Cruelly Handled – Anne Boleyn in the Tower

Posted By on May 4, 2010

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

Anne’s Ladies in the Tower

Alison Weir1 lists the ladies appointed to Anne in the Tower as:-

  • 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. Sir James Boleyn was a supporter of the Lady Mary.
  • Lady Shelton – Thomas Boleyn’s sister and mother of Madge Shelton. Weir thinks that Lady Shelton may have turned against Anne after her daughter was used by Anne to keep the King happy (as his mistress) and had had her reputation sullied. 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 to the Boleyn by marriage but Mrs Coffin had been appointed to spy on Anne in the Tower and was the lady chosen, along with Lady Boleyn, to sleep “on the Quenes palet”2.
  • Mary Scrope, Lady Kingston – Sir William Kingston’s wife. She had served Catherine of Aragon and was friends with the Lady Mary.

According to Alison Weir, Anne was also appointed two menservants and a boy.

Cruelly Handled

Anne may have had a Queen’s household and sumptuous lodgings but she was still a prisoner and was surrounded by spies or women who had little sympathy for her. No wonder Anne complained to Sir William Kingston, saying:-

“I thynke [much unkindness in the] Kynge to put seche abowt me as I never loved.”3

Anne Boleyn also complained of her treatment at Greenwich, when she had been arrested:-

“Then she be gan talke, and sayd I was creuely handeled a . . . . a Greweche with the Kynges consell with my lord of Norfolke, that he sayd Tut, [tut, tut!], and shakyng hyr hed iii. or iiij. tymes”4

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

“But s]he to be a Quene, and creuely handeled as was never sene; bot I th[ink the King d]ose it to prove me;”5

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

“then she sayd, I wo[uld to God I had m]y bysshoppys, for thay wold alle go to the Kynge for me, for I thy[nk the most part of] Yngland prays for me. and yf I dy you shalle se the grettes[t punishment for me] within thys vij. yere that ever cam to Yngland.”6

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 by enemies in the Tower:-

“And the[n, she said, shall I be in Heaven, for] I have done mony gud dedys in my days, bot zit I thynke [much unkindness in the] Kynge to put seche abowt me as I never loved. I showe[d her that the Kyng took them] to be honest and gud wemmen. Bot I wold have had [of my own privy cham]bre weche I favor most.”7

G W Bernard uses Anne’s words regarding her good deeds and going to Heaven as evidence that she did not believe in justification by faith alone, like Martin Luther, but I think that this is reading too much into the ramblings of a woman who feared for her life and kept going from laughter to tears and back to laughter. Anne was trying to hold on to some hope and faith, she was hoping that the King was simply testing her, but was trying to reassure herself that at least she had a place in Heaven if things continued to go wrong. Poor Anne. It is as I read Kingston’s reports in Letters and Papers that I can see the depths of Anne’s despair, her confusion at how on earth she had managed to go from the King’s beloved wife to being a prisoner, her fear regarding her future or lack of it, her horror at her situation, her anger at being surrounded by enemies and her bravery in facing death. There is no way that I can understand what she was going through but I know that it must have been hell on earth. I just hope that Mrs Orchard was able to give Anne some motherly affection at this time and that Anne drew on her faith to keep her going.

Notes

  1. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p138
  2. L&P x. 793 Letter from Sir William Kingston to Cromwell, dated 3rd May 1536.
  3. L&P x. 797 Letter from Sir William Kingston to Cromwell, undated.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

7 thoughts on “Cruelly Handled – Anne Boleyn in the Tower”

  1. Candice says:

    Claire,
    Great atricle about Anne, as usual. I do have a couple of questions that I hope you can answer. You list the women placed in Anne’s service during her imprisonment. I have read in other places that Mary Boleyn’s daughter, Catherine Carey, was with Anne in the Tower. Is there any proof of this, or simply fanciful thinking?
    My other question is, according to tradition, Anne’s Book of Hours, which can be seen at Hever Castle, survived into the present because Anne gave her book to Margaret Wyatt on the day of her execution. Again, any indication this happened? I do not recall either of these discussed in Ives or Starkey, but I may be wrong. Thanks.

