14 May 1536 – The Queen’s incontinent living was so rank and common

Posted By on May 14, 2014

Anne Boleyn Dulwich Picture Gallery before 1620On 14th May 1536, Thomas Cromwell wrote to Stephen Gardiner and Sir John Wallop, Henry VIII’s ambassadors at the French court, to update them on the situation in London. Here is the letter:

“The King has deferred answering their letters sent by Salisbury till the arrival of the bailly of Troyes. Has to inform them, however, of a most detestable scheme, happily discovered and notoriously known to all men. They may have heard the rumour of it. Will express to them, however, some part of the coming out, and of the King’s proceeding.

The Queen’s incontinent living was so rank and common that the ladies of her privy chamber could not conceal it. It came to the ears of some of the Council, who told his Majesty, although with great fear, as the case enforced. Certain persons of the privy chamber and others of her side were examined, and the matter appeared so evident that, besides that crime, “there brake out a certain conspiracy of the King’s death, which extended so far that all we that had the examination of it quaked at the danger his Grace was in, and on our knees gave him (God ?) laud and praise that he had preserved him so long from it.” Certain men were committed to the Tower, viz., Marks and Norris and the Queen’s brother; then she herself was apprehended and committed to the same place; after her Sir Fras. Weston and Wm. Brereton. Norris, Weston, Brereton, and Marks are already condemned to death, having been arraigned at Westminster on Friday last. The Queen and her brother are to be arraigned tomorrow, and will undoubtedly go the same way.

I write no particularities; the things be so abominable that I think the like was never heard. Gardiner will receive 200l. of the 300l. “that were out amongst these men, notwithstanding great suit hath been made for the whole; which though the King’s highness might give in this case, yet his Majesty doth not forget your service; and the third 100l. is bestowed of the vicar of Hell [Sir Fras. Brian], upon [whom] though it be some charge unto you, his Highness trusteth ye will think it well bestowed.” From the Rolls in haste, 14 May.

P.S.—Wallop will not be forgotten, though Cromwell cannot tell at present how much he is to have. The King is highly pleased with the services of both.”

“Incontinent”, by the way, means lacking self-control.

It is a letter that surely must have provoked shock in the ambassadors. The Queen and the men had committed such “abominable” crimes that Cromwell couldn’t bring himself to describe them, and they had also conspired to kill the King! What scandal! The letter reads just like the indictments – sensational and shocking tabloid style language – and Crowmell’s words regarding the upcoming trial of the Queen and Lord Rochford, that they “will undoubtedly go the same way” show that their trials have been prejudiced by the trials of Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton. The Queen was unlikely to be found innocent of adultery when those four men had already been found guilty of sleeping with her. Cromwell must also have been sure that the jury would do his bidding.

Cromwell finishes his letter by promising that both Gardiner and Wallop would benefit from the fall of Queen Anne Boleyn.

While Cromwell was composing this letter, Henry VIII was sending Sir Nicholas Carew to bring Jane Seymour to Chelsea and to settle her there – see 14 May 1536 Jane Seymour Moves to Chelsea for more on this.

Notes and Sources

  • LP x.873, Letter from Cromwell to Gardiner and Wallop, 14th May 1536

23 thoughts on “14 May 1536 – The Queen’s incontinent living was so rank and common”

  1. Gail Marion says:

    The fix was in for the destruction of Anne Boleyn and wife #3 was already lined up and waiting in the wings. Divorce was no solution for the inpatient Henry. What a monster he was.

  2. Angela says:

    It’s a bitter sweet pill that sees Anne’s daughter take her father role and rule more carefully, considered, and less fool heartedly. She was in control of her destiny, never forgot what had happened to her mother. It’s seems a justified end that Henry’s name was not continued throughout history, the one thing so many died for. Instead Elizabeth ruled like a man, not a love sick puppy.

    1. Bloody Bess
      Was a murderess
      Whose evil was not hidden.

      We call her “good”
      Because she would
      Behead us if we didn’t.

