2 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, get arrested – The Fall of Anne Boleyn


On 2nd May 1536, at Greenwich Palace, Queen Anne Boleyn received a message calling her to appear before members of her husband the king’s council. They informed the queen that she stood accused of adultery and was being arrested. It must have been a huge shock for Anne.

That very same day, Anne’s brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was arrested at Whitehall Palace.

Find out about their arrests and also a meeting King Henry VIII had with his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, in this video…

Here’s a transcript:

On 2nd May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was at Greenwich Palace when she received a message informing her that she was to present herself before the king’s council. She duly went to the council chamber, and there, the council, which was presided over by her maternal uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, informed her that she was accused of committing adultery with musician Mark Smeaton, groom of the stool Sir Henry Norris, and one other man, who was unnamed at this time. The council informed her that Norris and Smeaton had confessed.

A shocked Anne denied the charges, but her words fell on deaf ears and she later described how she was “cruelly handled as was never seen” by her husband’s council. As she spoke, her uncle just shook his head, saying “tut, tut, tut”, and Sir William Fitzwilliam ignored her, choosing to daydream instead.

The queen’s arrest was ordered and she was escorted to the royal apartments to prepare herself for her journey to the Tower of London.

By 2pm, the tide of the River Thames had turned, allowing her to be escorted by barge from Greenwich to the Tower. In the barge with the queen, according to Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, were her uncle; and the Lord chamberlains: John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys. However, chronicler Charles Wriothesley disgagrees and records that Anne was accompanied by her uncle, Lord Chancellor Audley, Thomas Cromwell, and Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London.

Anne arrived at Tower Wharf at 5pm and entered the Tower by the Court Gate of the Byward Tower. Wriothesley records that “she fell down on her knees before the said lords, beseeching God to help her as she was not guilty of her accusements.”

Sir William Kingston then led her to the queen’s apartments in the Tower’s royal palace, the same apartments that had been refurbished for her coronation three years earlier. These were to be her prison. Kingston recorded that Anne said “It is too good for me… Jesu have mercy on me” and then she knelt, “weeping a good pace, and in the same sorrow fell into great laughing”. She then asked if Kingston would ask the king to make sure she had the sacrament in her chamber so 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.”

Kingston also records that she asked him “shall I died without justice” and that when he replied that “the poorest subject the king hath, hath justice”, she laughed.

Anne’s brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was also arrested on 2nd May, but at Whitehall. Chapuys recorded that he had been arrested “for not giving information of her crime”, but, of course, George would soon be charged with committing incest with Anne and plotting with her to kill the king.

Also on this day in 1536, King Henry VIII met with his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and, according to Chapuys, told him that he and his half-sister, Mary, should thank God “for having escaped from the hands of that woman – i.e. Anne Boleyn – who had planned their death by poison.” Of course, there is no evidence that Anne was planning that at all and she was certainly not charged with it.

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5 thoughts on “2 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, get arrested – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. What a carry on! I don’t mean to be flippant but this entire thing reads like a complete farce. Henry is having the wildest of moods and giving mixed public signals, which makes me wonder what was going on in private. Anne has been arguing with her husband one moment, then sitting happily at a tournament the next. Then the poor woman was just abandoned by bim and left on her own at the tournament with no word even by messenger. Her trip to France has been cancelled and she is now trying to enjoy a tennis match when the Council summons her.

    What was going on? What was Anne thinking? Where is Mark Smeaton? He hasn’t been seen for days. Is it true he has been arrested? On what basis was he detained and what does the Council want with me?

    Anne’s emotions must have been all over the place but she still has no idea what has happened. She was probably apprehensive but really she has no reason to be frightened. She is the Queen and in a crisis the Council would demand her presence. However, this is more than a Council meeting, this is a commission which means she will be asked questions, but about what? Anne was confused but confident and goes dutifully to attend them. Then her mood changed and the fear set in.

    The Commission, headed by her Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk are reading out a list of names and charging Anne with adultery with three men, including the musician, Mark Smeaton. This was ridiculous, surely, absurd. How dare these people speak to her, the Queen in this fashion! Anne was angry and worried and confused but she kept her composure and addressed these bullies with firm denials of the baseless charges against her. Norfolk is recorded as saying Tut Tut Tut, because he didn’t believe her. Anne could do nothing more but return to her apartments and prepare herself.

    Anne sat down to dinner and awaited her fate. She really appeared too calm, but inside she was terrified. What will happen to her now? She didn’t have long to wait because she was soon escorted to the Tower of London. The Tudors have already turned it into a place of imprisonment and fear, although it was also a Royal Palace and she is obviously not going there for her own security. A warrant has been brought from the King for her arrest and she hasn’t even been given time to pack or say farewell to her daughter. She will travel by barge in full view of the people to her prison. She will be attended by four women to spy on her, chosen by Cromwell and everything she said was written down. Anne accepted her fate because of her own confidence in her innocence and inner faith and courage. However, emotionally she was falling apart.

