Spelman ReportsToday is the anniversary of the death in 1546 of Sir John Spelman, judge of assize and law reporter. He was buried at Narborough, Norfolk. Spelman is known for his reports of cases from 1502 to 1540, which included the proceedings against Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Dacre, the Carthusian monks, Bishop Fisher, Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn. His reports are a fascinating primary source – here is a photograph of my copy of Volume I.

His report on the case against Anne Boleyn in 1536 included the interesting comment:

“And all the evidence was of bawdery and lechery, so that there was no such wh*re in the realm. Note that this matter was disclosed by a woman called Lady Wingfeilde, who had been a servant to the said queen and of the same qualities; and suddenly the said Wingfeilde became sick and a short time before her death showed this matter to one of her …. [the rest is missing].”1

It’s tempting to read his first sentence as sarcastic, isn’t it? The trial obviously made Anne out to be the worst adulteress there had ever been and the language used in the indictments was definitely intended to shock: Anne was “following daily her frail and carnal appetites” and “procured and incited her own natural brother, George Boleyn, knight, Lord Rochford, to violate her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George’s mouth, and the said George’s tongue in hers […]”.2

But who was the “Lady Wingfeilde” who disclosed Anne’s behaviour?

Lady Bridget Wingfield (née Wiltshire) was the daughter of Sir John Wiltshire of Stone Castle, Kent, who was a neighbour of the Boleyn family who lived at Hever Castle. It is thought that she served Catherine of Aragon as a lady-in-waiting and then served Anne as a lady of the bedchamber. She was close to Anne and in 1532 Anne and Henry VIII stopped at her home on their way to Dover to travel to Calais. Lady Wingfield is thought to have died in around 1533/4, but Spelman’s report shows that something she’d written or told someone about the queen was used at Anne’s trial on 15th May 1536. Anne was, of course, found guilty of treason and was executed on 19th May 1536. As Clare Cherry and I pointed out in our book George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat: “Whatever was or was not said, any revelation she may have made was not deemed necessary to bring to anyone’s attention until Cromwell started asking questions immediately prior to the Boleyns’ trial. Of course, at the time of the trial Lady Wingfield was conveniently dead; any evidence deriving from her could not be confirmed, and likewise could not be challenged by the defendants.”3

Was Lady Wingfield the “one woman” George Boleyn was speaking of when he was reported as saying “And on the advice of only one woman you want to believe of me such a great criticism. That, for the action of her presumption, you determine my condemnation […]” at his trial?4 Or it could have been Lady Worcester, who is implicated in the poem by Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador. We just don’t know.

Notes and Sources

  1. ed. Baker, J.H. (1977) The Reports of Sir John Spelman, Selden Society, London, p. 70-71.
  2. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X. 876.
  3. Cherry, Clare, and Ridgway, Claire (2014) George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat, p. 243.
  4. de Carles, Lancelot, “Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn”, lines 861-864, in La Grande Bretagne devant L’Opinion Française depuis la Guerre de Cent Ans jusqu’a la Fin du XVI Siècle, George Ascoli, translated by Susan Walters Schmid in “Anne Boleyn, Lancelot de Carle, and the Uses of Documentary evidence”, dissertation, Arizona State University, 2009.

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3 thoughts on “Sir John Spelman, Anne Boleyn and Lady Wingfield”
  1. IMO, Jane Parker Boleyn was framed! Whether it was Lady Wingfield or Lady Worcester, it appears that it was not Lady Rochford.

  2. Lady Worcester was described as the first witness against Anne Boleyn but had a reputation for lying and her own flighty behaviour, so could she be a good witness or did Cromwell simply not care as long as he got his pound of flesh. Jane Rochford was having some problems with her marriage in that George Boleyn spent too long at court, as per her complaint to Anne that resulted in Anne’s alleged statement that Henry was not good in bed. It is still possible that Jane also gave some evidence during questioning as to the character of George Boleyn and his relationship with Anne. She may not have given much information, but it is possible that Jane said something which was later misinterpreted. She does write a letter during his imprisonment which shows that she was anxious about him, so Jane cannot be the terrible woman who defiled the name of her husband and sister in law. The information is obscure, the source even more so. A number of people, including the ladies who served Anne were questioned, but not called as witnesses at the trial. However, it does not stop Cromwell and his cronies taking odd bits of statements and using them out of context if it strengthen his case.

    The book of inditements and other details was meant to be over 100 pages long, but most of this was not read at the trial and we only have the charges, not everything from the trial. We have the detailed reports from Judge Spelman, but there was more than this, so we don’t know if anything from interrogation was included in the evidence bundle. Two grand juries also reviewed evidence, so some testimony must have existed. With Lady Wingfield it would be very convenient to use her dying declaration as evidence, this would not be challenged as taken as truthful. A dying declaration is included in evidence today as factual. Cromwell knew the law, he knew what he could get away with, even in a railroading show trial. The fact that bits are missing, well that could be useful for him, although the missing information is more likely to be from the passage of time. It does pose an interesting conundrum however.

    1. Your comment about what was taken out of context and used for the worst possible interpretation seems spot-on to me. Imagine if a friend asked you a question with a definite ‘yes’ answer (“Do you serve the King loyally?” and in jest you replied, “No, never” in a voice dripping with playful sarcasm. Later, those words repeated would be what you’d said, but never your intent. That’s how I imagine some of the evidence against the Queen and her fellow accused was construed. Sad.

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