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Anne Boleyn: A Cheat who Deserved Death? I Don’t Think So!

Posted By on February 24, 2012

Lady Justice

Today’s article has been inspired by a comment left on the website overnight, a comment which read “Anne Boleyn was cheating on the king and was disrespectful, she deserved to be killed.” Yep, I’m on my soapbox!

Now, everyone has their own point of view and I have nothing against the person who left that comment – it just makes me want to work even harder to get Anne’s real story out there – but it is wrong on so many levels.

  1. There is no evidence that Anne cheated on the King
  2. Adultery was a sin, not a crime
  3. Anne did not deserve to be executed – Does anyone truly deserve that anyway?

The majority of historians who have studied the primary sources from the 1530s conclude that Anne Boleyn was innocent of all of the charges brought against her and that she was framed to get her out of the picture.

The bloody events of May 1536 were, in my opinion, the result of a stitch-up, a plot to get rid of the Queen and Boleyn supporters. However, there is one historian, G W Bernard, who believes that it is possible that Anne was guilty of adultery. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a mock trial. I can picture it now, G W Bernard for the Prosecution and Eric Ives for the Defence… So, let’s have a look at what evidence they might produce and what arguments they’d use if there was to be a modern day mock trial.

The Case for the Prosecution

  • Records of a conversation between Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester, and her brother, Sir Anthony Browne – The Countess accused the Queen of committing adultery with her own brother, as well as Mark Smeaton.1
  • Poem written by Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, in which he writes:-
    “She never stops her daily round
    Lubricious fun with one by one
    Just like a common whore
    When one is over for the day
    Another comes along on time
    And then another…
    Norris and Mark could not deny
    That they have often passed with her
    Many a night.”2

  • The confession of Mark Smeaton – Smeaton confessed that he had slept with the Queen three times and he stood by this confession at his trial.
  • Anne Boleyn’s “flirtatious” talk which “does allow the possibility that Anne and Norris were indeed lovers”.3 Anne’s remarks in the Tower regarding Norris, the talk of him being Elizabeth’s father and Smeaton’s confession are “enough circumstantial evidence” to put forward the idea that Anne mad committed adultery with Norris and possibly briefly with Smeaton.
  • Anne and the men were tried and found guilty.
  • Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page were arrested, suggesting that “Henry and his ministers were genuinely examining the evidence”4 and that justice was done.
  • The information regarding Anne’s infidelity “came into the ‘public domain’ by chance, by the accident of a quarrel between one of the queen’s ladies and her brother”,5 it was not part of a plot.
  • Anne gave the men gifts as bribes and love tokens – Evidence of intimacy and also of plotting.

