15th May 1536 – The Trials of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn

On this day in history, 15th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were tried for treason in the Great Hall of the Tower of London in front of a jury of their peers.

As you know, I have been researching Anne Boleyn’s life and fall for over three years now, but, even though I know her story well and I have read the primary sources many times, the shock I feel at these miscarriages of justice never fades. Anne, George, Smeaton, Weston, Norris and Brereton had no hope of justice, did they? There was no escape and their guilt was definitely a foregone conclusion.

I will be writing more on this later in the week, but you can read details of Anne and George’s trials in my article over at The Fall of Anne Boleyn timeline – click here.

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17 thoughts on “15th May 1536 – The Trials of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn”
  1. Thank you for this, Claire. Both Anne and George were incredibly brave. George did not weep as he awaited the verdict and was not close to fainting. Thank goodness you are able to bring reality and truth at this sad time.

  2. I think I can guess what Louise is referring to. I have just read Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies”, a good book but she totally ignores the reliable contemporary evidence (for example, from Wriothesley and Kingston) that Anne and George were incredibly brave and put up tremendous fights at their trials. In fact she has a dismissive postscript at the end of the book to the effect that the contemporary accounts were not reliable. What, so we believe her rather than Wriothesley and Kingston, neither of whom were any friend to Anne and George and yet had to admit their courage?

    1. I’ve just had my copy of Mantel’s book delivered so I’m going to read it and make notes. You’re right, Jane, George and Anne were both dignified and courageous and it’s a shame if Mantel has not portrayed them as such. George defended himself so well that Chapuys wrote of how people thought he’d be acquitted. I must go and read it!

      1. Yeah, I’m in the middle of reading it right now and I’m really torn. I love the portrayal of Cromwell, but I am disgusted by how she portrays Anne. She portrays her like a common harlot and basically insinuates that Anne was guilty. I’m not impessed with this one which is sad because I really loved Wolf Hall.

  3. It is a terrible shame that the trial transcripts have disappeared. I would have liked to know EXACTLY what Anne and George’s answers were. I would have loved to see her, entering the court, to sit with the French Bishop of Riez and witness how:
    “She walked forth in fearful beauty, and seemed unmoved. She came not as one who had to defend her cause, but with the bearing of one coming to great honour.”
    I can only keep reciting Wyatt’s poem this month. He expresses my pain
    Oh, these Bloody Days have broken my heart…

    The bell tower showed me such sight
    That in my head sticks day and night.
    There did I learn out of a grate,
    For all favour, glory, or might,
    That yet circa Regna tonat.

    Today is a day of Infamy that has come down thru the centuries, I hope that we have meddled in her cause, and we have ‘judge[d] it kindly’ according to her wishes.

  4. Great article, but I wonder why people seem to be shocked at innocent people being convicted. This is the reason for the rights (unknown at any Tudor trial) such as notice of charges, right to present a defense, counsel, and cross-examination. Also, how often was anyone acquitted after a Tudor “trial”? Nicholas Throckmorton is the only one I can think of.

    1. I don’t think anyone is really shocked at the Tudor judicial system, Esther, it’s more of a kind of moral outrage. Injustice is shocking whether it is expected or not, in my opinion anyway! Anne and the men never stood a chance, although I think Anne was led to believe that there was hope that she could go to a nunnery.

      1. Just read that back and it sounds rather haughty. Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, just trying to explain my own shock as I read about the trial when I know that it was incredibly rare for anyone to be acquitted. Juries did what was expected of them.

  5. It IS a pity that the Baga de Secretis records have disappeared, but whereas some contemporary accounts may be less than accurate -Chapuys was known to get things wrong as he was sometimes reporting second hand – other accounts (such as my previously mentioned Kingston and Wriothesley, who after all were not at all in the Anne and George fan club) can be trusted.

    Without wishing to enter too many spoilers, Mantel has George about to faint and weep as he hears his death sentence. How ridiculous, when he had been brave enough to read that note about Henry’s lack of puissance aloud and sign his own death warrant!

    I tell you, that made me nearly as cross as the Anne execution scene from the film of The Other Boleyn Girl where they have Anne weeping and snivelling!

    Anne’s trial and the lack of justice thereof occasioned two of my very favourite quotes of all time;-

    Anne herself; “I am willing to believe that you have reason for what you have done, but then they must be other than those produced in court.”

    The Lord Mayor Of London “For myself I could find no fault in her, only that they were resolved to make an occasion to be rid of her.”

  6. When Anne pleads for the exoneration of the men accused with her, how can one not take notice of such a self-less act of love for others? To me, that alone allowed a glimpse into her heart and revealed the deeply caring person she was.

