12 May 1536 – A duke is appointed to preside over the trials of his niece and nephew

On this day in history, 12th May 1536, a patent was issued appointing Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, as Lord High Steward of England to preside over the forthcoming trials of his niece and nephew, Queen Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. The trials would take place on 15th May 1536 in the great hall of the royal palace complex at the Tower of London.

Norfolk had served in the position of Lord High Steward before, at the trial of Lord Dacre in June 1534, but this was obviously closer to home. These defendants were the children of his sister, Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire.

Read more…

Related Post

7 thoughts on “12 May 1536 – A duke is appointed to preside over the trials of his niece and nephew”
  1. At this moment in time Norfolk must have cursed his high office for I believe he was really not looking forward to standing trial over his own neice and nephew, although he and Anne were known for not getting on, he once complained to the King after another row between them that she had used words to him that he would not use to a dog, it sounds comical really but she must have infuriated him and on another occasion he called her a wh*re, why they did not get on is puzzling, maybe he was the arrogant bully that films and tv dramas and novels to depict him as, perhaps she found him interfering and resented his mistress in her household, Bessy Holland had been his wife’s laundry woman, maybe she did not merit the honour of serving proud Anne but there is no record of any angst between them, it was possibly just a clash of personalities, strangely enough I can see a likeness to Anne herself in his portrait, he has the same large dark eyes and the long narrow face with the high cheekbones as his neice and grand neice Elizabeth 1st, I bet many a time Elizabeth Boleyn had tried to calm the situation down between them, now she knew her own brother was to stand trial on her two children, how did they feel about the dreadful charge of incest they were accused of? They knew their own children and must have believed it was ridiculous, they were two normal intelligent people who had travelled widely and had met many interesting people, they both had partners and may have indulged briefly in some love affairs at court, George sounds irresistible to women, they both had healthy sex lives (quite possibly), although the charge of having discussed the Kings alleged impotency was brought into the trial, Anne had been pregnant several times sound proof that Henry was able to perform! Why then should they want to sleep together, as Lofts notes in her biography incest was apparent in hovels where families lived cluttered up together, and young sons and daughters were more likely to experiment, in brothels in the city where children saw every vice known to man incest was a feature but not in two healthy attractive people who had enjoyed a privileged upbringing, the incest charge was not necessary yet toad faced Cromwell threw it in as he knew it would incur utter revulsion for Anne, it tells us a lot about the law in 16th c England, guilty till proved innocent was unfair to the defendant as in a sense the law was saying they were condemned before their trial, they also had no defence team to argue their cause and could only defend themselves at their trial, in Anne and her co accuseds case the jury was hostile to them which would not be allowed now, there must be no bias for or against, but another thing stood against Anne, she must be found guilty as the King commanded it, as supreme ruler in his kingdom he had the ultimate power over life and death unlike now where our present queen is merely a figurehead, and she does not involve herself in court cases, (apart from Paul Burrells trial Diana’s slimy butler), but all the jurors knew their hands were tied and could not, dare not acquit the queen and the others as the wrath of the King would fall upon them, thus Anne was doomed, everything was the Kings way like the queen of hearts in Alice in Wonderland – everything is my way she would chant, so it was with Henry, it was a sad day for English justice when the queen of England was put on trial, I cannot see his ancestors acting in such a way either, that dissolute monarch King John when faced with his queens infidelity merely had her lovers murdured and hung over her bed, merely is not the correct term I should use really as it must have revolted Isabella but that satisfied John, he would not have put his queen on trial, Eleanor of Aquitane also was not treated like Anne, for inciting rebellion in her sons she was just incarcerated and freed upon her husband’s death, but those two women were powerful in their own right and Anne was not, all her power come from her husband, the long drawn out battle for the divorce had in a sense made it harder for Anne as Henry wanted no complicated messy divorce a second time around, shockingly she was murdured because Henry and Cromwell saw it as the easier option, this was Henrys England heads flew easily, tragically for Anne and the poor wretched men with her, they would not be allowed to live.

