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From Tennis to Tower – Anne Boleyn is Arrested

Posted By on May 2, 2010

At dawn on the 2nd May 1536 Henry Norris, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool and great friend, was taken to the Tower of London. Mark Smeaton had also been taken there and Chapuys wrote to Charles V on the 2nd May telling him that:-

“The Concubine’s brother, named Rochefort, has also been lodged in the Tower, but more than six hours after the others, and three or four before his sister”1

and Wriothesley’s Chronicle2 is in agreement that Norris and Rochford were both taken to the Tower on the 2nd but nowhere is there any mention of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, being interrogated first, unlike Norris and Smeaton. His arrest was also done so discreetly that his sister, Anne Boleyn, didn’t hear of it.

In “Las nuevas de Ynglaterra de la presion de la Manceba del Rey”, recorded in Letters and Paper on the 2nd May, it reports Rochford’s arrest as being to do with him covering up his sister’s crimes and being an accessory, rather than being one of her lovers:-

“The Emperor has letters from England of 2 May, stating that the mistress of the king of England, who is called queen, had been put in the Tower for adultery with an organist of her chamber, and the King’s most private “sommelier de corps.” Her brother is imprisoned for not giving information of her crime. It is said that, even if it had not been discovered, the King had determined to leave her, as he had been informed that she had consummated a marriage with the earl of Nortemberlano (Northumberland) nine years ago.”3

This leaves us wondering whether George Boleyn was arrested first and then the charge of incest made up later, a shocking and horrific allegation which would turn everyone against him and his sister.

From Tennis to the Tower

Alison Weir writes of how Anne Boleyn was watching her champion play a game of real tennis when she was disturbed by a messenger telling her that she must “by order of the King” immediately go and present herself before the Privy Council4. Although Anne was unaware that her brother had been arrested, this message, along with her husband’s abrupt departure from the May Day jousts the day before, must have frightened her. Anne was an intelligent woman who realised the potential repercussions of her reckless words Sir Henry Norris and must have been worrying about what was going to happen. So worried had Anne been that she had appealed to the King with Elizabeth in her arms and she had also asked her chaplain, Matthew Parker, on Wednesday 26th April, to take care of Elizabeth if anything happened to her5. The fact that she approached Parker days before she quarrelled with Norris suggests that Anne was already worried about her precarious position.

Anne Boleyn left the tennis match and presented herself in the council chamber in front of a royal commission consisting of the Duke of Norfolk (her uncle), Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir William Paulet. There, she was informed that she was being accused of committing adultery with three different men, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris and a third, and that Smeaton and Norris had already confessed6. Anne remonstrated with her accusers but her words had no effect and the royal commission ordered her arrest. Anne was then taken to her apartment until the tide of the Thames turned and then, at two o’clock in the afternoon, she was escorted by barge to the Tower of London7.

Anne Boleyn, the Lady in the Tower

At the Tower of London, it is likely that Anne’s barge would have entered through the Court Gate in the Byward Tower, rather than Traitor’s Gate8. She was met there by Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower and then taken to the Royal Palace where she encountered the Constable of the Tower, Sir William Kingston. Kingston wrote letters to Thomas Cromwell to keep him informed of Anne’s behaviour and the things she said during her imprisonment and he wrote of Anne’s arrival at the Tower in a letter dated the 3rd May:-

“On my lord of Norfolk and the King’s Council departing from the Tower, I went before the Queen into her lodging. She said unto me, “Mr. Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?” I said, “No, Madam. You shall go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation.” “It is too g[ood] for me, she said; Jesu have mercy on me;” and kneeled down, weeping a [good] pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, as she has done many times since. “She desyred me to move the Kynges hynes that she [might] have the sacarment in the closet by hyr chamber, that she my[ght pray] for mercy, for I am as clere from the company of man as for s[in as I] am clear from you, and am the Kynges trew wedded wyf. And then s[he said], Mr. Kynston, do you know wher for I am here? and I sayd, Nay. And th[en she asked me], When saw you the Kynge? and I sayd I saw hym not syns I saw [him in] the Tylte Yerde. And then, Mr. K., I pray you to telle me wher my [Lord, my fa]der, ys? And I told hyr I saw hym afore dyner in the Cort. O[where is m]y sweet broder? I sayd I left hym at York Place; and so I dyd. I [hear say, sai]d she, that I shuld be accused with iij. men; and I can say [no more but] nay, withyowt I shuld oppen my body. And ther with opynd her gown. O, No[res], hast thow accused me? Thow ar in the Towre with me, [and thow and I shall] dy together; and, Marke, thow art here to. O, my mother, [thou wilt die with] sorow; and myche lamented my lady of Worceter, for by c[ause that her child di]d not store in hyre body. And my wyf sayd, what shuld [be the cause? And she sai]d, for the sorow she toke for me. And then she sayd, Mr. [Kyngston, shall I die with]yowt justes? And I sayd, the porest sugett the Ky[ng hath, hath justice. And t]her with she lawed. Alle thys sayinges was yesterny[ght].”9