  2. Claire says:

    Hi Candice,
    Thank you for your kind words. Legend has it that the 12 year old Catherine Carey attended on her aunt in the Tower but I have found no mention of her doing so in primary sources and Alison Weir writes in “The Lady in the Tower” that there is no contemporary evidence to support this theory and that she doesn’t crop up in the records until 1540 when she became maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves.
    In the notes at the back of “The Lady in the Tower”, Weir writes of the Wyatt family tradition that Anne handed Margaret Wyatt (Lady Lee) her prayer book on the scaffold and that this book was the Book of Hours in which Anne had inscribed “Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day”, the one now kept at Hever. Margaret was said to have worn it on a chain around her neck. However, Weir says that this Book of Hours cannot be the same book that Anne gave to Margaret because the Wyatt book is now in the British Library (MS.956). Weir says that initials in the book also suggest that it was made to mark the marriage between Thomas Wyatt the Younger and Jane Haute in 1537. Weir also points out that there is no record of Margaret Wyatt attending Anne as maid-of-honour.
    You can find Weir’s full notes on this on p390-391 of the hardback of The Lady in the Tower, I have just highlighted her main points here.
    Hope that helps!

  3. Candice says:

    Thanks Claire. Your answer summed up eveything I asked. It has been awhile since I read any biographies on Anne, so I am bit rusty in some of the finer points of her life, and current debates into her death.

    As an aside, I was doing some Anne research online, and came across a great song about Anne Boleyn. The song, simply titled, “Anne,” is sung by a band names Kayak from their album Periscope Life. The song tells of Anne’s rise and fall at the hands of Henry. While there is some historical inaccuracies in the song, it does a great job of telling her story, feelings, and downfall. The music is beautifully hauting with a flute. The last three verses are my favourite:

    Seeking comfort, immersed in sad memories
    You will die but he’ll never be free
    For the rest of his days

    Cause he’ll hear your voice in every song
    Your vision will haunt him when you are gone
    Echoes of your mocking laugh

    His sons will die so your death just won’t be in vain
    For your daughter she will reign
    On your behalf

  4. Eliza says:

    I was very moved by Anne’s own words…

    Claire, what does vij mean? In this passage: “and yf I dy you shalle se the grettes[t punishment for me] within thys vij. yere that ever cam to Yngland.”

  5. Julie says:

    Hello Claire – I’ve just found this site and I am enjoying it very much.

    In response to Eliza’s questions “vij” is simply the roman numeral for the modern number “8”. In medieval times the last ‘i’ was often written as ‘j’ to make it clearer for the reader’s eye in handwritten script. So when Quenn Anne wrote “within thys vij” she probably meant “within 8 [days] ”

    Earlier (above) there was this quotation : “and shakyng hyr hed iii. or iiij. tymes” – which is more easily understood in context and which illustrates the use of final ‘j’ for ‘i’ in the roman numerical.

  6. BanditQueen says:

    This is an excellent article, and first time I have read it. I was wondering: Alison Weir in her Lady in the Tower in the final chapter also reminds us that the women were distressed at her execution. She claims that some of the women were changed in the final few days for women that Anne liked such as her cousin Margaret Wyatt, sister of Thomas Wyatt. Is this very likely or are the women simply acting as normal human beings who have come to know Anne over the time they are her keepers and the sight of this death had distressed them; her dignity has impressed them and may-be one or two have gained some sympathy for her or even believe her to be innocent. And what a horrible task: to have to wait on the Queen and report her every word and then to have to bury her headless body as well; of course the women were distressed; anyone would be.

  7. Maryann Pitman says:

    Whatever the ladies thought of Anne, she died with courage, and asserting her innocence to the end. In that time, to die, with a claim of innocence to the last would have been a big deal. This meant the fate of the immortal soul. Anne may have convinced them by the end. Some of the ladies were her relatives as well. Old affection, if any, may well have reasserted itself. I say if any, because I don’t know how well her aunts really knew Anne before she began her ascent. I suspect she was a woman who inspired more jealousy in other women than affection, but as a child-who can say? The actual execution must have staggered the ladies, even in a time which was far more overtly violent than our own, they were the most sheltered of women. And then to be left to deal with Anne’s body on their own……hideous….and all of it unprecedented. They could not have believed Anne would actually die. One has to wonder what they thought and how they felt in the following years as other women followed Anne to the scaffold.

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.