2 May 1536 – The arrests of Queen Anne Boleyn and Lord Rochford

Posted By on May 2, 2016

The Court Gate of the Byward Tower, Tower of London

The Court Gate of the Byward Tower, Tower of London

On the morning of Tuesday 2nd May 1536, Sir Henry Norris was escorted to the Tower of London. He had been interrogated the previous day by the King himself and George Constantine, one of Norris’s servants, wrote of how the King “promised him his pardon in case he would utter the truth” but that “Mr. Norris would confess nothing”.1

Also on the morning of 2nd May, Queen Anne Boleyn received a message informing her that she was required to present herself to the King’s council, presided over by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, in the council chamber at Greenwich Palace. There, she was informed that she was being accused of committing adultery with three different men: Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris and a third, unnamed at this stage. She was also told that Smeaton and Norris had confessed. Anne remonstrated with her accusers, but her words had no effect and the royal commission ordered her arrest. According to Anne, she was “cruelly handled as was never seen” by the council. She said that as she spoke to them, Norfolk just shook his head three or four times and said “tut, tut, tut”, Sir William Fitzwilliam was daydreaming and not listening, and that only Sir William Paulet was “a very gentleman”.2 Anne’s arrest was then ordered and she was escorted to her apartments to wait for the tide of the River Thames to turn.

By 2pm the tide had turned and a barge was prepared to take Anne to the Tower of London. Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, writes that she was escorted by “the duke of Norfolk, the two Chamberlains, of the realm and of the chamber”, i.e. her uncle, John, Lord Oxford, and William, Lord Sandys. However, Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald, records that she was accompanied “by my Lord Chauncelor [Sir Thomas Audley], the Duke of Norfolk, Mr. Secretarie [Thomas Cromwell], and Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower.” Wriothesley goes on to say that she arrived at 5pm and that she entered the Tower through the Court Gate of the Byward Tower, where “she fell down on her knees before the said lords, beseeching God to help her as she was not guilty of her accusements, and also desired the said lords to beseech the King’s grace to be good unto her, and so they left her their prisoner.3

Anne was then escorted by Sir William Kingston to her lodgings in the Tower’s royal palace, the same apartments she had used before her coronation in 1533. Kingston gives a detailed account of her arrival at the Tower in a letter to Thomas Cromwell:

On my lord of Norfolk and the King’s Council departing from the Tower, I went before the Queen into her lodging. She said unto me, “Mr. Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?” I said, “No, Madam. You shall go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation.” “It is too good for me, she said; Jesu have mercy on me;” and kneeled down, weeping a good pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, as she has done many times since.

She desired me to move the King’s highness that she might have the sacrament in the closet by her chamber, that she might pray for mercy, for I am as clear from the company of man as for sin as I am clear from you, and am the King’s true wedded wife. And then she said, Mr. Kingston, do you know where for I am here? and I said, Nay. And then she asked me, When saw you the King? and I said I saw him not since I saw [him in] the Tiltyard. And then, Mr. K., I pray you to tell me where my Lord my father is? And I told her I saw him afore dinner in the Court. O where is my sweet brother? I said I left him at York Place; and so I did.

I hear say, said she, that I should be accused with three men; and I can say no more but nay, without I should open my body. And there with opened her gown. O, Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou are in the Tower with me, and thou and I shall die together; and, Mark, thou art here to. O, my mother, thou wilt die with sorrow; and much lamented my lady of Worcester, for by cause that her child did not stir in her body. And my wife said, what should be the cause? And she said, for the sorrow she took for me. And then she said, Mr. Kyngston, shall I die without justice? And I said, the poorest subject the Kyng hath, hath justice. And there with she laughed.4

In another letter to Cromwell, Kingston writes that Anne was convinced that the King had ordered her arrest to “prove” her (to test her) and “she said if any man [accuse me I can say but n]ay, and they can bring no witnesses.”.5

As you can see from Kingston’s account of Anne’s arrival at the Tower, Anne asked after her brother. Kingston told her that he’d left George at York Place (Whitehall, but he did not tell her the whole truth. George Boleyn had been at York Place, but he was arrested there on the same afternoon that his sister was escorted to the Tower and had actually arrived at the Tower before his sister. Click here to read more about his arrest.

On the afternoon of 2nd May, following the arrests of his wife, brother-in-law, and good friend, Henry VIII was said to have met his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Click here to read what the King told his son of Anne Boleyn.

Notes and Sources

  1. Constantine, George. Archaeologia, or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Vol 23, p 64.
  2. Cavendish, George (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Vol. II, p. 224. MS. Cotton Otho C. X. fol. 224b.
  3. Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559 Volume 1, p. 36.
  4. Cavendish, p. 217-218. MS. Cotton Otho C. X. fol. 225.
  5. Cavendish, p. 224.
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