It is hard to imagine how Anne felt as she entered the Tower and how ironic for her to be imprisoned in the very apartments in which she spent the night before her coronation – the sumptuous Queen’s apartments in the Royal Palace (see my post Anne Boleyn and the Tower of London for details of Anne’s prison). No wonder Anne collapsed weeping and went from weeping to laughing. Her hysteria was caused by her realising the full extent of what was happening, afterall, she knew her husband well and she had seen what had happened to the likes of Sir Thomas More. We can see from her speech to Kingston that she was worried about dying without justice and that she was also worried about her brother; here Kingston lied because he knew full well that her brother was also in the Tower but it is likely that he was trying to be kind to an already hysterical woman.

Kingston would report Anne’s ramblings to Cromwell over the next few days and these words, spoken by a desperate and frightened woman, would lead to the arrests of Sir William Brereton and Sir Francis Weston and would be used as evidence against her and the men concerned. We can wonder what would have happened if Anne had stayed silent in the Tower, perhaps Brereton and Weston would have been saved, BUT there was no hope for Anne, George, Norris and Smeaton, they were facing a certain death.

The Queen’s Apartments in the Royal Palace

The following YouTube video, from TheBullen1, is about the Queen’s Apartments in the Royal Palace that once stood within the grounds of the Tower of London. They were renovated for Anne’s coronation in 1533 and acted as her prison in May 1536.

Notes and Sources

1 – L&P, x. 782
2 – Wriothesley’s Chronicle – online version, p36
3 – L&P, x. 784
4 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p132
5 – Ibid., p93
6 and 7 – Anne Boleyn by Paul Friedmann, ed. Josephine Wilkinson, p232
8 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p135
9 – L&P, x. 793

26 thoughts on “From Tennis to Tower – Anne Boleyn is Arrested”

  1. Fiz says:

    Poor Anne, I feel so sorry for her. She went from a miscarriage, to finding Henry already had another mistress (I can’t stand Jane Seymore) and then Henry storming out of the tournament. She must have been in fear of her life, before she ever knew what the indictment was, knowing just how monstrously her husband could behave. As for the Tower apartment item, there’s enough there to let “Timeteam” loose on them, so why don’t they?

  2. HannahL says:

    Every time I read the story of Anne’s arrest I am shocked by how swift and complete it really was.

  3. Lexy says:

    I dislike Jane Seymour too, since I hate hypocrisie and over-sweetness. Concerning Anne, what happened to her almost make me cry, knowing what she went through. her miscarriages are always considered as steps to her fall, losing one saviour after the other; but losing a child is an ordeal for any woman, no matter her rank. Anne was a maternal woman. Not only she was taken from Court not knowing what was happening exactly, but that ther could be no happy ending for her, but she surely feared for her daughter, remembering what happened to Mary. Poor Anne.

  4. ProudtobeCatholic says:

    Poor Anne! I am going out with the family for the afternoon, an you can bet she will be on my mind the entire time. I know this sounds crazy, but I almost feel bad going out while she’s being arrested, but I know Anne would want me to go and enjoy the time I have with my family.

  5. Eliza says:

    I feel so sorry for her… Her questions to Kingston showed how desperate she was, and anxious about her family.. She kept asking for every family member.. How sad!

    Claire, could you explain, please, how Anne’s words implicated Brereton and Weston? Or have you covered this point in an older article?

