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Henry VIII and the Fall of Anne Boleyn by Dr Suzannah Lipscomb

Posted By on September 14, 2010

Today, we have a guest post from author and historian, Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, whose book “1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII” I’ve just reviewed over at our Tudor Book review site. It is a book that really helped me understand what made Henry tick and why he turned into a monster, and which was incredibly useful for the series I wrote on Henry VIII back in June. Thanks go to Suzannah for the following excellent article.

Henry VIII and the Fall of Anne Boleyn

by Dr Suzannah Lipscomb

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thoughtfully reading G.W. Bernard’s new book, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions. Bernard, as I’m sure many of you know, sets out to challenges the prevailing assumptions about Anne – that she resisted Henry’s advances, that she was a Protestant, and that she was innocent of the charges levelled against her in May 1536. He does so on the basis of meticulous research and careful re-readings of the key sources.

It was an interesting read, not least because in several places, I have shared Bernard’s ideas about the importance of certain sources and the interpretation of certain events – and yet, I came to entirely different conclusions, especially when it came to the old chestnut of Anne Boleyn’s fall.

Like Bernard, I’ve been unconvinced about the conspiracy theory version of Anne’s death. It seems to me to rely both on very slender evidence, which is often misused, and emotionally unintelligent readings of the alliances and relationships at the Tudor court. Just to touch the surface of this, I’d suggest that the reasons Thomas Cromwell is supposed to have sided with Anne’s enemies – over issues of foreign policy and what to do with the money from the dissolution of the monasteries – are very weak and unconvincing grounds for destroying an old friend and ally, who happened to be queen of England. Meanwhile, a – probably the – key piece of evidence used to suggest a conspiracy is Eustace Chapuys’s letter after the event, in which he recounted that Cromwell had told him that he had ‘set himself to devise (or to plan) and conspire (or to bring about) the said affair’ (the letter is in French; the original reads, ‘il se mist a fantasier et conspirer le dict affair’). This is the one clear reference to ‘conspiracy’. But, in fact, this comes in the context of Cromwell telling Chapuys that he ‘had been authorised and commissioned by the King to prosecute and bring to an end the mistress’s trial, to do which he had taken considerable trouble. It was he who… had planned and brought about the whole affair’. So it has always seemed to me that the one crucial piece of evidence used to suggest that Cromwell had come up with the whole idea himself actually, in truth, indicts Henry. In this reading, the affair that Cromwell plans and brings about is the matter of investigation, trial, and finally, execution.

This naturally leads one to think of the version beloved by Hollywood – that Henry had just got tired of Anne, wanted rid of her, and was trumping up these charges. To be honest, I don’t think anything disproves this entirely – except (again, I’m with Bernard here) that Henry and Anne’s marriage doesn’t seem to have been on the rocks, a crucial point on which this argument rests. In the autumn and winter of 1535, they were constantly described as being ‘merry together’, which is probably why Anne conceived, which in turn added to their happiness. But even after Anne’s miscarriage in January 1536, Henry seems to have staged an event in April in which Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador and representative of Charles V in England, bowed to Anne – essentially formally recognising her as Henry’s wife for the first time. I’m with Bernard that this was an unnecessary thing to do if Henry were planning to dispose of his wife shortly thereafter. In April, it looks like he was still on board with their marriage.

But chiefly, the reason I don’t believe the Hollywood version is because I don’t think it fits with Henry’s character. Now, I know you’ll be incredulous at this point, but bear with me: the Henry we think of – ruthless, tyrannical, capricious, irritable – is accurate for Henry in the last decade of his life. After 1536, we see all manner of political executions, and whilst some are arguably a response to increased threats against the kingdom, many are driven purely by Henry’s desire for vengeance and out of sheer paranoid cruelty. But before 1536, Thomas More and John Fisher are among the very, very few people Henry sent to their deaths, and all those who were executed for treason had jolly good reasons to face the axe, unlike in Henry’s later life. Even More and Fisher’s deaths were long pondered by Henry, and not an act of rapid extermination as we see in the case of Anne Boleyn. What is more, before the mid-1530s, descriptions of Henry’s character are consistently positive. He’s described by Sebastian Giustinian in 1517, after four years at the English court, as ‘affable and gracious’, a man who ‘harmed no-one’. In 1529, Erasmus said that Henry was ‘a man of gentle friendliness, and gentle in debate; he acts more like a companion than a king’. In his early years, Henry appears to have been friendly, warm, and very generous in both his gifts and his affection. In other words, if we don’t assume that Henry was already a tyrant, then his actions against Anne Boleyn seem to require much more explanation.

