Thomas CromwellSomething was definitely brewing at King Henry VIII’s court in late April 1536. Two commissions of oyer and terminer had been set up, writs for Parliament had been issued and now the King’s council was meeting on a daily basis.1

Meanwhile, according to Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, Sir Nicholas Carew was advising and coaching Jane Seymour and Princess Mary was being given hope:

“He [Carew] continually counsels Mrs. Semel [Jane Seymour] and other conspirators ‘pour luy faire une venue,’ and only four days ago he and some persons of the chamber sent to tell the Princess to be of good cheer, for shortly the opposite party would put water in their wine, for the King was already as sick and tired of the concubine as could be.”2

And Cromwell was busy meeting with Dr Richard Sampson, a royal chaplain and an expert on canon law. According to Chapuys, Sampson had “been for the last four days continually with Cromwell”.3 Sampson acted as the King’s proctor against Anne Boleyn in the annulment proceedings in May 1536, so it seems likely that Cromwell was discussing an annulment with him at this point.

Things were about to kick off. The first arrest happened on 30 April.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1603 – Elizabeth I’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. Click here to find out more about it.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 748, 752
  2. Ibid., 752
  3. Ibid., 753

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5 thoughts on “28 and 29 April 1536 – Something is going on”
  1. Re the moves against Anne, I recently read Derek Wilson’s A Brief History of the English Reformation, and I was struck by the way he described something that happened to Catherine Parr — and Anne Askew. Bear with me for a bit, because some scene setting is needed.

    Religious conservatives, including Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and later Lord Chancellor under Mary I, were worried about the power and influence of evangelicals close to the King, and that included the possible influence of the Queen, Catherine Parr, who, along with some of the women around her, was thought to have protestant sympathies.

    Gardiner returned from a diplomatic mission, thought the situation demanded action, and “orchestrated an immediate attack on the evangelicals of the royal inner circle. Troublesome London preachers were arrested and examined on the subject of their court contacts. … one name the cropped up as having been succoured during her imprisonment by certain ladies of the queen’s establishment was that of Anne Askew.” (Anne was already suspected of heresy.)

    Now here’s the part that struck me and reminded me of the moves made against Anne Boleyn:

    “When Henry and his wife were together the conversation sometimes turned to religion and, on one such occasion, Gardiner was present and overheard a slight disagreement between the royal couple. He grabbed the opportunity to suggest to the king that Catherine, encouraged by members of her entourage, was flirting with heresy. Henry gave him permission to investigate. It was for that reason that Wriothesley (the Lord Chancellor) was set to extract from Anne askew information which would lead to members of the queen’s inner circle.”

    Anne was racked in the Tower, and questioned about women close to the Queen, but “Their strategy failed because Anne Askew withstood her suffering and because Queen Catherine, learning of the plot, threw herself on Henry’s mercy and received his gracious forgiveness.”

    So, one of Henry’s Queens, and the people around her, are behaving in ways that might be turned against them; a wily operator sees a chance to bring down the Queen and exploits a temporary rift between the King and Queen; he is given permission to investigate; someone involved somewhat peripherally with the Queen and her circle is interrogated in hope of extracting incriminating information. … I hope I’ve managed to make that sound familiar.

    Although the parallel with Anne Boleyn’s story isn’t exact, the two stories have the same “shape”, but with variations. Here’s how the main characters line up:

    Catherine Parr — Anne Boleyn
    Stephen Gardiner — Thomas Cromwell
    Henry VIII — Henry VIII
    Anne Askew — Mark Smeaton

    Of course, there are differences. Smeaton, it seems, probably wasn’t tortured, but the information spilled out of him; Anne Askew was tortured, but she held out. Catherine Parr had a chance to throw herself on the King’s mercy; Anne Boleyn didn’t. Consequently, Anne fell, and Catherine survived.

    1. That is very interesting, Rowan. There are indeed similarities, but I think that at that stage Henry had tired of Anne. She had failed to produce a son, and Jane Seymour was waiting in the wings. In Catherine’s case, Henry had a genuine affection for her and he already had his son. He had given up the idea of finding someone else in his life. When she threw herself on his mercy, it suited him to forgive her.

