Did Anne Boleyn Commit Incest with Her Brother?

Posted By on February 23, 2010

Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (UK version)

If you’re like me, you are eagerly awaiting the publication of G W Bernard’s “Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” which comes out in April (May in the USA).

Why?

Because this is one historian who believes that Anne could actually have been guilty of adultery and worse, incest.

Most historians these days are sympathetic to Anne’s cause and believe that Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston and Anne’s brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were framed in a successful attempt to get rid of Anne and bring down the whole Boleyn faction. However, there are those who think there is truth in the charges against Anne, that there’s no smoke without a fire and that she was partially guilty.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn Report

While I cannot comment on Bernard’s book, as it’s not yet in circulation, I have read a report by Bernard entitled “The Fall of Anne Boleyn”, which was published in 1991 in which he says:-

“What happened, then, was no monstrous casting off of an unwanted wife by an utterly selfish king, no cynical and ingenious manipulation of a weak king by a conservative faction or a calculating minister, but a quarrel between one of the Queen’s ladies and her brother, provoked by a chance, yet leading tragically, ineluctably, to accusations of conduct that no king could accept.”

and he concludes by saying:-

“What we have then is the likelihood that Anne and at least some of her friends were guilty of the charges brought against them. But why should Anne have done it?

One explanation might be, as Sir John Neale suggested long ago, that aware of Henry’s at least intermittent impotence, Anne was trying to beget a child by other men, in order to produce Henry’s much wanted heir. Another might be that she was indeed a loose-living lady. Yet another, and perhaps the most plausible, might be her jealousy of Henry VIII’s continuing affairs, a defiant resentment of the double standard which allowed that freedom to men but not to women. The French poem records her saying of the King: ‘Et que souvent je n’aye prins fantasie/ Encontre luy de quelque jalousye.’

To the charge that the general interpretation advanced here is just the surmise of a man lacking in understanding of female psychology, just a ‘wicked women’ view of history which sees nymphomaniacs everywhere, it could be countered that Anne’s behaviour has been presented as defiant rather than passive, and Jane Seymour’s very differently interpreted. Above all, it has been an analysis of the evidence, not any prejudice, which has raised the possibility that Anne was unfaithful to her husband. That information came into the ‘public domain’ by chance, by the accident of a quarrel between one of the Queen’s ladies and her brother. In explaining what happened next, there is no need to portray Henry as a monster, no need to invent deformed foetuses, no need to elaborate ‘factional’ explanations: Anne’s fall was surely inevitable once what she had been doing became known, once a prima facie case against her was accepted by the King.

The fall of Anne Boleyn is not just a salacious whodunnit: it has implications for our understanding of early Tudor politics. Perhaps Henry’s reactions were harsh by our standards, but they were not irrational. Nor should we assume in advance of a critical scrutiny of the evidence that people who did unusual things must have been manipulated. The explanation offered here thus casts further doubt on the validity of the influential notion of faction as an explanation of political crisis in early Tudor England and raises the possibility that, on this and other occasions, Henry VIII was more in control and less the victim of factional manipulation than some recent accounts would claim.”

Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions – Case for the Prosecution

An article in today’s Daily Mail discusses how G W Bernard believes that a French poem written just a few days after Anne Boleyn’s execution in May 1536 reveals the truth about the Queen’s infidelities. According to Bernard, the 1,000 line poem written by Lancelot de Carles calls Anne a “common whore” and names Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris and Anne’s brother George as her lovers. Here is an extract:-

“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”

Professor Bernard believes that this poem can be backed up with evidence and should not be discounted as just a salacious literary work. In the poem, de Carles writes of how the accusations of infidelity against Anne first came to light in a quarrel between a pregnant lady of the Queen’s privy chamber and her brother, who was a privy councillor. In this argument, the brother accuses his sister of being promiscuous and she replies that her behaviour is nothing compared to her mistress the Queen who is committing adultery with her own brother. The sister then goes on to say that Smeaton and Norris have been seduced by Anne’s “caresses”.

Bernard identifies the pregnant lady-in-waiting as the Countess of Worcester, a woman who has often been talked of as providing evidence against Anne Boleyn and who is identified in a 16th century letter as Anne’s main accuser. Eric Ives, in “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, writes of how John Husssey wrote to Lord Lisle and listed Anne Cobham, “my Lady Worcester” and “one maid more” as sources of information against Anne. Ives then goes on to explain that Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester, was the sister of Sir Anthony Browne of the privy chamber and that Thomas Cromwell presented Lady Worcester’s evidence “as the first warning of Anne’s offences.

Bernard concludes that the fact that Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting knew of and spoke of their mistress’s affairs make her infidelities more believable:-

“Some scholars have claimed that the very idea that a queen could have committed adultery is preposterous, but if the queen’s ladies were indeed aware and complicit, then it becomes easier to see how it could happen. It was not unthinkable that in some circumstances they would reveal the truth. No historian has questioned the guilt of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, who was convicted of adultery a few years later. Why should the charges against Anne not be taken equally seriously?…If things went wrong we might expect to find the ladies of the queen’s household at the centre of any investigations and that is exactly what has happened here.”

But why would Anne risk everything for these affairs?