The explanation that I would offer is that Henry believed that Anne was guilty of adultery. This revelation came amidst a succession of other shattering events in the year 1536, and was absolutely devastating for the king. He felt he had been terribly betrayed. Henry’s response to Anne came from great depths of grief, pain, anger, and loss. He was never the same again.

Let me get back to where I agree with Bernard. I agree that the poetic account in French by Lancelot de Carles is a very important and somewhat overlooked source. De Carles was secretary to the French ambassador, the Bishop de Tarbes, and close to the court in May 1536. His account was probably written in June 1536, though it was published a lot later.

What I don’t think it does, as Bernard implies, is prove that Anne was guilty. What I do think it does, is explain why she was thought to be guilty. And here, I stand in debt to Greg Walker, whose 2002 article on Anne Boleyn’s fall seems to me to be the definitive answer.

The French poem by de Carles suggests that rumours about Anne’s behaviour with certain men arose after one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Browne, the countess of Worcester, was challenged by her brother over her own indiscretions, and deflected the criticism by accusing Anne of worse behaviour with ‘Marc’ (Smeaton). She then, fatally, added:

‘A point from it all which seems to me the worst
Is that it is her brother that is often with her
In her bed, knowing her carnally…’ (my clumsy translation)

Elizabeth Browne’s brother found himself in a double bind: report these rumours of Anne’s behaviour and perhaps be prosecuted under the 1534 Act of Treasons for speaking against the queen; or conceal them and suffer worst consequences if they came out and it emerged he had stayed silent. The poem suggests that he decided to tell two men close to the king (Bernard suggests, plausibly, that these men were Cromwell and Fitzwilliam), and these two told the king of Anne’s alleged behaviour. And here, I think, we find the key to it all. Henry reacts by being so shocked that he blanched and ‘remained in a doubtful spirit’, but in the end, he instructed Cromwell and Fitzwilliam to investigate the matter, and added this crucial clause:

‘But if it turns out that your report, which I do not want to believe,
Is not truthful,
You will suffer pain of death in their place.’ (my translation)

I don’t know why historians have not made more of this. It fits entirely with the account given by Cromwell to Chapuys, above, and elsewhere by Cromwell to Gardiner and Wallop (the English ambassadors at the French court) that ‘the Queen’s incontinent living was so rank and common that the ladies of her privy chamber could not conceal it. It came to the ears of some of the Council, who told his Majesty, although with great fear’. Above all, it explains why Cromwell had to find sufficient proof of Anne’s guilt: if he did not, he himself would die.

This version – of Henry as surprised and aghast at the idea of his long-desired wife committing adultery – also makes sense of Henry’s actions after this revelation.

He left the May Day jousts to question personally his dear friend, Henry Norris, who was among the accused. One account suggests that Norris confessed and then later retracted; either way, Henry was not assured of his innocence. Convinced by this and Mark Smeaton’s confession that same day, Henry in disgust poured all his energies into plans for dispatching Anne. Eric Ives says that Henry was ‘morbidly concerned’ with the execution plans, including the building of the scaffolds and ordering that expensive French executioner from Calais (his price of £23 6s 8d should be compared with Holbein’s salary as court painter of £30 a year).

Henry also demonstrated enormous hyperbolic self-pity. The evening of the day that Anne was taken to the Tower, he wept over his daughter, Mary, and his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy (who would die just two months later), saying that they ‘were greatly bound to God for having escaped the hands of that accursed whore, who had determined to poison them’. He told people that Anne had slept with ‘upwards of 100 gentlemen’, and composed a tragedy about his life that he offered people to read.

