I am convinced that the removal of Anne Boleyn from her position as Queen by execution was a foregone conclusion and that Anne never stood a chance of clearing her name and escaping death. There was shock at the allegations against Anne Boleyn and the five men, as shown in a letter from Rowland Lee, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, written on the 7th May 1536, acknowledging receipt of letters from the Privy Council:-

“As the news in this letter is very doleful to this Council and all the liege people of this realm, God forbid it should be true.”1

but records of another letter written on the same day by Sir Henry Wyatt to his son Thomas Wyatt, who was a prisoner in the Tower, show how Anne’s guilt was generally accepted:-

“Considers himself most unfortunate that he cannot go nor ride without danger to his life, or do his duty to the King in this dangerous time that his Grace has suffered by false traitors. Desires his son to give the King due attendance night and day. “I pray to God give him grace long to be with him and about him that hath found out this matter, which hath been given him of God, and the false traitors to be punished according to justice to the example of others.” Alington, 7 May.”2

Henry Wyatt believed in his son’s innocence but seemed convinced of the guilt of “the false traitors”, Anne Boleyn, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton and Anne’s brother, George Boleyn. They had had no trial but the fact that Sir Henry believed in his son and did not believe in the innocence of the others implies that their guilt was generally accepted by people. If Cromwell had arrested Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page, and questioned Sir Francis Bryan for show, and to make people believe that he was investigating the case thoroughly, then his plan had worked.

Shall I Die Without Justice

On entering the Tower of London on the 2nd May 1536, Anne Boleyn had asked Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, “shall I die with]yowt justes?”3 (“shall I die without justice?”) and although Sir William Kingston replied that “the porest sugett the Ky[ng hath, hath justice”4 (the poorest of the King’s subjects has justice), Anne’s laugh at his statement shows that she did not believe him. Just as I am convinced that Anne’s conviction and execution were foregone conclusions, I also think that she was intelligent enough to realise this, even at this early.

Why do I think that it was all a foregone conclusion?

Well, I will be writing more about this as I examine the indictments, the trials and the ends of Anne and the five men in the next week or so, but here are a few reasons:-

  • The Commissions of Oyer and Terminer – Two commissions of oyer and terminer were set up on the 24th April 1536 by Cromwell and Audley to cover criminal offences in the counties of Kent and Middlesex, the two counties which were the locations of the alleged criminal offences committed by Anne Boleyn and the five men in the indictments. Coincidence? I think not, particularly when you consider how rarely these commissions were used.
  • Parliament – On the 27th April 1536 writs were issued summoning Parliament and a letter was sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him to attend Parliament. This was followed up on the 7th May 1536 by letters being sent out to every sheriff in England explaining that:-
    “since the dissolution of the late Parliament matters of high importance have chanced, which render it necessary to discuss the establishment of the succession in a Parliament assembled for that purpose. Writs have been already sent, which the King doubts not he will execute. Desires him to declare to the people that the calling of a Parliament is so necessary, both for the treating of matters tending to their weal and the surety of our person, that they will have cause to think their charge and time, which will be very little and short, well spent. Desires him to take care that persons are elected who will serve, and for their worship and qualities be most meet for this purpose.” Westm., 7 May. Signed with a stamp5. The fact that the succession is mentioned suggests that there was going to be some change in the succession and Alison Weir believes that these writs summoning Parliament were “paving the way for any legal process against the Queen to be formally endorsed.”6
  • The dates on the indictments – I have discussed the dates on the indictments previously, pointing out that the dates used just make no sense. Eric Ives, in “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, writes of how “three quarters of these specific allegations can be disproved. In twelve cases Anne was elsewhere or the man was”7 and he goes on to conclude that “the detailed particulars of Anne’s adultery were thus fiction.”8 Although Bernard argues that the dates were probably just guesswork by the lawyers, in that witness could not be expected to remember specific dates of events, I am of the opinion that the sloppiness of these indictments shows that the guilt of Anne Boleyn, Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, Weston and Rochford was a foregone conclusion, dates did not matter. If the prosecution wanted to present a cast iron case against Anne in a fair and just court then they would have been more careful in picking the dates and at least avoided dates where Anne was recovering from childbirth or where she was with the King! The dates did not matter, Anne was deemed guilty before she ever set foot in that Tower or court room.
  • Henry VIII’s behaviour – Chapuys wrote that “the King has shown himself more glad than ever since the arrest of the Concubine, for he has been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river”9. His merrymaking at such a time is rather tasteless and wouldn’t the cuckolded husband be distraught at the love of his life betraying him? No, not if it wasn’t true and he had had conspired against her. Being seen to be seeing other women at this time, rather than being in the company of his mistress Jane Seymour, may well have been a tactic on Henry’s part, he may have been distancing himself from Jane Seymour so that he didn’t look like the baddie, the man who was getting rid of one wife for a new model. Jane Seymour was actually given lodgings within a mile of the King’s residence so that they could see each other easily.
    Chapuys also wrote to Charles V on the 19th May: “I hear that, even before the arrest of the Concubine, the King, speaking with Mistress Jane Semel[Seymour] of their future marriage, the latter suggested that the Princess should be replaced in her former position;”10, so Henry had mentioned marriage to Jane Seymour before Anne was even arrested on the 2nd May! Court gossip perhaps but it’s interesting nonetheless.
  • The Sword of Calais – As I have discussed before, the French swordsman had to have been ordered days before Anne’s trial, before she was even found guilty. Weir suggests that he would have been ordered on the 14th at the latest and possibly as early as the 9th or 10th11.
  • Anne Boleyn’s household was broken up on the 13th May, before her trial – Why break up her household if she could still be found innocent?
  • The speed of events – Less than a month after the commissions of oyer and terminer were set up the Queen was dead and the King had a new wife just 11 days after Anne’s death. Could thorough investigations really be carried out in such a short time? The Catherine Howard affair blew up in November 1541 yet Catherine was not executed until the 13th February 1542, so how and why did events move so fast in Anne’s case? Hmmm…

