The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -15


On this day in 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had just fifteen days to live, and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, had just thirteen.

What happened on this day in 1536?

Well, George received a message of comfort from his wife, Jane Boleyn.

Find out more about this message and George’s reaction in this video:

There are lots and lots of Tudor history videos on my Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society YouTube channel, so please do consider subscribing – click here. I add new content on a daily basis. If you prefer audio, then my talks are also available as podcasts on Podbean or your usual podcast app. And, if you prefer reading, then this website has thousands of articles, including one on 4 May 1536.

And today’s normal “on this day” video is about the executions of three Carthusian monks, a Bridgettine monk and a parish priest at Tyburn on this day in 1535:

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17 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -15”
  1. Why do so many historians make things up or jump to conclusions that have no basis in the facts as recorded? When they do that they lose all right to call themselves ‘historians’ as they’re no longer dealing in history.

    I’m sure George very much appreciated that letter. As you say even if Jane didn’t petition the king saying she did would have helped ease his mind some. If she didn’t I certainly don’t blame her. Approaching the king during all of this matter regarding his wife and George’s sister would have been a daunting and even perhaps life threatening thing to do do.

    I notice on this page pertaining to April 13, Maundy Thursday is what appears to be a miniature of Anne I’ve never seen before. Can you tell me about it?

    1. If you’re referring to the oval image where Anne is wearing a ‘H A’ pendant (instead of the usual ‘B’), it is a panel painting (not a miniature) at Loseley Hall in Surrey.

      1. Thank you very much. That is the one I was referring to. Any idea when it was produced?

    2. “Approaching the king during all of this matter regarding his wife and George’s sister would have been a daunting and even perhaps life threatening thing to do.”

      Motives are often ascribed to Jane Boleyn by those interpreting her actions during this crisis. Your comment shows a common sense approach to the actions/non-actions of Jane.

  2. Remembering the dreadful savage deaths of the Carthusian monks which occurred today may they be at peace, I very much enjoyed the video Claire of the Charter house it looks a lovely place, if I’m around that way I may drop in and have a look, of course nothings open now but when they start to ease the lockdown itl be great to visit the museums and other places again, remembering also George Boleyn Lord Rochford who this day was residing in the Tower, and who received a message of comfort from his wife Lady Jane Rochford, popular myth has her being the arbiter of the misfortune that befell her husband and the queen, out of envy and vindictiveness by accusing them of incest, but that is really the work of historical fiction, and there is nothing to suggest she was anything other than a loyal and loving wife to George, I agree with Michael, Jane possibly found the idea of petitioning the king on his behalf very daunting, the king was in no mood to listen to Jane and her pleas for mercy, but she could have we do not know and history is silent on that subject, so now both Anne and George were in the Tower of London and we can feel for their poor parents, Sir Thomas Boleyn had been at court for most of his life, he had served the kings father and later Henry V111, he had seen the king pursue his youngest daughter and fall passionately in love with her, honours and rewards had been showered on the Boleyn’s and now all that was coming to an end, I do not believe for one minute Thomas and Elizabeth believed their children had committed incest nor did they believe that Anne had behaved so immoral, they knew their daughter and she was pious and chaste, they must have realised with mounting horror that the king wished to destroy their beloved daughter and that meant George falling with her, everyone knew about Jane Seymour and that Anne’s marriage was very fragile, maybe Jane Rochford during this time visited her parents in law so they could try to support each other, it was a very bleak time for the Boleyn family, who had for seven years dominated the centre of the court,

    1. Even though Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn knew in this hearts, minds and souls that the accusations against their children were patently false imagine the shame, anguish, fear, dread and helplessness they felt and to make it worse it was public. Henry hurt a lot of people, not just the six and I don’t think he cared. If he regretted what he did to Anne on his deathbed that’s great but did he ever show remorse for the other innocent victims of his selfishness and their families? I’m guessing not.

      1. It was a brutal age and Henry V111 was a brutal monarch, I find it very hard to understand that he could order the deaths of six innocent people on the flimsiest of charges, and which was really, more down to hearsay, any other husband would have thought better of his wife and companion of seven years, yet before he had known Anne he had known Norris for years and yet still signed his death warrant, we have to understand the mind set of this man who just wanted rid of his wife so he could move onto more fertile territory, the need for a son consumed him and there must be no obstacle to achieving that goal, no long drawn out divorce no annulment, murder was quicker, it was a most devious heinous plot that really tainted the reign of Henry V111 and his reputation suffered because of it, that reputation he never regained, gone was the merry prince of old whom the people loved, in his place was a merciless tyrannical despot.

        1. Something I’ve pointed out before, and this seems to be the case especially late in his Reign that Henry didn’t have much regard for human life unless they were his or his son’s. Anybody else seemed to be expendable. Not a very human reaction but Henry was a very odd person.

  3. Hi Claire —
    I am enjoying these daily countdowns to May 19 (maybe “enjoy” is not the best word, but it will have to do for now). While in social lock-down, it is fascinating to hear an account by the day of these events of 1536. It helps to remember that all periods of history have dire events and as you say, this event in Queen Anne’s life, happened so very quickly. Do you think she was at all baffled by them, given that she had failed to produce the longed for male baby and that there was so much tension between her and the King? Do you think she was shocked by her arrest? By the accusations of adultery?
    Thanks again for taking us through it in the spring on the exact days it happened — the glories & beauty of spring days coupled with the anxiety of not knowing how the dire circumstances will eventually play out — in 1536 AND 2020.

  4. Do not forget (arm chair historians that we are)…Anne was desperate for a living son and Henry had been looking the way of Jane Seymour for some time. It seems Henry was big headed about being “God’s Anointed” and it looks like he took that to heart as “the one who could do no wrong” in God’s eyes. This may have allowed him the self-justification to belittle the value of commoners (even though Anne, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr were all of Royal descent themselves and medium distant cousins to Henry). Really it was too bad Henry’s older brother did not live much longer. We would have seen a different England in regards to rulership and the Catholic Church.

    1. How can anyone know what sort of ruler Prince Arthur would have been? Henry was a fair ruler until the early 1530s and a devoted Catholic. It was only a long tussle with Clement Vii who was the “prisoner” of the Emperor and at the mercy of his armies. Katherine of Aragon would still have been Queen, so Charles would still have been her nephew and an annulment would still have been difficult to obtain. Yes, its possible his character was different, he and Katherine may have had children, healthy sons, or they may not have. The argument that he had married his brother’s widow would of cause have been invalid but that doesn’t mean Arthur would have made different decisions. It’s impossible to know what the religious situation would have been. These were still the Tudors, they all believed they were the anointed of God. Had he had sons Henry Viii would have been a much better man and King. He was a decent one for over 20 years.

  5. Jane Boleyn is always blamed for doing the dirty on her husband, without any evidence whatsoever. Someone once pointed to the fact she had been in a protest over Princess Mary, as in support for her, which would not make George happy. A big stretch I think to suggest falling out with one’s spouse over a political protest equates to wanting to give false evidence against him, especially when you know that evidence would get them killed. You might have a row, you are not going to bear false witness in a capital offence criminal case against them. Seriously, Jane didn’t give evidence against her husband. Like many of the women in Anne’s service she might have been questioned, referring to perfectly innocent visits by George or someone to the Queen, while her ladies were present, perfectly innocent conversations which they had no reason to suspect anything because nothing happened, but the prosecution picked up on them and turned them into something dark and out of their own filthy imagination.

    Jane had no reason to risk her security and her good living at Court and at the many houses and estates that she and George had acquired from the King over the years of Anne’s rise. If George was executed then she lost everything. Even as a widow she would not get her due. Even if the crown was grateful for her alleged false testimony and rewarded her, who would trust her and employ her in future? She certainly wouldn’t have done as well as she might with George continuing to serve the King and rising far at Court. The one thing we do know is that Jane Boleyn was badly off after George’s execution, she had to employ Cromwell’s help yo get any income from his estates. That’s why he was called the widows helper, he helped a number of women to gain what was theirs by right after their husbands died. If Jane turned King’s evidence, then where was her reward? Michael, I completely agree, historians who come out with anything to do with Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford turning on her husband and providing the prosecution with evidence of his adultery or sexual deviance need to really take a good look at the lack of mention of such evidence in the original sources. When historians make stuff up, maybe they shouldn’t be called historians. The poor woman has a bad enough reputation because of her involvement with Kathryn Howard, which is rather unfair, without her being the scapegoat for bringing down George Boleyn.

    Her letter to George in prison is in total contrast to a vengeful, unhappy wife, who has just betrayed him to Cromwell. Jane sounded as if she really cared and wanted to help and reassure her husband. She probably did want to try and speak with Henry, may have tried to go through Cromwell even but been rebuked and forced to give up. Unfortunately we don’t know what she did next and we don’t know if she tried to appeal or not. George would certainly have welcomed such a message and he thanked her. This wasn’t the action of a woman who hated her husband, but of a woman who was concerned and who tried to comfort and support him.

  6. As for the evidence from Anne’s conversation in the Tower being used to nail Sir Francis Weston, who wasn’t even being looked at, my goodness, could people weave a web of lies out of nothing.

    Anne was still pretty much out of her mind and rambling at this point, trying to make sense of the allegations. She didn’t know who the third man was and I am guessing she was going through everything. She had made a few remarks during a game of courtly love to Francis Weston, a recent supporter of her family, only 25,_married with one small son, from a very good family, who was a big favourite of the King and played cards and tennis with him. He was knighted at Anne’s coronation.

    Speaking to Mrs Cotton in the Tower, her former nurse, Anne expressed her fears about Weston if arrested because she had once told him off for loving her cousin instead of his wife. He had replied that he came more into her presence because he loved the Queen above all others. She had two similar conversations which were perfectly innocent and yet Cromwell got from that procurement, conspiracy, treason and adultery. Mrs Cotton was her former nurse but the conversation was also heard by Mrs Kingston, whose husband obviously put it down in his letter to Master Secretary. Poor Weston was arrested and added to the pile of sacrifice victims.

    Also arrested was William Brereton from a wealthy Cheshire family, who was connected to Elizabeth Browne and her husband and who was her brother in law. During her arguments with her brother it had emerged that there was tittle tattle about Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton and the Queen and somewhere in the conversations between Browne and Cromwell, Brereton seems to have also come up as being involved with Queen Anne. He was most probably a political target because he was opposed to the changes Cromwell wanted to make in Wales where he was an important official. There had been a series of falling outs over local justice and both Browne and Cromwell viewed him as a nuisance. It’s suspected that Anthony Browne put pressure on his wife to give evidence for the crown and she was reported as the first reporter against Anne. However, we don’t know the full story and it was probably more tittle tattle with very little substance.

    Just how Henry could allow such a case to proceed is beyond belief but I really don’t think he cared any more and just wanted the entire affair out of the way so as he could move on to wife no three and begin a new life. All very matter of fact and cold blooded.

  7. Rest in peace and pray for us Saint John Houghton, Saint John Hailes, Saint Robert Lawrence, Saint Richard Reynolds, Saint Augustine Webster and the eighteen holy monks martyred because of the Supremacy.
    All these brave men did was say no to the growing tyranny of the King and his henchman, Thomas Cromwell the architect of this legislation. How could such brilliant men, many of them known personally to the King and to Cromwell for a number of years, have come to such a dreadful end?
    Henry’s ego had very much changed him over the last few years and he couldn’t brook any further, as he had for many years, his tolerance was gone, he was no longer the hero of the people, he was no longer good natured, his sudden grasping for the total power that the Supremacy gave him transformed him into a man with no regard for the lives of the holiest men in the land. Once he would have honoured and shown deep reverence for these men, sought their counsel and held them in the highest esteem. For 20 years or more he had done so. Now he was a changed man, his marriage to Anne necessitated legislation to protect his children by her and no opposition would be acceptable under the new treason laws. One of the martyrs had criticized Anne as the King’s wh*re and his marriage which the new laws made treason, but in essence he was merely offering an opinion. Many of the ordinary citizens of England believed the same things but now most people were afraid to speak out. Henry’s marriage to Anne, his political and religious changes all changed England forever and how he responded to a number of issues and they changed him. His accident the following year intensified his personality changes and his tyranny became more and more apparent and very much and he also became more and more paranoid as well as dangerously unpredictable. These holy men could not swear the required oaths to acknowledge Henry as Head of the Church because he wasn’t. Thomas More and John Fisher could not accept it either. Both were still on ice in the Tower in 1535 but would soon follow these others to trial and execution. The price for treason in England was a really horrible death and it was particularly cruel that Henry allowed these holy men, who were not unknown to him, to feel the terrible full penalties. A picture paints a thousand words. I would invite people to meditate on this painting in Spain which commemorates the martyrs. It has always haunted me because many years ago I visited the monastery and also on my wall in the hotel I stayed was a reproduction. It moved me every time I gazed upon it and I didn’t have nightmares because these men are watching over us, in heaven. It did make me cry though and it still does. This was a terrible and cruel sign that Henry Viii was not the same man who had come to the throne amidst such hopes and rejoicing and parts of him had been chipped away into something much more co
    d hearted and severe for some time.

    This should have been a warning for Anne. However, off she and Henry went that Summer on their triumphant progress, closing more monasteries and buttering up the nobility and gentry who had benefited and who would continue to benefit from the future closed religious houses. Anne may criticize the way the money was used and objected to the total closures proposed rather than reforming them but she was also personally involved on that very progress. Ironically it was the last progress and the last Summer and Anne herself felt the anger and displeasure of a King who was changing more and more every day. The result of this progress was the pregnancy which would sadly lead to her vulnerability and contribute to her ultimate fall in May 1536. Legend has it that on this progress Henry noticed Jane Seymour, but Anne was with him and he really didn’t begin to play around with her until January 1536, the first mention of her being the centre of his attention in February that year after Anne’s fatal miscarriage.

    I am not blaming Anne for any of this, but the circumstances under which Henry married her in his eyes necessitated such transformation of the laws of England. Those laws made it treason to speak ill of their marriage or of their heirs or to write anything and much was open to interpretation as well. Numerous reports to Cromwell ended in arrests and a variety of punishments including prison and execution but also fines and flogging. However, numerous others escaped with an interview and dismissal. Not everything reported was either verified or constituted treason. Cromwell was actually quite astute and fair at deciding the difference. The Supremacy however gave the King a new title and it was treason to deny his title and challenging his authority if one refused the oath. An oath bound you to an overlord and was a promise of loyalty. It was one of the most serious offences before God and the law to break it. That was why treason was such a terrible and heinous crime, demanding the most severe of penalties. Unfortunately, now many ordinary opinions were considered treason and the most learned men and women in the country fell foul because their learning told them these laws were wrong. They answered to a higher power and it wasn’t possible to take these new oaths. Anne was herself trapped by the very laws made to protect her marriage. By then Henry had ceased to listen, care or evaluate the truth and no matter which wife he was with during these next ten years, the ultimate responsibility stops at his door for the tyranny that followed, not with his wife.

    For example, yes, Anne made and helped Henry to make many of the decisions which ultimately led to the break with Rome and his annulment, yes, it was to marry her as well as to have a son that he divorced Katherine and did everything else to achieve those aims, but Henry was ultimately to blame because he was the King and it was his desires for a son that drove him. Anne wasn’t entirely innocent, but Henry chose to dismiss Katherine and then ask for the legislation which led to the deaths mentioned here. It was Henry who signed the death warrants and it was Henry whose power was growing out of control. In the end Anne couldn’t stop him from executing her, she was powerless to stop him and so were her family. No blame can be attributed to them either. In the same way, Jane Seymour wasn’t to blame for Anne’s execution, Henry was. Even if Jane did whisper that his marriage to her was unpopular, so what? Henry was supposed to be seeking an annulment, not to put Anne on trial for her life. Jane was sent away before all this started and had nothing to do with the events which followed. She didn’t dance on Anne’s grave and we have no idea how she felt about things and it really annoys me when I read ridiculous childish comments about her death being Karma for the execution of Anne Boleyn. Poppycock! Yes, Jane agreed to marry Henry and their marriage was done with indecent haste, people murmured about it. However, it was Henry Viii who set these tragic and terrible events in motion, who gave Cromwell permission to bring charges and a trial and it was Henry who ordered the execution of six innocent people, knowing they were innocent. How much say in whether she became his wife or if Jane had a choice, is hotly debated. I believe she thought she could rescue Henry from himself and saw herself as restoring Mary to the succession. That’s why she agreed to become Henry’s Queen. She was not a doormat or a pawn, she accepted that she had a mission and agreed to her part in the family ambitions. However, Jane could not do anything to prevent Anne’s doom. Henry Viii wanted a new wife, he wanted one quickly, he didn’t want a repeat of the saga with Katherine and his indifferent attitude allowed him to consent to one of the most shocking, shameful and craziest miscarriages of justice in history. It was swift, neat and put the blame on the victims. However, Henry and Cromwell miscalculated. Not everyone accepted that Anne was guilty, despite her terrible and subsequent reputation, and history has allowed the world to begin to see the truth. Now it’s Henry who is judged guilty, not his wife and friends, by people of intelligence at least.

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