Above all, of course, he went out ‘banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight and returning by river’. His flirtation with Jane Seymour became serious. He lodged her within a mile of his palace, and provided officers from the royal household to serve her. After Anne’s death, the couple were betrothed the next day, and married within 10 days.

What was going on here? Well, the depths of Henry’s humiliation at Anne’s apparent betrayal can only be understood if we know that in the sixteenth century, a wife’s adultery suggested her husband’s lack of sexual dominance. A man would, it was thought, only be cuckolded if he were unable to satisfy his wife. Furthermore, Anne had said as much. In her trial with her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, on 15 May, Rochford was given a piece of paper with an accusation written on it, and told not to read it aloud. He flagrantly disobeyed, and voiced before the gathered crowd of 2,000 the charge that he and Anne had laughed together and ridiculed the king for his dress, his poetry, and above all, because he ‘was not skilful in copulating with a woman and had neither vigour nor potency’. Rochford did not deny it. Henry’s unseemly haste in re-marrying was a way of demonstrating to all those people who mattered that, in fact, he did still have what it took to be a man.

There is, of course, much more to this story. Why did Smeaton confess? What proves Anne was innocent? What evidence suggested she was guilty? And what else does this tell us about Henry VIII and his court? I believe that this event, among the other tragedies and blows of this fateful annus horribilis of 1536, changed Henry entirely. But that’s another story.

Suzannah’s Book

Click here to read my review of “1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII” which David Starkey described as “a bold and original attempt to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of English history: how, when and why Henry VIII changes from a handsome Prince Charming into a fat and loathsome Bluebeard.”

27 thoughts on “Henry VIII and the Fall of Anne Boleyn by Dr Suzannah Lipscomb”

  1. Fiz says:

    I suspect it is a bit more than adultery – which I find questionable anyway – but if someone had kept hammering the point that Anne had committed incest, I’m sure that would have triggered Henry’s torrent of rage.

  2. Eliza says:

    Thank you Suzannah for this article and Claire for hosting it! 🙂

    I still can’t decide which theory – this one or the one of the conspiracy that Ives supports- is closer to the truth. It just seems to me odd that Henry went from love to hate in just a few days… I have a feeling that he must have known that Anne was innocent, but fooled himself into believing that she was guilty, so that he could ease his concience. That’s why he reacted so differently when Katherine Howard’s adultery came to light: because it was indeed true, she was guilty, unlike Anne.

  3. ElizabethR 1533 says:

    I thought this was a fantastic book. I have thought that Henry VIII was often done a disservice, especially if judged by contemporary standards. He loved all his wives (except one, which faltered quickly). He needed an heir and Katherine of Aragon was unable to provide that. The Tudor dynasty was unstable and needed the stability an heir would provide.
    I agreed with the author that it was a number of factors which lead the Young Prince to the Old Fat Tyrant. Henry was paranoid, but easily influenced and the right whisper in the right ear to feed his paranoia, I feel, lead to much of his tyrannical acts.
    Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t a nice guy, but when you break things down, you can begin to understand how and why things went wrong.
    Great book!

  4. ElizabethR 1533 says:

    I agree with you Eliza. I think Henry did believe Anne was innocent, but wanted rid of her as he no longer loved her. He maybe felt he couldn’t divorce another wife, especially since everyone around him thought she was a whore and that Henry was being cuckolded and humiliated. Henry could not stand being humiliated. If he thought she was guilty, why would he send for a swordsman to make the death quick?

  5. Professor Hermione says:

    Still, all evidence (the amount of time it takes to travel from France to England) suggests that the French headsman was sent for BEFORE the trial; indeed, didn’t Henry also tell Jane Seymour on the morning of the trial that Anne would be found guilty? Now you could say that once Henry heard the charges he accepted that she was guilty, and that is why he announced what he did to Jane. But what about the advance booking (as it were) of the headsman?

