15 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn and Lord Rochford are tried for treason – The Fall of Anne Boleyn
Posted By Claire on May 15, 2021
On this day in Tudor history, 15th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, the courtier, poet and diplomat, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were tried in the King’s Hall at the Tower of London.
They were tried separately by a jury of their peers presided over by their uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.
Find out what happened at their trials in this video:
Here’s the transcript:
On this day in 1536, the 15th May, just 13 days after their arrests and imprisonment in the Tower of London, Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were tried in the King’s Hall of the royal palace at the Tower of London.
Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton had been tried by a commission of oyer and terminer on 12th May, but due to their status, the Boleyn siblings were tried by a jury of their peers; a jury presided over by their uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and Lord High Steward. A great scaffold had been erected in the hall so that the 2000+ spectators could see what was going on.
The fact that Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton had already been found guilty of high treason for having sexual relations with the queen during her marriage to King Henry VIII and plotting to kill the king with her, meant that there was no way that the queen could be found innocent. However, Anne put her all into her defence, making “so wise and discreet answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been faulty to the same”. She denied the charges and defended herself admirably, but it was no good. The jury were unanimous in their verdict: “guilty”.
Anne was then stripped of her crown and her titles, all except that of queen. With tears running down his cheeks, Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, then pronounced the sentence:
“Because thou hast offended against our sovereign the King’s Grace in committing treason against his person, and here attainted of the same, the law of the realm is this, that thou hast deserved death, and thy judgment is tis: that thou shalt be burned here within the Tower of London on the Green, else to have thy head smitten off, as the King’s pleasure shall be further known of the same.”
In response, Anne simply said that she “believed there was some other reason for which she was condemned than the cause alleged”. She was then escorted out of the court by Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, with the axe turned against her to show that she had been sentenced to death.
It was then the turn of her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.
Chronicler Charles Wriothesley recorded that George “made answer so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, but never would confess anything, but made himself as clear as though he had never offended” and Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, commented on George’s good defence and his eloquence, which he likened to that of Sir Thomas More.
When the only evidence for George committing incest with Anne was that “he had been once found a long time with her”, George “replied so well that several of those present wagered 10 to 1 that he would be acquitted, especially as no witnesses were produced against either him or her”. But then George recklessly read out a note handed to him which he was ordered to keep to himself. The imperial ambassador recorded this in a dispatch to Emperor Charles V:
“I must not omit, that among other things charged against him as a crime was, that his sister had told his wife that the King ‘nestoit habile en cas de soy copuler avec femme, et quil navoit ne vertu ne puissance.’ This he was not openly charged with, but it was shown him in writing, with a warning not to repeat it. But he immediately declared the matter, in great contempt of Cromwell and some others, saying he would not in this point arouse any suspicion which might prejudice the King’s issue. He was also charged with having spread reports which called in question whether his sister’s daughter was the King’s child.”
So, it was put to him that his sister the queen had confided in his wife, Jane, about the king’s sexual problems, his lack of sexual prowess, and George was also accused of spreading gossip that Elizabeth was not the king’s daughter. This disobedience and the embarrassment caused to the king would not have endeared George to the jury, but George must have known that he had no hope of real justice. George was found guilty. His uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, then sentenced George to a traitor’s death:
“that he should go again to prison in the Tower from whence he came, and to be drawn from the said Tower of London through the city of London to the place of execution called Tyburn, and there to be hanged, being alive cut down, and then his members cut off and his bowels taken out of his body and burnt before him, and then his head cut off and his body to be divided into quarter pieces, and his head and body to be set at such places as the King should assign.”
George was then taken back to his prison to prepare for his death.
