On this day in 1536, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, received a message of comfort from his wife, Jane Boleyn.

What do we know about this message?

I share what the contemporary sources tell us about the message and also what else happened on 4th May 1536.

I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.

You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.

If you prefer reading articles to watching videos, you can click here to read my article on Jane Boleyn’s message, and click here to read more about Weston and Brereton.

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9 thoughts on “4 May 1536 – A message of comfort for George Boleyn”
  1. I am simply at a loss as to how some interpret Jane’s letter as some kind of deceit. The message seems very sincere and heartfelt from wife to husband.

    These daily vidz really do emphasize how quickly this all went down.

  2. Contrary to what is often said about Jane Lady Rochford I believe she sincerely cared about her husband and there was some affection there, which is evident in her warm letter she wrote him, as you say Michael, it sounds a very sincere caring letter from a wife to her husband who is known to be in danger, and here’s another point in Janes favour, she was not one of the women included as evidence in the charges against her husband and the queen, the other four were written down and recorded for posterity why not Jane? This goes to show that there really is no evidence at all for her alleged jealousy against George and his sister, and it is just a huge myth woven around her that she, resentful because of her husband’s devotion to her sister, contributed to their downfall, and over the years her reputation has been blackened rather like Anne Boleyns, she has been painted as a shrew and a gossip, Chapyus referred to her as ‘that bawd’, but apart from her collusion in Queen Catherine Howard’s behaviour years later, there is no other evidence of wrongdoing against her, it’s such a pity part of the despatch about Janes letter to her husband was damaged but we can infer it was a warm compassionate message, poor Jane must have been shocked when the queen was arrested then her husband, and she must have worried about her future as she knew like many of her contemporaries, that the Tower once entered, never left its grim grey walls, the very real fear she must have felt came out years later when she was charged with being complicit in Catherine Howard’s betrayal, the breakdown she suffered was evident of the fear and anxiety she had to go through a second time, it was lovely seeing you on your balcony again Claire with the wonderful scenery behind you, and I love your Mediterranean plants, it must be very warm there now as your wearing your t shirt! Actually can you tell me what part of Spain you live in please if you don’t mind of course?

  3. There is one person and one person only who contributed to the fall of Anne Boleyn, that was the unfortunate and terrified Mark Smeaton. The various women blamed for her downfall are all scapegoats.

    There are four of them, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, wife of George Boleyn, the most famous and the one history blames for the testimony that Anne had slept with his sister; Elizabeth Browne, wife of Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester, whose quarrel with her brother over the fatherhood of her baby implicated the Queen in various affairs, including her brother and Mark Smeaton, because her brother took her words to Cromwell and then the King; the mysterious Nan Cobham who is mentioned by Justice Spelman and John Hussey in a letter to Lady Lisle, but we know nothing else about her; another unnamed lady, described as a maid. Eric Ives identified this young woman as Margery Horsman, who was a good friend of Queen Anne, very close to her and her Lady of the Wardrobe and she had shared her grief when her dog was killed. She too was connected to Lady Lisle.

    In the documents we have nowhere is Jane Boleyn mentioned and it is unlikely that a wife would write to her husband that she was going to intercede with the King for him would then turn King’s evidence against him. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Jane is blamed by too many historians on the basis of very little evidence and yet Mrs Gossip herself, Lady Worcester isn’t even given a second glance. One historian is the exception to the rule, Professor George Bernard who actually believes that Anne is guilty and gives full credit to Lady Worcester who “was in a position to know what was going on”. Seriously! Yes, so was every woman in Anne’s private apartments. I don’t see any of them gossiping about the Queen. Bernard claims that Lady Worcester is telling the truth and has no motivation to make all this up. No, but she has an annoying brother who is practically calling her an adulterous wh*re who is having another man’s baby. Her response was to say the Queen was the one who didn’t have her house in order and that it was a place of scandals. It was after some pressure that she blamed Anne for having an affair with Smeaton and her brother. Her brother, Anthony Browne went to Cromwell and another friend and told them everything and they informed the King. This is according to the famous poem by Lancelot de Carles but a more likely story was that Sir Anthony was working with Cromwell to get rid of a rival and nuisance, his brother in law, William Brereton, the latter’s opponent in North Wales. He most likely used his influence over his sister in order to get her cooperation. Nobody did anything at Court without a political motive. It was Elizabeth Browne then who provided testimony against George Boleyn and not his much maligned wife. The content of that evidence isn’t known but it didn’t take long for George to be hit with the heinous crime of incest. Prof Bernard also argues against the impossibility of Anne’s adultery by saying how easy it was to sneak out from one palace to the next and that her ladies probably got away with helping her by giving evidence for the prosecution. This is in my opinion, ridiculous.