So, Anne Boleyn died without justice. Even though she was tried in front of a jury of her peers, she did not receive justice in any sense of the word. While she was in court fighting for her life, the Sword of Calais was on his way to do his job and execute her, and Archbishop Cranmer was organising the annulment of her marriage to the King. Her guilt and her death were foregone conclusions as far as Cromwell, the King and the jury were concerned, I hope they were haunted by their actions.

Happy Mother’s Day

Just to say Happy Mother’s Day to those of you in the USA and other countries which celebrate it this weekend. I wrote a post, Anne Boleyn: The Mother, back in March for the UK Mother’s Day so do have a read of it. Have a great weekend!

Notes and Sources

1 – LP x. 820 Letter from Roland Lee, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, to Cromwell, 7th May 1536
2 – LP x. 819 Sir Henry Wyatt to his son Thomas Wyatt
3 and 4 – LP x.793
5 – LP x.815 Letter from Henry VIII to Sheriffs, 7th May 1536
6 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p94
7 and 8 – The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p344
9 – LP x.908
10 – Ibid.
11 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p240

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22 thoughts on “A Foregone Conclusion”
  1. Hello. Assuming Henry and Cromwell worked together; or that Henry knew what Cromwell, on his own, was doing. why didn’t they arrange for Anne to be (secretly) poisoned? Who would care if they did? France? it would have expedited Henry’s plans. who would have dared to speak against her death? who was a threat to Henry/his kingdom – and / or spoke against her death when she was executed. ? Did anyone in Anne’s household die mysteriously, before and after her marriage? except for the plague which affected her household, is there any other incidents?

  2. I just want to say that the portrait of Anne on this article is one of the ugliest I have ever seen, she looks like a man! Claire who painted this?

  3. I think Henry and Cromwell wanted to take down the entire political faction surrounding the Boleyns. Double bonus if you can smear their reputations so thoroughly that no one will come to their defense. Triple bonus if you can blame Anne for everything you did to Katharine and thus placate the religious conservatives.

    People were already murmuring about Henry becoming betrothed to Jane before Anne’s body was cold; and THAT was with her reputation smeared and her having been executed as a traitor. Can you imagine the murmuring if Anne conveniently dies in a manner consistent with poisoning and then the ‘grieving’ widower gets betrothed the next day?

    If they’d left the Boleyn faction intact, they would have leading the charge stirring up talk about Anne having been murdered for the King’s convenience. Far better to take them all out and take care of some personal enemies (Cromwell getting rid of Brereton) at the same time.

  4. Hi Belle,
    The portrait is very ugly isn’t it? Not Anne as I imagine her! It is from the National Portrait Gallery by an unknown artist and is dated late 16th century. Perhaps the bags under the eyes are from the stress of living with Henry!