    I need to read Lipscombe’s book to see what I think–probably also Bernard’s, although I am not entirely sure I will be able to stomach it. There is always the chance that I am clinging to the idea of Anne’s innocence–AND Henry’s tyranny–because it’s what I want to believe. Yet I must say that, although I think it’s always important to reexamine evidence and not get complacent about our assumptions, I find the idea of a Cromwell-driven conspiracy–a conspiracy only too popular among the queen’s many enemies–altogether convincing; indeed, I have never had the slightest problem believing that Henry himself (rather like Henry II and Beckett) gave Cromwell signs he wouldn’t mind that Anne was gotten rid of. I find it hard to believe, for one thing, that Henry so suddenly decided (as in, after Anne’s arrest) to marry Jane Seymour; he had, after all, a track record of falling in love with one woman while still married to another and then trying to get rid of the no-longer-loved one. As for Henry still being so much in love with Anne: he was pretty cool to her, by all accounts, after her January miscarriage and did apparently say that now he saw God did not see fit to give him sons. I think Henry was extremely troubled by Anne’s miscarriages and the apparent repetition of Catherine’s obstretric history (which, in Catherine’s case, he was only too happy to blame on divine displeasure). I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch for him to rationalize Anne’s downfall as a sign that God had frowned upon this son-less marriage, especially if it got him what he wanted. We may be trying to hard to judge Henry by the type of modern psychology applied to ordinary people rather than to very, very powerful ones. But I think we need to remember that the psychology of feudal monarchs–like that of powerful people even today–was shaped by their sense of what they could get away with and how they rationalized their own power in ideological terms. Obviously, that Henry broke with Rome as he did showed he could go to extreme lengths to get what he wanted, and to justify what might seem ungodly! And, on the topic of the boundaries of personal and political, wasn’t it Thomas More who said that if his head could bring Henry a castle in France, it would not fail to fall–and this after Henry had walked familiarly with his arm around More’s shoulders on a visit to Chelsea?

    I guess what I’m saying, if a bit incoherently, is that power, and how it is exercised, is as important here as our understanding of the psychology of these figures–which I think we can easily misread, if we see Henry’s putting his arm around More’s shoulders as a sign that he WOULDN”T chop off his head if there was something to be gained by it.

  6. Eliza says:

    ElizabethR, you are right about the death by sword. Katherine Howard wasn’t given that “courtesy”. And of course, it would be too much for the people of England to see their King divorce the second wife just a few years after the first. Even if they didn’t like Anne, they could see the injustice. That’s at least my humble opinion!

  7. Sarah says:

    I believe Anne was innocent of adultery. I think she was a happy, flirtatious woman, very open and enjoying of music and dancing and other such pleasures – which when it came to her trial was used in evidence to suggest that she was having affairs (when I think she was probably just happily flirting and being a woman!) I think regarding Henry it was a combination of things – Anne’s miscarriages after she had promised him so venomously a son, her flirtatious nature, her wit and her constant arguing and snapping at him and his ideas and her pushes for certain policies and ideas.

    At first Henry probably wanted to believe she was innocent, but as it seems once the ball got rolling and Henry got an idea in his head – then that was it. The French swordsman was called before Anne’s guilty verdict – he had already made up his mind and was trying to save as much face as possible. After all, Anne HAD to be guilty – he had uprooted an entire religious form to be with her – he couldn’t look bad in any of this!

  8. Anne Barnhill says:

    I have not yet read 1536, but I have it on my shelf to read. I did, however, read the Bernard book and, while I found it very interesting and challenging, I did not come to the same conclusions as Bernard. I think Henry had already decided to rid himself of Anne and he felt another divorce/annulment would not be possible. WHat else could he do? He had to find something that would turn everyone against her so that no one would rise to her defense. And those men who would have risen, he got rid of as well. I think he did not believe she could give him a son so he was ready try Jane for luck. He did send for the sword before Anne was judged guilty and he did promise Jane that by that afternoon, Anne’s fate would be sealed. I think his decision to do away with Anne helped change him–he had done murder basically and the further deterioration of his soul came from that sin. I believe that’s how people reace when they commit acts which are heinous to them, yet the do them anyway.

    On another note, I just got word that my novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, is to be postponed again, until Jan 2012. I am SO disappointed!

  9. Anne says:

    Very well written, Claire, as usual. To Professor Hermione, excellent comments on the psychology of feudal monarchs. They pretty much thought they were as good as God, having been divinely chosen by birth with special rights. However, we do know how material power corrupts. I want also to second the notion of a long-term plan to have that skilled french headsman at the Tower, the time it takes to travel by ship between London and Calais TWICE of course, all at the mercy of the weather, since they had no means except royal courier that I can imagine to order the man’s services. We can fill in the blanks here. My theory is that Henry started suffering from mental health problems caused by the cognitive dissonance between who he saw Anne B as before, and how he began to see her once he questioned HER divine right to be Queen, as evidenced in his eyes by the same reproductive pattern as her predecessor (interesting that a y-chromosome linked condition has been found which reduces certain males’ likelihood of having healthy male offspring). He began to be filled with anxiety as to his relationship with God, again, causing impotence and sexual/alpha male identity frustration. HER frustration was sublimated through trying to go on as usual, which included music, dancing, and merry company. The stress involved in trying to keep Henry’s interest probably showed in her sharp words with friends, and no doubt in the confidante relationship with her brother, the one man she could trust. This was a vicious cycle that obviously escalated ultimately, to Henry’s needing to justify a shiny new Queen who, it was obvious to him, was meant by God to carry his son, because he had cultivated a strong attraction for her (we know he was experienced at doing that already!). It all worked together. He had already had political trouble with his ex, and wanted to avoid that again. Thus the PR tactic of turning himself into a super-cuckold in a narrative he tried to “sell” through a play I imagine he stayed up late nights to write in a manic mood of self-righteous “victimization”. Plays in those days were how the elite tried to create public narratives and belief in the absence of all the media outlets we have today. Oh what a wicked web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! How does that psychosocially-based theory sound?

  10. gillyO says:

    I’ve read everything I can find on this subject and look forward to reading this book and Bernard’s. It has always been my opinion that Anne would not have been executed if it had not been Henry’s will. I tend to believe that at the time of her arrest he did believe she was guilty as charged. If it’s true that those charged with the investigation were threatened with death, then it’s even more likely that evidence was trumped up and innocent flirtations blown out of proportion.

    His marriage soon after to Jane Seymour has always seemed like a “rebound” relationship for me. It may very well have been an impulsive act, one that would distract him and others from Anne’s fate. Life could go on without time for reflection on what he had lost. Anne was most likely his one true love so her loss, (or I should say the loss of what she represented to him), must have been catastrophic to his psyche.

    I also believe that he discovered at some point before Cromwell’s execution that the charges against Anne were trumped up. He, of course, could not admit he’d been deceived. He also might have felt that it was God’s will that she died so that he could have his son by Jane. However, he turned on Cromwell rather suddenly and since there was no trial we aren’t really sure why he was executed. There were charges but they seemed not serious enough. I’ve often wondered if during the marriage to Anne of Cleves, Cromwell’s enemies saw an opportunity and put a bug in Henry’s ear about how he had been deceived in Anne’s case. This might also explain the long delay between the arrest and execution of Katherine Howard. It appears that he wanted to be sure this time. I also recall the plot against Catherine Parr, and how she was given the opportunity to save herself.

    It’s true that after 1536 he seemed to change. HIs paranoia may have grown because of his perceived deception by Anne, and then the rebellion in the North, not to mention the constant pain he was under. It’s not surprising he became more vicious as he grew older. However, except for the well deserved case of Katherine Howard, he seemed to treat his last wives better than he had his first two. He divorced Anne of Cleves amiably enough, and allowed Catherine Parr the opportunity to redeem herself in his eyes. He didn’t give the same opportunites to either Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn.

  11. lisaannejane says:

    I am having a hard time with believing Elizabeth Browne’s allegations that Anne’s behavior was worse than her own. It does not seem to be more than gossip and she may never have said it in the first place. I would rather see that written plainly on a sheet of paper, signed and witnessed. I am also having trouble with the idea that a poem showed how Anne might have been perceived as guilty, since poetry can often be interpreted in different ways. I don’t see why Henry would say you are dead men if you don’t find the accusations to be true – this seems to support a conspiracy theory more as he is saying you will die if she is found innocent. And I agree with the others that due to communications at the time, the executioner was called for before the trial. I think 1536 was a crucial year for Henry, but he had already been showing signs of the tyrant he would become when he broke from Rome and made himself head of the church. I personally think that changes were more gradual, but certainly the Pilgrimage of Grace, the birth of his son and the death of Jane Seymour in so short a time period probably did cause much psychological distress. It seems that how reliable one thinks any of the ambassadors or courtiers were at the time plays a crucial role in deciding which evidence is more valid. Personally, I don’t find Greg Walker’s article to add anything very reliable as to making the French poem a more accurate document than others.

  12. Adrienne says:

    Just bought that book a few months ago, now I am looking doubly forward to reading it. Ironically, I am also in the midst of Bernard’s book, but having a hard time getting into it. It’s good, but I keep having to reread some passages to keep up! haha. Glad to have stumbled onto this blog!

  13. Juanita says:

    I don’t believe Anne was guilty of adultery at all. For one thing, Lady Rochford, at her execution confessed she had lied about her husband George committing incest with the Queen. For another, King Henry repented Annes execution on his deathbed. He must have known she was innocent.

  14. Noelle7 says:

    Thanks Claire and Suzannah!

    I do not think that Anne committed adultery and I do lean more on the Cromwell orchestrated her downfall, however, I am going to pick up this book.

  15. Claire says:

    Just to clear things up, Suzannah Lipscomb is not suggesting that Anne was guilty, she is suggesting that Henry VIII may have believed that she was. Her book is about how Anne’s seeming betrayal was one of the events of 1536 which had a major impact on Henry and drove him to tyranny.
    Thanks for all the comments and I’m glad that you enjoyed Suzannah’s article.

  16. Mike says:

    I’m still reading Susannah’s book and it raises an interesting perspective on Henry and the changes he went through. It’s a recommended read. On the other issues, I think that there is so much that we can’t put together on the limited evidence surviving about Anne’s fall, that we’ll never really know for sure. Also, when you consider how our own disputes with family and friends can often involve opinions from those who don’t know the facts; misinterpretations; bias and exagerations, I think there is an element of that which went on which possibly made Anne appear guilty even if she wasn’t. Personally, I think she was innocent and that when the evidence was presented to Henry it was at that point that he realised his opportunity to take another wife. I think Henry could easily believe in something if he saw an opportunity to get what he wanted and even if he hadn’t been thinking of changing his wife at that time, I think he could quickly persuade himself to follow another course if the prize was worth it!

  17. Carolyn says:

    I still waver on whether Henry knew the charges against Anne were false, but tend to think he did know, and involved Cromwell, not the other way around. Whether Cromwell jumped upon that with glee (pre-emptive strike against someone who might have been turning against him) or whether he was simply doing the king’s bidding is also something I waver back and forth on.

    I know they had been allies, but Anne was under a lot of stress and was snapping at people like Cromwell and Norris. I don’t know how long before her downfall she allegedly threatened Cromwell, but it hadn’t been very long since she had threatened Norris. So I can see Cromwell going along with whatever Henry wanted that might also benefit him.

    Juanita, it’s a false rumor that Lady Rochford confessed on the scaffold to lying about Anne and George, just as it is also false that Kathryn made that “I’d rather die the wife of Culpeper” speech (not that you claimed the latter). I’ve never heard that Henry repented of Anne’s death on his own deathbed. What was the story? What did he say? I’ve heard he wasn’t able to speak, just squeezed his doctor’s hand, and I’ve heard his last words were “Monks, monks, monks…” I have no idea what that last bit was supposed to mean.

