4 May 1536 – A Wife’s Letter, Further Arrests and a Queen Cruelly Handled

A portait of a man thought to be Sir Francis Weston.
A portait of a man thought to be Sir Francis Weston.

Following the arrest of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, his wife, Jane, wrote him a letter of comfort, promising to “humbly [make] suit unto the king’s highness”1 for him. This meant that she was going to petition the King on George’s behalf. There is no record of her doing so, but then the records from this period of 1536 are incomplete, with various letters being destroyed in the Ashburnam House fire of 1731. We don’t know what Jane did on George’s behalf or how she was feeling about the arrests of her husband and sister-in-law. She surely must have been terrified.

Also on this day in 1536, there were two further arrests. Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton, members of the King’s privy chamber, were arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Weston’s arrest was predictable, coming after the Queen’s ramblings about him telling her he loved her, but Anne had not mentioned Brereton and he was not close to her.

Sir William Brereton was a rather colourful character with power in Chester and North Wales. He was also close to Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond, and the Duke of Norfolk. Maybe his arrest was more to do with Thomas Cromwell’s plans for reform in the administration of North Wales, it is impossible to say. George Constantine, Sir Henry Norris’s servant, had this to say of Sir William Brereton:

“By my troeth, yf any of them was innocent, it was he… And he tolde me that there was no way but one with any matter. For I did aske hym and was bold apon hym because were were borne within foure myles together, And also we wente to grammar scole together. And the same daye afore two of the clock was he in the towre as ferre as the best. What was layed against hym I know not nor never hearde.”2

There were now five men in the Tower of London: Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris, George Boleyn, Sir Francis Weston and Sir William Brereton.

As I have previously said, Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, was ordered to make regular reports to Thomas Cromwell regarding Anne Boleyn’s imprisonment in the Tower. Obviously, Anne could say things that her enemies could use against her. For that reason her ladies in the Tower were appointed by Cromwell and ordered not to speak to Anne unless Lady Kingston was present to remember or record what was said.

The ladies chosen to serve Anne in the Tower were:

  • Mrs Mary Orchard – Anne’s former nurse and the only one who would have been sympathetic to Anne’s plight and shown her love.
  • Mrs Stonor (Margaret or Anne Foliot) – Wife of Sir Walter Stonor, the King’s sergeant-at-arms.
  • Elizabeth Wood, Lady Boleyn – Wife of Thomas Boleyn’s younger brother, Sir James Boleyn of Blickling Hall, and therefore Anne’s aunt. Although Sir James Boleyn had served Anne as her chancellor, he was a supporter of the Lady Mary.
  • Lady Anne Shelton – Thomas Boleyn’s sister and the mother of Madge Shelton. In her book on Anne Boleyn’s fall, Alison Weir puts forward the argument that Lady Shelton may have turned against Anne after her daughter was used by Anne to keep the King happy (as his mistress). Anne had also forced Lady Shelton to treat the Lady Mary cruelly.
  • Mrs Margaret Coffin (Margaret Dymoke, also referred to as Mrs Cosyns) – Wife of William Coffin, the Queen’s Master of the Horse, and a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. The Coffins were related by marriage to the Boleyns, but Mrs Coffin had been appointed to spy on Anne in the Tower. She was the lady chosen, along with Lady Boleyn, to sleep “on the Quenes palet”.3
  • Mary Scrope, Lady Kingston – Sir William Kingston’s wife. She had served Catherine of Aragon and was friends with the Lady Mary.

Anne Boleyn may have had a Queen’s household and sumptuous lodgings, but she was still a prisoner and was surrounded by women who had little sympathy for her. No wonder Anne complained to Sir William Kingston, saying, “I think [much unkindness in the] King to put such about me as I never loved.”4

Anne also complained of the treatment she had experienced at Greenwich, when she was arrested:

“Then she began to talk, and said I was cruelly handled a . . . . a Greenwich with the King’s council, with my lord of Norfolk, that he said Tut, [tut, tut!], and shaking her head two or three times.”5

In her ramblings, Anne also wondered if Henry was testing her:

“But s]he to be a Queen, and cruelly handled as was never seen; but I th[ink the King d]oes it to prove me;”6

and hoped that her bishops would speak up for her and the country pray for her:

“then she said I would to God I had my bishops, for they would all go to the King for me, for I think the most part of England prays for me and if I died you shall see the greatest punishment for me within these seven years that ever came to England.”7

After pondering this, she then talked of her death, the good deeds she had done in her life and the cruelty of the King who had surrounded her with enemies in the Tower:

“And the[n, she said, shall I be in Heaven, for] I have done many good deeds in my days, but I think ]much unkindness in the] King to put such about me as I never loved… I would have had of my own privy chamber which I favour most.”8

In another letter, Kingston reported that Anne wanted him to bear a letter from her to Cromwell which stated that it would not rain until she was delivered out of the Tower.9 John Strype commented that Anne was “thinking probably that God (who takes care of innocency) would vindicate her by giving or withholding the clouds of heaven.”10 Anne’s ramblings show her fear, her panic and hysteria, but they also show her trying to hold on to some hope and faith. She was hoping that the King was simply testing her, and she was trying to reassure herself that at least she had a place in Heaven if things continued to go wrong. Poor Anne.

By the way, some people have used Anne’s remark regarding it not raining until she was released from the Tower as proof that she was a witch. In my opinion, that’s a bit like believing that if I say “I’ll eat my hat” if something happens that I will actually eat my hat! Anne was moving from hysteria to clarity and back to hysteria during those days.

Notes and Sources

    1. LP x. 798
    2. Constantine, George. Archaeologia, or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, 23:65
    3. LP x. 793
    4. LP x. 797
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Ibid.
    8. Ibid.
    9. Cavendish, George. The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Volume 2, p221
    10. Strype, John. Ecclesiastical Memorials Relating Chiefly to Religion, and the Reformation of It, and the Emergencies of the Church of England, Under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I, 435.

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