April 24 – The legal machinery begins – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

On this day in 1536, Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, set up two commissions of oyer and terminer, one for the county of Middlesex and one for the county of Kent.

What were these commissions and what did they have to do with the fall of Anne Boleyn, if anything?

Find out in this first video of “The Fall of Anne Boleyn” series that I recorded a couple of years ago…

Here’s a transcript for those of you who prefer reading…

On 24th April 1536, six days before the first person was apprehended in the fall of Anne Boleyn, two special legal commissions were set up by Sir Thomas Audley, King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor.

These were commissions of “oyer and terminer”, the name coming from the French for “to hear and determine”, and were used to investigate and prosecute serious criminal offences, such as treason, committed in a particular county. A grand jury in the county would first investigate the alleged offence and then approve a bill of indictment, if there was sufficient evidence. The case would then go on to the commission of oyer and terminer, the court with jurisdiction to try the offence or offences.

In this case, Audley set up the commissions to investigate crimes committed in the counties of Middlesex and Kent. On 10th and 11th May 1536, the Grand Juries of Middlesex and Kent drew up indictments listing charges against Queen Anne Boleyn, her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Mark Smeaton, alleged to have been committed at Hampton Court Palace and Whitehall Palace in Middlesex, and Greenwich Palace, East Greenwich, and Eltham Palace in Kent. On 12th May 1536 Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton were tried for high treason by a commission of oyer and terminer at Westminster Hall.

I will, of course, be telling you more about these people and their alleged offences in the coming days.

Today is also St Mark’s Eve. St Mark’s Eve was time to divine your future husband in medieval and Tudor times, but how were you supposed to do that?

Find out how to do it:

Also on this day in Tudor history, 24th April 1558, fifteen-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, got married for the first time. The groom was fourteen-year-old Francis, the Dauphin of France.

Find out more about the bride and groom, their wedding and what happened to them…

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2 thoughts on “April 24 – The legal machinery begins – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. So it begins. The legal apparatus was set up in advance and like someone said on Twitter “It was theatre and it wasn’t good”. It was indeed theatre, the preparation for a blood thirsty spectacle which would end with the deaths of five innocent men and one innocent woman, a Queen of England. Although unusual a Commi3of Oyer and Terminer could be set up to investigate future charges based on suspicion alone. The Lord Chancellor of England had the power to proceed on this basis without a formal Royal warrant, with the Kings request or permission and Thomas Cromwell sensed the urgency of the mission ahead of him and wanted to make certain everything was in place should he need to act quickly once potential charges against Queen Anne had been brought and the first arrests made.

    These legal Commissions were rare but effective, set up to investigate and to access evidence in the cases of high crimes, such as felony, treason, misprison, murder and so on and the appointed Grand Juries determined if there was sufficient evidence to commit a person for formal trial and the Indictments to be laid before the Courts. The unusual thing here was the lack of both arrests, evidence or Indictments, just the legal apparatus set up waiting for the plot against Queen Anne to unfold.

    Everything did indeed pan out in great haste for in 25 days Anne, Sir William Brereton, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford and Mark Smeaton were beheaded for treason and adultery. In less than six days the first arrests were made and Cromwell had the evidence he hoped to create. He also had the confession of a terrified Mark Smeaton, the lute player who served both the King and Queen, but who was often in Anne’s outer private quarters and whom she had richly rewarded. The basis of a credible case would form as the players fell into the traps set for them, with Anne joking with Norris over the fact he fancied her and not the King and would marry her if the King were dead. Technically this was treason under the very legislation set up in 1534 to protect Anne’s marriage. All Cromwell had to do was wait: wait and apply invisible pressure, pressure which led to the reckless remarks by the Queen and the rest he invented. Building on the odd careless word and sign of affection, the confession of Mark Smeaton and his accusations against two others, Cromwell had enough to proceed with arrests, trial and juries. Everything else he simply invented to make as good a case as possible.

  2. Anne and the men who were to be the scapegoats in this bloody miscarriage of justice were so unaware of what was happening, the queen carried on as before, dancing and amusing herself with the entertainments at court, she and the king dined together they must have shared the same bed, yet Henry absented himself to be with Jane Seymour quite frequently, but life carried on as before, the men were at court and continuing with their duties, Henry Norris served the king as groom of the stool, during leisure time he and the king must have played bowls together, hunted together and played cards along with the others, young Francis Weston, the queens brother the poet and diplomat George Boleyn, and young Mark Smeaton strummed his lute as he sat in the queens apartments, singing enchantingly whilst Anne and her ladies chatted amicably about the days events, the latest French fashions maybe….. then it all came to a sickening jolt, the hasty so called evidence collected by the so called legal commissions of oyer and terminer , were to end in the innocent deaths of five souls, Sir Thomas Audley who carried out the investigations was no friend of the queens, he was first and foremost Henry’s man and had to do his bidding, but he was not sympathetic towards her, likewise the jurors who were to sit on her trial, in just over three weeks from this so called investigation a queen and five men would be dead, the startling speed of the events which took place four hundred and eighty five years ago, still horrifies the mind today in its blatant unfairness and determination, to judicially murder a crowned and anointed queen and pave the way for a new one and a son and heir.

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