      1. I think you’re right about the difference in how Henry felt about Anne Boleyn at the time when suspicion fell on her, compared to how he felt about Catherine Parr, and about the significance of Jane Seymour.

        But what if Smeaton had held out? Or Anne had a chance to throw herself on Henry’s mercy? Perhaps she could have survived. It’s a tantalising possibility that if a few things had been different, the outcome might have been different too.

        But also, one of the things that I think is shown by the way Gardiner and Co, moved against Catherine Parr is that a plot like that could happen. Some people question whether there was a plot against Anne Boleyn, and key evidence is missing. That something so similar happened to Catherine Parr makes it more credible that there was a plot against Anne (too).

    2. I agree Rowan that this is an interesting comparison. Perhaps, Skip’s sermon on Henry’s advisors played a part similar to that played by Catherine Parr’s religious statements … both being attempts by his wife to lecture Henry.

      I think, though, that Cromwell being locked up with an expert on canon law could explain why Anne was framed on criminal charges, as well as having her marriage annulled, instead of just the annulment. I think they were discussing (a) the effect of Percy’s denial of a pre-contract on one potential grounds for annulment and (b) the potential ramifications on the King’s Supremacy of the other grounds (i.e., if they claimed witchcraft and that Henry was “freed from the spell”, I would think Henry would be expected to re-unite with Rome and re-instate Mary; Henry’s union with Mary Boleyn would really make him look bad, since he knew of this from the outset)

  2. Anne must have been in turmoil even at this stage as the activity was out of the normal routine and there seems to be clues that she the centre of something going down against her. She has already asked Matthew Parker to care for Elizabeth if anything happens to her so she suspects she is in danger; why did she not do something to save herself? I know it is not easy for a queen to leave the palace; but she could have at least tried to flee to a safe place. I would have gathered Elizabeth up in the middle of the night and cloaked and with a few attendants gone out and hidden somewhere; and had someone arrange to smuggle me out of the country. It would most likely have failed, but I would have tried; that is the way I am. I would not just sit there allowing my enemies to come for me. There are incidents of royal people and others attempting to escape: some where bizarre and some even succeeded: Mary Queen of Scots escaped: did not succeed in her final attempt but did in her first; Charles I could have succeeded had he gone to France: Charles II and Henrietta Maria with her infant child made a desperate flee from Cromwells troops and succeeded; Catherine Bandon Willougby Bertie, baby and husband fled in the night; Charles Edward Stuart fled from Scotland and succeeded; Marie Antoinette and her children fled and were captured at the border as they were too well dressed; it would not be impossible to flee and to find help. Anne could have merely made an excuse to be going on a visit somewhere and used it as a cover to flee. She may have failed but it would be better than just sitting there waiting for her fall to come. (Mary Tudor was meant to be planning an escape at least twice and only failed as she changed her mind at the last moment; and may-be I feel a work of fiction coming on.)

    But to get back to reality; Anne could not have failed to notice the hive of suspicious activity around her; her ladies watching her and being questioned, Parliament being recalled for an emergency; more and more meetings with the Council on a daily basis, something that was not formally instituted until after Cromwell fell as the norm; so would have seemed odd at this time; her husband more and more absent and his coldness to her; rumours must have flew around the court and the obvious rise of her families rivals. Henry was up to something: he had already used a double bluff on Easter Tuesday and low Sunday could not have been easy for them. Mark Smeaton had vanished: was he being tortured? Rumours and counter rumours and intrigue: it is clear that Anne saw signs all was not well and wanted to see Elizabeth one last time. She will before the month is out appear at the window with her daughter to implore the King to have compassion for her sake and to have another attempt at the marriage. Then is falal May Day! But we are getting ahead of ourseves; spoilers although we know what is coming’ Anne did not, but she must have feared and suspected something was. It’s a wonder she did not sit down and make a will!

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