    For one thing until May 1536 there wasn’t even a hint of scandal around the Queen. It wasn’t that easy for her to slip out and nobody was blamed or issued with a pardon for helping her. Her women would have had to do more than just close their eyes to adultery and the number of lovers she had would require more than one or two bringing them to her chambers. Half the time she was meant to be having an orgy in her chambers Anne was pregnant or recovering from pregnancy or thought she was pregnant. Intercourse during pregnancy was considered dangerous for the baby and while confined for six weeks afterwards she had no contact with anyone other than her ladies. Anne was never alone and if the women turned King’s evidence to save themselves from being prosecuted with her, then why are no pardons issued for them and why don’t we know more details? All that Bernard has to go on is based on gossipy accusations like many on social media today and they don’t provide proof of anything. The two people accused are the last people Anne would sleep with, especially to get pregnant. Incest was the worst thing she could be accused off, punishment in the next life was certain. She looked down her nose at Mark as a person much below her and she told him so. Why would she have a child with a musician, even a talented and highly prized one? Even arguing about irregular impotence makes no sense as Henry would be more likely to know he wasn’t the father if he suffered periods of impotency. The only information we have about Henry’s alleged bedroom problems was an offhand statement which Anne said to her sister in law that Henry had neither the stamina nor abilities to satisfy a woman, read out by George Boleyn at his trial. This is hardly unbiased testimony and no other evidence corroborated it. It was the words of a wife to a husband, not the evidence of a bitter wife against that husband.

    We have no other evidence to support any claims that Jane Boleyn brought down her husband or the Queen, her sister in law. Because Lady Rochford helped Kathryn Howard to meet her alleged lovers she has wrongly been accused of being a spy for Cromwell and for being the one who out of revenge for a loveless marriage that she gave him all kinds of false evidence about George and the Queen. In fiction she is shown in an alliance with the Duke of Norfolk or as an abused wife or a tittle tattle. However, this is drama, not history and if anything she was a loyal wife who stood by her husband.

  4. Mrs Gossip ha that made me laugh! It’s true however that all the blame is placed on Lady Rochford, in the Tudors it showed Jane telling Cromwell outright that Anne and George were sleeping together, such nonsense, Lady Worcester a married woman was having an affair with one man, and so according to the double standards of the day, her brother admonished her, it was that ill fated conversation that helped to bring down the queen, Cromwell said afterwards he thought the whole thing up, more than likely he was trying to seek all other avenues of bringing the queen down, but the gossip about the queens household made by Lady Worcester could have given him the idea of charging the queen with adultery, it was all so easy, round up a few of her women, frighten them into making convenient confessions and hey presto, you have a case! What sort of mind can cold bloodedly plot the death of a queen and five men is beyond me, but it shows us all too clearly the mind set of those days and how the need for survival overtook the basic human feelings of pity and mercy.

    1. Cromwell had the kind of mind to do just that. Once Henry put him to work he knew his henchman would be the perfect man to make a case by any means. He even did what would make it look good, he brought in other suspects who were not charged and released or just locked up. Page, Bryan and Wyatt got off scot free for various reasons, but it made it look like a proper investigation. That is how clever all this was. Cromwell probably put on a good show, which was what treason trials were all about.

      Anyway, I have to go and get ready now as we are going out for something to eat for my birthday.

      Take care.

  5. Thomas Cromwell unfortunately doesn’t come off very well during this terrible episode but we do have to remember he wasn’t the one ultimately in charge. Instigator or merely giving permission while Cromwell did the dirty work remember two things about Henry Viii in 1536.

    This is not the young King who executed with reluctance only after the evidence had been perused and who deferred to his advisers and council.
    Henry Viii was now one of the most powerful men not only in England and Wales but in European political circles. He had usurped the power of the Holy Catholic Church in England and cut off any appeals outside of the country. He took the financial benefits from the Church and now he was telling Cromwell to lay the legal groundwork for the greatest land transfer in our history, the lands belonging to the 900 or so religious houses in England and Wales. Henry was now fully Supreme Head of the Church in England (not of). Everyone in public service, in the Royal service, in office, over a certain age and so on had to swear to this by oath or the treason act allowed them to be tried and executed for treason.
    Henry Viii had what we might jokingly call a big head or big ego and was generally a confident person in public at least, he had this from just a short time into his reign but the power he gained now really went to his head and few dare question him anymore. Henry ruled with law and Parliament but he learned how to manipulate both for his own will to become law. His bang on the ponce and a bitter and lengthy divorce, public opposition and criticism made him worse and he could now add a dose of paranoia.
    Thomas Cromwell was the man who practically ran the country on a practical level but at the end of the day he was a servant and had to do the King’s will. Henry may not have been the confident person he presented and he was also easily persuaded that someone was out to get him. That is the judgement of John Matusiak in his biography comparing Henry to Nero, which is a big exaggeration but certainly some of those qualities became obvious during his last decade. He had a way of turning against someone and believed any rubbish to back up his now confirmed and convenient assessment of that person. Cromwell would not find it hard to persuade Henry his wife was a sexual predator who was plotting to kill him.
    However, Henry still had the real power and Cromwell could not investigate treason without his consent or direct orders. This is why even if Cromwell came up with the initial idea and brought his fears about Anne to the King, it was Henry who had to order him to get rid of her by any means necessary and give him a free hand to investigate and find evidence against her. At the end of the day Cromwell could say he thought the Queen was sleeping with half the Court and provide half a dozen forced confessions and Henry could throw him in the Tower for bringing slander against the Queen.

    So why did it all go down now? The answer is Anne herself. Anne behaved as any Queen was expected to, she was the Queen of Love and Beauty on May Day, she danced and made small talk with male courtiers, she was a patroness and she showed people favour. She was gracious and feminine, the female to the masculine and harsh rule of the King. She counter balanced him. Anne went further, however, she was probably too flirtatious and she had a Court and a country full of enemies. It’s like a popular football manager who has brought success and has a great rapport with the fans but who is suddenly sacked after years at the club only to be replaced by a more reserved and less well-known young manager from a lower division who knows they have to prove themselves. They start off o.k. you know you beat Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Dortmund all in one go and then get beat by Stoke 6 0 at home, following a bore draw with Everton. Then you go out of the cup. The fans are quickly baying for your blood. Reason says give him time, passion demands an immediate turn around. The rest of the first half of the season is up and down, then you buy Messie, Salah and Suarez and Hazard and Van Dijk. The entire team is transformed so the manager has another chance. However, you still don’t win any silverware during the next two seasons. The holy grail is just out of reach and not only that the most popular players are suddenly sold to pay the wages of Messie. The manager has never been accepted and now the fans have a reason to demand he is gone and soon. The owners are under pressure, the press prints rumours of various upsets in the dressing room, this that and the other and the owners act, ruthlessly and swiftly. It doesn’t matter if the press nonsense is true or not, the reputation of the club is at stake, that comes first. The manager has to go after just a couple of seasons. In football we can’t execute the failed management but it’s the same thing, they are ruining them. The Court had been the focus of a passionate and wonderful love match for eighteen years, the couple were immensely popular and the Court admired abroad. Henry and Katherine of Aragon had a good partnership, despite the tragic loss of their children and their fans, the public adored both of them as did most people at Court. Anne had been painted as an interloper, a wh*re, a homewrecker, the evil other woman who destroyed the marriage of their beloved King and Queen and now she was Queen, she had one tremendous role model to live up to. From the moment Anne was crowned she had the unfortunate and unrealistic expectations of an entire nation on her shoulders. Her behaviour had to be impeccable and without reproach. Henry could bounce from woman to woman as many times as he wished ( not that he did) but although adultery wasn’t actually a crime it was sinful and shameful and damaging in a Queen. (It was and is a sin anyway of course). The legitimacy of the succession was in doubt and any behaviour which went beyond normal fun and games was naturally suspected and could be turned quickly into something more sinister. Anne was actually not too bad as Queen but she made enemies and most of them were pretty powerful in their own right. While the Montague, Poles, Seymour, Carew, Lisle and Suffolk families may not be as powerful as they once were, these families all had good reasons to want Anne out of the way. They paid her lip service, they bent the knee, they put on a loyal face, but they waited for Anne to fall out of favour and struck like a nest of vipers. Cromwell was able to gather rumours and information from them and use it to begin to look for holes in Anne’s normally moral behaviour.

    Historians are widely divided on how and why and if Thomas Cromwell actually did turn against Anne or if he was just following orders. Reading the evidence it isn’t a straightforward scenario. Henry Viii wanted his marriage to Anne Boleyn terminated and began to question it in March 1536 and consulted experts on the possibility of an annulment. He thought his marriage was cursed and he would have no male children with her. He also began to see Jane Seymour as a potential bride and Cromwell attached himself to the people supporting her. It was a political and not a personal move and concerned his promotion of Princess Mary and an Imperial alliance. Cromwell had several run ins with Queen Anne, despite also being on the same page as her concerning reform and he saw her as a dangerous rival during the Spring of 1536. This is a controversial view and not everyone agrees with it. Lipsomb and Greg Walker disagree as does Cromwell’s biographer, John Schofield, but Weir, MacCullough, Hutchinson, Ives and a host of others to various degrees blame Cromwell for Anne’s fall. Claire ultimately holds Henry responsible and even with some kind of Cromwell super conspiracy, Henry ultimately has to be held to blame as he was in charge.

    Cromwell and Anne Boleyn were not natural allies and she didn’t promote him, that was Henry, albeit reluctantly at first. However, she did patronize him and she did have a consensus with him in areas of social and religious reforms. She owed her crown to him and Cramner. However, Cromwell was more pro Mary and had even shown more sympathy towards Katherine of Aragon than we usually get the impression about. His attitude towards the monasteries is complicated and even contradictory. His first loyalty was to the King and he promoted his desire to inspect and eventually dissolve the monasteries on the basis of financial gain and the enrichment of the depleted royal treasury and because he supported reforms. He had already dissolved three monasteries under very controversial circumstances while working for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and helped him commit fraud. The money from these religious houses was the bane between him and Anne. The Kings political agenda saw grants go to courtiers and not to good works and Anne challenged that policy. Cromwell was also self serving in his reporting of the alleged behaviour in the houses, protecting some whom he had a personal interest in and attacking others with good reputations. Anne wanted the money to go to promote education but Henry and Cromwell didn’t. Cromwell had tried to get a system of reform through Parliament to help the unemployed but it was scaled back by the King. His motivation for supporting actions against Anne are usually seen to be more to do with his foreign policy, however. Cromwell had worked painstakingly with the King to produce a proposal for an alliance with the Empire and he and Chapuys had worked to promote the reconciliation of Mary to the Court. Over the noisy weekend of 18th to 23rd April 1536 Chapuys also had several productive meetings with the Boleyn men, Cromwell, the Seymour faction and hopefully his meeting with Henry would be just as fruitful but Henry had different ideas. Henry listened but then his mood changed and he demanded everything in writing but Chapuys was none committal. Henry demanded an apology for everything that Charles V had done to him over the last few years and gave Cromwell a dressing down. This was a great shock because he and Henry had worked towards this for some time. The next day during the Council meeting Henry was beseached to reconsider and something of an agreement was eventually worked out. However, Cromwell vanished from Court and it is now certain he was preparing to bring everything to an end with regards to Anne and Henry. Two theories are possible here: one, that Henry had for some sudden reason decided Anne definitely had to go and now was the time or two, that Cromwell suddenly saw Anne as dangerously influential once more and possibly a threat to his political ambitious alliance with the Empire.

    From 18th or 19th April when Cromwell vanished to 24th when the legal apparatus was set up by Audley and Cromwell is six days. What was happening during this period? We actually need a time machine or Brandon Stark to warg into an animal from the time and to be able to travel and witness events as we don’t actually know the answer. We only have a clue from a letter in which Cromwell told Chapuys that he had made it all up, but he also says he acted on the King’s initial orders. We can deduce that Cromwell told Henry something which made his blood boil and move from wanting an annulment to potentially wanting a more permanent solution to his unpopular marriage. Henry was being told by Jane that his marriage to Anne wasn’t popular, being given comforting by her and she was presenting herself as an alternative Queen. Cromwell may well have been ordered that fatal day to end things and what might happen if he got it wrong. He turned as white as a sheet and then he left. I believe he was told that Henry wanted to be rid of his wife and Cromwell knew he didn’t mean an annulment. Cromwell had his own motivations to play ball apart from being a loyal service. He imagined Anne back in the favour of her husband and he feared his own survival because of an earlier threat against him. I believe Cromwell for once felt vulnerable and saw his previous foreign policy slipping away. Anne was against any reinstatement of Mary and Jane Seymour was an advocate for the Princess. Cromwell had visited her to negotiate the terms on which she may find her way back into favour in March at Hudson. Henry may agree with Mary being back at Court but he wasn’t going to be told what to do with his own daughter and the succession as Chapuys had tried to do. If Henry thought Cromwell had influenced this move, maybe Henry suspected him of treason or Anne may persuade her husband of this. Cromwell may have plenty in common with Queen Anne, but he had one strong motivation to move against her, survival. Henry was ruthless and unpredictable when crossed and Cromwell may well have imagined the worst. Either way, he was willing to do whatever it took, whatever Henry desired to bring her down. Six days later, his preparations were in place, the legal Commissions to try crimes of treason and murder and rebellion were set up in Kent and Middlesex in order to prevent any delays once charges were finally brought and Cromwell was ready with the traps laid open.

    I don’t go with the evil Cromwell simply went away and invented the whole thing, that doesn’t work. I do go with the desperate Cromwell reportedly brought evidence of rumours about the Queen and was given leave to investigate and with a free hand that great mind thought up the most ridiculous and effective case against a Queen ever created. It appears that Henry himself was playing a double bluff, events carried on as usual and at the same time he declared he hoped for children, but we think this meant with Jane not Anne. Henry delayed his trip to Calais but sent orders for the arrangements to be finalised. Cromwell consulted again with annulment experts and talked about merely abandoning Anne. Then the traps closed as the victims more or less convicted themselves. Mark Smeaton was arrested, questioned and confessed, there were fatal conversations with Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton and after Smeaton implicated him, leading to Norris being arrested. The Queen, her brother, Western and Brereton are arrested, based on more conversations and rivalries and as easy targets made believable as the Queen’s lovers by Cromwell. Three others were arrested, one, Bryan immediately let go, the others, Page and Wyatt held in order to give the impression of a genuine investigation into plots and conspiracies against the King. Cromwell was effective and efficient and he could take the smallest most innocent piece of gossip and turn it into a convincing, if desperate case against the Queen and her five alleged lovers. He was a brilliant mind, he was the King’s man and he was cold and ruthless. Who else would a King who had now turned against his wife and lover of the last ten years use to bring down a woman he now appears to have hated? It might not be the most dastardly and audacious plot ever fashioned as Alison Weir claimed but it was certainly dangerous and heartless and Cromwell was without scruples when it came to the King’s will. Anne and those accused with her never stood a chance and Cromwell benefited the same as many others for the service of ridding Henry Viii from a wife he no longer needed or wanted.

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