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

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.

Related Post

4 thoughts on “2 May 1536 – The arrests of Queen Anne Boleyn and Lord Rochford”
  1. It’s good to read here that Anne Boleyn entered through the Byward Tower. Ironically, the same gateway, where Henry VIII greeted her at her coronation in 1533.

    There’s still a big misconception that Anne was rowed in by barge through Traitors’ Gate. I think the warders who give the Tower of London tours unfortunately still perpetuate the ‘myth’.

    Also, the misinformation that Anne was executed where the present day glass monument is, when in actuality, the scaffold site was recorded to be ‘by the great White Tower’ (that is very close to or even right next to the central keep on its north side).

    1. I was watching the documentary on Anne and Henry with Susanna Lipscomb again yesterday and it is marvellous for 98% but contains two myths, the usual Traitors Gate which the main gate was not even called that until the tours began in the 18th century and which is the wrong gate, the second is pure ignorance of the actual sources.

      She outright states that if the head of Anne Boleyn was treated the same as all of the others and her alleged lovers the same, that her head was put on Tower Gate but we know from the four sources which speak about it that her head and unusually, those of the men were buried with her. One would think a historian would know that and not make wild speculation on an otherwise authoritative documentary.

  2. Anne knew that Henry was not in love with her anymore and it was only the child she had miscarried that had kept her safe, now she was doomed and she knew that from the minute she had lost her baby, the tension between her and Henry was such that they had had that argument several days before and Anne was holding Elizabeth and according to an observer, she seemed to be pleading with him, it’s dreadful how their marriage turned sour after the lengths Henry had gone to make it possible and I think Henry had over heard her conversation with Norris about dead men’s shoes and she was trying to remonstrate with him, even in her wildest dreams I don’t think Anne had ever imagined anything like that happening to her, the arrest of a crowned Queen and put In The Tower like a felon, she had probably thought he would just divorce her and she would be banished to a nunnery or just told to leave the court, Roland’s right about the beefeaters telling story’s about the prisoners to the crowds, they do embellish it a bit for dramatic effect, no way would she have entered the tower through traitors gate besides Henry wanted no gaping crowd, Anne’s ramblings to Kingston show the state of her mind and near hysteria took over, she had feared something was going to happen to her for some time hence the conversation she had with her priest about Elizabeth but she could not have fore seen that happening to her, we can all imagine her terror in those days and feel sympathy for what she went through even those who don’t really like her.

  3. As usual, I learn so many things reading your articles.
    Another above, most interesting.
    And two sturdy comments as well !
    Yes Christine everything seems to be at its right place when you ponder over that stuff!
    And right again, saying the warders provide visitors with embellished stories.
    Don’t be too harsh to them, they are probably just aware that tourists (french or not) are longing for these romantic (and exotic) tales.
    When I paid a visit to the Tower (as a tourist, I mean!), I was nonetheless much disappointed to see a “wrong” (even if rather lovely) portrait of Jane Grey (this one being, if I am not mistaken Katherine Parr in fact ? She looked rather young however)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *