Posted By Claire on May 15, 2014
On 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.
The Lord High Steward, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was representing the King, sat on a special throne underneath the canopy of estate. In his hand was the white staff of office and at his feet sat his son, the Earl of Surrey, holding, on his father’s behalf, the golden staff of the Earl Marshal of England. Sir Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, and Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, were on either side of the Duke. The jury was made up of her enemies and you can read more about them in my article 15 May 1536 – The Trials of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn.
I have written quite a few articles about Anne Boleyn’s trial, so today I want to share with you the report of Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, from his poem “De la royne d’Angleterre”:
“Thus she came with her ladies,
Not as one to defend her crimes:
But she held a grace and manner
Befitting someone of great honor.
Having come and all the lords
had greeted her, she did not forget
To show toward them the dignity required.
Then gently she took a seat
And they began to counter dispute.
And several infamous cases imputed.
She defended her honor soberly,
Without becoming flustered, but constantly
Her face guaranteed her words
Were not just oratory:
For one speaking little, but watching her
Saw no guilt or crime in her.
And when the judges had heard enough of
The struggle of this pitiful proceeding,
They said to her that she must remove
Her crown and put it in their hands:
This she did quickly without resisting,
However without ever stopping
Talking, that in desire not by fact
Against the king she had never done wrong.”
When the jury found her guilty and the sentence of death was read out by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, Anne reacted with calm and dignity:
“Because in her face one saw no change
Nor in her means nor manner nothing:
But she rendered graces to God to join hands
In saying to him: “O father of humans,
“Who is the way and life and truth.
“You know if I have merited this death!”
Then turning toward the judges, said to them:
“I do not want to say your edict is unjust,
“To presume only so much is reasonable
“My only advice, that it must be valuable
“Against you all, and I believe that you know well
“The reason why you have condemned me,
“Other than isn’t this that you have deduced
“To the judgment, for/because I am quit of all of it.
“And requiring only that God pardons me of it
“Never for grace did anyone gave me any:
Because I have always been loyal to the King.
I do not say that I would always have been such,
I carried only to him the humility I could have
That I had to, saw his humanity
And the great gentleness with which he treated me,
And great honor that he always showed to me,
And that often I had some fantasy
Against him because of some jealousy:
But I know that in this virtue failed me
And it must be for this reason I am attacked.
But as for rest of it God knows the evidence
That I committed no wrongs against him:
And for certain I will not confess to any
On the day that I am to suffer death.
And you think I tell you this only
For some hope of preserving my life
But I am learning how to die well
With the one who can cure death,
Who by his grace returned to me my faith
And sustained my weakness in my time of need.
“But I am not still so ravished
“In spirit that honor does not invite me
“To sustain these reasonable rights,
“O f which, sirs, I will hold little weight
“Near my end, if in my life I did not have it
“Well preserved, some Queen I would have been.
“And for this I wish that this last time to speak
“Be only to preserve my honor
“And my brother’s, and of those that you judged
“To have put to death and removed their honor:
“So much I wish that I knew how to defend them
“And to deliver, for guilt sentences me
“To a thousand deaths. But since it pleases the King
“I will receive death in this time,
“And I will hold them company in death,
“For then afterwards in the infinite glory
“Where I will pray God for the King and for you.””
De Carles writes of how even those who hated her were moved by Anne’s words.
Anne Boleyn was then escorted out of the court and back to her lodgings by her gaoler, Sir William Kingston, with the axe turned against her to show that she had been sentenced to death.
Notes and Sources
- Ascoli, Georges (1927) La Grande-Bretagne Devant L’opinion Française Depuis La Guerre De Cent Ans Jusqu’à La Fin Du XVIe Siècle. Paris. English translation from Anne Boleyn, Lancelot de Carle, and the uses of documentary evidence, Schmid, Susan Walters, Ph.D., ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, 2009