    Met by the Lieutenant of the Tower, not the Constable, Anne was escorted into its forbidding walls. Here she began to crack and fall on her knees praying for mercy from the Lord and then she became defiant. Anne was formally charged with adultery and knows now that three men are involved. However, the full details are withheld from her. Later, she is handed over to the Constable and asks if she will go to a dungeon. When told no, that her own royal apartments await her, Anne became hysterical. Her composure completely collapsed and she fell to her knees weeping. Anne proclaimed that she was not good enough for this treatment. Later, visited by a concerned Mr William Kingston, the Constable again, Anne took to asking about her brother but he will not yet inform her that George Boleyn has also been arrested and is in the Tower. Anne wept again and again and was very distressed. She knows that Sir Henry Norris has been arrested and Mark Smeaton and she has been accused of adultery and treason. She proclaimed herself the King’s true wedded wife, that no man has touched her and that she is free from sin, meaning sexual sin. She then begged to have the Sacrament of the Alter brought to her room, before which she wished to pray. For people who are not certain what that means, it is the Blessed bread or wafer which becomes for us the Body of Jesus taken in Communion. This is called the Eucharist and when blessed one is housed in a special container and placed on the Alter or in the Santuary of a Chapel before which people make petitions to God or bow in adoration of Jesus. Here is the traditional side of Anne Boleyn, the Catholic in her, something she never actually rejected. Anne is asking for the Eucharist to the placed in a holy monstrance and then placed on the Alter in her chamber. There is some debate as to whether or not this was granted because it was sometimes withheld from those condemned of capital crimes or heresy unless they repented. However, Anne hadn’t been condemned and therefore there was no reason why her request should be refused. Its just that we have no further information about it.

    Anne was clearly hysterical and filled with foreboding and fear. She knew that there was a possibility she would be condemned and may die. Adultery wasn’t a capital crime but treason was. There was only one sentence for a woman, burning. Anne had seen a prophecy that a Queen of England would be burnt and took it seriously. She knew that she had enemies who would condemn her and she had seen others sent to their deaths. Anne was blamed for the death of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher and the monks. She had many enemies at Court and her friends dared not help her now. She asked for a fair trial but Anne must have know as the doors of her rooms were locked behind her for that first long night of imprisonment, that was a forlorn hope.

  2. George Boleyn was of course also arrested on 2nd May and taken to the Tower. He had tried to reach the King at Whitehall and been arrested instead. We don’t have the details because much of what we know was written in detail by William Kingston about Anne as requested by Cromwell. However, Sir Henry Norris was also taken to the Tower, having failed to convince the King that he was innocent.

    Kingston didn’t inform the Queen of the arrest of her brother and she was wondering what had happened to him. Kingston would certainly have known if George had arrived so we can assume he lied to spare her one more shock inher hysterical state of mind or that George hadn’t arrived as yet. George Boleyn was accused of the shocking crime of incest with his sister, the Queen. If it wasn’t bad enough to be accused of adultery and treason, this was added now as well, which was truly abhorrent. Anne and George were both familiar with the Bible and knew that such a sin condemned them to Hell. It was horrendous for them to face such a charge. This was the most scandalous thing that they could be charged with and it rocked the capital. If the Queen was guilty of incest, then the question on the lips of everyone was, what else, what other evils could she have committed? What else indeed? This was only the beginning as there was a lot more to come.

  3. Where was the King, during all of this? Henry had paid a visit to his illegitimate son and sent a message to his daughter, Mary to tell them that they should be glad to be free of the concubine, Anne, because she had plotted to poison them and had slept with up to 100 men. While Anne wasn’t charged with 100 men, Cromwell had obviously made such a claim in relation to the rumours about her. Actually 7 men were eventually imprisoned, but 5 executed and Francis Bryan was also questioned. The first three arrested we know, Mark Smeaton, George Boleyn and Sir Henry Norris. The others were young Sir Francis Weston, who had served as a royal page, Sir William Brereton, a rival of Thomas Cromwell, both also executed; Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page, both locked up and later released. Cromwell needed to make it look convincing after all.

    Anne wasn’t accused of poisoning her stepchildren either. There’s no real evidence to support such a claim but Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond was fond of Anne as far as we know. Mary Howard, his wife was chosen for him by Anne and they don’t seem to have objected. Henry was simply trying to poison his son against her and he probably wanted sympathy. On the other hand Mary was waiting hopefully for the end of her evil stepmother. She had no love for the woman responsible for her banishment from her father. Anne hadn’t been kind to Mary and had made threats against her in the past. She probably had mental health issues at the time and Mary didn’t make it easy for Anne either. Anne wasn’t fully to blame for Mary’s treatment, her father was as well and he demanded her full submission before he accepted her back again. Mary was told to rejoice in her fall even before Anne was arrested, so her fate was already sealed.