The Case for the Defence

  • The conversation between the Countess and her brother cannot be taken seriously – “This sounds very much like exaggeration of a altercation in which Anthony Browne criticized his sister’s involvement in the lively society of the queen’s chamber and she hit back that she was no more, or even less, of a flirt than the queen.”6
  • Justice Spelman, a man who heard all of the evidence against Anne, made no mention of Lady Worcester and that he said that “all of the evidence was of bawdry and lechery”.7 If Lady Worcester’s evidence was so damning then why was she not mentioned?
  • The Countess of Worcester had borrowed some money from the Queen, without her husband’s knowledge, so it may have been in her interest to get rid of the Queen?
  • The French ambassador and his secretary were simply fed information (propaganda) from Thomas Cromwell and the King’s Council. Lancelot de Carles wrote the poem in the French embassy, “it is, thus hardly surprising that de Carles’s account is in outline congruent with what Cromwell circulated on the diplomatic network.”8 It is propaganda mixed with court gossip, and is not corroborated by other sources.
  • Anne Boleyn and the men did not have a fair trial in 1536 – “Two days before Anne appeared to plead “not guilty” the crown began breaking up her household and, according to Chapuys, Henry told Jane on the morning of the trial that Anne would be condemned by three in the afternoon. His wife was the victim of a struggle for power, and Henry at his rare moments of honesty admitted it. When he told Jane Seymour not to meddle in affairs of state, he pointedly advised her to take Anne as a warning.”9
    It also appears that the executioner must have been ordered before Anne’s trial for him to get from Calais to London in time.
  • The dates of the Middlesex and Kent Indictments do not make sense and should, frankly, be thrown out – “Investigation… shows that even after nearly 500 years, three-quarters of these specific allegations can be disproved. In twelve cases Anne was elsewhere or else the man was.”10 These dates and offences were fabricated.
  • There had been no gossip or slander surrounding the Queen until April/May 1536 – Did Anne suddenly turn into a “nymphomaniac”?11
  • None of Anne’s ladies were arrested for helping her, as in the case of Catherine Howard. How did Anne commit adultery with so many men without the help of her ladies-in-waiting? Where is their evidence?
  • Mark Smeaton was the only one of the five men to confess. We do not know what kind of pressure he was put under or whether he was offered some kind of deal, we just don’t know the details of the interrogation. The Spanish Chronicle12 reported that he had been tortured with a knotted rope around his head and Norris’s servant, George Constantine, wrote of how he’d heard that Smeaton was racked.13 We dn’t know though. According to Constantine, Sir Henry Norris was tricked into confessing but retracted it, perhaps Smeaton was also ‘tricked’.
  • Norris was offered a pardon by the King if he confessed but he did not confess.
  • Anne Boleyn’s “flirtatious talk” was part of the courtly love tradition and has been twisted to suit the Prosecution’s purpose.
  • The jury were handpicked and were prejudiced
  • Anne Boleyn swore on the sacrament that she was innocent, “deliberately hazarding her immortal soul”14 if she was lying.
  • Having sexual relations with the Queen, with her consent, did not constitute treason, so Anne and the men were also charged with plotting to kill the King. The usual gifts given by “every courtly lady”15 were turned into bribes or rewards. Anne was bound to have gifts ready on the 31st December 1535, as charged in the indictments, it was New Year’s Eve!
  • Why invent dates if those charged were guilty?
  • Margery Lyster (née Horsman) was reported to have known about the Queen’s affairs yet she went on to serve Queen Jane Seymour! Would Henry VIII really have wanted such a woman near Jane?16
  • “Not everybody accepted the government line. Oxfordshire folk recognised that Henry’s behaviour told a different tale: ‘The king for a frawde and gill caused Master Norrys, Mr Weston and the other queen to be put to death because he was made sure unto the queen’s grace that now is, half a year before'”17 and even Chapuys, the ambassador who hate Anne Boleyn, did not believe that she was guilty.
  • Anne’s fall was the result of a plot – We have evidence that Henry VIII’s interest in Jane Seymour was growing, that Jane was being coached by those hostile to the Queen, and that people like the Marquis of Exeter and his wife, the Countess of Kildare, Lord Montagu and the Seymours invited Chapuys to support them and back up Jane and the Lady Mary.18 There is also the fact that a commission of oyer and terminer was issued on the 24th April, before the arrests.
  • Thomas Cromwell admitted to Chapuys that he had masterminded Anne Boleyn’s fall and Chapuys “credited Cromwell’s claim”.19
  • The arrests and subsequent release of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Richard Page were simply an attempt to make it appear that the Crown were investigating the case properly.

I have read G W Bernard’s arguments in his book and articles, I have read those of Eric Ives, Alison Weir, Retha Warnicke and other historians, and I have been researching the primary sources for three years now and I am completely convinced of Anne Boleyn’s innocence and that of George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton. I find the idea of modern day trials of historical figures, like the Richard III trial in front of the Chief Justice of the United States, a bit weird in that we just haven’t got access to all the evidence and to any potential witnesses. In the case of Anne Boleyn and the five men, the records of the trials, interviews and interrogations are missing, only the indictments and reports of the verdict and gossip still exist today. It would, therefore, be difficult to do a mock trial.

What I do know is that Anne Boleyn and those five men did not deserve their fate. They did not deserve their lives to be cut short in such a brutal way. It was not karma, it was not God’s punishment, it was pure evil.

What do you think?

Feel free to share your thoughts no matter what your point of view!

Notes and Sources

  1. Lancelot de Carles “de la royne d’angleterre” in “La Grande-Bretagne devant l’opinion française depuis la Guerre de Cent Ans jusqu’à la fin du XVIe siècle”, Georges Ascoli
  2. Translation of de Carles, quoted in Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions, G W Bernard
  3. The Fall of Anne Boleyn, G W Bernard, English Historical Review, 1991
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p334
  7. Ibid., p345
  8. Anne Boleyn on Trial Again, Eric Ives, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 62, October 2011
  9. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives
  10. Ibid., p344
  11. Anne Boleyn on Trial Again, Ives
  12. Spanish Chronicle
  13. Constantine
  14. The Fall of Anne Boleyn Reconsidered, Eric Ives, English Historical Review, 1992
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.

114 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn: A Cheat who Deserved Death? I Don’t Think So!”

  1. Dawn 1st says:

    I have just read this and I can’t believe that no one has commented on it, maybe because the comment left by the person is such a silly, un-informed statement that its not worth raising to 🙂
    I agree Claire, it would be a very interesting concept to put together a mock trial. Maybe you could arrange one for one of your tours at Hever in the future, with the authors you mentioned, it would be so entertaining and educational…like watching a well written play.

    1. Dawn 1st says:

      O.M.G Guess what I’ve just done…(dont laff at me I can’t help it, hoho) I didnt notice the other 85 comments, (doh) because this was the start of another page, how daft is that lol…to imagine that no one would comment on a comment like that about Anne, having one of my senior moments (again). Silly Me!!! And I probably made an earlier comment too, will have to re-look, good job you can’t see my ‘red face’ :0

      1. Jena hart says:

        There’s no such thing as “a senior moment”. Don’t allow society convince you that you can’t think. That’s absurd. Do young people never make mistakes?

  2. gemma says:

    I would love to have been alive five hundred years ago so I could have got to know all these interesting and colour full people better . But my opinion of Anne is a strong willed and intelligent woman she was quite forthright in her opinion s and to me did not seem the cheating type so I think not guilty it was all made up by Henry and Cromwell because Henry had made up his mind he wanted to move on with Jane Seymour so Anne had to go one way or another.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Los argumentos de GW Bernard son muy endebles. Se basa en suposiciones y chismes.

  4. Tudor Rose says:

    They both make some interesting points in regards to the whole situation but personally speaking I think at the most all she had been guilty of was flirtation not adultery. Though each to their own. If this stood trial today the judge would have dismissed the case! Is adultery a crime? No it is a sin and if it is can a anyone be guilty of sin. Is it a crime to sin?

  5. Lynn Donovan says:

    Hi Claire,
    Yes i agree with you but let me play devil’s advocate here(ok you know I occassionally enjoy that role! lol) As far as the evidence that is available yes, Anne and the gentlemen with her were not guilty. But as some theorists have indicated possibly along with Anne’s portraits evidence” may have been destroyed.” Either by Cromwell or later on by her daughter ElizabethI. I believe we will never know the true story. No one really understands the sudden fall of Anne. Unless there is a huge discovery of documents or evidence no one will truly know the truth of Anne’s innocence or guilt. though I believe she was a victim here along with Catherine of Aragon, Mary and Elizbeth.

    1. Claire says:

      Evidence may have been destroyed but we have reports of what happened in May 1536 – the Baga de Secretis, dispatches etc. We know that no witnesses were called (Chapuys records that) and the report by Justice Spelman says that the evidence was that of Lady Wingfield, who was dead at the time but whose letters were used to suggest that Anne had been unfaithful. We will never know the full story, but we can build up a picture and even Chapuys believed Anne and the men to be innocent and that’s saying a lot, I feel.

  6. jo ann says:

    I feel that where anne and the king are concerned that it was all speculation and that the king was looking to replace anne as queen and this is reason for the trumped up charges

  7. Christine Strough says:

    Anne lived at a time where the truth was not important. For reason we will never know for sure the King wanted to get ride of her and this was the perfect solution. RIP Anne

  8. As said so many times before, Henry was desperate for an heir. His interest in Anne was obviously on the wane and he was looking around for a suitable new Queen. If Anne hadn’t been quite so feisty and intelligent maybe she’d have survived somehow though – again, as said so often – he couldn’t risk losing face by divorcing yet another Queen, particularly as he’d worked so hard to have Anne as his wife in the first place. Intelligent, but ruthless, he obviously hit on the perfect solution for his problem…. As supreme head of the church he could do what he damn well wanted but needed corroboration to pull it off. Anne appeared not to be very popular with the public and courtiers – particularly after all those years of Catherine of Aragon on throne – so it must have been fairly easy to get the mud-slinging in full swing once the decision had been made.

  9. The only “crime” Anne Boleyn ever supposedly committed was not having a son but that was not in her control was it! The crimes she was accused of and found guilty of were to get rid of her so the King could marry Jane Seymour. Sadly Anne was the first victim of Henry’s supreme power……

  10. Beckie says:

    I am not sure if this aspect has already been covered. And it is a little weird that I was thinking about this very topic last night as I watched the “Tudors” again (the end of season 2). If anyone had been thinking clearly during the trial they would have seen that no matter what happened, even if Anne had slept with 100 men, then when Henry had their marriage declared Null and Void, then Anne would not have been guilty in the first place because they were not indeed married. Just a thought….

    Love this website by the way…. I am a Tudor fan and swear I know more about their history than I know about my own. LOL!

    1. shelagh says:

      The marriage wasnt anulled until after the trial, which is tellng in itself.Of course at that point Anne should have been pardoned, or at least given a lesser sentence,along wth the men, as the “crime” they were convicted of no longer existed. Assuming they were all guilty it was no longer of adultery, merely promiscuity and that is neither treasonable, nor a crime. I have always believed that George was implicated simply to “get him out of the way” in case he caused trouble

  11. Krissy says:

    Henry realized after the birth of Elizabeth that any child born of Anne would be viewed as illegitimate. His life long goal was to produce a legitimate male heir, with Anne that would never happen. The Church would never recognize Anne as Queen and so he needed to do away with her. When the King was given the opportunity he took full advantage of it. Poor Anne, she was innocent and he knew it. I believe that is why he brought the expert swordsman from France. It was his way of “being merciful”.

    1. shelagh says:

      A good point about the legitimacy, I think if Anne had birthed the boy she lost, Henry may have hung in there,but when she miscarried that sealed her fate., I seem to remember something about him telling her “You will get no more sons wth me madam” But I am not sure if that is recorded fact or was just dramatic effect in some TV version. How long was it after the miscarriage that she was arrested? Anybody know?

  12. Katherine of Aragon died January 1536, Anne miscarried shortly afterward. Anne was arrested in early May and as the story goes Queen Anne Boleyn met her fate on tower green May 19, 1536 by a french swordsman. I hope this answers your question
    shelagh:)

  13. Melissa says:

    I was under the impression that since she was a queen consort, adultery was considered treason. To be convicted of treason meant death. Hence, the trumped up charges.

    The speculation by historians I’ve read stated that it was unknown if she committed incest with her brother. However, (and this by no means makes it right) if she did, it was because she miscarried without Henry’s knowledge and needed to get pregnant again by someone she could trust completely. She had already lost Henry’s interest, was hated by the people, was thought of by many as a witch. She HAD to give Henry a son, or it would be the end of her (not realizing how literal). If he knew of the miscarriage, it would just confirm to him that it would never be, and he had to rid himself of Anne and marry someone who would give him a male heir (not to mention his interest in Jane).

    It was really interesting to read everyone’s take on the reasoning behind it all. Personally, I think that Henry was convinced that he needed a male heir to guarantee his lineage on the throne. Nobody thought a woman could hold the throne against usurpers, or rule effectively. Catherine could have no more children: “Find me a way out!” He was not only bored with Anne, after getting what he wanted, but was also impatient after all the years of waiting for a son with Catherine: “Find me a way out!” It was extremely important to every man…every woman, too, for that matter…to have a son who will carry on the family name, business, lineage…whatever. I bet we all know someone today who feel the same.

    At any rate, I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but that was the basis of Anne’s demise.

    1. Claire says:

      No, adultery even where the Queen was concerned was not treason at this stage and therefore she, and the men, also had to be found guilty of conspiring to kill the King. Where did you find the information that she had miscarried without Henry’s knowledge, I’ve never heard of that and I’ve never heard of people regarding her as a witch.

      1. Debbie Silcock says:

        I thought witchcraft and casting spells to make the king love her was one of the main things she was accused of in most of the things I’ve read can’t believe you haven’t heard that before. X

        1. Claire says:

          I’ve heard of modern people accusing her of that, but she was not accused of witchcraft at the time and that’s what I’m referring to. Melissa, who I was replying to, said “She had already lost Henry’s interest, was hated by the people, was thought of by many as a witch” and that’s just not true. We have the list of charges in the indictments drawn up by the grand juries. Witchcraft was not mentioned, she was not charged with it, and the people didn’t believe she was a witch.

