2 May 1536 – The Arrest of Queen Anne Boleyn

The Court Gate of the Byward Tower, Tower of London
The Court Gate of the Byward Tower, Tower of London
It appears that Anne Boleyn was watching a game of real tennis on 2nd May when a messenger arrived telling her that the King had ordered her to present herself to his privy council.

Anne Boleyn left the tennis match and presented herself in the council chamber in front of a royal commission consisting of the Duke of Norfolk (her uncle), Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir William Paulet. 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. Anne was then taken to her apartments until the tide of the Thames turned and then, at two o’clock in the afternoon, she was escorted by barge to the Tower of London.

Upon arrival at the Tower, it is likely that Anne would have entered through the Court Gate (Tower Gate) of the Byward Tower, rather than through Traitors’ Gate.1 She was met by Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower, and taken to the Royal Palace where she encountered the Constable of the Tower, Sir William Kingston. Kingston wrote letters to Thomas Cromwell to keep him informed of Anne’s behaviour and the things she said during her imprisonment. In a letter dated 3rd May, he wrote of Anne’s arrival at the Tower:

“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.”2

Sir Henry Norris had been taken to the Tower of London at dawn that day and Mark Smeaton was also imprisoned there, the only one of the men to be kept in chains. George Boleyn would soon be joining them there.

Notes and Sources

Snippets from The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway.

  1. Wriothesley, Charles. A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, 36. Also Stow, John. Annals of England to 1603, 964.
  2. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536, 793.

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7 thoughts on “2 May 1536 – The Arrest of Queen Anne Boleyn”
  1. Weird twist.

    May 2nd: Henry viii meets illigitimate son, Fitzroy, for the first time.
    May 2, 2015: HRH new baby Cambridge is set to be born

    July 22nd : Henry Fitzroy dies
    July 22, 2013: HRH Prince George of Cambridge is born.

    So eerie, don’t you think?

    1. I don’t believe this is the first time Henry met his son, he met him as a child a number of times, met him when he made him a Duke, and several other times. It’s a little eerie though that he had a series of interventions in the future of his son, planned to have Parliament pass a law naming him as heir, that he then died. Seventeen year old Richmond attended Anne’s execution, an experience that disturbed him, he fainted. He was clearly ill afterwards, but probably died of the Tudor family curse, consumption.

      1. Why are the males the one that seem most likely to die from consumption? Is there a medical reason for the males having less resiliency to the disease? Or was it due to the fact the a male heir, being more desired, was coddled to a point of basic unhealthiness that let an opportunistic illness carry them off more easily?

  2. They lied when they told Anne Smeaton and both Norris had confessed, Norris went on to declare his and Anne’s innocence till he died, that’s an old trick and they use that today to trip people up, I never knew that Richmond had fainted at Anne’s execution why did he go one wonders? He must have had a nervous disposition .

    1. Why would anyone need to have a “nervous disposition” to faint when they see a person die ? As if it wouldn’t be a very awful experience ?

  3. Smeaton may have confessed but Norris had not done so, in fact he had told Henry several times that he was innocent as was the queen. Norfolk in another report is said to have been really cruel to his niece by denouncing her as a wh*re and calling her all sorts; he was rough in his manner and disrespected her as Queen. Anne had much to complain about from this. She was distressed when she arrived at the Tower, she fell to her knees and she prayed for mercy; she was upset at the fear of may-be going to a dungeon, she even declared that the royal apartments were too good for her, but then she regained her composure. Anne showed her devoution by asking for the Blessed Sacrament to be placed in her room to aid her in prayer for mercy. This must have given her some comfort in the next 17 terrible days. Poor Anne, one moment she is enjoying a royal pleasure watching tennis, the next she is in the Tower. She must have known something was going on as she had sent for her daughter a few days beforehand, pleaded with her husband for love and mercy and another chance, and she had committed her child to her chaplain for protection. A very distressing situation for the poor lady.

  4. Poor Anne. What a distressing day for her. She was probably wondering “who has accused me? And why?” Although I think she knew she wasn’t liked by everyone at court and unfortunately for her and for Elizabeth, the people who wanted to get rid of her got their way, whether it was by the King’s own wish or from the poison he was hearing from Cromwell and others, about her.

    I don’t understand what it means in the letter when Kingson wrote that she “opened her gown”? Can anyone explain?

    Also does anyone know where the tennis match was being played?

    And why do you think she laughed when Kingston told her that even the “poorest subject the King hath hath justice”? At first I thought it was because she knew Henry always got his way, one way or another. But now I’m thinking maybe she knew too many people disliked her that she didn’t have a chance of life after this accusation?

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