1 thought on “15 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn and Lord Rochford are tried for treason – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
It was said that Anne and George gave a very good account of themselves, and both being clever articulate sharp witted people it is only to be expected, Anne was first and she was escorted in the great hall which must have been crowded with hundreds of spectators there, all eager to see one of the most momentous events in history, the trial of the Queen of England, she was dressed soberly and wore a little hat with a feather in always known for being stylish on every occasion, and sat in the chair of state reserved for her alone, she did not break down and become hysterical like her early days in the Tower, she was calm and answered each charge firmly and precisely, she answered each question with such a show of genuine honesty that the crowds watching and the jurors themselves, biased though they were, must have been only too aware that she was innocent, and what of her uncle the old Duke of Norfolk? They had not got on and had often quarrelled, his mistress Bess Holland a washer woman of no consequence was in her household, that was one favour she had allowed, she was his sisters youngest daughter and he knew how devastating this was for her and Anne’s father, I doubt he thought both his niece and nephew had cuckolded the king together he had known them from childhood, but he was Earl Marshall and like the others there, had to do the kings bidding, he officiated over most events including the coronation of the monarch and it was his duty to officiate over this sham of a trial, today we call such a sham a kangaroo court, Anne’s old love Harry Percy now the Earl of Northumberland was also as a peer of the realm called to sit on her trial, they had been cruelly separated when young and he had married the Lady Mary the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter, but the marriage was a disaster with both of them in perpetual conflict, she had left him on one occasion and had complained that he did not treat her as a husband should his wife, maybe he refused to sleep with her there were no children of the marriage, and on his death the earldom went to his nephew, I doubt if he carried a torch for Anne all his life however, he was heard to say years later that she was a bad woman, certainly she was not the sweet natured girl he had known in his youth, but had turned into a hard hearted shrew who seemed to upset a lot of people, her vindictiveness towards Katherine and Mary was well known, so what did Percy think as he sat on his old sweethearts trial ? He could not have believed either that she was as corrupt and depraved as they were saying, neither could he have thought that she had plotted to kill the king with her lovers, he had been suffering from an illness for about a year and it was to later claim his life, it could have been cancer it was noted he was weak at the trial and later collapsed, it could have been the shock of having to sit on her trial, he must have it seemed to him that in some strange way, his life was entwined with Anne’s, he had not been happy with his wife and must have longed to have been with Anne, there must have been moments in Anne’s marriage also when she had wished she had been allowed to marry Percy, where the sex of her child would not have mattered, and we can safely assume that had these two ill starred lovers been allowed to marry, they could have had a most successful marriage, now he was to sit on her trial and condemn her to death, maybe old feelings surfaced as he faced her across the court? It must have been a most unpleasant ordeal even if he did not love her like he had, Percy had to be helped out of the courtroom after declaring her guilty along with the others, and the dreadful sentence was read out by her uncle the duke, it is said he had tears in his eyes and I believe they were genuine, it must have been awful to have sat through the trail and hear his niece being slandered so dreadfully, Anne’s old nurse a Mrs.Orchard who was present shrieked and there must have been many gasps as the queen was sentenced to be burned alive or beheaded, it was said even then that her resolve did not falter, and she spoke of how she believed she was condemned on other reasons for which she was accused, true words indeed, and it must have made many a peer squirm, she was then escorted out and back to her lodgings whilst her brother Lord Rochford was brought in, he too gave a very spirited defence of himself, he was accused of calling into question his niece Elizabeth’s paternity, that did not make sense as why should George wish to defame his sister by suggesting she had been unfaithful to the king? They were very close these two, they had shared interests in theology a love of music and others, why should he wish to cause trouble for his sister, then there was the charge of incest, and the ‘very strong evidence’ for this was they had been alone together for a certain amount of time, but the worse of all was where he had mocked at the kings so called impotency, he was handed a note on which was written down that the queen had told his wife that the king was not able to make love to her, oh dear ! All course George in defiance of his orders, and to show his complete contempt of the trials and how both he and his sister had been treated, read aloud every word to an aghast court, in doing so he condemned himself but he knew he was condemned anyway, he too was sentenced to die by the most dreadful death of all, to be dragged on hurdles to Tyburn Hill hung cut down whilst still alive, be ripped open and have his organs and entrails and private parts burned in front of him, then to have his head struck from his body and his be displayed on Tower Bridge as a traitor and a warning to others, however we know that George being a member of the nobility was not to suffer this final ignominy neither were the others, and Anne died the most merciful death of all, in two days time George and Weston Brereton Norris and Smeaton were to die and they only had forty eight hours to prepare themselves, Anne was to die two days after them, but was to go through the agony first of having her execution delayed, the swordsman from Calais ordered before the trial by Cromwell we can assume, was already making his way across the channel, what did this unknown man think, this harbinger of doom who was about to end the life of a living breathing woman, and not only any woman, but a queen, he had probably never in his life beheaded a woman and he could not have found the prospect very pleasant at all.