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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15 thoughts on “15 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn is Sentenced to Death!”
  1. Henry had been bewitched, or so he explained it to himself; and the newly-discovered witch had to go — say, in Munich, she would have had a witch trial, I am sure.
    There was no such thing as a “fair trial” before the later 18th or 19th century. You were lost the moment you were scheduled to have one, especially in “state trials”; it was all show and everybody knew it was meant to be show. The whole concept was different.

  2. I’m a little confused; if you could clarify, I’d really appreciate it! Here you say Henry Percy (Northumberland) collapsed, yet in the George Boleyn article you explain that Henry Percy bore towards Queen Anne much bitterness and hatred. If he hated her, why would he collapse? Did he do so because he didn’t want her to die, or he didn’t want her to by burning, or did he do so because he believed her to be guilty of the shocking charges (and agreed/disagreed with them)?

    Also, why did he hate Anne so much? I know they used to be lovers, but I believe I read that his family wouldn’t allow the marriage between them and also that I think Wolsey and other higher-ups were against the union. If everything was out of Percy and Anne’s hands, why hate her?

  3. No…poor Anne never did have a chance. I think it was a combination of both Henry & Cromwell. I keep trying not to look at things through 21st century lenses, but it is really hard. Henry was so in love with her and fought so hard to be with her just to give up on her so quickly? I keep trying to think that it was purely Cromwell & not Henry, but I know that my husband would never believe rumours about me & just throw away our marriage so quickly as Henry did(ofcourse I am not married to the King…lol). I have also read that Henry gave the hint that if Cromwell did not find eveidence to back up these rumours…he would have his head cut off too (although I still think Cromwell was an evil little man & I am in no way defending his actions).
    Henry had thrown such a hissy fit to get rid of Catherine that he couldn’t do the same when Anne also had a hard time w/ producing an heir to the throne…so when Anne’s haters started the rumours, he saw the perfect opportunity. I keep wanting to believe that Henry was more innocent in these events…but the more I read…the more the arrow points to his crazy butt!
    The more I read about Anne…the better & stronger she makes me want to be!

  4. Anne was innocent and everyone knew it, she didn’t deserve to die or be treated the way she was. It makes me so mad that henry would do that even 500 years later. I kow this sounds mean but Jane wasn’t worth it.

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

    I’m always sort of shocked at how discussions at The Anne Boleyn Files tend to focus upon Anne Boleyn’s trial/condemnation/execution and that of her accused conspirators as a dramatic turning point concerning injustice during Henry VIII’s reign.

    In truth, Anne’s mistreatment and the ill-treatment of Henry’s remaining wives were actually the follow-up to his mistreatment and devaluation of Katherine of Aragon, a blameless woman who shared Henry’s life for 24 years, provided him an heiress, and was a credit to her adopted nation.

    The outrage over Anne’s abuse is sort of oddly misplaced IMHO, because I honestly don’t see why people thought Henry could have or should have treated Anne any better when she “failed” the King just as Katherine had.

    Henry’s moral collapse began with Katherine, Anne was just additional damage related to that. .

    1. I think you have misunderstood these reports, La Belle Creole. They are written by Lady Claire and Sir Tim as newspaper reports by a newspaper which supports Anne Boleyn and her faction. I can’t write more on this comment as I’m on The Executed Queens Tour and need to get ready for dinner but felt it was important to explain these reports as you seem to be taking them out of context.

    2. Claire takes enormous pains to be fair to all the people who suffered during the Tudor period, including Catherine of Aragon and Mary. But the reason the site focuses on Anne Boleyn and her downfall is because it’s called The Anne Boleyn Files and not The Catherine of Aragon Files.
      We all appreciate the awful way Catherine was treated, but she wasn’t murdered on false charges of treason. Anne was. That’s why ever human being with any ability to feel compassion and injustice is outraged by the events of 1536, irrespective of what may have gone before.

  6. To La Belle: Claire is writing about the events of April and May as if they were current and not in the past. Most subscribers to the site liked the idea and enjoyed the creativity and facts that have been blended together to bring us a new way to see these events unfold. I would suggest you go back and reread the posts in April. It really is a brilliant way to untold Anne’s story and of the poor men who died with her.

    1. No. Sorry. I get your point, several of the more recent articles are written in a jounralistic style. It is very creative and an interesting spin on recycling the informattion. I’m on board with that. I’m also on board with “The Anne Boleyn Files” being an Anne-centric website (although the subject of Anne Boleyn does seem to lead through some pretty nifty detours, too.)

  7. Makes me glad to live in a world where trials are handled more fairly. Even if Anne had all the rights of a modern day accused, she still would have been convicted … as long as Henry had power of life and death over the jurors and those who conducted the trial. Henry wouldn’t be satisfied with an annulment and another living ex.

    Even before he met Anne, I can’t think of any time when Henry continued being the nice and charming prince with those who told him “no”, or explained why he couldn’t do what he wanted … but some of the books that Anne and her faction encouraged Henry to read (stating that kings were accountable to none but the Lord) made a dangerous situation a lot worse … and for a lot of people (including, eventually, themselves … even Cromwell, eventually). La Belle is right about one thing (IMO) … Anne was in the same position that Catherine had occupied. However, Anne had neither Catherine’s powerful foreign nephew nor her popularity … both of which (again, IMO) probably prevented Henry from having grounds made up to execute Catherine.

  8. It just shows that out of all her sworn enemies, at least a couple of them had a heart. Anne Boleyn’s uncle and her previous lover and groom to be. I think that they knew that what was happening was wrong and unjust that is why especially in the case of Howard and the reason why Percy collapsed was most probably down to and due to shock. I suppose because he most probably did not or could not believe it all.

    Just four days after that trial she would be dead, it was by accounts and all sources supposed to be three days after but because her executioner arrived late it had to be rescheduled and put a day forward.

  9. When it comes to the law, even now in some cases, you could be the most innocent person in this world and still be condemned as guilty. Nowadays if one is in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could be fatal. For Anne Boleyn, her fate was ceiled when she did not produce a son as quickly as the King wished. I’m sure as anything if she would have lived she would have gave Henry a beautiful boy but we can’t be upset for everything because if that was so Elizabeth would have not been queen. I suppose everything happens for a reason.

  10. Wonderful article! What courage Anne had…
    By the way, I never thought Henry Percy’s love had turned into bitterness and hate.. I believe he never stopped loving Anne, felt horrible about being in the jury and maybe even hoped to help not condemn her after all. He is said to have collapsed after hearing the verdict and had to be carried out, he was so obviously devastated and shaken by all of it. I really think this is a man who deeply cared for Our Queen and would protect her if he only could…

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