      Henry VIII killed 72,000 in 38 years: 1895/year
      Mary I killed 284 in 5 years: 57/year
      Elizabeth I killed 2432 in 45 years: 54/year

      1. Banditqueen says:

        There is no evidence that Henry Viii executed 72000, this is a figure spouted by Hume and later so called authors with no verification of this claim. Elizabeth I executed numerous people that can be verified, but many more may not be verified as the records could have gaps. With the execution of thousands of ordinary people for a wide range of offences, it is impossible to fully track down a precise number or how many are directly due to the monarch. For example, witch and heresy trials were down to the local magistrates and local parishes, not the state. Mary and Elizabeth both executed people for heresy, but had far less personal involvement than their father. The Tudors involvement in Ireland is complex and controversial and historians are still sifting and analysing material. The number of people killed in Ireland is unknown but is in the thousands. This figure grew under Oliver Cromwell and his son in law, during the Georgian and Victorian period, with the repression of independence movements, the battles during the 1798 and 1803 rebellions, the enforced evictions, the famine which left over one million dead, another further million fled to England and America, the Easter Rising, 1916, the wars of independence left many known and unknown deaths, the civil war did not help and many hundreds died in the last Troubles 1972 to 1998. The statement about holocausts is divisive as the entire period of Tudor Stuart Irish history was probably complicated and scattered with much bitter fighting on both sides and numerous deaths as a result of those conflicts.

    2. Irish Holocaust: Queen Elizabeth I permitted Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing and a forced famine that killed in excess of 1 million Irish.

      Elizabeth was the Stalin of the West.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        The famine which killed over one million was the potato famine 1848 to 1851, over a three years period and its aftermath lasting another two generations. As I said, the figures of people killed during the late Elizabethan period in Ireland are debated because the records are incomplete. It is certainly thousands due to war and famine and persecution, but not anything near one million. Victoria was on the English throne during the great famine you are referring to, not Elizabeth. I am no fan of Elizabeth I but calling her the Stalin of the West isba gross exaggeration.

        1. HELEN D says:

          It’s not really an exaggeration if you are Catholic.

  3. Sandi Vasoli says:

    The writing of Thomas Cromwell, in a piece carefully crafted to covey an absolute sense of guilt surrounding Anne and her brother and courtiers, is the work of a clever lawyer. Cromwell was known for his attention to detail, his ability to accomplish the task at hand, whatever that might be, and his ability to manipulate. This letter was representative of all of those traits. The tone… ” Has to inform them, however, of a most detestable scheme, happily discovered and notoriously known to all men.” is designed to put such emphasis on the assumed guilt of the named parties that no one reading it would question its accuracy, for fear of looking stupid. After all, it was written by someone whose accuracy was his hallmark.

    There is no doubt (in my mind, at least) that the true murderer in this situation was Thomas Cromwell. He was the instigator, he was the creator of the lies and the deception, and it was his consummate planning which sent Anne, George, and the other innocent men to their deaths. As for Henry? A very complex and unusual psychology behind his actions… we will leave that for later…!

    1. Staffan says:

      So you mean that Anne never was unfaithful to Henry?

      1. LaFaye says:

        Anne was unfaithful, she was only after the crown as stories would have it. Now it was a shame about Jane seymore and Mary the fist queen one lost their life in child birth the other put asunder locked away like some criminal

        1. Banditqueen says:

          Anne Boleyn was not unfaithful, she was set up by Cromwell and others, the evidence can be well and truly refuted. Henry Viii was to blame for the mistreatment of Katherine of Aragon, he was King, he gave the orders. Yes, Mary was mistreated by Anne as she quite rightly refused to accept her as queen, but as the mistreatment went on after Anne’s execution, it is clear that Henry allowed this to continue and then bullied Mary into submission after Anne died.

  4. Linda Haney says:

    With the threat of their own lives, if the King says, “I want her gone”, they would do his bidding no matter the cost and get rid of some others while their at it.

  5. Sonetka says:

    “Incontinent” also meant “immediately” which is what makes reading Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey so much fun to read; people are always speaking, departing, riding away etc “incontinent”. Interesting how Smeaton alone is referred to by his first name — no respect even in the last extremity, I see.

    1. Tudor Rose says:

      Yes he was just called Mark or just referred to as Mark by them and others. 🙂

  6. Tudor Rose says:

    What a thing to say that is on top of everything else like calling her the Concubine and the goggle eyed whore if that was not enough already on its own they had to keep on adding to the situation. 🙂

  7. Ellen Stanton says:

    I’ve always wondered how Cromwell who claimed to be a religious man, a man so devoted to the reformation of the church,, could live with himself after condemning these innocent people to death. I sure couldn’t.