  2. Norfolk could do no more than his duty as the highest ranking noble in the Realm and the Queen’s uncle, he had to be the chief Judge once he was made High Steward of England as this meant he presided over peer trials in the House of Lords. As a member of the mobility George Boleyn was entitled to trial by his peers, or equals as the Queen was. It was an odd situation as actually the only person high enough to Judge the Queen is the King, so here Norfolk represented the King. All of the charges are capital offences, again an unusual situation. To try a Queen was rare, although some Royal women had been tried and imprisoned before now, but never of such terrible crimes. The nearest was Eleanor Cobbam, the wife of Humphrey of Gloucester, who had been accused of plotting to kill the King and Regent with sorcery. She had hired a woman to help her conceive a child but the woman who gave her certain potions also practised necromancy and was a known witch. Eleanor was found guilty and imprisoned for life while the woman she got her potions from was burnt as a witch. However, there was no real protocol for the trials of a Queen, so this was going to be a challenge.

    Several noble and Royal women have had problems with power and marriage and have been embroiled in plots, treachery and adultery and one or two accused, but not tried for witchcraft. Henry V accused his stepmother, Joanne of Navarre with sorcery and placed her in confinement because he wanted her money for his wars. As Christine has pointed out Eleanor of Aquitaine was a nuisance when it came to leading her sons into plots. She had four of them and they were always fighting over land and inheritance and two rebellions against their father, Henry II. After the second one, Eleanor went too far and was caught, dressed as a man and locked up. However, Henry couldn’t do anything to her because he needed her land, power, the wealth of Aquitaine and the alliance.

    Isabella the Fair, who quite rightly led an uprising against Edward ii in the name of her son, thirteen years old Edward, Prince of Wales, brutally crushing and executing those who had supported what she saw as a corrupt regiem, has been condemned as a she wolf who got away with murder. She made this move with her alleged lover, Sir Roger Mortimer and ruled with him, although they had Edward crowned Edward Iii during his minority. Having deposed and imprisoned her husband, Isabella and Mortimer took over and are accused of all kinds of terrible things. Eventually, her husband was murdered in Berkeley Castle, although not with a poker up the bum, but the death was suspicious and both Isabella and Mortimer were accused. Edward iii seized power while they were in Nottingham Castle and put Mortimer in prison and hung him for killing his father. Technically Isabella should have received the same fate, although she persuaded her son she had nothing to do with the murder. Edward Iii didn’t punish his mother, but he did keep an eye on her, gave her a pension and restricted her movements. We don’t actually know the full truth and this French Princess has been maligned.

    The same could be argued by displaced Queens who plotted to somehow regain lost power either themselves or via their heirs. Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville could most certainly be considered guilty of high treason for backing the rebellion of Henry Tudor against Richard iii or earlier for backing Buckingham or their plans to marry Elizabeth of York to Henry, then in exile. While EW wasn’t accused of anything, probably because she was in Sanctuary in Westminster, Margaret was found guilty and given to the custody of her husband, Lord Thomas Stanley, lost her income and property and control of her wine. Both women spent the rest of the reign more or less under house arrest. Neither of them had any particular power, EW was a commoner even if she was an ex Queen and it was the piety of MB that saved her from further punishment. It didn’t occur to Richard to try them and execute them. On the contrary, he appeased EW and made an agreement with her and her daughters. She continued to make trouble in the reign of Henry Vii, but this time she was persuaded to retire to a convent.

    Constance of York is probably the nearest we have to a woman who continuously caused trouble and whose treason seriously could have cost her life. When Henry of Lancaster took the crown from his cousin Richard Ii he was plagued by his other cousins and their bid for a York revival. Constance was behind several plots and as a result she lost her children. It is believed that she handed them over to the control of Henry iv in exchange for her life. Whether or not he would have gone that far we don’t know, but he did starve Richard ii to death, so he was capable of executing Constance.