  7. I think that no matter how many times you read about these trials, they will always shock us with the injustice of it all.
    My hubby bought me Bring Up the Bodies yesterday as a nice suprise, even though I haven’t yet read Wolf Hall, I do have it,somewhere in an unpacked box from when we moved, and haven’t got around to reading, as with a few more that I have stacking up…not enough hours in the day sometime. I read the few comments above, and I thought these novels were fiction (is that right), not factual based on original sources, because in the authors notes at the back she says that she tries to show in the book how these few weeks looked from Cromwell’s point of view, and that she is not claiming authority for my [her] version, just making the reader a proposal, or offer, with some familiar aspects of the story not appearing in the novel. So if these are a work of fiction, loosely based on fact, maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on her if she isn’t 100% on the nail, or has interpreted certain things in her way. The original sources give us an incredible insight to these times, and are the only things we have, but as she says they may not be 100% on the nail either, we only have to look at some of Chapys recording of events to see that.

    1. We know quite a lot about the way George presented at court. He certainly didn’t weep and nearly faint, as Mantel is fully aware of. That isn’t just Mantel’s interpretation. She choset o make it up in order to show a courageous man as a coward. Fiction or not, that simply exhibits a lack of integrity that is inexcusable. No one should have the right to demonise an innocent man and then hide like a coward behind the fiction banner.

  8. It’s just that in those author’s notes, she takes a big broad brush and dismisses historical/eye witness accounts in general, when Anne’s and George’s spirited and eloquent performance at their trial was well documented by reliable witnesses, much more reliable than Chapuys. Whether she is seeing things from Cromwell’s point or not, and even though she is writing fiction, there isn’t really any excuse for such distortion. It doesn’t improve her narrative and is all pointless, and irritates those who have read the reliable sources.

    1. I understand what both you and Louise are sayng, and that there are many reliable sources out there. And I am going to find it quite difficult to explain what I mean without sounding argumentative, but here goes.
      To me fiction is a book that takes an imagined situations and people, or known situations and people, such as this, and adds, invents, makes up if you like, a version of it.
      I don’t think it shows a lack of integrity or at all pointless to want to write the story as fictional. It is for light reading, to entertain, and arouse emotions in the reader, be those good, or in your cases annoyance, which she has suceeded in doing, and making sure that it is not one of those ‘forgettable’ novels. Another, example is TOBG, a much critised book on how she twisted the characters out of context, but I personally enjoyed it, even though there were times I shouted out in dis-believe, but it was a good ‘story’. I think the biggest criticism here was the fact she seemed to be claiming it was a true account…but never-the-less, unforgettable.
      Yes there will be people who read these books and think that they are the true story, but the clue is in the word Fiction, and anyone who wishes to learn the truth will, by eventually finding the factual accounts of the time.
      If every author wrote a truthful account of these people would not every book be virtually the same… there are only so many ways one story can be told if sticking to the truth, even the factual, researched from the sources can have different interpretations, and authors in this area can be questioned for their reasoning behind them.
      As for dismissing the historical sources and eye-witness accounts, I read it as, she personally doesn’t believe that all the sources are always accurate, for the resons she stated, and there is some truth to that.
      I, like you, have read reliable sources, but reading a ficticious book on the same people doesn’t upset me, whether an author sticks more to the truth, of gives them altered ego’s if the book is well written, I read it for what it is a good story. I hope I have explained myself well enough without being rude, but I do feel quite strongly that fiction writers get a rough deal sometimes for having an imagination, and daring to stray from the path of whats true.

      1. I think what Jane and I are saying is that Mantel has deliberately lied about human beings who existed. They aren’t fictional and so they deserve more than to be vilified and made to look foolish and cowardly. Mantel knows her history but has chosen to ignore it for a more salacious story.
        If Mantel wrote about a living person in this way she would not be able to get away with it simply because she called it fiction. She would be sued for libel. It’s all of that which I think exhibits a lack of integrity, and indeed morality.
        I know historical fiction is popular, and some of it is very good. I just don’t enjoy seeing people I care about unjustly demonised, even if it is fiction.

        1. I do understand what you are saying, Louise, but the ‘lie’, twisting of the truth, whatever we want to call it, was maybe written in this way to describe how Cromwell would have seen the event through his eyes, not because she lacks morality or integrity, I think thats rather harsh. There are many fictional novels that have a known person far from the past as the subject, take ‘King Arthur’ for example and the stories that have built up around him, and of course you would not write about about a living person in the same way…if you had any sense.
          If you ask 3 artists to paint a tree you would probably end up with 3 different interpretations, 1 would paint the tree in its pure form, down to the last leaf, 1 would still have the basic outline of the tree but be distorted in some way, and 1 so comtemporary that it is unrecognisable, but all 3 containing a talent, and all having a place, the same could be said about authors, all are written to introduce a story, that will hopefully, educate, entertain and give enjoyment, to the reader. I personally don’t take them to heart, obviously I am not as sensative as you, lol 🙂 But anyway wouldn’t it be nice if Ms. Mantle did a guest post on the A.B.F. and tell us why she wrote the book in that way etc, and give her a fair hearing, unlike these poor souls got all those years ago, may they rest in peace.

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