  18. luvprue1 says:

    The reason Katherine Howard was never executed by a sword,and why it was only reserve for Anne Boleyn is simple. Katherine Howard was never anointed queen. She was given the title of queen, but she was never anointed Queen in the manner that Anne was. Plus , Katherine Howard wasn’t the mother to a heir. Anne was the first anointed queen to ever be beheaded in England.

  19. Juanita Richards says:

    I have read in several books about Lady Rochford confessing she lied, and in many books that before Henry got to the stage of being unable to speak he repented Annes execution. He knew death wasn’t far away but wasn’t completely incapacitated then. I don’t know if any of it is true either, we don’t know if anything written about the Tudors is true, but my gut tells me he did repent before going to meet his maker. He later felt bad about the execution of Thomas Moe and what happened to Wolsey. It just seems to fit. Most of whats written about the Tudors is speculation and guesswork.

  20. Claire says:

    Hi Juanita,
    The story that Lady Rochford confessed at her execution to lying about Anne and George is a myth. Historian John Guy writes that her confession was a forgery and the work of Gregorio Leti, a man know for making up stories and inventing sources. Her co-called confession is not mentioned in other accounts of her execution and eye-witness Ottwell Johnson recorded how Jane faced death with composure, bravery and dignity. She climbed the scaffold, forgave the executioner and then faced the crowd. Julia Fox writes of how there is no transcript of Jane Boleyn’s speech but Johnson’s record give us enough information to reconstruct it. According to Fox:-
    “she began by declaring her complete faith and trust in God. “I have,” she said, “committed many sins against God from my youth upwards and have offended the king’s royal Majesty very dangerously, so my punishment is just and deserved. I am justly condemned by the laws of this realm and by Parliament. All of you who watch me die should learn from my example and change your own lives. You must gladly obey the king in all things, for he us a just and godly prince. I pray for his preservation and beseech you all to do the same. I now entrust my soul to God and pray for his mercy.” Not once did she refer to the specific offences…neither did she have anything but praise for Henry.”
    As Carolyn mentioned, it’s the same with Catherine Howard and the myth that she said “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper”, eye-witness reports Catherine record that she addressed the crowd, acknowledging her faults, stating her faith in Christ and asking everyone to pray for her.

    As far as Henry is concerned, again Carolyn is correct. Henry asked for Cranmer but by the time the archbishop had arrived he had lost the power of speech. Cranmer asked Henry to give him some sign that he trusted in God and Henry “holding him with his hand, did wring his hand in his as hard as he could.” He died shortly after.

    You’re right, Juanita, it is very hard to find the truth about events when even primary sources do not agree!

  21. Melissa Reginelli says:

    I understand that the venereal disease, chlamydia, can prevent a pregnancy from coming to full term. Kathryn of Aragon and Anne both had miscarried sons. As promiscuous as Henry was, and since he didn’t keep himself “tidy” I believe these innocent women were victimized by a man and his church. I’ve always enjoyed reading about Anne of Cleves. and clearly remember the series on PBS that portrayed her as “the most wily.” How, on their wedding night, she had Henry play a game of chess with her. She was able to convince Henry of the wisdom of not consummating their marriage. He was always fond of her, referring to her as “little sister.” She lived out her life in England in a nice house with a stipend that kept her comfortable. Now, that’s how you play the dangerous game of catering to a fragile male ego.

    1. epiphany says:

      Most accounts of Henry are that he was something of a prude – his documented mistresses equal about that of wives (6) – very few for a king – and he was a neat freak, obsessed with cleanliness. Highly unlikely that a sexually transmitted disease was the cause of his wive’s infertility.Henry simply had the bad luck of choosing women who didn’t conceive or birth children easily. He wasn’t the first or only king to have this problem – just the most famous. He seemed to have a thing for tiny women – it’s ironic that if he had got on with a bigger, more robust girl like Anne of Cleves, she could have provided all the sons he could want.

  22. Noelle7 says:

    *blushes* I only know realize that I sent my post in prematurely.

