15 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn is Sentenced to Death!

Posted By on May 15, 2011

Anne Boleyn Hever PortraitToday, 15th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was tried in the King’s Hall of the Tower of London in front of an estimated 2,000 spectators. A great platform1 had been erected in the hall so that everybody could see and the Lord High Steward, the Duke of Norfolk who was representing the King, sat on a special throne underneath the canopy of estate, with the white staff of office in his hand and his son, the Earl of Surrey, sat at his feet holding the golden staff of the Earl Marshal of England on behalf of his father2. Either side of the Duke were Sir Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, and Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk.

As Queen, Anne Boleyn was given the privilege, if it can be called that, of being tried by a jury of her peers, rather than by the commission of oyer and terminer who sat on judgement on Norris, Weston, Smeaton and Brereton. It was no privilege in reality, her trial had already been prejudiced by the guilty verdicts of the four men and the jury was made up of her enemies. Here are just a few of them3:-

  • Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk – Henry VIII’s brother-in-law and good friend. A man who dislikes the Queen and who would, of course, support the King and do the King’s will.
  • Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, and his cousin Henry Pole, Baron Montague – Both men are supporters of the Lady Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.
  • John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford – Oxford bore the crown at Queen Anne’s coronation in 1533 but he is a good friend of the King’s.

  • Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland – The Earl was once in love with Anne Boleyn but that love seems to have turned into bitterness and hate.
  • Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland – A loyal servant to the King in the North.
  • Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester – It is rumoured that his wife, Elizabeth Browne, the Countess of Worcester, gave evidence against the Queen to Cromwell and was the prosecution’s key witness.
  • Thomas Manners, the Earl of Rutland, George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon – Both of these men were related to the King and were royal favourites.
  • Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex – One of the King’s best friends.
  • Henry Parker, Lord Morely – Father of Jane Boleyn (George Boleyn’s wife), one time servant to Lady Margaret Beaufort (Henry VIII’s grandmother), staunch conservative and a supporter of the Lady Mary.
  • Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre – A man with a rather colourful past who needed to please the King.
  • George Brooke, Lord Cobham – Brother-in-law of Thomas Wyatt, close friend of Henry VIII and husband of Anne Braye (Nan Cobham), one of the Queen’s ladies who is thought to have given evidence against the Queen.
  • Edward Grey, Baron Grey of Powys, and Thomas Stanley, Lord Monteagle – Both were son-in-laws of the Duke of Suffolk, so their allegiance lay with him and, of course, the King.
  • Edward Clinton (Fiennes), Lord Clinton – Husband of Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount and stepfather of the King’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond.
  • William, Lord Sandys – A great friend of the King and also Lord Chamberlain. Sandys was one of the men who escorted the Queen to the Tower of London on the 2nd May.
  • Andrew, Lord Windsor – Another friend of the King.
  • Thomas, Lord Wentworth – A cousin of Lady Jane Seymour, the King’s new flame.

Sir Tim was not allowed in the hall but various diplomats were and Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador described Queen Anne Boleyn as she entered the hall:-

“She walked forth in fearful beauty and seemed unmoved as a stock, not as one who had to defend her cause, but with the bearing of one coming to great honour.”4

And other witnesses tell of how she was wearing a black velvet gown, a scarlet damask petticoat and a cap decorated with a black and white feather5. She looked every inch a queen and the proceedings did not seem to phase her.

De Carles told Sir Tim of how, when the indictment was read out, “her face said more than words, for she said little; but no one looking at her would have thought her guilty.”6 She then pleaded “Not Guilty” and the Attorney General, Sir Christopher Hales, then put forward the case against her, accusing the Queen of incest, adultery, plotting the King’s death, promising to marry Henry Norris after the King’s death, and making fun of the King and his dress. Charles Wriothesely told Sir Tim how the Queen “made so wise and discreet answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been guilty of the same.”7

The Queen defended herself admirably, denying all of these preposterous charges and admitting only to giving money to Sir Francis Weston, just as she gave money to many young gentlemen at court; however, the jury were unanimous in their verdict: “guilty”. The Queen was then stripped of her crown and her titles and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, pronounced the sentence with tears running down his cheeks:-

“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.”8

The shock was too much for the Earl of Northumberland, who we hear collapsed and had to be taken out of the hall, and also for Mrs Orchard, a lady who had cared for the Queen when she was a child, who “shrieked out dreadfully”9. The Queen kept her composure and Lancelot de Carles told us of how she then addressed the court, saying:-

“I do not say that I have always borne towards the King the humility which I owed him, considering his kindness and the great honour he showed me and the great respect he always paid me; I admit too, that often I have taken it into my head to be jealous of him… But may God be my witness if I have done him any other wrong.”10

Words from the heart and an innocent one at that!

Sir William Kingston then escorted the Queen out of the court and the axe was turned against her. The Queen of England had been sentenced to death.

What a huge miscarriage of justice! Our hopes are dashed! England will never be the same!

What do you think? Did Queen Anne Boleyn ever have any chance of a fair trial? Is it the King’s doing or is it the wily Master Cromwell?

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x.902
  2. A Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors, Charles Wriothesley, p37
  3. LP x.876 – The full list is “Charles duke of Suffolk, Hen. marquis of Exeter, Will. earl of Arundel, John earl of Oxford, Hen. earl of Northumberland, Ralph earl of Westmoreland, Edw. earl of Derby, Hen. earl of Worcester, Thos. earl of Rutland, Rob. earl of Sussex, Geo. earl of Huntingdon, John lord Audeley, Thos. lord La Ware, Hen. lord Mountague, Hen. lord Morley, Thos. lord Dacre, Geo. lord Cobham, Hen. lord Maltravers, Edw. lord Powes, Thos. lord Mount Egle, Edw. lord Clynton, Will. lord Sandes, Andrew lord Wyndesore, Thos. lord Wentworth, Thos. lord Burgh, and John lord Mordaunt.”
  4. Lancelot de Carles, quoted in The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir, p212
  5. George Younghusband, quoted in Weir, p212
  6. Lancelot de Carles in Weir
  7. Wriothesely, p37
  8. Spelman, Reports, i.71, quoted in The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives p341
  9. Weir, p218
  10. Lancelot de Carles quoted in Ives, p341
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