Professor Bernard believes that she took lovers because of Henry VIII’s on-off impotency problems and that the affairs were her way of getting pregnant and providing the King with an heir.

In his report of 1991, Bernard cites the French poem as evidence against Anne, along with Mark Smeaton’s confession, Anne’s flirtatious behaviour with Norris and Weston, and the talk of Norris being Elizabeth’s father. Bernard then writes:-

“the safest guess for a modern historian is that Anne had indeed committed adultery with Norris, and briefly with Mark Smeaton; and that there was enough circumstantial evidence to cast reasonable doubt on the denials of the others.
It must also be remembered that not everyone involved was tried and punished. This reinforces the suggestion that the accusations were not indiscriminate, and that some attention was paid to the reliability of the evidence against those accused…That Henry and his ministers were genuinely examining the evidence is further suggested by the arrest and subsequent release of Sir Thomas Wyatt.”

The Case for the Defence

If I say “tommyrot” and “poppycock”, people won’t take me very seriously will they? But that’s how I feel!

There is nothing new in Bernard producing the poetry of Lancelot de Carles as evidence against Anne Boleyn, particularly as it is mentioned in his report of 1991. Eric Ives also quotes de Carles as saying:-

“when at night you retire, she has her toy boys [mignons] already lined up. Her brother is by no means last in queue. Norris and Mark would not deny that they have spent many nights with her without having to persuade her, for she herself urged them on and invited them with presents and caresses”

and Ives calls it “moonshine, of a piece with the spin which would appear in the indictments”. He also discounts the argument between Lady Worcester and her brother as evidence, by saying:-

“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.”

Ives also says that 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”. If Lady Worcester’s evidence was so damning then why was she not mentioned?

Alison Weir, in “The Lady in the Tower”, also mentions de Carles and the Countess of Worcester story and in her notes on Chapter 4 Weir mentions that the Countess may well have “bowed to pressure from her relatives to betray Anne, and that she was worried about that hundred pounds she had borrowed [from Anne] without her husband’s knowledge.” Weir also wonders if de Carles got his facts mixed up in naming Lady Worcester as the source of the incest story when most sources agree that this story came only from Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, the wife of George Boleyn.

One interesting theory in Bernard’s report “The Fall of Anne Boleyn”, is the suggestion that the Countess of Worcester was Thomas Cromwell’s mistress!

Obviously I haven’t got Bernard’s book to read his full theory but to use a “gossipy” poem as evidence strong enough to convict and execute a person just does not make sense to me. If this poem was based on fact, if Lady Worcester really gave the crown concrete evidence, then I need answers to the following questions:-

  • Why were no ladies-in-waiting convicted alongside Anne Boleyn? – In the case of Catherine Howard, Lady Rochford was convicted and executed for being an accomplice, a go-between  and helping Catherine meet Culpeper, so why weren’t Anne’s ladies charged as accomplices? They would have been helping the Queen to commit treason and so would have been traitors too.
  • Why don’t the dates in the indictments make sense? – If there was evidence of Anne’s infidelity then the dates cited should have surely made sense. Instead, as Eric Ives points out, “three quarters of these specific allegations can be disproved. In twelve cases Anne was elsewhere or else the man was.”
  • Why wasn’t Henry VIII completely distraught like he was when he heard of Catherine Howard’s infidelities? – He wept in front of his council when he was given evidence against Catherine, yet he had pursued Anne for seven years, broke with Rome to marry her, been excommunicated by the Pope, been married to her for 3 years and yet he seemed indifferent to the allegations against his wife.

When talking of G W Bernard’s past opinion “that Anne and at least some of her friends were guilty of the charges brought against them”, Ives writes:-

“The evidence, however, justifies nothing of this. 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.”

Conclusion

Gossip and slander, that’s all it seems to me. I don’t put Anne Boleyn up on a pedestal, I don’t believe that she was a martyr or saint, but I do believe that she was innocent of all of the charges against her, that she was a victim of a political struggle and that her death was a tragic example of injustice and should be classed as murder, along with the deaths of George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton and Sir Francis Weston.

There is no way that this intelligent woman, who had waited so long to be Queen, would risk everything, her crown and her life, for some fun on the side. Even if she was desperate for a child, she knew that the child needed to be Henry’s, and that she couldn’t risk the child being a spitting image of Henry Norris, the King’s best friend! And to accuse her of incest is to deny the strong faith that both Anne and George had. Incest was an abomination, an offence against God, and both Anne and George were highly religious. They were reformers who risked their lives by owning reformist texts and tracts at times when people were being killed as heretics for owning such things, they would not have risked their souls in such a way.

OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now!!

I will be reading Professor Bernard’s book as soon as it comes out, something I’m looking forward to.

Sources

Anne Boleyn Tour – July 2010

Great news for those of you who were too late to book The Anne Boleyn Experience 2010 or who couldn’t make May – I am able to book a week in July (12th-16th) and run a similar tour then.

Interested?

I need to know ASAP so please email me at claire@theanneboleynfiles.com – itinerary, costs etc. would be similar to the May one (see http://tour.theanneboleynfiles.com). This will only be running if I have enough interest in it so please get in touch.

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