    I had wanted to say that while I don’t believe Anne committed adultery or that the charges were true, I do think that Henry believed them. At least initially. I think that’s part of the reason why everything happened so fast and why Henry went out of his way to show that he was a virile man.

    I don’t think that Henry conspired to kill Anne, I think that once he believed the “evidence”, he wanted her gone as quickly as possible to save face. I do think that Cromwell set things in motion; he was smart enough to know that if he was going to move against the Queen, it had to be airtight. Henry had to believe that Anne had committed adultery or else it would be Cromwell who lost his head (which he did lose four years later ironically). Once it was done, then Cromwell moved fast so not to give Henry a moment to pause and reflect on the situation. Henry was a very intelligent man and I think that had he not been so compelled to assuage his ego, he would have thought this through. He may have still decided to end his marriage because he still needed a son but perhaps, he would have sent Anne to a nunnery.

  23. Renee Woolsey Smeaton-Burgess says:

    Thank you , all of you who are trying to find the truth.
    As for Smeaton, he may have felt guilty and cofessed . Anne and he was in very close contact. It is my understanding to view even the bust and having thoughts of …. Committes adultry.
    Renee Woolsey Smeaton-Burgess Ypsilanti, Michigan

  24. Catharine says:

    Okay, I have a question about the deformed fetus Anne miscarried. How did they know what a normal fetus looked like in those days? fetusus (feti? Fetii?) can be pretty freaky looking. And why is that a sign of witchcraft? Aren’t animals bron with deformities? (My hubby had a cat that was born with an eye half closed, and a perpetual limp) We don’t call them witches… confused.

  25. Kara says:

    I just wanted to put in my 2 cents here. I have done the
    studies on the Tudors and my conclusion is this; Anne was a very
    openly vibrations personality, which was her actual downfall in the
    end. She was being pushed by her uncle and father constantly to
    basically “sell” herself with possibly their thoughts to Henry.
    Henry had nearly died the day she miscarried and I think it could
    of knocked quite a bit of screws lose in his head. He finds out she
    miscarried a boy and he pretty much was already infatuated with
    Jane by this point, so to save face Anne can be dispensable o him.
    Problem is, he says their marriage was never a real marriage,
    right? So how could she commit adultery if that is the case? The
    thing with her brother is just his crazy wives jealousy that of the
    Quene. I think Anne didn’t really trust anyone but her brother and
    she states growing yp with him, they were very close. I highly
    doubt she ever cheated on Henry, but I’m sure she did have a lot of
    un in his absence. It is said that while she was in her chambers
    awaiting trial that she said, ” No matter what, I have given a
    rightful heir that will be a strong lioness. Elizabeth with prosper
    in her years o come, this I promise.” l guess she felt it in her
    heart that her daughter was very smart at a young age and must of
    known deep down that he would rise above all to be a great Queen.
    Elizabeth did wear her moms crown because the original was to heavy
    and also wore her inogirational (sp) ring that opened under the E a
    locket with her mother on one side and Elizabethon the other. I
    guess she never took it off and eventually the doctors had to cut
    it off, and ER died pretty closely to the ring coming off. I would
    like to say, this is just all in my opinion and stuff I have read
    etc, All in all, it is to bad Anne had to be murdered for Henry to
    just rid her instead of off to a nunnery, I guess no one will
    probably ever know..I do think her daughter (much like her mom) was
    an incredible leader, well out spoken and far greater than the Lion
    her father was. It is said though, she would say, “I’m my fathers
    daughter” because she was not allowed to talk about her mother
    growing and even as Queen, she rarely is said to if spoken of her,
    but clearly loved her and believed in her mothers innocence. Thanks
    all for writing, I’ve enjoyed reading everyones thoughts. May Anne
    still rest in peace

  26. Leslie Kenyon says:

    Why doesn’t she consider Henery’s tyrancy came about from the many jolsting falls he suffered, the worst being in 1536. That is the logical reason he changed and became a tyrant getting hiw own way at the cause of people’s lives.

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