    1. Maria says:

      Why to wonder. That still happens even today. Look at USA!

  8. BanditQueen says:

    Cromwell of course is meant to have claimed that the Queen had this lack of self control with over 100 men if we can believe the rumours and gossip sources. It was no wonder that the court and others were in great fear and shock. As Anne herself was not helping the case by babbling in the Tower, due to her distress and more and more revelations come forth every day: now that the Queen and others meant to kill the King; that shock could only have deepened as could the disbelief. The court was in tormoil; the Queen was in tormoil and so, for different reasons was the King. From his point of view these charges are true. Henry was not a monster; he was a man of his times; or so historians claim. He was not acting very sane either. He did indeed have wife no 3 lined up and that can make him seem as a monster or unfeeling at this time; but does it really? Could he also not be in denial; want to be rid of a woman who has plotted to kill him; caused him shame and anguish, failed in her dutiy to bear him a son, slept with half of his court as the rumours went; and was hated by half the court to boot? Did he not rightly just want to get out of a marriage that he saw no longer as valid? Did he not just want to re-marry quickly as to avoid further treachery? Did he not want to move on?

    He should have observed certain days to mourn the Queen but it is clear Henry did not and there is another thing—- rogation days followed holy feasts and this period was going to follow at the end of May. Had he not married before then he would have to wait another 12 days, plus more days so a total of 40 days. Henry clearly did not or could not wait that long. Yes, perhaps it was to some extent heartless but to him he was being practical. But why the rush? Did he think that he may be persuaded against a marriage with Jane Seymour? Another historical mystery. Was Jane as Anne had been already with child; and later lost the child? This is probably not the case due to Jane’s virtue and family honour and Henry did not meet her alone. But the haste may have raised the question at least.

    Henry appears to have acted as if Anne no longer existed in this entire situation. This leads some historians including Claire to think that Henry was in on the plot from the start and its source. May-be he was? But his behaviour is one of a person in shock and denial until after the trials when reality seems to have set in and he plans to move forward. Did Henry really believe Anne was guilty? Again, this debate has been explored by many historians and would take up hours of discusion. I personally think that yes he did believe she was guilty. I think the findings of the two grand juries convinced him that she was guilty. I also think that Cromwell had a big hand in the entire process and convinced Henry his wife, her brother and former servants of the crown, including at least one close friend were guilty. Careless talk had also served to appear to support that guilt before the men were arrested and during Anne’s time in prison. Henry now just wanted the whole thing out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible. To some modern minds that seems heartless and monsterous, but in the minds of those around him; he was acting as the person who had been wronged. Whether or not his courtiers believed Anne was guilty Henry was still their King and he appeared to believe that he was the one wronged; his courtiers had to be sensitive to that and to some degree, so do we. It is not fair as a historian to take sides. I know Anne to be innocent but I also have to think as Henry might have; both were in shock and tormoil and both need to be understood, but not in sense of the modern mind that cannot grasp just what a terrible thing this was to witness, but from the view of the insider who probably did not know what to do, who to support, or how to understand the actions of the King.

    1. LaFaye says:

      True insight

  9. Phelisha says:

    The ill regard for life never ceases to shock me! For these 6 to have survived birth, infancy, toddlerhood, the plague and actually become healthy adults only to be robbed of life through false accusations is sickening beyond words!

    They may have been victims of their time but it doesn’t make it any less shameful!

    As for Cromwell, he met the same fate a mere 4 years later.

  10. Theresa Roche says:

    Cromwell sounds utterly vile, doesn’t he?

  11. Miss Kitty says:

    Cromwell and Queen Elizabeth 1 were long dead by the time of the potato famine which happened in Queen Victorias reign I’ve heard that Queen Elizabeth was a bit of a tyrant she was said to have had chopped off the hand of a writer who criticized her in a playI think she was mostly fair for the times she lived in she had her cousin killed imprisoned Arbella Stuart and her grey cousins imprisoned but she ruled not reigned and she did some really great things too

    1. Banditqueen says:

      It was actually James I who imprisoned Arbella Stuart and her husband. William Seymour. Elizabeth did indeed execute and imprison Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine and Mary Grey. She imprisoned the Greys for marrying without her permission. I agree that she had a number of good points and achievements as well.

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