  6. Claire says:

    Hi Eliza,
    In the same letter that I quote above, from Kingston to Cromwell, Kingston writes:-
    “Sir, syns the makynge of thys letter the Quene spake of Wes[ton, saying that she] had spoke to hym bycause he did love hyr kynswoman [Mrs. Skelton, and] sayd he loved not hys wyf, and he made ansere to hyr [again that h]e loved wone in hyr howse better then them bothe. And [the Queen said, Who is] that? It ys yourself. And then she defyed hym, as [she said to me].”
    Anne as trying to figure out what she’d done wrong and how she could be accused of adultery, but in her ramblings she unwittingly implicated Weston. I apologise, she did not actually mention Brereton, it seems that his name may have come from Smeaton in his confession.

    1. Cynthia says:

      While Anne was imprisoned in the Tower, did she not ask to see Elizabeth, her mother or the king? In all that I have read about Anne Boleyn, I have never seen this mentioned. It would seem once she was condemned to die, that she would be allowed to see her little daughter or her family. Do you think she ever realized what a cruel person Henry was?

  7. Susan Sobel says:

    I just want to thank you and compliment you on putting together this wonderful website. It is a treasure of information and is done so well, kudos to all of you involved and many many thanks from one who loves history and spending a lot of time reading about it.
    Sincerely,
    Susan
    Las Vegas

  8. Eliza says:

    Hello Claire!! Thanks for explaining this part!! 🙂 By the way, this old way of spelling is too difficult to read!!

    1. Eliza, if you say the words out loud, it makes a lot more sense! There was no regular way of spelling and often there are several ways of spelling one word on one page!

  9. Sheena says:

    I agree with the others in that is it hard to fathom the timeline in which all of this occured- it all went about so quickly- poor Anne!

  10. Great! I just realized that today was the anniversary of Anne’s arrest .. so I will look forward to daily new posts about this important time in history. Thanks so much!

  11. Brandi says:

    Claire,
    You do such a great job with this website and your knowledge and dedication are amazing. Being an Anne Boleyn Fan, I, Of course, remember what took place for her in May so long ago, and coming to your site every day and reading exactly what happened helps me to remember and think of her! I thank you for this.
    Another thing, I am truly surprised that I can actually figure out the spelling in kingstons statements, I find it very interesting.
    Good Work!
    I’ll be thinking of you taking the tour you set up soon, wishing I was there. Hopefully next year! 🙂 Congrats on a wonderful, successful website!
    Brandi
    Alberta, Canada

  12. Leah says:

    Poor Anne! Hannah, I feel the same way – it all just seems so sudden! Tragic.

  13. Tina Bennett says:

    Claire:

    Thank you so much for this day by day journey of Anne Boleyn in her final weeks. Although I have seen this day relived over and over again through countless medium (Biographies, TV, movies), it never ceases to amaze me how affected I am all over again as I read or watch these events unfold. You know what’s going to happen; you’re powerless to stop it, and yet we keep reading all this heartbreak. I have always felt incredibly sorry for her; I know she wasn’t a perfect woman, and there were things she did that sometimes made me want to shake some sense into her, but being railroaded to make way for ‘the other woman’ just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth!

    I noticed that some of the other writers mentioned Jane Seymour and their dislike of her. I have very mixed feelings about Queen #3 and am curious as to whether you’ve formed an opinion of her. It’s funny that we know so much about Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr as far as their attitudes, etc., but I always felt as if Jane was an enigma (despite her helping to bring Princess Mary back to court). It was funny that in The Tudors, the actress who played Jane in Season 2 came across to me as being as ambitious as her brothers, while playing the innocent for the King, so she was driving me up and through the wall. However, the second actress seemed to try to play her as more sympathetic and more innocent.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying the details behind Anne’s execution and will be anxiously awaiting the next newsletter. Great work! I just found this site a week ago and I’m HOOKED!

