time when she was allegedly seducing and sleeping with Mark Smeaton and Sir Francis Weston.

Anne could also not have slept with Weston on the 20th June at Greenwich when the court was at Hampton Court from the 3rd to the 26th June.

31st October 1535

Alison Weir points out that Anne is unlikely to have plotted the King’s death when Catherine of Aragon was still alive and there would have been support for the Lady Mary to succeed and become queen9.

27th November 1535

Seeing as Anne Boleyn miscarried a baby on the 29th January 1536 at around 15 weeks, she would have been pregnant at this time, although in the early stages. If she had an inkling that she was pregnant, what benefit would it be for her to give gifts to the men to get them on side? Also, Anne was not at Westminster on this date, she was at Windsor.

22nd and 29th December 1535

Would a woman in the early stages of pregnancy really have the reason or the inclination to seduce her brother?

8th January 1536

How could Anne be plotting the King’s death at Greenwich when she was actually at Eltham Palace

Nonsense

I have to agree with Alison Weir when she says that “the illogicality in the charges strongly suggests that they were cobbled together in a hurry, without having been carefully scrutinised”10 but they are not complete nonsense, as Ives points out, in that Anne did not have an alibi for the offences committed at Greenwich in November 1533 and Christmas 1535/1536 and Ives wonders if Christmas was chosen to give credence to the allegations in that everyone can remember where they spent the previous Christmas. The catch-all phrases “and on divers other days and places” and “on several days before and after” also meant that if the dates were challenged then the indictment was still valid. As Ives says, “Only a wife confined to a closed nunnery would hope to escape that trap.”11

Although the dates do not make perfect sense, we can see that the indictments against Anne were drawn up “with the specific purposes of character assassination and providing a foolproof means for getting rid of her”12, in that Anne was accused of harming the King, conspiring to kill him, taking five lovers (including her own brother) to satisfy her lust and passion and provide an heir, compromising the succession by getting pregnant by her lovers, and stooping so low as to take a lowly musician as a lover.

But although Anne’s lawyer today would probably be able to get the case dismissed on the grounds of the sloppy dates, both Weir and Bernard point out that it does not necessarily mean that Anne Boleyn was innocent, although Weir does conclude that it is likely that Anne was framed. Bernard13 makes the point that the problem with the dates could be due to lawyers having to attach dates to the offences to make the indictments properly legal but that witnesses could not remember the specific dates or locations of Anne’s crimes. A valid point but Anne Boleyn Files visitor Louise, a lawyer, argues that

“Even with the introduction of the Human Right’s Act, specific dates in an indictment are not required in the twenty-first century, let alone the sixteenth century. It is sufficient to put in an indictment ‘on or about’. Obviously, if a specific date is not entered, it makes it more difficult for the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but that is besides the point which I’m making. Specific dates were not a necessity, yet in Anne’s case they were added anyway, even though most of them were found to be impossible.

I think dates were added purely in an attempt to give the charges more credence. The prosecution knew the convictions were a forgone conclusion and that the jury was not going to weigh the evidence. Therefore, they made no attempt to make the charges realistic. It was a lazy indictment because it didn’t have to be anything else.”14

Also, it is interesting to note that the one day that we do know that Anne mentioned the King’s death, by saying “you look for dead men’s shoes” to Norris on the 30th April, is not in the indictments. How strange!

Innocent or Guilty?

Looking at the dates of Anne’s alleged adultery I find it difficult to believe that a woman, never-mind a queen, could hop from bed to bed like that over a period of just over 2 years and not be caught earlier. How could she possibly have five lovers and not be gossiped about?  As Ives says, “quadruple adultery plus incest invites disbelief”15 and, as Weir points out, not even Anne’s biggest enemies, like Eustace Chapuys, heard any gossip about possible affairs during this period. Anne had her faults and often opened her mouth without thinking first but there is nothing to suggest that she was unfaithful to the King or that she conspired to kill him.

G W Bernard, in “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions”,  agrees that “there simply is not sufficient evidence to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Anne, her brother, Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton were guilty” but points out that this “does not mean that they were all innocent.”16 He concludes that her flirtatious and reckless behaviour and her household’s climate of “dancing and pastime” could have led to  a “series of misunderstandings” but he is of the opinion that Anne did commit adultery with Norris, that she probably did with Smeaton and that she could also have committed adultery with Weston. I don’t agree and neither do many historians. There is no solid evidence either way but I choose to believe in Anne’s innocence, not her guilt. The Anne Boleyn I believe in had no reason to commit adultery – she had her crown, she had her Henry, she had every hope for the future and knew how precarious her position was as Queen, she would not have done anything to risk that. Also, Anne was very religious. She believed in living a virtuous life and doing good deeds, there is no way that she would have contemplated risking her immortal soul by committing adultery, never-mind incest, however desperate she was to provide the King with an heir. She knew that the baby had to be the King’s. The indictments, therefore, are nonsense and pure fiction, but they were successful in bringing about an awful miscarriage of justice and the tragic death of an innocent queen and five innocent men.

Notes and Sources

  1. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p183
  2. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p344
  3. Weir, p186
  4. Ibid., p344
  5. Ibid., p187
  6. Ibid., p188
  7. LP vii.556
  8. Ibid., vii 958
  9. Weir, p189
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ives, p344
  12. Weir, p186
  13. “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions”, G W Bernard, Chapter 11 “Anne’s Lovers?”
  14. Comment on article “Book Review – Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” by G W Bernard”
  15. Weir, p184
  16. Bernard, p183
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