  14. James H Hess says:

    Anne and the 5 men were all innocent. The evidence to that effect is overwhelming. Henry VIII was a product of the corrupted Catholic church of the middle ages and he simply used his more or less absolute power as the clever politician that he was. If the church had not abolished the Agape (Communion with Thanksgiving from the Reserved Sacrament by the faithful in their homes, which was the primitive custom), none of this would ever happened. The medieval church made marriage to be the 7th sacrament to replace the Agape. From this proceeded the idea that marriage was indissoluble, something which the ancient church never quite taught. To this day, the eastern churches (all of which are closer in time and mentality to the ancient church), than the roman church, allow divorce and remarriage, considering the weakness of human nature. The day the roman church admits that the papacy is not an absolute divine monarchy, and only the presiding bishop of the church universal, is the day that modern world will have a bit of a chance at finding the Christ of the Bible and the Ancient Church. Then the behavior of Henry VIII and his contemporaries will be much more understandable.

  15. mindy says:

    i think anne boleyn did not deserve to be executed before i read this page and i never had my doubts i just wanted to know more about the case and i think there is no one to blame other than thomas cromwell and jane seymour i hate both but as much as i hate them i also hate the king because one second he blows hot and the other cold and i totally think its not fair that needs to pay the price but to me she was always known by grace and when she died she was so peaceful and calm and kept complementing the king

  16. Anessa says:

    I think Henry was just looking for a exude to get a new wife Because:
    1.He had been married for 20some years and to Catherine of Aragon and only had one severing child, Anne Boleyn (after she had Elizabeth) had 2 miscarages within a year before her exaction and maybe he though that it would go the same way with her as it did with his first wife.
    2. there is no written evidence (such as a letter)

    Plus henry had just had that jousting accident and had a head injury if Anne had been charred before, then Henry would not have been so angry .

  17. madison says:

    I believe Anne Boleyn was Innocent and I am not even a big Anne Boleyn fan.

  18. Britany says:

    I’ve always believed Anne was innocent of the charges brought against her. Her confession, at a time when religion was the most important part of life, speaks volumes. She might not have been perfect, but she didn’t deserve to die. Her fall was swift, and I’ve read various sources that said things between Henry and Anne were still alright even after her second miscarriage. I don’t think her miscarriages had much to do with anything as miscarriages and child mortality rates were high. He also spent 20 years with Catherine though they only had one surviving child and that didn’t seem to be too much of a concern for him until the very end of their marriage. All of the reports I have read said that despite losing so many children, that Henry still had affection for Catherine. While Anne only got 3 chances and some reports I’ve read state that Henry and Anne, while they quarreled, were still relatively happy even after her second miscarriage. I’ve always imagined that his jousting accident played a larger role than Anne. I imagine there was brain damage and a shift in personality. While Henry might not have always appreciated Anne’s outspoken determination before, perhaps his injuries from the accident made him even less willing to deal with it. I also feel that he thought he wouldn’t be able to get rid of Anne any other way. He’d set Catherine aside and she fought him tooth and nail until the end and Anne was much more forthcoming than Catherine was, though I believe Anne would have left court if given the chance.

    All in all, Anne, as well as Henry’s other 5 wives, got the short end of the stick when it came to Henry. Catherine had been a loyal and good queen and she was cast aside. Anne was relentlessly pursued and couldn’t tell the king no, and she tried to use her role as best she could. Henry couldn’t handle Anne because she challenged him in ways he didn’t appreciate. Jane saw Anne during her marriage and came to be queen days after Anne was executed and I can imagine she was frightened and anxious. Anne of Cleves was snubbed, though she got a better deal than most. Catherine Howard had no real idea what she was getting herself into and died. Catherine Parr didn’t want to marry the king, but how could she say no?

  19. James H Hess says:

    You have said it well, Britany. I can understand Henry’s concern for a male heir after the War of Roses, which was only 40 years past when Henry first thought about the validity of his first marriage. But if he wished to separate the Church in England from Rome, then he should have united the Church in England with one of the eastern churches. Protestantism is not the New Testament, when the NT is fully understood. His decision to make the English monarch the visible head of the Church of England was neither wise, nor Biblical. I also think his jousting injury in January 1536 affected his personality. Hats off to a well written comment.

  20. Lis says:

    Excellent story and I truly believe Anne and the others were unjustly killed. I also believe that his accident also affect his mind and was slowly becoming mad.

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