  14. Anne says:

    For George and Anne Boleyn

    The tide of the Thames will turn
    As pain in her heart does burn
    Her brother awaits his fate
    For both it is far too late

    The queen has lost her place
    In her realm of worldly grace
    Her fate will soon be sealed
    To the sword her life will yield

    By the sword her life was rent
    To her love her soul was sent
    And divinely love did grow
    For God her heart did know

    Many fears will pass on by
    Many tears each soul will cry
    And as death does each embrace
    Each soul will find its place

    To some spiritual land of love
    Their souls will rise above
    All worldly pains behind
    Perfect love their souls will find

    This poem was inspired by this article’s phrase “…until the tide of the Thames turned…”. That just jumped out at me. I imagined how disturbed Anne must have felt, having just come from the council chamber, under arrest, having heard from her uncle the Duke of Norfolk that she was accused of adultery with three men. How painful it must have been for her knowing that her enemies had consolidated so much power against her at that point, and through such devious means. Already knowing that her hold on the king had waned, she must have been adjusting to the realization that her rule at court was essentially over. I just imagined how she would have felt learning of the accusations which had officially been made against her. Considering how strong her spiritual beliefs were, I think that after doing everything she could (I personally believe that she must have been allowed to write a letter to Henry, perhaps the one that is attributed to her) she would ultimately have turned to God, knowing that was her only recourse. I am an optimist and believe that what love she (and her brother of course) had for God was ultimately rewarded, hence the “perfect love” of the last sentence.

  15. Eliza says:

    Lovely poem, Anne!

  16. Diane says:

    Claire, I can not thank you enough for sharing your knowledge of the history of the Tudors. I thought I was just being sappy when I went days and days of feeling so sad for a young woman sent to die such a horrific death. Is it true that she carved her name in the window sill while in the Tower, and that the inscription is still there?

    In season 2 of the Tudors (I know there were errors), but I was wishing she could see his cruelty the way he beat Queen Katherines messenger about him not saying good-bye to her when she left the castle. I know love is blind, but you would think that would have been a wake up call. Although I do realize this was hundreds of years ago, and times were very different back then, but I feel so sad for her today, the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Wolsey…in 2010!!!

    I am really appreciating your generosity of sharing what you know. AND look forward to your book.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Diane,
      Thank you so much for your very kind words. I love researching and writing about Anne Boleyn and the Tudor era, it’s my passion, and I’m so glad that there are people like you who read what I write and enjoy it.
      I wonder if you mean the falcon crest (with the crown missing) that is carved into the wall at the Tower? It is thought that it was carved by a Boleyn supporter. Or perhaps you mean the inscription on the window at Woodstock that Elizabeth is thought to have made – see http://www.elizabethfiles.com/elizabeth-i-the-poet-the-woodstock-etchings/4352/
      Hope that helps! x

  17. Gary Watton says:

    Much credit should be allocated to the author of these articles and for this worthy website. It is gratifying to find so many like-minded souls who feel nothing but deep sympathy for Anne Boleyn. Naive fool that I am, I am going to contact the Home Office and enquire about the possibility of a posthumous pardon.
    Gary Watton; author and historian

  18. Hugo Guevara says:

    Her reign started on the tower (the night previous of her coronation) and finished on the London’s tower… When I read all of this about Anne, I can not leave feel some of sad. I don’t know why. Maybe because the tv show “the Tudors” sample a image most sweet and correct about happened that month of May, 1536.

  19. Yvonne Parmenter says:

    This was shocking and what was even worse was that everytime she said anything or reacted, it was used against her. Is it true that the Swodsman from Calais was on his way to England before her trial even started?

  20. DEEDEE says:

    Why keep tryin to make anne bolyn into a saint she disrepected queen catherine and treated princess mary like hell. Why hate jane seymore? She did no worse than anne bolyn did to catherine

    1. DEEDEE says:

      My heart goes out to queen catherine and her daughter mary who anne bolyen treated with so much disrepect even celebrating catherine death from what i heart also princess mary who anne treated so cruelly. So why keep talkn about anne bolyen like she was this wonderful sweet woman from all i have read she was a schemjng hatefil vindictive woman even towards the king. Stop talkin bout her as if she was ?other teresa

  21. DEEDEE says:

    Sorry about the misspellin an i also read over my comment an left some words out. I was writing fast. Anyway hope u understand what i was sayn with or without the mistakes

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I too respect Katherine and Mary and yes, Anne did show disrespect towards them and was no saint, but she wasn’t an evil vindictive woman either. Henry was responsible for the mistreatment of his wife and Anne did try to make peace with Mary who refused to acknowledge her as Queen. Henry continued to treat Mary ill after Anne died, forcing her to submit to his will.

      Nobody is saying that Anne is a saint but that she was innocent of the vile charges against her. I agree with you concerning Jane Seymour.

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