    1. Henry had left the May Day tournament so abruptly that it made people notice and murmur, it was not usual behaviour from a monarch unless for instance, something catastrophic had happened, for example the Spanish fleet had just been seen of the channel, and England was thus under threat of invasion, so what had happened to make the king decide to leave halfway through? He said nothing to his queen and thoughts must have been racing through her mind and maybe she had a dread moment of inkling that it was to do with her, Henry mounted his horse and rode back to Westminster where he must have held an urgent meeting with the council, after dispatching Norris to the Tower, we can assume he therefore stayed at Westminster and according to one source, he had Mary and both Fitzroy bought to him, and he embraced them both and told them they were fortunate to have escaped the wrath of the cursed and venomous wh*re who had tried to poison them both, according to the source Henry became quite emotional and tearful, was he play acting ? Surely he did not believe that Anne would have actually tried to kill her stepdaughter and stepson, and besides I have often thought that, Fitzroy was married to her cousin Mary Howard yes she had arranged it, so why would she wish to kill him, and yes she was not charged with plotting to kill them both, Cromwell must have thought the charges of adultery high treason incest and planning the murder of her husband was enough, adultery was not enough to condemn her to death but the assassination of her most illustrious lord and husband King Henry V111 was, that was high treason, and later the law was changed to make adultery in a queen treason, or the intention to commit adultery, which much later was to condemn the unfortunate Queen Catherine Howard.

  4. That’s an old one, tell the accused others have already confessed to crimes with them, Anne because she was innocent knew Norris would never confess to such an evil charge, and as for Mark Smeaton she must have had a shrewd idea he had been tortured or threatened with torture, she had been expecting something awful to happen to her for months she knew her marriage was dead, that the love the king once had for her was dead, she knew that her enemies wished her gone and must have thought that it was they who had whispered words of evil to the king, another thought surely one more frightening and deadly than the other, would have told her this was the kings doing, and in that moment she must have felt so alone so completely abandoned, for what chance did she have if it was her husband once so adoring who was behind this dreadful turn of events? She had been out of favour really with the king since her last fatal miscarriage, she knew he was bitterly disappointed in her and he had a new sweetheart, the insipid and rather dull mistress Jane Seymour, her half cousin of the blood and one of her ladies in waiting, maybe in that superstitious age she thought it was nemesis come to exact the ancient act of revenge, after she herself being lady in waiting to a queen herself had supplanted her and taken her crown and husband, there is nothing worse than not knowing what is happening to one self, and as Anne climbed out of the barge her resolve began to crumble and she began to babble and weep, Kingston must have felt very uncomfortable as men are when faced with a hysterical woman, he escorted her to her luxurious apartments and there she found several women who were to wait on her during her stay in the Tower, however these women were really meant to spy on her and they were not her friends, something she complained about, but they were not chosen for her comfort, one of them was her uncles wife and Lady Kingston, her aunt was quite spiteful to her taunting her with sarcastic remarks, another was a mistress Cosyns and there is a myth that one of them was her own niece Catherine Cary, however that has been disproved because she was too young at the time to attend on her aunt the queen, Anne was alternately weeping and laughing, she must have presented a pitiful image and it is heartbreaking to visualise this woman, only about thirty five a mother to a young child still a toddler, locked up in the most feared fortress in the land, charged with high treason and adultery knowing there was no one who could come to her aid, only the day before she had resided over the May Day celebrations, she had sat in her chair of state and had been waited on and people bowed and curtsied to her, now she was a prisoner her husband did not wish to see her, she could only shout her innocence to the walls and pray in vain for justice, pray that this was all a huge misunderstanding and her name would be cleared, but no such thing happened, her brother was also in the Tower and we have no record of what he said when he was told what charges he faced, or when he first arrived at the Tower, but we can imagine the sick horror both he and his sister felt when told they were accused of incest, I agree I thing Kingston kept the news of her brothers arrest from Anne because she was in a highly emotional state, Anne later mentioned tragically for him, young Francis Weston by recalling a conversation they had both had, it was just all chit chat courtly love banter, but it was twisted to sound treasonous, and so Weston was charged with adultery also and brought to the Tower, yes there were two others arrested, one was Thomas Wyatt the celebrated poet and an old admirer of Anne’s, although he declared his passion for her had all been spent, fortunately for him he was friends with Cromwell the alleged instigator of it all, it is believed these two men were also arrested to make the charges look more sound as they were later released, it must have been an awful time with men and women at court looking over their shoulders, Anne’s women were also subject to questioning and we do not know what they said, but it appears to have just been women’s idle gossip, because at the sham of her trial later, it was noted by one observer it was just all bawdy talk, and the charges of adultery and treason all just hung on the confession of Mark Smeaton, however the charge of incest with her brother was proper mud slinging, and it must have filled the queen with horror because this showed to her, just how much her enemies wished to destroy her, however all her co accusers were vehemently denying any wrong doing, and people began to grumble at the ill treatment of the queen, it was a fraught toxic time and at the centre of it was one wronged and frightened woman, and five wronged and frightened men, the supporters of the Lady Mary and the Seymour clan and their friends were rejoicing, and Sir Charles Brandon who had never liked her, Chapyus although Anne’s enemy, found the charges difficult to believe, in Europe they must have been amazed at the events which were taking place, they had all been shocked when the English king had discarded his Spanish bride and married his concubine, now it seemed he was about to discard his second, after splitting England free from papal authority to be with her, the events were moving incredibly fast and Anne incarcerated in the Tower, alternated between utter despondency and the desperate futile hope of the condemned.

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