  5. Claire, I totally agree. Anne’s death was a carefully calculated political move. Great article. 🙂

  6. Yes, it was definately a forgone conclusion, but I don’t believe it was generally accepted that she was guilty. Chapuys didn’t believe it and neither did Cavendish. Although Cavendish slanders the five men and Anne in his ‘Metrical Visions’ he later accepts that they died due to the King’s love of change, thereby indicating his actual belief in their innocence.
    People comimiserated with the King for his misfortune at being deceived by his wife and friends. Of course they did, they wanted to show commitment to the monarch who had absolute power over them. But seeming to accept their guilt and actually believing they were guilty are very different concepts. There is far more evidence to show that the general belief was that Anne was innocent.

  7. I think the general people would have believed what they were told, the gossip they heard, the propaganda and rumour mills, but, yes, I feel that the fact that even Chapuys, the man who hated Anne and called her the Concubine, believed Anne was innocent actually speaks volumes about what those close to the events believed. For such a man to doubt the validity of the trial and speak of her innocence shows that not everyone had the wool pulled over their eyes.

  8. Claire do our questions help or hinder you in future posts? thank you for your excellent web site.

  9. The swordsman has always been enough for me to believe that Anne had no chance of a fair trail. Henry wanted her gone, and what Henry wanted, Henry got through whatever means available. To be honest, I’ve always wondered about Anne’s father’s role; the man was such a manipulator and exploiter of others!

  10. One question, where did you find this painting of Anne? I have seen other paintings of her but not this. Poor Anne! 🙁

    Henry wanted to get rid of Anne and he believed anything against her, so sad.

  11. I found it in a file I had of portraits wiki commons media but it’s also on the National Portrait Gallery website and I assume on display there. If it wasn’t for the B and the inscription you’d never know it was Anne would you?! Not very flattering but it does apparently date back to the late 16th century like many of the Anne portraits.

  12. How sad for poor Anne that Henry was starting to turn into such a monster! Still, I have heard she had a sharp tongue of her own. I am curious to know whether Jane had an inkling of what she was getting herself into and if she ever feared losing her head when Henry tired of her as well. I cannot believe that Henry knew nothing of what was going on and I have heard he referred to her as “That thin old woman” Henry was a womanizer it is true and it is a sad fact that he was growing impotent and blamed it on his wives. I would love any more info about Anne as much about her early life seems to be in question. Thanks in advance. L

  13. I wonder how Cromwell felt when he was the one facing execution on a scaffold. Did he ever regret that his actions in trying to please the king could be used against him? Did he ever think that he would end up like Wolsey? I think that Cromwell got what he deserved in the end and karma seems to have caught up with Henry too as his daughter, not son, proved to be one of England’s finest, if not the finest, ruler. P.S. Last week I adopted a new “daughter” – a 7 year old cat named Princess Diana. So I plan to celebrate Mother’s Day with cat nip and will remember two women who died too young but who were also very caring mothers.

  14. That portrait of Anne is on display at Montacute House (one of the NPG’s regional partners.

  15. I totally agree that Anne’s execution was a foregone conclusion… Her trial was a parody, she didn’t have a chance to prove her innocence.

  16. “I just want to say that the portrait of Anne on this article is one of the ugliest I have ever seen, she looks like a man!”

    I agree, Bella! It looks like a drag queen performing as Anne Boleyn. That’s not a very good artist – they can’t even copy a known portrait.

  17. Harry always wanted the approval of the people. Even as a child he had it more so than Arthur. He went to great lengths for the right of succession to have people publicly agree with Elizabeth as successor. The same antics occurred when he split from the RC Church– he justified it in ways the people could accept. He had absolute power, but wanted the power of the people’s adoration. When he married Anne, he lost that, and he would not risk people thinking he was unfair or that he, alone, was responsible for this. There were always power scapegoats in Harry’s court. The trial was many things, but it certainly was not fair and it was merely a way to share the blame. Anne’s final words were the only defense she was offered – after the trial- and it was powerful enough to sway the public– that didn’t like her that much — to cry out and recognize it for grave injustice. She didn’t have a chance, but any chance she took would have endangered Elizabeth and that risk is not one Anne would have sacrificed for any chance of freedom. Her death secured Elizabeth’s safety. Anne was tried as Queen of England, but Anne died as Mother of Elizabeth.

  18. I have been learning all I can about Anne I didn’t know how much Henry and Cromwell colluded to get rid of Anne maybe Henry couldn’t stand a woman who had spirit and courage he was really silly she might have been happy to go to a convent or something like that I feel really sorry for her but that was what monarch were at that time cruel Katherine of Aragons sister was locked up by her own father until she died at least Anne saw from heaven how well her daughter did

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