    Where a King has refrained from actions against his wife for adultery it has to be recognised that they probably didn’t want to lose the land, wealth and alliance the marriage had brought with it or cause a war. In all of the cases of treason we could mention, none of the women were executed, even if they were not from the nobility, but other political realities may have played apart, but most did spend time confined or imprisoned. Now a King was going much further. He wanted a show trial and his wife’s life was on the line. The clue might be in the Treason Act 1534, which didn’t make adultery treason but did make treasonous words and talk about the death of the King treason. It also talked about anything which endangered his marriage and his heirs. Now this was a bit of a stretch but one of the allegations was that Anne had slept with Henry Norris at a time close to the start of her second pregnancy, indicating him as the father, thus the pair had endangered the succession with a tainted heir. Henry had lost control of his household and his manhood was threatened as was his reputation and control of the country. This was all part of the theory when a Queen committed adultery and if he can’t control his wife, who can he control or rule? Anne was accused with at least five men and a conspiracy was revealed of shocking proportions. This could not go unremarked. No there had to be a public trial to show that these treasonous actions could not be tolerated and the harshest penalties demanded upon those who had betrayed their King. Henry had a massive ego and he had gained more power than any of his predecessors. The accusations made him look like a fool, that his wife was out of control and the only way to assert that power was to ruthlessly crush those who had taken such liberties with his wife and for his wife to die as she had deceived him into giving her power and position and then used it to do all of this terrible stuff. Anne was painted as an evil person and evil must be destroyed. This was the thinking of the Government of Henry Viii and this is how he went further than anyone before. Besides he wanted to get rid of Anne Boleyn, the lovers were just convenient sacrifices.

    No, I don’t believe Norfolk was looking forward to this one either, any more than her father had cared to take part in the trials of Anne’s alleged lovers. Thomas Boleyn was at least spared the trials of his son and daughter. Thomas Howard merely did his duty.

  3. The trial of Eleanor is interesting I have heard her name crop up before but know little about her, save what Bq has mentioned, she sounds an interesting woman so I will definatley do some research, has she any biographies written about her do you know Bq?

    1. There is a bio of Humphrey her husband, there is a well researched novel about Eleanor Cobbam and it is a well known story, but to be honest, I am not sure about a biography of Eleanor. I think there is a book on women who came close to the throne, with a chapter on Eleanor. Her case comes up all the time because it is so mysteriously fascinating and it caused a great scandal.

      1. The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham by Tony Riches
        Eleanor Cobham Gender Politics and Witchcraft Conor Bryne Blogspot 7th March 2015
        Mysterious People Eleanor Cobham History Times Website all give very good background details of the whole story.

        Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester by K H Vickers 1905 but a reprint version is available.

  4. Ha ha I must add that made me laugh, poker up the bum! no that was not what happened, King Edward was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, and to kill anyone in such a horrific way would have been stupid to say the least, his screams would have been heard for miles, the castle had plenty of people living there, Lord Berkeley himself and his family servants etc, murder had to be discreet thus he was most likely suffocated – a deed that does not leave a mark on the body, this most wretched of kings we could say brought it on himself, he angered both his wife and the barons and his father for spending all his time with his favourite Piers Gaveston, Edward 1st rued the day he would die and leave his kingdom to such a son, even Robert the Bruce on hearing of his death said he feared his bones more than his sons, Gaveston was married of to his neice and had a daughter, then he was murdured after the barons conspired to get rid of him, then he had another favourite, Despencer and all through this Isabella done her duty and supported her husband, she was loyal and brave and really the term she wolf is unfair, she was treated badly by Edward and Despencer who became more and more arrogant and she was treated with contempt, it’s not unfair to say that Edward possibly was homosexual and there were rumours that he was involved with his favourite neice Eleanor de Clare and Despencer in a ménage a trios but like the hot poker story it’s probably all nonsense, Edward 111 their son has gone down in history as a great King along with Henry V and Henry 11, Henry V111 wished to be ranked amongst them but opinion is divided as to wether he is, certainly he is the most colourful and charismatic King we have ever had, just as Anne Boleyn is his most charismatic queen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *